When I got diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, I thought I was going to die. And very quickly because, you know, Stage 4 just doesn’t sound very promising. I didn’t know anything about cancers and all the treatments and stuff I do now.
It’s been over a year now, but in the beginning of a cancer diagnosis, you have a lot of emotions and thoughts and things running through your head. I started journaling, and I do that daily. Anytime I have procedures or just thoughts on my mind, I write them down and just kind of put them on paper and move on, instead of letting them constantly just stay in my head. That’s kind of the way I’ve been dealing with everything from the beginning of diagnosis until where I’m at today.
I started noticing changes in myself, at probably about 25 years old. I started having a lot of back pain and kind of just blew it off, like maybe I’m just getting older. I didn’t really think anything of it. Then it progressed to where one day, I was standing in the kitchen making coffee and I actually collapsed from the back pain. I ended up going to the emergency room. They did a bunch of scans and noted some bulges and discs on my spine, but nothing that made them look further into it. I have always had a little bit of bloating, fatigue, as well as sometimes occasionally bloody stools, that I had just passed off as hemorrhoids. Then I just noticed my energy levels depleting dramatically to where I just didn’t have an answer on why I was so exhausted and so tired.
I ended up going to the doctor’s probably, gosh, I can probably say over 100 different times over the years. Just saying hey, something’s not right. They would do scans, they would do bloodwork, everything always came back fine. And then one day, I’m like, Well, the only thing I haven’t really checked is my colon. It doesn’t run in my family, but I was like, whatever I’m going to go in and just do a colonoscopy, it can’t hurt.
So I went in and did the colonoscopy. And sure enough, they found one polyp that hadn’t even at that point turned into a tumor per se. The doctor said, “Well, you look fine. If anything happens to come up with the polyp, which I don’t think it will, I’ll give you a call.” A week or two passed, and I thought it was kind of weird, maybe he should have at least said, “hey, you’re still good.”
Then I was driving a friend to an appointment, and the doctor called. So I was in my car, driving, when I got told that I had cancer. And it was just a complete mess. I was crying and pulled over and it was just horrible. After, the doctor asked, “Are you driving?” And I was like, “Well, yes, you’re a little too late now, you know, to ask me that question!”
I think if the doctors would have just been a little more thorough, even in the beginning, I don’t think that I would be where I am today. Because the tumor they just took out of my colon, if it had not spread to the other organs, it would have been Stage 1. So it’s frustrating because here you are, complaining of mild symptoms for five years. Nobody’s going to say it’s cancer because nobody really wants to think that in the beginning. So it’s a letdown, but I just stay as positive as I can. I advocate that if you have any unusual symptoms, even blood in your stool is not normal. In the beginning, I actually asked for a colonoscopy and was denied a colonoscopy because of my age. I think people just need to be a lot more vocal and if they feel like something’s wrong, then sometimes something is wrong and they need to get to the bottom of it.
One of the things I kept reminding myself in the back of my head was that my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 50s or 60s, and she’s still here today almost 80 years old. My grandmother kind of raised me when I was younger and I just know how stubborn and how much of a fighter she is. I was like, “Well, if she can get through it, then I’m good. I’m going to get through this. I’m going to come out on top.”
It’s just going to be something of a story, like I’m sharing, and it’s going to be something to hopefully help other people navigate through it, when they’re first diagnosed. Life’s a cycle, right? Whether it’s somebody having cancer and eventually passing, or somebody having a heart attack, or just old age… the cycle of life continues. What you can do with your life is raise awareness.
So I want to just kind of get it out there that colon cancer is becoming more and more frequent in younger people. And there’s a reason for that, and we need to get to the bottom of it and try to figure out how to prevent it. If I can do that, and get that out there before my time, whenever that is, then I feel like I’m leaving the world a better place. So all I can do is continue to go on.
I personally just want to say that it gets better and it gets easier. When you feel like things are just falling apart, don’t give up. Pick up a journal and write your feelings out…it helps a lot. Just remember that each day is a blessing and it always gets better. That’s how I look at life and that’s my advice to everybody else: just keep going and just stay as positive as possible.
By Brittney Waldrop