Thirteen Years Ago Today My Doctor Told Me I Had Cancer
Thirteen years ago today my doctor told me I had stage-three colorectal cancer. That's not a conversation you plan for. When meeting with the surgeon for the first time he asked me about my medical history, and I told him that it had been pretty boring. He said, "Well that's about to change." None of us had any idea how right he was.
Thirty-six is not an age that colorectal cancer diagnoses are commonly made. Screenings (colonoscopies) are recommended beginning at age fifty. So when I initially went to my doctor because I had blood in my stool, cancer was not the first thing on their list. I lived in Montana at the time and did quite a bit of backpacking, so parasites from water was the likely culprit. Nope. After testing for this and that; eliminating possibilities one by one -- it was time for a colonoscopy. Mr. Hanson, you have cancer.
The conversations seemed surreal. Cancer? Me? Really? When I'm in a situation I don't like, I usually try to do one of two things, 1) fix it, or 2) leave it. The overwhelming sensation I had regarding this cancer was that there was nothing I could do to get out of it. The only way to deal with it was straight through the middle. A week later I had surgery to remove the tumor, followed by six months of chemotherapy and radiation. Thirteen years later the cancer has not returned, but...
Life is full of 'buts.' My medical 'buts' were that while I had indeed kicked the cancer, the radiation had wreaked havoc on my internal plumbing. As a consequence, the next dozen years would include:
- Countless bowel obstructions.
- Three more abdominal surgeries (the last being 11 hours long).
- A 50+ day hospital stay (plus one of 17, 14, and many 1-2 day stays).
- Abdominal fistulas (truly a special kind of hell).
- Not eating or drinking anything for 63 straight days, existing on IV nutrition.
- Annual colonoscopies (now down to once every 3 years).
- Blood clots.
- Kidney cancer (and surgery including partial rib removal).
- Quarterly stent replacements to this day (between my bladder & kidney).
Why am I telling you all this, because you or someone you know is probably due for a cancer screening of some type -- and only bad things happen if you put it off. Due for a mammogram? Get one. Time for a colonoscopy? Schedule it. The list goes on & on, but the difference between early detection, and waiting until you have symptoms -- is all the difference in the world. Life and death really.
I'll leave you with one other thought. I consider myself to be the luckiest guy alive, and I wouldn't trade places with anyone. The list above is all the bad stuff that came from getting the Big-C, but there's the other side of the coin too -- the blessings, lessons, people, relationships, and wonderful experiences that have come as well. That story is for another day.
Now go get screened, because the only thing worse than finding out you have cancer -- is wishing you had found out sooner.