Oncologists give patients a nuts-and-bolts textbook assessment of their cancer. Survivors can give patients their hearts and souls. Patients need the mind, body, and the soul to survive this disease.
At age 73, I’m no shrinking violet and I don’t run to the doctor at the first sign of a problem. I practice naturopathy and can usually ward off potential health issues by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. When I began experiencing some mild discomfort in my rectum 2½ years ago, I was convinced that it was caused by hemorrhoids and took sitz baths to relieve the pain. When that failed to remedy the problem, I saw my primary care physician, who, without even examining me, suggested that I see a surgeon to have the hemorrhoids removed.
Since I hadn’t been examined and wasn’t sure what the problem was, I decided to wait before seeking other medical advice. Within a month, the pain in my rectum had increased so much, I went to the emergency room of my local hospital to seek relief. Once again, I wasn’t examined and was instead prescribed pain medication. It took two more trips to the emergency room before a doctor finally examined my rectum and made an appointment for me to see a surgeon.
Still convinced that the problem I was having was caused by nothing more serious than hemorrhoids, I was surprised when I awoke from the surgery to find my bed surrounded by a group of nurses who blurted out that I had anal cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was caught relatively early; it was stage II and localized to my anus, so my long-term prognosis is good.
I was prescribed 30 sessions of intensity-modulated radiation therapy and 2 weeks of fluorouracil chemotherapy, and today my cancer is in remission.
Cancer Is No Stranger to Me
Cancer has taken the lives of many family members, including my father, brother, and two aunts. My older sister was diagnosed with anal cancer several years ago and also survived, but she is now facing a diagnosis of breast cancer, and an older brother has recurrent skin cancer.
Despite the toll cancer has taken on my family and me, I am not afraid of the disease. I actually have more of a fascination with cancer than fear. Perhaps if I were younger and just starting out in a career or relationship, the specter of death would have more impact, but at my age, death is not a frightening prospect.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anxious to die, nor am I giving up. I still live my life to the fullest every day. I’m just saying that I am not afraid of whatever the future may hold.
Cancer and its treatments have left their mark on my life. I still experience some rectal discomfort and have to contend with frequent bowel movements that curtail my activities and keep me close to home. Still, I’ve made a lot of progress over the past few months, and I’m grateful to my oncologist and medical team for the care they have given me and continue to give me. I see my oncologist every 6 months for follow-up care assessment and monitoring, and, so far, all is well.
The one aspect of my early care that I wish I could change is that I wasn’t introduced to a survivorship forum for patients with anal cancer. As wonderful as my oncologist is, I think that talking with other survivors of the same type of cancer I have would have been hugely beneficial to me. I was never given a recommended list of online cancer forums, and I was too sick to find a local cancer support group network on my own to seek comfort and information.
Oncologists give patients a nuts-and-bolts textbook assessment of their cancer. Survivors can give patients their hearts and souls. Patients need the mind, body, and the soul to survive this disease. ■
Carol Veio lives in Clearlake, California.
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