“My Voice” by Kristen Franklin

Kristen Franklin - 'Survivor'

Okay, so I have been given full permission to be open and honest about my cancer experience and my approach to survivorship.  I’m not sure that is a good idea knowing my history of sarcasm.  There is a word used to describe my feelings, I can’t quite place it…wait, wait. Oh yeah BITTER.  Bitter party of one, your table is now available. BITTER!!  I feel I have a lot to be bitter about. I was a happy, career minded, married woman of 35 years old. I was just getting where I wanted to be in my career and I felt on top of the world.  All it took was some very low back pain and a few blood tests later and I was being admitted to the hospital because I was anemic and losing blood.

I was admitted on a Monday night and had a colonoscopy on Tuesday morning to try and see where I was bleeding.  It was surreal. I made the doctor promise me not to talk to my family before he told me what he saw.  He looked over at me and I instantly knew.  He had a look of absolute despair on his face.  He said it doesn’t look good, Kristen.  Within the next few days, I knew what “it” was officially called. I was diagnosed with a locally advanced Adenocarcinoma of the distal rectum. It extended from the anal verge up to 7 cm from the anal verge. Basically, a pain in the ass.  Well, not really but that is what it felt like.

I had always wanted a young handsome doctor to notice my ass, well folks all I can say is be VERY clear when you make your wishes.  I had four handsome young doctors who all wanted to look at my ass!!  Not in a good way.  As we discussed my treatment, all of them indicated that because my tumor was so low in my rectum, if I were to have surgery at that time, I would require an APR.  APR is an abdominoperineal resection.  This in layman’s terms is a colostomy bag.  I could not believe that I was going to have to fight cancer and deal with a crap bag at the same time.  I would never be normal.  I couldn’t face this, not now. I needed to focus on the cancer. I could beat it and I would shrink the tumor with chemotherapy and radiation first.  I was NOT going to have a bag.  NO WAY.

I started a six-week regime of chemo and radiation immediately.  I had no idea what I was in store for.  Radiation burnt my skin. It hurt to sit, it hurt to pee, it hurt to just exist.  All of this, was early on in the second week, I didn’t know if I was going to make it through six weeks.  There were times, I thought I wasn’t going to need crap bag for the rest of my life because this was it; I was going to die.  Chemo was just as horrific. I took chemo 5 days a week 24 hours a day courtesy of a medi-port and an extremely high fashion fanny pack to administer the poison.  Side effects were unbelievable to me, even now. I could not understand how if you were taking a medication and the side effects were sensitivity to cold, nausea, neuropathy, loss of appetite and all color drained from your body,  it was going to make you better.

During my chemo treatment, my oncologist suggested that due to my family history with colorectal cancer, (my grandfather and his 3 siblings and my grandmother’s sister all on my Mom’s side) I have genetic testing done. Basically, we wanted to find out what other type of cancer I may be exposed to.  Testing was done and it confirmed a mutation and mismatch gene. It was called Lynch syndrome. I stood a higher risk to contract such cancers as stomach, uterine, ovarian and returning colon cancer than the non-Lynch syndrome population. Along with my dream team of doctors, I decided to have a total hysterectomy during my surgery to remove the tumor.

With the never-ending support of family and friends and my doctors, I made it through chemo and radiation.  All six weeks were done.  I had to start seeing surgeons about my surgical procedure. I went to Sloan Kettering for a second opinion about my surgery.  The surgeon was extremely impressed with my reaction to treatment.  He was very pleased with the amount the tumor shrunk. The reason I went to Sloan was because I researched one of their approaches to saving patients from having a colostomy bag.

My surgeon told me, he thought he would be able to put me back together again.  I was thrilled; I would be “normal”.  (Keep in mind at that time, normal to me was what I was used to) After chemo and radiation, I needed to wait six weeks before my surgery anyway, so he wanted me to wait some more and see if my body continued to react to treatment and the tumor shrank again.  I was tentatively scheduled for surgery on 12/18/09.  I did a lot more research on the procedure my surgeon was going to perform. He was basically going to re-create my rectum from my intestines by turning a piece into a pouch.  It was called a j-pouch.  I was seeing mixed responses to this procedure. Some people were thrilled with the results and others were miserable.  Some people actually WISHED they had a colostomy. I was shocked.  Who would wish for that?

During my first few days after my consult, I realized I would be in the hospital for Christmas. I didn’t want to put my family through that.  Plus, I was convinced I was going to die during my surgery and wanted to have one “last” Christmas.  I asked my surgeon if we could wait and he said we could as long as I had chemo in between then and my surgery.  Three more rounds of chemo here we come!!  On my consult before my surgery, I discussed my research with the surgeon. He advised me that some people who have the J-pouch are not happy.  He indicated some suffer from incontinence. In addition, they have urgency and frequency issues when it comes to using the bathroom.  He said a lot of people end up being prisoners in their homes because they need the bathroom all the time.  I wondered how that would be living. He also told me that there was no way of saying how long these issues would last. Some people only take 3 months for their body to adjust and some takes years.  He also said I may never feel better. He said I might go to the bathroom up to 15 times a day.  I asked what he would do.  He told me he would go with the bag because it was safer and I would be able to life my life.  I was scared and I wanted to die.  What kind of choice was this for anyone to have to make?  Crap in a bag or live in the bathroom for the next 30-45 years?  To bag or not to bag, that is the question.  Both choices sucked.  I opted for the bag.  Yep, I can’t believe it either, I still can’t.

Life has not been easy with the bag. I have a constant reminder of my cancer.  I am approaching my 2-month cancer free birthday next week. I survived. I beat cancer. I made the hardest choice I ever had to make in my life. I am here for a reason.  I’m still BITTER sometimes, but I’m BETTER.  I started my new life the day of my surgery 1/26/10.  I appreciate my family so much more. I love them more than I did before if that is even possible. My friends mean the world to me and I love them with all my heart.

During the 5-½ hour surgery parts of Kristen Franklin did die, but the good parts, my sense of humor, my decency, and my loving heart are still here. The Kristen who was addicted to her job and too busy to spend time with her family and friends didn’t make it out of the operating room that day. Oh yeah and the Kristen who used the bathroom like everyone else didn’t survive either.  Kristen, the Bag Lady, emerged, but I am here and living my life. I survived to share what I can with the world.  I want to write about my experience. I want to do comedy and share the outrageous stories of my journey with people. I want to make people aware, but laugh while I do.  I want to be a wife, daughter, niece, aunt and friend for a long time. BETTER party of one, your table is now available…BETTER!!!