Posts filed under ‘Colondar’

Silly Me for Trusting my Doctor

“All of my doctors didn’t listen to me.”

db-melissaHer words echo on my screen as the news of her death still sinks in. Memories travel back to several years ago at the McMaster’s house, sitting in Adirondack chairs on the deck above the ripples of Lake George, as survivor Melissa Bates shared her story with me. We’d connected online many months prior; as a 20-something rectal cancer survivor she’d found me through The Colon Club. Meeting face-to-face for the first time felt like a reunion between two soldiers who’d been through a war together.

 

I knew parts of her story. She too was from the Midwest. Her symptoms showed up in high school, she was diagnosed at age 20 while in college. I interviewed her for her 2012 Colondar bio and asked her questions to help me understand the full scope of her journey. I learned there was more to her than cancer. She loved adventure and adored her family. She had lots of friends. Her passion was horses. She liked chocolate and milk – but not chocolate milk. While several elements of her story resembled bits and pieces of other survivor stories, Melissa’s stood out.

 

Unlike so many, including myself, who didn’t call the doctor when something went wrong, Melissa called the doctor when she noticed symptoms.

Over.

And over.

And over.

 

MelissaInternal hemorrhoids and stress seemed to be reasonable explanations for her doctors who convinced themselves that the 20-year-old consistently calling their offices wasn’t sick. Thank goodness for her persistent spirit and educated approach to treatment. She finally found a GI specialist with a cancellation who would see her. She drove five hours to the appointment where he biopsied a tumor discovered during his exam. She was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer just days later when pathology reports came in – sitting on a bus by herself surrounded by other college students at Iowa State who had no idea her world had just come crashing down.

 

Surgery to remove the cancer left her with a permanent ostomy. She fought doctors yet again for fertility options before treatment began; she wanted to be a mom one day. Unfortunately, her cancer was aggressive. Although she experienced a season of remission, it later recurred and after a long, strong fight, it eventually took her life this week.

 

Swirled emotions of missing a friend and pushing through survivor’s guilt flood the colorectal cancer community each time someone dies. Especially when it’s a close friend who’s also fought the disease ‘way too young.’ As pictures of her over the years show up in our news feeds this week, we respond with the only words we have, “This is so unfair.” The injustice of her short life is unbearable; we struggle with our lack of control. We hate that we can’t change the facts.

 

e-mel-dbAs a friend who knew her story, I wrestle not only with the reality of her passing but the burden of keeping her voice heard. She had an indescribable spirit that inspired each of us privileged to consider her a friend. The obvious message of her journey is one to the medical community – no amount of blood in the stool is normal. Never ignore or deny a patient who insists something in their body is wrong. Never assume cancer can’t happen to someone young – even colorectal cancer in a 20-year-old.

 

But even as I relay those obvious messages, I hear her voice in the back of my head telling me there’s more. Kind of like the day we sat in the Adirondack chairs above the ripples of Lake George.

 

At the end of her interview that day, I asked her what she hoped her story would do for others. She gave me a kind smile, trying to mask the fact I’d just asked a big question she wasn’t prepared for. She gave me a simple, good answer about how she hoped it would encourage others to not ignore their bodies, and to push doctors to listen even when they say nothing’s wrong and make you feel crazy.

 

The next day she unexpectedly pulled me aside. Out came a crumpled, folded sheet of notebook paper filled with notes from front to back. She’d been thinking about my question all night and wanted to add more to her response. I rapidly took notes.

She wasn’t satisfied with the obvious lessons from her journey. There was more to know about Melissa Bates and her experience with cancer. Here is what she wanted the world to see – the spirit that will forever be remembered in my friend:

Embrace people who are going through the same thing.

Having colon cancer isn’t an old person’s disease.

Life isn’t over once you have a colostomy. Having an ostomy isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s improved the quality of life that I have. It was basically life or death and I chose life. Where I am in life, it’s only the beginning. My ostomy isn’t holding me back from what I want to do.

Ask a lot of questions.

– Follow your heart throughout your treatment as far as what you think would be good for you.

– Believe in yourself and in your treatment team; that positive attitude helps you through everything.

– Take time to heal.

– Don’t go back to your normal life too soon.

– My faith has helped get me through everything. He has everything planned out and knows the plan more than we do.

– One thing cancer has helped me learn is take the time to enjoy life and don’t go rushing through it all of the time.

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July 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm 4 comments

Absolutely Honored – Phoenix Undy Run

There have been a few bumps along this cancer journey that have made some of the hard days “worth it.” Hot air balloon ride? Worth it. Colondar shoot? Double worth it. And yesterday, I felt absolutely honored by my mom’s best friend, Terri, and her hubby, Bruce, who drove hours just to run in the Phoenix Undy Run in my honor (and left at 5am by the way…). Triple worth it.

To have people go out of their way to run on my behalf still has me speechless even now. I’m honored in a way that I can’t describe, except that it feels really good and really humbling. I don’t only feel so loved, but I feel like some of the hard days that I went through might be able to help someone else. Whether it’s giving them stamina to run or raising awareness that colon cancer can happen in young people, too – it’s awesome to see the message getting out there. I’m absolutely honored and humbled.

I’m thankful for the Colondar that opened the door for me to start talking about my experience, and that it got my story “out there.” (Terri met someone at the race who said she often tells my story to people she talks to in Arizona.. crazy!) And I’m so thankful for great friends who help carry on the message of colon cancer awareness … and hope for survival … from city to city, and in this case, state to state.

Thanks again Ahlfs, you absolutely made my day! (enjoy a few pics I stole from Terri’s Facebook!)

Bruce at Phoenix Undy

Terri at Phoenix Undy

Their sign for me... this rocks.

Bruce holding a copy of the 09 Colondar they got at the race!

November 20, 2011 at 7:02 am 4 comments

Humbled, Grateful and Slushie-fied

There are few places that feel like home to me. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to travel. But as someone who uses the restroom like 10 times/day, I like to feel at home.

If you would have told me five years ago that a charming lake house in upstate New York would feel like home – even with over 20 people running through it and only two bathrooms – I probably would have laughed really hard, possibly tooted, and said yeah right – I’m from the Midwest. But strangely enough, that has come true as the McMasters’ pad and all the homes that run along Hulett’s Landing in Lake George, NY are like a second home to me. Did I mention there is a slushie machine?

I’m coming down from my “colon camp” high once again and trying to reel in the feelings and emotions that come after spending four days with fellow colon cancer survivors. Last year I met up with past models at our reunion. This year, I had the amazing opportunity to go back to Lake George. I’m still tingling and humbled at the opportunity. I pray to God I never break my fingers; these babies and the power of the pen have opened up the opportunity for me to serve as part of the team that makes the Colondar happen. I’m still beside myself. Not only do I get to write the bios this year, but I just had the opportunity to sit down and interview twelve of the most inspirational people on the planet.

 

The 2012 Models

There are not many things that leave me speechless – or maybe word-less – but I’m just not even sure how to talk about the 2012 models. It’s hard to encapsulate Belle’s reactions to how great a flower smells or her first sight of Lake George. I’ll always remember Dave’s cool, calm demeanor when the gals dropped at his feet begging to hear his voice, Roger’s genuine happiness, Kim’s hilarious one-liners and Melissa, Paige and Reagan’s tales of bravery and persistence as 20-something survivors. I loved Connie and Staci’s wit, Tim’s sly smiles, and Dan’s humbled, quiet reactions toward every running comment (he’s a major marathoner.) Oh – and then there are Adam’s jokes.

Fellow Colondar models, this group is special and it’s with great honor that I got to help welcome them into our family. As I sat down with each one of them, I was struck by a common thread that ran through each of their lives: gratefulness. And as I sit back, rejoin my life (well, sort of – I’m on the beach in Florida… but that’s beside the point) I can’t get their words out of my mind.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“Be grateful for what you have.”

“Take it one day at a time.”

“Life’s awfully temporary.”

 

Being Grateful for my Life

You know, it’s funny the way life has its way of twisting and turning and going on with or without you. About half way through the weekend I was chatting with my dear friend Erika about some of the models’ comments. I realize that three years ago during my interviews, and even years earlier I would have said the same stuff. I probably still do. But I was very aware this weekend that I’ve not been living like a colon cancer survivor who knows life is temporary. I do sweat the small stuff. I forget that life is short. And with all that I’ve been given, I go through life so fast sometimes, I don’t stop and offer thanksgiving for life in general – much less everything that God has brought into it.

It’s with my deepest gratitude that I was at Lake George last weekend. What a life-changing experience once again. And while yes, I am motivated to exercise more (thanks, Dan…) I’m even more motivated to live differently; to kiss my husband more often, hug my daughter even tighter and not let one day go by without thanking God for life.

Enjoy some photos; you’ll have to wait until September for the good stuff…

Kansas City represent!

The 2012 models

Cancer buddies

June 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm 4 comments

Oh Yeah… My Blog!

Wait – I have a blog? Oh yeah…

Sorry guys, in the midst of working for the church, growing my small business and um, getting the hang of this mom thing – good ole’ Semicolon Stories has gotten the shaft. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Our dogs feel the same way too.

But, I’m just checking in to say hello to the blog world, and that life here is good, busy, changing, yet good. Let’s see here… for a few updates…

  • My hubby is about ready to change careers and bring his teaching gig to an end in about a week. He’ll be joining me in the website arena and working on CSS for a website company.
  • Mae’s doing great. She’s doing this awesome rock-n-roll, I’m about to crawl thing now. She’s really great at getting on all fours and then lunging. I love it – it’s not pretty but she doesn’t care. She can get anywhere she wants these days – except out of her bed and onto my plate.
  • I’m doing well! Health-wise, I got the “all clear” again this week after another CT scan. Docs wanted to make sure that the pelvic activity showing up on the scans is still just scar tissue. The CT last week didn’t show any concerns. Hallelujah.
  • I’m working like a beast – that is my imagination of how a beast would work. I’m also in the midst of approaching a healthy balance between my full-time job and side business, so in the meantime I’m keeping rather… active. But don’t worry – it will be changing soon. Promise.
  • And my last bit of WAY exciting news for now-
    (no we don’t have another kid stashed away or anything like that…)
    But – I am headed to NEW YORK again in a few weeks for the 2012 COLONDAR SHOOT!
    Oh my friends, I am so excited, honored and in awe that I get to return to the magical place of all-things Colondar. I’ve been asked to write the bios for the new 12 calendar models. I can’t wait to meet them, to write their heroic stories, to make more friends who’ve also experienced colon cancer at a young age, and to return to see good friends at the shoot.

So, that’s a short and quick update! I’ll make it a goal to post more soon but in the meantime, we’ll just be chilling in a laundry basket.

May 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm Leave a comment


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