When I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, I immediately had a lot of questions. I needed to know what I was up against. Personally, I wanted to know the basics: What stage was my cancer? What's the game plan? I didn't want statistics. I wanted to know what we needed to do to beat it, and I wanted to get started.
I wasn't the only one with questions. My friends and family had several as well. Below are some of the most common questions I received after my colorectal cancer diagnosis.
How did you know you had colorectal cancer?
I didn't know. I had been battling Crohn's disease for 10 years, and the symptoms of Crohn's are very similar to that of colorectal cancer. I assumed my recent increase in bowel movements and loose stools were just a Crohn's flare-up. I finally went to the emergency room after I'd started to experience pain and more blood in my stool. A colonoscopy and blood work confirmed I had cancer.
What was your colorectal cancer treatment?
My colorectal cancer treatment consisted of 28 days of chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgery. The initial tumor was found in my rectum, so I had to undergo radiation before the doctors removed my large intestines.
I had radiation every weekday morning and took oral chemo medication (Xeloda) on the same day. I took the weekends off, then returned on Mondays for the next dose. The radiation was tough on my body. I threw up every morning, and my body ached after the seventh treatment or so. After I completed the radiation, I rested for nearly two months. After that, had surgery.
Once they removed my colon and rectum, my care team discovered 18 separate tumors in my colon. The cancer also had spread to 22 of the 118 lymph nodes they'd removed. Because of this, they started me on a four-month chemo regiment.
Each Monday, I went to the clinic to begin the two-day treatment of two drugs, 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) and Oxaliplatin for four to six hours on Monday mornings, I had my premeds and initial dose of chemo. Once I'd completed this infusion, they connected me to a pump that dripped over 36 hours. This allowed me to stay at home for the second chemo medication. On Wednesday mornings, I returned to have the pump disconnected and my port flushed. After 10 to 12 days off, I started another round. I did a total of eight rounds.
Did you lose your hair?
The treatment I received did not cause my hair to fall out. The chemo they used is specific for colorectal cancer, and that is not one of the side effects.
I did experience some sensitivity to cold in my hands and mouth, and after my treatment, I began to experience peripheral neuropathy, numbness and tingling in my hands and feet. That continues today.
How do you function without a colon and rectum? When the surgeon removes your colon and rectum, they create an ileostomy. This is a surgical opening in the abdomen where your small intestines are brought through known as a stoma. The patient is fitted with an ostomy appliance that adheres to the stomach and collects the stool.
How does your ostomy pouch/bag work?
The pouch and wafer adhere to your stomach around the stoma. The wafer has a hole in it that allows your small intestines to empty into the pouch. The pouch collects the stool as it and can be emptied throughout the day.
It's fairly low profile. I've gotten used to checking it several times a day to see if I need to empty. A lot of the appliances have a wide mouth at the bottom that allows you to unroll the bag and empty it into the toilet. I usually empty between four to six times a day and once at night.
Once you get over the fear that people will see it, it's very easy to manage. I'm able to work out, run, row, swim and play basketball with no problems at all. I wear a compression tank top under my shirt to minimize any bulge. Most people would never know I had an ostomy unless they knew what to look for.
What's your prognosis?
To be honest, I don't know, and I don't dwell on it. I get a CT scan every six months to track my progress. My results have all been good so far. I'm happy, healthy and blessed with a great support system and the best wife in the world. I live my life, I enjoy my time with my children, and I cherish the little things.
My doctor, Craig Messick, M.D., said something that I will never forget. He said just because there are statistics out there doesn't mean you have to be one.