Colorectal cancer survivor: Giving back changed my life
Sharing my stage IV colorectal cancer story with others is a blessing, though I’ll admit: at the time of my diagnosis, I didn’t feel this way.
In June 2016, my gastroenterologist discovered a 4.5-centimeter mass in my cecum -- a pouch connected to where the small and large intestines meet -- during a colonoscopy. A subsequent CT scan revealed that the cancer had spread to several lymph nodes and my liver. Up until that point, I was a healthy and physically active 71-year-old, and suddenly I was thrust into a world of uncertainty and medical jargon. Trying to wrap my mind around it all was like trying to drink through a fire hose -- overwhelming.
Colorectal cancer treatment at MD Anderson
I didn’t like what my first oncologist had to say, so I came to MD Anderson for a second opinion. Dr. Eduardo Vilar-Sanchez and Dr. Brian Bednarski recommended I begin treatment with surgery instead of chemotherapy because my tumor was impacting my appendix. So during a four-hour surgery in July 2016, Dr. Bednarski removed the tumor, along with 2 feet of my large intestine, several infected lymph nodes and my appendix.
Shortly after surgery, I began chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Douglas Nelson at MD Anderson in The Woodlands because it is close to my home. Every other Monday, I spend about four hours getting my infusion at the clinic, then leave with a chemo pump to continue treatment for an additional 48 hours. Since I still have multiple cancer nodes in my liver and lymph nodes, I will continue this process indefinitely.
Enjoying life despite cancer treatment side effects
Chemotherapy leaves me nauseous and fatigued, and I’ve developed neuropathy in my fingertips and feet. I’ve also had to change my diet to accommodate my altered taste buds. However, people constantly comment on how well I look in spite of cancer. I believe that’s the result of my continued efforts to stay active.
I can’t exercise with the same intensity as before, but I still take mile-long hikes and do chores around the house and garden. I even purchased a bicycle to ride around my neighborhood. I do it not only because I know exercise is so important for my health, but because physical activity was always a passion of mine.
One of the biggest lessons I learned since my diagnosis is that enjoying life does not stop with treatment. Despite the hardships, I can -- and do -- live with cancer. I make future plans and travel when I can. I get on my motorcycle and ride with friends in good weather, and I like to play games with my grandkids. I try to live as normally as possible.
Finding the blessings in your cancer diagnosis
When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t see things this way. I didn’t want to share my diagnosis with anyone because I didn’t want to feel like a burden. After word got out, I became overwhelmed and actually embarrassed by how family and friends responded. I realized that my loved ones actually feel a need to help, and once I welcomed their giving hearts, I felt compelled to give back to others.
Now I share my story with whoever listens -- even prison inmates. We all have struggles, and learning to talk about them is empowering. I had no idea how my journey could impact others until I learned to speak out. It’s like cancer has opened doors for me to grow in ways I had no interest in before.
Cancer is a chapter of life. It’s not easy, but it can bring goodness into your life. Think of a way you can give back. You will be amazed at what blessings are returned.