In my early teens I suffered from bouts of diarrhea and cramping and, over the course of several years, I racked up an impressive record of school absences. When I finally noticed blood in my stool, I went to see a few doctors and was put through a battery of tests. I can still remember the first time I had to drink a barium solution. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and placed on medication that mostly controlled my symptoms, for a few years.
By the time I went away to college, I had largely forgotten the pain and discomfort from before the diagnosis and pills, and I started to get careless about taking my medication. I was fine – or so I thought. I suffered with the occasional flare up but they didn’t seem bad and the symptoms always went away after a little while. I mostly ignored these flare-ups for a few years until the symptoms started lasting for more than several at a time. When they decided to stick around and I realized Crohn’s was back and having a seriously debilitating effect on my life, I finally took notice.
I found a new gastroenterologist and started on new medication. Everything was fine for another few years – until I developed an intestinal blockage. I was hospitalized for more than a week. It was discovered that I had serious scarring in my intestines causing a stricture, which was responsible for the blockage. After surgery to remove about a foot of intestine, more time in a hospital bed than I care to recall, and a recovery, I was back on my medication and serious about taking it.
All was good for a few years. As a precaution, I would have a colonoscopy every other year and I settled into a nice, healthy routine – until things became less than routine. As he always did during my colonoscopies, my Doctor had taken biopsies. This time, one of them came back positive. That’s positive as in, “oh crap, it’s positive”.
I dimly recalled learning a few years earlier, that people with Crohn’s had an increased likelihood of developing cancer at some point after they’ve had the condition for more than twenty years. Even though my diagnosis was twenty years old – and then some – I was still shocked.
Several consults and a second opinion later, and my prognosis was less than promising on multiple fronts. I could go for chemo and radiation treatments and maybe eke out a few unpleasant years leading up to a probable early death; or I could have surgery to remove the tumor and then have the radiation and chemo treatments – and have an almost decent chance of avoiding an early death. Not too hard of a call, right? Well, factor in the location of the tumor and the high probability that they’d have to remove a bit too much healthy muscle to allow me a functioning rectum, and I would likely need to wear a permanent colostomy bag, and it didn’t seem like an easy choice.
Next post: cancer surgery, getting an ostomy and coping.