As many of you know, like millions of others, I fought a battle with colorectal cancer, going through cancer and recovery. At the end of June, 2015 I went in for my very first colonoscopy. My husband, who had passed away 11 months earlier, had been very ill and my entire focus had been on his health rather than my own. After his death, I decided I needed to do all of the things I had put off – like a colonoscopy. Now, I don’t know of anyone who looks forward to that. Actually, it’s the preparation, not the procedure that’s the problem. But, I did it. As soon as I was awake enough to understand what was being said, my Doctor simply stated it – You have cancer.
There was no soft introduction. Just the cold, hard truth. My reaction was not fear – perhaps because I was still medicated. On that Friday, she told me the things that would happen next – MRI, visit with the surgeon and more tests. My friend took me home and we talked a little but I really wasn’t scared. The Doctor had told me a biopsy would be sent out and I would get the results early the following week. Over the weekend, I began to think and wonder. What stage is it? When will I find out what to do next? What if it’s terminal? Monday came and no call to tell me what stage it was. Got a call to schedule a time with an oncologist. Then got a call to schedule a time with the surgeon. That was the beginning of 2-3 trips a week just to see specialists, not counting treatment.
That weekend was the only time I was afraid. The “not knowing” and wondering was the worst time and I fought fear for the entire three days. I kept telling myself it would be ok and then myself told me back – what if it’s really bad? For three days, this was the war.
I did the MRI’s, met my oncologist, met the Radiology Doctor and found out that they thought it was stage 2. Ok – I can deal with that. I needed to know what my steps were – just wanted them to tell me what I needed to do. Throughout July I was seeing doctors and doing tests. At the end of July, I had planned a trip with one of my sons and his wife and my neighbor. We rode our motorcycles to northern Idaho, Montana and then Wyoming. On the 1 year anniversary of my husband’s death, we were at the top of Beartooth pass on a beautiful, clear day. We did our private ceremony and remembrance and then headed out toward home. I knew that we would arrive home on a Saturday and I would start oral chemo and radiation 5 days a week for almost 6 weeks beginning on Monday.
Sure enough, it all started. For the first two weeks, I did really well. The girls in radiology kept asking me if I was in any pain and I didn’t understand why – I was fine! I did not know what was ahead. At the third week, the payback began. Even though I was taking pills to prevent nausea, I had nausea. It got worse and worse. By the 4th week, I could no longer drive myself. I had terrible diarrhea and nausea. By the beginning of the 5th week, I couldn’t even keep water down. On Monday of the 6th week, I was going to tell them I could not handle anymore. I was desperately ill. They told me I only had 2 more treatments and I decided I could get through a few more days. Then I had 4 weeks off. No chemo, no radiation and only 3 Doctor visits and one MRI!
Cancer and Faith
Here’s the thing – through all of this, I never thought I was going to die. I just knew that everything was going to be ok. Not easy – but, in the end, I believed I was going to be fine. And it was definitely hard, not easy. Yet, I had this quiet faith that came from outside myself that I would be fine.
Surgery for my birthday. It was a very long and tedious surgery with 2 Surgeons. After one of my MRI’s, the doctors had seen a mass outside my rectum they believed was pressed up against the back of my bladder. This put me at stage 3 since the assumption was that the tumor had gone through the rectal wall into my abdomen. Surprise! It was not part of the rectal tumor at all. I had a separate growth on the back of my bladder. That was good news because it put me back to Stage 1 or 2 cancer! It was bad news because now they had to figure out what to do with it.
Cancer and Freedom From Cancer
The very best part was that I was cancer free. No cancer in any surrounding tissue or lymph nodes. The very worst part of the whole thing was going home after surgery. I had 4 things hanging off of my body, not to mention a big old incision. First, a grenade – a black medicine ball – hanging around my neck with a line of pain meds going into my incision. Second, a catheter bag hanging off my right leg. Next a drain for the incision, and – best of all – an ileostomy bag. I was so depressed. Then, to make things even better, they sent me home with a pain killer that had codeine in it. I can’t take codeine – makes me sick.
I have a dear, amazing friend who stayed with me 24/7 for the first week. The day I got home, we went for a walk and I felt pretty good. The next day I worse and by Sunday I was having dizzy spells that literally knocked me down along with sudden flushing and vomiting. I stopped taking the pain medication and began to get better.
Cancer and More Recovery
Then came the time to deal with the Ileostomy bag on my own. I had many problems with it. The Home Health nurse I had didn’t know what she was doing and I ended up driving myself to the hospital to get some help. Got that taken care of, figured it out and started moving forward. I had a biopsy on the mass on my bladder – it was benign and the Urologist decided to leave it alone since I had probably had it for years. The next decision I was going to have to make was in regard to having infusion chemo starting in January 2017.
A whole new adventure in sickness began with the infusions. I started having side effects the day of the first treatment. By the third treatment, I had over 14 side effects, some affecting my eyes, a type of neuropathy, hair loss, nausea, exhaustion and more. I went in for a follow-up with my Urologist and he told me we were stopping the infusions. Hallelujah!
Oh, wait – I was getting better, had my surgery scheduled for a reversal – no more Ileostomy – and, behold, I ended up in the emergency room in excruciating pain. Another surgery. The mass on the back of my bladder had decided to grow and cut off my right ureter! I held an official pity party for about a day-and-a-half and then had surgery a week later.
Recovery and Problems
The reversal created a new set of problems. My colon, which had not functioned for 5 months did not take the change very well. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to leave the house again and had moments where I wished I still had the bag! I also had to be careful because they had removed the growth, taken part of my bladder away, and moved my ureter to the top of my bladder in case the growth decided to reappear.
Now I was officially on the road to recovery. All of 2017 was spent recovering and slowly regaining my strength. My ability to eat was changed. I can no longer have dairy – radiation took care of that. And, green things were not, and are not, my friend. However, I AM ALIVE! For that I rejoice. My colon is happier but still rather particular, however, we have learned to live in harmony.
Recovery and A Healing Body
In September of 2018, I felt something in my body change. It was as if the chemicals were finally gone and my body made a shift. I have now passed the 2-year mark which, for colorectal cancer, means my chances of reoccurrence dropped dramatically! I am cancer free. Oh – and I don’t have to have the colonoscopies as often! Definite bonus – every 3 years now.
So what’s my point. I just want to encourage anyone who is going through this, facing it, or recovering. While I was in the hospital for my first surgery, I found out that an old friend was in there as well. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, they opened her up and closed. There was nothing they could do. Three months later she passed away. It seemed so random and ironic that I would live and she would die. I don’t know why and I don’t ask. Instead, I am simply grateful, fully believing that faith was what got me through those 2 years of hell. Losing my husband of 49 years, having cancer, and moving were all part of the package. I made it and I want to let you know that you can get through it.
Cancer and Faith Combined with Hope
My faith was intact even in the darkest times. I knew who was before me, beside me, behind me and inside me. I have no idea how different all of it might have been if I had not had faith in God and Jesus. The difference was that, with faith comes hope. I never lost hope. I was in misery in many ways but I always had hope and faith.
Faith and hope can waiver when these tests and troubles come. If they do, it doesn’t mean you are somehow not as loved by God. It just means you’re overwhelmed. Don’t let doubt make you believe you’re hopeless. You are not. I had wonderful, positive people all around me who supported me in my highs and lows. Find some people to support you and carry you through – people of faith and hope who love you without reserve and who know how and when to laugh. Pray and pray some more.
If you need to talk, I would be happy to be there for you. Just leave me a comment.