This year I had lots of big plans. I had my greenhouse ready for spring planting. I had my vegetable garden planned out. Our barns were finally squared away for the goats.
Mid March I started having severe flank pain that sent me to the ER. Within a few days doctors decided I had a tumor obstructing my colon and they performed emergency surgery. After a few pints of blood, life saving surgical resection and pathology tests they determined that I had adenocarcinoma colon cancer, stage IIb w/perforation and my tumor pT4aN0M0. That was not how I expected spring to begin.
I was blessed to be treated in an amazing local hospital. The doctors, surgeons, and nurses were compassionate and supportive. What should have Ben the worst ten days of my life were calm and healing.
Fast forward about six weeks and I was flying to City of Hope Chicago (formerly Cancer Treatment Center of America) to begin chemotherapy with the platinum based CAPOX protocol. This hospital is dear to me. They treated my baby sister for two different types of thyroid cancer back in 2014 and she is doing well today. The Los Angeles City of Hope facility treated two of my sisters in law for breast cancer years ago and they’re both thriving today as well.
I spent summer on chemo. My protocol lasted three months broken down into 3 week cycles. I would start each cycle on day 1 with a 3.5 hour infusion of the platinum based chemo drug Oxaliplatin. I’d fly home and start 14 days of oral chemo pills Xeloda (Capecitebine). Day 15-21 I was drug free for a week of rest and then I’d start the cycle again. The first two cycles weren’t bad. I was able to rest following infusion, and get through the cycle able to eat. It wasn’t fun feeling nauseated all the time, but the alternative was worse.
Cycle 3 was harder. I was pretty sick. The night before the fourth and final cycle began I was still sick from the third cycle and was in the ER at the cancer hospital for iv hydration and tests. The next day I managed to get through that infusion and fly home. Two days later I was hospitalized with some pretty severe side effects. I spent the next two weeks in hospital unable to keep food or drink down. I lost almost 25 pounds. The muscles in my mouth and throat were temporarily paralyzed so I was unable to swallow the last cycle of oral chemo pills. It took a speech therapist to help me recover the use of the muscles in my mouth and throat so I could swallow to eat and drink again.
That last infusion did its job. I could hardly support my own weight to get up and walk from my bed to the restroom or living room because the chemo did it’s job well, it was killing cancer cells and it was also killing red blood cells that should have been oxygenating my muscles etc. I wasn’t moving enough. Within a few days of being discharged from the hospital for the chemo side effects, I was back in the ER and admitted to the ICU for a week with acute massive pulmonary embolisms. It was so bad the hospital wasn’t going to keep me. They waited for several hours on a cardiothoracic surgeon in surgery so they could try to convince him to accept me. They were planning to fly me to his hospital via helicopter. Once he learned I was a cancer patient on chemo he refused because he didn’t believe he could help me, my situation was grave. The hospital only had two options, ICU on an iv of Heparin and if that didn’t stabilize me soon the last resort was a drug that would break up the blood clots filling my lungs, but they feared the potential for brain bleeds with that drug could also kill me.
I’ve never been so afraid as I was that first night in ICU. Fortunately, my body responded to the heparin and my heart was soon out of danger, my breathing was improving and the pain was manageable on medication and j was back home a week later recovering.
In September the CT scan could find no evidence of metastasis, so they pronounced me (NED) no evidence of disease. That was a great feeling! I’ve learned that my tumor was advanced. It was large (softball sized), had perforated the colon and had completely obstructed the colon so the tumor itself was staged at pT4a which puts it at high risk for recurrence in a phenomenon called the survivor paradox. Basically, that tumor gives me a higher risk of recurrence and of a worse survival outcome than someone with stage 3 cancer whose tumor isn’t as advanced. Knowing that, I’ve been doing what I can to eat as anti-cancer as possible. I’m exercising and doing what I can do to support my team and to try to stay healthy.
The surgery that saved my life last spring also left me with a temporary ostomy. I recently learned that my case is complex for reversal so I’m heading to the Mayo Clinic for testing to see if I will be able to have the procedure. I will know my fate next month after I see one of the best colon oncology surgeons in the country, at Mayo.
I’m hoping to close out 2023 in good spirits, NED, and with the hope of reversal surgery in my immediate future. I plan to get a few Christmas gifts made for friends and family and I am planning my spring garden. This garden will be different as I plan to get some kind of walipini (greenhouse dug down below the frost line) set up in 2024 so I can continue into winter here in South Dakota with important organic veggies to keep me healthy. Those are the goals I hope to meet so far. Do you have plans or goals for your 2024 ???