CancerGuide: Inspirational Patient Stories
August 8, 2000
On September 29, 1992, at the age of 39, I underwent surgery for colon cancer. Now, as "National Cancer Survivor's Day" has past, I am reminded once again that I am one of the lucky ones. It has been 7 years and 10 months since my surgery and chemotherapy, and I have had very good reports with all my follow-up tests and doctor visits. The picture on my web site is "post cancer", so as you can see, I am fine.
If you or a loved one have had cancer touch your life, please visit the American Cancer Society web site and see how you can make a difference in the survival of a future cancer patient. One way to help is to participate in the Relay for Life. Someone made a difference for me, and that is one of the reasons I am here today.
I guess there is never a good time to have cancer, but when my doctor informed me of the tumor in my colon in September of 1992, my first thought was, "I don't have time for cancer."
The timing could not have been worse, or so I thought. I was 39 years old, divorced 2 years, working full time, mother of three boys, and caretaker of a terminally ill cancer patient, my fiancé, David.
I had met David about 6 months after my divorce, and one year later, he had been diagnosed with a rare fatal cancer in December of 91. It was only found in young adults, with no known treatments that had been successful, only radiation to shrink the tumors for his comfort. It was now month 9 since his cancer was found, and David continued to fight the disease with his will to live, and we were both thankful for each and every day, since the doctors had only given him 30 days life expectancy.
We thought it was ironic that I too now had cancer, although totally different and unrelated to his. Where his was inoperable with no known treatments, mine was not. Then David said, "I did not have a chance, you do, so you will do all the doctors tell you, to live. I want you to live, and you will."
How did I have time for cancer when I had so much to do to take care of the boys and David. I didn't have time to worry about me, I was just worried about how quickly I could have surgery, and get back to work, I had to work. I also had to find someone to care for my family during my 10 day hospital stay.
I didn't realize until much later, what a gift God had given me at this time in my life, and that gift was, "His Peace". I truly was not worried about myself, only the kids and David. The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my 3 children that I too had cancer, and until after the surgery, we did not know how bad it was. I remember the peace God gave me and the words. I told my sons that God loved them, even more than I did, and He would always care and provide for them. He would make a way, where there was no way.
As I stated earlier, God's gift to me was to not fear the cancer, but the surgery was another matter entirely. I had experienced gall bladder surgery in 1974 at the age of 21, so I knew the pain I was facing. To put it mildly, had I had anything but cancer, I think I would have just passed on the 2nd experience.
Also, I was concerned about what would be removed and how I would function afterwards. I had 3 consultations with both my surgeons prior to entering the hospital. Since my tumor was right side colon, the "bag" was never a consideration, as it sometimes must be in left side colon cancer. On this, I am very thankful, as now I "function" as I did before. The down side to the surgery was the recommendation of a complete and total hysterectomy as well as the removal of 3/4 of my colon. The tumor was so close to the ovary, that the possibility of "seeding" was great. So, I found that I was facing a long and serious surgical procedure at age 39. I could not believe I had this disease at this age, although colon cancer does run in my family. The family members I knew who had experienced this cancer were in their late 50's before it occurred. My oncologist feels that "stress" and heredity were the major factors in my acquiring the cancer in my late 30's.
Now that I had all the facts, I had decisions to make. Who would care for my family, and should I not survive, who would care for my children.
In answer to prayer, my younger brother came home from Atlanta for 2 weeks, just to take care of things for me. I really do not know what I would have done had he not been able to care for David and the boys for me.
The surgery went very well, and three days later I received the pathology report. The good news was, my lymph tissue was clear of any cancer and the bad news was that the tumor had grown through the bowel wall, causing a possibility that I had cancer cells floating around in my body. So now I had to face the possibility that the cancer could come back.
After a 2 hour consultation with my oncologist and receiving information from the American Cancer Society, I knew that the recommendation of chemotherapy had to be considered.
For the first time since I was shown a picture of my tumor, I cried.
The year that I cared for David was not a burden, it was a blessing. He showed the boys and I how to be thankful for each and every day. He also showed us how to show love to those around us, while we could, never taking for granted that we could "do that tomorrow", for tomorrow never comes, and all any of us have is today. He put into practice, "Each day is a gift from God, that is why we call it the present".
David's faith and will to live amazed his doctors. He was able to care for himself to the end.
I had already received 3 rounds of my chemotherapy, when we realized that the end was near. David was so concerned about my continuing my treatments, and that I take care of myself. He was the one to say when I was so sick, "This will pass soon, and you will be okay."
It was during Christmas Break, when I saw that he slept a little too much, and did not eat as much as usual. After the home health nurse saw him, she told me to call any family that may want to visit, and I knew it was time.
David and I talked about it, and he was not afraid, he knew where he was going and he did not fear death, he just did not want to leave me. He made me promise to continue my treatments, no matter how much work I lost due to them, or how sick it made me, so I did.
I lost David on Christmas Day 1992 and heaven gained a new angel.
"Chemo" - Just the word was enough to send a chill of fear down my spine. I had wanted the consultation with the oncologist, just so he could tell me that the surgery took care of the cancer, and that I would be fine, but that is not what he said.
I went back to work 4 weeks after my surgery, and I felt fine. I just wanted to get my life back to normal. Again I said, "Lord, I do not have time for this", but I had to make time.
Then, for the 2nd time, I cried. I remember sitting on the floor by the bathtub and thinking, "I do not want those chemicals in my body." So, I just decided to take the chance that the cancer would not return, I had had enough of being sick, and I had David and the boys to care for, and my brother had to return to Atlanta to his job.
David and the boys did not agree with me. They wanted me to have all the treatments my doctors recommended, and then if it did come back, at least we would know we had done all that we could.
Aaron (age 15 at that time), my oldest son dealt with my disease by being the "man of the house", and just showing me his confidence by saying, "I know you will be fine Mom."
Lance (age 12), my 2nd son, dealt with it as he does everything else. He kept his thoughts and worries to himself. Only once did he cry, for just a moment when he told me he was scared.
Ryan (age 6), my youngest son, was in first grade and worried about his Mom. I would sometimes awaken to find him on a pallet by my bed. When I asked him why he replied that he just wanted be there for me in case I needed him. Oh, from the "mouths of babes", I did need him, and he needed me. So, for the first time, I asked God to spare my life, not for me, but for Ryan. Aaron and Lance were older, but Ryan was so small. I had lost my own Mother to death when I was in first grade, and I didn't want my son to experience the same loss, when he was too young to understand.
Up until this time, the decision of chemotherapy was my fear. Then, as I prayed for my life, for my son's sake, I felt the hand of God. Yes, I felt it. It was like a warmth that touched my head and went to my feet as I knelt by my son on the floor. I then knew, that I would not fear the chemotherapy anymore. For just as God had given me His Peace about the cancer, he gave me His Peace about the chemotherapy.
This did not mean that the treatments were easy, for they were not. I was to receive 6 months of chemotherapy - one week on, and 3 weeks off. I would go to work each day and take my treatments as an outpatient at the cancer center after school of the chemotherapy week, Monday-Friday. My chemotherapy was a clinical trial for Dukes B2 tumors of the colon. I was given 5fu with leucovorin by IV. (When my veins collapsed from the chemo after round one, I had to have a direct line called a port surgical implanted in my chest.) Also, Sun-Sat of that week I would give myself 2 injections of interferon each day. This caused flu like symptoms with fever, chills, and body aches requiring me to take Tylenol every 4 hours. But, I would usually do well that week, then the following week, I would be too sick to eat anything, then I would become dehydrated due to the side effects of the chemo. I was hospitalized once and home on IVs twice during the 6 months of chemo, but I did continue to work at school every day that I was not to sick to go.
As with anyone, I was concerned about losing my hair. Vanity I guess. It would fall out by the handful everyday, but luckily I never lost it all. And as are the ways with God, when we lose something, many times we receive more in return. Once my treatments were finished, my hair grew back thicker and in better condition than before.
I must say, that in many ways, my cancer was my greatest blessing. Not that I want to go through it again, but during this time in my life, I found out many things that I otherwise would never have known. I learned to "live by faith, not sight". I learned that when I am at my weakest, I am also at my strongest. I learned to not take things for granted, even realizing what a blessing it is to be able to go to work. I found that I had more friends than I ever thought possible. But most importantly, I learned that, "God Does Provide a Way". He allowed cancer to enter my life, and then he took that and made me a better person. He allowed me to survive and he has a purpose for my life.
Living as a Survivor
So, now I am a cancer survivor. Sometimes I forget that, and sometimes I want to forget. For to remember is to also remember my "survivor's guilt". Why did I survive and David did not? Why did I survive and my Father did not? I do not have the answer, and I probably never will.
Do I live my life in fear of the cancer returning? No, I can honestly say that I do not. Why should I worry? I could die in a car accident today, or some other way, so why should I worry about something that may or may not occur? As with Adam, all die. I have too many other things to be concerned about. To worry is like sitting in a rocking chair, it gets you no where. I know that if my cancer should ever reoccur, God is able to again give me whatever I need to deal with it. "His Grace is sufficient for me." I know that no matter what I face, He is in control and nothing can touch my life until if first goes through the hands of my Heavenly Father and he allows it, for my ultimate good and His Glory.
I will be an "8 year survivor" on September 29, 2000. As I look back at the last years of my life, I must wonder, "What have I done with this life that God has granted me?" That gives me more fear than cancer. Have I just "coasted" along, dealing with life as best I could? I know I should do more and maybe all of us feel this way.
It is time to move on for me. I feel a need to make a change in my life, and do more with whatever abilities God has given me. I am not sure yet what those changes should be, but I know that change is necessary.
God Bless you and yours,
This CancerGuide Page By Linda Carpenter. © Linda Carpenter
Last Updated: August 8, 2000