Pat Kenny - My story
Over the years I have heard about people who were on a cancer journey, where they fought a battle with cancer. Ultimately the people who fought this battle and went on this journey and made it through treatment were referred to as survivors. I didn't really understand what this meant and the words seemed dramatic. I am now 11 months into my own cancer journey, fighting my own battle with cancer and now I understand what it means to be a survivor. It would be difficult to capture this experience without using these words... journey, battle and survivor.
There are many firsts and lasts along the path that are memorable. The day I had my first colonoscopy at 50 years old was the first time I was told I had cancer, November 2011. I had a couple of weeks of outright denial until I had a copy of the pathology report in my hand. Within a month (by mid December) I was in the hospital undergoing my first ever surgery to remove some important real estate from my colorectal area. At this point I was scared but feeling positive, like we were on this mission to eradicate the bad guy. I say 'we' because at every step of the way through this battle I was never alone. In my corner were the extensive medical team of health professionals, my family, friends and coworkers. After the surgery I learned that they had to take a little more than they expected and that they needed to give me a temporary illeostomy which redirects the digestive waste material. Reversal would take place by operation a few months down the road. This was another first for me, an illeostomy, and all I can say about that is it was a very major adjustment for me.
A few weeks later (January 2012) when the pathology report was complete I was told by the surgeon that the tumour had breached the wall and I would now be referred to medical and radiation oncologists to discuss further treatment options. And oh, by the way, the illeostomy cannot be reversed until treatment is done. That's when I started to crack. I remember when the surgeon left the room and I turned to the nurse and said with a combination of indignation and disbelief, “ I used to be a vibrant 50 year old woman”. She looked at me and said, “ You still are a vibrant 50 year old woman”. She was absolutely right. Lesson number one, cancer cannot take away who you are at the core. Within a couple of days I was sitting in the room with the Radiation Oncologist trying to process all of the information he was giving me in order for me to make a decision about whether to move forward with treatment. All I could manage to say at the end of the meeting was, 'I can't make this decision today'. It seemed overwhelming. It actually took me three days to make the decision about radiation because after all it is my abdomen and there are lots of important things in the surrounding area that are affected. The next meeting was with the Medical Oncologist who also gave me a lot of information and statistics to consider regarding chemotherapy treatment. The bottom line for me is that I really don't want the cancer to come back. I really want to live to see my kids grow up and experience the many milestones of life. So, I decided to move forward with any treatment they were willing to offer that would annihilate the enemy, cancer.
Although I remember feeling very anxious and trying to remember to breathe while receiving daily radiation, what stands out in my mind is what happened in the waiting room. There were many occasions when, while waiting for my treatment, we would see someone headed down the hallway with the radiation team to ring the bell that signified the end of their treatment and everyone in the waiting room would cheer. I remember well when this moment came for me, I was happy to reach this milestone.
After radiation was over my dosage for chemotherapy increased. I started to experience side effects that were moderate and sometimes severe that included pain and swelling of the hands and feet resulting in the skin peeling. I took the chemotherapy in pill form and was sometimes unable to complete a cycle due to side effects. The dosage had to be adjusted down a couple of times after the end of a cycle where the side effects had been severe. When I was little I learned the hard way that you don't put your hand back on the hot stove or you will get burned. The difficult part of chemotherapy for me was the anxiety that I experienced when every cycle I had to put my hand back on the hot stove. By this time in the journey I had investigated yoga and meditation, joined group sessions, sought counselling and was leaning on many family members, friends and coworkers to get through treatment. Lesson number two, I learned from cancer just what I mean to people. I had no idea how many people cared. Although I did not ring a bell in the hallway on the last day of chemotherapy I rang the bell virtually, in my mind. A significant last day. This is the part where I really understood why they call cancer patients survivors.
The next steps for me after a recovery period will be the reversal of the illeostomy and return to work. At the risk of sounding overconfident, 'bring it on'.
Pat has been empowered to take control of her health. The Cancer Foundation faciltates that empowerment through the cancer coaching and programs offered at the Maplesoft Centre. These services are offered at no cost to the patient and a medical referral is not required. The programs are made possible because of the generosity of donors to the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. Please support the Foundation and help improve the lives of cancer survivors in our community.