CANCER SURVIVOR/FAMILY MAN
What does being a cancer survivor mean to me? In two words my family, I have had them as my personal inspiration throughout my long and hard journey. My wife and three beautiful children have been the balance in my life when it seemed that the weight was just too hard to bear. On October 6, 2008, I was diagnosed with Rectal Cancer. My first thoughts were “OK, how do we beat this? I need to be with my kids.” Ever since that day, they have been my driving force to beat cancer.
I had little to no symptoms before my appointment with my primary doctor. I had slight constipation for a couple of weeks and I felt that I needed to get looked at. My doctor felt nothing in his rectal exam, but did refer me to get a colonoscopy, due to the fact that my dad had a benign tumor in his colon at the age of fifty. I remember thinking I should have taken his doctor’s advice and have scheduled a colonoscopy then. Well, I went through with the procedure and my gastrointestologist discovered the tumor in my rectum. I was then referred to my oncologist, radiation oncologist, and my colon and rectal surgeon. I was also referred to endure other examinations to try to stage the cancer, i.e. PET scan, abdominal CT scans, and another colonoscopy. Throughout all these scary and intimidating situations my family was in my heart and mind. I was informed that I was going to have a mediport installed in my chest in order to accommodate the seven day, twenty-four hour regiment of chemotherapy, which was going to be given to me. Along with the chemo I was going to be given radiation five days a week. This recipe to kill the tumor lasted from October 22 to December 10 of 2008. Through all this my family was with me, when I felt sick or got severe mouth sores, when I developed numbness in my hands and feet (neuropathy), or the severe reaction to cold objects and the metal mouth from the chemotherapy, somehow thinking of my children helped. The fatigue from the radiation, the sudden occurrence of anxiety and claustrophobia from being in a radiation port, I learned to think of my wife and three children to help get me through. Throughout this time, not only did I have my usual constipation, the chemicals and radiation would bring on bouts of loose bowel movements. Very uncomfortable to go with internal burns I was receiving. But I would always tell myself we are going to beat this and this was all for my family. On January 20, 2009, I went in for my lower rectal recession to remove the tumor. I remember being very afraid for the first time in my life, just by not knowing the outcome. Was I going to be OK? Will I need a colostomy? To this point we still didn’t know the stage of the cancer. I remember being rolled into surgery and seeing my baby girl. When I saw her I felt relief and knew I was going to be good. Still scared, but good. Seven hours later, I awoke to being told I did not need a colostomy, and that everything went well. Pathologist reports came back on the tumor and revealed that it had traces of cancer left in it. My surgeon also took twenty-one lymph nodes and everyone came back negative for cancer. The final result was Stage II rectal cancer.
I recovered from my surgery well and was put right back on a chemotherapy regiment. This time I was going to be given an infusion for three hours at the cancer center, then be infused through the carry along pump for a day. This was going to happen in two week intervals for six months. Once again I had to endure all the side effects again. Only this time, my white blood cells were being affected. I was given injections at various times throughout these six months to boost my cell counts. These injections made me feel flu-like symptoms and would make my bones ache, but I was doing this for my family, I needed to see them grow up. I finished my chemotherapy in August 2009 and have been told I am cancer free. I now face the after effects of everything that was done to me to kill the cancer. I still suffer neuropathy in my hands and feet, I have been told in time it will go away. But that is the least of my concerns. I also suffer from fatigue, but with exercise and rest I can handle that. My biggest symptom is the bowel incontinence I live with on a daily basis. I always feel that I have to go the restroom and when I do go I feel that I am not completely relieved. There are days when I have constipation and there are days when I have loose bowel movements. I try to control this with medication, diet, and exercise. I do have accidents, I’m not proud of these times but I try not to let it get me down. I just clean up and move on. There are moments when I have blood in my stool, this from the scar tissue in my rectum, when this occurs I just rest my body and convince myself there is nothing wrong. I can no longer give my wife children, but that is OK, like I have been saying I have been blessed with three beautiful children already they are my reason to be alive. These are just side effects that I have to live with everyday, the key word is live. I am still here for my family and that has been my intention ever since October 6, 2008. I am cancer free right now and to keep that going I have blood work taken every three months with a follow up to my oncologist, my rectal surgeon also performs a flex-sigmoidoscopy every three months to monitor the area where I was put back together, I had a follow-up colonoscopy in January 2009 with my GI and will do that yearly from now on. I am scheduled for a PET scan in June. I do all this to hopefully stay cancer free, because like I’ve been saying “I need to beat this for my family.”