What specifically made you seek medical attention?
I shrugged off the blood in my stool — both the red, fresh blood and the dark, old blood. I know better, but honestly? With Covid-19 and sheltering-at-home, I wasn’t willing to go to the doctor for just a little blood and some pain.
But once Brian realized the pain was too much for me, and forced me to the ER, I realized it was bad. Especially since he didn’t think it could wait another 14 hours until a doctor’s office opened.
(side note: Covid be damned. If you’re having symptoms of anything that doesn’t feel right, SEE A DOCTOR.)
Was it an immediate diagnosis?
It was not an immediate diagnosis. It was a very quick diagnosis, though. I mean, there were 7 weeks and 4 days between my first doctor’s appointment and surgery.
Based on how it looked, they immediately assumed it was cancer, but it took a colonoscopy, MRI, and PET scan before they knew. And then the pathology from surgery showed for sure what type and exactly where it was. But then it was gone!
But you’re so young. Aren’t you supposed to wait until 50 to have a colonoscopy?
Screening should begin at age 45. (Source)
Interestingly, colorectal cancers are on the rise in one age group: those under the age of 50. With 11% of colon cancer and 18% of rectal cancer diagnoses coming to those under 50 years of age, early detection is key!
Because my grandfather had colon cancer, my doctor has been using 45 as my age for first colonoscopy. That means that in December of this year, I was to have one. However, given the type of cancer it was and how fast it spreads, had I not had the pain and symptoms and waited until December or later, it would likely have been a much further along stage.
This is why knowing the signs and symptoms and your family history is so important. Find out if you should be screened HERE.
Were you having signs and symptoms of colon cancer?
According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the following are the signs and symptoms to look for. I’m putting my notes below them. Colorectal cancer symptoms can also be associated with many other health conditions. Only a medical professional can determine the cause of your symptoms. Early signs of cancer often do not include pain. It is important not to wait before seeing a doctor. Early detection can save your life.
- A Change in Bowel Habits, including diarrhea, constipation, a change in the consistency of your stool or finding your stools are narrower than usual. I definitely had this. Looking back a few months before this timeline began in June, I can tell you that the consistency changed, and my stools were long and skinny (like a pencil). I’m not a super regular person, but started having more than one bowel movement per day which was odd.
- Persistent Abdominal Discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain and/or feeling full, bloated or that your bowel does not empty completely. Yes. The “feeling full” of this was absolutely a symptom for me. There were times when my stomach was very hard, almost like there was a knot in it (or like I was pregnant), but I didn’t feel gassy, just “full.” Like someone had filled me with air. Then came the pain. It wasn’t like a gassy pain. It was a really terrible labor/contraction type pain. My lower back hurt and it felt like non-stop contractions. For men, I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe it felt like somebody was stabbing me and twisting the knife constantly all day and night. Short version: It was bad and more than discomfort.
- Rectal Bleeding, or finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool. Yes. I shrugged it off, but please, if you have ANY bleeding in your stool or urine, be seen as soon as possible. That’s not normal.
- Weakness or Fatigue, accompany losing weight for no known reason, nausea or vomiting. This is the biggest part that I didn’t realize was happening. I chalked up my fatigue to Covid and having all the kids here and just being tired of being socially distant and stuff. I started losing weight with no effort a few weeks before my pain started. But then I was down 5, 10, 13 pounds. By the time I had surgery, I’d lost 20 pounds without trying.
Did pain medication help your pain?
Well, until about 48 hours before surgery, they didn’t want me to have any because of the high risk of constipation. So no. I was able to take tylenol only during the first part of this journey. But constipation and obstruction would have been really terrible. It would have meant emergency surgery and that would NOT have been ideal.
What exactly did you have removed?
Well, here’s a handy dandy image for you.
They did what is called a right hemicolectomy. The removed everything that’s circled in black, about a foot of colon. The black X is where Dumplin, the murderous tumor, was. This is what the surgeon called a cancer cut.
They remove all of this and retrieve the lymph nodes attached so they can confirm if there is or isn’t any spread. In the process, my appendix was also removed (that’s the tiny part between the X and small intestine, dangling from the colon).
Once it was removed, they simply reattached the colon to the small intestine and TA-DA! All set.
Can you still poop?
Yes. I can still poop!
And if you’re that curious, I pooped about 24 hours after surgery. My only requirement for leaving the hospital was passing gas, which I did like a champ, but I’m an over-achiever. Granted, it was like water coming out because I’d only been on liquids, but still. Things work down there just like before. All good!
What was it like being alone for surgery and in the hospital due to Covid-19?
Brian was allowed to be in the waiting room during surgery and then see me in recovery until I went to my room. I didn’t feel alone then, even though I don’t remember any of it!
Being in the hospital alone, due to Covid, was one of my biggest worries. But I have to say, it was nice. Don’t get me wrong. Having Brian there would have been way better, but I had the full attention of everyone who engaged with me, from the nurses to the food services gentleman to the billing lady.
There was something really peaceful about being able to leave the TV off, the lights off, the sound machine on, and just doze in and out all day and night as I pleased. I feel like my body just led me wherever it needed me to be, whether that was awake or asleep, or in the bathroom or walking the halls. There was no bickering outside my room by the neighbors’ in-laws about how they were being treated, no loud phone calls outside someone’s room, no foot traffic… just silence. I can honestly say, I hope that in the post-Covid world, there will be no visitors allowed in hospitals, except one person who has to stay the whole time. No in and out at all hours of the day. Just one support person, there for the duration.
If you have other questions, please feel free to ask.