Yesterday, I received an email saying I had won an essay contest. Okay, usually when I get anything which says I've won something I automatically hit the DELETE button on my laptop! This time I recognized the name of the sender and read through the email and knew it was legit because it was from the state chairman of the Women's Issues committee of the DAR. Still, I thought to myself, I wonder if I submitted the only essay? LOL!
I remember reading through the national information packet (NIP) we get each year from NSDAR and decided I would actually enter a few contests this year. I know how disappointed I was last year when I only received three entries for my state committee (Commemorative Events).
There were three categories you could enter in the Women's Issues committee contest and one category was Health. I knew I would write about cancer. Specifically, what I learned after my diagnosis with Stage III Colon Cancer. I want to get the message out there about colon cancer. I want to be a blessing to someone and encourage them. I will receive a certificate at state conference next month and my essay was forwarded on to divisional for further judging.
Here is my essay:
On the day before my 45th birthday, I sat in my doctor’s office. I was there because I felt there was something wrong. I’d been experiencing almost constant diarrhea for more than six months and I knew the symptoms of colon cancer because my mom’s youngest sister died from colon cancer at age 29.
I went for blood tests, stool and bowel tests, bowel x-rays and finally, after some discussion that I was too young to have colon cancer, given the authorization to see a gastroenterologist. A month passed before my appointment after which we scheduled my colonoscopy for two weeks away; September 5, 2007.
I was the youngest person getting the procedure done and the only person who had a bad report. The doctor came in to tell us that he’d found a tumor and that I needed surgery ASAP. We left and called our family doctor for the name of a surgeon.
A week later I went in for what I thought would be a consultation with the surgeon, so I went alone. He walked in and wanted to know why I was there. I asked if he had received the report from my colonoscopy and he said yes. He wanted to know if I understood why I was there. I said yes, the doctor found a tumor and I needed surgery to remove it. The surgeon said yes, but you have an aggressive form of cancer and it’s probably spread to your lymph nodes, your liver and your other major organs so you don’t have long to live, and that I’d better get my affairs in order. I told him I’ve lived a full and happy life, have no regrets and have even gotten to meet my first grandchild. Then I asked him when we could schedule my surgery. I left his office and went to a restaurant where my son was the manager. I sat at a table and waited for him. While I waited, I called everyone I knew except for my husband who I wanted to see face to face.
A week later I had surgery to remove 12 inches of my colon and 17 lymph nodes. All of the nodes were clear but the surgeon found a mass on my pancreas and felt it would be too risky to remove it at that time. I was given the diagnosis of Stage III cancer of the right ascending colon.
In late October I was sent to The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, PA for an endoscopic biopsy of the mass on the pancreas. The results indicated colon cancer which had probably spread through the vein running through the bowel.
I was then sent to Dr. A. James Moser at UPMC who is the pancreatic cancer specialist even though it wasn’t pancreatic cancer. After meeting with him, we decided I would do chemotherapy to shrink the cancer on the pancreas and then a second surgery called The Whipple Procedure; which is incredibly difficult. It would be anywhere from six to 14 hours in length and could even result in me dying on the operating table. Still, it was my best option for survival so we took it.
Because my options were considered limited, I was accepted into a clinical trial for Xeloda chemotherapy pills at 3000mg per day for 14 days. By day 12 I couldn’t remember whether I had eaten or had anything to drink, and was sleeping 24 hours a day. I started throwing up and could no longer stand. My legs burned and cramped. My husband drove me to the emergency room where I was admitted.
It turns out that without food and water in the stomach, Xeloda became toxic and destroyed the inner lining of my stomach and gut. The doctors told my husband that I probably wouldn’t leave the hospital. I threw up constantly and also had diarrhea. They didn’t know what was wrong. (Turns out I got MRSA from a bad vial of Heparin through the portacath in my chest.)
Finally, someone from the Arnold Palmer Cancer Center in Greensburg, PA, saw my name on the hospital list and recognized it because I had scheduled an appointment to meet with their doctors. I was in a dream like state the entire time I was in the hospital. I hallucinated and the nurses even found me walking the halls once. Finally, I got better and was released. No one realized how very close I came to dying except for my husband. The next day my parents took me to see Dr. Viverette at the Arnold Palmer Cancer Center. I lost 10 pounds during the time in the hospital. No food or liquids by mouth for 11 days.
Because I was still so sick, I didn’t start chemo (Folfox regimen) until the middle of January. It would be one week on and one week off. I did 10 rounds of chemo and by the end of May had lost 30 pounds.
During this time I had been going in for PET scans which showed that the cancer was shrinking. Dr. Moser scheduled my surgery for July 25, 2008; a few days after my 46th birthday. I remember going into the pre-op area and my husband accompanying me. I even remember the anesthesiologist putting in needles in my back but I don’t remember anything until I woke up five days later! Seems I stopped breathing in the recovery room after the surgery. If the nurse hadn’t come back in to check on me I would have died. They rushed me to ICU where I was put on a ventilator. My husband says I was in a coma.
After I woke up and was breathing on my own, Dr. Moser came in to my room and told me that I got what I wished for. I asked what that was. He said God had given me a miracle because when he did the surgery he didn’t find any cancer anywhere. He saw where cancer had been because it looked like a burnt-off charcoal substance.
In that following year I had PET scans and blood work done. CEA results were all well under the normal range; 0.3 – 0.7 with nothing higher. The July 2009 PET scan showed lymph node activity in the chest and abdominal cavity. I told my oncologist that I would humor him by going back on chemo but I wasn’t about to tell God that he didn’t do a miracle on me. So I started back on Folfox but was changed to Folfiri. I was getting too many side effects from Oxaliplatin. With Camptosar I didn’t have but a few side effects. Three months later I had another PET scan which was clear.
My parents have both had polyps removed during routine colonoscopies. Because of my cancer diagnosis, my younger sister has underwent colonoscopy procedures and had precancerous polyps removed. Her doctors suggested she undergo a hemi-colectomy because she had a very aggressive type of precancerous polyps in her appendix and colon and, since most hereditary colon cancer is on the right side, they did it to avoid any further issues there. My younger brother has not gotten a colonoscopy yet. We’re still working on him.
At my last PET scan there were spots on the right ovary and in the endometrial cavity so I had a uterine biopsy. Pathology came back that I have Complex Hyperplasia with Atypia which may be endometrial cancer so I’m going in for a total abdominal hysterectomy on February 3.
I now meet the Amsterdam II Criteria for Lynch Syndrome which is a hereditary disorder where certain genes mutate and makes you more likely to have colon or endometrial cancer. My sons are going to meet with geneticists to see if they are carriers for these gene mutations.
If I could say one thing to someone recently diagnosed with cancer, it would be that even though you’re terrified of what tomorrow might bring, accept that new day and make it the best day that you can. Each and every day is such a blessing! If you can get through one day you can get through a week and after a week it can be a month and so on. Treatment is difficult but you can get through it.
Cancer isn’t always the death sentence you think it is. I am looking forward to turning 50 in July! God is good!