I was a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom of three young children (6, 4 and 16 months), when I was told that I had stage III colorectal cancer. The local gastroenterologist that found the tumor warned that I had a tough year ahead of me. My treatments took over our life and we did the best we could to keep a “normal” schedule for our kids. Chemo left me with a foggy brain (entitled by the cancer community as “chemo brain”) and I had to stay organized to remember even the smallest details. I had different totes color-coded, packed and ready for different doctor’s offices. There were definitely days, especially within the first 6 weeks of treatment, that I thought it would never be over.
My doctor was correct. It truly was a long and rough year, but each day was a celebration of life. Cancer is a quick slap in the face and a brunt reminder to stop taking life for granted. I found that a simple hug from one of my children was the best antidote for fighting through the nausea. Holding my husband’s hand was the only way to get past some of the pain, and just knowing that he was near allowed me to rest when needed.
After surgery and another six months of chemo, I finally got to ring the bell – signifying that treatment was over. For me that bell, signified the start of life again, or so I thought and had hoped. Returning to life was more difficult than I had expected. My body was exhausted and weak. I had to learn to live with long term side effects that I had not expected. Accepting life with a colostomy was one thing, but it took quite a toll on my self-confidence and even self-image. I often say during that year following treatment I felt like a middle schooler again – unsure of my body, unsure of myself and just trying to figure things out.
It has been six years since I rang that end-of-treatment bell, and I wish I could say my life has been perfect ever since. Life with an ostomy has been unpredictable at best, but I’ve been able to help so many other people by sharing my story. Recently I met a teenager with an ileostomy. Helping someone that age learn to accept life with an ostomy and even enjoy life again has been one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences so far.
During treatment, I was quickly reminded that life is a gift and God has a plan for each of us. I never would have imagined that talking with a newly diagnosed patient or helping someone adjust to life with an ostomy would have been apart of my life. I never would have thought that I would have the opportunity to share my story on national television at a Cavs game!
Yesterday, I rode 10 miles on my bike, and while this may sound like a simple ride, it is a huge accomplishment and another milestone of life-after-cancer. Because of the chronic pain I have in my rear (from radiation and surgery) I thought I would never ride a bike again, and now I’m training for a 150 mile ride later this summer.
Today, we celebrate not only survivors, but those still in treatment and those we have lost. My life is a constant balancing act of managing long-term side effects. Life may not be exactly as I thought it would be, but most days…it’s better than I could have ever thought possible.
An Irish Prayer
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.