I’m Wearing Blue For ME! (my cancer story)
It is not lost upon me that my colon cancer was removed on March 17, 2011 and that National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month is March. As mentioned before, I’ve struggled with calling myself a cancer survivor. It wasn’t until I started this blog that I truly accepted that I was, indeed, a survivor of not only my Crohn’s, PSC, and Celiac but, cancer as well. Therefore, in the spirit of spreading awareness here is my cancer story.
It was November 2010 and I just happened to stumble upon a free clinic in my area. Originally, I went to see them because of my shoulder but once they reviewed my health history, they were immediately more focused on my untreated Crohn’s. Since they didn’t have a gastroenterologist on staff, they looked into finding me one. A week later, at a follow up visit, they informed me that the closest doctor they could find that provided charity care was at Chapel Hill. From where we used to live, that was a 3 ½ hour drive, one way, not counting restroom stops. Not exactly something I was looking forward to. However, my husband, being the voice of reason, deemed the trip necessary. I’m sure it helped matters that he graduated from Chapel Hill and liked the idea of showing our son his alma mater while I was at my appointment.
Either way, in December we made the trek. The first visit, like most, was the getting to know each other stuff followed by scheduling a colonoscopy. On January 12th, we made the road trip again for the procedure. All went well, minus the not getting to enjoy my day part but, I digress.
Then came January 14, 2011. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and my phone rang. Seeing the number was Chapel Hill, I answered expecting to hear the nurse’s voice stating that my results were back in. Instead, I heard my doctor’s voice. After pleasantries, he told me that I needed to come back in right away. After explaining that it was too long of a trip for us to make again so soon, he said the 4 words that you think are only in movies until you actually hear them…
“Are you sitting down?”
He then proceeded to tell me that I had stage II Colon Cancer and surgery was the only viable option given how damaged my colon was from the Crohn’s. At first, I thought that maybe I had heard him wrong somehow but then he made it very clear that he had already scheduled the surgery for February 14th. Time was of the essence, given how quickly it appeared to be progressing. After explaining that I would need more than a month to prepare and make arrangements for my family, the date was set: March 17, 2011.
Like most days, I was alone when I got the call. After taking a few minutes to digest what I had been told, I called my husband at work. I think, at first, he thought that maybe I was playing some kind of cruel joke on him. He quickly realized that it wasn’t a joke when my voice began cracking. I think, up to that point, it wasn’t actually happening to me. Once I spoke the words, “I have cancer” it became very real and I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. My husband, being the loving guy he is, reassured me that everything would be ok. That, like all the other bull****, we’d get through this too.
The next day, I made the 30 minute drive to my parent’s house. I felt that this was something I needed to tell them in person. My dad took the news in the same manner that he takes everything; empathizing but not obviously affected. My mom’s reaction somewhat surprised me, although looking back it shouldn’t have.
I sat with her at the dining room table and told her about the recent Chapel Hill visits and the phone call. She was rather nonchalant in telling me that things happen and God would take care of things if it was His will. Now, I can appreciate God’s will, but I guess I expected her to be a little more encouraging or sympathetic or, I don’t know, loving? I suppose I should have known better. I’ll just blame it on the shock of the situation for not expecting what I received.
Shortly thereafter, I told the rest of my family and a few close friends; gathering support for what was going to be a rough 6 months. I made my preparations, both for my family and myself. To be honest, however, I spent the majority of my time making sure my family had everything they would need planned out. It wasn’t until I was only a few weeks away that I finally let go of my denial and started to try to accept my upcoming fate. There really is no way to mentally prepare for a life changing surgery like that but I did my best.
At 2am on March 17th, we made the drive again. We set in the waiting room for what felt like forever but in reality was probably a few hours. I went back for prep and remember thinking, “what if I die on the table? What if they find something else wrong?” I had so many horrible “what if” scenarios playing though my mind. Thankfully, my husband was right by my side, telling me how much he loved me and reassuring me that everything would be ok. The last thing I remember, before them knocking me out, was him saying that he’d be by my side waiting when I woke up.
6 hours later, the surgery was over and the recovery process began. I was lucky in the fact that the surgeons gave me a J-pouch in just one surgery. However, what was supposed to be a week in the hospital turned into a month due to infections and other little complications. When April 6th rolled around, I begged and pleaded for them to send me home. Not only had I had enough of their sorry excuse for food but, I had missed my little one’s birthday (April 4th) and I be damned if I wasn’t going to be home for my wedding anniversary too. So the hospital arranged for me to go home the following day. Happy Anniversary to me! I wasn’t even close to half of my best and we didn’t do anything to celebrate that night but, at least I was home.
The following months were rough. At my lowest, I weighed 88 pounds and looked like death walking. It was hard adjusting to this new body I had. I spent most nights on the sofa, so as not to wake my husband with my tossing and turning and frequent trips to the bathroom. I lived off ice cream, rice, mashed potatoes and candy. It took some time but I slowly was able to regain the 25 pounds I had lost during this whole ordeal. Admittedly, it took some tough love by my husband, but I eventually regained my strength as well.
This coming March 17th marks my 2 year anniversary of being Colon Cancer free. I still have days when I wish that I had never had the surgery. I have days when I get exhausted from playing “what’s causing my abdominal pain now?” Nevertheless, more often than not, I am happy with who I am. I feel like even though my fight wasn’t as bad as most cancer patients, I still have a story to tell…
My name is Shay and this is how I kicked Colon Cancer’s ass…
On March 1st, I will be wearing blue for ME. Who will you wear it for?
**Listening to 30 Seconds to Mars**