Today is my “cancerversary.” Two years ago today, it was confirmed that I had stage iv colon cancer. By the point the final biopsy results came in, everyone was all but sure it was stage iv colon cancer. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget that week I spent in the hospital. It began on a Friday morning, when I woke up about 6am to go to the bathroom, only to find blood in my stool. My parents were already up and my dad working (he worked from home). My mom had had surgery #7 on her ankle only two days before and was still off work. My dad had a phone call that morning he couldn’t skip, so I drove my mom and I to the nearby ER – an ER unconnected to the main hospital. After all, you don’t go to the ER alone.
I drove my dad’s Jeep Grand Cherokee because its backseat could accommodate my mom’s wheelchair and we arrived about 7am. It was quiet, so it didn’t take long to be taken by to an ER room. My mom asked what they would do and I’ll never forget the nurse’s response. He told me they would likely do some blood work to make sure I wasn’t going to bleed out then send me home to follow up with a gastrointestinal doctor. What neither I, nor the nurse, knew is that the results of my pelvic ultrasound the day before strongly recommended a CT scan.
Even when an ER is quiet, running blood work and waiting for scan results takes time. I remember feeling pretty good overall and texting with a friend while in my little cubicle. About 8am, I got a phone call from my primary care doctor wanting to schedule that CT scan. I told her I was already in the ER and they were going to do it and she wished me luck. It took quite some time for the CT scan results to come in. We later learned that the doctor was on the phone with the GI department at the main hospital downtown. The doctor had called them because the CT scan revealed a spot on my liver the size of a walnut that hadn’t been on a CT scan done two months earlier. The group of doctors decided to admit me to the hospital to run tests and find out what was going on, rather than leave me to wait for my already scheduled GI appointment two weeks later. That was my first time in an ambulance – that I remember anyway. My mom then called my dad and together they figured out how to get my mom home from the ER and together get to the hospital downtown. That’s a funny story for another day.
I spent Saturday night trying desperately to get cleaned out well enough for a colonoscopy. It was a nightmare and that’s putting it mildly. The colonoscopy finally happened Sunday evening and the doctor couldn’t get very far. I was pretty out of it following the colonoscopy and didn’t ask much, but when the doctor told my parents they were able to ask questions. Although it was a presentation the doctor hadn’t seen before, he was pretty sure it was cancer. As my dad tells it, the doctor was visibly upset. During the colonoscopy, the doctor took several biopsies that would hopefully give us the answer.
On Monday, I had an MRI to get a better look at the liver spot. Prior to that MRI, I had no idea I was claustrophobic. Now I know, and for every MRI I get a Valium ahead of time. On Tuesday the biopsies came back as suspicious but inconclusive. As a result, they biopsied the liver spot that same day. Wednesday was a day of nervous waiting. Thursday afternoon the liver biopsy came back positive for colon cancer and by extension, stage IV. That was June 28th, 2018. The following day I had my port placed before being discharged.
I’ve thought a lot about that week in the two years since. I wrote at the time that I was grateful that none of my doctors tiptoed around the elephant in the room. Even before the final confirmation on the 28th, I was seeing an oncologist and a surgeon. The liver biopsy was simply a confirmation of what everyone knew. At the time, and now still, I was grateful that my doctors were frank about what was going on. It really set the tone for my future discussions with those doctors, especially as we all discovered that I did nothing the easy way. I really came to like my oncologist when I moved from Wisconsin to Florida and would recommend him to anyone.
I find I’m much more grateful for the milestones now than I was before my cancer diagnosis. This last Christmas meant so much more to me. It didn’t pass me by like so many others had before. I spent the Christmas before feeling like garbage and ultimately opened my Christmas presents while in the hospital. Next week will be my 3rd birthday since diagnosis and I will turn 35. Once upon a time, that round birthday might have bothered me, especially as I’m still single with nothing on the horizon. But now? Now I’m grateful to be here. My life isn’t perfect and cancer plus Lynch Syndrome have certainly left their problems behind. But two years after a stage iv cancer diagnosis, I’m still here and largely doing what I want.