I distinctly remember when I first thought something was wrong with me. I was 33 years old and I thought I was healthy.
I was enjoying a Thai lunch with my friend Maureen. It was September of 2004 and we were sitting in the restaurant catching up on our lives. As I started to eat I got a vicious pain in my stomach. The pain made me stop and take deep breath and rub my stomach to ease the pain. The color drained from my face and I started to sweat. I told Maureen that I thought the pains started while I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic but that they were sporadic and I was going to get them checked out. I thought I had eaten something that made me sick. I did not do anything about the pains until November of that same year. They were coming and going and I was having difficulty going to the bathroom, yet still I didn’t think anything was wrong with me other than a little bit of constipation. Finally, in mid-November it became unbearable and I could not go to the bathroom at all. That is when my ordeal really started. I went to urgent care and they immediately sent me for a CT scan. The results indicated that I had a bowel obstruction and surgery must be performed to remove it. I was shocked. I thought I was just a little constipated.
Here is where it gets fun (NOT!). I was released from urgent care and told to go to the emergency room at another hospital. I was alone during all this, so I took a cab to the ER and checked myself in and called my family. I was quickly admitted and then every doctor in the ER felt the need to give me a rectal exam! After what seemed like years in the ER, I was moved into hospital room. Over the next few days, the doctors tried to get the obstruction to move by giving me countless enemas, none of which worked. My abdomen was so distended that I looked like I was with child. I was in so much discomfort. After a couple of enemas, I told them enough! It wasn’t working. A surgeon came to visit me and told me that I would need surgery. I am sure he spoke to me about the possibility of cancer, the risk of surgery, the possibility of a colostomy, etc., but all I remember is that I said, “Get it out so I won’t be in any more pain!”
That was the first of 4 surgeries that I’ve had. A colectomy was performed and a one foot section of my colon was removed. I was also given a temporary colostomy. After pathology dissected my tumor and the section of my colon, they confirmed that I had Stage 3C colon cancer with 11 lymph nodes involved. My cousin and aunt were with me when the news was delivered and we were all in shock. I was healthy! How could this have happened to me? Then I delivered the news to my mother and the rest of the family. It was a very difficult blow to them and I found myself consoling them. I am a very positive person and I did not spend my days in recovery dwelling on how bad it was that I had cancer. I started making myself knowledgeable on the subject and what I could do to deal with it. It took me 3 months to recover from surgery. It was a very debilitating and painful recovery. Dealing with having a colostomy was also very difficult. I had a wonderful visiting nurse who taught me what to do. After I recovered from the surgery I went back to my full time job as an Executive Assistant at a hospital. That turned out to be great because I chose to have my FOLFOX chemotherapy there as well. I worked full time while I was on chemo for 6 months. The chemotherapy went pretty well and I dealt with it by booking friends and family to come sit with me during each session. It allowed me to spend time with everyone that cared about me and it also gave them a chance to see that I was doing well.
In the following years, I have had 3 surgeries. In 2005, I had the colostomy reversed. That was also a very difficult recovery. I developed an E-coli infection that had to be treated with at-home antibiotics. So, there I was giving myself antibiotics for 2 weeks, then the antibiotics made me sick too. In 2006, I had a recurrence in the same area, so it was more surgery – a spleenectomy, distal pancreatectomy, partial colectomy and an omentectomy. That was followed by another 6 months of chemotherapy (Avastin) and 5 weeks of radiation. The daily radiation was very tiring. To this day I cannot stand too close to a microwave. It smells like radiation. Yes, radiation has a smell. The final surgery was in 2008 and that was a right lower lobectomy. They removed 25% of my right lung and I was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. Whew – that is a lot for one body to take. Fortunately or unfortunately, I won”t have to do chemo again. Now it’s really just a waiting game. Hopefully the cancer won’t come back. But guess what? I am too busy living to worry about it. I am still here! Living it up one day at a time and enjoying every minute that I am still here. I am hosting my TV show, drinking some fine red wine, dancing up a storm and doing all the things that make me happy. Cancer cannot stop me!