There is much to say about my experience as I'm sure everyone who has had cancer has much to say. I was so humbled by it all and I still am. Out of everything my oncologist discussed with me on my first visit with her, the one thing I remember most was when she told me that I would need a support system to get through it. She couldn't have been more right. Even though I was never physically alone because I had a phenomenal support system, I still felt alone: alone with my thoughts, my feelings, my physical pain and fear of the unknown. However, through my entire ordeal I remained as positive and upbeat as I could. I feel very blessed and I am 8 months in remission. Here's my story.
I am 63 years old with two grown sons and three grandchildren. In October 2006 I went to my PCP to be treated for hemorhoids, but that was to no avail. In early December 2006, I made an appointment with my gynecologist to lance what I thought was a cyst. After a painful but thorough examination, my gynecologist tells me the "cyst" is the size of a walnut and it won't drain. She immediately makes an appointment for me to see a surgeon. My appointment with the surgeon yields another painful examination, a biopsy, tears and fears. Three days later, I learned I have anal cancer. I am devastated. What's even more alarming is that I didn't fit the profile.
The remainder of December is a whirlwind and filled with appointments with my oncologist, my radiation oncologist, CT scans so that I can be staged, PET scans, lab work, insertion of my picc line, talking with the nutritionist and social worker, picking up prescription after prescription, attending classes to learn about the chemo drugs, and being marked up with red and black ink where I am to receive radiation. My oncologist informs me that my cancer is advanced (Stage 3) and that the cancer should be treated aggressively. I will receive radiation and chemo simultaneously. I begin radiation treatment on January 2nd and chemotherapy on January 4th. The first of the chemo drugs is Mitomycin C and then the 5FU drug.
I am scheduled to have 35 radiation treatments (Monday through Friday for seven weeks) and three treatments of chemo. By mid January the first round of chemo is doing me in and I can't keep my food down. By the end of January I am hospitalized. I learn that I have a bowel obstruction and an inflamed colon. I'm a very sick puppy and not expected to live. My doctors tell me I am no longer a candidate for chemo. My total stay in the hospital was 11 days. During this time, I was being stuck more times than I could count, I had an NG tube down my throat to pump my stomach. I had tubes and catheters and IV's in both arms and liquid nutrients being fed through my picc line while antibiotics flowed through my veins in both arms. I watched the bile from my stomach flow through the NG tube and empty into a cylinder hung from a pump. I was reintroduced to food gradually. While I was going through all the reactions from the chemo, my skin blistered and peeled from the radiation. No picnic. Through it all my sons were my strength. What was so amazing to me was how they pulled their strength from me as they were growing up and now I pulled my strength from them. My oldest son stayed with me in the hospital sleeping in the bed next to mine making sure I received the best of care and my youngest son was more in than out. They were my advocates and I couldn't have gotten through the ordeal without them.
After being released from the hospital I continued my radiation treatments through February. Note that the entire time I was getting my radiation treatments beginning in January, it was so surreal. I knew it was me 'cause I was the one lying on the table and my name appeared on the monitor on the wall, but I couldn't help feeling that I was having a nightmare and that any minute I would awake.
In mid April, I had another biopsy and was told there were no signs of cancer. It was time to celebrate!
I continue to feel good as I get stronger and continue to heal mentally and physically. I can talk now about the cancer whereas before I couldn't. When I was going through treatment all I could focus on was the treatment and getting better. When my treatment ended, I was overwhelmed by my emotions. I began thinking about my potential death and how my cancer impacted by family and friends. I found it difficult to talk about my cancer and when I did my emotions would get the best of me and I would tear up (sometimes I still do). Now that I am healthier physically and emotionally, it's easier for me to open up.
As cancer patients, we need a support team by our side who can offer us a source of strength and comfort. We should not have to go through this alone. The disease and all its drawbacks are lonely enough--yes it is a lonely disease because unless you've been through it, no one knows what you're going through and how it makes you feel.
Here's what I know...I can't change the fact that I've had cancer, but I can change how I live my life. I know that cancer is a chronic disease and that once I was a victim and now I am a survivor. Knowledge is power and the more I know about this insidious disease, the more I am empowered. Recurrence is a possibility and while I live with the uncertainty everyday, I choose to focus on regaining my mental strength and nurturing and increasing my confidence.
It has taken me 8 months to finally decide to open up about my ordeal. I'm ready to tell my story and share my experiences. Perhaps it will help someone else. Perhaps not--but there's one thing for sure--it helps me.
In April 2009 I celebrated two years in remission. While I am not without side effects from the chemotherapy and radiation, they pale in comparison to the big picture. My fears have lessened but I understand this disease can rear its ugly head at any time. I continue being positive, participating in cancer events and celebrating life to the fullest one day at a time.