The Making of A BadASS — Part 1
Over the next few posts, I’m going share my cancer story in detail and I’d like to encourage you to share your stories as well! Please contribute in the comments!
Before I decided to go public with my diagnosis, I documented most of my cancer journey for friends and family (from the time just after my diagnosis and ongoing) on Caring Bridge. Occasionally, I may be reposting some of that content here, but if you’d like to get an idea of how things were in the beginning, you are welcome to visit my website there and peruse through some of our posts (Doc Z, my spouse and I shared posting duties depending on how I was feeling). You can also listen to our “CCnDoc Talk” podcast episode, where I came out of the cancer closet.
At about round 2 or 3 of chemo, I started sharing my story on social media because I really wanted to get the word out about Colorectal and especially Rectal Cancer and stop the stigma that prevents people from getting screened. In some places, people with cancer, and especially CRC cancers and those with ostomies are still shunned! It’s terrible!
Caring Bridge BTW is a brilliant website and such a great way to keep everyone updated about situations like these, when keeping a mass of family and friends updated all the time is important, but also very challenging because of other demands on your time. Like focusing on healing! I highly recommend Caring Bridge and donating to CB, because they help thousands of people and operate on donations.
The making of A BadASS began for me around May of 2021 — sooner actually, but I didn’t realize that at the time. I started to have some wet flatulence (not normal) that later turned into a small amount of mucus in my stool and within a month was accompanied by blood in my stool. YES! You ARE supposed to look at your poop, people! 💩 Every day!
But, because I had a clear colonoscopy just two years earlier (2019), just before the pandemic), I wasn’t worried. Plus, we had just moved ourselves (that month) and due to Covid, hired no help to do the heavy lifting. Thus we moved all of our belongings including very heavy furniture — some of it up three flights of stairs — into our new home. I thought what most people think. Hemorrhoids!
When things didn’t get better after a month or so, I made an appointment with my regular doctor, who ordered some tests as a precaution. I did an occult blood test (a smear of stool on a card designed to detect hidden blood in the stool), which came back negative even though there was blood in the sample — go figure! All of my other bloodwork (I had just had my annual well-woman visit/physical) was near perfect! I was the picture of good health! No pain, no other symptoms. I was active, and thriving! In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a hypothyroid, which is something I’ve successfully treated via natural compounded meds since peri-menopause, later menopause many years ago.
I should say that at this point in my life, I was healthy and physically I felt great! And while some might have labeled me overweight, I exercised for at least an hour EVERY day, had good muscle mass and overall ate a healthy, everything-in-moderation diet; enjoying fruits, veggies and moderate fiber, always paying close attention to eating a diet low in sugar and sodium because my father died as a result of complications due to the comorbidities of diabetes and heart disease. I also didn’t have a close family history of colorectal cancer. That said, there wasn’t real cause for alarm. Full disclosure (because I know how some people think), yes, red meat was a part of my diet, as was grilling, grains, dairy and other things most people eat. (We’ll get into the “X causes cancer” discussion in a different blog article.) I also drank wine, beer and the occasional spirit but not to excess. No judging! I’m just trying to provide the bigger picture that overall I was healthier than average.
Because my symptoms persisted, I was referred to a Gastroenterologist (a GI), but I couldn’t get in until late October. It was late July/August. Amy a.k.a. Doc (my spouse) said that was unacceptable because she does have a family history of colorectal cancer and she was concerned. So we got another referral to a doctor who could see me sooner.
When I finally saw the GI in September we went through my entire health history (including a gallbladder removal in 1995, which often affected my bowel habits with alternating bouts of constipation and occasional diarrhea — so what exactly was normal?), and based on that, we set out on a course that included prophylaxing for IBS and Ulcerative Colitis. We decided to add A LOT more fiber to my diet for 30 days and see how I responded. At this point, none of us were overly concerned because cancer was not on anyone’s radar! I was 53 and healthy and “too young” for cancer. Except I wasn’t.
The extra fiber was a bitch! I was experiencing all kinds of bad side effects from excess gas and diarrhea to bloating, and the mucus was definetly worse, so I finally called my GI to say, “ I think it’s time we move to plan B,” which meant diagnostic colonoscopy and endoscopy. It was now late October.
The doc ordered more tests and even all of his tests came back normal! My CEA (a cancer antigen test) was a very low 1 out of 10! I thought I was in the clear!
Only one test (a stool test) showed a slight elevation of inflammation in my bowel. Another indication that we might be dealing with IBS (or cancer as it turned out).
So on my Black Friday, November 5, 2021, I went in for my colonoscopy/endoscopy. When I woke up, Amy came in to be with me and my doctor came in the room and gave me all the good news first, which I should have recognized was a bad sign. When we got to the bad news I could tell he honestly hadn’t expected it and didn’t really know how to tell me. He was such a sweet man.
I can recall the exact moment I heard the word cancer for the first time. After hearing it, everything seemed to move in slow motion. I was looking at the wall chart diagram of the colon as my GI pointed out the progression of the scope upper and lower. I don’t even know if my heart rate picked up. I just went numb. Standing behind me Doc (I found out later) had to take a seat after breaking out in a cold sweat. My doctor had found a 4.5 inch tumor at the junction of my sigmoid colon and rectum which he believed to be cancerous. With eery calm, I immediately asked if it could be benign and he said yes, but it was unlikely. My brain went on autopilot logical mode until the drive home.
At that point Doc and I were both in shock and denial. How could this happen? I did everything I was supposed to do? I was HEALTHY for God’s sake! What about that last colonoscopy? It was fine? I wasn’t due for another five years! OMG, what if I’d waited five years instead of two? I remember much of drive home we were in a silent stupor as Amy/Doc and I both were trying to wrestle with all the thoughts in our heads. We wouldn’t know the results of the biopsy for several more days and we didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Better to think positively!
And, OMG the waiting is terrible!
When the news finally hit home for real, which was about 10 minutes after we arrived home, we spent the entire weekend in a puddle of tears knowing very well that this could be the end of life as we knew it. It could in fact be THE end of life. Mine! It was a lot to process in a short amount of time.
By the time we got the news from the pathology report a few days later, I had almost convinced myself that it was going to be a “Benign Betty” situation. A non-cancerous tumor. I had researched until my eyes hurt, looking for evidence I might be right. Our humor got darker and more sarcastic at that point since we were out of tears.
Several days later we got the diagnosis. Cancer. Specifically a big fat cancerous adenocarcinoma.
While it’s been said that it was likely a miss on my last colonoscopy I realized very early on that it didn’t matter. It was there. I had to deal with it. Blame wasn’t going to cure it. So I never blamed the doctor that might have missed it. In a world where we need to blame someone for everything that happens to us, I knew that going down that road would lead away from the healing I desperately desired. So I just, let it go. I only mention it now because it’s important for everyone to realize doctors don’t know everything. That’s not an insult, it’s a fact. That’s why we call it “practicing” medicine. They do their best.
Despite my experience, colonoscopy is still the BEST and most effective way to identify cancer in its early stages, but you still have to listen to your body and then make your doctors listen to you! I will never know what happened during that first colonoscopy. Maybe “Arnold” (nickname for my tumor because “It is not a tumah”… But it was.) was so cunning as to be almost invisible hiding in the folds of my poop shoot. We will never know. And it truly doesn’t matter.
Then like a whirlwind, Scans were scheduled as were appointments with a radiological oncologist, a medical oncologist and a surgeon. Life began to move very fast in a direction that we understood nothing about. Cancer education is like drinking from a firehose when you’re not thirsty… Let the SHIT SHOW begin! 💩
TO BE CONTINUED!
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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month! Get Yer Cute Butts Checked! ( ㅅ )
I am not a doctor. I am married to one, but she’s the other kind thus all opinions herein are my own and should not be considered medical advice. Please, do your own homework, make your own choices and consult your own experts!
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