Archive for the ‘Colon Cancer story’ category

Chapter 7, Back to work

February 16, 2010

A warm reception greeted me when I went back to work. A stream of coworkers would come by and wished me well and how it was nice to see me as I was at my desk going over a month’s worth of emails. It took a couple of days to get back into the “work” mentality but by the end of the first week I was back into the groove. The second week I got an email regarding the interview for Channel 7 news.

It was on.

It’s scheduled for the following week at 10:30, it will be between the surgeon and I, the interviewer would be Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

I’m both excited and scared.

Then I got another email from the hospital publicist saying that something has come up and it’s off.
The next day I go about my work when I got another email from the hospital publicist – it’s on again. The interview will be at the surgeon’s office in Union Square East – on the 2nd floor – my primary Dr. is in the 3rd floor.

I scheduled the interview after my appointment with my primary doctor. I figured I’ll kill 2 birds with one stone.
In my primary Dr’s office I tell her of the interview-
“Are you excited?” asked my doctor.
“I’m more nervous than excited” I replied.
“Oh, you’ll do fine, I’m going to have a patient that’s going to be on TV! you have to let me know when you’re on”.

I’m in my surgeon’s clinic, escorted to an exam room by the floor nurse. She tells me that the TV crew isn’t in yet. I read a pamphlet as I hear voices of both the Physician’s Assistant and Surgeon in the office across the hall.

“Where is Cynthia?” the surgeon asked the PA.

I immediately closed the pamphlet and ran to them.

“Here I am!” I exclaimed.

The surgeon turned, we say our hellos and escorts me to another exam room.
“They’re here” he said as he and I enter the room.

In the room is the producer of the segment, the cameraman and Dr. Jay Adlersberg. We all introduce each other and Dr. Adlersberg tells the surgeon and I what will happen.

I’m interviewed first, then the surgeon.

“Cindy, you will sit on the exam table and I will ask you a series of questions – look at me when you respond – not the camera” said Dr. Adlersberg.

Easier said than done since there is a glaring light sticking out at the end of the camera.

So I sit at the exam table as the mic is hooked on the front of my blouse, I’m nervous as hell and trying my best not to show it. Dr. Jay Adlersberg is sitting across from me.

“Now, before we start I need you to say and spell your name”

I said and spelled my name.

Then Dr. Adlesberg asked me how I was diagnosed, I told him about the Oprah show and how I recognized the symptoms by watching Dr. Oz talk about “Good poop, bad poop”.

This fascinated Dr. Adlesberg, he asked me how old I was.

“I was 45 when I was diagnosed” I replied.

The interview seemed to have gone on forever with lots of questions.

Then the subject of my scar came about as well as the CT scan, Dr. Adlesberg said if they could film me with the scar, I said sure.

Next thing I know I’m lying with the sheet over me – the surgeon on one side and the cameraman on the other – Dr. Adlesberg told the doctor to make it seem like a consult and ask me typical questions.

That went smoothly.

Then Dr. Adlesberg wanted the surgeon to bring up the CT scan in the monitor that was sitting on the desk in the room. So there we are, me in the chair – the surgeon and the CT scan with the tumor in fill glory – and the cameraman catching all of this.

At one point it was just the cameraman, the surgeon and I in the room and we were started a conversation.

The cameraman wanted to know where both the surgeon and I lived.

“Midtown Manhattan” I replied.

The surgeon mentioned a place in New Jersey.

“Oh, that’s where I live” replied the cameraman, “yeah, someone bought the house in back of us and is expanding it, Sometimes my wife and I look out and see the progress – they are putting in this large addition- almost the size of the original house and we were wondering who on earth is doing that?”

Then he went on to say “I found out that this big shot Doctor from the city is doing that” the cameraman continued.

At that point the surgeon stretched out his hand and said “Welcome neighbor”

The shocked cameraman shook his hand.

“Come on” the surgeon said, “The house isn’t that big”

The cameraman and surgeon were talking about the neighborhood when Dr. Adlesberg came in and told me that he will interview the surgeon and my part is done, but he wanted a shot of me walking into the office.

I was outside when the producer approached me and said that Dr. Oz is going to have his own show and If I would be interested in being a guest.

I said “I love Dr. Oz, yes, I would love to be a guest, would his show be in New York?”

“Yes” she said, “The show will be in the former Conan O’ Brian studios”.
I tried to conceal my excitement as the conversation continued.

Dr. Oz. is going to have his own show and I might be a guest? this is beyond exciting! I kept saying to myself as I left the surgeon’s office and on my way to Port Authority.

I said my goodbyes and went to work.
At Port Authority waiting for the bus to Ridgefield Park, NJ (I couldn’t afford to drive to work anymore so I managed to find a garage in Mt Vernon, Westchester to house the car for $85.00 a month)  I called my friend (she’s was the one who accompanied me when I was discharged from the hospital) and told her about the interview and the news that Dr. Oz is going to have his own show and that I might be a guest.

“Dr. Oz is going to have his own show, wow! that’s news” she replied.

“Yes, and there is a possibility that I might be a guest!”
At that moment the bus comes and I board.

I grabbed a sandwich at the deli in the located a floor below my job, sat down at my desk going through assignments left for me by the marketing manager. I’m grateful that it’s lunch hour and most of the staff is out to lunch. I did tell everyone that I had a Dr’s appointment but said nothing about the interview.

The interview took just under an hour.

Here’s the clip:

Colon Cancer test


Chapter 4 Pre-op

September 10, 2009

The surgery is set for January 27th; two weeks away¬–which turned out to be the longest two weeks of my life. During the day everything was fine, I was kept busy at work. But at night… at night is a different story– sleeping turned into a challenge… my mind would race with nothing but “what if’s”… “What if the surgery wasn’t a success… what if the cancer would come back in another part of my body?” I told a friend and mentor of mine my dilemma and she came over with a small bag full of homeopathic sleep remedies she bought at her neighborhood health food store. Another friend told me about Tai Chi classes held at Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport early weekend mornings with Master Ru, I started that right away. A third friend told me about an acupuncturist she goes to in China Town that is amazing so I started getting treatments twice a week; anything to keep me occupied.
When faced with adversity I believe in the power laughter, as well as maintaining
a positive outlook – so I’ve filled up my Netflix queue with nothing but comedies.
All the Marx Brother’s movies, Buster Keaton, I ordered the complete box set of the British comedy “Absolutely Fabulous” as well as the box set of the 60’s British cult series “The Avengers- the Emma Peel episodes” ok, that wasn’t a comedy – but I remember seeing it when I was a child and thought it was a very cool show.
My Netflix queue had to include all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes, as well as the beyond funny movie “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world” along with some Charlie Chaplin thrown in.
So that’s how I spent my time before the surgery …work by day & watching comedies at night followed by the homeopathic sleeping pill.
Three days before surgery I was instructed by the Physician’s assistant to have a liquid only diet, light color liquid only – no dark liquids like cranberry or grape juice.

It was a snowy, grey January morning the day of the surgery. I fished for my PDA from my purse to see the time as the Second Ave bus came to the 42nd street stop. 6:33 am it reads as I board the bus on my way to Beth Israel Hosp. on 17th and first. My dear friend and mentor Karen Santry will meet me at the hosp. lobby so I won’t be alone when I registered.
The registration process was uneventful, I was asked the usual questions – verify my name, address, insurance info and such. Then my left wrist was fastened with a white ID band “now you belong to an elite group” Karen said as I checked to make sure the information was correct.
Karen said her goodbyes as I was whisked away into a change area where I would go from a person to a patient. I was given a large tote bag where I would put my clothes and given a blue hospital gown made of a lightweight paper like material. Afterward I was interviewed by a nurse who sat by a monitor and verified what I was going to have done.
Next thing I knew I was in the pre-op room laying on a bed covered in a sheet.
“Are you cold?” a nurse asked.
“No, I’m fine” I answered as I was scanning the room. It was a room that had several stalls that was divided by curtains. I saw that most stalls were filled and some had family members/friends.
I didn’t know you could bring people in here I said to myself.
I laid there watching the drama unfold in front of me… nurses fluttering around, one or 2 would check on me and my vitals, the constant ringing of the wall phone, Doctors running in and out either in scrubs or in white overcoats. Then I saw my surgeon as he walked in dressed in purple scrubs. He looked around, – I smile as I recognize him and at first he gives me a quizzical look – and then there’s the gleam of recognition in his eyes as he walks towards me.
Both of us smiling we say our hellos and he tells me what the next steps would be.
“In a few minutes the anesthesiologist would set you up with an IV, soon you would be asleep and then you will be transported to the OR”. I asked how long the operation would be and he answered “Several hours” as he was flipping through a thick 3 ring binder he pulled from the foot of the bed. We exchange a few words and he runs off and on queue the anesthesiologist comes in and introduced himself.
He proceeded to tell me step by step what’s about to happen.

Since this is major surgery, general anesthesia will be use. First you will feel a prick

he said as he started the IV.
As I laid there waiting for the effect of the IV my eyes gazed at the wall clock;
its 10:25am.
Fear was creeping over me.
This is it I said to myself. I am not scared…I will not cry I kept chanting over and over again to myself fighting back the tears.
I was starting to feel the anesthesia setting in, started feeling …sleepy.
At the corner of my eye I noticed someone approaching my bed.
Another doctor.
He was wearing a white overcoat as he stops over the foot of my bed and pulls up the 3 ring binder- opened it- flipped through a couple of pages and started reading.
He must have felt a pair of eyes staring at him because he looked up, closed the binder and introduced himself.
His face was the last image I saw before I went off into oblivion.

Chapter 3 The Consult

September 1, 2009

The appointment for the surgical consult was a week away-
“Is that the earliest?” I asked the receptionist, wanting to see the surgeon that very afternoon.
“Yes, that’s the earliest” she said as she looked at me with sad, concerned eyes as she proceeded to write the info on an appointment card… I guess she knew.
I left the Gastro Dr.s office in that bitter cold January morning and called my friend to tell her the news. She said her mom had the same thing 10 years prior and it was caught in time before it metastasized, it too was a tumor.
“How big was it?” I asked as I walked to the train station to the Port Authority. “About an inch” the voice on the other end of my PDA replied.
“This one’s bigger”, I answered, ignoring the cold “How old was your mom when she was diagnosed?” “She was 62″
“You see, that’s where I’m in shock, I’m way too young to have this happen” (I was 45) I said in disbelief.
“Try not to think of it”, (easier said than done) “When is the consult? I’ll go with you, I’ll call later”
I called another dear friend of mine while I was waiting for the bus to take me to work at the Port Authority.
I went to work that day not confiding to anyone. As it happens, it was a colleagues birthday that January 9th , and … as the office celebrated with a collaborative “Happy birthday” followed by cake I couldn’t help but wonder if this was going to be my last year on earth… I thought as a slice of cake was handed to me.

The appointment day finally arrived, it was early morning and I had two friends of mine join me for both moral support and to absorb the information since I was still in a state of dazed shock.
At the waiting room my friends and I sat down and, while they talked about everyday stuff I was busy filling out the paperwork that was handed to me. Before long my name was called, and while my friends and I entered the room I was greeted by a woman with caring big blue eyes and bright smile wearing the familiar garb doctors wear – long white overcoat complete with stethoscope around her neck. She introduced herself as the Surgeon’s physician’s assistant. She instructed us to be seated and the surgeon will be in shortly.
After a few long minutes in came the surgeon, I was amazed at how young he looked.
He has a handsome compassionate face, a great disposition complete with a quick smile, a twinkle in his eye and soft voice.
He exuded confidence regarding the pending surgery; he gave best case and worst case scenarios, Best case being that the tumor is completely removed followed by a 6 month stint of chemotherapy as a precaution. Worst case is that they operate and find that they can’t remove the tumor because of its size; at that point I will be given chemo treatments until the tumor is small enough so that they could operate and remove it.
“How big is the tumor?” I was able to ask.
“Oh, it’s large” he replied. “Would you like to see it?”
Before I had a chance to respond …he did something I was not prepared for… he pulled up my CT scan showing my tumor in all its glory right there in the 15 inch monitor. Next thing I knew I was face to face with my new enemy… I was shocked at the sight and relieved that my friends were there taking notes… because I was too stunned.
“What’s the size?” I asked, fixated on the monitor.
“Well it’s….” there was a measurement in centimeters in the middle of the screen next to image of the tumor, he started counting down with the mouse… “One, two three, four, five…” that’s where the measurement ended and the length of the tumor went beyond that.
“It looks to be about the size of a small grapefruit”

There was a moment of stunned silence in the office.

A friend of mine asked what stage it is – “Stage 3” he replied. He went on to say that, based on its size; it’s about three years old.

That means it formed when I was 42!

Who thinks about getting a colonoscopy at 42?! My biggest worry at that time was if I was pregnant/not pregnant, not if I had a mad polyp in my colon.

As if ready my mind the surgeon said that it started out as a polyp, and then it just grew.
“But… I had no symptoms, no bleeding, pain…anything” I said. Then I told him of the Oprah episode I just by chance watched in which Dr. Oz talked about “The poop discussion”. We talked about that and how lucky I was to have caught the episode, recognized the symptoms and talked to my Dr. about it.
No joke, I said to myself.
“Why didn’t I have any pains if it was that size” I asked.
The surgeon explained that it’s the location- it’s on the right side – The tumor was in the Caesum which is a saclike cavity. It’s the large blind pouch forming the beginning of the large intestine.
The Caesum has the small opening where the green like liquid substance empties into before it goes to the large intestine which extracts moisture from food residues which are later excreted as feces – so the symptoms wouldn’t have surfaced until it was in the late stages.
He also mentioned that the tumor was pressing up against the muscles of my abdomen, and it’s dangerously close to my kidney – but not to worry – the kidney is clear so it looks like it could be saved.
I was at risk of losing a kidney?! This was just too much information to grasp. Although it was still early in the morning… I was already in the mood for a stiff drink.
Next thing I knew I was laying on the examination table and the surgeon was kneading the right side of my abdomen. “Yes, I could feel it right here” he said.
“Are you busy this afternoon? Can the surgery be done then?” I said half-jokingly. I just wanted this thing out… now!
The surgeon laughed and said it will be done on the 27th; this was the 16th of January … almost 2 weeks away.
One of my friends was busy writing everything down; grateful she was doing this since I was in no way capable of such a task.
I remember the physician’s assistant was back in the office talking to the surgeon. Then I went with her to her office as the surgeon said his goodbyes and runs off, followed by my friends saying their goodbyes as they ran off to work.

Alone with the physician’s assistant she told me of the next steps and gave me a printout of how to prep myself days before surgery.
Next thing I remember I was on the Port Authority bus on my way back to work, trying to absorb the morning’s events.

Chapter 2 The Obstruction

September 1, 2009

At that moment my mind went blank, “an obstruction… what does that mean?” deep down knowing full well what it meant, but I had to hear it from him.
“There’s something in the way, I couldn’t go any further”. He replied, “I need you to lie on the table”. Which I did, still trying to comprehend what’s happening.
He felt my abdomen and replied that he could feel something on my right side. “See, on your left side I feel nothing” he said as he was kneading my left side, “but on the right I could feel something… right here” as he kneaded my right side.
“I’m going to send you to get a CT scan, I’ll have the front desk make the appointments”.
A week later I was in Beth Israel Hosp. getting a CT scan. As I was in the waiting room drinking this liquid before the procedure I looked around at the other patients waiting to have similar testing done. Not one of them looked to be under 60. “What am I doing here?” I said to myself as I was drinking this liquid. Still in disbelief, I was convinced that the CT scan would reveal that everything is negative, and the Dr. was wrong.

I went about my life and pushed back the thought of the “obstruction” until the following week when I went back to the Gastroenterologist’s office with the results.
I was back in the Gastroenterologist’s exam room when he came in with the same concerned look in his eyes.

That made me worried.

“Well, you have a large tumor which points to Colon Cancer”.

With a nervous laugh I replied that he must have the wrong file, I’m the healthiest person I know.

He looked down at the file and said… “No… I’ll read you the results of the CT scan…”.

As he was reading the results my mind was racing… how could this be happening to me?!! Why would this be happening… to me?!!

And me without a bucket list!

My life flashed before me, grateful for my past accomplishments but was looking forward to a lot more.
“What’s the next step”? I asked.
“The next step is a surgical consult, you will need to have this tumor removed immediately, I know of an excellent surgeon that has performed many procedures, I’ll have the front desk make the appointment”
“Ok, that’s fine” I replied stunned, I looked down my PDA and saw the time; I made a remark that I wouldn’t be too late for work.
“Your going to back work?” he replied, shocked.
“Yes… what else should I do?”
That’s how I handle stressful situations; I would keep busy so I wouldn’t have to think about it.

Thinking is bad in these situations.

After the front desk made the appointment for the surgical consult I went outside, which in early January happened to be the coldest day to the year. I called my friend to tell her what happened.

Funny thing is, I just started this job in New Jersey back in Late August and just past the probation period, and I now have health insurance.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

The journey begins…

August 21, 2009

I was born in Spanish Harlem, NY…

Just kidding.

My journey started out innocently enough, during a doctor’s visit a blood test reveled that I was anemic so my Dr. followed up with a plethora of additional tests of everything under the sun, more blood work, and other samples which shall remain nameless but one could use their imagination.

While waiting for the results of these tests and consequently the follow-up consult with my Dr. I came home one evening and turned the TV on.

This was late August 2008.

Oprah was on.

The show was going to cut to commercial with Oprah’s words “when we come back Dr. Oz will have the poop discussion”.

Dr. Oz is on!! And… he’s going to have what discussion? Did I hear right?

That got my attention.

So I sat down and heard Dr. Oz’s description of “good poop” and “bad poop”.

As he was describing the “bad poop” I realized that I had most… if not all… those symptoms.

Then Dr Oz mentioned that if there is increased frequency in any or all symptoms to discuss it with your Doctor.

Back to my Dr’s office two weeks later, the results of all tests are negative, during that discussion I told my Dr. of the Dr. Oz poop discussion and how my symptoms were increasing in frequency. My Dr. suggested I see a Gastroenterologist and gave me a name, I scheduled an appointment that day.

A month later I’m discussing my symptoms with the Gastroenterologist …to be noted… I didn’t have any bleeding or pain (or any other external symptoms) and, although I’m too young to have one (45) – he schedules a Colonoscopy based on the symptoms that was provided to me by Dr. Oz. with his poop discussion.

Three weeks later I’m back at the Gastroenterologist’s office having the colonoscopy. I must admit… the hardest part of the exam is the prepping the day before. You had to drink this liquid from a big plastic jug the Dr. gives you, it comes with 4 flavor packets. Everyone I talked to who had the procedure said that the Pineapple flavor is the best – so I mixed the Pineapple flavor with the liquid in the plastic jug and started drinking.

Having the procedure was easy; I was basically knocked out during the whole event.

There I was back in the examination room waiting for the Dr. to come in with the results.

Being that I always eat well (basically a Mediterranean diet) along with an active lifestyle (working out at the gym 6 days a week & tons of walking… this is NY after all) I was expecting a clean bill of health.

Then the Dr. walked in with a concerned look in his eyes and the announcement that he had to stop the procedure due to “an obstruction”.

This was on December 31st, 2008.