I can thank my late brother-in-law, my bicycle, and my surgeon for the relatively easy time I had with diagnosis and treatment of stage 1 anal cancer.
I found blood in the toilet after pooping in early 2017. I remembered my husband’s brother, now gone from bladder cancer, saying he knew something was terribly wrong when he saw blood when he urinated.
I knew in my heart I needed to take action. But my husband was being treated for lung cancer, so I kept it to myself.
My husband was quickly cured by surgery. I kept passing blood now and then. I was still stalling.
Then one day I was riding my bicycle around the neighborhood park. Every time I hit a bump, i had a literal pain in the butt.
Ok, I told myself, it’s time.
The colorectal surgeon who took a look in his office finished by saying, “it doesn’t look like cancer.” CANCER???? I thought I would faint. He subsequently removed in outpatient surgery tissue he still thought was benign. Two weeks later, days before my 67th birthday, he called with the pathology report. Squamous cell anal cancer.
My best advice came from within me. I chose not to comb the internet for information, leaving that to my husband. I did not need to be any more frightened than I already was. I chose to have trust in the oncologist the surgeon sent me to.
I wish I’d known a bit more about how radiology would prepare me for treatment. That I would be right side up (I had a horror of being placed butt up); what exactly making a mold of my lower body would entail; that I would get tiny tattoos. TATTOOS???
The best advice came from the medical oncology nurse who told me to stay ahead of even the slightest hint of nausea. I did and I had none. I have a horror of puking.
I began going public with my diagnosis some months after treatment ended on Halloween 2017, when it just felt right. It sure is a conversation stopper. Though I have had a few women whisper to me about symptoms they are experiencing. (The face of anal cancer is now women in their 60’s.)
I feel very fortunate that my experience, while not anything I would want to repeat, was about as easy as it gets with this diagnosis and that the fallout from radiation has been, while permanent, minimal. I am now in my fifth year of clean scans.
Early diagnosis and treatment is essential. As one of my docs told me, “there is no such thing as normal anal bleeding.”
Don’t let anyone fob you off with “it’s just a hemorrhoid.” It’s your life. Mine, I am so thankful to say, is pretty much back to normal.
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.