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Meredith Huetter

Patients & Survivors Stage III Rectal Cancer California

In March 2020, I started having GI issues, including a change in my bowel habits and blood in my stool. I immediately attributed the issues to stress related to the recent start of the pandemic. I met with my general practitioner a couple of months later as I had continued issues, including narrower stools than usual. My doctor attributed the changes to stress, a change in diet, and the potential flare-up of hemorrhoids from my pregnancy over 11 years ago. I accepted the diagnosis and tried not to think that the symptoms could be related to cancer as I had no family history of colorectal cancer. In November 2020, the issues had not been resolved.

I finally advocated for myself and asked to push for more information to understand what was happening. Following a diagnostic CT, I was quickly scheduled for my first colonoscopy. At the time, I was 46 years old. The recommended age for a colonoscopy at that time was 50.   When I woke from my colonoscopy, I saw my husband in the room and the look on my gastroenterologist's face. I knew the news was not going to be good. My GI was a friend of mine and had told me that due to COVID, a partner could not come in with the patient. However, she would make an exception if the news was not good. I uttered an unsavory word and heard, "you have cancer."

I began 2021 with surgery to install a port and a treatment plan called total neoadjuvant treatment (TNT). I started with 28 days of chemoradiation, which included five days of radiation treatment while wearing a pump to deliver chemotherapy. The side effects were the strongest at the end of radiation as I was bedridden for three weeks. I then completed six months of FOLFOX chemotherapy (infusion every two weeks plus 48 hours wearing the pump).  I iced my feet, hands, and mouth during the 2-hour infusion every two weeks to reduce the effect of cold sensitivity. I also went through multiple nausea protocols before finding a plan that worked for me, as nausea and fatigue were the most significant side effects. Finally, after multiple scans, it was confirmed my tumor had reduced but was not gone. Therefore, I had surgery to remove my anus through my sigmoid colon, resulting in a permanent colostomy and a "barbie butt" (my backside was sewn closed – you would never know just by looking!)

The road to recovery takes time. I am still working on my new routine with my colostomy and braving the three-month surveillance visits with the hope that I continue to hear the words "no evidence of disease" (NED). I know that obtaining and maintaining NED is not something we all get to do. My primary caregivers, husband, and 11-year-old son, continue to ride this wave with me. 

I've heard the word 'fighter' or 'you are so strong,' I think to myself, 'what choice do I have?’ I didn't choose this diagnosis. However, I needed to get to the other side for myself and my family. Once on the other side, it was interesting to use the word 'survivor' to describe me. I have not used it that often because I feel like I am still dealing with the effects of cancer.   It isn't talked about much. However, mental health after treatment is tough. It is not getting up and physically doing chemo or other things. Now it's getting up and living every day afterward and trying not to let fears of reoccurrence take over.

Meredith's Advice 

I am a very independent person. It was tough for me to ask for help or accept help during treatment. However, our caregivers are amazing. No one knows what to say or do in a given situation. Just accept and be open to the support.

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