Katy’s “Against the Odds” Colon Cancer Story
The odds. When you are diagnosed with cancer, doctor’s also give you the odds. The numbers, percents, and probabilities of you beating cancer. For Katy, that was an 18% chance of not dying, and she shared with us her outlook, advice, and battle with the odds. Katy’s colon cancer story inspired us because regardless of the numbers she was given, she stays positive and refuses to give up. She still finds the light, continues to joke, and radiates positivity — and you can see this in her story below.
“When I woke up from my colonoscopy and heard I had a tumor, I was totally shocked. I am 29. I had assumed I had an ulcer from too much coffee – I had been working overnight shifts as a nurse and also running a small business full time, so that wasn’t out of the question. What surprised me most was my attitude: My first thought was “well, let’s get this started!”. My diagnosis of non-resectable Stage IV colon cancer gave me a pretty poor prognosis (about an 18% chance of not dying), and every time a doctor called it seemed like the news got worse. But I don’t care about numbers. I wanted it gone, and as soon as possible. I had watched my mother and sister go through cancer treatment already, and I had always thought to myself that there was no way I could handle it if it happened to me. I would give up. But when it was my turn, all I wanted to do was fight — hard. I guess you never know what you’re ready to handle until life hands it to you!
To be honest, the list of hard things about cancer is long. First of all, it’s terrifying! It’s okay to be scared. Or angry. Or sad. Or frustrated. I lost my job, my health insurance, some hair, and some friends that didn’t know quite what to say and never tried again. For me, though, the hardest thing has been the long, long periods of boredom. I had been making plans for my life, applying for new jobs, volunteering, planning a trip to Iceland. Suddenly it all came to a halt for a year, right before my thirtieth birthday. It’s very hard to be young and watch your friends get new jobs, homes, dogs, having fun without you. Chemobrain (it’s real!) shortened my attention span so much that it’s hard for me to even read books to pass the time. My neuropathy doesn’t allow me to sew or knit. I have, however, become a jigsaw and crossword puzzle aficionado! I can do the Sunday New York Times in an hour. It’s a great time to find a low-key hobby and embrace it!
My greatest support during this time has been my friends and family. I owe them so much. I’ll be mowing their lawns forever. My mom, being a colon cancer survivor herself, is able to understand what I’m going through. Now, I realize not everyone is so lucky, and you might feel totally scared and alone after your diagnosis. It’s great to have someone who has done it already, whether in person, or a new friend on the internet, or a support group. Treatment symptoms can be bizarre (purple hands?!), and it’s nice to know that they are “normal”. One great thing about cancer patients is that they are a wonderful, supportive community. Make a friend at chemo, or ask your nurses to recommend someone. And allow your friends to ask the awkward questions! They want to help. Letting my support circle participate in my care and ask a lot of questions without judgment helps them to not feel awkward or scared of my illness. It also helps me so much to have them around! I still get to go out for a drink with them on my good days, I just have learned to embrace the mocktail.
When I get a little down, I try to remind myself that this is a bump in the road. A very big bump. Especially as a young person, I have to remember that life is long and doesn’t always go according to plan, but “this too shall pass” applies to this situation. Just get through it however you can.
My best tip for someone who has to do this is to try to keep a good attitude. I know that is really asking a lot under the circumstances – I’m not exactly Pollyanna and cancer blows. But as an oncology nurse myself, I have seen the difference a good outlook makes in my patients. It’s not fair, but it’s also not personal – cancer can happen to anyone. Take space to grieve, but I find that wallowing really makes me feel worse at the end of the day. And makes my eyes puffy. So keep your focus on the loved ones who help you out. You can’t be grateful about cancer, but be grateful for them – it’s good for your soul. The kindness of people cannot be underestimated. If you ever feel concerned by the bad news in the world, go get yourself a cancer diagnosis and be prepared to have your faith in humanity restored! Complete strangers have come up to me and said, “My mom/sister/best friend had cancer, too. Let me help you navigate the healthcare system. Call anytime.” People are wonderful. Don’t forget that.
So here I am, sixth months of terrible chemotherapy later, and most of my tumors are completely gone from my colon and liver! One tiny little jerk is hanging on. I knew it was working, but never expected such good results. I know that I am extremely lucky. One big surgery ahead still, and everything is looking pretty good! It looks like that 18% chance was just a number after all.”
If you’d like to check out Katy’s GiveForward page, you can here!