Every year, when our local drugstore stocked at home kits to check for colon cancer, I did them, and the results were always the same -- all good. I had experienced major pain during bowel movements, and I had changed doctors at the beginning of 2004 because I knew something was wrong. Still, my doctors kept telling me it was nothing. At the end of May, Memorial Weekend, I couldn't take the pain anymore and went to the emergency room, thinking perhaps I could get an emergency colonoscopy. After being admitted that day and going through several tests, including CAT scans, colonoscopy, vaginal ultrasounds and MRIs, I was told, on June 7, 2004, that I did have cancer. It wasn’t colon cancer, however. It was anal cancer.
Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer that affects the anal verge and canal. In 2004, when I was first diagnosed, there were only two people in my state (including me) who had this rare type of cancer.
When I got back home after spending two weeks in the hospital, I started to call all the cancer clinics in my area to find more information. I was told many times that I must be mistaken. They told me that I must have rectal or colon cancer and not anal cancer. My pathology report confirmed it was squamous cell carcinoma.
My doctors didn't know the correct protocol for this cancer, as it was so very rare. We worked together, and after much research, we found the best treatment for me. My tumor was 5 centimeters -- the size of a small lemon or golf ball. It had parked itself right on the anal canal.
I started chemotherapy with 5-FU and Cisplatin every 28 days, and this went on for six months. I had terrible mouth sores. I couldn't keep anything down, and I lost over 100 pounds. Since there was no one I could speak with, I was blindly following this path and relying on my doctors for all my information. At the beginning of the fifth month, I started radiation. I went for a total of 33 appointments, everyday. During this time, I lost so much weight, and since I couldn't keep any food down, I ended up having muscle atrophy which put me in a wheelchair. One month after radiation and chemo stopped, I had gone to have another colonoscopy to see what the treatments did to help. Honestly...not much. The tumor had shrunk 1.5 centimeters, and it was still blocking some of the canal. I underwent surgery to remove what was left of the tumor along with five nodes. I thought I was finally cancer free, but according to my surgeon and my oncologist, I wasn't. I still have a few cells left. They were so small, they couldn't get everything.
In October of 2006, I ended up back in the hospital for another two weeks. I was having extreme pain once again, but this time in the abdominal area. I had to undergo exploratory surgery to discover that the radiation had severely damaged my small intestines, and that the intestines had connected to my pelvic wall and wrapped themselves around my appendix. I had to have eight inches of my small bowel removed because the damage was so severe. Since radiation is the gift that keeps on giving, I couldn't have stitches. The tissues were all infected with the radiation and were dying, so this wound had to heal from the inside out, without stitches.
Currently I'm considered NED (no evidence of disease), but I'm not considered in remission yet. I still go once every six weeks for a chemo boost for precautionary measures.
I live with many side effects from all the treatment I have undergone, but the greatest gift I've received from this whole experience is that "I'm Alive!" Why am I a Buddy? So people who will follow in my footsteps will never have to go it alone. There will be someone out there who can answer their questions and they will know that someone does care about them. And to get the word out that, yes, anal cancer does exist, but you can make it through. I will hold your hand and help you...I will have your back, and the biggest one of all...to pay it forward. Perhaps, if I can help others who might have to go through this disease, they will be able to help others following their path. I'm here to offer a loving hand so you can see the light at the end of that dark tunnel and to say, "I made it! I was inches away from leaving this earth forever, but I made it, and you, my friend, will make it too!"