My life as a semicolon began in 2001 when I was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer at age 17. My days of high school theater and algebra were suddenly switched to chemo, radiation and colon surgery. I went through cancer treatment and a colon resection surgery. But after about seven months, I was on my way to healthy living once again.
For eight years, I lived as a happy semicolon. Sure, my awareness for where the bathrooms were located was a tad higher than most of my college friends, but I learned how to live with it. I found a new normal after having about a foot of colon removed, and was happy when the days of food “testing” were over and I knew what I could and couldn’t eat … at least while dining out.
I got married (to my caretaker and high school sweetheart – Mike), finished college and started my first “big girl” job in advertising, hoping to one day work in PR for a cancer non-profit. I was a proud cancer survivor, but considered myself cured; and thankful those days were over.
In 2007, I discovered The Colon Club while looking for advice for young cancer survivors. This non-profit organization had formed a few years earlier and was made up of people just like me. I’d never met another young colon cancer patient – much less someone in their 20s and 30s! Although my cancer days were behind me, I noticed that the organization accepted applications for young colon cancer survivors to model for their calendar — The Colondar. I figured I’d apply. Next thing I knew I was flying to upstate New York for a photo shoot and posing as Miss October 2009 — an experience that prepared me for the next leg of my cancer journey.
Colon Cancer: Take Two
In Dec. 2008, my GI doc (Dr. Marc Taormina – love him) discovered a questionable polyp during a routine colonoscopy. (It had been three years since my last scope.) Because the polyp was concerning and I had a colon cancer history, he recommended a subtotal colectomy (remove all but a few inches of my large intestine) as a way to eliminate much of my cancer risk and prevent its return. I waited a few months until summer (in truth – I wanted to keep my plans and run a colon cancer 5K that spring) and then scheduled surgery. It was during (what we thought was preventative) surgery that we realized the polyp was questionable because it was indeed another cancer. I was then diagnosed with Stage I colon cancer – my second occurrence at age 25.
Processing cancer as a teen versus a twenty-something was a very different experience. Not only was I coping with how to handle living with just inches of bowel — but I was facing new emotions my teenage-self hadn’t handled (or maybe even realized.) Although I didn’t need chemo or radiation again, I was facing the emotional side of cancer in a new way. My friends from The Colon Club helped get me through. And as a way to cope and process the changes, I began my blog, Semicolon Stories. I figured I might as well find a way to share my story and help others while I was at it.
Adopting After Cancer
I struggled after my second diagnosis, not only with the cancer but also with the fertility-side of things. Although I knew adoption was the route for my husband and I to have a family (cancer #1 put us in that boat), we had been looking into the international adoption process. A new cancer diagnosis didn’t only set back our timeline, but it closed a few doors.
After a season of emotional healing, we sought out our options for adopting and had opportunity to work with a domestic adoption agency just a year after my surgery and cancer #2. Doctors cleared me for being a healthy, suitable mother. So on we went to start our home study.
We began the adoption process in September 2010, completed our home study and before our paperwork was ever processed with the adoption agency so pregnant birth moms could see our profile, we had an opportunity come our way to adopt a baby from our hometown. Ironically (or not…), the 4-month old baby girl we adopted in January 2011 was indeed born the very month we began our adoption process.
Diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome
Once the shock of a second cancer passed, our adoption craze settled down and life got to a “new normal,” doctors began talking to me about a genetic condition they suspected caused my cancers — Lynch Syndrome. Genetic testing in 2001 and again in 2009 had indicated something genetically was wrong, but the research was primitive and details unclear. However, because of my young age and two occurrences of colorectal cancer, doctors recommended I be treated as a Lynch Syndrome patient– which involved a total hysterectomy in 2012, a new schedule of yearly colonoscopies and other tests to prevent another cancer occurrence.
In 2013, I was relieved that the hysterectomy wasn’t “for nothing” since it was confirmed that I have Lynch Syndrome. But, I had yet another curve ball come my way when neither my mom nor dad tested positive for the gene variant — meaning that although I have an inherited genetic disease, I didn’t actually inherit it.
And basically – we are all still scratching our heads.
How I’m Handling Everything
Through over a decade of living and fighting colorectal cancer, I’ve experienced many levels and layers to this disease. I’ve ignored it, downplayed it, shared it, been empowered by it and lived in fear of it. I’ve hit just about every physical, emotional, mental and spiritual issue that can come with cancer … and particularly as a young adult.
But I will say through it all, I’ve been blessed with the faith to get me through, support from friends and family and amazing opportunities to use my experience to encourage others (and publicly tell poop jokes.) Everything from my career to my family to my closest friends has been somehow touched and guided by my cancer experience.
In summer 2013, I had another “full circle” moment as I began working for a national colorectal cancer organization – Fight Colorectal Cancer. Putting my PR skills to use (and getting to work in my dream job), I joined the team to become the Director of Communications. I love not only working on things like our website and social media, but also connecting with other survivors in the fight.
While I would not wish colorectal cancer on anyone — and I share my story to try to prevent it in others — I do try to see my experience as a gift God’s given me to share hope. To let others suffering know they are not alone. And to spread a message that while bad things may happen, there is still a lot of good to be had in this world. (Even if I have to remind myself from time to time.)
If you want to read the journey, read the blog’s first post from 2009