On August 7th, 1998, I was sitting in a surgeon's office waiting for the results of a biopsy. I was sure of what was wrong with me even before the doctor came back into the room. When he returned to the room, he said, "Mrs. Hickman, you have rectal cancer. There is a tumor the size of a lemon about a digit deep in your rectum. It has to come out immediately." I was 28 years old. I had only been married sixteen months, and I was four months pregnant with our first baby. We had found out only three days earlier that I was carrying a baby girl. The doctor then said, "You have had this cancer for at least a year, judging from the size of the tumor. It needs to come out now. I will have to remove your rectum. You will have a permanent colostomy. How do you feel about terminating your pregnancy?" I was shaking and crying. I was alone in the room with the doctor and all I could say was, "No! If I have lived with this cancer for at least a year I don't think five more months will kill me."
I had known cancer since I was nine years old, when my paternal grandfather died of the disease. I had lost two grandparents and an uncle to cancer, but nobody to colon or rectal cancer. I was determined to fight for my baby's life, as well as my own. My cousin, who is a doctor in another part of the state, found a specialist for me to see. This colon and rectal surgeon advised me that the tumor was against my vaginal wall and that if it was not removed soon, the cancer would spread to my female organs. I still could not risk the life of my baby, especially after finding out that if I had to have radiation I would never be able to have children. I prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. I held the surgeon off for a month, but I was getting sicker. Finally, my surgeon called and told me that he had found a way to save me and the baby. It was not a 100% guarantee, but it was the best chance we had. He said, "Pam, if you wait another couple of months to have the baby early and the tumor removed, it will be too late. You may not live another two years." So, I finally agreed to surgery.
This is the way God saved my baby and me: my colorectal surgeon was assisted by a maternal/fetal specialist. She held my uterus up and out of the way during the surgery. When the tumor had been removed, my surgeon resected my colon and my baby was placed back inside of my body. The baby even kicked the maternal/fetal specialist during surgery – amazing. God had provided a way for us both to survive.
I began a week of 5FU four weeks after surgery and had another treatment four weeks later. Early Thanksgiving morning, our daughter was born. We named her Ella Marie after my grandmother, who died of cancer. Ella was in the neonatal intensive care unit for nine days, because she was born early so that I could continue treatment. I began radiation three weeks after Ella was born. After five weeks of radiation I had two more chemotherapy treatments, four weeks apart.
I believe it is only by the grace of God that I have survived cancer and have been cancer free for fourteen months. I had the typical signs of colorectal cancer before I ever went to the doctor. I passed blood in my stool for a year before I began seeing my OB/GYN. I only went to the doctor then because I was pregnant. They thought I was too young to have rectal cancer. They thought it was hemorrhoids. The signs are common for many bowel problems, but the signs should not be ignored. The most important thing I learned during my illness is that you have to take charge of your health. Just because one doctor tells you that you need a certain procedure does not mean it has to be done his way. You have to research your options, because you're the one who has to live with the consequences. Thanks to my stubbornness, I have a beautiful baby girl.