Nicole Willis 11/07/23 - In recovery for 9 months after having adenocarcinoma anal cancer stage 3. was 48 when I found out I had cancer and I am now 49.
In May 2022 I started experiencing pain when passing a bowel movement and would notice small amounts of blood. Upon examining myself, I discovered a small skin tag popping out of my rectum that was not there weeks ago. Since I already knew that I had a hemorrhoid from giving birth I assumed that it was now a prolapsed hemorrhoid and that is what I was seeing. It was not long before I went to see my general practitioner because the pain was starting to become unbearable. When the general practitioner was unsure of what it was, they told me that I should seek out a specialist to check it further.
I choose to see a proctologist and when they examined me, they discovered I had two hemorrhoids and an anal fissure. The fissure was trying to heal/close itself, creating the skin tag at the end of it that was popping out of my rectum. He treated me for the hemorrhoids and gave me cream to help the fissure heal. I was completely clueless as to how I got a fissure.
Over the next two months the pain only got worse. The fissure was not healing, so he instructed me to see a colorectal surgeon. I was able to see a surgeon who recommended a few options, so I went for the less invasive option to get anal Botox. After 3 months had passed and I was still bleeding during bowel movements the Botox wore off and the pain came back. I went in to have another round of anal Botox on November 28th, 2022, the surgeon discovered a lump behind the fissure and was pretty sure it was cancer so thankfully he took a biopsy on that day. It took about a week to learn that it was indeed cancer, but they were unsure of what type. After the biopsy was sent to another laboratory, 3 weeks later it was determined that the cancer was an adenocarcinoma, and it was 2.2cm and in the lymph node next door. My cancer, radiation, and surgeon doctors all thought it was a squamous cell cancer but were wrong. They were surprised that it was adenocarcinoma cancer since it’s usually found in your colon and rare to find it in your rectum alone. Thankfully, the cancer was nowhere else in my body.
The next stage was treatment, which consisted of 33 rounds of radiation (everyday for 6 weeks) and two different types of chemotherapy. I received IV chemo (mitomycin) and the beginning of treatment and at the end of treatment while taking a different type of chemo that were pills (xeloda) every day that I went to radiation. Luckily, I had the weekends off from radiation and the chemo pills.
While I feel like I hit the jackpot with my team of doctors they don’t tell you everything that you are going to possibly experience during treatment. The radiation burns where horrible! I would cry every time I had a bowel movement, and I was going about 4 times a day or more. The chemo caused hand and foot syndrome, and felt like the palms of my hands and the bottoms of my feet were severely burned. During treatment I also experienced a UTI, yeast infection, and radiation burns in my groin and rectum at the same time.
Since I have finished treatment on February 24th, 2023, my body has been through so much that it is impossible to explain here in detail, but I am getting better and better as the months pass and have had no detection of cancer through the last 2 biopsies since completing treatment and clear scans. I also have had a colonoscopy performed since, and there were no polyps. I have more scans/biopsies coming up again soon. It will be a constant in my life, at least for the next five years.
Things that helped me were talking about my cancer on YouTube. It helped me to not feel alone since I don’t know anyone else that has ever had anal cancer, and no one talks about it openly. I have made some new friends across the world that have gone through anal cancer and had some great advice.
Keeping a healthy mindset has been crucial to my healing. Mediation, journaling, yoga, walking, and eating healthy is a normal way of life for me that has contributed to me getting through my treatment and healing. After treatment, I went to an acupuncturist and had 30 rounds of hyperbaric oxygen therapy that helped me heal. My friends and family have been extremely supportive as well and that has made a huge difference. It is extremely important to listen to your body and know the signs. It is clear now that the fissure was caused from the cancer. Now I am left with side effects from the radiation. I hear it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I am thankful for my doctors, radiation and chemotherapy no matter how hard it was. I would make the same choice.
View more of Nicole's story on her YouTube channel!
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.