Michele Davis’s Story
I noticed some bleeding that persisted for a few weeks in fall 2011. At some point, I must have mentioned it to my fiancé (now my husband) because I remember him asking if I was still bleeding and urging me to go to the doctor. I finally gave in and went to the gastroenterologist (GI), all the while telling my husband what a waste of time it was.
I left the GI with an appointment for a colonoscopy. At the surgical center, my doctor tried to ease my mind and said that given my family history (or lack thereof) I had nothing to worry about and, while there’s always a chance, he’s never seen colon cancer in someone my age. I would be his youngest patient to receive such a diagnosis – a contest I really didn’t want to win. I have no family history of colon cancer and a fairly insignificant family history of cancer in general. Genetic testing was not revealing and, with exception of a brief history of smoking, I carry no risk factors. This can truly happen to anyone.
When I was told I had colon cancer, I remember trying to comprehend those words as if they were in another language. I kept trying to solve the puzzle and figure a way out of this situation. I wanted to run, to get away from danger. In the end, you can’t run from yourself; the only way out was through.
Dealing With a Diagnosis
I was in survival mode for a long time. Once in remission, my body was on the mend, but my mind had a lot to process. Sharing the news with my family and friends was not easy. They were incredibly supportive, but it was difficult to say those words over and over. People were concerned and had a lot of questions that I just couldn’t answer early on. Even today there are questions that I just don’t have the answers to and I’m learning to ‘live in the grey.’
Telling my parents and sisters was very hard, especially since they live several hours away. My younger sister was newly pregnant and I didn’t want to upset her. It took me a few days to tell my son, who was 12 at the time. I consulted a friend to help me tell him in the most honest and gentle way possible. To my surprise, he took it quite well. In hindsight I think it helped him that he had no experience whatsoever with cancer. We were able to give him facts and dispel any misconceptions he might have had, like that all people with cancer die.
My family and friends were incredible. They came together to help in more ways than I can count, from taking me to appointments and setting up a meal train to sending good magazines and cozy pajamas. They all inspired me to forge ahead, but I think my biggest inspiration came from others battling cancer. My personal story was no walk in the park, but as I encountered others fighting much more difficult battles, in some instances accepting that they would die, it made me feel some guilt and a tremendous amount of inspiration. If they could do that, I surely could handle this.
Having cancer has taught me to be grateful for all that I have and to really enjoy life. I would love to say I’ve mastered the ’don’t sweat the small stuff’ mantra, but that would be a lie. It’s a work in progress but I can safely say that after cancer, I don’t sweat the ‘medium sized stuff.’
On Screening & Awareness
Doctors told me my little party crasher (just one of the nicknames for my tumor, as it cancelled our destination wedding plans) had been plotting for at least 10 years. Although I didn’t have any signs that I can recall, I can’t help but wonder how my life would be different today had I just had a polyp removed, the obvious being that my husband and I would have had the wedding that we planned. More importantly, maybe I would not be experiencing the lingering effects of this disease.
I would love for the warning signs to be common knowledge for people of all ages. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I had changes or signs prior to the bleeding that I experienced because it was never on my radar. I would love for young people to get regular physicals and openly discuss these things that are often viewed as taboo. We need to start talking about the poop!
To those recently diagnosed: It’s definitely easier said than done, but try to take one day at a time, and give yourself permission to be a little selfish. When you want some time alone, say it; when you want to be surrounded by people, say it; when you need help, ask. Cancer affects more than just the patient or survivor, but we are at the center of it, living it, breathing it every minute. We don’t get a break from ourselves and it’s so important to make this challenging time as bearable as possible.
Michele Davis, 32
Seven months in remission