What you’re about to read is a brief overview of my first cancer diagnoses. During this time, my father was also going through his battle with cancer as well. This was truly a cruel summer…
As I was walking across my college campus the first day of summer classes in May of 2012, I decided to call my father. I wanted to let him know I was going to the doctor later about the pain I was starting to feel in my abdomen a few weeks earlier. Before I could even say good morning, he informs me that he has been given approximately one year to live and was diagnosed with “terminal” stage 4 esophageal cancer. My “Good morning to you too dad” quickly became tears as I braced for a conversation I was not ready for.
Later that day, I went to my doctor’s appointment for the pain I was feeling. The doctor recommended taking some laxatives and mild pain medicine to see if that would help. The only result was being able to go to the bathroom again; it did nothing for my pain. As my focus was on my father, I learned he would start his radiation treatments in 3 weeks. At which point I was now checking into the hospital for the first time. I developed massive stomach pains in my lower abdomen. The doctors were unable to find anything wrong even after performing a CT scan; so they sent me home with laxatives and pain medicine. During my hospitalization my wife and son were in Florida on vacation. My wife was starting to become worried and was about to come home when I told her they found nothing wrong with me. Afterwards I called my Father and told him everything looked fine and they sent me home. I know that news helped to decrease my father’s stress levels.
Two days later I was in the gastrointestinal doctors’ office waiting to be seen. As I was waiting in one of the rooms curled up in the fetal position, the doctor walked in. The pain was too much. I could not take this anymore. The doctor took one look at me and sent me to the hospital. I was now checking into the hospital once again, but with twice the pain. The doctor’s treated it the same way, CT scan, pumping me full of laxatives and pain meds, handed me a bunch of prescriptions for drugs, and then sent me home. I was told I could have Diverticulitis or Ulcerative Colitis and that I needed to get started on the medication as soon as possible. By this time my wife had enough and she was heading home. The stress my entire family was starting to feel was becoming overwhelming. For my Dad, the daily radiation treatment he was undergoing was hard enough, but adding the stress of worrying about me on top of everything else just made it that much worse. This, in turn, put me through a massive guilt trip because my father’s health was not getting any better and my being sick was adding to his pain.
My father vacillated between “things are looking better” and “let’s admit you to the hospital.” That same week I starting having severe stomach pains, and once again I was checking into a hospital with the same signs and symptoms as the times before. Without family in the area, we had to make arrangements for our son as well. Now my father and I are both in the hospital, he was in Florida and myself in North Carolina. My father at this time was having stents and a feeding tube put in. I am now going through all kinds of scans and blood tests. My father was doing better so they released him so he could return home. I on the other hand was now admitted to Moses Cone Hospital. By this time I have collectively spent almost two weeks in the hospital and they still have know idea what is wrong with me. The doctor finally sends me for a colonoscopy. When I start to wakeup from this procedure I find my wife and two surgeons are with me. The surgeons inform me that I must undergo surgery in the morning to have a mass removed from my sigmoid colon. After speaking with my wife I call my father to tell him the news. Now, just try to sleep knowing that your father thinks you have cancer while he is going through his own battle, and there is nothing he can do other then cry.
The next morning I was wheeled down towards pre-op. As I gave my wife a kiss, I could see her tear up. I told her I loved her one more time as the door opened into the pre-op room. Once I am situated, a nurse came over and drew a circle on me for the colostomy bag, you know, just incase. That was the moment when I started to get worried, that is when I knew this was not just a bad dream. The doctor came over and closed the curtain. He began to explain what they were getting ready to do. Honestly, it went in one ear and out the other. The only thing I could focus on was that I might have to wear a colostomy bag. When there was a pause, I felt the need to make light of the fact that I am now freaking out! I said in a tear filled voice, “please send someone to Home Depot and get some flex pip and some glue because I am not wearing that bag!” There was a slight laugh by all, other than myself. Shortly after I was wheeled into the O.R.
Six hours had now past and I started to wake up in pure hell. From the time they woke me until I fell asleep again was will over 24 hours. All of those hours were filled with unbearable pain and phone conversations with family members and friends. That, and watching my wife cry and pray for me. My surgery was on 06/29/2012, on 07/02/2012, being just 34 years old, I was diagnosed with having stage III colon cancer. The first person I called to tell, after my wife and I cried and talked, was my father. I know cancer can hit at anytime, even when both father and son are dealing with the disease, it can still hit. On 07/04/2012, I walked out of the hospital after a long and painful stay. Now that my recovery was in full swing, I would start chemotherapy in a month.
My wife and son were my motivation during my recovery. My son and I would walk in front of our house when I could manage. I would walk hunched over, with my son next to me, as car after car and neighbor after neighbor would stop us to ask if I was okay. It became annoying but funny at the same time. My son would ask if I thought anyone was going to stop us today before we would leave the house, and sure enough someone would. We would both laugh about it then keep moving. He pushed me to go further each day. My wife made sure I didn’t do anything stupid and kept me alive. She did everything for me. It is difficult to put into words what she means to me and how blessed I am to have her.
On 07/16/2012, things turned for the worse for my dad. His struggle had now come to a very sudden end. With a heavy heart and indescribable pain my focus would turn to saying good-bye to my father. At approximately 11:15pm my stepmother calls me; “They don’t think your Father is going to make it through the night.” She then holds the phone to my fathers’ ear. “I love you dad.” I hear him say in a pain filled voice “I love you too.” Little did I know, that would be the last time I would get to hear my fathers voice. I could not fly down to Florida to see him because there was a fear of me throwing a blood clot being only 17 days out of surgery. Therefore we decide to drive. Around 2:00am on 07/17/2012, my phone rings, “Chris, your father passed in his sleep… I’m sorry.” That was the longest and most painful 12-hour car ride of my life, and I do mean painful.
Around four hours into the trip my back starts to hurt, so we pulled over to get some breakfast and I tried to stretch. About an hour later I started feeling pain in my legs. Next, the pain was in my arms and neck. When we were a little over halfway into the trip my wife was ready to pull into the nearest hospital. I was in an immense amount of pain. I insisted we keep going. The pain only increased the closer we got to FL. Not wanting to stop at a hospital, I just rode it out. We drove straight to my father’s house. My stepmother, brother, and the rest of my stepmother’s family were all there. As I walked in the door tears started to fall. By this time I have been up for two days and was longing for the pain I was in to stop. My stepmother grabbed my father’s pain medicine, I announced out loud to my father I was taking some, and then thanked him when it started to work. I still could not get over the fact that my father, my best friend, just passed away. As I thought about what all of this must be doing to my son, he came over. I know how I was feeling, but I could only imagine how this must have affected him. I hugged my son; he looked at me and asked if I was okay. “Yeah, I am okay,” then I gave him another tear filled hug.
We returned home a few days after my father’s service. Just in time for me to get my port-a-cath installed in my chest.
My first round of chemotherapy was on 8/06/12. My chemo cocktail consisted of 5-FU (Fluorouracil), leucovorin, and oxaliplatin, otherwise known as FOLFOX. To this day, I have never puked more or have gotten any sicker than after that first treatment. My doctor informed me from the beginning that he was going to be very aggressive with the chemo, he was not kidding.
Me being goofy…
Thank God my son was not around to see me that day, but thank God my wife was. I would not have made it through the rest of that day if it were not for her. To think, this was just the start of chemo, I had 11 more of these things to go. Then on 08/18/12, just a couple of days before my next round of chemo, my grandfather passed away. My family history is filled with cancer and my grandfather became the next unfortunate victim of the disease. He had lung cancer, beat that, next cancer moved to his neck with thyroid cancer, beat that, and finally it moved into his brain. My grandfather lived a very difficult life in his later years leading into his death. We will all miss him.
One true aspect of being sick and starting the road to recovery is that life goes on! My path may have been altered but I am still a husband, father, a personal trainer, a student, and financially responsible for my family. I believe things happen for a reason. Obstacles are placed in front of us on a daily basis. With enough willpower and drive anything is possible. I am a firm believer I was given a path in life that involves fitness and understanding the complexity of the human body for a reason. My chemo treatments were every other Monday for 6 months. I started to hate Mondays, but they could not keep me down. Trust me they tired! I am not saying it was not hard, because it was hard as hell! The reality check of being so strong and fit to being sick, really sick, had now set in. With my “Buddy Pack” (my take home pump of 5-FU) in place, my life had to move forward. I returned to my normal life schedule. I was slower, my energy levels where extremely low, but I had to get back to work and making life as normal as it could be. At this time everything became a lot more challenging, I learned quickly all that I had taken for granted. Life prepares us for the road ahead. My love for fitness and being a strong physical person before cancer was now paying off.
My son only wanted to come with me for one of my chemo treatments. As he put it, one time was enough. My wife came to every treatment. With the exception of one, when I wanted to go by myself. As difficult as it was for her to understand at the time, I needed to go through the process one time alone. Friends would stop in during most treatments to have lunch and hangout with me. I was also blessed to have the best nursing staff around taking care of me. On my last chemo treatment, I got to ring the chemo bell, signifying life.