I am one of the 186 women who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year in Vermont.
Freshly separated from my ex-husband, hoping for a new start, I sure got one. On July 24, 2008, at age 42, my life changed. My rectum, really? That personal, private, modest place. Sometimes it still stings to think about it all. An aggressive treatment plan was put into place and a chemo pump and radiation were my new friends. Reality struck when I was face down in my pillow on my stomach receiving my radiation markings, sobbing.
So many questions and concerns, fears and what if’s and why me’s. I started a care page and documented my entire journey, the good, the bad and the ugly. Rereading my postings, I can’t believe some of the things I endured and overcame and how much I tried to attack it all with humor, yet at times felt lost, alone and scared. The support of family, friends and my community got me through.
The journey was rough. It tested me as it does everyone—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. At one point I felt betrayed and beaten by my own body. My scars remind me every day of the fight and that my worst fear through all of this came true—a colostomy. I was scared of it, did not want it and worried about how to use it and how it would affect my love life, my quality of life and self-esteem. I was not well-informed. Doctors and nurses didn’t know what to give me to learn.
I lost 30 pounds and at times only wanted to sleep. On the days I felt okay, I wanted to get back to work, keep things as normal as possible. I played softball with my pump on, I slept in my car at lunch time, I pushed through everything I did with debilitating pain. Many complications came along the way that nobody anticipated. I was the poster child for “We have never seen this before” or “This is very rare.” Recovery seemed like it would never come and this nightmare put behind me.
When I got the news that I was cancer-free, I walked out of the doctor’s office thinking, “Wow . . . I just beat cancer!!” My bout with cancer has given me a new perspective on life. I am more aware, and more alive. Cancer did give me some gifts. I am more spiritual and forgiving and more at peace, and don’t want life to pass me by without leaving my mark. I am grateful for life and my family and friends. I embrace the present and don’t worry about the future or what I can’t control. Cancer has given me strength and power to transform and challenge myself even more than I did before, and I remember and honor many I have lost to cancer, and I fight for them.
I have been very active with fundraising for cancer and raising awareness for early screening and living life to the fullest. I have joined the Vermont Cancer Survivor Network. With Kindred Connections I am a peer support person, where I have learned to be a better, more sensitive listener. HOPE has become my new favorite word, which was tattooed on my body when I met my 5-year cancer-free date, along with an amazing day of skydiving!
This is what I want the medical professionals to know: We want to be cured, not just seen and/or treated. We want compassion; we want to be comforted; we want knowledge and honesty. We want our doctors to know that each new patient has their own set of fears and questions and not to dismiss this. We want motivating, thorough care, smiles and humor, great bedside manner and no attitudes. We want apologies and we want them to admit mistakes when they were wrong. We want to know they are proud to be saving our lives, to be involved, to be real, kind, and supportive and listen to us, really listen.
My words to any and all going through or living with cancer:
Never give up, as there is always HOPE. Empower yourself, face it head-on, don’t take anything for granted, don’t be ashamed or hide from it, celebrate living. Choose follow-up care and screenings with doctors who are committed to following you. And be your own best advocate. Exemplify grace, support others, choose to be a part of something bigger to help fight this disease. All things are possible if you have the fight, the will, the fire and the desire.
Lisa Crowningshield Buck
Link to Lisa's YouTube full version of a speech she presented in November 2014 at a Colorectal Cancer Conference for Primary Care Doctors in Burlington, VT.