Don't ignore symptoms!
Growing up in Fargo
My story is not unlike so many Xennials; well most of it anyway…
I grew up in the largest town in North Dakota, and we Fargoans make sure all other North Dakotans are fully aware. While we may be the largest, and growing at a rapid pace, we are still quite small in comparison to major cities throughout the country, encroaching on 200,000 including the surrounding towns.
Fargo has always felt to me like a safe, sheltered community to live. We had all the needed amenities while having our small neighborly community. Fargo nice, is a real sentiment.
Our neighbors, classmates, church congregants, and co-workers truly care about one another.
This community has been an integral part in influencing my character and has taught me to trust others and treat others with kindness. Let’s now start at the beginning of my childhood to give reference to my white-fenced, “normal” American upbringing.
My parents, young sister and I, moved into our house while I was in kindergarten. This four-level split home was just the right size for our young family; in close proximity to our elementary school and large riverfront, forested park. My sister and I were quite active and loved to be outside and quite often you’d find us on a playground climbing off our energy.
My brother was born when I was nine, another friend to hug and hold, and get into trouble with. My siblings and I were like any other kids in America in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
We devoted most of our time to friends, had a mild obsession with Disney cartoons, ate sugary cereal and tried new activities to peak our interest.
I continued to go through my teen years with opportunities to make friends and often grouped together to talk about boys and fashion. In sixth grade I had the pleasure of getting braces. An essential part of the teen years. I also started to get engaged in music and sports. I think I had a healthy balance of physical activity and thanks to my mom, a balanced diet. But managed to sneak in desserts more often then I should have.
During my senior year while contemplating the next steps of my life, my youngest, and most adventurous sister was born. What a blessed opportunity to be of an age where I could really enjoy watching her grow up. Babysitting her at the age of 17 was an eyeopener and gave me firsthand experience why I should wait to become a mother myself.
I have always been anxious and realized while I might have aspired to attend a college far from home, I was not yet ready to venture out on my own. I decided to stay local and continue my passion and education in music at Moorhead State University. Daily band practice gave me the chance to improve my skills while meet new people with similar interests.
Relationships that are built on communication really do last through anything
It was at MSU that I met my husband. At the time we had mutual friends and tended to see each other in passing in the music department. Jarod was working towards a degree in composition while I a music education degree. Both of us were fully engrossed in our musical degrees that it wasn’t until my senior year that we decided to go out on our first date. While I viewed our new relationship as exciting, I also felt safe and like I’d known him forever. Relationships that are built on communication really do last through anything. Jarod has since told me that he knew he was going to ask me to marry him the first time he saw me. How romantic!
Jarod and I began our careers not in music, but at an outsourcing company that had recently formed in Fargo. Jarod continued to “climb the ladder” in quality, but I was content working on the front lines. Jarod has since moved onto to his recent role working for a firm in New York, but I’ve stayed working at the same company for 11 years. I now work as a vendor for a company that truly provides me satisfaction and has created lifelong relationships that I am so grateful to have.
That’s how the perfect life is built, isn’t it?
We have three young children. Callum is our oldest. He is so analytical, just like his father. He always needs to know the “why” behind everything and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. What an adventure it is to become a parent. I felt ready to take on the responsibility of a child at the age of 25. Parenting is such a huge responsibility and much more than I had anticipated for. Nothing like babysitting!
It was just the three of us learning together how to become a single unit. Brittyn blessed our small family with her beautiful presence next. She is so much like me, it is scary. A miniature version of me. Now I know how my mom felt when I refused to clean my room, cried every time she combed my hair and beamed with pride when she created a piece of art all herself.
Camden is our baby and we certainly treat him this way. We all love to smother him in hugs, look forward in anticipation as he learns new tricks, and all believe we are his favorite. He is our jokester and in his three-year-old way, makes us all laugh hysterically.
This life I have built for myself is the American dream. A supportive husband, children I would move mountains for, a career I enjoy and a safe community to live in. Every blessing I have, felt like a gift from God. Want I’ve wanted and achieved in life was because I have been an honest, loving, and hard-working person, right? That’s how the perfect life is built, isn’t it?
How did I just ignore all the symptoms I had been experiencing for a year?
September 6, 2016, the day my world came crashing down. The days leading up to this day started at the ER. I had put off going in to the doctor for symptoms that were increasingly hard to ignore. The final push to get me into the ER was rectal bleeding. And not just a small amount, a terrifying amount of blood that finally got my attention.
How did I just ignore all the symptoms I had been experiencing for a year? It is certainly easy to look back now and punish myself over and over again for not speaking up sooner.
If only I would have not been embarrassed, quick to think that this couldn’t happen to me, and consumed with my family and work and not taking care of myself.
After the initial colonoscopy found a tumor, I had another one done to verify size. I also had CT scans and an invasive MRI, not for the faint of heart. I traveled to Minnesota to get a second option from other oncologist on the treatment regimen. I had no idea at the time what was all involved in treating rectal cancer and wanted to gather as much information as I could to make an informed decision. I ended up choosing to be treated locally when I heard the treatment would be the same “gold standard” at both locations. I again didn’t want to affect my family’s life too much; wanted the kids to continue their lives as normally as they could.
Treatment consisted of 28 rounds of radiation in conjunction with two types of chemo that were given in small doses right into my port. Once this round was done it was off to surgery. The tumor was removed, and the rectum resected. For the wounds to heal, I had a reversible ileostomy. If anyone wants to know more about how weird, inconvenient, and downright gross this experience is, I’d be happy to provide more details. Once I had recovered from surgery I was on to the last weeks of chemo. Luckily the side effects were minimal compared to many others who go through cancer treatments. This allowed me to continue working and provided just the right amount of distraction.
The last step was to reserve the ileostomy, and all would be cured. I had been informed by my surgeon and read on many forums that this major surgery would have long lasting negative effects and would take years to fully heal. They were completely correct. I had to struggle with incontinence, severe pain and so much more. After two years of healing, I still have episodes and am not in any way back to the person I was.
Follows up consist of check-ups every three months and a CT every six. My CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) right after surgery was as close to zero as possible. Six months ago, it had crept up to 2.5, which again, is not high but was trending upwards. I was told we’d watch it but since no other symptoms were present I shouldn’t worry.
My story is becoming all too common for my generation - colorectal cancer is on the rise in young adults
Fast forward to two weeks ago. I had another routine CT and brought the family with to hear from the oncologist. I still felt fine but had a nagging pain right under my right rib. It’s amazing after all I went through that I’d chock up pain to something that was easily pushed aside, but yet again I did. The CT had happened that morning, so the radiologist had not yet provided the test results. While the oncologist started to view the scans, he seemed to pause longer on the mid-section of my body. He kept going back and forth through the same area. I knew this wasn’t going to be the outcome I had come to expect.
I’m sorry, Sara, but it looks like your cancer has spread, and you now have a lesion in your liver. My heart again sank deep into my chest. My husband and children saw me go white and automatically my disposition changed to a feeling of hopelessness.
But just as the first time, it wasn’t time to retreat, withdraw and go into isolation. This time, it was another chance for me to tell my story and make a difference in the lives of others. God always provides exactly what you need right when you need it. He has continued to provide me unexplainable peace, a wonderful support system and this time, a need to take action.
My story is becoming all too common for my generation. Colorectal cancer is on the rise in young adults and I now have a re-ignited passion to spread the word through Love Your Buns. I want this organization to make us all aware of the warning signs of rectal cancer. Early detection can save a life. I also want my readers to feel comfortable talking with their doctors about a sensitive subject. If only I would have listened to my gut and pushed aside the embarrassment. But, I do believe I am in a privileged position to remove the stigma, educate, and help raise awareness through your time, support, and donations.