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My colon cancer journey

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donnabaumer715.jpgBy Donna Baumer

For years, I suffered with pain, constipation and diarrhea and just accepted it as my norm. That is, until a night of severe pain landed me in the hospital and a CT scan revealed a thickening in my colon. I was sent home with a high-fiber diet to follow and given a follow-up appointment with a gastroenterologist who scheduled a colonoscopy.

When the procedure was over, I woke up in an anesthesia stupor. I heard the doctor standing over me saying, "Likely malignant, surgery, probably chemo, you'll be fine."

What?! Was he really talking to me? I didn't cry, but the flood of tears did come later that day. At first I felt numb and could not believe this was happening to me. The fear of the unknown set in as I began to think about what to expect from surgery and chemo.

I knew I was about to travel down a path of uncertainly. I was frightened, but I can honestly say that I found peace with my situation. I choose to face my fears with determination and strength. This attitude would bode well for me down the road.

I started colon cancer treatment right away, undergoing surgery followed by chemotherapy six weeks later. Nine months after starting my colon cancer treatment, I was declared cancer-free.

Receiving colon cancer treatment at MD Anderson

Two years after I'd been declared cancer-free, a follow-up PET scan revealed a small spot on my liver. I asked my oncologist about possible surgery. He said that no hepatic surgeon would even consider it. I decided to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson.

Within a month, I was seeing one of MD Anderson's hepatic surgeons, Lee Ellis, M.D., professor of Surgical Oncology. He said surgery would be "dicey," but he would consider it after I received six cycles of chemo to shrink the liver tumor. My cocktail was FOLFIRI with Avastin. It worked, and I was scheduled for a liver resection.

The surgery was a success. Because of the tumor location and because cancer cells were found at the margin of the liver that was removed, Dr. Ellis recommended that I receive six weeks of radiation with Xeloda, followed by more chemo.

Radiation was exhausting, but I managed to continue working full-time during treatment. After radiation, I received six more treatments of FOLFIRI with Avastin.

Coming to MD Anderson gave me a second chance
I believe that had I not sought a second opinion, I would have been on chemo until it quit working. MD Anderson gave me a second chance. It's been more than seven years since my last chemo treatment, and my CT scans and blood work have been good.

My oncologist, Cathy Eng, M.D., no longer requires CT scans and has "graduated" me to the status of survivor. I now receive follow-up care at MD Anderson in a different clinic - the Colorectal Survivor Clinic.

I have so much admiration and respect for the staff at MD Anderson. The oncologists, surgeons, nurses and physician assistants are amazing. They are polite, respectful and so full of knowledge. My experience has been nothing but positive. I feel blessed to be a part of this family.

How cancer changed me for the better
No one ever wants to hear the words, "You have cancer." I certainly could have lived the rest of my life happy without hearing them. But, for me, hearing those words changed me in positive ways.

I appreciate life more than ever before. I'm more spiritual, and prayer is now a constant in my life. I appreciate the simple things such as reading, a funny TV show, and relaxing. Before cancer I thought I had to accomplish all of my plans for that day. Now, it's not so important.   

And on bad days, I still try to find some joy in my day.

After all, we don't get to replace our bad days with good ones to use later.

Today, I am cancer-free and enjoying life with my husband and family-- especially my six beautiful grandchildren. Every year, I participate in the S.C.O.P.E. Run, an annual MD Anderson 5K race that celebrates colorectal cancer survivors and raises awareness about colorectal cancer. It's a reminder of how far I've come and that my journey is not over.

To schedule an appointment in MD Anderson's Gastrointestinal Cancer Center, please call 1-877-632-6789 or request an appointment online.

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