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.

Sharing your story will help dispel the myths associated with the disease. Contact us if you want to be featured on our Thriver Stories!

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.