So I want to let everyone know I am doing my best to keep you all informed on what is happening. At the same time, my writing is a therapeutic and emotional way to express myself, so the last thing I want to do is water down my blogs just to get content out there. So please be patient, I promise it will keep coming. I am feeling okay today, had some bouts of nausea from the chemo and tingling from the Oxaliplatin but it is nothing a funny movie, lunch with a good friend, and some meds can’t handle. But today I don’t really want to talk about chemo side effects. Today, I want to to talk about something a little more serious than my usual light hearted self, something a lot of people have been asking me about. I want to talk about the importance of paying attention to your body when it is asking for help. If I didn’t start listening, I might not of even had a chance to fight this thing.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011 I was relaxing at home with Amanda and the dogs after a beautiful and relaxing memorial day weekend. As I sat down on the couch a dull throbbing pain in my upper abdomen and some very uncomfortable bloating began to develop. Amanda was quick to notice my discomfort and asked what was wrong and I was equally quick to explain away the symptoms and that they were due to eating too much junk food all weekend long. (A benefit of having grandparents living down the cape is constant access to the best foods imaginable! Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ice Cream, Peanut M&M’s, the list goes on.) As the next couple days passed the bloating increased and the pain remained fairly constant. After staying awake much of Wednesday night with cramping I decided something must be wrong and that Thursday morning I would go check in at work and then take a quick trip to the emergency room at Emerson Hospital.
I arrived at an empty emergency room (“thank god” I thought) at about 9:45 am, I was very politely greeted by the nurse, questioned on my symptoms and ushered to a room where they would be in to see me shortly. The nurse who would be taking care of me came into the room and instantly recognized me. “I knew you as a baby, you look just like your father,” she said and proceeded to ask how my family was. After familiarities were exchanged, I briefly reviewed the past 26 years of my life that passed since Maureen last took care of me . She knew me well as a baby, I was a frequent visitor of Emerson being a 9 1/2 week old premi with breathing problems, seizures and attached to a heart monitor that lasted for about two years. I beat that challenge too.
“Well let me give some background on what’s been happening and then give you my more recent symptoms,” I said. “I have had heartburn going back to since I was in college. I have not had it for a few months now since I have been eating a healthier ‘slow carb diet’. I am thinking some of this could be due to a drastic change in diet this weekend with all the junk food I ate, but I figure, you’re better safe than sorry right?” She nodded and smiled in agreement. I continued “Recently I started getting cramps, pain and bloating in my upper abdomen to the point where it as been difficult to sleep at night.”
“Does the pain usually increase or feel better after eating?” She asked.
“To be perfectly honest, I am not sure, It kind of comes and goes and I can’t really figure out if it is related to when I eat. Also I have had some blood in my stool, mostly just on the toilet paper.”
She begins to ask “what color is the blood, bright red or ….”
“It is bright red, I figure it is just hemorrhoids or something similar as it has come and gone since I was in college,” I concluded quickly. I knew through plenty of reading already that darker or black blood is usually related to a problem high in your gastro-intestinal track like your esophagus or stomach. Maureen(my nurse) proceeded to draw about 6 vials of blood for multiple tests to check if anything could be identified as wrong in my body. The blood tests were as follows:Magnesium, CPK, Serum Amaylase, Lipase, Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) and a Complete Blood Count (CBC.)
The Doctor came in and performed some basic physical tests, pressing around my abdomen and asking if I was experiencing any pain. Soon after he said your blood tests came back and are 110% healthy. “I am going to discharge you with “gastritis” (an inflammation of the stomach,) recommend that you take Prilosec daily and have a follow up with a gastroenterologist as it is not common for someone of your age to have heartburn. If the symptoms improve over the next few days you should be good to go.”
Over the next two weeks my symptoms fluttered to better, quickly reversed back to bad and then dipped to worse. I tried to schedule an appointment with Middlesex Gastroenterology for as soon as possible. After a couple calls and being placed on their cancelation list the very polite assistants at the front desk slid me in for an appointment on Monday morning of June 20, 2011. After a similar procedure of questioning about symptoms, pressing and tapping on my abdomen the gastroenterologist scheduled me for an upper endoscomy or EGD for Wednesday June 22, 2011. An EGD is an examination of the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and upper duodenum with a small camera (flexible endoscope) which is inserted down the throat .
On the day of the procedure, I was given some nice drugs and happily drifted to sleep until the EGD was completed. After my recovery the Dr. went on to explain some unusual but important news. It seems that I had an extremely inflamed stomach and had an onset of “Barret’s Esophagus.” Barrets is when the lining of your throat is damaged due to too much acid and stomach bile. The esophagus then builds up a tissue similar to that of your intestines to protect it from the acid. This is a good defense mechanism, however, it also makes your esophagus more susceptible to cancer. He said other than that everything looks ok, no signs of cancer and that he took some biopsies of the tissue to be safe.
My Biopsy Report and discharge instructions:
Now prepping for a Colonoscopy ninety-nine times out of a hundred is going to be worse than the procedure or the results. Normally I’d get it to the humor and the jokes of how gross it is, but that didn’t happen for me… I woke up to a pool of blood on my gurney and post-operation meeting where the Dr. bluntly stated… “We found a mass in your Colon. I can not tell if it cancerous or not but we performed biopsies. I will tell you that regardless of its make up there is a 90% chance you will have to have surgery to remove the mass. I have you scheduled for a CT Scan tomorrow morning at 8:00 am at Emerson Hospital.”
At that moment, all of the stories, the truths of past family medical history, the crutches I relied on to stay sane crumbled beneath me. The continued assurances that I was fine and that “what you feel” happens to me, or this person or that person too, disappeared. That night was the only time in this challenge that I was truly scared, I was terrified, I felt alone, I cried. I decided I needed to let some of my friends know what was going on, so I wrote:
Subject: Reason for being MIA Lately.
Incase I have been out of touch lately I just wanted to apologize, there has been a lot going on lately. You guys being my best friends I felt you should know, and I sort of needed to get it off my chest. After being in and out of the ER and hospital for the past month because of stomach problems I finally had a colonoscopy done today. They found a growth in my large intestine, but they have yet to determine whether it is cancerous or not but did take some biopsies to test. Because of the severity of the situation they have scheduled a cat scan for 8 am tomorrow morning to determine the size, depth, and if there are anymore in my body. Then I have an office visit follow up on Monday to I assume review the biopsy results and the next steps. So as of right now there is a 90% chance that I will have to have surgery to remove the growth regardless of the biopsy results. I am just praying it is not cancerous, and incase it is in fact colon cancer, then praying is is in very early stages. No need to call, I need some rest and I will let you guys know when I find out… just do me a favor and keep your fingers crossed.
Well, as a new day dawned, my email made its rounds and my prayers came crashing back to earth. The CAT scan revealed that not only was the growth cancerous, but it was stage IV cancer and spreading through my body. As I could see tears in the doctor eyes, trembling in my families hands, and fear in my friends voices, I found that the fear had left my body completely. I made a decision at that moment that I was going to live. I now knew what I had to do, and with knowledge came strength. With the emotion that I could see in my family and friends came determination to never let them down. And at that moment my journey to Beat the Challenge had begun. That’s when I wrote my first blog post: At the Starting Line.
I Love you All- Teej
p.s. I hope no one takes this blog the wrong way, there is no way anyone could have known, predicted or guessed that I would have what I have. A 28 year old with Stage IV Colon Cancer is extremely rare and it is not your fault or anybodies fault. I am only writing this so people can take my information and move forward with it. If you feel like something is wrong, go get it checked!!! It is a Doctor’s, Father’s, Mother’s, Daughter’s, Boyfriend’s, Girlfriend’s, Sister’s, Brother’s, Family’s job to make you feel better. So they will almost always say “Ive had something similar, i’m sure you will be fine.” It is in our nature to say that. But if you feel like something is wrong, the least you can do is get it checked. It may save your life some day, as it will save mine.
p.p.s. Want to know what my very first symptom was? My entire life I could never make myself burp, as a little kid my friends would all be burping everything from the ABC’s to National Anthem. I could drink an entire soda without one single belch. Obviously one would slip out once and a while, but it was not very common. Well three years ago, guess what? Something in my body started to form and all the sudden I started to burp….
By the way Pop Dukes looks exactly like Patrice Bergeron here in the feature imaged.