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Michelle Chappell

Patients & Survivors
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Thriving and Surviving Colorectal Cancer

Imagine, if you will, a gift. I would like you to picture it in your mind: It’s not too big, about a size of a golf ball. Before I tell you what is inside, I will tell you it will bring incredible things for you. It will bring all of your family together. You will be loved and appreciated like never before. You will reconnect with friends and acquaintances you have not spoken to in a long time.

Adoration and admiration will overwhelm you. The gift will recalibrate what is most important in your life. It redefines your sense of spirituality and faith. You will have a new understanding and trust in your body. You will have an unsurpassed vitality and energy. You will expand your vocabulary, meet new people, and you will have a healthier lifestyle. And get this: You will have a 16 month vacation of doing absolutely nothing. You will eat countless gourmet meals. Flowers will arrive by the truckloads. People will say to you, "You look great!" "Have you had any work done?" And you will have a lifetime supply of good drugs.

You will be challenged, inspired, motivated, and humbled. Your life will have new meaning. Peace. Health. Serenity. Happiness. Nirvana. The price in 2009 was $392,066, and that is an incredible deal.

By now I know you are dying to know what it is, and where you can get one. Does Amazon carry it? Does it have the Apple logo on it?" "Is there a waiting list?" Not likely. This gift came to me 14 years ago when I was 39. I was not a pretty wrapped gift. The incidence of early-age onset colorectal cancer (i.e., CRC in individuals younger than 50 years) has increased both in the United States, globally, and West Virginia has an alarming rate of late-stage diagnosis. There has been a steady increase in the annual incidence rate for CRC in the United States, with the greatest rise noted among individuals ages 20 to 39 years.

It was a rare gem: a tumor in my colon. Adenocarcinoma. The gift that keeps on giving. This gem also resurfaced this year (2023) in my gallbladder: Adenomyomatosis (ADM) aka: gallbladder carcinoma. Fortunately, the pathology report showed pre-cancer. I will begin treatment at a high-risk clinic to continue to defy the gem.

And while I am OK now, I would not wish this gift on you, your co-workers, friends, or family. I am not sure you would want it, but I would not change my experience. It profoundly altered my life in ways I did not expect – in all the ways I just shared with you. So the next time you are faced with something that is unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain, consider that it just may be a gift.

Cancer has taught me the irony of life, to think outside of myself, and that there are many people from all backgrounds and all walks of life that are affected by cancer. Cancer has taught me that none of us are alone in the fight for life. But some nights, I am the only one awake and alone with all the feeling of concern, worry, and trying to get my head back in the game to do another round of chemo.

The seventh treatment was a true awaking. Any and every side effect there is for chemo, I got. It really took a toll on me physically and broke me mentally. Then knowing that No. 8 was just a few days away, and I was nowhere ready physically and emotionally.

Cancer brings its fair share of stress and anxiety into our lives. With a diagnosis, we are launched into a maelstrom of appointments, scans, and tests. Waiting for the results of these tests can bring its own particular dread. And again many late nights awake and wondering.

In addition to an underlying fear of death or dying, there may be fear of recurrences or worry about if treatment regimes are working and their side effects. Each new pain experienced in the body can be imagined as a new cancer. I also have Lynch syndrome, so this genetic anomaly is concerning to me with my two children. I talked with my direct family, my cousins and any relative that would listen to me to go for a colonoscopy. Due to my cancer journey, they must have a colonoscopy as their colorectal screening.

Financial stress often accompanies cancer as health care costs rise and as income decreases or disappears. Cancer may force us into making significant decisions about our work, living arrangements, and lifestyles with each of these decisions embodying its own particular dimension of grief and loss. The list goes on.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 174 months (June 2009) since this whole ordeal began and then being diagnosed. I’ve had a colon resection, 12 out of 12 rounds of chemo, and radiation for five weeks.

I play with my family. I've taken trips to many states. I go out for lunch and dinner with family and friends dozens of times and continue my work for the American Cancer Society – well you get the idea – I am not cancer! I am Michelle – wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, animal lover, volunteer, runner, swimmer, lover of books, and music. And I had cancer.

Cancer has also taught me what it cannot do It cannot kill the relationships with my family or friendships we have. It cannot kill your hopes and dreams and passions. I #Defy: standing up for myself, being my own advocate, believing and providing that I am not the average, I have to be the exception. I will continue to defy the odds and make the rest of my life the best of my life. #Defy.

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