"I was 34 years old when my life got turned upside down by colon cancer."
By: Jennifer S.
I was 34 years old when my life got turned upside down by colon cancer. I was not feeling well for quite some time. I had pain in the lower left side of my stomach that came and went, I lost weight, I had no appetite, I was so pale that I was almost see through, and towards the very end I did have the tell-tale sign of blood in my stool. My doctor originally thought that I might have food allergies like gluten intolerance. I knew something very different was going on and was very afraid that I knew what it might be. I asked for a colonoscopy. My doctor did not want to give it to me originally. “I was too young and we didn’t address all other avenues yet.” I had to be my own advocate and demand a colonoscopy.
I had the colonoscopy in November 2010 and that’s when they found the grapefruit sized tumor in my sigmoid colon. They removed it along with my entire sigmoid colon. It’s definitely not like in the movies where the doctor sits you down and has the “talk.” I was brought in to a regular exam room to get my drainage removed from surgery. My sister, Steph, came with me that day since I was still unable to drive from the surgery. After he yanked the tube out of my stomach, he announced “well pathology came back and it looks like you have a little cancer.” His “little cancer,” was Stage 3 Colon Cancer. I was required to have 6 months of chemo.
Before I was diagnosed with Cancer, I was a “workaholic.” I worked a lot and I also had a family to take care of. My husband (at the time as I am now happily divorced) “worked” a lot of hours and I was the one that took care of everything. A typical day would be that I would go to work, pick up the kids from the after school program, cook dinner, help with homework, then get them ready for bed (that’s when the ex-husband would show up) and start all over again. The funny thing about cancer is that you can try your best to continue to be “normal” but it will mess with you mentally more than physically. Don’t get me wrong, it f*#ks you up on all levels. It changed my life in multiple ways. Most of it is good. I was such a “workaholic'' that I had my job bring over my desktop computer and set it up so that I could continue working during my days of sitting at home with my IV drips. This, of course, didn’t last long because no one prepares you for “chemo brain.” It’s often described as mental fogginess that a lot of cancer patients get when receiving chemotherapy. It’s not the best thing to have when working from home with people’s medical records. I had to stop shortly after I started. None of the pamphlets they give you when you’re first told that you have cancer will prepare you for the sometimes daily mental breakdowns in the beginning. It was my first treatment and I was ready to say F#@k this S#@t I’m done. I’ll take my chances.This chemo S#@t is going to kill me before the cancer does. I was literally sitting on the toilet holding the waste basket thinking all I wanted was my mom. I called her crying thinking I can’t do this. Six more months of this! She told me, “You have two kids that need their mom around. We need you around. You have to get through this. So whatever choice you make you have to be good with that choice. Whether you continue the chemo or not.” Just that reminder of needing to be around for my kids was enough for me. I chose to continue with the treatments.
From that point on, I did not make any excuses for myself. No more complaining. I was going to be around for my kids. I didn’t just want them to see me get through this, I wanted them to see me get through this with style and grace. I turned every negative situation into a positive as much as I could. I was not going to let cancer beat me down. I had a bag that was attached to my port in my chest area for 3 days out of the week. It looked like a black backpack. At the time we only had one car. Someone needed to go pick up the kids from school. I would take a daily walk to pick the kids up from school with my chemo “backpack.” I took advantage of all the time I could with them.
My last chemo treatment was May 16th, 2011. The nurse came and asked me if I would like to ring the bell. I looked at her and said, “I don’t need to ring a f#@cking bell to let everyone know that I beat the s@#t out of cancer and won!” She looked at me with a smirk on her face and gave me a high five. I had mixed feelings about the bell as I did not want to rub it into any of the other patient’s faces that I was on my last treatment. It was not a fun place to be. Not that anyone else shouldn’t ring the bell. Whatever you choose to do is up to you. I just had a pretty rough crowd in the room that day and felt that I didn’t need to ring a bell to feel good about it being my last treatment. I did go to the top of the parking garage that same day and yell at the top of my lungs, “F@#ck you cancer! You thought you had me but you didn’t. I won you b@tch!”
I’ve had a lot of struggles in my lifetime that have defined me, but I must say this was one of the most difficult things I have gone through (other than my divorce). It was a life changer. It changed my whole personality. I used to be so serious and take things for granted. The little things that used to bother me, I now just let go. That “workaholic” I used to be is gone. I will never choose work over a family event again. Life was too short to just work. Cancer helped me realize life is a precious gift and every moment must be treasured. It also taught me that I am braver than I thought I was. I had to be brave even when I didn’t want to be because there was no other choice. Cancer was a life changing disease for me but also a beautiful gift. I learned a lot of transformative lessons. Some were very hard to accept and some were very simple. I can honestly say that I graduated from the school of cancer with honors. These lessons I learned have bettered my life tremendously and for that I am forever grateful.