My Cancer Diagnosis
I was diagnosed with colon cancer as the world mourned the loss of superstar Chadwick Bosemen who died from that same disease. Today, I’m okay, but I hope you will read and share this because one simple thing I didn’t do could save someone’s life.
When I turned 50, my doctor told me I needed a colonoscopy. I’d heard about this test and thought it was the most awful thing on the planet. The prep was frightening the test felt terribly humiliating. I’m a private person and that was a place I was not willing to go. I made the appointment, and got the prescription for the prep filled, but ultimately, disgust at the thought of the test caused me to cancel. After all, cancer would nevvvveeerrr happen to me.
Over the next seven years, I played the same game. I scheduled that colonoscopy three more times and cancelled each one. In 2020, at age 57, my doctor was firm. Again, I scheduled it and got the prep.
Enter the pandemic. I promptly cancelled my appointment. I thought phew – I’m not going through that! It’s amazing what you can justify in your mind – I was invincible!
Once things began reopening, the doctor’s office had the audacity to call me to reschedule. All I could think of was, “not this again.” But, I scheduled it. I was about to cancel, but something my friend Linda said gave me pause. My husband also told me to just suck it up and do it. Finally, I had it done.
Two days after the colonoscopy, the call I got was far worse than any fear I had over the test. On the other end of the line, the woman from the doctor’s office said, “we have your pathology results and the doctor would like you to come in this afternoon.”
Let that sit for a moment. This could only mean one thing.
I was not in a place where I could get to the office that day and the woman said the doctor would call me back. I pleaded with her to let me hold because I was too fearful he wouldn’t call back soon enough. I was on hold for about 10-15 minutes. It might as well have been 10 hours. In that time, my chest got tight and I had trouble breathing. I was certain I would throw up at any second. Every inch of my body had a terrible tingling feeling like I could not jump out of my skin fast enough. But I was paralyzed and felt like I couldn’t move. I could literally feel every beat of my heart pressing against my ribs like it could explode at any second. It was like a drummer pounding on one of those large bass drums. My hands were shaking and my legs were trembling.
When they say your “life flashes before your eyes,” they are not kidding. In those minutes on hold, my brain gave a giant “fuck you” to everything. I was scared and angry all at the same time and nothing mattered. Nothing.
My husband was sitting next to me and he had no idea what to do. He too was paralyzed.
When the doctor came to the phone, he used the words, “We found cancer.” I was listening as well as I could, but I didn’t hear them all. The good news was that he was confident they caught it early and had removed it all during the colonoscopy, but more testing would need to be done. I had to call the next day to begin scheduling the next steps.
I hung up the phone and my husband held me while I sobbed. It was ugly.
To make matters worse, I had to tell our children. How do you do that? This was a task that filled me with dread. I could barely say the word myself let alone tell my kids. But, I did it.
I knew we needed friends, but I just could not deal with making this public, especially before we really knew the magnitude of this all. I was fearful of how people would look at me. I could not handle the thought of someone thinking of me as “the person with cancer.” The thought of being viewed as anything but strong horrified me. I’m the one who takes care of people. I had no idea on how to let people take care of me.
I gathered what I called my “warrior team” and I did something awful – I texted them this news. Thankfully they understood and this incredible group of people have shown Ron and I so much love and support – it truly got us through this.
Through all of this, I learned that the procedures were not the hardest part. It was the waiting. Waiting for results, for phone calls that don’t come when expected. It’s amazing how seeing the doctor’s phone number come up on my caller id invokes immediate terror. I swear my heart skips a beat every time.
I’m an optimist, but this was hard. I would hope and hope only to be devastated by news I didn’t want to hear. And then I’d have to tell my team that we were still not out of the woods – I hated that.
I’m finally at a point where this last scan revealed no cancer, but, there remains a vulnerable part in my body. I have one scan left to ensure this has not spread to the lymph nodes, but otherwise, I’m cancer free – at least until I go back in six months. I’m learning to keep that anxiety in check – my new mental health counselor has been a Godsend. Yes, I need counseling and I am not ashamed to say that.
I tell you all this because the fear, anguish, anxiety, and sheer terror of the last couple months made my original fear of the colonoscopy look like nothing.
I’ve learned polyps in the colon are very common and if not removed, there is almost certainty that over time, they will turn cancerous. The simple removal of a benign polyp essentially ensures cancer won’t happen.
I implore you not to be afraid and don’t do what I did. Please take care of your health. ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT HAVING A COLONOSCOPY. Get your yearly physicals, do your mammograms, prostate exams, cholesterol checks – whatever screenings your doctor recommends. Just do it.
If you are afraid, call me and I will ease your fears. The prep was a few hours of inconvenience. I had the colonoscopy at 6:30am and was at my desk working by 9:00am that same day.
To Ron, Stefanye, Matt, Konnor, Justin & Wyatt – I’m sorry I put you through this. I’m so beyond thankful for you every day and could not have done this without you by my side. To my warrior team – and you know who you are – your prayers, calls, messages to make me laugh, flowers, positive energy and love helped me more than you will ever know.
Today, I have a new outlook on life. I’ve absolutely changed over the last couple months. I can’t go back, but boy do I wish I had done this differently seven years ago. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. You matter way too much.