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Tamara Grace

Patients & Survivors Stage II Rectal Cancer California

Story: Hi, my name is Tamara Grace, and I’m a stage II rectal cancer survivor. In October 2019, I started having symptoms like blood in my stool, heavy bloating and gas, four to six poos per day, having to use the bathroom with great urgency, weight loss, and so on. I completely ignored my symptoms and suffered in silence for about four months before I confided in a friend, and she urged me to see a doctor. Thank God I did!

On January 23, 2020, I had my first colonoscopy at 54 years old. My gastroenterologist discovered a 5 cm mass sitting on my sphincter (which is why I felt like I had to poo all the time!). She referred me to my surgeon who was very no nonsense: “Yes, you have rectal cancer. Yes, it’s 100% curable. But, here’s the kicker: You will have a permanent colostomy.”

You’re telling me that I get to live and see my girls grow up? Fantastic! My husband was by my side when I received the diagnosis, and I went into full acceptance mode immediately. This acceptance not only helped my personal recovery, but I later found out that it helped my husband and my two teenage daughters as well.

After getting a second opinion, on February 19, less than a month later, I had a robotic-assisted laparoscopic abdominoperineal resection. And 10 months later had a laparoscopic colostomy revision. In laymen’s terms, I had my rectum removed and received a stoma with a permanent colostomy!

Advice: Please get screened as soon as you are eligible, especially if your family has a history of cancer. The key in curing cancer is early detection. I didn’t have my first colonoscopy until I was 54. Maybe I could have prevented surgery, chemo, and radiation if I would have screened for it four years earlier! (Note: The USPSTF lowered the recommended colorectal cancer screening age from 50 to 45 in 2021.

After I had my surgery, I went through genetic testing, which I highly recommend for anyone who has children. Luckily, I discovered that my cancer was not hereditary; and therefore, it is highly unlikely that my children will get it – at least not from me!

Choose your doctors carefully! Find a doctor whom you have 100% confidence in, and then let them do what they need to do! I feel so incredibly blessed to have found my three women angels: my gastroenterologist, surgeon, and oncologist. They are my rocks and have supported me throughout this journey and are still there any time I need them. Their love and support helped in my immediate acceptance of the diagnosis, which ultimately helped in my recovery.

When I received my diagnosis, my surgeon gave me two phone numbers of women I could call who have had the same surgery. She is building this amazing network of rectal cancer patients helping each other. I have also had the opportunity to help other patients and survivors as well in this same way. Feel free to ask your surgeon if you can call any of their other patients!

Do your homework and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always take someone with you to every doctor’s visit – someone who will support you and to be a second set of ears. I always recorded every doctor’s visit, with permission, so that I could listen to it later if I had any questions.

It's important for me to convey that my colostomy in no way hinders or limits my activities. I can still do everything that I did before my surgery. In fact, my husband and I just returned from our honeymoon, and I did headstands all the way through Paris, Venice, Florence, and England!

My diagnosis and recovery made me reconsider my purpose on this earth. After surviving cancer (and a plane crash in 1998), my life was clearly spared for a reason. At the end of 2020, I quit my 20+ year legal career and decided to completely change careers. Currently, I am more than halfway through my three year Master of Divinity degree with a goal of becoming a board-certified healthcare chaplain, so that I can be of service to others, preferably cancer and hospice patients.

Thank you, Fight CRC, for all you do in the fight to cure colorectal cancer and for always serving as relentless champions of hope for all affected by this disease!

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