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By: Sonja Darrel

I was 25 the first time I noticed blood in the toilet after I went to the bathroom. I didn’t think too much of it, until it happened again and again. Like many people, I went to Dr. Google for some answers. Colorectal cancer popped up on the list of things that could be wrong with me, so I clicked on a link and the webpage posed some questions to me.  

Is the blood deep red? No.  

Are you over 50? No.  

Have you had any unexpected or unexplained weight loss? No.  

Do you have any family history of colorectal cancer? No.  

Does your diet include a lot of red meat? No.  

OK, I thought, it’s not cancer. It’s probably hemorrhoids, and there was no way I was going to the doctor for that.

Fast forward a year and the bleeding continued. I had yet to tell anyone about it. But then, one night in bed, I whispered to my husband, “I have something to tell you. I’ve had some bleeding when I go to the bathroom.”  He asked me how long it’d been going on, and I told him six months (I was embarrassed about how long I’d waited to tell him). He said that wasn’t good and I needed to go to the doctor.

I scheduled my annual OB-GYN appointment, and I told them about the bleeding.They referred me to a female GI doctor because that’s what I was comfortable with. The wait to to see her was two months. I figured I’d already waited a year, so two months more wouldn’t kill me.

One day I went to sit down, and I had pain in my right side. I stood up and it got worse. I already knew something was wrong, so I called the GI doctor’s office to see if I could get on a cancellation list or be seen sooner. They didn’t have a cancellation list, so I searched for another female doctor.

The day of my appointment I was a mess. I’m a very private person and wanted no part in talking about poop or blood or any of it. I cried every time she asked me a personal question because I was so mortified. My doctor ran some bloodwork, which came back “pristine,” but she also said, “let’s get you in for a colonoscopy.”

Two weeks later I was lying in the bed waiting to be wheeled into the room for the colonoscopy, crying and crying. A nurse came over to me and asked me if I was scared about what they’d find. I said no. I wasn’t. I just knew it wasn’t cancer. They took me back, and when they had me turn onto my side I started to break down again, and my doctor said, “give her more, she’s getting anxious.”

Then I woke up. I was so relieved that was over. I saw my doctor walking my husband over to my bed. I smiled big at him and held my arms up for him to give me a hug, but he didn’t notice and he sat down next to me. My doctor looked at me and said, “I don’t have good news.  It looks like cancer.” I remember saying, “but my mom’s a nurse and she said I’m too young for that.” She said, “you are too young.”

I was sent the next day for a CT scan, which found that the cancer had spread to my liver. The doctor handed me a booklet about colorectal cancer and “stage IV” was circled. I learned I was going to have surgery to remove the tumor, lymph nodes, and to give me a port so I could start chemotherapy. I was a 26-year-old mom, wife, daughter, and friend with stage IV colon cancer. My world flipped right then.

Against my husband’s warnings, I googled the survival rate, which didn’t tell me anything I wanted to hear. The next few months were a big blur. A week after my colonoscopy, I had a left hemicolectomy and out of the 17 lymph nodes they’d removed, 11 had cancer in them.

I started chemotherapy three weeks after surgery. I remember my first tour of the cancer center. I was so sad because all of these people were sick. Really sick. And now I was one of them. I, from diagnosis, started referring to myself as a survivor. I bought myself a shirt that said “survivor” on it because it made me feel better. I knew I needed to be here to watch my daughter, who was six at the time, grow up. We always watched the show “Say Yes to the Dress” together, and I needed to be there to help her pick out a wedding dress.

Honestly, I just did exactly what the doctors told me to do. I did four chemotherapy treatments, and they told me that the tumors in my liver had shrunk enough for me to have a resection. They removed 60% of my liver, which was the scariest thing of all. My mom had made me eat liver when I was little, and I remember it disintegrating in my mouth, so I couldn’t understand how this could work without the whole thing just dissolving. But it worked.  

I had a few hiccups (an ileus, C. diff, a stomach bug from my daughter), but six weeks after that surgery I was back to chemotherapy. I did another four rounds and I ended up with a bowel obstruction due to scar tissue from my first surgery. Four weeks after that I was there to finish up my last four rounds. The first CT scan I had after my liver resection showed “no evidence of metastatic disease.”

My oncologist felt that I should do some maintenance chemotherapy just to make sure everything was gone. I did 11 rounds of that and have been showing NED ever since. I was diagnosed February 15, 2012. That was six years ago. I am so grateful for every single day.

I had a few hiccups (an ileus, C. diff, a stomach bug from my daughter), but six weeks after that surgery I was back to chemotherapy. I did another four rounds and I ended up with a bowel obstruction due to scar tissue from my first surgery. Four weeks after that, I was there to finish up my last four rounds. Looking back at it, it seems like it took such a short amount of time, but I remember thinking, ‘will this ever be over?’ and ‘will I ever feel like myself again?’.  The first CT scan I had after my liver resection showed “no evidence of metastatic disease.”

My oncologist felt that I should do some maintenance chemotherapy just to make sure everything was gone. I did 11 rounds of that and have been showing NED ever since. I was diagnosed February 15, 2012. That was six years ago. I am so grateful for every single day.

 

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