I found out that I had colorectal cancer on 5/8/19 after a colonoscopy at MUSC here in Charleston. I had been having some blood in my stool for longer than I want to admit (I know, I know), but it would come and go and get worse with stress and better other times. I thought as a healthy, in shape 40 year old, that I had IBS and while I joked “maybe it is cancer,” I never thought in a million years it would be. Again, I am 40. I am healthy. I have no risk factors for colorectal cancer. And the worst thing is that I’m a doctor and I know signs/symptoms, but why would I ever think that I have cancer? And even more frustrating, I get upset when my patients don’t do the things that I tell them…..but more on that later.
So I had my colonoscopy, fully expecting the doctor to explain she didn’t find anything and took biopsies to rule out things like Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis, or Celiac. In recovery the doctor came in and looked like she had seen a ghost. “It isn’t good, is it?” I asked. She said “no” and went on to tell me how she found a mass (she said 10 cm in size) and took biopsies and it is likely cancer and I would need to get labs that day and be scheduled for scans and a surgery consult within the next few weeks. Carson almost fainted. This was not what we were expecting.
The GI doctor also mentioned that my siblings would need a colonoscopy asap because of family history being a risk factor (so sorry Paul and Leslie) and that my child would have to get a colonoscopy at the age of 30 (10 years prior to the age of my diagnosis- sorry Taylor)
When we left, I called Taylor, my daughter, and I honestly don’t remember what I told her. She was 2 days away from graduating college and had been stressed with a few “life events” (including her dog getting attacked at a pet store), but I don’t remember the call. THEN I immediately called my dad, who called the Chair of the Department of Surgery, within a few hours I had a CT scan and MRI scheduled for that evening (to look for metastatic disease and for staging) and had an appointment with the surgeon the next day. I always said that I live close to my parents so that I can take care of them when they get old, and while that is still true, that day I realized that I live close to them so they can take care of me too.
That night I had my CT scan (and the techs let me look at it and I could see that there were no metastatic lesions in my lungs or liver- yay!) and then had my MRI for staging and went home to get results the next day with the surgeon. I don’t really remember anything else that evening. I’m pretty sure we called some family and friends but that night is a blur. I was in shock. I still am in shock. I feel like life was “normal” up until Wednesday the 8th and then I went into this nightmare/dreamworld alternate universe. Kind of like Game of Thrones seasons 1-7, and then the nightmare that was season 8. Just kidding about GOT. I do love that show and didn’t actually mind the 8th season. If you want to talk about all things GOT, just text me. 😉
The next day, Carson (my fiancee) and I met with the GI surgeon at MUSC, Dr. George, and his PA Karen. My dad also showed up for the appointment. I actually went to the appointment fasting in case they wanted to admit me and do the surgery the next day. I wanted this thing OUT. But I wasn’t offered surgery for the next day. We found out that the tumor is Stage 3, T3cN2, meaning that T3= tumor invades through the muscularis propria into pericolorectal tissues and N2= 4-6 lymph nodes are positive. It is also 7cm in size. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. During the appointment we talked about a treatment plan and because of the stage, no surgery right away, and then I was set up to meet with Oncology and Radiation Oncology the next week. Surgery has been scheduled for 9/3 tentatively. That seems like forever from now. But don’t worry, I will be busy with other treatments.
By the time those two other appointments rolled around, I had read A LOT of information and pretty much knew what I was going to be facing over the next year. On 5/13 we met with the Oncologist and discussed his part. The plan is radiation/chemo for 28 days and then proceed with surgery after a 8 week “rest” period to allow the colon to heal from the radiation. Then after surgery, I will be on IV Chemotherapy for 6 months, one infusion a week.
We then met with the radiation oncologist on 5/18. Dr Warren at MUSC is amazing and I loved him and his personality and the good bedside manner he has (I also have emailed him a half dozen times over the past week and he has graciously written me back VERY LONG emails explaining things). At our appointment we discussed the option of short vs long radiation- it was something the surgeon brought up and Tumor Board had discussed. With short radiation, it would just be 5 days of radiation, followed by a rest week, and then surgery. Long radiation would be 28 days of radiation + oral chemo, then rest 8 weeks, then surgery. Of course the doctor in me wants this OUT NOW and to get on with surgery and then IV chemo. And I have been reading studies and the short vs long radiation BOTH have favorable outcomes. BUT- I have lymph node involvement. My cancer is complicated. And per Dr Warren, it would be beneficial to be on oral chemo to combat those pesky lymph nodes while doing the radiation. And while I hate the lengthy drawn out process, I agree with him. And my good friend Courtney made a point- she said, what if I did the short course radiation (with no chemo) and years down the road the cancer comes back and then I think “if I had done the long course radiation with chemo, would it have come back?” I want to make sure I do everything I can to prevent this cancer from coming back.
So now we have a oral chemo/radiation plan. I will start this upcoming Tuesday (5/28 ) and my last day will be 7/5. I will be doing chemo and radiation 5 days and week and “rest” on the weekends.
And for those of y’all who are curious, I will be trying to work while doing oral chemo and radiation. I might be a little fatigued and I might have a hard time sitting down (damn radiation pointed right at my butt), but I plan on working as much as I can! I do however, plan to take time off when I have my surgery, so don’t worry, I not trying to push myself too much. 🙂