Nothing or no one can prepare you for the moment your life will change forever.
For me, that moment occurred May 10, 2004 ... about a week after I turned 31 ... a month before I was to be married.
I had gone to the emergency room three days before. My gastrointestinal doctor had met me there. I had been having stomach pains, diarrhea and constipation and was throwing up. I'd lost weight and was anemic. I'd been having these symptoms off and on for about six months. My doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong.
I was admitted to the hospital. I got a blood transfusion and had a CT scan and an ultrasound. The tests showed there was a blockage, so my doctor scheduled a colonoscopy for Monday. He had me meet with a surgeon just in case something was discovered during the procedure. I called my mother in Alabama to tell her where I was. She asked if I needed her to come up. I said no, I was sure it was nothing, probably just irritable bowel syndrome. I'd seen commercials for drugs to treat that on TV. I was a little afraid, but mostly I was hopeful that this painful chapter was coming to an end.
Turns out it was only the beginning.
The colonoscopy revealed that I had a tumor in my colon that measured about 3 centimeters. Also, the doctor told me that there was a great chance the spots on my liver discovered on the CT scan were lesions as well. He said they would immediately do surgery to remove the tumor from my colon. The lesions on my liver were a trickier matter.
My fiance and I were speechless. We could only cry and hug each other. I couldn't believe it. I had colon cancer. I had no idea that people my age got that disease. And could this really be happening now? I was getting married in a month. But most of all, I thought about the man sitting across from me crying and holding my hand. We'd been so happy, thought we were so lucky ... and now this.
My fiance, Michael, called my mom, my best friend and his family. I'm sure these were the hardest phone calls he'd ever had to make. I was lying on the bed waiting for my turn in the operating room, hoping that he would be OK.
The surgery went well. When I awoke, his mom and sister were there. My mom got there later that evening. I was in the hospital about 10 days. And then I recuperated at home for about 2 1 / 2 weeks before I went back to work. Going back to work was good for me. It was good to see my co-workers, many of whom had sent me flowers and cards while I was recovering. Everyone who walked into my hospital room said that, judging by all the flowers I'd received, I must really be loved. That made me feel good.
We got married at the Baltimore Museum of Art on June 12, 2004. We had gone there often when we were dating, so it was a special place for us. That day was the happiest day of my life. I danced the whole night. And for those four hours, I forgot about the moment that my life changed forever.
We left for our honeymoon the next day. We were gone for about 10 days and went to Paris, Nice and London. It was wonderful. We got back on a Friday. I started chemotherapy the following Tuesday. I had no idea what to expect. Everyone at the hospital was very nice -- the staff and the other patients. Initially, every time I went, I couldn't help feeling that I wasn't supposed to be there. But there I was, getting chemicals pumped through my body for about six hours straight. I did this every two weeks.
Chemotherapy and doctor's appointments, PET, MRI and CT scans, hope and disappointments -- that's what the past year and a half has been like for Michael and me. He has been there every step of the way. I know that I could not do it without him. He says he knows he's being selfish, but he wants me around, so I have to keeping fighting for him.
Some days that's harder to do than others, especially when you don't feel well or when you're frustrated because all of your friends get to hang out, but you can't because it's a chemo weekend and you're at home in bed. Or when you look at old pictures of yourself and you don't look the same -- you've lost your hair, and your face, neck and shoulders are covered with an acne-like rash because of the drugs. Or when your friends are having babies, but you can't do this because of the chemotherapy and the uncertainty of everything.
Surgery not an option
I've had countless chemotherapy treatments. At one point, we believed I would be a candidate for surgery. But it appears that the lesions on my liver are unresectable (unable to be removed by surgery) -- there are quite a few of them, and one is near the portal vein. My surgeon said the liver is a large organ, and it would be a big operation with at least a month's recovery. He doesn't think he could get all the cancer, and I'd have to go weeks without chemo, possibly enabling the cancer to grow.
In May, we went to New York to get a second opinion. The appointment was on my birthday. The doctors there agreed with my doctors here: surgery was not an option. Hearing "no" a second time didn't make the news any easier to swallow. We made the most of the trip. We got to see our friends' baby who was born the day before, and we went out for a nice dinner.
About a month later, we found out that there's a tumor in a bone in my hip. That's been treated with radiation therapy, but we must monitor it. I've been treated with all the drugs approved for colon cancer, and I've had good response to them until now. A recent CT scan showed progression of the disease in my liver.
My husband and I are looking for a clinical trial for me to participate in. This is scary because the success of the treatment is even more uncertain. Twice last year, I had a procedure called chemoembolization, in which high doses of chemotherapy are injected into the lesions of the liver. It requires an overnight stay in the hospital and there's pain and nausea for about a week afterward. I also lost weight each time, but each treatment was successful. There was 50 percent to 75 percent necrosis, or death, of the tumors treated. The doctor who performed these procedures recommends that I have another one. I think we'll do this before we try the trial because we know it works.
I've tried to live my life as close to normal as possible. I still work full time, go out with friends, travel. Last year, we went to Switzerland and Nice for our anniversary. This year, it will be Italy. I'm hoping to have a lot more of these anniversary trips.
Although I know you can't prepare for these things, I'm waiting for another moment, this time one that will change my life for the better.