Living Without Fear 

Despite having an incurable disease, I’m not letting colon cancer stop me from living my life.

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I’m fortunate to have a wonderful oncologist, who puts me at ease at every office visit and helps me understand what is happening to me.

—Patrick Yaklin

Even before I had a colonoscopy to determine the cause of abdominal pains I had been having, I instinctively knew that the news wouldn’t be good. A colonoscopy and subsequent pathology report confirmed stage IIIC colorectal cancer. Because I was just 47 years old at the time of my diagnosis and had no family history of the disease, my doctor suggested that I have genetic testing, which showed that I have the MLH1 unclassified gene variant with the genetic marker for Lynch syndrome. Since this gene mutation is inherited, my doctor suggested that my siblings and children also get genetic testing. I’m happy to say my brother and sister do not have the gene mutation and my children, who are 22 and 19, will be tested when they reach 25.

Because I was so young and in such excellent health when I was diagnosed nearly a year ago, my oncologist said my prognosis looked pretty good. I underwent a surgical resection to remove as much of the tumor as possible and reconnect my colon, and I was prescribed FOLFOX (leucovorin, fluorouracil [5-FU], and oxaliplatin) to shrink the remaining tumor and kill any errant malignant cells. But because the chemotherapy regimen caused my while blood cell and platelet count to drop precipitously, my doctor switched me to five cycles of capecitabine (Xeloda). Still, at the end of my chemotherapy, I fully expected to be cancer-free.

However, 6 months of chemotherapy failed to rid me of my cancer and, in fact, a CT scan at the end of my treatment showed that the cancer had metastasized to the lymph nodes in my mediastinum, neck, and abdomen.

Confronting Mortality

I am now receiving therapy with FOLFIRI (leucovorin, 5-FU, and irinotecan), but understand that my cancer is terminal. Despite this dire prediction, I consider myself a cancer survivor and I’m doing what I can to stay positive and enjoy my life every day.

I’m fortunate to have a wonderful family and a supportive group of friends I can rely on and draw strength from, so I don’t have a lot of fear surrounding my prognosis.

I’m fortunate, too, to have a wonderful oncologist, who puts me at ease at every office visit and helps me understand what is happening to me by drawing a picture of my body and showing me the location of my tumor and where it has spread. He writes down details of the progression of the cancer and the result of my treatment and includes what he expects to happen over time. He also reassures me that there are still treatments to try after FOLFIRI to give me more time. Most of all, he responds quickly when I leave a voicemail message with questions I forgot to ask in person, and that makes me feel confident that I’m not alone in this cancer struggle.

Looking Toward the Future

Although I try to keep a positive attitude, I admit I’m not always successful, and I occasionally succumb to feelings of depression. For the most part, though, I have my sights set on the next big events in my life—like my son’s college graduation—that give me joy. Instead of looking back on my life to see what I could have done differently, my attention is on the future and all the things I want to do.

Most importantly, I’m relishing every moment I have with my family and friends, and I’m determined to live not just a purposeful life, but also one without fear. ■

Patrick Yaklin is a claims team manager in Bakersfield, California.