After her second chemotherapy infusion, Naomi Ziva realized that she was going to need more than medication to get through metastatic colorectal cancer treatment.
“The seriousness of having cancer was overwhelming, and I’m a jokester,” she says. “For me, it just got to the point that I had to break the heaviness in my head.”
So Naomi and her friend showed up to her third chemotherapy session dressed as superheroes.
“The nurses thought we were hilarious,” she says. “People who looked miserable in their chairs lifted their heads and smiled at me.”
At that moment, a new tradition was born. Naomi now shows up to every chemotherapy infusion appointment channeling a different character and passes out flowers. She’s been Wonder Woman, Slash of Guns N’ Roses and even the lamp shade from “A Christmas Story.” Sometimes, she involves the patients around her, too.
“When I did ‘A Christmas Story,’ I handed out little gifts. By the time I was done passing them out, people had on Santa sunglasses, hats and reindeer antlers,” she says. “It just changes the mood of the entire infusion center because we’re all going through this together.”
Naomi’s colorectal cancer diagnosis
Naomi found out she had stage IV colorectal cancer in June 2016, just one month after her 86-year-old aunt died from the disease.
“I was in so much shock that all I could say was, ‘I have cancer?’” she recalls. “There were things wrong with my body, but because I was diabetic and I’m used to things going wrong, I didn’t really look into it. You don’t think that you’re going to get colon cancer at 43.”
Three years before her diagnosis, Naomi started experiencing anemia, constipation and frequent urinary tract infections. At one point, she underwent an endoscopy and was told everything was fine.
Then in the spring 2016, Naomi started feeling abdominal pain and became chronically fatigued. A doctor in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives, prescribed some antibiotics, but eventually, the pain became so intense that it forced her to go to the emergency room. That’s when she finally received her diagnosis and learned that the cancer had spread to her liver, lungs and spine.
Naomi spent the next three weeks in the hospital.
“They couldn’t control the pain. I was in hospital for a little over two weeks before I started my first chemo treatment,” she says. “It was a really intense time.”
Naomi says she didn’t really feel a connection with her oncologist so she started looking for another.
“The more research we did, the more MD Anderson came up. It was the No. 1 cancer center in the U.S., so I was like, ‘We’ve got to go there.’”
Naomi’s colorectal cancer treatment at MD Anderson
In October 2016, Naomi flew to Houston and met with David Fogelman, M.D. Because her cancer had spread, surgery wasn’t an option. Instead, Fogelman recommended she continue her bi-weekly chemotherapy regimen, FOLFOX, under his direction but back home in Atlanta. The FOLFOX shrunk her tumors significantly, and her lesions also shrunk by about half.
But Naomi eventually developed peripheral neuropathy and was forced to stop one of the chemotherapy medications, Oxaliplatin. She continued taking the rest of the drugs until a CT scan in March 2017 showed they were no longer working. Now, she’s trying a new cocktail, FOLFIRI.
Coping with metastatic colorectal cancer
Naomi isn’t sure what will happen next, but she’s sticking with the activities and attitude that have gotten her to this point. In addition to dressing up each time she gets chemotherapy, she’s been blogging about her cancer journey, and she’s found comfort in the connections she’s made.
“I’ve had people contact me as far as Israel. One woman told me, ‘My mother was just diagnosed with colon cancer and I didn’t understand how she felt or what she was thinking until I read your blog,’” she says. “This is the kind of feedback I’m getting, and it makes me feel better, stronger and it makes it easier to fight.”
She hopes that those she meets through her blog and her costumes take away a positive attitude, too.
“It’s really easy to get lost in the suffering part of cancer, the scary part. But there’s always hope, and you can always fight. There’s no need to give up.”
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