by Ann Byington
As a college student, I was enthralled with a poster which proclaimed, “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” In June of this year, I was suffering with a urinary tract infection. I tried the cranberry herbal remedy — unsweetened juice which tasted nasty, pills, etc. to no avail. I finally went to the doctor for antibiotics twice, but they weren’t even touching my symptoms. After a call to my doctor, I went to the emergency room at a local hospital for the first time in my life.
To shorten the story a bit, after discovering a frightfully low hemoglobin, I received two units of blood, antibiotics for the UTI and fluids. And, since there was an unexplained blood loss, an endoscopy and colonoscopy were in order. That meant drinking as much as I could of a huge jug of awful-tasting stuff and making repeated trips to the bathroom. Since I was in the Progressive Care Unit, I was wired with heart monitor, blood pressure gauge, IV pole and God knows what else, and I had to be accompanied by a nurse.
The colonoscopy revealed a mass (which I was later told nearly occluded the bowel and was the size of a squashed peach) which had to be removed. Without going into more gory detail, I had yet another colonoscopy in 5 days, followed by surgery to remove the mass, 24 lymph nodes and 40% of my colon. (Michael says that now I have a semicolon.)
Fortunately, today’s surgery involves laparoscopes, so I had three tiny incisions and a longer one, which is nothing compared to the J-shaped scar I have from a much earlier gallbladder surgery in 1981.
As far as I know, I had followed the recommended time-table for colonoscopy exams. To address my shortness of breath after walking less than a block, I had had a heart ultrasound and a pulmonary function test. I was told I needed to lose weight! Wow, I think I already knew that.
My point in sharing all of this is twofold: Pay attention to what your body is telling you and be your own advocate with your doctor. I should have been pushier with my doctor when the test results were negligible. Get pushy and demand a better explanation than the need to lose weight.
My journey isn’t quite over yet. Because of the size of the mass, the fact that it had grown into the colon wall and that two genes in a group studied had been deleted, I began chemotherapy on August 5th. I had been surgically fitted with a port having a tube into a vein in my neck. The port and tubing are housed under the skin, allowing a single needle stick for the chemotherapy. This includes steroids, which in my case make me hungry all the time, and two other drugs. When I leave the hospital after all but the last drug, I wear a pump in a pocket fastened to a belt I can wear around my waist under my clothes. I go back to the hospital 46 hours later to have it disconnected. The schedule has created some transportation issues, as I never know how long the chemo day is going to take. There are 18 chairs in the infusion area, and they are usually always filled.
I am grateful for the excellent care I have received at all points during this journey. Doctors, nurses, aides, receptionists, and many others I don’t know have made a frightening experience much more bearable. I have had wonderful support and many prayers from my family, my church family, and countless friends, including many Forum readers.
I am fairly certain I will survive this cancer. However, I am all too aware that many people are not so blessed. My gratefully offered advice is to pay attention to your body and if you don’t get sensible answers from the health-care system, get pushy. Cancer can only be cured if it is caught very early in the process.
I conclude this discussion with yet another heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has prayed and helped me in many countless ways.