“There were people dressed as super heroes, somber families remembering loved ones lost and enthusiastic survivors celebrating their monumental fight. Although I could pick out my teammates from the crowd by their neon shirts, I felt alone. The emotion of the event overwhelmed me from the moment I arrived. It was a steamy day in downtown Philadelphia and my group of family and friends were joining me at the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Undy Run/Walk. It was the first thing colon cancer related event that I had ever participated in, and it was somewhere I never thought I would be.”
Exit the Colon…
My name is Ed Yakacki. I live in New Jersey, where you can probably find me at the gym, and will be turning 36 this fall. I am a die-hard fan of the Chicago Bears football team and my constant companion is Bear Bear my puggle- a beagle, pug mix- that my father gave to me to help me through treatment. At age 30 I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. It had already spread to my liver, blood and lymph nodes. Over the course of a year and a half, I had undergone ten different surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. One of these surgeries left me with an ileostomy, which doctors said would only be temporary during treatment.
But after the reversal surgery, I had the sinking sensation that something was not right. I went to doctor after doctor and explained the discomfort in my abdomen, but they all assured me it was just aches and pains from previous surgeries and the reversal. For a year I suffered, thinking it was all a part of the healing process.
…Enter the Ostomy
Turns out the whole time I thought I was headed toward recovery, I was developing a serious infection as a result of complications from my reversal. Not only did this mean I was in urgent need of strong antibiotics to control the infection, but also that my reversal was unsuccessful. This is where my relationship with my colostomy began. Ideally, I would have taken this next hurdle in stride. After all, I was still lucky enough to be cancer free. But I struggled to adjust to this manmade opening on my side, removing and gathering my waste in my newest accessory, my colostomy pouch. I went through stages of shame, denial, depression and anger. I attempted to return to my physically demanding job, but was met with tears and rips at every turn. I was too uncomfortable to enjoy going to the beach and the things that had previously been so fun and carefree now required careful planning and mountains of supplies.
From the outset, I realized my colostomy was my lifeline and there was really no alternative. But although I have always felt blessed to be alive, I still struggled to find peace with the situation. What I eventually realized was that I needed to adjust my outlook. It wasn't until I found a way to do something productive with the emotional energy I have about colon cancer that I fully came to terms with my ostomy.
My mother passed away from stomach cancer when I was 21 and I couldn't help but draw a comparison between our lives and our cancer journeys. After my battle through treatment was over, I felt like I lacked purpose and direction in my new life. Why was I lucky enough to survive? Now what?
In 2012, I spent my 34th birthday at the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Undy Run/Walk, surrounded by other people who had been impacted by colon cancer. I became connected with the Undy while searching the Internet for support during treatment. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something that would help me stop feeling like a victim and start looking at myself as a survivor. What I experienced on the day of my first Undy is something I will never forget. It marked the beginning of my road to recovery and it helped me put so much of what I had been through in perspective. I knew from then on that this would be my way to rise above this disease and stop letting it define my path. I realized that there was a purpose for me and this newly discovered drive helped me change my negative outlook.
Push Your Tush
After spending the morning in such a supportive environment, I returned home feeling like I needed to do more to raise awareness. The loneliness I felt during my cancer treatments was painful, and I felt guilty for not doing more for people who were dealing with the same hurt and pain I had been through. From that moment, I decided my Undy team – Push Your Tush – would not be a one-time thing and I started planning how to rally my community for the next Undy.
Excited by my new plan of action, I started to spread the word to friends and family about the importance of colon cancer screening. A number of my friends have told me that after seeing my battle with colon cancer, they finally scheduled their colonoscopies. I try to make sure people know how treatable early stages of colon cancer are, and how detrimental it can be to wait to get screened. Some people seem to need an extra push to get that appointment scheduled, and if my journey can serve that purpose, I feel very fortunate knowing that my own battle has not been in vain.
For the past two years, I have led the Push Your Tush Undy team by designing and selling attention-grabbing t-shirts with lifesaving screening messages. This past year I sold more than 350 t-shirts with proceeds benefiting my personal fundraising goal for my Undy team.
“My feet are in pain and tingling, my eyes are puffy, I am wearing my boxers in public and I have my shirt off. Three years ago I would never have put myself on display like this, but now I know there’s power in showing people I am thriving after colon cancer and proudly sporting my ostomy. It took me a long time to realize my ostomy is a trophy for surviving, and it will be something I continue to struggle with each day. But each year I will dutifully return to downtown Philly with my neon army because this is somewhere I need to be.”
To join Ed at the Philadelphia Undy on September 13th or to find an Undy near you,visit undyrunwalk.org. Learn more about the programs the Undy Run/Walk supports by visiting the Colon Cancer Alliance website at ccalliance.org. The Colon Cancer Alliance’s mission is to knock colon cancer out of the top three cancer killers. They are doing this by championing prevention, funding cutting-edge research and providing the highest quality patient support services.