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Heatherlyn Borja

Patients & Survivors Stage III Colon Cancer Texas
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Story: "A few weeks after my 37th birthday, I was having a colonoscopy that I fought for two years to get! I was constantly told I was 'too young' for anything serious, and it wasn’t necessary.

"Everything was chalked up to anxiety and being a working mom. Eventually I paid out of pocket and scheduled an endoscopy and colonoscopy just to be sure. I had been dealing with ongoing pain on my right side next to my ribs for two years, and no matter what I changed in my diet it wasn’t getting better: It was actually becoming more frequent and painful. Actually at times, it was unbearable.

"The morning of my colonoscopy was like any other morning and after the kids were off to school, my mom came over to drive me to my procedure. I was even making dinner plans for later that night since I was absolutely starving because of the prep requirements and fasting.

"Right before I was taken in, I remember looking at my mom and starting to cry. She looked at me and said, 'Don’t worry everything is gonna be OK. Don’t cry. I'll see you soon.' I remember waking up, and it was very somber. I was already fully dressed and in a wheelchair. Everyone in the recovery room was silent, and I could vaguely remember seeing the nurses standing there with their heads down, and my Mom was sitting next to me with a blank expression on her face. I could tell she was holding back tears and something was not right.

"The doctor asked me if I could hear her, and if I was feeling OK. She told me that I was waking up but needed to be taken for CT scans immediately because they found cancer. I could barely lift my head, and I was still trying to fully wake up. I just started crying. I was then rushed to my mom's car. She drove me a few blocks to the Stark Center for Cancer, and then I was put into another wheelchair and wheeled into the waiting room for a CT Scan. All I could do was cry.

"Everyone in the waiting room was looking at me, and all I could do was think of my children and wonder how this could be happening. My mom stayed so strong though I know she was holding back so much. She had to be strong because I was completely melting away in that wheelchair. She took me back to her house because I didn’t want my kids to come home from school and see it like that. I also had to pull myself together and make my game plan. I needed to figure out when and how I was going to tell my kids, my family, and my job.

"I was on my mom's couch resting and I could hear her in her bedroom making calls to our immediate family members and my sisters. From the moment I found out I had cancer, I feel like everything happened so fast following. There were tons of phone calls and arrangements.

"The following week my tumor and 8 inches of my colon were removed. The hospital stay was over a week, and the day after I was released I was back in the ER with an infection. I had a rough six-week recovery.

"When you’re alone, you have so much time for your mind to wander. During the day when the kids were at school and I was home alone in my bed, my mind went all over the place. Some days I was happy and others I was extremely sad. Other days I was pissed off. Waiting on pathology or any testing always feels like forever. Mine came back stage III, and I was not prepared to hear those words either. I thought maybe, MAYBE stage II.

"Next, I had to meet with my oncologist for a chemo plan. After a few options, we agreed that I would do oral chemo pills: three in the morning and three at night, as well as chemo infusions at the Stark Center. This was another roller coaster. The first chemo infusion completely destroyed my veins. It hurt like hell, and my arm was in so much pain. A few days after that, I had another surgery for a port placement, and I was terrified. That was a fast in-and-out procedure, thank the Lord. It was the week of Thanksgiving and my sister and her children made the trip from back home Hawaii all the way to be with me in Texas. I was in bed almost the entire week they were here, and that sucked. But everyone came in and my bed was the hangout, so I was perfectly fine with that. I was just grateful to have them with me.

"Before I knew it, they went back to Hawaii, and it was time for my first chemo with my port. I was anxious as all hell because I was not sure what to expect, but it was definitely so much easier than the pain I felt in my veins during the first treatment. Each treatment was getting harder and harder. The side effects were intense, and I was always in my bed.

"It’s frustrating when you can’t control your own body. It broke my heart having to watch my mom take care of my kids. I missed cooking for them, brushing their hair, playing with them. Everything I normally would do, I just didn’t have the energy to do it, and it broke me emotionally. I felt like I was a terrible mom. On days I did have energy I tried to make up for it, and I’m so proud of how brave and patient my kids were during all of this.

"Eventually it was time for my last chemo treatment and that was absolute hell. I felt my body fighting the medication, and the last hour I was vomiting and nonstop shaking. I was determined to ring that bell even from my wheelchair. I was so far in space mentally, I don’t remember ringing the bell. But since then, I watched the video back, and I was in my wheelchair and sure did ring that bell!

"A few weeks later I had my port removed and a few days after that I returned to work. It was also overwhelming because I was constantly asked why I didn’t lose my hair and even shamed for possibly faking my cancer. I was stared at and could hear the whispers. The people that welcomed me back with open arms, hearts, and unconditional support meant more to me than the gossipers. I know my truth, and I know what I went through.

"A few weeks after returning to work, I was back home due to COVID-19 lockdown and quarantine. I can definitely say this has all played a huge part in my current outlook on several things. Being diagnosed with cancer at any age is difficult. Being a younger cancer patient, as well as a single parent to younger children is an absolute challenge.

"I truly hope more resources and support is funded for individuals like myself. If anyone can take away anything from my testimony and story, it is this: Be your own advocate: You know your body! Never take no for an answer. Going through treatment for cancer isn’t easy by any means: You can and will have your down moments, just don’t stay there! Fight your ass off, through everything! Connect with support groups and use all of the resources you can. I hate cancer, but the person it has made me today is someone I’m finally starting to love and trust.”

Advice: “Colorectal cancer screening is scary, but it is very necessary. Early detection is most important.”

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