A tumor was removed along with my spleen and part of my pancreas on 12/27/2007. It was the 4th time cancer returned to my body after the initial stage IV diagnosis in 2004. My cancer was always unusual. Instead of spreading to lymph nodes, liver, and lungs which is typical in colorectal cancers, mine went straight to my ovaries. Then it came back in my small intestine, twice, peritoneum covering my bladder and finally my spleen. In 14 years of survivorship and all my advocacy work to raise awareness of colorectal cancer in young people, I’ve never met anyone else whose cancer metastasized and spread like mine.
I’ve had 8 major surgeries. A total colectomy, hysterectomy, two HIPEC, splenectomy, right nephrectomy, stoma revision, and a bowel obstruction that had to be surgically corrected. Countless minor surgeries. Radiation to my bladder and pelvic floor caused irreparable damage. I lost most of my small intestine in the first HIPEC and received an ileostomy in 2005. While this surgery saved my life, it damaged my right ureter. After years of stents, pain, and kidney infections, I lost my right kidney in 2013. In 2015 the stoma revision fixed my stoma but damaged my left ureter resulting in stage 3 kidney disease. I’ve had a left nephrostomy since Thanksgiving day 2016.
After the splenectomy, I underwent a vaccine trial at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I’ve been cancer free ever since. Today, 12/27/2017, I’m officially 10 YEARS cancer free. In many ways my life is more difficult than it was while I had cancer. Living with the physical, psychological, and emotional aftermath of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries hasn’t been a picnic. Kidney disease is not fun. High blood pressure is not fun. Being tired all the time is not fun. Short Bowel disease and 16 hours of IVs each day is not fun. Living with an ileostomy and nephrostomy is not fun.
Watching my sons grown into young men is fun. Being married to my husband for 20 years is fun. Celebrating my 44th birthday yesterday was fun. Volunteering for The Colon Club is fun. I am grateful for my bonus time here on Earth. I have found purpose in my pain. I’m grateful for the family of survivors I’ve been able to meet. I’m sad every time we lose one, like we did in November and then again yesterday.
I’m determined to make a difference. I do not want my bonus time to be wasted. I will continue to do my best to educate people that colorectal cancer happens at any age. I love when people come to me to say they had a colonoscopy because I kept talking about how important it is to be screened.
I want all of my survivor friends to have 10 years cancer free. I want a cure or a vaccine that works for everyone. I want my Aunt Marcia and my brother Mike to be cancer free. I want all of my cousins to get a colonoscopy and genetic testing. I never want my sons to have cancer. I want another 10 years.
Leighann Sturgin is a writer for The Colon Club’s annual magazine On The Rise and Blog Master for The Colon Club. She was featured in the 2015 Colondar 2.0. She lives in Wooster, Ohio with her husband Todd and sons Nate and Kyle. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @nobuttgirl on Twitter, Instagram and Colon Talk.