I began having colonoscopies at 41 years of age due to a family history of colon cancer (my dad passed from mucinous adenocarcinoma of the appendix that had spread to the colon). My first colonoscopy was in 2017 and I received an all-clear with another check-in 5 years. In 2018 I underwent genetic testing which showed I have the ovarian cancer gene as well as an unknown variant of Lynch Syndrome. Due to the possible Lynch Syndrome, my gynecologist recommended I go ahead with another colonoscopy in 2019 to which my gastrointestinal doctor agreed. This resulted in me having my next scope at 2 years, versus 5 years.
On January 16, 2019, I had my second colonoscopy. At the time I did think I was dealing with some hemorrhoids and the doctor agreed. But after the test, he told me that he saw something a little concerning and went ahead and did a biopsy and he would call me with the results. On January 22nd—the 9-year anniversary of my dad's death—my doctor called with the results: I had squamous cell carcinoma of the anus (anal cancer) and that he was referring me immediately to an oncologist and a surgeon. My cancer ended up being staged at T3C with a 5.1 cm mass with sphincter involvement and invasion into the rectal wall. There were multiple lymph modes involved as well.
Within a week I had met with my oncologist, surgeon, as well as a radiation oncologist and a treatment plan was in place. I started 5-FU and mitomycin the next week and radiation on February 7th. From what I have heard, the fact that my treatment started so quickly was almost unheard of. Oddly, the cancer had no connection to my dad's cancer or my genetic testing. But, if it had not been for the testing it would have been at least 2 more years before my cancer was discovered as I was having no symptoms.
After two rounds of 5-FU and 30 radiation treatments, I was finally done on March 27th. The chemo wasn't that bad but by the end of the radiation I was in a lot of pain and discomfort. On June 19, 2019, I had an after-treatment PET scan that showed no residual cancer! Treatment was rough but it could have been so much worse and I am thankful for my team of doctors as well as the good Lord that I am here today and still cancer-free. I never confirmed whether my cancer was caused by HPV - I am certain that I hadn't been HPV positive since at least 2002.
In August 2019, less than two months after the NED pet scan, I had a complete hysterectomy as a result of the ovarian cancer gene. So, needless to say 2019 was quite a year for me health-wise.
I have had clear colonoscopies and MRIs every six months since and have my next one later this month. I live with the effects of the radiation every day with bowel issues and joint pain which is severe at times but I am blessed and plan to continue to be a thriver!
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.