After having been told for ten or eleven years that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, that I had to watch what I ate, that I shouldn't get upset about things, it was actually a relief to find out at age 41 what my problem really was: colon cancer. I just wanted to fix it and move on.
Strangely enough, I did not originally go to the doctor for my bowel problem. I had learned to live with those symptoms. In November 1998, I scheduled a check-up and asked them to do a pap smear while they were at it. Even though I refused at first, the nurse practitioner insisted on a rectal exam as well. It was positive for blood, so she sent me home with an FOBT (Fecal Occult Blood Test) kit. All six slides were positive.
Next, the gastroenterologist scheduled a colonoscopy for December 30, 1998, even though she was actually booked until March. I thought at the time that she was just young and being too careful. I am grateful that the nurse and this gastroenterologist were so thorough, insistent, and prompt. Without them, my prognosis might have been significantly different.
I had surgery on January 11, 1999 -- a right hemicolectomy for a tumor in the cecum -- and spent 13 days in the hospital. The tumor was staged as Dukes B2, T3N0M0. I started chemo on February 11, 1999 -- 5FU, six weeks on, 2 weeks off. I had a very positive attitude and even enjoyed lunch during chemo (I was determined NOT to be sick), but three hours later the nausea began. I ended up in the hospital with gastroenteritis and dehydration after my fifth treatment.
The oncologist felt that I had an enzyme that didn't allow my body to break the chemo down. At that time, the oncologist cut the 5FU dosage in half and put me on a three week on, one week off schedule. I became very affected by smells. Each time I went into the doctor's office and smelled coffee, I got sick. Then it started before I left my house. The nurse told me that I was the first patient she had seen with "anticipatory" nausea. I survived 14 treatments, but was wiped out both mentally and physically. I approached my doctor about stopping treatment. He felt that I had given it a good try, but that at this point it was doing more harm than good.
Going through this experience has taught me the importance of friends and family -- my cousin, Shirley Foley, took me to my chemo appointments and my outpatient surgeries. We talked daily, which was good for my spirit. She kept me going until I couldn't go anymore.
Please remember that a cancer diagnosis is NOT a death sentence. I am seven months post chemo and my scans are clean.