I was diagnosed with anal cancer in October 2013 at the age of 49. I had some rectal bleeding for nearly a year, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had one of the other symptoms of anal cancer, too. I noticed a narrowing of my bowel movements, but didn’t really think much about that. I did some research on the Internet, and knew that cancer was a possible explanation for the symptoms, but assumed it was just hemorrhoids. I finally decided to see my doctor when the bleeding started to become heavier. She referred me for a colonoscopy. After the procedure in the recovery room, the nurse gave me a picture of the area they took biopsies from. I remember thinking, “This looks just like the pictures of cancer tumors I saw on the Internet.” Two days later, there were at least half a dozen voice mails on my phone when I left work on a Friday afternoon. So even before I talked to the doctor, I knew what the results of my biopsy were. Monday was a holiday, so I had a three-day weekend to try to come to terms with the news.
Again I searched for information on the Internet. The unknown was the worst part, and having to wait until Thursday, when I would have my first appointment with the oncologist. I tried to keep my worries in check, but the initial information I found was overwhelming and frightening. Although I felt a sort of acceptance about my cancer diagnosis, I was initially in denial about the type of cancer. I had an abnormal pap over 20 years before, had a cryosurgery. I never dreamed that the HPV that caused me to have dysplasia on my cervix could result in cancer somewhere else, especially since I had normal pap smears every year after that. Eventually, I came across the Anal Cancer Foundation website by following links from several other websites. The stories of Paulette and the Thrivers helped me feel less alone, and I felt so much in common with them.
The next month went by in a whirlwind of tests and appointments. I was relieved to find out that the cancer hadn’t spread, and the doctors gave me good odds that the treatment would be successful. It's been over a year full of doctor appointments, CT and PET scans, chemo and radiation treatments; countless blood samples drawn; a PICC line for nearly three months. I stayed 'quarantined' in my house for a week, then was hospitalized for a week for a fever when my immune system was wiped out. I lost my hair, my lunch, my appetite and 30 pounds. I have been inspired by other cancer patients and survivors, and their positive outlooks. I decided that no matter what, I would do my best to stay positive.
Now a year and a half later, I'm asked often if I am cured. My answer: so far, so good. I am cautiously optimistic. Each follow up visit with my doctors has confirmed that the tumor is gone, and the odds are good that it won't come back. I am still recovering - the side effects of the treatment are more significant than I knew. But thanks to the Foundation’s website, I learned about pelvic physical therapy and have found one to help further my recovery. With the support of all of the doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and my friends and family, I have come a long way.
Looking for someone to talk to about your anal cancer diagnosis? We are here to help. The Peer to Peer Support Program is a free service provided by the Anal Cancer Foundation that matches anal cancer thrivers (our word for survivors) and caregivers with thriver volunteers and caregiver volunteers.