A Cancer Christmas Story

This is never the news we want to give someone but it is cancer“, said the surgeon as he held my hand. I was still coming out of anesthesia but trust me, I heard loud and clear what he just said.

I cried.

I asked him if I was going to die.

He said no (or some rehearsed doctor version of it).

I said good because I had two babies at home and couldn’t.

That’s how I found out I had stage 3 rectal cancer. The highest stage 3 there is, stage IIIC. Literally a touch under stage 4. It has already spread to my uterus and lymph nodes in that area. The biggest blessing so far seems to be that it hasn’t metastasized to my liver or lungs (although I’d like to be scanned from my head to the tips of my toes to make sure it’s not anywhere else, but everyone keeps telling me that’s not necessary).

If you are surprised, welcome to the club. I have spent the last month in every doctors office with my eyes glazed over in tears as they try to explain to me my diagnosis and what the hard year ahead will look like for me. Assuming the cancer responds to the treatment regime they have given me, I will undergo two months of IV chemotherapy, followed by a chemo pill and radiation for six weeks, a major surgery where they remove my tumor along with a complete hysterectomy, rebuild part of my organs down there and then more chemotherapy after that. So basically, Happy New Year! Your year has gone to shit before it’s even begun!

Diagnosis & Symptoms 

If you’re wondering how this all even started, let me explain. I will attempt to make this short since I’m not really into rehashing every symptom and medical history. The most important thing to note is that this cancer really grew and spread the entire time I was pregnant and postpartum so it was the perfect storm of thinking the symptoms were pregnancy and postpartum related.

Right after finding out I was pregnant with our second baby, I had an OB appointment in December 2017. The pap smear and all tests came back normal. So while I likely did have this cancer then, it had not yet spread to any other organs or it would’ve shown up on the test results. Bloodwork also showed I was very anemic (another red flag for this cancer); HOWEVER, I also don’t eat meat, so when I told the doctor that I was put on iron pills and that was that. The rest of my pregnancy was normal and uneventful. I never had any sickness or side effects. I was tired sure, but I was also chasing around a 2-year-old. I had three ultrasounds done during the pregnancy but none of them showed the cancer on my uterus (I guess because by that point all my baby parts were bigger and in the way of seeing it on the uterus I’m told?). Honestly, it was a huge blessing I had no idea this was happening while I was pregnant. I would not have been able to receive treatment until after delivery and it would’ve just made my whole pregnancy much more stressful. Another thing to note, I do not have a family history of colon or rectal cancer. My mother and sister have had polyps removed, but nothing to set off the alarm that the rest of the immediate family should be getting colonoscopies any earlier than what’s normally suggested.

Delivery was completely normal with no complications. I was discharged and went home to begin the oh-so-fun fourth trimester of pregnancy. I had noticed I was constipated with some occasional bright red blood, but

meandada
Miracle baby Ada

I had hemorrhoids with my first child and chalked that up to the same with this one. The symptoms were nothing alarming to make me think it was anything than regular postpartum issues.

I had noticed there seemed to be some foods that did not agree with my stomach. I began keeping a small food diary with a list of foods that upset my stomach after eating. My general thinking was ‘oh, I am getting older and some foods just do not agree with me“. Again, I thought perhaps this was IBS or maybe just food sensitivity I had began to develop.

I was also losing weight. But breastfeeding was going so well, it was just…easy. It was working…much like it had NOT with my first child. So when I kept remarking to my husband I was losing weight without trying, I figured this must be the breastfeeding weight that just ‘falls off’. I honestly felt pretty good. At six weeks I started intermittently working out again (spin class which I did all throughout pregnancy and jogging here and there). Five days before I received my cancer diagnosis I ran 3.5 miles with my husband and felt G-R-E-A-T. Isn’t that crazy?

December 17, 2018 I flew back home to Louisiana to celebrate the holidays with my family. My husband was to come meet us in a week. The next few days I really began to feel what I assumed was my hemorrhoids flare up. The morning of December 20th I was in so much pain I told my mom (much to her complete shock) that something must be wrong and I was going to go into the ER.

The ER visit was all a blur. Basically in a nut shell, I had developed an abscess around the tumor which is what was causing the immense pain. I was administered IV antibiotics, had a CT and MRI scan and admitted overnight so they could do a colonoscopy that night to see what was going on. Sixteen hours after being admitted, the doctor was delivering me the bad news.

Honestly the whole experience has felt very out-of-body. To go from thinking you are pretty dang healthy, working out regularly, eating (mostly) vegetarian and healthy and then to hear you have cancer that has already spread significantly is mind-blowing and terrifying.

We decided we wanted a second opinion and traveled to MD Anderson to get a treatment plan. There we met with an oncologist, radiation doctor, surgeon and fertility doctor. There was talk of perhaps freezing eggs since I would require a complete hysterectomy since the cancer had spread. The surgeon (they are never really known for the best bedside manner, are they??) said, “I’m not here to sugarcoat it. You’re not walking in here withmdanderson stage 1, 2 or an average stage 3 cancer. You are the very top of stage 3.  You need chemo in your blood like yesterday”. Well, ok then! That pretty much solidified my decision that we have been blessed with two healthy children and I didn’t want to wait weeks to go through the egg retrieval process. I wanted to start chemotherapy asap. We met with the fertility doctor next, who told me the same thing, she did not think we had time to wait on doing egg retrieval and with the location of the tumor (it has grown into some of my lady parts), she wasn’t even sure egg retrieval would be safe. Hearing her take on it made me feel better that we were doing the right thing. [I do have a ton of feelings on this fertility aspect of it but that’s for a whole other post. I am honestly still trying to process this part of it. I try not to think about it too much because at this point, it’s just the cards I’ve been dealt. I cannot change this. It is happening.]

As I write this, I have just completed my first round of chemotherapy. It was largely boring and uneventful, which they tell me is good. No one else in the infusion room tried to talk to me, probably because I was a crying anxious mess. I guess that behavior doesn’t scream ‘come talk to me’! Although there was an older lady in there who caught

me
Does this contraption make me look like I have cancer?? ha I will not subject you to what it looks like underneath.

my eye and mouthed ‘you can do this’ with a thumbs up. That was sweet. The medicines made me sleepy so I spent a large part of the four hours sleeping and reading some. Then it was over. Done. I’m home now. They did discharge me with a small chemo pump that will pump chemo drugs into me for 48-hours straight and I go back in two days to have the pump removed. I get a two-week break and then do it all over again. Four times total. Down to three times now. So that means I’m a quarter done, right? Trying to not look too far ahead at the daunting treatment still looming in the future. The first week in March we travel back to MD Anderson to complete more scans to see if the chemotherapy is working. The rest of the treatment will be determined by those results.

I’ll attempt to update this somewhat regularly as I know people are curious and praying. But I also don’t want this cancer to define me. I am more than this cancer. I guess this next year will be a test of navigating through it all to find hope, balance and peace. Ne me lâche pas.

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “A Cancer Christmas Story

  1. Bri Rivera-Brugger

    I’m thinking of you and sending prayers up for you guys. I haven’t personally dealt with cancer, but I’ve had numerous family members battle different forms of cancer. Cancer sucks! But, you are strong and will get through this, girl!

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  2. Robin McClain Edwards

    Catherine. Omg. You are so incredibly loved. Please know that you have friends all over the world who are praying for you. YOU WILL BEAT THIS. I can’t wait to see you hold up your “I kicked cancer’s ass” sign soon. MUCH LOVE

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  3. Deana

    Catherine… My name is Deana. I survived cancer once when I was 30 and again 20 years later when I was 50. I had three little girls ( One of whom is married to Dave’s friend, Tim) There is no doubt cancer sucks. But what sucks worse is not beating it. You have two beautiful children and a loving husband. It sounds like you are going to fight this all the way. That’s what you need to do. Stay strong, determined and as positive as possible. Allow people to help you when it is helpful for you and try not to get too much inside your head. It is so important to keep your faith strong and to keep positive neurons flowing in your body. I will add you to my prayer list and will follow along to see how you are doing. If you would like to scream or talk or anything in between please reach out to Tim and he’ll know how to get in touch with me. Praying for God’s strength for you and for wisdom for the doctors, nurses and other caregivers that will help you return to complete health.

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    1. Thank you so much for reaching out. I know my sister has preached to me the importance of staying mentally positive. I am trying to implement all the tools to help me get there. It just all seems so surreal still. Thank you for the support and prayers, it warms my heart to know so many people that don’t even know me have reached out ❤️

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  4. Melissa Bordelon

    Wow! I am so sorry all this is happening to you now. I feel like we are very similar in so many ways. I just had my second daughter 3 months ago. My oldest is 3.5 years old. I found out when I was 20 that I had a brain tumor. Definitely a life changing thing. Nobody in my family had a history of cancer either. Not just no brain tumors, but no cancer period. I was in shock. I did IV chemotherapy. Then, in the middle of it (month 9 of 18) I became allergic to the chemotherapy. My mom had been totally against radiation (I didn’t have kids yet, and now am so grateful for that). She also found the amazing doctors at Duke University, who are #1 in the country for Brain Tumors. I was told at least 5 times that I was going TO DIE IN THE NEXT 6 MONTHS. At first it was the absolute scariest thing I’d ever been told. But I kept living. So, I quickly stopped paying attention to my doctors negativity. I’d like to offer some great advice for any type of cancer… Stay Positive! Don’t let anyone or anything get you down! You can do this! You are strong! I found out about my cancer when I was 20 years old. Almost 18 years ago. The day after Christmas this year, my doctor told me I had another growth in my brain. He didn’t even catch it, my mom did. When she asked him about it, he acted like he’d known the whole time. It’s not anything to worry about says everyone else. But I’ve already been through getting cancer, having surgeries, going through chemotherapy, etc. I don’t want to again. So, it worries me nonetheless. But I’ve learned to stay positive and put it on the back burner. (I haven’t told many people) I know you said you don’t want this to define you, and it doesn’t have to at all. But I say don’t be afraid to beat this thing! I feel like you’ve got to take it head on, everything in you is against it. You CAN (and you WILL!!!) beat this thing! Surgeons do have pretty awful bedside manner. But so do some doctors. Like mine. He’s one of the best oncologist in Baton Rouge, but he wasn’t good enough for me. That’s why I sought treatment at Duke University. I think it’s wonderful you’re getting treatment at MD Anderson. They are great. I would also look into who has the best colon and rectal cancer program in the country, possibly call them and see what they could do for you. I just want you to have the absolute BEST care out there! We all want you to live and be part of our lives for many many many years to come. To summarize what I just said…
    1) Stay Positive!!!
    2) I totally understand what you’re going through!
    3) Seek THE best treatment out there.
    I’d absolutely love to talk or text you or whatever you’d like. If you’re ever feeling down, I can pick you back up! I’m so serious about this. Please reach out to me (best is Instagram messenger) to get my number so we can talk. You have to be brave! You got this! You’re going to beat it!

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  5. Laura Manning

    Catherine, I am so so sorry you are going through this. Know that I am praying for you, David and your precious babies. Your attitude of positivity and fight will be your strength along with the prayers and love from all those that love you. 💕

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  6. Kristi coody

    Catherine, I’m so sorry your having to go through this, but know that your not alone! You have so many loving family members to support you. I did not have cancer, but did have have a similar event eight years ago- I was diagnosed with 1 giant brain aneurysm and 3 smaller ones, I had to have two surgeries. One required us to go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and I too had a 14 month old and a 3 1/2 year old. What i remember most is that i could not have gotten through that year without all the love and support of my family! I will keep you and your beautiful family in my prayers, because i know how powerful this can be!! Keep your head up, your babies need you❤️

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  7. Ashley Mitchell

    Oh, Catherine! I’m so sorry for the cards life has dealt you so suddenly, could be anyone one of us. You should know that you are loved very much, and I have no doubt that you can get through this. Positivity is key, my dear. Let me know if you need a good laugh like old times or anything at all 🙂 My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family!

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  8. Rebecca K

    Catherine, I’m so sorry to hear this news! I’m sending you all the positive vibes I can muster (currently chasing a 2.5 yr old & pregnant with our 2nd & a middle school English teacher 😋) & wish you all the best for the difficult year to come. Like everyone has already said, you’re stronger than you know (moms always are 🙂)! I’m looking forward to your updates & hearing all about how you kicked cancer’s ass! Much love!

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  9. Kristin French

    Hello Catherine. We met a few times. I just read you blog. I am so sorry to hear about this but you got this. I will continue to pray for you during this time. Continue to stay positive!

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  10. Angie

    Catherine, you and I have never met before but I look forward to giving you a HUG one day! I’m a teacher at BROADMOOR with Sara and sweet Audrey babysits my two boys, so I can recharge! I just wanted to reach out and say I’m lifting your entire family up in prayer and I hope you will feel these prayers while you’re receiving the treatments and not feel alone. I admire you’re strength, determination, real ness and guts!! I pray your sweet children bring you all the strength and determination to keep going on the days you may feel hopeless.
    Wrapping your family in prayer!
    May God wrap you in his healing arms daily, Amen

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