I was familiar with cancer as a survivor, having had a melanoma at age 27. I was familiar with cancer as a caregiver. My husband lost his battle to pancreatic cancer and my son, diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), underwent a successful stem cell transplant in 2004. In all three cases, a symptom prompted each of us to get a checkup.
In September 2009, I had my annual gynecological exam. My checkup was normal but the doctor asked if I had ever had a colonoscopy, I said no. He then gave me all the reasons why “at my age” I should. I left his office promising I would schedule one and I intended to call the next day. September 2010 rolled around and it was time for my annual checkup. Rather than listen to another lecture from my gynecologist, I scheduled my first ever colonoscopy. My longtime excuse for never having a colonoscopy was that my friends and family worked, I did not want to ask them to be my driver. How weak was that! At 61, I was healthy, lived a healthy life style, and had never had stomach or digestive problems. No symptoms – no problems.
True to form, I did not ask my friends to drive; the taxi dropped me off at the hospital entrance on September 13, 2010. When the colonoscopy was finished the doctor delivered the news, I had two polyps, one was removed with a hot snare and the other one would need to be surgically removed. My first question to him was could I schedule it during the Thanksgiving holidays so that I would not miss work? He said no, he thought it would need to be treated as soon as possible since it was likely malignant.
After the pathology report confirmed the diagnosis, the gastroenterologist ordered additional tests and referred me to an oncologist. Listening to the oncologist explain the chemotherapy, radiation and future resection surgery, it seemed like a bad dream. I said numerous times, “But I feel great, how can this be? I have had no symptoms.” The fog lifted when he said, “This particular cancer can be cured.” All my doctors echoed the same message. Those six words became my mantra.
The PET and CT scans showed a possible metastasis to the liver; my diagnosis Stage IV Rectosigmoid Colon Adenocarcinoma. From October 2010 through January 2011, I was treated with chemotherapy and radiation and on February 25, I had the surgery. No malignant cells were found in the colon, lymph nodes or liver. I may have dodged a bullet. As a survivor, I continue to affirm my mantra, to relish each day with friends and family, and to celebrate each “all clear” checkup.
Several people, including the radiation oncologist, heard my story and scheduled their colonoscopy. I am the “early screening” poster child having had perfect health, a normal CEA, no symptoms, no family history, and Stage IV colorectal cancer. Please take screening seriously. It may save your life.
Editor’s Note: Linda Hogg is a CPA, an adjunct for the University of Montana, a consultant, and a cancer survivor.