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Rob Douglas

Patients & Survivors Stage III Rectal Cancer Missouri

Story: At the beginning of 2019, I began seeing a new primary care physician. A prerequisite for seeing my new doctor was to complete a physical so that she would have a baseline to compare future visits with. As a result of blood tests being completed, it was discovered that I was slightly anemic. It was not at a serious enough level to cause any great concern to my doctor, and I was not experiencing any symptoms related to the anemia, or anything else for that matter; I was feeling pretty good overall.

In an attempt to determine the cause of the anemia, my doctor suggested that I get a colonoscopy to see if maybe I had some internal bleeding such as an ulcer that was causing the anemia. Upon waking after my colonoscopy, my gastroenterologist advised my wife and I that he was unable to complete the procedure due to the presence of a very large tumor just inside my rectum. My GI doctor told us that he obviously couldn't say 100% what he was looking at until the biopsy was complete, but he had done the job a long time and believed with a very high probability that it was cancer. It was bad enough, and he was sure enough, that he didn't even send me home at the time.

Since I was already at the hospital for the procedure, he sent me straight to the imaging department to complete CT scans of my chest and abdomen to see if it had spread to any other parts of my body. This was on February 28, 2019. I was 45 years old at the time with an 18-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter.

A week later it was confirmed to be cancer, but miraculously it was not detected anywhere else in my body. My wife was with me and we exited the doctor's office and as we stood in the parking lot still in a state of shock, we hugged and prayed for strength to fight it. I told my wife at that moment, "We are going to be sad about this today: Tomorrow and every day after, we're being positive and fighting this."

I was referred to my oncologist and within a couple of weeks, I had started chemotherapy and daily radiation treatments for stage III rectal cancer. I completed six-and-a-half weeks of those treatments, and I handled them surprisingly well.

I experienced several side effects such as extreme sensitivity to cold, peripheral neuropathy, and radiation burns. But, I was able to work throughout the entire process. After some time for my body to recover, I had surgery to remove the tumor and the surrounding lymph nodes on July 3, 2019. The surgeon was actually working on me for just a shade over seven hours, because the tumor was bad enough that it had perforated my bowel, and she had to do a lot of cleaning out of my abdomen. I also had a lot of scar tissue as a result of the radiation treatments.

The surgery proved to be successful as all margins were clear and no trace of cancer was found in any of my lymph nodes. I also received a temporary ileostomy at the time. I was very anxious about the ileostomy. It took about three weeks to figure out what worked for me and my body, but after that I discovered that my anxiety was misplaced.

An ostomy is very easy to manage and after very little time I was able to function as if it had never been placed there. It was so much easier than I expected it to be. So much so, that I felt kind of foolish that I was so nervous beforehand. After about seven weeks post-surgery, I began five more months of chemotherapy. This round of chemo was much harder on me than the previous treatments were. It sapped my energy, everything ached, and although I didn't experience the nausea a lot of patients do, I experienced terrible heartburn.

At the end of December 2019, I had my ileostomy reversed. I am now just over three years cancer free, and I thank the Lord every chance I get for the medical professionals he placed in my life to get me through it this far! I still experience very minor neuropathy in my feet, but if that's the worst thing to come out of me having cancer, I can handle that!

Advice: Get screened! It could save your life. If I had delayed any longer it could have spread, and I may not be here now.

The two biggest encouragements I can offer are:

1. An actual cancer diagnosis is scary, but it's a good thing, because once you get that diagnosis, you are now on your schedule, and you get to have a say in what happens. If you remain undiagnosed, the cancer is then in charge and sets the timetable for what is going to happen.

2. Have faith! I strongly believe that the peace that comes with knowing God and recognizing His power can provide you the strength and courage to get through it. But, if you aren't a religious person, having faith in yourself and your caregivers helps provide a positive mindset that makes everything easier to handle mentally. I sincerely hope that the success that I have experienced thus far is encouraging to others and acts as a reminder of the power of God.

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