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01 - The Background

posted Jun 2, 2013, 11:22 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Jul 13, 2013, 9:32 AM ]

C Word 01 - The Background

About ten years ago, very roughly speaking, I started getting a burning/itching/pain/irritation in my anus.  My friends whom I asked about this (very close and dear friends, mind you) told me this was hemorrhoids and that I didn't need to worry about it.  I mentioned this to my doctor during a routine checkup and was also assured that this was just hemorrhoids and nothing to be concerned about.  This went on for many years and many doctors, with me mentioning any changes in my condition and me being told that there was nothing to worry about.  In fact, I clearly remember one doctor basically telling me "I've already told you that you've got hemorrhoids, you don't need to tell me every time you see a little blood on the toilet paper."

Well, fast forward ten years to last month, when I noticed a little more blood than usual and a little more pain/irritation than usual.  I brought this up to my current doctor.  She didn't think this was any reason for concern, but was willing to refer me to a specialist.  The gastroenterologist I went to also didn't see any reason for concern, but joked that he made all his money doing unnecessary procedures, so he was happy to do a colonoscopy just to put my mind at ease.  After the procedure, he came back to the room, patted me on the hand, and said simply, "It's cancer."

Apparently, I never had hemorrhoids.  Instead, what I had was a mass growing in my rectum.  This mass had all the symptoms of hemorrhoids and would likely have never been detected if not for the colonoscopy.  There was also a polyp in my ascending colon which tested for the exact same type of cancer.  This is some kind of well-differentiated, slow growing adenocarcenoma.  Once discovered, the gastroenterologist followed standard protocol and ordered some CT scans of my pelvis and abdomen.  These scans showed any number of abnormal-looking lymph nodes along with a few spots on my liver and several spots on my lungs.  While we're not done a biopsy or other tests to determine exactly what this various spots are, since we've already found cancer in two places in my colon, at this point if I had a hangnail the doctors would blame it on cancer.

Since then, I've also had more CT scans, a brain MRI, and a full-body PET scan.  The most unpleasant of these was the MRI, which felt and sounded like being inside a jackhammer.  The most promising was the MRI which showed my brain is normal.  I'm going to say that again because no one ever believes me: my brain is normal.  But all the other scans confirmed our worst fears: I had abnormal lymph nodes over much of my abdomen and spots on my liver and lungs.  As far as cancers go, this means Stage IV.  There is no Stage V.

This also means that as far as treatment goes, we're beyond the point where we can just surgically remove the mass in the rectum and hope for the best.  But that will be the point of a future blog entry.