March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Kate’s Story

Published
by Brenda F. Johnson Brenda F. Johnson, MSN

Specializes in Gastrointestinal Nursing. Has 30 years experience.

Many people who are diagnosed with cancer don’t have the opportunity to share their journey. Some may not want to, however during Colon Cancer Awareness month, there is someone who is willing to share her story, and she wants to tell you to Get Your Colonoscopy!

Interview with a Colon Cancer Fighter

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Kate’s Story

Kate's Story

Life will throw us curveballs, that’s a guarantee. How we face up to these events is evidence of our character. I am so humbled and stirred by the life story that  I’m going to share with you. Kate is a colon cancer survivor and was willing to let us into her world and see her ongoing journey with cancer.

Back Story

What started in February, 2019 with throwing up, with what was suspected food poisoning, concluded with a descending colon resection and 32 lymph nodes being removed. 

The throwing up in February was soon followed by new symptoms.  Kate now had trouble with bowel movements and stomach pain for which her physician and Healthcare providers thought was due to gastroparesis. 

As a teenager, she suffered from IBS which can cause constipation and diarrhea. Her history with abnormal bowel movements had taught her how to self-manage, which is what she did, not realizing that there might be something more to it.  She went to her PCP  on many occasions and was given Zofran. The problem was, she didn’t suffer from nausea, but she did vomit violently. Her symptoms continued into Spring, but that didn’t stop her from enjoying her hobbies and living life. When Summer came, Kate went camping. It was during that trip in mid Summer that her symptoms became unbearable. 

One night her pain was so bad that she thought her appendix had ruptured. In fact, in July she threw up so bad that she threw her back out. While her PCP ordered an MRI of her back, she didn’t think Kate’s symptoms warranted an EGD. However, she did refer Kate to a gastroenterologist, but it took three months to finally see the doctor.  In August, she was able to see the GI doctor - but was again told she had gastroparesis. Because Kate had just turned 50, she was scheduled for her screening colonoscopy. 

Diagnosis

Kate wasn’t happy about having to do the colonoscopy, mainly because of the reputation the prep held. What also made her leery, was the fact that nothing stays down at this point, she threw everything up. The prep wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be, which is something that often keeps people from doing their colonoscopy. 

While lying in recovery after her colonoscopy, Kate’s GI doctor came to her bedside with the news that she had a tumor in the descending colon and she suspected that it was malignant. The tumor was so large it made it difficult to advance the regular scope into her colon, she had to switch to a much smaller one to get past the tumor. Kate’s response to the news was very Kate, “Well, that wasn’t expected”. 

Surgery

Due to the urgency of Kate’s situation, the surgeon wanted to do surgery right away. Kate’s love for life and adventure took precedence. She had been planning a vacation for a year, and she wanted to go, and she did. The surgeon made sure that she understood that her condition could turn into an emergency. Kate felt that she had been managing her situation so far with Miralax, so she could last a couple more weeks in order to enjoy some time away. 

So upon returning to reality, Kate found herself with a large abdominal scar and an abdominal binder for 3 months. 

Kate says this about her surgery, 

“I felt better immediately after the surgery. I felt even better than I did riding into the hospital the morning of the surgery. I did not realize just how sick I was, until I wasn’t any more”. 

Chemo

One lymph node was positive, so she knew that now she needed chemo. With one infusion and one week of Xeloda, she had to stop because of a rare reaction. She decided to give it some time and see how things went, rather than do more treatment. Kate was cancer-free for over a year until October, 2021.

Life Post Surgery

What did you change about your diet, activity level, etc?

Now that the surgery was over, Kate was able to eat, especially when she stopped the chemo. She decided to have gastric bypass surgery to improve her chances of a healthy life. As her weight dropped, she became more active and began hiking. Within one year of her bypass, she had lost over 200 pounds. In fact, she went on a multi-state trip with her two dogs to hike. She went to Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.  Her larger dog is now a service dog that helps her when she gets weak and light-headed, so she couldn’t be in better hands. 

What have you learned throughout this process?

One of the most important lessons Kate says she learned during this process was to advocate for herself. Since she is a social worker, she knows what it means to advocate for her patients, but doing that for herself did not come naturally. So she learned to get her doctor’s attention if she felt they weren’t listening. Not only that, she did research about her condition and how to proceed with her healthcare decisions. Kate not only increased her health literacy, but she grew stronger in herself by taking control of her own narrative. 

Kate has also found solace in networking with other people who are going through the same struggles as her.  Allowing herself to cry, scream, and cuss has given Kate validation for her feelings, allowing herself to feel everything that she needs to feel, and express herself the way she needs to in order to process everything and maintain emotional and mental wellness.  Listening to her body, her feelings, and needs has given her the freedom to make decisions based on what she wants, rather than what friends or family think she should do. 

Kate admits that one of her biggest struggles was allowing other people to assist her. Those of us who are strong, independent people will understand Kate’s hesitation to allow others to help her. She admits that this was the hardest for her to do. She began to understand that her friends and family not only wanted to help, but they needed to. She realized that those family and friends who were on the outside looking in needed to be able to share themselves by helping her, for their own healing. 

How did your family and friends respond to your diagnosis?

Kate’s sister came to stay with her during the surgery and for six weeks afterward.  Also, her friends united around her for which she feels extremely grateful. They checked on her while she was going through chemo, and gave her emotional support. One friend went so far as to bring her to his house so he could take care of her and her dogs while she recuperated. Accepting help when we are in a desperate moment helps the giver and the receiver. 

Neither cancer nor chemo could keep Kate from her job. She continued to work, even while sitting in her chemo chair.

Where are you now with your diagnosis?

After her hiking vacation, Kate had her annual CT that found cancer in her liver and lungs. Again she found herself back in the chemo chair with stage 4 metastatic cancer. After 8 treatments, the liver tumor has gotten smaller, but the lung nodule hasn’t changed. However, it is possibly scar tissue, which would be a wonderful thing.  Kate is presently waiting for a surgery consultation to undergo a liver resection. Because of her diagnosis, and possible outcomes, she has made end-of-life arrangements. She has completed legal paperwork, such as assigning a POA in case the time comes that she is not able to sign her own paperwork or make her own decisions. She has also researched rehabs and hospice. Again, we see the strength and resolve that Kate possesses in the face of her cancer. Her strength is truly amazing.

One thing that Kate feels strongly about is being allowed to make her own decisions, her way. Being a strong person, others see that strength in her. Being strong, however, doesn’t mean that Kate doesn’t need an ear on occasion. She says that sometimes she needs someone to just listen. This is strong advice to family and friends of those who know someone who is battling cancer. Support them, allow them to make their own decisions about how they want to proceed with their care. Don’t force them to endure treatments that they don’t want. Kate says, “Some of us struggle through the treatments to give our families hope when we are ready to stop. It needs to be the individual’s decision”. 

What advice would you give others?

Get your screening colonoscopy! It could save your life. “Perhaps if the standard age had changed early enough for me, mine would have been caught before it could develop into cancer”. She encourages others to do what they can to prevent cancer such as eating a good diet, exercising to the best of their ability, and losing weight even if it requires surgical intervention. 

Kate is involved with the local Rump Run, a community walk/run to raise awareness about colon cancer. It gives her something to focus on and a way to give to her community. She feels lucky for her large circle of support, knowing that others aren’t so lucky. 

Thank you Kate for being so open and sharing your story! Your strength and resolve are amazing and our prayers are surrounding you. Below is a picture of her pups, and a poem she wrote. 

I am no longer a Cancer Survivor.
I am a Struggler.
I am a Fighter.
I am Tenacious.
I am Strong.
I am Independent.
I am Ornery.
I am Loved.
I am Supported.
I am Cared For.
I am not a Survivor.
Yet!

By Kate

These are her precious pups

kate-cancer-surviror-dogs.jpg.dda93068d05fae23113f84259cd0540b.jpg

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1 Comment(s)

CommunityRNBSN

CommunityRNBSN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Community health. Has 4 years experience. 854 Posts

My father had colon cancer in his 50s, so I was aware that my risk is higher than the general population.

I experienced some minor rectal bleeding on-and-off for a long time.  I asked many doctors about it, and was told "It's probably hemorrhoids."  Around July of last year, I became concerned enough that I asked my PCP to refer me for a colonoscopy.  He forgot, and it fell through the cracks.  I called again a few weeks later, and finally got a referral, to take place in January.  A polyp was found that, while small, was too large to be removed during the colonoscopy.  A biopsy showed it was pre-cancerous.  I had it removed surgically, and two weeks later, the full biopsy came back-- not pre-cancerous, but stage 1 cancer.  Because of how early it was caught, I do not need any additional treatment, but will have sigmoidoscopies every 3 months for a while.

If I hadn't advocated for myself, and risked being seen as a hypochondriac or as too pushy, this would have taken a far different turn.  I am 38 years old, and I am proud of myself for being insistent.  (I wish I had insisted on it two years ago, but hindsight is 20/20.)  Had I followed the advice of the doctors, and waited until age 45 to be screened, I am certain the situation would have become vastly more complicated.