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John Cavanaugh

Patients & Survivors Stage III Rectal Cancer Ohio
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John's Story

On my 50th birthday, I promised my wife I would make an appointment for a full physical exam. My then-primary care physician, Troy Fate, MD, scheduled a routine colonoscopy. I had two polyps removed and one turned out to be cancerous with positive margins. After a consultation with Scott Brill, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at Ohio Health in Columbus, we elected for surgery on Lilly’s birthday.

Dr. Brill found no evidence of cancer in the section removed, but one lymph node out of 13 tested positive for cancer cells. One of the risks of my operation was the possibility of an infection. Unfortunately, that occurred, and I fell ill with sepsis, which required a second emergency surgery.

By the Grace of God, LTC Brill (who is a retired US Army trauma surgeon) was able to save my life. I required two additional operations to install drains for fluid buildup near my lungs. My wife never left my side and slept next to me on a recliner for a month.

After several rounds of heavy duty antibiotics, I was stable enough to be discharged from the hospital with a temporary ileostomy. After three weeks of intensive physical and occupational therapy at home, I participated in our daughter’s wedding ceremony. Then I endured several months of brutal chemotherapy that made me resemble a concentration camp victim.

I was admitted to the hospital with cachexia and opted to discontinue further treatment. During the Christmas holidays, Dr. Brill reversed the diversion, and I spent much of the next year recuperating.

About five months later, Dr. Brill performed a colonoscopy, which found no problems. I had annual CT scans for five years and was eventually pronounced NED.

I continued to be followed closely by my oncologist with regular blood screening. I do have CIPN and still struggle with anxiety and PTSD, but continue to meet regularly with my social worker from the Cancer Support Community.

Side effects

Side effects include fatigue, pain, infection, high blood pressure, neuropathy, hand-foot syndrome, skin rashes (skin toxicity, chemo rash), chemo brain, and distress or mental health issues/illness

John's Advice

You can avoid all the pain, suffering, and disabilities that I and my fellow patients and survivors have experienced if you just get screened. There are noninvasive tests, which are simple and painless. If you have a family history, symptoms, or other risk factors, a routine colonoscopy could save your life.

Please talk with your doctor and follow through with recommended screenings.

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