On Colons, Cancer, and Courage

The ‘c’ word.

No, not that one. This one is infinitely worse. It’s the one that starts with ‘can’ and ends with ‘cer.’

The one you’d really rather not have cross your doctor’s lips in relation to yourself or anyone you love. Yet here we are.

If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t seen much new on FNFF (as though you have nothing more important to ponder), well, those two vicious little syllables are largely responsible.

To make a very long and convoluted story short, my wife had been having intestinal issues, and had visited two private clinics and two hospital emergency wards, where the doctors saw simply a constipated lady and sent her packing with prescriptions for laxatives. Lots of laxatives. We could open a small pharmacy specializing in purgatives with all of the medication we now possess designed to promote a really quality BM.

Nothing worked.

So we found ourselves in a hospital in Barcelona where, after several fruitless days of further attempted purges, they ultimately performed a colonoscopy. My wife says she knew something was wrong when she awoke from the anesthetic and the doctors were being so exceedingly kind to her.

She had a blockage, and that blockage was a tumor. There was no pretense, even at that stage, of the problem being a trivial one. Conspicuously, no one was using the word ‘benign’ with us.

I suspect that most people receive the word ‘tumor’ with a visible shudder and expect the worst. Not my wife. She’s thinking, “Great, now we know what the problem is. Get the tumor out and I’ll be on my way.”

I couldn’t decide if it was incredible self-deception or remarkable bravery, but either way I could only admire the way in which she demonstrated a confidence that I could in no way share.

They did indeed get the tumor out, and after several days hooked up to more tubes than those poor pod-dwelling human batteries in The Matrix, she was sent home. (I didn’t take the kids to visit during this period, simply because it seemed like, well, you just don’t.)

neo-pod-thumb-640x260-5248

To be fair, my wife hadn’t been shorn of all body hair and immersed in amniotic-like goop, but you get the picture.

It had been, needless to say, something of a difficult ten days for everyone. And here I should talk about my metamorphic epiphany, the way in which I viewed the world through a newly life-affirming lens, how I appreciated anew the fragility and preciousness of our mere existence.

But I didn’t. I suppose because, in part, I’ve always viewed life as fragile, ridiculous, precious, capricious and, ultimately, fairly fleeting, and in part because there were more practical considerations to occupy my thoughts.

My wife, as ever, was optimistic to the point of being delusional. She considered chemotherapy a remote possibility. I considered it a certainty, but kept that to myself. I believe myself to be a realist – she calls me a pessimist – but what she certainly didn’t need at that point was my particular brand of realism.

Yesterday – our first meeting with the oncologist – was a day of disappointments. The cancer (if it even was cancer), we hypothesized (without anything more than wishful thinking) to be most likely Stage 1, maybe Stage 2.

Well, shit, it turned out to be not only Stage 3, but was located partly in the colon and partly in the rectum.  Which means not only chemotherapy, but radiation treatment to boot.

This will involve daily trips (for 5 – 6 weeks) to Barcelona to be bombarded with gamma rays (really? gamma rays? like The Incredible Hulk?) and various charged particles. This in conjunction with a cocktail of leucovorin, fluorouracil, and oxaliplatin ( “in contrast to cisplatin and carboplatin, oxaliplatin features the bidentateligand 1,2-diaminocyclohexane in place of the two monodentate ammine ligands” – hmmm).

For the first time, I watched my wife’s spirits momentarily flag.

But not for long. Despite the fact that she’s looking at six months of chemo, during which time all this can be yours:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea & Vomiting
  • Pain
  • Hair Loss
  • Anemia
  • Infection
  • Blood Clotting Problems
  • Mouth, Gum and Throat Problems
  • Diarrhea and Constipation
  • Nerve and Muscle Effects
  • Effects on Skin and Nails
  • Radiation Recall
  • Kidney and Bladder Effects
  • Flu-Like Symptoms
  • Fluid Retention
  • Effects on Sexual Organs and Sexuality

my wife took a deep breath, accepted the inevitable, and moved on. She considers the daily trips to the hospital (about 1 1/2 hours each way) to be a great opportunity to go into her office nearby and get some work done. Lunatic.

I shouldn’t claim, of course, that nothing has changed. In a way, everything has changed.

For one thing, her illness has, perversely, given us a chance to hang out together – something that had previously been woefully neglected. We get to do simple, everyday things together – grocery shopping, preparing meals, having lunch together (lunch!) on the terrace. Even attending to her medical needs provides a shared experience which, bizarrely, is kind of sexy. No, sexy isn’t the right word. Intimate. An intimacy that, even after nearly 20 years together, can be surprisingly lacking in a relationship.

So why, after all, am I sharing all of this with you?

Well, I suppose there are a number of reasons. One, it provides me with a nifty excuse for neglecting my blog – my wife has cancer, for chrissakes, cut me some slack.

Two, it’s somehow cathartic to just talk about it, even if that conversation is, necessarily, rather one-sided.

Blake-Beckford-Matt-Marsh

Blake ripped and colostomied (which is a phrase you don’t often come across)

Three, this stuff is just a part of life. People get cancer. Many live, some don’t. There’s still, surprisingly, a quiet kind of stigma attached to cancer, so any chance to talk openly about it should, I think, be taken. (Check out Bethany Townsend and Blake Beckford,who, while not cancer sufferers, are making colostomy bags cool.)

Four, if anyone can draw any degree of comfort from the story of another family going through something difficult, something relatively common yet still astonishingly shitty, then that’s a good thing. My wife’s stoicism is something that I can scarcely understand but something that I think worth sharing.

In the car ride home from the hospital (one of many, many to come) I joked with my wife that maybe the gamma ray machine would go wonky and she’d be bestowed some kind of fantastical supra-human powers. She’d be able to fly and smite bad guys with cosmic rays from her colostomy bag or something.

I joked that maybe she’d become a superhero. Then I realized something.

She already was.

If you have any personal stories to share, we’d be overjoyed to hear them. Uplifting ones, if possible. No “Yeah, I had three uncles who died from colon cancer,” if you know what I mean. Any shared sense of community, normality, continuity is cool. 

64 thoughts on “On Colons, Cancer, and Courage

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  4. Sometimes you find yourself not alone in the fight. Thanks for sharing your wife’s story of courage. I am a stage IIIc colon cancer survivor, which was in my sigmoid colon and also included chemo and radiation. I find talking/writing about it helps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sean,
      Thank YOU for sharing – it’s always nice to hear about survivors and to know that we’re in no way alone. Writing about it certainly helps me, but I’m not the one dealing with all of the shit my wife is handling. Glad to hear that you’re healthy and over the hump. I’m not sure where we are on the hill – whether we’re still climbing or whether we’re on the blessedly downward slide. My wife’s chemo side effects are certainly worse than they’ve ever been, so it’s a strange and in many ways terrible time. All the best to you!

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  5. Pingback: On Colons, Cancer, and Courage | Sean Ervin

  6. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2011 (breast that had spread to her spine-4 places- hip and sternum). Her oncologist told her without treatment she would be dead in a matter of months and with treatment she could like 18 months (then changed it to 3 years). She told them she didn’t care what they said, she was going to be fine. Fast forward to now, 2015, and she has no active cancer. She had a double mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. They said chemotherapy for the rest of her life and she is contemplating stopping it.
    My uncle started a walk across the united states, and on his walk was given a free health checkup at a clinic where they found his bloodwork off. They sent him to the hospital and found out he had stage 4 colon cancer. He had some of his colon removed and is on chemotherapy. He gets pretty sick from it, but otherwise is doing good.
    Your wife is beautiful. You are a great writer. I wish you many blessings for healing, health, and happiness.
    Thank you for sharing her story thus far.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Jess, those are two amazing stories – thanks for sharing. It’s good to draw inspiration from successes like your mom’s. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, and all the best to your mother and uncle. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. After reading this yesterday I waited to respond, hoping I’d come up with something eloquent to say. That didn’t happen. What can I say that would offer some small comfort? I admit I’m angry to hear this news. It’s unfair and incredibly sad. Not that any one should have to endure cancer. But since reading your blog these past years, i feel as though ive gotten to know you and your family. So now it’s personal. Weird?

    I wish you and your family strength and courage on this long road ahead. Positive thoughts and prayers, I truly believe, are a powerful force, even if they’re coming from across an ocean.

    Cancer is a popular topic in my family and I’ve had the privilege (what a bizarre way to put it) to watch my aunt’s journey with cancer. Twice. She recently finished treatment and is flourishing. She blows me away with her optimism and courage and appreciation for life. Your wife sounds like she’s made of that same gumption.

    I look forward to the day I click over to your blog and read that your wife’s cancer responded wonderfully to treatment and that she’s in remission. That will be a great day for sure. Until then I’ll be praying for all of you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not weird at all – we all become attached to people through their writing, and I’m flattered and humbled that you feel a connection with my family. What’s weird is that I’m sitting in a cafe weepy-eyed after reading your message. I guess I’m a touch emotionally fragile these days. The outpouring of support has been a really positive force for both of us.

      One day, Mama, you will indeed read that post. In the meantime you’ll have to endure shit like us being on reality tv and whatnot.

      Thanks, as always, for commenting – it really means a lot to me, particularly right now. 🙂

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      • I have been a complete anti-blogger the past 6 months, so I’m just seeing this reply now. While I don’t have any other pearls of “wisdom” at the moment (and definitely don’t hold your breath), know that your whole family is bouncing around in my brain. There’s other stuff bouncing around in there, too, such as laundry, food shopping, and the fact that I’m super-late on refilling my husband’s epi-pen prescription. But I’m thinking of all of you and sending out good thoughts. I know, I know, you folks aren’t religious (I don’t go around beating on bibles, myself) but good things and miracles and healing happens every day all over the place. Remember to take care of yourself as much as you’re taking care of your family.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Just heard the news today. Praying for you all.

    For my positive contribution, a close relative of mine is a colon cancer survivor and has been C free for over a decade.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m very sorry to hear this is happening for you. My friend, Darlene Sochin, who is now a Reiki Master survived cancer. I don’t know what kind, or what stage, since I only met her afterward, but she now dedicates a significant portion of her energy and her business hours to supporting others with cancer. She has been cancer-free for several years, I think. We mostly talk Reiki, so I don’t know her story around cancer, but like I said, she loves to provide people support around this, since she knows what it’s like.

    I feel for you two, but I think it’s pretty amazing you even mentioned that a ‘positive’ came out of this, which is that you get more time to create intimacy with each other.

    Hoping for good news for you. Good luck.

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    • Thanks, TGWTDH. One of my classmates is a Reiki Master, and has offered her services, so I think we’ll be looking into that. Anything at all that might help! Thanks for taking the time to read and leave your thoughts – I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. God damn that’s shitty, plus your post is the first I’ve read in a while but certainly a gentle reminder of how fragile life can be. You two sound like you have an amazing marriage and I’m sure the support you will provide each other will see you through the good and bad. If you want to escape for a while take a read of my blog and hopefully the mishaps of me and my family will put a smile on your face 🙂

    best of luck

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    • Just had a look at your blog – great stuff! (And it did indeed put a smile on my face.)
      Yup, there’s nothing about cancer that isn’t shitty, but we’re doing ok with it. Just something you have to get through, I suppose.
      Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I look forward to checking out more of your stuff. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Although my mother wasn’t as young as your wife likely is when she was diagnosed with Stage 3C cancer, after twelve rounds of chemotherapy and five years she has been deemed cancer free. Physical activity and social support were key contributing factors to her recovery. It was shown in a study that those who were active during their treatment had improved outcomes. I know it will be hard to exercise as a family and as a couple with young children but it was beneficial for everyone. Best of luck.

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    • Thanks! We’re still really active – we go hiking every weekend – and we’re looking into starting yoga classes. We’ll see how it goes as the chemo progresses, but we’re not planning to change our active lifestyles at all, and my wife’s positive mental attitude is important as well. Thanks for visiting and sharing your story!

      Like

  12. No one deserves to go through this but as you say, it’s a part of life. Some get it; others are spared. But I am hoping and praying for strength that you as a family will victor over this.

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  13. Thinking of you and your family.. we are currently going through this with my Mother – though she was diagnosed at stage 4/5 – the worst stage. My heart goes out to your wife.. she is lucky to have such wonderful support. xx

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  14. I just discovered your blog this past week… My family will be praying for yours. You sound like your as lucky a man as I. And I believe that if the time comes that your personal super hero’s faith flags a bit you’ll be there to pick it up. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Matt I am so sorry you and your wive are going through the big c. My mom is a on ovarian cancer survivor (it will be 9 years in September) and she is also a very positive person. I can’t even begin to describe what a difference a positive attitude brings to the whole situation. She is lucky to have you in her life for all the love and support you give her. You will beat this, I am sure! Stay brave and keep on loving her the only way you can. I will be thinking of you. Take care xxx

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    • Hey Tatu. Yup, the big ‘c’ sucks, but it’s amazing how many people have been personally affected by it, and it’s always uplifting to hear success stories like you mom’s. Thanks for sharing! Hope things are well with you – I have to pop on over to your blog to get the latest. I’ve been neglecting my blog reading lately, and need to investigate.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. My family history is full of this ‘C’ letter word. Besides, breast cancer runs in the family. My grandmother might have passed it on to me. In anycase, I am prepared. Besides, your wife sounds like a super strong lady. Let’s not worry. Let’s face it all with a smile!

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  17. Your wife is a superhero indeed. Thank you for posting such a well written piece on an illness that has become far too wide spread yet not discussed in such light. I pray that you and your family are given courage through these tough times.

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  18. I don’t know much about colon cancer, but I have worked Pediatric Oncology and it is amazing what they can do with all their chemo protocols and stuff. I like the line about your wife already being a superhero. That’s great!!!!!!!

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  19. It helps a lot that your wife has a very positive attitude and that you are willing to talk about it. I know it is a much dreaded word but with your support she’ll beat it. We are here if you need to vent. When you think you are alone, you will find your family, friends and blog friends will be here to support you. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m so sorry to hear your news but it sounds like your wife has a beautiful, strong spirit and the drive to fight this diagnoses all the way. My father-in-law survived two rounds of colon cancer and lived to the ripe old age of 88. My husband started yearly colonoscopies at age 40 – so far so good with him but we will continue to be vigilant.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, NWFOM. She does indeed have a very strong spirit, and I feel confident that everything will be fine. And very soon I plan to go for a very extensive, exhaustive physical. Can’t be too careful, I suppose.

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  21. I don’t have any personal story of colon cancer. My oldest sister was diagnosed with liver, kidney, and lung cancer the same day I gave birth to my youngest. She faced it with a courage and grace I’ve never witnessed before. She also laughed and lived, an example for her family and friends. I’m the praying type so your wife, you, and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I’m sorry to hear your news. Illness is always hard news to hear, the c word moreso. I know many cancer survivors and the one thing they all have in common is their spirit. It sounds like your wife has a positive, strong spirit. When you have such a healthy start I think it really helps. I’ll think healing thoughts for her!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I am so sorry. I remember distinctly when they told us our 1 year old had a tumor. Indeed, it’s something you never forget!

    On the bright side, Stage 3 is good news. Stage 3 means the cancer hasn’t spread. And it sounds like your wife is an incredibly strong and positive woman – I’m betting she’s going to handle treatment beautifully and come out the other side still smiling.

    Don’t be afraid to blog your journey. It helps to share!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, man, nothing worse than hearing your CHILD has a tumor. Can’t even imagine. I trust everything worked out?

      Thanks for reading and sharing. I might indeed share some of the journey, if only to help others who are on the same road. Cheers!

      Like

  24. I am so sad for you, but appreciate so very much your willingness to share so honestly. Your family will be in my heart. Please let us who have become connected to you all through your wonderful blog know how you are all doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Eileen! Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, I tend to be pretty shameless in the sharing department, and I feel that openness is generally the best policy. Thanks for thinking of us!

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  25. First off, I’m sorry that you guys received that news. Your wife sounds amazing and courageous and like you described, a super hero. I am new to your blog and will be sending prayers your way. I have seen so many people fight cancer and win! Praying for your family! #cancersucks #kickcancersbutt

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Twin Mombie! Welcome to the blog, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

      My sister is a breast cancer survivor, so we have an excellent model right in the family. We’re very hopeful, especially with so many people praying and thinking of us. Thanks so much.

      Liked by 1 person

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