The Making of a BadASS — Part 2
This is a continuation of a previous article…
The SHIT SHOW continues!
At this point in this “The Making of A BadASS” series I am sharing the traditional medical approach to my treatment, but want to assure you that my approach to cancer reached far beyond that into the mind, body, spirit and metaphysical realm. By being diagnosed with cancer I began a helluva spiritual awakening that continues today! Future articles will address all aspects of my holistic approach to treatment. That said, I knew that for me, I also needed the help of modern medicine…
By the end of November, we knew that I had a large mass, an invasive colonic adenocarcinoma, moderately differentiated, on my lower colon at the junction of my sigmoid colon and rectum; which was then re-classified officially as Stage 3b Rectal Cancer — rectal being the more aggressive of the colorectal cancers — and we knew that there was likely one (possibly two) lymph nodes involved.
Rectal Cancer was a game-changer! Because it is more aggressive and because there is so much less rectum and sigmoid colon to work with (10–14 inches give or take) versus your three long feet of colon when considering removal of tumors in these areas, my surgeon said she would get one shot at removal and good margins, you don’t get a second chance and you definitely don’t want recurrence because there wouldn’t be much left to work with (in other words without having to have a permanent colostomy). I was told the newer and most cutting-edge method was not to do surgery first as is the case with so many colon cancers. My best chance was to try to kill the tumor and any cancer spread to lymph nodes FIRST, then surgery for insurance.
I found out I was a candidate for a newer protocol which was established during Covid as a means to try to reduce cancer patient's exposure to Covid infection while undergoing radiation and chemo. As it turned out, the new protocol had better results in many cases than the original approach.
The new protocol meant an intense phase of radiation first, then 8–12 rounds of Folfox 6 chemo, and surgery last. The good news is I only had to do five days of radiation vs. the normal 25. The bad news is I still got a 25-day dose of radiation, just in much less time. 😳💩
By December, long-awaited post-Covid Christmas plans had been changed and my family came to me in Colorado to provide moral support. I was receiving radiation called IMRT (Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy) and rather than doing 25 days of radiation, which was the old way of doing it. I did a super intense protocol of 5 days that were the equivalent of 25 days worth of radiation. Many people do quite well on this protocol, I was one of the few % that had extreme radiation side effects. Ho! Ho! Ho! MERRY CHRISTMAS!
If you think coal is bad, starting on Christmas Day 2021, I started to have telltale signs of impending doom in my nether regions. The last glorious meal without a care I had for months, was a fabulous Doc made lasagna, garlic bread and a small glass of wine. I can still remember how each bite tasted! Mmmmmm. 😋
Because it’s hard to reach docs on a holiday, my symptoms spiraled out of control quickly and there was little relief. In hindsight, there are a few things I would do differently knowing what I know now. Things I would ask for in advance “just in case.”
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR about ways to prophylax for this possibility!
First, this one is HUGE, I would ask for antispasmodics up front so that you can have a filled prescription ready and waiting! Have my favorite Aquaphor butt cream on hand And of course, Imodium.
Again I’d like to stress that my extreme reaction to the radiation was atypical (there was at one other person in my Facebook support group that had the same experience), and I spent the next two months mostly on the toilet, managing tenesmus, nursing a solar system of hemorrhoids, losing weight like a marathoner sweats, then finally, recovering. Let’s just say I talk about this time as the “time I tried to birth a baby out my butt” phase. I once told my radiological oncologist that I was going to poop this thing out of me and I’m quite certain I did! I am also relatively certain Arnold was already dead (my radiological oncologist said if he did his job right it was) and yet, we had to continue with the protocol of chemo and surgery. Cancer treatment is literally about OVERKILL! It has to be. My rad side effects being so severe also postponed the start of my chemo by a couple of weeks. Good and bad to that as I was ready to get this SHIT over with!
By the end of December I had a “power port” installed (this is a direct line from your chest into your bloodstream and is designed for chemo infusions) — Beam Me Up, Scotty — because chemo is too wicked to put in your arm.
A Sidenote: I had my port installed by an Interventional Radiologist instead of a surgeon. The procedure is performed under mild sedation soI was awake the whole time. I was even able to see some of the procedure on the screen (which I thought was cool). If you have your port installed by a surgeon they put you completely out. There are other differences as well, which you can google if you have a choice.
By January I had started chemo. I was scheduled for 6–8 rounds of Folfox 6 chemo Infusions in the cancer center every two weeks for 3–4 hours and then a take-home pump that would continue for an additional 46 hours (2 days) after my infusion. So basically, three days of chemo every two weeks. Not all chemo is the same, mind you so the things you hear about chemo may be true for one type but not for another. I’ll be sharing more on chemo drugs and side effects in future articles.
With some stops and starts due to plummeting white blood cell counts and again being the unicorn with some weird ass side effects (more on side effects in future posts), I finally finished chemo in April. I was able to complete 7 rounds and was advised by my doc not to do 8 because I was at this point neurotoxic. My Doc (Amy) was also lobbying for stopping at this point. This is where having a great advocate comes in. I honestly don’t know how cancer patients do this alone! She was a Godsend for me and she stepped right up to the plate without hesitation even though she hates blood and needles and the gross stuff. I know not everyone is so lucky. Whenever you can, find someone in your life who can advocate for you and help be your reality check when you say, “I can do it!” (because you’ll do anything to be well and cancer free) and they come back with, “At what cost?” In my case both Doc’s agreed that one round of chemo was not going to make or break my prognosis (again hoping that radiation had already done the job), so I became a BadASS chemo dropout! 😂 Later I would see on my charts the words “did not tolerate well” when it came to chemo. Here I thought I did awesome making it through it, but clearly, others saw the toll via my 🦄 side effects. Still, it worked!
CCnDoc on Instagram: "#ThisIsChemo... We call it #PeterRabbitSyndrome! Saved this one for EASTER…
10 Likes, 4 Comments - CCnDoc (@ccndoc) on Instagram: "#ThisIsChemo... We call it #PeterRabbitSyndrome! Saved this one…
The idea for chemo (at least for aggressive rectal cancer when you’re younger and not elderly) is that they throw everything they can at you for as long as you can take it and only when your body waves the white flag do they dial it back. There is always a fine line between cure and permanent damage from side effects like CIPN (chemo induced peripheral neuropathy), which I still have in my feet but it doesn’t keep me from dancing! 💃🏼.
TO BE CONTINUED!
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I am not a doctor. I am married to one, but she’s the other kind thus all opinions herein are my own and should not be considered medical advice. Please, do your own homework, make your own choices and consult your own experts!
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