My journey began at the beginning of January 2021. I noticed I was bleeding during bowel movements and I thought I was having hemorrhoid issues (I’ve bled in the past however the bleeding had always subsided after some Tucks/Pep-H use). It wasn’t going away and so I casually mentioned it to my husband (who is a retired NavyCorpsman). He suggested I go see a regular doctor. We didn’t have a primary care doc since he was newly retired (end of Nov. 2019) so the hunt started to find a new PCM to see us. I found one, and our appointment was in April 2021.
After meeting with her, she referred me to see a GI specialist. That appointment was scheduled for mid-May 2021. When I went to that appointment, they stated they would schedule me for a colonoscopy. I thought that was crazy for some hemorrhoids but agreed to it.
My appointment was scheduled for July 15, 2021, at 1 pm. I was scared shitless (pun intended) as I thought this was a bit extreme for hemorrhoid treatment, however, I was wheeled into the OR and some meds were given to me through an IV. I remember saying “I’m still awake….I’m still awake”…..and then I was woken up by one of the techs. Her words to me as I sat up “We found a mass, you have cancer.”
I walked outside to my husband (who was waiting outside due to Covid-19 restrictions) and looked him in the eyes and told him I had cancer. We cried and were in disbelief. It was biopsied and I would soon receive a call in a few days to confirm the findings. On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, I went back to the GI doc who sat me down, looked at me, and told me I had rectal cancer. I stared at him in disbelief and asked if that was it and if I could go. He said he would be referring me to a colorectal surgeon up North and I said ok. I walked out to my car, sat down inside, and cried. I really didn’t know what else to do but cry. I pulled myself together to drive back to work. Told one of my co-workers while in my office and we just cried together. I left early for the day.
I met with my surgeon for the first time on Tuesday, July 27. He was an older man with absolutely no personality but he is one of the best surgeons in the area I live in. After having my CT scan (Aug. 4) and my MRI (Aug 24…it lasted 2 hours!!!!), my surgeon was certain I was at stage 1 rectal cancer. Surgery was suggested as well as an ileostomy (temp) to allow my insides to heal. I was heartbroken. Terrified. The ostomy part completely scared me and I didn’t want any part of that. Surgery was planned and on September 23, 2021, and would be followed by a six-day hospital visit. A lower anterior resection was done along with the removal of my rectum where the cancer resided. A j-pouch was created while I was given a temp loop ileostomy to let my insides heal. I was released from the hospital after 6 days and didn’t think much about anything other than to heal and was eager to get back to work. A follow-up appointment to remove the 30+ staples in my abdomen was on 10/13 with my surgeon.
When he said that he wanted my hubby and me to go into his office…..dread filled me. Nothing good happens in that office. He sat us down and told us cancer was found in 3 out of 15 lymph nodes. That placed me at stage 3b rectal cancer. I basically sat there, stunned, unable to talk, as my husband listened. He recommended radiation and chemotherapy to ensure all the cancer was removed. My heart sank. This was supposed to be a surgery, rest/heal, and then another surgery to remove the ileostomy. Another curveball to dodge.
Anyhow….the moral of my story is that at the time I was diagnosed with cancer I was 44 years old. The age for colorectal screening (now) is 45 (it was age 50). I wasn’t aware that colorectal cancer ran in my family until after the fact. I strongly encourage young people (and older people) to discuss with their families their cancer history. My family never talked about it, and I never asked about it. We are seeing colorectal cancer in people as young as in their teens. This is no longer an “old person’s cancer”.
If you are experiencing any type of symptom, please notify your primary care doctor in order to be referred for a colonoscopy.
Signs/symptoms of colorectal cancer:
Going to my new doctor saved my life. I’ve gone from hell to back and slowly making my way back up. I’ve completed 28 rounds of chemo-radiation and I will be receiving my 5th round of chemo this Monday 4/4/22.