Imagine being 24 years old, 17 weeks pregnant, and told that you have stage 4 colon cancer with a percent five-year survival rate. Imagine lying in the hospital bed with a newly placed colostomy bag, as the OB/GYN tells the father of your child and your parents that they could “You need to make arrangements to be a single father” right in front of you. My name is Riley and I don’t have to imagine these things because they happened to me.
Despite surgery and chemo while I was pregnant, I managed to give birth to a healthy baby girl. After the birth of my daughter, I had more chemo, and another two surgeries. I have been NED (No Evidence of Disease) since February 26, 2016. Since then, I have had CT scans every 3 to 6 months along with yearly colonoscopies and endoscopies as a way to monitor for any reoccurrence, but have felt like I have spent the last five years holding my breath, waiting for bad news. Because I have lynch syndrome, a genetic mutation making me higher risk for colorectal and other cancers, I will forever be monitored for new cancers, but I will take yearly scopes, CT scans, PAP smears, and skin checks over chemo and surgery any day!
This year, I had my routine CT scan on June 29th. I’m very superstitious person so all the changes from my normal routine made me extra nervous heading into these appointments. I was following up with one of my providers I don’t see often, things at the hotel were out of order, and because of new COVID regulations, I couldn’t do the usual things I do when I would I travel to Houston from New Mexico for appointments. These changes made me mentally check out of my appointments. I just wanted them over with. Even though I was 5 years from diagnosis and nearing 5 years in remission, things just weren’t feeling right. I couldn’t help thinking to myself “THIS is the time I have a recurrence. I just know it.”
I did my best to sleep through the night so I could hurry and get to my appointment time which was tele-video. We went through the normal questions about new medications, allergies, new symptoms etc. Then, finally, my oncologist told me, “Your scans and bloodwork are great, everything looks amazing!” I was relieved, as I always am when I hear that news. I thanked him, and was about ready to say “Goodbye, and see you in 6 months” when he paused and said “You have been coming here for 5 years now, so we can move you to yearly appointments. Wait, 5 years? We are considering you cured. You are 5 years out and considered cured from stage 4 cancer.”
I could NOT believe it. I cried, and I cried hard! I had accepted that I would never hear “cured”. I had accepted my life would forever be filled with scans and scopes every 6 months to a year. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. I finally let go of 5 years of tears I had been holding in, that was 5 years of hope, 5 years of worry, 5 years of “what if’s” and 5 years, 5 years I had been holding my breath! July 1, 2020, I got to let that breath out.
The world may appear to be ending all around us but 2020 is my year. This is the year my world actually starts over again for me. I have a second chance, a second birthday, and I have finally been able to breathe!