In her own words: living with colon cancer
As told to Elissa Sonnenberg, MSEd
Pati is a 50-year-old homemaker who loves to garden and try new craft projects in her home just outside New Orleans. Colon cancer took the grandmother of one by surprise three years ago, but she relied on family and friends, as well as her own faith, to see her through. She says that being creative, whether she's making her own paper or designing a unique greeting card, helps keep her relaxed.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I was 47, and I started having some intermittent rectal bleeding with bowel movements. At first I thought it was hemorrhoids. Then the bleeding became heavier and happened more often. Also, my stools began to narrow, and I was having several small bowel movements a day. Blood tests showed that I was anemic as well.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I went to see my primary care doctor, and he immediately referred me for a colonoscopy. I went in to the colonoscopy hearing the words "colon cancer," but hoping for the best. I kind of had the feeling it was not going to be the best, though. The surgeon found a tumor; it was biopsied and came back malignant.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
I cried off and on for the first three days. Then I was praying, my family and friends were praying, and I finally had a sense of peace wash over me. I knew everything was going to be OK. My family, friends, and really good doctors helped keep me positive.
How was your colon cancer treated?
After the diagnosis, I was referred to another surgeon, an oncologist, and a radiologist; they developed my treatment plan. I had 27 sessions of radiation, with chemotherapy the first and last three days. After a few weeks to recover from that, I had surgery to remove about a foot of my colon. The tumor had disappeared; there was only an ulcer where the tumor had been. I was home from the hospital four days after the surgery. I found out that the more you move, the faster you heal.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to colon cancer?
The lifestyle and dietary changes I've made have been for the better. Because of the radiation, I tend to get constipated, so basically I follow the food pyramid, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly. I mainly walk, but I also do sit ups and leg lifts—things I can do in the house. I eat less meat than I used to and I try to eat whole grains as often as possible. I have cut down on junk food. I still do eat some of it, but far less than before. That's been a good side effect for me.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
Yes, through the Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA). I started off with the online colon cancer listserve—it's like a bulletin board on the Internet where you can ask questions. Then the CCA started the alliance buddy chat. Monday through Friday we had a coffee break chat, then an evening chat, too.
I've found so much support from the people who attend those chats. That's been a big, big help for me.
Does colon cancer have any impact on your family?
Not really. It was shocking initially, but everybody had a positive attitude that it was going to be fine. My daughter was a tremendous help with shopping and cooking; my husband was very supportive as well. They treated me like the sofa princess.
What advice would you give to anyone living with colon cancer?
Don't give up hope. Colon cancer is not a death sentence anymore. There are a lot of new treatments out there. Arm yourself with knowledge. The more you learn about your condition, the more you can help yourself. Also, surround yourself with positive people—that is key.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
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