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.
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My journey began when I was 44 years old. In May 2009, I was constipated and noticed blood in my stool. I assumed this was normal because it happened often. The blood was new, but not consistent, so I tried my best to ignore it and hadn’t planned on seeing a doctor. But when my son had to cancel a scheduled doctor appointment in August 2009 at the last minute, I decided to take his place. I felt that this was a sign. The doctor examined me and recommended I see a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy.
After the colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist told me that he found a polyp but didn’t remove it. He shared that removing the polyp would have been painful, and instead he referred me to a general surgeon.
Being a thyroid cancer survivor of six years at the time, I wanted to get this taken care of quickly. I saw the surgeon and had the polyp removed. More than a week later, he called and said, “You have anal squamous carcinoma.” I couldn’t believe I was facing cancer again. I later learned that the two cancers were completely unrelated. The surgeon then recommended more surgery. However, the surgeon did not have a lot of experience with my cancer type, and I was unable to schedule a surgery in the time frame I wanted at the hospital where I previously treated—I wanted to move quicker. I decided to research my options and get educated.
When I called Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), I spoke with an Oncology Information Specialist who gathered my information quickly. He told me that the hospitals in Chicago and Philadelphia were my best options. Since Chicago is closer to my home in Iowa, I scheduled appointments there starting the Monday after Thanksgiving.
No more waiting
At CTCA, the atmosphere was completely different than any other hospital I’d been to. I felt that 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. My surgeon felt confident he could perform the surgery without injuring my sphincter and that I wouldn’t need a colostomy. If that procedure could remove the cancer, then I wanted to avoid chemotherapy and radiation. That decision was made on a Thursday at 4 p.m. My surgeon did surgery the next morning at 10 a.m., and I was on a plane home Saturday, the next day. I was impressed with the speed to care.
At the three-month checkup, all was good. However, at six months, the cancer had returned. There was a significant growth in a lymph node in my groin. I could see the lump and noticed it was growing fast. In July 2010, my surgeon removed the tumor and sent me home for a month to recover. In August 2010, I elected to have chemotherapy and radiation. The chemo was delivered through an intravenous drip over 96 hours. Concurrently, I had 25 Tomotherapy® radiation treatments. I remained at CTCA for five and a half weeks during this time, coming home only for Labor Day weekend.
Getting through it
Sometimes the treatment was difficult. I experienced some side effects, and CTCA was proactive by suggesting remedies to help. When one thing didn’t work to help reduce my nausea, my care team continued trying different remedies until I felt better. And when I had pain in my back and legs, I visited the oncology rehabilitation team and the Quality of Life center to find relief. I also took advantage of the nutrition, naturopathic medicine, massage, Reiki therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic services. I was grateful to my team’s relentless support because it allowed me to stay strong enough during recovery.
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. I remember asking what if the treatment didn’t work? What would happen then? I still ask my doctors about the recommended 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.
Some people have shared their hesitation of traveling for cancer care with me. However, 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. Each day, I wrote a journal entry and shared it electronically with my friends and family back home in Iowa. Some people said it sounded like I was on vacation. In reality, treatment was difficult but doable with the support of my care team.
I was also 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. 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.
Finding a new passion
I believe I have a strong desire and will to live. Going through cancer treatment 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. As of July 2017, seven years out from treatment, I have no evidence of disease. I return to CTCA once a year for maintenance.
After treatment, my husband and I went to live on my grandparent’s farm. We have lived at the acreage on the farm for 10 years. Three years ago, we decided on becoming farmers and start the transition to organic. We farm in addition to our day jobs. In May 2017, we really took a leap and planted five and a half acres of blueberries (eight varieties). My days are spent weeding, watering and thinking about what it will be like when I open to U-pickers in a few years.
I thank God for each day I have and hope that my story can be an encouragement to someone else facing cancer.