One man’s journey with colon cancer

When you receive a diagnosis of cancer, it’s devastating. You’re in total shock. And you can’t help but ask, ‘Why me? Why do I have this awful disease?’

Anger, guilt, sorrow are just a few emotions I felt following my cancer diagnosis. I was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009, at the age of 49, when I was experiencing terrible stomach pain. After my primary doctor, Dr. Aaron Peimann, ordered a few blood tests he then ordered a colonoscopy – a test I was determined to never to have. The guys at work would talk about their experiences around having a colonoscopy and I swore I would never have one. But when you get to a point where you are so sick, you don’t care anymore, you just want answers and to feel better.

The surprising detail around my colon cancer was that I don’t have a family history of colon cancer or any cancer for that matter. Also, most colon cancer victims are diagnosed after the age of 50, which is the age that the American Cancer Society recommends people start to be screened.

Generally, people without risk factors for colon cancer, such as family history, don’t need to have their first colonoscopy until they are 50. But unfortunately, occasionally individuals like me, will develop the cancer at a younger age. That is why it is really important not to ignore changes in your body that don’t seem normal. According to my doctor – Aaron Peimann – “Symptoms a person may experience that could potentially be a signal that a colon is unhealthy are rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, pain in the abdomen that doesn’t seem to get better or even unexplained weight loss. Anytime a person experiences symptoms like these that don’t seem to go away, he or she needs to see a health care provider to make sure something serious is not going on.”

I had surgery to remove a mass in my colon, and at that time was given a positive prognosis. It wasn’t until two years later, an uncomfortable sensation on my left side sent me back to Dr. Peimann. It really wasn’t painful, just kind of an odd sensation. Maybe it was a little nudge from God. A CT scan showed five lesions; four on my liver and one on my pelvic lymph nodes. A biopsy would confirm the lesions were cancerous.

My mom was with me when I received the results that my cancer was back and had spread. I was told I had stage four colon cancer, and it just really crushed me. The lesions on my liver were situated in a way that surgery was not an option. My oncologist played it pretty straight with me that they could manage it for about two years. I told my mom then I was going to need help to get through this.

As a man who had worked all my life in the trucking industry and also a recreational pilot, I needed some type of outlet that made me feel like I was contributing to the world. And I found it at the Trinity Cancer Center.

I discovered early in my cancer treatment that if I talked about what I was going through, I felt so much better. I soon found friendships with other cancer patients during my chemotherapy treatments, they were and continue to be what help me stay motivated to fight.

Everyone at the Cancer Center has given so much to me in the way of support and encouragement, by helping other cancer patients get past anxiety and depression I feel like I am giving something back. The Cancer Center has such a family atmosphere; they bring so much joy to my life and all the patients they serve. I really don’t know how they do it.

While this has been a journey that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, I am working hard to make it one that has meaning. I encourage everyone that has cancer in their family to have a colonoscopy. Honestly, 50 might be too late to have your first one. Some people should have one earlier. You should go to your doctor whenever something doesn’t feel right. People are so busy that they end up taking life for granted. Cancer has a way of reminding us to treat each day as a gift, and along the way do what you can to help the people around you.

Tracy Philips is a UnityPoint Health patient.