My Story

     On April 28, 2010, at age 26, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIb Rectal Cancer aka "Infiltrating Moderately Differentiated Adenocarcinoma" to get all-sorts-of medical on you. I had no prior illnesses or a family history of Colorectal Cancer at the time, so my diagnosis came as a complete & utter sucker-punch to the gut of my life. For months I had been ignoring symptoms for the simple reason that I had absolutely NO idea they were actual symptoms at all.
     It began with occasional constipation which, at some time or another, we all experience so I was quick to brush it off as nothing out of the ordinary. I decided to be proactive by taking an over-the-counter fiber supplement to counteract what I thought my body was lacking but instead of ridding my constipation, it introduced an entire different annoyance: bloating. Again, because bloating is so "normal" I didn't really think it was a sign that something bigger was actually going on in my body. At the time, I weighed around 105lbs & my biggest concern was my suddenly, & very obvious, bulging belly.
     Thinking that the fiber vitamin was a fail, I decided to step things up a bit & start occasionally using Magnesium Citrate, which is a saline-based, liquid-laxative for occasional constipation. MC definitely did it's job for a short-time but I continued to find myself battling constipation, stomach cramps, bloating, & a growing lack of patience. I soon also began to feel a dull tailbone pain come & go...the only way I can describe that pain is equating it to falling on your bum when you're a kid & it being sore afterwards. Soon after that, I began noticing occasional & a very slight amount of blood in my stool. My job at the time didn't offer any kind of insurance so, in December 2009, I went to a local free-health clinic for my annual "feminine" check-up. I mentioned to the doctor my growing list of complaints & she was quick (a little too quick in my opinion) to brush it off because of my age. She then added that it must either be something in my diet or attributed to my being a dancer & that I could try Miralax to regulate my system "if I wanted". 
     Over the next couple months my symptoms began to progress as did the amount of blood in my stool. It went from a little here & there to more & more in abundance & occurrence. As we so often do nowadays, I was lured to the internet by "Dr. WWW" & was convinced I was suffering from internal hemorrhoids, which are actually quite common in dancers because of constant constriction of the body's core. Around March 2010, my last & final symptoms prominently made it's presence known: I began having a constant, sharp stabbing-pain in my right buttock. I could barely sleep, stand, walk, & sitting was absolutely unbearable. It was the most intense awful pain I had ever experienced in my entire 26 years. On 1 particular evening, I spent the entire night laying on my side in the "fetus position" on the cool, bathroom floor. All of a sudden I felt like I was being stabbed in the tailbone with a butcher-knife; the pain immediately streamed down my body, pulsating in my right buttock like it was being doused in acid. I struggled to pull myself up from the floor while tears streamed down my face. I remember the feeling of coarse fibers in my mouth from a towel I had rolled-up to bite down on so I wouldn't scream out in pain. The next thing I remember is looking down at the toilet & seeing a full crimson pool of blood. For the first time since my symptoms began, I was no longer annoyed - I was terrified.
     The next day I made an appointment with a local surgeon & seconds into a digital-rectal exam he felt a mass. 3 days later I had my first colonoscopy & biopsy; 3 days after that I was told I had a 7cm malignant tumor blocking 90% of rectum. After having a chest port implanted, I started 6 weeks of 24 hour continuous 5FU chemotherapy; I was accessed on Mondays & carried around my chemo machine in a fanny-pack until I was de-accessed on Fridays. I also completed 6 weeks of radiation Monday-Friday, which ended up being a total of 28 hits.
     On August 19, 2010 I had my first surgery that consisted of a complete tumor & rectal resection, multiple lymph node removal, & had a permanent colostomy fixed to my lower-left abdomen. After allowing a short time for healing,
I started my 2nd regimen of chemo: 6 months of Folfox, with infusion every other week. From February 2011 - July 2011 I was in remission but had a recurrence when a 1.5cm tumor showed-up on a routine PET scan in the same spot as my original tumor. I was then referred to a Colorectal Cancer Surgeon Specialist, Plastic Surgeon, & Urology Surgeon all in Pittsburgh, PA
     On September 21, 2011 I had my 2nd surgery which was much more invasive than the first. I had a tumor resection, coccyx removal, complete hysterectomy, complete vaginectomy (removal of the vaginal canal), & "external pelvic reconstruction" using healthy muscle/tissue taken from my inner left thigh. My body immediately went into early-onset menopause (hot flashes & all) at age 27.
     My last chemo regimen was 6 months of Xeloda, an at-home oral medicine.  On June 09, 2012 I was given the amazing news that my latest PET scan was clear & I was officially back in REMISSION!
     I'm still trying to figure out all the details of life post-cancer but I'm thankful for everyday on this Earth. I get to love, to laugh, to make mistakes, to learn, to fall, to get back up, & to live. Sharing my story & raising awareness about Colorectal Cancer, especially with "under 50's", has become my primary passion. Please don't hesitate to ask questions, hang-out, & share your stories with me.

- Lisa -

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