*If you want to read about my symptoms and how I knew something was wrong before reading this post, click here.
It is cancer. You have cancer. I have cancer.
No matter how it is said, these are three words you NEVER want to hear.
It saddens you when you hear these words about someone else. You are devastated and heartbroken when you hear these words about someone who is close to you. When you are hearing these words about your own self? It is surreal and sort of an out of body experience. There’s no way I can accurately describe what it was like hearing these words myself.
On Monday, April 4, 2016, Chad, Quinn and I went to Home Depot to buy some new plants. It was a pretty ordinary day. Chad is off on Mondays and Quinn didn’t have preschool so it was the perfect day to get some things to spruce up our backyard for spring. It had now been about 2 weeks since my biopsy was done. We knew it would take some time to get the results but then my doctor was out of town too which delayed things a bit more. I totally understand that doctors deserve a break and a vacation too, but it is just excruciating to have to wait so long for these kind of results. We had been pestering the nurse about getting the results and so she said she would see if the doctor would call me as soon as she got back into town rather than waiting for my follow up appointment. We were in the Home Depot parking lot, loading our car, when the doctor called with the results of my biopsy. She said that the results surprised her, they weren’t what she expected.
Ok, is this good? Is this bad?
She said that the biopsy came back as adenocarcinoma.
“It is cancer.”
Well that took the breath right out of me.
You have to know this rectal surgeon. She is pretty much straight to the point, no emotion at all. So she was just very matter of fact about it. I’m sure that she has had to deliver news like this many, many times over the course of her career. I would guess that it makes you a little numb to it at after a while.
She also said that when she removed a portion of the mass for biopsy she knew that it was cancer, but the biopsy results surprised her because usually it is squamous carcinoma in the rectum & that’s what she thought it felt like. She said that adenocarcinoma is usually found in the colon & she’s actually never seen it herself in the rectum. Great. Of course the word “cancer” is so scary to hear to begin with, but now she’s saying it’s not common in the area where I have it. I started to get a little dizzy.
She said that the treatment is chemo, radiation & surgery. And that we would discuss everything more at my post-op appointment the next day. And that was it.
Just like that, our lives changed forever.
I told Chad the very little that the doctor had told me on the phone and we drove home. We made some calls to family members because they knew I had been having symptoms and was waiting on the results of the biopsy. But we didn’t really have any details to give them yet. I was surprisingly calm. Like I was outside of my body looking in. I didn’t cry much. I think I was just in complete shock. My mind was racing with unknowns: Is this cancer going to kill me? How long will this treatment last? Will it work? How sick will it make me? How will this affect my husband? My girls? Will I get to watch them grow up? Should I start writing them letters to read for after I am gone? Or maybe making videos? In my mind I was terrified. But at the same time of all this turmoil in my head, life goes on. We picked up the older girls from school, worked on homework with them, planted our newly purchased flowers in the backyard and continued with our ordinary day. As we went about our afternoon, I realized that I wasn’t scared of dying at all. What scared me the most was the thought of leaving my family and having my girls grow up without a mom, they were only 9, 6 and 4. That thought just broke my heart.
That night some good family friends took our girls for us. We went out to dinner alone, just Chad and I. It was the most depressing date night I have ever been on. Not knowing any details of what this new diagnosis meant was just so hard. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t even want to talk. I was trying to be strong for Chad and I know he was trying to be strong for me. We were trying to stay optimistic, but the truth was that we just had no idea what we were in for. After dinner we met with our bishop (the leader of our church congregation). We all three sat in his office for a good long while, not saying anything, just crying together. And then we prayed together and I received a blessing. In that tiny church office I felt the lump leave my throat and a weight lift off of my mind. I gained clarity in my thoughts. I knew in that moment that I was going to be ok. I knew that if it was the will of the Lord, I would be healed. And if that was not His plan for me, to be healed from this cancer, I knew that I would still be ok. And I knew that no matter what happened, my family would be ok too. There is a bigger picture than what we see here on earth, a bigger purpose for all of us. I knew that even through this darkest trial, as hard as it was going to be, that I would need to hold on to my faith now more than ever before.
The next day we met with the rectal surgeon in her office.
She again went over her surprise of the biopsy results. As I said before, adenocarcinoma is usually found in the colon, not in the rectum, usually it’s squamous carcinoma there. Due to her surprise of the biopsy results she sent out the biopsy slides for a 2nd opinion. She also referred me for a 2nd opinion with a rectal surgeon at UCI Medical Center.
She also explained that the difference between the two cancers is basically in how they are treated. With squamous carcinoma you receive chemo and radiation and she said the cancer cells “melt away.” With adenocarcinoma you are also given chemo and radiation but then surgery will be performed as well. And surgery, she said, is total removal of the rectum with a permanent colostomy bag. Woah. That I was not prepared for at all. I figured when she mentioned surgery the day before that she meant they go in and cut out any remaining tumor, you heal up and go about your life. I was not expecting there to be such a life changing surgery involved. We started praying that there was some miracle that the initial biopsy results were wrong and that this was only squamous carcinoma and not the adenocarcinoma.
The doctor reassured us that this is treatable & that I am going to be ok. She told me the next steps are to have a PET/CT scan, an endoanal ultrasound and to meet with a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist and have genetic counseling and testing done. And then she left. Yep, things just got real. When the nurse came in to help us check out, I lost it. She was so sweet and came over to me and gave me a hug. She told me that the prognosis was very good, that I have an excellent surgeon and that I’m in good hands. I was just completely overwhelmed and running on no sleep. And still in pain. I started holding onto the fact that this wasn’t a death sentence and that I would be able to watch my girls grow up. I knew this would get me through this new journey life was about to take us on.