Coping with Colon Cancer

by Sarah WartellSurvivor, Colon CancerApril 10, 2022View more posts from Sarah Wartell

In July 2021, my doctors declared me NED, which means no evidence of disease! Suck it, cancer. 

I feel super lucky to be joining a new group of warriors: cancer survivors. I am six months post-chemo and surgery after battling stage III colon cancer for nearly eight months. This is my story of breathing through that beast. It is my intended hope that this information helps someone or offers support to those who might be going through cancer. 

In January of 2021, I started to have trouble with abdominal pain. I was spending a lot of uncomfortable time in the bathroom, my appetite wasn’t normal and I was losing weight like crazy. Nausea and intermittent vomiting would happen with no notice or warning. The first time I went to the emergency room I had a CT, bloodwork and an ultrasound done. My CT showed my transverse area was blocked from evaluation and needed further examination, otherwise all was fine.

If the doctors had been paying attention to that info, I believe my staging wouldn’t have been as severe. My bloodwork was completely normal, and they gave me fluids, eventually sending me home with instructions to call my doctor if symptoms worsened. They did. Two more ER visits occurred and multiple virtual physician calls where countless labs were ordered. No answers nor relief for over two and a half months. My physicians at that time thought I had food poisoning or giardia from our dogs. I lost over 20 pounds, and after a much needed doctor switch, it triggered an order to meet with a gastrointestinal surgeon ASAP. They scheduled me for an endoscopy and colonoscopy. It was the day of those procedures that I learned there was a malignant mass requiring surgery in the area that had been noted in my CT scan. Cancer. 

We jumped into researching and considering the referrals we had been given. We opted to go with the amazing oncology team at UCHealth. They saved my life. Meeting with UCHealth for the first time included bloodwork, diagnostics, being introduced to the specialists that are responsible for your care and formulating the best plan to kick your cancer’s butt. Mine included a total left-sided colectomy (the mass and 19+ inches of my colon removed), having a power port inserted, followed by two types of chemotherapy, oral (Xeloda) and intravenous (Oxaliplatin). I recovered from surgery over the course of four weeks and then had my port inserted, which is where all future bloodwork and chemo would go through. It is literally an IV line that pumps medications directly through and out of my heart to my body, which is crazy and amazing. 

After healing, I finished five months of chemotherapy. It involved one day of IV infusion and seven oral pills daily for two weeks, with one rest week between the four rounds. My symptoms during chemo and a few months afterward varied on any given day. They include neuropathy of my hands and feet, nausea, chronic abdominal issues, brain fog, infrequent lack of creativity, fatigue, paleness, lack of appetite, weight loss and issues with swallowing. I am now six months post-chemo and can happily report those symptoms have subsided — yay! Why is this so important to share? On average 1 out of 20 individuals are impacted by colon cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. These statistics aren’t meant to frighten you, but they do mean to serve as a wakeup call about how common this disease really is. 

The good news is, because of research, there are over a million survivors of colon cancer in the U.S. currently. In my particular case, being young, thin-framed, with perfect lab results and in my early 40’s didn’t help my doctors reach a diagnosis in a timely fashion. Procedures like colonoscopies don’t often get ordered unless you are 45. That investigative surgery saved my life by finding the mass. 

I am grateful to be in a place of healing versus disease. For those actively in treatment, I am cheering for you and deeply empathize with your experience! And for patients and their caregivers who have journeyed and lost their lives to this horrible disease, my heart holds a special place for your healing and peace. Symptoms alone can’t diagnose cancer, even as horrible as they are. Consult with your physician if you are exhibiting any listed below. You know your body best, listen to your gut and take action. It could save your life.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in your stool
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Change in bowel habits: narrow stool, diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue and/or low iron/anemia

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