One drop! One small drop of blood and my life was changed forever. For years, I donated blood platelets through the American Red Cross Pheresis program. Blood was taken from an arm, centrifuged, the platelets were removed and the plasma was returned into the other arm. The platelets were to be infused into the bodies of cancer patients whose own platelets were decimated by chemo and radiation treatments.
I had been donating blood for over ten years and was rather proud of my participation in the program. But one day, in the fall of 1993, during the preliminary exam, a nurse tested the iron content of that one drop of blood. Much to my surprise, it failed and I was told I was anemic. The nurse said it was probably nothing, so I did not worry. I did consult my doctor, as suggested, who performed several FOBT's (Fecal Occult Blood Test) and other tests, which were negative. He said no cause for the anemia was found and that I shouldn't worry about it. He prescribed iron pills to build up my blood.
My iron count went back to normal and I again began to donate for three more years until December of 1996, when my iron count fell again. I began to have severe nausea and vomiting after meals. Further testing, including upper and lower GI's, double contrast barium enemas and a colonoscopy revealed a large cancer in my cecum, where the colon connects to the small intestine. In the next two years, I had three surgeries to remove tumors and underwent attendant, long-term chemotherapies.
There was, of course, the emotional reaction with a great deal of fear, concern and uncertainty. There were many, many nights of lying awake while the tears flowed and the heart was constricted with fear and doubt. These were difficult times, not only for myself, but more for my wife and the rest of my family. There can never be a true assessment of the terrible trauma of facing these daunting emotional difficulties.
There is anger as well. Not anger that I now have a dangerous cancer, but rather my anger is directed at my primary physician who should have known that unexplained anemia in a post 50-year-old male is a red flag indicating the possibility of colon cancer. If he had been more alert and had recommended a colonoscopy, it is possible I might have had the tumor removed before it perforated the colon wall, and, in effect, I might have had a cure. That was not meant to be, but I sincerely hope the doctor will be more vigilant in the future.
On August 19, Richard Farrell passed away at the age of 68, after a courageous battle with colon cancer. After being diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) in 1996, Richard armed himself with tremendous knowledge of this disease. He eventually became an authority and used his expertise to advise both professional and lay people. He was a founding member of Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA). In addition, he was on the Board of Directors of the CCA as well as the editor of the CCA's newsletter, "The Voice." Richard became a leader at the national level in the fight against colorectal cancer. He spoke at conventions and events that related to cancer advocacy, research and awareness, and his beloved CCA. He lobbied in Washington, DC for government funding in the battle against colorectal cancer. On a more personal level, it was Richard's daily ritual to go on-line and join discussion groups to provide support to others throughout the world whose lives have been affected by colon cancer.
To quote a colleague, "Richard Farrell is one of our great heroes in the cancer fight, and sits with the [leaders] who have been our mentors and examples. Richard's example is an inspiration to us all, and he lights a road for us to follow...."
Messages left for Richard:
"Richard was a teddy bear! I fell in love with him and we've been friends ever since. More than that, Richard has been an example to me of what a cancer advocate is and can be, and in a quiet way has shown me my own path - not with words or lessons, but by walking the path himself. In my mind and heart, Richard Farrell is one of our great heroes in the cancer fight, and sits with the leaders who have been our mentors and examples. Richard's example is an inspiration to us all, and he lights a road for us to follow. We must keep up the fight in his place." - Ken, Survivor
"I wish you all had met him -- what a special man he was. Kind, humorous, sweet and caring, and so generous with his time in fighting CRC. He was my mentor; and he was the idea behind CCA's "hidden blessings of cancer chat" - despite all the surgeries and treatments he went through, he found so many blessings in his life." - Pati, Survivor
"He was one very special man. He never complained. He worked so hard to find new treatment modalities for this disease and used his own body as the template. He gave me insight and courage and determination. He was a role model and a hero. I will miss Richard, his sense of humor and his love of life." - Kathy, Survivor
"I am deeply saddened. I met him at the CCA Conference in the fall of 2000. I was new to the world of cancer, being diagnosed in July of 1999 and have strong memories of him. Richard, Pati, Amy, Marion, Judi E, Kathy S and others reached out to me and I will never forget that. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him one night at dinner and sharing information with him. Richard was very strong willed, yet open and receptive to new ideas. He was very compassionate, funny and a personality like a magnet that attracted people. He will be truly missed." - Cliff, Survivor
"I met Richard for the first time at the CCA Conference in Philadelphia and I was mesmerized. He was just so wonderful and so strong. I loved his sense of humor and obvious compassion and passion for this organization and all involved. How sad I am but I realize how happy we all should be for having the chance to at least get to know him a little bit." - Deborah, Survivor