I have been asked many times how my cancer was discovered. I've joked that this isn't a "fun" type of cancer to talk about. After all, we’re talking about things like colons, rectums, bowel movements and the like. So, I apologize in advance for the bio references below.
In fall of 2007, I noticed a little bit of - what looked like - blood when having a bowel movement. Now, I know what you’re thinking. "Why didn't you run to a doctor right away?" In hind-sight, you're right. I should have. But at the time, your mind rationalizes things. So I chalked it up to rubbing too hard or having a hemorrhoid. And when this single symptom came and went, to me, my rationalization was solidified. After all, I might go weeks without seeing or noticing the blood.
But a few months later, I scheduled a physical to talk to my doctor about the blood. He gave me a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) to do at home and return. Of course, I got home, procrastinated, eventually lost the first test and had to get a new one. But when I finally got to it, I realized how easy the FOBT is to perform. Contrary to what some may think, it isn’t dirty or unsanitary at all. It only takes a few seconds to take the sample and then it’s in the envelope and off to the lab. And when the test came back positive for blood in my stool, my doctor suggested I go see a GI specialist for a colonoscopy.
Not being overly excited to have another doctor examining me in my least favorite place, it took me a few weeks to schedule that appointment. I had my in-office exam by the start of summer. He saw some hemorrhoids but couldn’t tell where the bleeding was coming from so suggested a colonoscopy. I had heard about colonoscopies from TV and friends but had never had one. I think I was more apprehensive about the prep than the actual procedure. I knew I would be asleep for the procedure so I wouldn’t remember a thing. As it turned out, the prep wasn’t as bad as I had heard.
On June 18, 2008, the colonoscopy was performed. During the exam, my GI found a couple polyps that were easily removed. But, he also found something else: a tumor in my lower colon. The tumor was situated right where the colon attaches to the rectum and about eight cm, or three inches, long. A surgery was quickly scheduled to remove the tumor. About eight inches of the colon and rectum had to be removed during the surgery. I was very fortunate not to require a colostomy. After biopsies and PET scans, I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with metastasis to my lymph system and liver. Wow! How could I have colon cancer?!? After all, I was 41 years old, married with two young kids.
I decided right away that I would do my best not to let cancer dictate how I lived my life and I have been very blessed to be able to do just that. I still work my full-time job except for infusion days and time off for procedures. I still volunteer with my church’s youth program and participate in mission trips each year. I teach guitar in my spare time to 12 – 16 students per week and am active in my son’s Boy Scout troop. Life is good!
Attitude is so important in life but even more so when battling cancer. I have found that my family tends to follow my lead when it comes to my cancer. If I’m down and depressed, they will be too. However, if I’m upbeat and ready for action, they are right behind me. I have come to think of my cancer as a chronic disease. If a tumor comes back or something else pops up, we will deal with whatever it is and then make plans to go do something fun.
There are also things to be learned from cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I hate cancer. But dealing with it has given me a new perspective. It has given me a strong desire to help others when I can and to be a better person, a better father, a better husband and a better man. I like who I am post-cancer. I’ll continue to fight colon cancer for as long as it takes and while I’m at it, enjoy all the good things that life has to offer, too.
Keith Friend, 46
*To read more about Keith or send him a message, see his CaringBridge page.