Woman with pink hat smilingMy name is Susie Sanchez, I was diagnosed with Anal Cancer on March 18th 2021.

It all began with a 'booty itch' in August of 2020. We are all home working in our new 'home environment workstations' due to Covid and I recall my butt itching often, especially at night. I thought maybe it was from wearing my bathing suit too long in the day hours as I juggled professional work as well as backyard fun with grandkids in the pool during the early months of the pandemic.

I'd just had my yearly girly check-up in June 2020. I had a clean/clear HPV and pap test and I've never had a bad one. My OBGYN had just performed a digital rectal exam that June, I've never had an issue back there before. Then in late November 2020 after going to the bathroom and wiping, I saw a small amount of blood. It concerned me as I still had this booty itch. I returned to my OBGYN and told him what was going on, I assume it was a hemorrhoid though I'd never had one. He checked and said it was a small fissure from a bowel movement. He prescribed me an ointment and I was on my way. The ointment never worked and then in January of 2021, I had a show of blood again but this time I looked for a more specific doctor who could work with fissures, and I came across Dr. Parrish out of Los Gatos, CA. He was a proctologist (I had no idea what kind of Dr. that was or meant) and scheduled an appointment with him.

On that first visit, things happened quickly. Dr. Parrish said it was an abnormal fissure. He tested me for many STD's; I thought that was odd then he asked me when my last rectum pap smear was for the HPV virus. HPV in my butt, a pap smear in my butt? I'd never heard of such a thing, I told him. He ran that test and did a small biopsy that day in the office and five days later on March 18th, 2021, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the anal region from the HPV virus (P16 strain) - Anal Cancer. That evening, that phone call and the words from Dr. Parrish confirming the biopsy to me by far was the worst moment in my life. My mind went blank, my ears closed and I melted down the wall and sunk into the earth. Life stopped. Everything stopped.

The moment and days after the diagnosis were filled with appointments, scans, pokes, and discussions with SOOO many people. Telling all your friends, family, the company you work for plus co-workers. I didn't really have time to get sad, mad, or scared - there was just too much to do and get done.

...then ironically, I researched the Anal Cancer Foundation website (and here I am now) to learn about the treatment plan I was about to undergo about a week or so after finding out I had cancer. That's when I began to coil up, get scared and terrified. I need to plan for caregivers and help and put on the superhero cape, army gear and go to war against this cancer beast. On the outside, I stayed and looked somewhat calm and collected myself for others; you never want to see others sad or concerned so I stayed strong facing them - yet inside especially at night/early morning hours, I would lay in bed absolutely terrified. My husband and sister, Lisa were going to be my caregivers as we began to plan for this 6-week treatment plan.

I was diagnosed with stage 2 anal cancer - no lymph nodes exposed, thank God. My treatment plan began on Monday, May 17th and ended on Thursday, June 24th. It was six weeks plan of radiation therapy with concurrent chemo treatment of Xeloda (pill form of 5-FU) + Mitomycin C IV (twice). It was the worst six weeks/28 days of my life. I was never able to receive the 2nd Mitomycin C IV on day 29 as my wbc was too low to administer the treatment to me.

Recovering from anal cancer is so tough. The treatment plan for anal cancer patients, for almost six weeks (28 days) however the following two weeks are so intense, painful, and exhausting. Your body is completely flattened to zero. My energy was absolutely gone, the wounds/burns are so painful, raw, and sensitive and you're completely just done with the entire experience. We had a family vacation planned in mid-July which fell at week three post-treatment for me and I was cleared by my doctor to be able to go so I did.

Woman sat on wheelchair with sign reading "I'm recovering from anal cancer from the HPV virus. It's best you vaccinate yourself and children from this deadly virus"

New walls for recovery and the sound of laughter of family and grandbabies helped heal week three to week four for me. I was taken around the airport and resort by wheelchair because I had no physical strength to walk those types of distances this early in the recovery stage. I pray many of those youngsters swimming in the pool or at the oceanfront that week returned home to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine from the message I provided on the back of my wheelchair. This disease/cancer is SOOOOOOOOO preventative and can be eradicated if we vaccinate our youth with the HPV vaccine.

Everything about my cancer experience was difficult. The word cancer and everything associated with it is such a mind Fxxx. But somehow in those early weeks, I was able to put on that army gear and mentally go to war. As my radiation oncologist would say, sooo much of cancer is in between your ears - meaning, your mind is such a force and you need to stay positive to get you through the treatment plan and daily radiation visits. Put on your armor, go to war, never give up (even on your worst days and pains) and win the battlefield, kill the beast! I'd say the daily and hourly bathroom runs that an anal cancer patient goes through is so intense. Like eating or drinking, you have to do it to stay alive but you also have to exit everything via the urethra and anal area everyday, all the time and those areas are sooo damaged, inflamed, burned for an anal cancer patient -- its all just AWFUL!

I found slight comfort with the pain medication and mental routines to distract those moments in the bathroom. I'd tap my right foot/toes, hold my ears, sing or scream the abc's over and over again and some of the times asked my husband or sister to come in and just hold me in an intense side hug as I went to the bathroom number 1 or 2. ... just imagine that for weeks on end, day by day, hour by hour -- complete torture really.

During my treatment - I relied heavily on a vape pen that contain small amounts of THC for dizziness, nausea, and anxiety. I was on oral chemo for my anal cancer treatment so I was taking chemo pills (2500 mg) a day for 28 days - only getting Saturday and Sundays off - no chemo pills on Saturday or Sundays. So I was dizzy and nauseous every day. My blood counts (wbc, rbc and platelets counts were just so low all the time). I took pain medication towards the end of treatment around week five - not a high dose but just a mild amount of Tramadol. My faith in God was by far the biggest power and foundation in getting me through this entire experience from beginning to end. Every radiation session that I had, I'd lay there during those 15 minutes or so sessions I'd visually/mentally walk with Jesus on water to get through the anxiety of the sounds and experience.

..and then all of a sudden, it's over!!! There's life after your last treatment day. There's life as you're recovering. You come to an understanding of a new place of a new normal. My Life after cancer is a new place for me. I just received that first call and results from my first MRI showing no cancer was detected and I'm in remission. This is such amazing news!!! I'm coming to a new place in this entire cancer journey which is now what I call processing. I'm just now waking up and looking back/reflecting on what just happened to me. You see, I had no time for this at the beginning, during treatment or even soon after during recovery but I'm beginning to be in this place now. My new life is unfolding itself in front of me now. I'm overly thankful and grateful just to be alive. #keepliving

What I want other anal cancer patients to know is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I don't want another living soul to go through what I went through but sadly I know this won't be a reality. But when someone enters this dark storm and cloud of anal cancer they need to know there's an incredible group of supporting warriors/survivors out there willing to help, guide, and listen to you during the duration of your treatment and recovery. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I will try to help others and save lives for current and future generations by sharing my story - that's the hidden message/silver lining in all of this. I want to be a motivational speaker at any level to any group about the subject, anal cancer, HPV-related cancers, HPV in general, and the HPV vaccine. Anal cancer, cervical cancer, and head/neck cancers are ALL possibly preventable with the HPV vaccine. Sadly, the vaccine wasn't around or available when I was growing up. I'd scream from the highest mountain top and on all mountain tops to tell ALL youth (girls & boys) - PLEASE get vaccinated against this deadly virus, it PREVENTS CANCER - and I don't want to see another living soul go through this devastating experience that I just went through.

..my website http://www.susiesanchez.com

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.

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