Everyone’s cancer journey is unique, and mine has certainly been more unusual than most.
It began in August 2005, when I was diagnosed with two different breast cancers -- one in each breast. Then, just four months later, I was diagnosed with stage II colorectal cancer after noticing intermittent bleeding in my stool.
Having lived in the Houston area my entire life, I felt that there was only one place to go -- MD Anderson. I had my first appointment with my breast surgeon, Rosa Hwang, M.D., in August 2005.
Coordinating my breast and colorectal cancer treatment
Dr. Hwang performed a double segmental mastectomy to begin my breast cancer treatment. In October, I started chemotherapy, but that was put on hold once my colorectal cancer was diagnosed.
My care team did an amazing job coordinating treatments for each cancer. My radiation oncologist, Thomas Buchholz, M.D., recommended we first shrink the colorectal tumor with radiation, so I had daily colorectal and breast radiation for seven weeks. I also had concurrent chemotherapy during this time, under the care of Cathy Eng, M.D., for my colorectal cancer.
In April 2006, Miguel Rodriguez-Bigas, M.D., performed surgery to remove the colorectal tumor, at which point I was declared cancer-free! However, I still had six months of chemotherapy after surgery.
The treatments were exhausting, especially as I continued to work as a third grade teacher and as a mom to my three kids, then ranging from middle school to college. However, all of their activities gave me a sense of purpose, and I wouldn’t have made it through without the support of my family and friends.
Cancer is a terrifying thing for me, but the doctors, nurses and technicians made it an almost pleasant experience. They were always there with smiles on their faces, cheering me on. They give their patients so much of themselves, and I know I am here today because of the wonderful staff at MD Anderson.
The importance of knowing your body
I was 46 years old when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, which is younger than the recommended age to start colonoscopies. I’m glad that I gathered the courage to talk to my oncologist when I noticed blood in my stool.
Because of that, a colonoscopy found my colorectal cancer at just stage II. I believe catching it at an early stage helped save my life.
That’s why I now tell everyone to get their routine cancer screenings. And, if something doesn’t seem right, have it checked. If cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor so he or she can advise you on screening and prevention. Find a doctor you can talk to and share your concerns with. I’m living proof that early detection is key.
My commitment to early detection and cancer awareness is the reason I’m so supportive of MD Anderson’s annual SCOPE 5K. The event helps raise funds for colorectal cancer awareness. I’ve participated almost every year since 2006, and I encourage everyone to spread the word, participate and help raise money for cancer research. I would love to see this horrible disease eradicated.
My cancer journey continues
My cancer journey hasn’t been an easy one, but I’ve met some amazing people along the way. I am truly blessed to be part of the MD Anderson family for 11 years now. I say that my cancer journey continues because, once you’re diagnosed with cancer, it never totally goes away.
My family and I have been forever changed by cancer, but I believe we have become better people. We’ve learned to accept what can’t be changed and how to show more compassion towards others.
A cancer diagnosis begins a scary journey. But as MD Anderson has showed me, the journey doesn’t have to be as scary as it used to be.
Nancy Herrod will be honored at the 12th annual SCOPE 5K run, which will be held at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 25, 2017. The race promotes colorectal cancer screening and honors those diagnosed with the disease. Learn more.