How colorectal cancer treatment improved my quality of life
Nobody ever wants to receive a cancer diagnosis. But when I found out I had poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma of the cecum — a type of colorectal cancer — in September 2012, I was somewhat relieved.
As someone who’d had ulcerative colitis since middle school, I’d been dealing with chronic diarrhea, frequent stomachaches and other digestive issues for more than 20 years. But after the birth of my second daughter in May 2011, my symptoms increased dramatically. I started dropping weight, losing my hair and occasionally passing blood.
I’d been getting colonoscopies regularly to make sure my symptoms were due to ulcerative colitis instead of polyps. But my results never warranted surgical intervention until the fall of 2012, when I was 35 and my girls were 3 and 1.
I really wanted to be healthy for them — as well as for my husband and our families. A confirmed colorectal cancer diagnosis offered me a chance to do that.
My colorectal cancer diagnosis
Naturally, we were shocked and scared when we first learned I had cancer. My husband, Trey, and I moved quickly from anxiety to action. Trey began researching specialists who were board certified in both oncologic surgery and colorectal surgery.
We spoke with several surgeons, but ultimately decided MD Anderson was where we wanted to be.
The best thing about MD Anderson: it’s a one-stop shop
The best thing about MD Anderson is that it offers everything in one place. It really is a one-stop shop – different specialties working together on your course of treatment.
MD Anderson has highly skilled surgeons and oncologists, with expert knowledge and practical experience. They also have pharmacists who work closely with medical staff to limit side effects. We were really impressed with the expertise and all the types of support available.
We were also grateful that such high-quality care was available so close to home. We live in the Rio Grande Valley, which is only five hours south of Houston.
Our first visit re-affirmed our decision to choose MD Anderson
The first person we met at MD Anderson was Dr. George Chang, a colorectal cancer surgeon. We had heard of him through an acquaintance who’d been treated at MD Anderson, and felt lucky to have been scheduled with him. His team is amazing, and they all took the time to answer our questions.
We never felt rushed, and Dr. Chang and his team never minimized any of our concerns. To us, that was just more proof that MD Anderson was the place we needed to be.
My initial colorectal cancer treatment plan
After my initial examination and testing, Dr. Chang believed I could be treated successfully with surgery alone. He recommended a total proctocolectomy with a J-pouch reversal. This would require two or three surgeries and could be completed in as little as three months.
The first stage would involve the complete removal of my large intestine and the creation of a temporary stoma (or hole in my side) to collect solid waste in a bag outside my body. The second stage would involve pulling my small intestine down and creating a J-shaped pouch at its end to act as a new large intestine. The third stage would involve connecting the J-pouch to my remaining rectum and closing up the stoma.
My colorectal cancer treatment
We were on board with Dr. Chang’s plan, and my first surgery took place in December 2012. Dr. Chang was able to complete the first two stages during that surgery.
The second and final surgery was initially scheduled for March 2013. But then, the pathology report came back. It showed a tumor had been hiding in the inner lining of my colon, and it had spread to my lymph nodes. Because of the lymph node involvement, I was officially diagnosed at stage 3, and I would require six months of chemotherapy before I could have the final surgery.
I started receiving chemotherapy infusions in January 2013 and finished them in June 2013. Dr. Chang performed my final surgery in August 2013, and I’ve been cancer-free ever since.
My life after colorectal cancer treatment
You might think that having your large intestine removed would make life more difficult. And it’s true that I’ve had a few bumps in the road. I must be more careful with my diet and have found that certain foods must be eliminated for optimal health.
I struggle with inflammation of the J-pouch, but for the most part, my side effects have been minimal. With the help of my gastroenterologist, Dr. Yinghong Wang, we’re working on decreasing my inflammation.
I am lucky that my side effects don’t hinder my day-to-day life at all. In fact, my quality of life is so much better today than it was when I actually had a colon. You can’t ask for a better result than that.