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Kim Andersen

Anal cancer - Stage II

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for prevalent cancers we treat

My story

My journey began when I was 44 years old. In May of 2009, I noticed blood in my stool, and tried my best to ignore it. I hadn’t been planning on seeing a doctor for it. But when my son had to cancel a scheduled doctor appointment in August 2009 at the last minute, I decided to take his place, and it felt as if it was meant to be. The doctor examined me and did an in-office test. She then told me that I needed to see a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.

The gastroenterologist told me that he’d found a polyp but didn’t remove it. He told me that removing the polyp would have been painful, and instead he referred me to a general surgeon.

I then saw the surgeon and he removed the polyp. When the surgeon called, he said “you have anal squamous carcinoma”. He immediately wanted to do more surgery. I decided to research my options, get educated and seek care somewhere else.

The first place I turned to was the facility where I had been treated for thyroid cancer six years earlier. I did not feel confident with what they were telling me.

I started researching other cancer centers. When I called Cancer Treatment Centers of America, I spoke with an Oncology Information Specialist, who gathered my information quickly, told me which locations had oncologists with solid experience treating anal squamous carcinoma, and gave me a choice of traveling to Chicago or Philadelphia. Chicago is closer to my home in Iowa. They made me appointments starting the Monday after Thanksgiving.

No more waiting

At CTCA, the atmosphere was completely different than any other hospital I’d been to. The people who work there truly cared about me. I was given a choice: I could have more surgery, or I could start on chemotherapy and radiation right away. I decided on surgery first. If that procedure could remove the cancer, then I wanted to avoid chemotherapy and radiation. That decision was made on a Thursday late afternoon. Dr. Brown did surgery the next morning.

At the three-month checkup, all was good. At six months, the cancer had returned. The growth was significant; I could see a lump and noticed it was growing fast. In July 2010, they removed the tumor and sent me home for a month to recover. In August 2010, I had chemotherapy and radiation. The chemotherapy involved two drugs, 5-fluorouracil and mitomycin. The chemo was delivered through an intravenous drip over 96 hours during week one and week four of radiation. I had 25 tomotherapy radiation treatments. I remained at CTCA for 5 and 1/2 weeks during this time, coming home only for Labor Day weekend.

Getting through it

Sometimes the treatment was miserable. I experienced a lot of nausea, and it took four or five tries to find something that helped alleviate that discomfort. I was glad that I had a care team willing to keep trying until we found something to help. CTCA was proactive by suggesting remedies to counter the known side effects of the treatment.

My skin broke down toward the end of the radiation treatments and when I was allergic to the burn cream, Dr. Patel’s nurse found me gel-based dressings, which worked and really saved my sanity after being in such pain.

I also had leg and back pain and weakness which I attribute to the positioning during radiation. It was diagnosed as pain neuropathy. I did not want to take pain medication due to the side effects, so I tried various physical therapy and chiropractic treatments. They helped, but the results were not lasting. Finally, Dr. Stephenson, who focuses on quality of life issues at CTCA, tried a different type of manipulation. Now I see him at my six-month checkups, and this ongoing care has made a difference with my legs, pelvis and lower back.

My faith and the support I had from my family and friends, especially my husband, helped me get through this time. The connections that I made during the weeks I stayed at CTCA were also invaluable. A patient I met became a lifelong friend, and even though we live far away from each other, we speak on the phone regularly and continue to be part of each other’s lives.

Cancer is scary. What if the treatment didn’t work? What would happen then? I still ask my doctors about the treatment plan if the cancer returns. But I learned to trust my care team, to put my faith in their expertise, and at the same time to listen to my own instincts.

Home away from home

Some patients I’ve spoken with through the Cancer Fighters Care Network have expressed hesitation about traveling and staying away from home during treatment. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change my mind about traveling and staying at CTCA for treatment. If I would have been at home, I would have focused on or worried about the cooking, cleaning, and maintaining my routine. Staying at CTCA, I could just focus on getting well. Being removed from my normal routine contributed in a positive way to getting through treatment.

I was surrounded by people going through what I was going through—a total support network. My husband was with me for part of the time, but we both agreed that he needed to continue to work, as that was best for both of us. Family and friends came to visit for two or three days at a time, and I was on my own some, but never alone. CTCA became my home away from home. The care team and the patients I met became my extended family. I was also able to continue my work as an online course teacher during treatment. Working gave me something else to think about.

I have a strong desire and will to live. Going through cancer treatment was difficult, yet it changed me for the better. It gave me a new perspective on life. I have made lifestyle changes and my outlook on the future is optimistic. My brothers and I have decided to convert our grandparent’s farm to organic crops. I am excited about this change, as it is good for the environment and for us. I want to make a difference. I thank God for each day I have and hope that my story can be an encouragement to someone else facing cancer.

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