“My Voice” by Angela Garrett

Angela Garrett - 'Survivor'

D-day was April 11th, 2011. That’s when I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. My world would be forever changed from that moment on. My family’s world was changed along with it. I remember trying to wake up from the stupor you are in after having a colonoscopy. I could hear the doctor talking and I remember hearing the word cancer. And I tried to talk. I have no idea what I was trying to say but I recall being told to hush. My then boyfriend at the time was receiving the news. He said I was babbling incoherently. I will never forget that day, the day that Dr. Kahn said, she has cancer.

Within two weeks, my life started moving so fast I couldn’t keep up. I cried so much. I was embarrassed of what kind of cancer I had. It was awful and so very personal. My family cried. I didn’t sleep. I was thrown big words and surgeries were talked about. I was so scared and terrified I might die. I didn’t know what stage the cancer was in but I was told I had the tumor at least four years. For at least four years, something that evil had been growing in my body undetected. I had cancer. It seemed so surreal. It was in every conversation I had. I feel it was in every conversation my family. I didn’t want anyone I worked with told. I was very selective in who I did tell. I tried to tell people that I trusted and thought a lot of. Now was the time to surround myself with real family and friends. I needed positive in my life.

By the end of April, I had my port put in. That is a little metal disk with a rubber top that they use to administer the chemo so I wouldn’t have to stay in the hospital. I was introduced to my new Radiologist, Dr. Braun. He had moved here from Tulsa not maybe a month prior. Funny how things turn out like that. The port was put in and I knew there would be no hiding it from others. It was in plain sight. I started getting horrified looks from coworkers and friends when they noticed my new 2″-3″ scar on my chest under my collar bone. Within one week, chemo started and radiation. Dr. Raju was my oncologist. She told me I had stage 3 rectal cancer. I had multiple tests at that time. CT scans, blood work. If it was a test and it was applicable to what I was going through, I had it. I was going to have to carry about a fanny pack with my new chemo in it. It was 28 treatments of 5FU. It would stay attached to me for a week and off a day and a half. Repeat every week for almost 6 weeks. My radiation would be started as well, 28 treatments. Within 2 weeks, I was starting to get so tired getting out of bed was hard. It was nothing for me to go to the doctor’s office and they would have 3 other appointments lined for me after that. My life wasn’t my own. It became that of my new doctors and nurses.

Dr. Braun would tell me every single week what would happen to my body from the radiation. It was amazing how accurate he was. I started itching badly; it was hard to get out of bed. By week 3-4, I was burned. The pain was incredibly intense. Pain pills and burn cream became my best friends. Final day of radiation and chemo treatment was June 19th. I never missed a day for treatment. I can’t tell you how happy I was to be done with that part.

During this time, I was in overwhelm stage. But in asking my children how they felt, this is what they had to say. Ashley, my 17 year old, said that she was incredibly sad. It was okay for it to happen to someone else, but not her mom. Trae, my 13 year old, said he didn’t know how he really felt. He said that he would wait to see how things went. I know that they might not say things in fear of hurting my feelings. I tell them to be honest about it. No time like the present to be honest and open about things. I know that on some level they were hurt ’cause we couldn’t be outside much due to the chemo. Trips to the lake and such were short lived and scarce. I couldn’t swim with them ’cause I wasn’t to be exposed to the sun. It could make rashes and burns severe from the chemo. Plus, in being tired all the time, it was hard to want to do much. My daughter, she really struggles. On top of being a college student and high school student, she helps with the house and with me. She has been there for some of my most embarrassing moments, cleaning up after me. Helping with the laundry, getting up in the middle of the night when I can’t get out of bed myself. In all honesty, my kids and I are very close. Trae sometimes will sleep with me just so he can make sure I’m okay and not needing anything. It has been hard for him to deal with. He’s the quiet one and more reserved in that area. I suppose he just expresses it through actions.

I got to meet my new surgeon somewhere during this time, Dr. Brooks. I wasn’t sure I liked him at first but my worries soon settled as the visits went on. He was amazing. He was straightforward and I just knew God had guided me to some of the best doctors that St. John and the area had. I had to do some really hard test that required my dignity go down the drain. Dr. Brooks recommended I be awake for these test although I could be put out. So in I went, dignity gone. I had two nurses and Dr. Brooks in with me. I lay there shivering and crying on the table. And one of the nurses came around and was asking me if I was ok. I assured her I was fine but I was so embarrassed. Dr. Brooks heard this and he said “I can close my eyes and not look.”  I started laughing with the nurses. We decided he shouldn’t do that and maybe he should pay attention to what he was doing. The nurse that was standing in front of me, she reminded me of Sharon Osborne. She had colon cancer, twice. And at that moment, my embarrassment left and my dignity came back. I made it through the tests and I knew I didn’t have to be embarrassed of my cancer. I didn’t choose to have this.

Since I was so tired, burned, had so many doctor appointments, it was almost impossible to work full time. The doctor took me off working so I could heal from the radiation and chemo. The first surgery was to be a major one. I lost approximately 13″ of my colon, had a radical hysterectomy, appendectomy, and the gift that just kept giving. My ileostomy. I was in the hospital for 6 days. Dr. Brooks had me up and walking the next day. I was so sore. I had approximately 30 staples in my belly.

I can honestly say that the ileostomy is a big pain. I kept calling Home Health Care and Dr. Brooks’ office. I wasn’t going to be released to go back to work due to all the problems. Surgery two was scheduled for October 11th. I spent 3 days in the hospital and was sent home. Then the incision got infected. I can honestly say that that was some of the most intense pain I know I’ve ever felt. I was taken by ambulance back to the hospital. The next day, I was back at my surgeon’s office to have it reopened. The staples were pulled and it was packed with gauze to help it heal and get rid of the infection. Home health care would be sent out twice a day to change the gauze. I, once again, couldn’t get out of bed by myself. Couldn’t walk too far, couldn’t do anything for myself.

While I did go and ask for assistance early on during my test and treatment, I was told I either made too much money or I had the wrong kind of cancer. I’m not sure how either one of those two things occur right now.I’m looking forward to being able to help others. So that maybe what I’ve went through and learned can help others. So that in the end, no one does this alone.