When you were first diagnosed with cancer did you have many symptoms and if so how long had they persisted before you went to a doctor?
After a serious sinus surgery, I began having a gnawing pain that got worse as the days wore on. That pain was not related to the sinus surgery, but was colorectal. I had a difficult time sitting for any extended period of time. I was 56 years old at that time, and I’d never had a colonoscopy, but decided I needed to as soon as possible. In just a little over a month after my sinus surgery, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer (adenocarcinoma).
Can you offer any words of encouragement for patients who have been recently diagnosed with cancer?
When one is diagnosed with cancer, the priority should be to become educated as fully as possible about the particular cancer and to read some of the experiences that others have had with the same cancer. That self-education has been facilitated by the ability to query the internet. One should not only read professional information from doctors and hospitals, but also the personal experiences of those who have dealt with this type of cancer. Of course, one’s personality and one’s faith are key elements in how one deals with their own cancer diagnosis.
In my case, having a naturally introspective type of personality, I thought carefully about my options, but the even more prominent importance is how my faith entered into this equation. That is, when one is faced with the diagnosis, it naturally causes one to think about one’s immortality and the more fundamental aspects of one’s purpose in life. Before my diagnosis, that was always through the filter of my faith in Jesus Christ.
More than self-sufficiency, wealth, or even the love of those closest to me, my dependency on Him has become stronger and more intimate over the years. Yes, it’s important to have medical insurance, food to eat, a place to live, family and friends that love you and a way to get to your doctor and hospital appointments, but those are merely the immediate circumstances surrounding one’s situation in life.
What is more important is our reason for living. I stood humbled, knowing that this could go well, or perhaps not. However, knowing that my life is in the hands of Him who made me and loves me gave me a peace that surpasses the ability of any of the world’s methods to bring it. If I was to thrive, it was only by His grace, but if I was not to thrive, that was also under His control and in His providence. My advice for those facing this is to look to Him and to appeal for His wisdom and for His peace.
Had you tried alternative treatments, other than what was initially prescribed to you?
My choice for treatment involved not only the traditional methods of cancer treatment, like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, but also a change in the way that I ate and in handling stress. I was not presented with any innovative alternative treatments, however.
From your initial diagnosis what was your quality of life? during treatment what is/was your quality of life now?
My quality of life was good at the time of my initial diagnosis, but that was aided by pain relievers like Oxycodone. I was able to still work and to do the things that fully functioning adult human beings are expected to be able to do. During my initial treatment I began to experience the same kind of symptoms about which I had heard others speak, like some nausea due to the chemotherapy, some soreness involved with the radiation, and fatigue. However, I wouldn’t rate them as serious enough to significantly affect my life.
However, after my surgery (Lower Anterior Resection – removal of the diseased part of the colon and a temporary ileostomy to allow healing) my quality of life was significantly diminished. I suffered a great deal from the effects of the anesthesia (it was an 8.5 hour surgery) and I had significant problems with dealing with the ostomy and its effects on my body.
I became dehydrated and passed out in my bathroom about three weeks after the surgery and had to go back in the hospital for another week of recovery. I also had a significant secondary infection for which two drains had to be placed for 2-3 weeks. After that initial period, I was faced with yet another round of chemotherapy (8 infusion sessions), which also affected my ability to function.
My ileostomy was reversed 8 months after the surgery, but then for a full year, I was dealing with fecal incontinency due to unpredictable sphincter muscle damage as a result of the surgery. I couldn’t be away from home for significant periods of time. When I did require longer periods away, I had to fast for 24 hours before the event to make sure that I could function. At the end of that year, I made a decision with another surgeon to have a permanent colostomy, so that I could alleviate the incontinence.
That was 20 months ago now, and my quality of life has significantly improved, even though I required a major hernia surgery after the colostomy. I can now go where I want, for however long I want, and I am fine, and for that, I am thankful. Overall, as I reflect on my history since my cancer diagnosis, I believe that I was over-treated for my disease. That is, in some manner, I think that the medical system was bent towards doing way too much in my treatment relative to the seriousness of my cancer. My cancer was Stage 1 and could have been dealt with by surgery without the chemotherapy and radiation, or perhaps alternative means. It was the aggressive treatment that caused most of the correlated quality of life issues with which I had to deal.
Were you able to turn your cancer fight into something positive and if so what did you do?
I have joined an ostomy support group and share my experiences there. I have sought to be very communicative about my cancer diagnosis and history by keeping a regular online journal about the events and my related observations during that time. I have made that available to any who may want to read it for mutual support and encouragement. I have tried to bring glory to God through this fight, pointing back to the many ways in which God provided for me and my family materially, spiritually, and logistically.
However, I am trying to not bring attention to myself through this, but rather to point back to the importance of my relationship to Christ during this time and to encourage others in that manner, when it is appropriate. Overall, this adventure has caused me to become more passionate about sharing my experience and recommendations, based on what I have learned. I have a friend who is facing a similar surgery and have spent time with him explaining in great detail what to expect and how to deal with it. I view this as not only trying to be a good friend, but also one way in which I can turn this fight into something positive.
You used an experimental treatment in addition to traditional chemo, can you tell us something about that?
I wish that I had been encouraged to and had knowledge of any experimental treatment. Another troubling aspect of traditional cancer care is the pressing urgency to make a decision on treatment, even when the diagnosis doesn’t necessarily require it. This I found to be true in my case, as I am sure it is with most other peoples’ experiences with decisions on treatment. I regret that I did not insist on more time in which to make those decisions.