My name is Candace Henley. I am a 45-year-old mother of five daughters. I wear blue for National Dress in Blue Day to honor those still fighting and those who lost their fights to colon cancer. I wear blue to remind myself of the road I traveled to survive and to remember every day is a gift.
I often tell people I feel like my life has been hit by a hurricane that went undetected. When it was all over, I was left with devastation that hit all corners of my life: physical, emotional, financial and psychological.
It took six months for me to be diagnosed with colon cancer. I began having bowel problems in December 2002. My stomach was in knots and cramping, and I had not had a sufficient bowel movement in almost two weeks. I went to the emergency room and was sent home without finding out what was wrong. The next month I had two surgeries to remove my ovaries and uterus and it was presumed that the problem was fixed.
June came around and I made my third trip to the emergency room. Finally, I was asked about my health history and was given a blood test, resulting in my taking a fecal test to determine if I had blood in my stool. The test was positive and I was quickly diagnosed with stage IIB colon cancer.
I had no idea how much my life was going to change with this diagnosis. I didn't know how to process the information I had been given. I wanted to ask questions but I didn’t. I was just numb.
Reality began to catch up with me after the surgery; I had my large intestine removed and a resection to the small intestine. I wasn’t able to care for myself, but had to rely on family and friends to take care of me. The woman who had held down a stressful blue-collar job as a bus driver, the mother of five girls, the sister, the daughter, the niece, the best friend, the superwoman as I was sometimes called, was now taken down by cancer.
I tried to talk to family and friends, but as much as they had sympathy for my experience, they couldn’t help me feel better. I lost 50 pounds within nine days of my surgery. I was scary to look at, but everyone put on a brave face for my sake. And I continued to pretend like I was dealing with everything just fine, putting on a fake smile when people would see me to help ease their shock.
Then the other problems started to kick in. My job disability didn’t pay nearly enough for my mortgage, utility bills and the needs of the children. I called agency after agency with very few results and finally, all the stresses caught up with me. Depression began to take over.
I was suicidal and spent five days in the hospital on 24-hour watch. I was counseled, at first continuing to hide my emotions and eventually learning to express my feelings in a healthy way. In the end, I lost my house, but I had my life.
Cancer has a domino effect on everyone in your life. Because of this cancer, my family and I suffered and I have been picking up the pieces of my life every day since, always facing new challenges. I feel so strongly now about screening because it not only saves your life, but the lives of your family members, too.
Which is why I’m involved with Dress in Blue Day and spreading colon cancer awareness. Colon cancer doesn’t discriminate; it knows no color, sex, age or political affiliation and can happen to anyone. Dress in Blue Day creates awareness and gives hope to people fighting colon cancer, helping them realize they are not alone. And I want patients to know: Don’t give up. Every day you get up makes you a survivor. Hold on to hope! And soon, the smallest of threads will twist into an unbreakable cord.
Candace Henley, 45
Stage IIB survivor