Thursday, November 23, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0365 - A Year of Cancer

Today is a major event for two of my nieces. They are twins and turn 31 today. That is monumental and truly worth celebrating. But...I find myself thinking - selfishlessly, no doubt - less about their moment in the sun than about my own anniversary tomorrow of my diagnosis of rectal cancer by my gastroenterologist.

A year ago today, I had my first ever colonoscopy. As I awoke from the effects of the sedative, I was told that the results indicated a fairly large tumour that was very likely to be cancerous. I began research immediately and thought that I was doing well in my response to the news I received in my groggy state. But the next day, after deciding to go to the gastroenterologist's office on my own, I heard the words, "I think you have cancer." Despite thinking that I was ready to hear the bad news, I wasn't ready at all.

The gastroenterologist showed me the photographs taken during the procedure of the tumour. He described what he found. Then he said something like, "I'm sorry. It's unusual for a man your age to have a tumour like this. But I think it is cancer." I was numb. I thanked him for his work, found my way to my car and then collapsed emotionally. After calling my wife and then my parents, I struggled back to work and then left for the day.

Even now, as I recall those events, I find the tears welling up inside. That evening, I was faced with talking to my sons about the diagnosis and what was ahead for all of us. Those were some of the most difficult conversations I've ever had. My wife and sons were devastated, as I was, but we began the process of preparing for next steps as soon as we could.

This past year has been incredibly difficult both physically and emotionally. My family has rallied around me and provided more loving support and care than I could ever have anticipated. I needed it, especially during the various treatment stages, beginning with combined chemoradiotherapy in January and February of 2006, surgery in late March, post-surgical complications throughout the month of April, gradual recovery in May and June and then chemotherapy from June to the end of September. I am recovering well now, but there are times when I feel so much older and more frail than when this process began.

My health is returning slowly. I feel pretty good these days, but it will only be one more week until I have another colonoscopy, this time with my surgeon, followed by medical appointments in December for a full physical, a CT scan of my chest, pelvis, and abdomen, a consultation with an allergist and a urologist - in other words, until close to Christmas, cancer and recurrence will again be on my mind almost constantly. My wife and sons will also be facing their own fears and uncertainties in the next few weeks, wondering what each appointment will mean. Will there be good news or bad news? Am I truly recovering or just putting in time until something else surfaces?

Truly, I think the news will be good. It's what I am expecting. But, like I indicated, thinking about this past year, especially the first few days after my initial diagnosis, is hard for me.

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