Jason S.

Colorectal Cancer - Stage I

Jason-S
quotation

The same day of my tests and scans, I met with my care team, who recommended removing the cancer as soon as possible. In fact, they had an opening to do the surgery in just two days. The doctor told me that we needed to move forward and start treatment, because the sooner I started, the sooner I could put it behind me. I really liked his approach.

I have been a firefighter for over 20 years. I am married to my beautiful wife, Jodi, and we have a little girl named Sadie, who lights up our lives. Our home and heart are in Georgia, where we are happily raising our family.

My story began in April 2013, just before I was going to turn 39, when I went in for an annual physical. I mentioned to my primary care physician that I had noticed some blood in my stools recently. The physician let me know that it could possibly just be a hemorrhoid, but to be safe, I needed to see a gastroenterologist. He didn’t feel that there was any need to rush, so a few months later, I was able to meet with the gastroenterologist, who felt I should have a colonoscopy. Although I was young, being a 15-year veteran firefighter put me in a higher risk category. The doctor felt it was appropriate to determine what was causing the issue, since it was continuing.

On September 24, 2013, I went in for my colonoscopy. I told myself that it was no big deal and that I just needed to get it over with. After the procedure, the doctor informed me that I had some polyps that were removed and were being tested, and I would hear something soon.

A few days later, the doctor called and asked me to come in to get the test results. I really didn’t think much of it, figuring I had to see him in person because of HIPAA rules. Jodi got a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, and she said, "I'm going with you." I told her, “There is no need to leave work. I’ll be fine.” But she insisted that she come, too.

I still remember the day as clear as if it had just happened. I was sitting on the little exam table, and the doctor walks in and says, "Jason I'm going to get right to it, buddy. You've got colon cancer." Within a couple of weeks and after three appointments with local doctors, I was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer.

Taking on the challenge

My first thought was, "Okay, Jason, you're going to whoop this." I just thought to myself that this was a big challenge, but I was going to beat it. It never once occurred to me to

be worried, which may sound silly. I was a healthy and stubborn 39-year-old fireman. It was probably best that I didn’t know any better. I certainly was never afraid or scared because it was a challenge that I knew I had to take head-on.

That’s when Jodi and I kicked it into high gear. I saw three different oncologists in the Atlanta area. Each had a different opinion, ranging from “watch and see” to “get your affairs in order.” I felt so confused, and I decided I needed to find some answers. After the last of the three appointments, I got on the computer to read and research anything I could find about my cancer.

I immediately found the Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) website in my search. The website was so informative, and I liked what I was reading. I clicked on the chat option, and eventually, I was on the phone speaking with a very knowledgeable representative from CTCA®. My wife and I both connected with the person on the phone, and I provided my necessary information. CTCA handled the tough stuff, getting insurance approval and collecting my medical records. On October 27, 2013, we were on a plane flying to the CTCA hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

At the initial evaluation, I had tests and scans, and my doctors educated me about my cancer, presented treatment options and allowed me to ask lots of questions. That same day, I met with my care team, who recommended removing the cancer as soon as possible. In fact, they had an opening to do the surgery in just two days. The doctor told me that we needed to move forward and start treatment, because the sooner I started, the sooner I could put it behind me. I really liked his approach.

I took the evening to reflect and think. Before the end of the night, I decided I wanted to have the surgery right away. So, what started off as a brief, little trip to Tulsa turned into a multi-week stay. I feel like it was the best decision I could have made.

The next day was spent prepping for surgery. We explored the hospital and got to know the people at CTCA, from patients to other clinicians. Everyone was helpful, caring and encouraging, providing support to both my wife and me. We felt the positive energy everywhere we went.

During surgery, 10 inches of my colon and 15 lymph nodes were removed. One of my first memories was waking up in the intensive care unit the day following my surgery. I looked around and saw a tiger, a cartoon character and several superheroes. I was initially confused, and when I finally came around, I realized it was Halloween. All the nurses and doctors were dressed up, and it brought me so much joy.

Outpouring of support

That day, a gentleman I had never met before walked in. He was in a fire department uniform. He introduced himself and said he was one of the chiefs from the Tulsa Fire Department. He provided me his contact information. He let us know that if we needed anything, the firefighters in Tulsa were here for us.

Not long after that, when I was ready for visitors, Tulsa Fire started sending fire crews from different stations to visit. Each day, someone would stop in and check on us. They would visit with me and offer to bring food or anything else we needed. It was an amazing outpouring of support from my extended fire family in Tulsa. It is a great example of the fire service and our commitment to care for one another. It doesn't matter where you are; you're never alone.

Our last night before we were headed home to Georgia after surgery, they sent a vehicle to pick us up. We went to the nearest fire station, and they made dinner for us. They fixed a big meal, and we ate with a group of the firefighters who supported us throughout our initial stay. Their kindness made me truly appreciate the care that both the hospital and the Tulsa Fire Department provided.

I also believe that because of my wife’s support, I am where I am today. She helped me get through this journey. Jodi is my rock and my foundation. She took care of me, and now she keeps me on track. We don’t take our health for granted. Instead, we know we have to exercise and eat the right foods. We prioritize taking care of ourselves.

According to tests, surgery removed my cancer, and I didn’t need further treatment. It turns out that what we initially thought was stage IV cancer was actually stage I. I continue to go back regularly for follow-up appointments. We actually look forward to our trips back. Going to CTCA is like going to our second home. Everyone there is so welcoming, warm and friendly. We always look forward to our follow-up appointments.

Today, I am 45, so I still consider myself a young man. I'm full of energy, and I always have been. This little speed bump in life didn't slow me down at all; I drove right over it. It delayed us starting a family, but we did eventually have a beautiful, healthy, brilliant little girl. Sadie, our daughter, is absolutely perfect. We bring Sadie with us to CTCA, and she loves it there, too. The staff knows her, and she is quite popular.

I am personally committed to spreading cancer awareness, especially among firefighters. I have made a promise to myself that I would educate and support anyone I could. I make it a point to sit down with those who haven’t heard my story and tell them about my experience. I don't hold back at all. I want everyone know how important it is to take care of yourself. I tell other firefighters to use the safety devices available to them to reduce risk in their profession. They should also see a doctor regularly and address health issues right away.

I am so thankful to CTCA. I have personally benefitted from the cancer care provided, and so has my wife. Together, we have created a family, and we love our little girl. I have a new mission in life: to educate all the firefighters I can reach. I want to make cancer prevention and awareness top of mind for everyone. I know I am blessed to be here, and I hope that my life can further benefit others.

Diagnosed:
September 2013
Treatment at: