Patient tips I was in the best shape of my life when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer: My advice to others

I was in the best shape of my life when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer: My advice to others

In 2014, Scott D. was diagnosed with 3B T3 colorectal cancer. At the time of his diagnosis, Scott was a self-described “gym rat” who spent his free time training for amateur bodybuilding competitions. After flagging symptoms to his primary care physician, Scott was told the words no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.” The news was deafening for the newly minted 50 year old. In the months following his diagnosis, Scott underwent multiple surgeries and 12 rounds of chemotherapy. Here, he details the advice he wishes he could share with a younger version of himself.

  1. You can be in peak condition and still get cancer. Physically, I was at the top of my game leading up to my diagnosis. I was working out every day, eating a high-protein diet to maintain low body fat and spending a lot of time in the gym. Colorectal cancer wasn’t the first conclusion I jumped to when I started noticing a change in my bowel movements. I don’t think it was the first thought for my doctor either. Just because you don’t check every risk factor box doesn’t mean you’re home free.
  2. Take notice of your symptoms and document the heck out of it. Symptoms were subtle for me. In late 2014, I experienced extreme pain and blood during a bowel movement–just one time. Every time after that, I saw blood when I had a bowel movement. There wasn’t pain, but the blood was consistent. Although I immediately started flagging the blood to my care team, what really made the difference and jump started my diagnosis was taking pictures of what I was seeing. That may sound tough to do, but remember: This is your life; you’re documenting it for medical purposes. Consider taking the pictures and writing down everything you notice in detail. Documenting my symptoms made a difference in those early conversations with my doctor.
  3. Listen to your body. In my experience, women are much more attuned to their bodies. Guys, in my experience, tend to be OK with the status quo when it comes to their health. Have a bruise? Put some dirt on it, and it’ll eventually go away. Luckily, I was raised that if there’s a problem, go get it checked out. When I started noticing blood in my stool, I was on top of it. I know my body, and I know what “not normal” looks like. I would rather have the doctor slap my hand and say it’s nothing versus hearing the doctor say, “If we caught this a year ago …”
  4. What you say and what others hear aren’t the same. My college professor used to quote William Cobbett: “Communicate not to be understood, but not to be misunderstood.” This was never truer than when it came to my diagnosis. The way I was describing my symptoms wasn’t raising any alarm bells with my doctor. After a month and a half of the same symptoms and trying to eliminate elements of my diet and supplement regimen, I started taking pictures. This really helped my doctor hear me.
  5. Remain calm. Trust me, I know: This is easier said than done, especially when it comes to your health. Don’t instantly run to the “bad” place. I did, and I immediately started thinking the absolute worst. Stress may impact more than your emotional state, but I noticed an impact physically as well. Letting the stress rule your reality may prompt decision paralysis. That’s the last thing you want after a cancer diagnosis. Try to take a deep breath. Focus on your options and next step forward.
  6. If you have a partner or friend you have a strong bond with, rely on his or her outside perspective. A cancer diagnosis may make it difficult to see things clearly. It’s sensory and information overload. My wife of 22 years, Capri, was that voice of reason for me. When I wanted to explore other options for treatment, Capri was by my side and handled a lot of the research efforts. Ultimately I sought out a second opinion and continued treatment with a new care team at City of Hope.
  7. The approach to your treatment matters. For me, the chemotherapy side effects were brutal. I lost a ton of weight, had no appetite and no will to eat. Although the type of chemotherapy wasn’t different with my new care team, the approach and treatment plan were adjusted at City of Hope to curb some of my side effects that previously sent me to the ER multiple times. I was able to walk out at the end of the day and go home.
  8. Find “hacks” to make your life easier. For me, I started by making a list of all that needed to be done on a daily basis and keeping medications separated. I used a daily AM/PM pill pack. That way, I knew (even if I forgot—and I did forget) if they had been taken.
  9. Make sure you’re comfortable with your care team’s recommendations. If you’re uncomfortable with the treatment plan being recommended by your care team, don’t be afraid to pump the brakes and ask the hard questions. This is your life! Don’t be intimidated or pushed into decisions or procedures you’re not comfortable with. Make sure you understand the nuts and bolts of your diagnosis and treatment options.
  10. Before you decide on a treatment plan, write out a list of questions and do plenty of independent research. I researched treatment options available for colorectal cancer, immunotherapy, statistics and so much more. I even spent time on YouTube watching vlogs on real people dealing with the same diagnosis. For me, having more information allowed me to set realistic goals and come up with a plan I believed in.
  11. Ask about resources and support groups where you’re treating. Hearing other people’s opinions and perspectives about my diagnosis, care team and treatment plan was an integral part of my research process. Many people research the brand before they buy a car or the realtor before they buy a home. Why not do the same for your health?


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