On a spring afternoon in 2011, I was running down my basement stairs when my right foot slipped on nearly the last step. I tried my best to stop the fall but I couldn’t. My right elbow got caught on the inside of the wooden handrail as the right side of my buttock hit the edge of the carpeted stair with a force of pain that left me breathless and in shock.
By the end of March, on a cold, rainy Monday morning, I finally entered the hospital for an MRI of my lower spine. I was in so much pain; I could no longer sit on the toilet without putting the palm of my hand under my right buttock. I soon found out I had sustained a pinched nerve from the fall.
About a week later, I had a pain in my stomach and I felt like I was about to die. I called my husband at work to tell him I needed to go to the emergency room. I couldn’t bear to move or breathe. But I thought about my duty as a mother to my last born son, and I knew I couldn’t stand the thought of him being left without a mother. I thought about my husband, who is the greatest father and my friend. I couldn’t see my husband as a widow; he didn’t deserve that, nor did my children.
When my husband arrived home we left for the emergency room right away. After 15 long hours of waiting, I was asked by a nurse if I was constipated. I replied, “Yes” and then was asked if I had seen any blood in my stool, pink or red. I, again, told him, “Yes, it was a faint pink color.” Another 30 minutes passed before a doctor entered the waiting room. “Can you come with me please?” And I followed him to another examining room. As it turned out, the pain medicine I received for the pinched nerve was, inadvertently, taken without food. As a result, the lining of my stomach became inflamed, which is why I was in so much pain.
“We have reason to believe that you may also need a colonoscopy, as well as an endoscopy,” the doctor said. “But first, we have to do a fecal test, whereby we use a small flat fecal stick that is inserted into your rectum to examine you. But it will not be uncomfortable.” He stressed this as he showed me – what looked like – a flat paper stick that he had pulled out of a small examining kit. The fecal test would determine whether I needed a colonoscopy and endoscopy.
I was asked to lie down on my left side, at which time I was examined. The fecal test was rather simple. Actually, it took less than 10 minutes to do. After I was on my left side, a flat, soft paper stick was inserted into my anus and then removed. I did not feel a thing; it was not uncomfortable; and it was the one thing that saved my life. This little flat stick that was no more than six inches in length, was key in determining whether I needed a colonoscopy. It was, probably, one of the easiest tests one could ever imagine.
Afterwards, the doctor and nurse both left the room. They returned shortly and said, with a hint of concern, “There is a trace of blood that was found in the fecal test, so we are going to have to do the colonoscopy.”
The next day I was in a wheelchair on my way to the x-ray room, awaiting a few other tests that involved drinking a liquid that warmed your body and a CT scan. I remained at the hospital for a few days, during which I had the endoscopy and colonoscopy.
Side note on the procedure: The colonoscopy itself is painless, though it’s important to do exactly what the doctor prescribes the night before. The day of the procedure, you are put to sleep under general anesthesia; you don’t feel anything (as you are not conscious). There is a possibility that polyps will be found and removed. There will be some bleeding from the anus, but it is not much. Again, I couldn’t have had an easier test done to determine whether I had colon cancer.
The two colonoscopies I’ve had were painless and after the doctor says you are fine, you get up, get dressed and go home. I, personally, went to get something to eat, since you have to fast the night before the colonoscopy itself, along with drinking Miralax and taking Dulcolax pills.
But back to my surgery day. Once the endoscopy and colonoscopy were completed and I was in the recovery room, the doctor told me they’d found a very large lesion on my right colon and it would have to be removed through surgery. He also told me the lesion could be cancerous. Cancer? Was he serious?
After that, I had the surgery and remained in the hospital for a long five days, waiting for the results. As I was packing my bags to finally go home, the oncologist, who had floated in and out of my room the last five days, floated back in and sat down. He looked at me and I got a chill; the smile on my face disappeared. “Well, I have some good news and I have some bad news,” he said. “The good news is you are going home and we have the pathology report. The bad news is you have stage I colon cancer.”
I just took a deep breath and looked at him. “The worst thing that will happen, if you choose to do chemo, is you will lose your long pretty hair and have some neuropathy, which may include intolerance to cold and a pins and needles sensation in your fingertips. Do your research and then meet with me in a couple of weeks.” He handed me the pathology report and then left, just like that.
I went home and rested for a day before I sat down and began to think about what had happened to me in the last week. The website the oncologist gave me was the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which also led me to the Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA), Colorectal Cancer Staging, the Oncology Channel’s Colon Cancer Staging and so much more. I kept reading the pathology report over and over again.
I researched parts of my pathology report and I called the CCA. The representative I spoke with was intent on keeping me calm and grounded. The helpline call was crucial in what I needed to know about my prognosis and what my next steps would be. Would I need chemo? What should I be eating? On the other end of the phone I found someone who could not only relate to me but gave me advice that was crucial to what I needed to do as a newly diagnosed colon cancer patient. After meeting with two other oncologists for additional opinions on chemotherapy, I decided to opt out of that option.
As of November 2012, my annual colonoscopy came back cancer free, my last CEA blood test came back a one and my CT scan was fine. Today I am grateful for the fall and the screening and surgery I had at the hospital that cold wintry day, along with the advice I received from the CCA and the oncologists. I have been fortunate to find out, through my 2012 colonoscopy, that my colon cancer is genetic, which will encourage the screening of all my family members in hopes of saving each from this disease. Screening is vital to millions of Americans who may have a silent killer lurking within them, like I did. It is the difference between life and death.
Janell Richison, 49