In April of 2006, I was diagnosed with Colon Cancer. I was rushed into surgery at Methodist Hospital the next day, only to find out that my surgeon, Dr. Eric Belzer, was unable to ‘get it all’… the cancer had spread to some arteries in my leg and he was not wanting to risk nicking an artery and having me potentially ‘bleed-out’. I now had half of my colon and was told that I was Stage 4, Colon Cancer.
One week later I began a 6-week program of daily radiation and was given a pump to wear, which provided the steady flow chemotherapy. When the dual treatment program was complete, I was referred to Mayo Clinic for a relatively new (at that time) treatment procedure called interactive radiation therapy. On July 31, 2006, the surgeon, Dr. David W. Larson, opened me up and removed what remained of the tumors. He had a team that included a vascular surgeon to re-route my artery, if necessary. After successfully removing the cancer, Dr. Larson placed a cone over the area where the cancer had been removed and radiated the spot directly.
After a 4 week recovery period, I began a new chemotherapy regimen that began in September, 2006 and was completed in March of 2007. I was on medical leave from October 2006 until April of 2007.
All went well (if you don’t include the major upheaval of every phase of my life). When you live with half of your colon, your digestive and elimination systems are constantly in flux. The dietary restrictions are significant and the ongoing accidents caused by the ‘need-to-go-RIGHT-NOW’ urgencies totally disrupt almost every area of one’s life. I often reminded myself to “consider the alternative”…and quit complaining.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 2010, my wife, Debbie and I were visiting our Daughter, Janelle and her family in Chicago. While at the grocery store, I needed to use the restroom. To my horror, I filled the commode with blood. I rushed home and had the same thing happen within 5 minutes of my arrival. I passed out from blood loss and was transported by ambulance to the hospital. After a week in the ICU, during which time I experienced a ‘Code Blue’, the medical team were not able to determine why I was bleeding and had me transported to Mayo Clinic via ambulance.
From December 2010 until February 2011, I was hospitalized for 54 days. After a effort to save what was left of my colon, it was determined that the intense radiation from my second surgery had ‘cooked’ my colon. On March 1, 2011, I underwent an ileostomy to remove the damaged colon.
During my rehabilitation, I was not recovering. I became dehydrated twice in two weeks and lost 15 pounds…more hospitalization. After 2 weeks of tests, an abscess was identified in my bowel. It had been nicked during my last surgery. To avoid another surgery, I spent the next 5 weeks on a feeding tube. I recovered pretty rapidly after that and on August 1st, started a new job as Principal of the Early Childhood Division at Leipzig (Germany) International School.
A cancer diagnosis isn’t always a death sentence. I want to be the voice of encouragement to others who have been diagnosed with and are currently dealing with cancer.