Fierce, Fighting Friday
“I live a happy life and I am constantly thinking how thankful I am to be here, alive.”
Provide a brief biography to describe your life pre-diagnosis
I have always been a healthy person, nothing too crazy but tried to stay active and eat well (although I could’ve done better haha). I don’t have family history of colorectal cancer, so I honestly had never heard of it. I was diagnosed with stage 3b rectal cancer in April of 2018. I was 33 years old.
Did you have any symptoms leading up to your diagnosis? What led you to see a doctor?
I started having a lot of acid reflux and constipation in 2015. I decided to go to a GI doctor and asked her to do a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. When I woke up from the procedure she said she found a couple of polyps and that they were removed. She told me they had sent samples to pathology and I should wait the results. I asked what polyps were and she explained, she also said they were normal to find in people over 50 years of age but not so common in younger people. She never mentioned that they were that dangerous. I left the clinic feeling just like ok, she found these but they were removed, I’m fine now.
After a couple of weeks I received a letter in the mail saying that the polyps were pre cancerous and that I should repeat the exam in 5 years. I did not get too concerned, at least I was fine for the next 5 years I thought.
Fast forward two years later and I am feeling extremely exhausted all the time. I thought I was just lazy and felt ashamed for being so sedentary. I remember thinking I needed to get a doctor to do an iron test, because I felt pretty tired all the time. I spend over a year feeling that way. Eventually I noticed blood on my stools. I didn’t think it was that important… I did have hemorrhoids sometimes and thought it was related. My primary care doctor did some blood exams and said I was fine. He also tested me for parasites… never referred me to a GI doctor.
A few months later I decided to find a GI doctor on my own. At the time the doctor said that I had some internal hemorrhoids and that was probably the reason for the bleeding. He recommended a colonoscopy anyways, since I had polyps in the past.
I woke up from the procedure and he told me he had found a growth that looked like cancer.
How did hearing the words “you have cancer” make you feel?
I remember feeling this emptiness inside me. It was a mix of desperation, sadness and lack of hope. I know, so negative. But that was it. I remember that I did not cry, I guess the shock was so big that I even forgot to cry. The GI doctor told me I needed an oncologist and surgeon and gave me some references. I just remember taking as many notes as possible, never stopping to feel sorry for myself. I had a plan in mind and needed to get it done.
What do you know now that you wish you had known back then?
I wish I had gotten more opinions regarding chemotherapy treatments. I saw two oncologists and they both had different treatment regimens. I should’ve chosen the more conservative one. I ended up choosing a CAPOX treatment for only 8 cycles instead of 12 cycles of FOLFOX. 9 months later the cancer was back and I blame it on that treatment.
How has life changed? What has been your biggest challenge since your diagnosis?
I had an ileostomy bag for 10 months. Life changed a lot because of that. Then I got it reversed and had to adapt with a life with LARS syndrome and a life without a rectum. The biggest challenge for me was to make plans for the future. I got consumed by having cancer. I now realize that there’s much more to life than just talking about cancer related things and feeling like i am still sick. I think I can live a full and long life, even going through cancer treatment.
What do you wish people knew about supporting a loved one with cancer? What have been the most helpful ways that friends and family have supported you?
I’ve received so much support from friends, family members and coworkers. Even when people come to me with treatment suggestions, herbs, crystals, spells, etc, that are supposed to cure cancer, I still smile and thank them. I know that their intentions are pure and they mean well.
If you are supporting a loved one that is going through cancer treatment try to be as positive as possible. Avoid talking about people getting sick or passing away from cancer (yes, people have told me things like “oh my grandfather died of this type of cancer, or “this is not the worst kind of cancer…”).
What was your treatment protocol?
I had a transanal total mesorectal excision than capacetabine with oxaliplatin for 8 cycles.
Now I have Erbitux and Irinotecan every other week.