My story begins with a phone call on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5p.m. It’s my doctor on the other end, and as soon as he says, “Are you home?” I knew the news was not good.
Eight weeks before that, I’d had a C-section and my husband and I welcomed our third child, Brady John. Post surgery I was experiencing pains in my rib cage and my obstetrician thought it could be my gallbladder. My primary care physician sent me for a sonogram, which showed spots on my liver. Despite the pain, I wasn’t really concerned. I thought to myself, “I’m 33 years old. I eat well, exercise, I’m healthy. I just had a baby. I had 3 children in 4 years and have been pregnant for the last 4 years. What could this be? It’s most likely nothing.” My doctor even told me not to worry.
The day before the call changed my life, I had biopsies taken from my liver. I hadn’t told many people that I was having a biopsy done because I just was not concerned – until I heard my doctor’s voice.
I knew right away something was not right. The doctor informed me the biopsies had come back malignant. I would later find out I had stage IV colon cancer. My prognosis was not positive. The tumors on my liver were large, encompassing about 70% of my liver.
I don’t remember much more of what the doctor said, as I struggled to comprehend what I’d just heard, but I do remember his tone. I knew things were not good. As I sat on my bed in my room, I had the doctor on speakerphone. My husband sat next to me and we cried until my 3-year-old came running through the door wanting to know what was going on. Why were mommy and daddy crying?
I was 33 years old and had 3 children. Madeline, my oldest, was 3, my middle guy Quint was 20 months and my baby Brady was just 8 weeks old. How could this be happening to me? I was a healthy, active woman. I played division 1 volleyball in college and tried to eat well and maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.
I cried for several days and then I said, “Enough crying, it’s time to fight like I have never fought before.” I made a decision that I was going to beat this. There was no time for why me, why this? All of my energy was spent fighting this disease. I fought with every ounce of energy I had. There were days that were great and days I struggled but I kept my eye on the prize.
For me it was not worth looking back, so I focused only on the future. We reached out to family and friends and they flooded us with love and support. I endured 8 rounds of intense chemotherapy and an extensive lifesaving surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering. My surgeon removed 70% of my liver, 30% of my colon and surgically implanted a hepatic pump that will remain in me for 5 years. This all took place before my baby turned 7 months old.
Our support network was there for us night and day. If you think raising 3 children under 3 years old is difficult, try that on Chemotherapy. My husband and I were mentally, physically and emotionally drained. We had a constant flow of helpers coming in and out of our apartment. We tried so hard to keep life as normal as possible for the kids, but there was no more normal. I was fighting for my life. I often look back at what we endured, and I am not sure how we did it. I use the word “we” because my husband, family and friends went through this with me. I often wonder if the reality of our situation will ever really hit me.
I know all the stats, the information about survival rates and treatment and the cold, hard facts. Stage 4 colon cancer has a 6% survival rate. That’s scary. And I know all of that, but I am here today. My story continues with positive news. 17 months after my life saving surgery I found out that I was pregnant. On April 3, 2015 I gave birth to our 4th child, Hope Eleni. I’m the 2nd patient in MSKCC’s history to get pregnant with Stage 4 colon cancer and the hepatic pump. Hope Eleni is a happy healthy 9 month old baby.
I’m here today sharing my story because I want to spread the word that colon cancer is not an old man’s disease. Colon cancer does not discriminate based on sex, age or race. I have no family history of colon cancer, I am not a huge red meat eater, I didn’t have the typical colon cancer symptoms, but yet I have stage 4 colon cancer.
If you take one thing from what I have to say it should be: Always believe in the power of hope. I was scared but I never gave up. Modern medicine is incredible but so is the power of faith in yourself. I believe that modern medicine along with my incredible support system and my positive attitude are the reasons I am here today. I am beating the odds. Colon cancer is preventable, treatable and I’m living proof that it’s BEATABLE.
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