Thursday, May 14, 2009

September 5 will be two years

I’ve spent the last two years gathering friends and family near to tell them how much they have meant to me. I have told each of them how much I love them. I have already said my goodbyes.

I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer on September 5, 2007 at age 45. I’d experienced diarrhea for six months. Thought it was a virus or long term stomach flu. Boy was I wrong!

After a lot of testing and everything turned out negative, I asked for a colonscopy. My family doctor said it wasn't necessary because the rule is first colonoscopy at age 50. I told him my mom’s baby sister died from colon cancer in 1983 at age 29. My colonoscopy was scheduled for September 5.

I was the youngest person in the recovery room. Everyone else was in their late 70s/early 80s. Everyone else was normal but me. The doctor found a large tumor and told me I had to have surgery right away. The tumor was biopsied and found to be colon cancer.

I met with a surgeon on September 11. Thought it would be a consultation. He came in and immediately told me the cancer had probably spread to my liver, kidney and lymph nodes therefore I didn’t have long to live. I had surgery on September 17, the day after our 18th wedding anniversary.

The surgeon removed the tumor, a large section of colon and 17 lymph nodes. He felt a large mass on my pancreas but knew he couldn’t remove it without killing me. On October 23 I had an endoscopic biopsy of the mass on the pancreas.

At first they thought it was a benign fatty tumor but the pathology results came back as colon cancer which spread to a lymph node and attached itself to the head of the pancreas.

I was sent to the pancreatic cancer specialist at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Dr. Jim Moser). I met with him on November 7. He told me we’d do six months of chemo followed by radiation with hopes of shrinking the lymph node in order to remove it, along with that portion of the pancreas, doing the Whipple procedure.

I met with an oncologist at Hillman Clinic in Pittsburgh. He wanted me to get in a clinical trial he was sponsoring. His clinical procedure nurse told me that I would be on chemo for the rest of my life, that chemo wouldn’t be able to cure me but would let me live a longer life.

Phil and I took a break and went to Florida for a week before chemo was to start. When we got back I had a portacath installed in my chest. Three days later I got my first dose of chemo at the hospital and went home with chemo drugs from the clinical trial. After 12 days on the chemo drugs I ended up in the hospital.

I spent 11 days in the hospital’s critical care unit. They kept telling my husband I would probably not come home from the hospital. All of my family came up to see me.

God answered prayers and I was able to leave the hospital. I was very weak and the doctors kept telling me I would probably end up back in the hospital in a matter of days but I didn’t.

The next day was December 27 and we went to meet with a new oncologist at the Arnold Palmer Cancer Center. I turned in the meds from the clinical trial. They were toxic to my system and almost killed me. Seems the dose they gave me was the same dose a 300 pound man would have gotten.

My mom came to stay with me. I started my next session of chemo around January 15. I did 10 sessions which finally ended at the end of May. I had my second PET scan in June and met again with Dr. Moser. Surgery was scheduled for July 25.

When he went in to do my surgery he couldn’t find any cancer, just traces of where it had been. He explained it looked like burned charcoal. He checked every organ ... no evidence of cancer was found. He said it was a miracle as he expected to have found that it migrated and spread to other organs.

During all this time I believed what the doctors said. I thought my time was limited. I finally prayed and asked God for peace about the surgery and whether I lived or died. I had peace and went into surgery with that peace.

All the biopsies came back with a pathiological cure. He said some people have systematic cures but this one was different and never in his career had he seen this happen. Only 1 percent of colon cancer patients have this cure.

I truly believe it was a miracle and I spend every day thanking God for the second chance I’ve been given. Every day that my mom was with me taking care of me we talked about me dying. I never asked why it happened or was depressed about it. I wanted to live my life to the fullest even during treatment.

I know cancer brought me and my mom closer together and I appreciate everything she did for me. I thank God for her every day.

I knew I was dying and didn’t have much time. I worried so much about my husband. I knew my sons had their families. My parents had each other but my husband would be alone and he and I are two legs in the same pair of pants. He wouldn’t be able to make it without me.

The doctors told me to make my final arrangements. Phil wouldn’t discuss anything about funeral arrangements or where I wanted to be buried. I had to discuss that with my mom and sister.

Saying goodbye is very difficult. More difficult for the ones left behind. I am so glad I had the chance to say my goodbyes. Some people are never given that chance. Then the ones who are left live a life filled with regret. I have already lived longer than the doctors had given me which was 18 months. I'm looking forward to a very long life!


Tina said...

What a wonderful testimony! Thanks for sharing it. Brings tears to my eyes. I am so afraid to someday have to say my goodbyes. I try not to even think about what it would do to my family. You are so brave, and an inspiration to me!

Love and blessings!

Michelle said...

Beautiful telling of your amazing story. Truly, you are a miracle, and an inspiration to others. Keep up the awesome work - we're going to change the world, together!