Dancing with Cancer Pt.1

You may or may not know that I have been dealing with colon cancer and metastatic colon cancer since 2014. An experience I call "Dancing with Cancer."

You may or may not know that I have been dealing with colon cancer and metastatic colon cancer since 2014. An experience I call “Dancing with Cancer.” I have been asked to share some of what I have learned and it seems to fit well under the heading of “managing life”.

First, I would like to make a very clear disclaimer. Even though I am a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner who is actively involved in practice, do not misconstrue the information that I am sharing as medical advice. I do not intend this to be medical advice for anyone, but rather a series of writings that will outline my decisions and my progress in hopes that it will be helpful to others in the area of empowerment.

In 2014 I realized that I was getting more and more fatigued and decided that it was time for a full physical. I had noticed some places of intermittent itching, more dark spots on my hands, and an increase in the number of moles on my back, along with some rough scan and darkened spots on my shoulders. However, my research and consults with my provider indicated that none of those were likely indicators of poor health. To the best of my recollection, my blood values were all within normal ranges and there was no reason for alarm…but there was a small amount of blood in my stool. My primary care physician recommended a colonoscopy and I was scheduled at my local hospital. Other than being tired, I generally felt good and healthy and there was no real indicator of physical illness

My wife accompanied me to the hospital for my diagnostic colonoscopy. When I came out of the anesthetic the surgeon came to the room and said that I needed to be coherent for 1 1/2 hours to be able to give permission to my wife to give permission to him for me to have a bowel resection. He explained that they had found a tumor in my colon that had not fully grown through the wall of the intestine. Little did I know the degree to which my life was about to change.

I had a routine surgery with a bowel resection that was extremely successful and the opinion of the medical team that only a routine follow-up would be necessary. No evidence of metastasis was apparent in the lymph nodes or surrounding tissue. After several days in the hospital I returned home to resume my life as a mental health provider, husband, father and private pilot. All of those roles were to change in ways that were impossible for me to imagine.

I remember clearly a conversation that Anita, my amazing wife, and I had while waiting to be taken to surgery. We prayed and knew that we would rely heavily on our faith in Jesus Christ, something that we had begun a number of years earlier. We talked about and agreed that I was in a win-win situation. If the cancer was going to kill me I would go to heaven and if it didn’t I would resume life in a more healthy condition than I had started that morning. We didn’t realize at the time the degree to which our knowledge of Christ would become our strength.

During my stay in the hospital I found the catheter to be extremely irritating but if I lay very still it was almost tolerable. The morning after surgery, as I was getting out of bed to go for my walk, I accidentally stepped on the Naso-Gastric tube and pulled it out. As a nurse who has been trained in medical surgical nursing and trauma care, I knew that the tubes should still be in place. Along the lines that this writing is not about medical advice, I can tell you for certain that trying to reinsert the NG tube by yourself is not advised! After much gagging and embarrassment, my nurse came into the room, having been summoned by Anita who did not appear entertained by my attempts to reinsert the tube. The nurse contacted the doctor and I was informed that the tube could be left out if I did not get nauseated and I put absolutely nothing in my mouth for the remaining 4 days of my stay. I was sustained through that period of time by my memories of discomfort while functioning as an Army Medic, training in the Idaho desert in the summer. It made my time in the hospital seem much more pleasant: I had television, was well hydrated and could walk without avoiding military armament, dirt and potholes. I was released from the hospital after a GI scan showed nothing was leaking.

Throughout the next year I commented often that I did not feel much like a “cancer survivor” because of the fact that it had been diagnosed, treated and I was pronounced clear of cancer. It all seemed pretty uneventful compared to the lives of some of my clients. In November 2015 I went to have a follow-up blood test and it was found that my CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) cancer marker was elevated from a high normal of 3.8ng/ml to 7ng/ml. That elevation is extremely small but was likely an indicator of a metastatic lesion. My surgeon, Chris Woodworth, diligently poured over the results of the ensuing CT scan and discovered a tiny spot on my liver. I was once again promptly scheduled for a surgical procedure and had a radio wave ablation in Portland. This is a laparoscopic procedure in which a needle is placed at the point of the cancer and radio waves are used to burn that area of the liver and eradicate the cancer. I was told that I needed to schedule an appointment with my local oncologist and he recommended that I do a six-month course of chemotherapy.

For the next six months I received IV chemotherapy every other Wednesday morning. I then took oral chemotherapy medications for the next seven days and dealt with mild nausea and sleep disturbances as well as not being able to kiss my wife during that time. The next week was almost a return to normal life. I did not miss any work, did not lose my hair, continued to play music and fly my airplane, weather permitting. I heard frequent comments that I did not look sick and people commented on my energy and appearance of health. Those six months began what has become a theme in my life of being hopeful, faithful and almost consistently preoccupied with thoughts of cancer and possibly dying.

I will leave this as the end of the first segment. Part 2 will begin with the results of the research I did for my own care. Once again, I would like to emphasize that I am not doing this for medical advice but rather to look at some alternatives that I have used for my own health care. Take care and God bless,

Russ