In August of 2013, my appendix ruptured. Unlike the usual story where a person hunches over in pain and runs to the ER, I had no idea this happened to me at the time. I thought I had food poisoning and then later a flu of some sorts. After three weeks of volunteering at Girls Rock Camp and traveling all over New Jersey for my work to conduct workshops about Photograph Preservation, I finally settled at home and realized I didn’t feel that great. When I could no longer eat or go to the bathroom, I went to see the doctor.
I saw two physicians and both were perplexed by my symptoms, so they sent me to the ER for testing. After some bloodwork and a CT scan, I was told my appendix had ruptured some time ago and I was lucky to be alive. I survived that whole ordeal but it left abscesses on all of my internal organs, which I was told would take some time to heal. I was treated with antibiotics and responded well to them. Surgery was not an option at the time due to the abscesses. Life went back to normal and I was being monitored via various scanning techniques over the course of the next six months. Around Christmas, I started to feel pain in my right side near my hip.
Several scans later something was revealed in an MRI that wasn’t present in previous scans. I went to the hospital and found out I had a tumor in my colon. Dr. Wernsing, my GI doctor who saved me the first time from my appendicitis, performed my laparoscopic surgery to remove my appendix and the part of my colon next to it. The surgery was a success. About three days into my recovery in the hospital, I was greeted by Dr Wernsing and an unfamiliar face around 7:00 am in the morning. This man, Dr. Beach, was an oncologist and they were both there to tell me that upon examination in pathology of my tumor, they found it contained two cancerous lymph nodes out of the 36. Mind you, at this point I’m still on the morphine pump and really groggy. All I heard was cancer, cancer, cancer so I couldn’t even begin to process the other information they were telling me. Here I thought I was out of the woods with my successful surgery and now I had this cancer diagnosis.
I was scheduled for 8 rounds of chemotherapy (Oxalyplatin via infusion and Xeloda via pills) under the care of Dr. Beach and the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital. I completed 7 of my 8 cycles- from the 5th one on, the dosages were reduced. We didn’t complete the last one because my neuropathy had shifted from acute to chronic. I am a photograph conservator by trade and I use small delicate tools to perform my work. I also am a guitar player in the band Dreambook, so my fingers are really important to my existence. I’ve been in remission since Sept 29th, 2014 but I am still dealing with pains of neuropathy on a daily basis. I do acupuncture weekly, take nerve regenerating vitamins and use prescription medicines for pain. I had a follow up CT scan mid October and it came back clean. I will have my chemotherapy port removed on Nov. 17th– a huge mile stone to the end of my year battling cancer.
My diagnosis was handed to me a week before my 40th birthday making it an odd way to ring in a new decade. Up until then, I was physically fit and the epitome of health- a lifelong vegetarian, someone who rode her bike to work every day, practiced yoga several times a week and was an avid dancer (ballet and hip hop)- in other words, the least likely candidate for colon cancer. It just goes to show you that this can happen to anyone and as you can see, screening before 50- even in seemingly healthy people- could help to save someone’s life.
Follow my journey on my blog: http://posthope.org/que-vida