I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend and a nurse. My husband, Gerry, and I have five grown children. 2 1/2 of our children live at home, and 2 1/2 live on their own. If you're a parent, you know how this is possible! We live on a small family farm where we raise a few black angus cows, chickens and a couple of hives of bees. We grow our own vegetables, make jams and jellies, and bottle and sell our honey. We have a small apple orchard and sell the fruit in the fall. I consider it my little heaven -- the good life.
Things changed a lot one night when I saw bright red blood in the toilet bowl. I was very frightened and couldn't stop crying when I thought of the possible diagnosis. I was able to have an anoscopy that afternoon and a sigmoidoscopy the next week. I was told by my primary care doctor that she was unable to advance the scope due to a "large mass" in my colon, and I was booked for a colonoscopy. That was December 31st, 1997.
On January 14th, 1998, I underwent a sigmoid resection and was told I had cancer of the colon. Although dopey from the drugs, I heard the news and will never forget the ominous feeling that came over me. I was given a death sentence. On the fourth post operative day while eating my first solid meal, a turkey salad sandwich on a roll, I met my oncologist and was told to call his office on discharge to set up appointments to begin my chemotherapy. Some things you don't forget, and I'll never forget how very hard it was to swallow that sandwich.
In February of 1998, I began my chemotherapy of 5 FU and Leucovarin. Monday through Friday for a week, every month for 6 months, I was to report to the infusion room at my oncologist's office to continue my journey with cancer.
I decided not to tell my coworkers that I had cancer or that I was getting chemotherapy because I didn't want to be known as "the woman with cancer." I was afraid that letting them know I had cancer might mean to some that I couldn't do my job. Now I know that was foolish, but it was important to me at the time to continue my charade. It was hard for me to say the word, "cancer," and even harder to tell people I had it. I worked part time, so it was not difficult to manage my secret. I survived the chemotherapy with fatigue as my biggest problem.
As time went on, I began feeling more like myself, and although I was still frightened by the diagnosis, I tried not to dwell on it and I continued to live my life as normally as possible. I was feeling great. The cancer was removed. I suffered through the dreaded chemotherapy and was on my way to recovery. It was all in the past, or so I thought.
Faithfully, I visited with my oncologist and had my blood tests and cat scans as ordered, but my cea began to rise. Doctors found a metastatic lesion in my lung, and in May of 2001 they removed the left lower lobe of my lung. This time, I couldn't keep it a secret from my co-workers. I had to tell them not only that I had colon cancer with chemotherapy back in 1998, but that it had metastasized to my lung, and I would be out of work again for awhile. They were wonderful to me. I was told that I needed no chemotherapy. I liked that news although I worried about not having a "double punch" to kill this disease.
Less than four months later, my cea began to rise, and cancer was found in my liver. "Get it out!" I yelled. Chemotherapy began again, and this time it took its toll. I was put on camptosar (Irinotecan), 5FU, and leucavarin once a week for two weeks and one week off. This went on until April with a decrease in dose in December after I had three hospitalizations for dehydration. Again my guardian angels from work were there for me. Some nights while working, my friends would start an IV on me and I would get fluids until I could get to the infusion room in my oncologist's office that morning, or I would go home with some IV bags to start fluids at home, and my husband and children would monitor the fluids while I slept. My husband and children were so supportive and were there whenever I needed them. As worried as they were about me, they found the strength to help me.
A couple of nights before my liver surgery, one of my friends from work dyed what little stubble of hair I had red (which turned out orange). I wanted to go to surgery with attitude. I wanted the doctors and nurses to look at me and see a lady with a strong spirit. I wanted them to think, "Wow, this one is trying hard to live. We have to do something and save her".
I survived with the help of my wonderful family, my coworkers, my oncologist and his staff and an attitude that matched my new hair.
I have had no evidence of disease since my liver surgery in 2002. I thank God every day for my life and treasure the time with which I have been blessed. I consider my cancer as a chronic disease with exacerbations and remissions, and now I am in remission. Not one day goes by that I don't think of cancer, but it's on the back burner. Right now, I am well and healthy. I have gone back to school and will graduate in 2011 with a degree in nursing, which I've wanted for years.
People need to know that, yes, cancer is horrible and terrible. I would not want anyone to be diagnosed with it, but it's not a death sentence like I had originally thought. There are research efforts, different kinds of treatments, and many dedicated professionals working for a cure for this offensive disease. The Colon Cancer Alliance has taught me that we need to be proactive. We need to fight for ourselves. Cancer is a wake-up call. It's saying, "Hey you! You were diagnosed with cancer. What are you going to do about that?" Start investigating, talk with others, question the professionals. You are the only one who can do this. You are important. You are the only YOU you will get in life. Care for yourself, and dye your hair orange if need be.