Stage III Rectal Cancer

On November 11, 2009, I sat in the doctor’s office waiting alone, not knowing my life would change fairly quickly. A week before I had gone to see my primary care physician because I had been having some blood in my stool every now and then. The physician thought I had internal hemorrhoids and would need to see a surgeon to get them cut out. She set me up with a specialist the following week. Because I was so sure of the diagnosis, I told my husband that he did not need to come with me and that I would call him after my appointment. After a quick exam, the surgeon asked if I had anyone with me. That’s when I knew something was wrong.

As I sat waiting for the doctor to come into his office, my mind was racing. I was a healthy 26-year-old girl who was very active and had no family history. I had no symptoms other than the blood in my stool. This could not be cancer. This had to be from stress or not eating correctly. My mind was all over the place until the doctor told me it was Rectal Cancer. I immediately called my husband. Sobbing, I think I got out the words, “its cancer”.

The next couple of days were kind of a whirlwind. Having to tell my parents, sister, brother, family and friends that I had cancer was extremely hard. The hardest part for me was not knowing the answers to their questions: what stage, what do you have to do, how bad, has it spread, what are the next steps? All I knew was I was scheduled for a bunch of test and scans that would provide us with more answers. The following week I received the answers while at work. It was rectal cancer, but the good news was it had not spread.

Fortunately for us, a family friend spoke to my mom about freezing some of my eggs, just in case. Justin and I had been married for 3 years and kids were in the near future. I scheduled an appointment with a fertility doctor after I found out my diagnosis. I did injections into my stomach every day to increase the number of eggs and saw the doctor every other day to check on my progress. We were able to freeze 10 embryos in case we needed them after all my treatment. This process really helped me have a positive attitude going into my treatment. To know that I have a chance to have children later on was a blessing. I know not everyone can do this because the expense is overwhelming, especially with the expense of cancer treatments looming.

The day after my 27th birthday I started my first round of chemo and radiation. Chemotherapy was not terrible at the beginning. I had a port in my chest where the chemo was delivered. Every week I would go back to the doctors and they would clean out the port, give me IV’s, draw my blood, and replace my chemo pack with a new one. Radiation was not bad at the beginning either.  It took longer for me to drive to the hospital than it took to get the radiation.

The side effects were small at first. I would see an increase in my bathroom visits and I was a little more tired, but I was still going to work each day and going about my business with my chemo pack. I remember one time my husband and I went out to dinner with some friends. They were not aware of my diagnosis and when I took off my coat they said to me, “What’s that, your survival pack?” My husband and I laughed and said, “Yes, basically.” As the chemo and radiation continued, it was harder and harder for me to go about my business. I was getting more and more exhausted and would just sleep most of the day. My fingers would tingle and go numb with the touch of something hot or cold. The metal taste in my mouth would make food not taste right.

March 1, 2010 was my surgery date. My surgeon told me beforehand that he was not sure if I was going to have a permanent or temporary colostomy. He said he would have to make the decision in the operating room. I was so hopeful for the temporary colostomy, but I think I knew in the back of my mind that it would be permanent. As I was waking up from the surgery, I remember my husband standing by my bed and I said to him, “Is it on the left or the right?” This was my way of knowing if it was permanent or temporary. Right was temporary, left was permanent. My husband said, “It’s on the left”, and I went right back to sleep.

The day after surgery, I had about 20 staples in my stomach and a permanent colostomy. I was not in pain, but the surgeon came in to check on me and said he wanted me to get up and walk around. I thought he was crazy, but I did it. I spent a week in the hospital and didn’t want to leave when the surgeon said he was discharging me. I was so nervous about going home with staples and a colostomy. I kept thinking, “How am I going to take care of this thing without throwing up?” But I had a wonderful at-home nurse who came to see me every day and she gave me the confidence to really look at the colostomy and understand it.

A month after my surgery I started back up on the chemotherapy, and every two weeks I was reunited with my “survival pack.” I would sit in the cancer institute for 4 hours getting the Folfox and then take the pack home with me to get the 5-FU for 48 hours. The day after I was unhooked from the pack was the worst day for me. This is when the chemo really kicked my butt.

I am happy to say that the past two colonoscopies have been free and clear! I don’t have to have another for 3 years. Having a colostomy is a bit of an adjustment and I have to see the positive side. I thank God that I have a supportive and loving husband. He continues to this day to make me feel beautiful and sexy. My family was a huge support for me and I continue to lean on them for help. We are planning to pursue the adoption process and hope to welcome a child into our home soon.