Anal cancer survivor: Why I keep returning to MD Anderson
When I heard that Farrah Fawcett had died of anal cancer in June 2009, I remember saying out loud to myself, “Anal cancer? There is such a thing?”
Less than three weeks later, I was diagnosed with the exact same type of cancer. I’d had just one symptom — a bit of blood on my toilet tissue — so I was in total shock.
Having lived in Houston for 20-plus years before moving to Colorado, I knew I was going to MD Anderson. And I have no regrets.
My only anal cancer symptom
When I first saw the blood on my toilet paper, I thought I was getting hemorrhoids. I was approaching 50 at the time, so it didn’t seem that unusual. But when it happened again a week later, and then a week after that, and a week after that, I started getting nervous. The spot was probably no bigger than a quarter, but I knew something was wrong. I made an appointment with my local doctor.
My physician thought it was probably hemorrhoids, too. He sent me to a specialist for a colonoscopy just to be sure. That’s how I learned there was mass about an inch long right inside my anal canal.
My doctors in Denver couldn’t decide if it was anal or rectal cancer, so I came to MD Anderson, where I met with Dr. Cathy Eng. She gave me a definitive diagnosis: squamous cell anal carcinoma, a type of anal cancer. It had already spread to some nearby lymph nodes, which made it stage III.
My anal cancer treatment
Dr. Eng recommended six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I didn’t need surgery. So every Monday morning, I’d get hooked up with a pump through my PICC line to deliver chemotherapy 24/7. I had to have a separate infusion of cisplatin. I also had radiation daily Monday through Friday.
The side effects from my anal cancer treatment were really hard. Drugs helped with the nausea, but I still couldn’t stand to smell or eat anything. And radiation was fine at the beginning, but its effects are cumulative, and eventually, my skin started to look and feel burned.
How I made it through radiation therapy
Being that burnt in such a sensitive area was unbelievably painful. My doctors gave me pain medicine for before I went to the bathroom, but I didn’t always use it, perhaps because I was afraid of getting addicted. I knew when the pain would be at its worst, so I did my best to bear through it knowing that it would pass.
The way I see it, cancer is as much a mind game as it is a physical battle. So I was not going to be defeated.
I listened to my doctors and did everything they told me to do. And whenever I started feeling down, I’d remember this mantra: “Fate whispers to the warrior, “You cannot withstand the storm.” The warrior whispers back, “I am the storm.” That gave me the strength to carry on. And today I feel nothing but gratitude.
Why I still return to MD Anderson for check-ups
I had my last chemotherapy and radiation treatments on Sept. 11, 2009. And I was considered cancer-free by December 2009, when my first scans after finishing treatment showed no evidence of disease.
I still return to Houston every year for my check-ups, even though I live in Colorado. Because I trust Dr. Eng totally, and you can’t argue with her results.