“If I only knew then what I know now.” Usually that is said for a bad money decision or youthful poor decision you wish you could take back. For cancer survivors, it means much more than some monetary gain or social acceptance. And that definitely applies to me.
Saying goodbye to a friend
It was October 31, 2009 and I was dressed in my police Lieutenant’s uniform. Although it was Halloween it certainly was not my costume. My Sgt. and I were heading to a funeral for a fellow police officer of a neighboring county and a fellow graduate of the high school I attended. Lt. Carl Boyd had lost his battle with cancer and it was time to do what fellow officer’s do: join together to show support regardless of uniform color and squad. The funeral service was beautiful and full of remembrance of his loyalty to police work. I stood at attention while the police bagpipes played and chills went down my whole body. I left the service thinking about his wife and kids. I was certain cancer would not devastate my life anytime soon.
Its now February 4, 2010 – my 40th birthday. I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for continued pain in my side and blood in my stool. I had experienced symptoms for awhile but did not think much of it. I mean I was a 39-year-old male that was a police officer. I could stand a little pain, blood in my stool and a thin “stringy” stool.
I did not have a primary care physician so I got on the internet and picked a doctor that looked young and would relate to my problems. I showed up to the appointment and explained in detail what I was there for. He asked all the basic stuff.
Do you smoke?
Do you drink?
“Yes, on occasions but nothing crazy anymore.”
The doctor stated he wanted to run some tests do blood work since now that I was 40, I needed my prostate checked. He proceeded to give me the “ exam” and stated all was fine on that end. I continued to inform him that when I went to the bathroom, it felt like I would not go all the way and I needed to go again soon and that I noticed blood. He explained that some of the blood might be from internal hemorrhoids. He gave me a card of sorts with instructions to take it home and smear my poo all over it and send it back in via the mail service for further tests. It all sounded crazy to me but I did what I was told and he informed me to come back to see him if it all got worse. I sent in all required test and learned a few days later that all blood and stool samples tested “ok.”
Too busy for the doctor … it was summertime!
On October 4, 2010 I went back to the same doctor and explained that I still felt horrible and still spotted blood in my stool. Plus, the pain in my left side had gotten worse. I was too busy for the doctors office during summer – between vacations, t-ball practice with my daughter, swimming at the pool and all that fun summer stuff. So I felt pain and had blood in my stool. It will go away. RIGHT?
ER trip discovers “obstruction”
He then scheduled more blood work and recommended that I see a GI specialist the following week. Three days later on October 7, I woke up in the middle of the night in terrible pain in my left side. I had my wife drive me to the ER room; I could barely stand up. They admitted me and ran a CT scan. I remember sitting in the ER room after the scan and a female in the bed next to me was there because she had an infection from her earring and the doctor was attempting to slice open her ear and drain all the nasty stuff out. She was in pain and I thought to myself, “Sucks to be her.” Twenty minutes later the doctor came in and told me I had an “obstruction” in my colon. The “obstruction” appeared to be rather large and a follow up colonoscopy was recommended as soon as possible. “Damn, now I wish I just had internal hemorrhoids an infected ear lobe!” I thought. “It sucks to be me!”
The soonest I could get in for a colonoscopy was the following Monday so I went home wondering what this meant and what my future would hold. When Monday morning rolled around, I went to my colonoscopy. I didn’t know what to expect. Part of me believed it was going to be OK, just a standard procedure.
My tumor was the size of an apple core
I awoke to find the doctor and my wife in the room. The doctor attempted to explain that he had to use a smaller “youth-sized” scope to get past my tumor. It was the size of an apple core – 4.5 CM in my sigmoid colon. The doctor believed it looked like cancer but needed a biopsy to conclude. He said due to its size, the tumor had probably been growing for quite awhile. My world began to spin. I went from being mad, sad, furious, helpless, and most of all – fearful. Fearful of what this all meant for my wife and my 3 kids all under the age of 6. What was going to happen to me? Was I going to live? How could my kids understand if I did not even understand it?
I was sent home and told to return to the hospital the next day for a follow up and consultation with my colorectal surgeon. We needed to get a plan put together on how to proceed. Upon arrival the next day I was totally exhausted both mentally and physically. I do not remember much of what was said and only remember him saying “yes” when I asked if I could just get a room and be put on some fluids and pain medication. I was then admitted to the hospital and would have my total colectomy the next day.
Kicking myself for not knowing
Wed. October 13, 2010 – Almost a year had passed since the day I stood in a rural cemetery listening to the police bagpipes at a funeral procession with over 50 police and fire trucks honoring a fellow fallen officer who succumbed to his own cancer. I couldn’t help but think, Damn if I only knew then what I know now! I could have caught this earlier. I could have paid more attention to my symptoms. I could have insisted on a colonoscopy. I could have switched doctors and found one more proactive.” I went through the reasons I had held off seeing the doctor – I was a 40-year-old with no other health problems and a young family to raise. Plus, I worked in a profession that you couldn’t just call in sick without affecting numerous people. But now – I was going to have an operation to remove my colon due to cancer! I stood proudly in my uniform that day and was too naive and selfish to understand that I had all the symptoms of colon cancer!
9 out of 151 lymph nodes
I awoke from my surgery to find numerous doctors and nurses around me. I was in a cloud of haze but could tell the nurses were busy and some seemed to look concerned. Apparently, I had too much pain medication and was in a “ codespeed” situation. I was breathing frantically and asking if I was going to die. The nurses were attempting to calm me. I looked over and saw my wife off to the side crying and being comforted by a nurse. I was given a shot of narcan and slowly came out of the pain medication overdose. First time in my life I felt like I was truly going to die. The next morning I met with my surgeon who explained that he removed my colon and was able to save enough to attach it to my rectum thus I did not need a colostomy bag. He stated he believed he got all the cancer and then told me that he did take out a new record in lymph nodes. He took out a whopping 151 lymph nodes but unfortunately 9 came back positive for malignancy. All 9 were near the tumor. I was diagnosed with stage 3c colon cancer (T4N2). I was very fortunate that the cancer had not spread to any other organs.
Blessed with family and community support
I spent 8 days in the hospital. During that time I had excellent care and was visited by numerous friends and family. My wife was tasked with both trying to help me and take care of our 3 kids. It was truly a difficult time. My brother had flown back from Florida and he and his wife helped as much as they could with both me and the kids. My co-workers visited me everyday and began to instill in me a more positive approach in my thinking. I went home on October 19 after no major issues in the hospital.
It was hard at home because all I did was sit around and think about the unknown. I could not even pick up my kids or change a diaper. I felt useless. Everyday someone would come by and bring food or cards. I had enough food to feed an army for 2 weeks. Some of it I could not eat as I was adjusting to life with only a small amount of colon left. My kids and wife ate great during this time but I preferred soup.
The thoughtfulness of the community I live and work in was truly amazing. I never once thought I would be on the receiving end of this kind of courtesy. I had people taking out my garbage, shoveling snow, putting up Christmas lights, hauling my kids around and cooking for me – all I had to do was put in my order.
When I returned to my surgeon to have my staples out, he recommended the The Colon Club’s message boards. I had asked some basic questions and he said The Colon Club had all the answers. He told me about The Colondar and said one of his past patients was a recent model. I went home and found the one website forum that I came to rely on daily. Words cannot express the people and solid information that was available at The Colon Club.
The “Big 3” – Oxaliplatin, Leucovorin and Fluorouracil (5fu)
I started my chemo on Nov. 29, 2010. I was to get the “Big 3″ – Oxaliplatin, Leucovorin and Fluorouracil (5fu). I went for my first infusion with my father-in-law and my wife. Wow did I need that positive thinking when I went inside the infusion room in the cancer center. It was a mix of emotions that will never be fully understood, much like this disease. It twists and turns you, spins you around then sits you down to try to deal with it. How could this disease do this? I look and feel normal. I don’t look like I have cancer. I was instructed of all the aftereffects of the chemo treatment. Some I thought were worrisome, others I would just deal with it. I got my first cocktail and left for the day wearing my infusion pump for 48 hours.
I was scheduled to go back to work on Dec. 6th on a limited basis. I was going to have a person with me on patrol during my entire time on chemo. I was excited to return to work and be with the guys. The department works 10 hour days so my scheduled days off were Thurs, Fri, and Sat. I planned to get my treatments on Monday and have the pump removed on Wed. I would then have 3 full days to recoup and try to get my strength back. I tolerated chemo pretty well for the most part. Some weeks on chemo I suffered from fatigue and nausea and it took a couple of treatments to find a way to deal with the nausea. Fatigue started to set in on Wed. and I would finally start to feel better by Sat. night. Over the next 6 months, I completed all but three of Oxy treatments. The last three were stopped due to low counts and neuropathy. I worked throughout the treatments at my leisure. It was not easy, but looking back now, it is amazing I was able to go through chemo, work and still take care of 3 kids under the age of 6. I know I could not have done it without the support of my wife, friends and family.
I finished chemo on May 23rd 2010 in time to go on my annual fishing trip to Northern Minnesota with my brothers and a friend. As I’ve recovered from treatment, the chemo side effects have gone away. The neuropathy is mostly gone. I have gained most of my weight and strength back. Of course, I feel better now than I have for several years. I have my regular 3 month blood work and get a scan every six months. So far I have no detectable cancer. The best I can hope for right now. Only God knows my path. I will accept what it is He has planned for me but until then, I’m reminded of my 5 year old son’s favorite verse: “The Lord will answer when I call out to him.” Psalm 4:3
My hope for colon cancer…
I would like to see more information provided to the men and women about colon cancer. Unfortunately too many doctors are not taking a proactive stance about colon cancer in younger people. It is just too easy for them to chalk it up to some other problem. For people reading my story and bio – don’t be fooled by your symptoms and your young age. If you have the basic symptoms of colon cancer, get checked out. If you feel your doctor is not working for you, find one that will.
UPDATE: We are sad to share that Eric Hyatt has passed away.