I entered the ER on May 6, 2014. It was my niece Vivi’s first birthday. I was absolutely confident of two things: that my insurance situation would create a major financial hardship and that this was a case of gall stones and anemia. Mind you, I had been suffering horrible stomach cramps over the previous two months, along with occasional vomiting, appetite issues, a loss of 18 lbs for my all-time lowest weight as an adult, severe dehydration, yellow and gray skin, increased heart rate, extreme fatigue, and a recent diagnosis of a kidney infection.
I also have Ulcerative Colitis (UC), which had to be considered, but my symptoms had never included the above pain or severity. I knew it was my jerk gall bladder using jazz hands and vying for attention.
The ER doctor’s verdict was that I had an obstruction of some sort in my gall bladder and extreme anemia. I would have gloated, had I not been in extreme pain and doped up on a mix of morphine and dilaudid. I did, however, while ridiculously high on these drugs, give my adoring boyfriend, Brendan, a full dissertation on my preference for 1970s Stevie Nicks and her vocal changes over the decades.
Anyway, they told me to rest up, because the surgical GI doctor would visit me the next day to game plan the extent of my impending gall bladder surgery. No problemo! I was experiencing an inflated ego from being right and feeling pretty good considering the unbearable pain.
The next day, Dr. M visited with much of my family in the room.
“We are going to conduct a colonoscopy to rule out your Ulcerative Colitis,” he said, “because I believe that it’s not your gall bladder but your UC acting up. Plus, you are overdue for a colonoscopy. You’re scheduled for tomorrow.”
I couldn’t help but snort: my symptoms were completely different from my normal UC. My mom expressed great skepticism as well, bolstered by another doctor who also thought it was my gall bladder causing the problems. Since Dr. M was my main doctor, I humored him, in part because he was totally right that I was overdue.
The next morning, May 8th, 2014, the colonoscopy went down. I heard Dr. M tell a neighboring patient her colonoscopy had nothing bad to report and I smiled, awaiting good news. He would tell me I had an ulcer, or a polyp. No big deal.
Dr. M pulled the curtain open and said, “I think you have cancer. Here’s a picture of your tumor.”
I’ve never been a crier, ever, but that word, “cancer,” was a game changer. It was instant water works. I lost all ability to focus on little else but sobbing. Dr. M went on to explain that there were two other blockages and such severe ulceration that they could only conduct a colonoscopy of 75% of my colon, and that a total colectomy was recommended.
This is the day my life changed.
I cried hysterically for a while. My mom, sister, and niece were finally allowed to see me and they, too, were in tears. It was so much worse because I had caused other people pain. I felt guilty for hurting them. I texted my dad, step-mom, and boyfriend the news. I would have called, but I couldn’t stop crying.
Brendan called back right away. He was on his way back to the hospital and sounded like he had lost all the color in his face. My dad called after with the same declaration. I returned to my room with my mom, sister, and niece. I cried the whole route there, right in the hallways of the hospital. I cried in my room for some time. Shortly after, dad and Brendan arrived. I finally calmed down in time for more pain meds and my new surgeon to visit me.
Dr. B. was incredible, warm, and very descriptive. He told me he would remove the colon and attach my small intestine directly to my rectum. (I apparently have a “long and healthy rectum”, which seems brag-worthy.) I wouldn’t require a colostomy bag either, and the surgery would be no problem to perform laparoscopically, which meant smaller incisions and faster recovery time.
Now, the tumor had to be biopsied to confirm it was cancer, but in his expert opinion, it “looked like cancer.” In my heart, I knew he was right. With UC, one does not develop benign tumors in an affected colon. It was possible that the removal of my colon would cure my cancer, so long as it had not spread to my lymph nodes as well. If the lymph nodes did test positive, however, chemo would be in my cards.
A few days later, I had my colectomy, including removal of the nearby enlarged lymph nodes for biopsy. After, I was told that I would have a port placed in my chest to receive chemo, unless the lymph nodes showed negative results. A few minutes before I was scheduled for the placement, Dr. B told me I had tested positive.
I have stage 3B colon cancer. It is very treatable, because I’m young and have already had the colectomy, but I still teared up, because it was my last hope for good news: the difference between “have cancer” and “had cancer.”
The entire stay at the hospital, however, had been wonderful: Amazing staff and loving friends and family helping me stay positive. I sincerely tried to focus on my blessings during my two week hospital stay, and even received “The Cheeriest Patient Award” from the 7th floor nursing staff. But it would be a lie to state that I never felt down at times. It was a lot to digest, and there’s a terrifyingly daunting road ahead. I know I am not alone, and this fact gives me the strength to keep on truckin’. I am blessed.
May 8, 2014 changed my life, but for the better. It affirmed I have so many amazing people in my life. It changed my perspective about what is important. It also motivated me to fight this cancer with iron fists. This disease will not stand a chance against me and my army. Sorry, cancer, but you are about to get a beat down.
Andrea Miller is 31 and a law school graduate from the Detroit area, who just happens to work as a technical writer. In her spare time, she enjoys acting ridiculously silly, being the big spoon to her cat, consuming mocha lattes, and trying to get others to laugh at her terrible jokes. She even on occasion contributes to her own blog.
(Image via Shutterstock)