“Why Me Again?” How Karen Rice Coped With Stage 3 Colon Cancer After Beating Breast Cancer
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years back the first thing came to mind was “death sentence.” However, I found out later that it was truly an awakening for me; even after being diagnosed with colon cancer a few years later.
I began questioning, as most people do, why, why me? But instead of bemoaning my fate, I eventually decided to look for the positive side of my diagnoses. There had to be a reason for it all. Hearing you have cancer is frightening — just the sound of the word itself — and no matter what you’ve heard in the media or from others dealing with cancer, all you know is cancer kills. Once you enter the world of cancer, all you want to do is fight and find out all there is to know to get rid of it. I knew I had a battle, but I also had hope.
My MD told me since I was at an early stage of breast cancer, I wouldn’t need chemo/radiation, but I would have to have my entire breast removed. Still my mind wandered, thinking the MD could be wrong, some of the cancer could have spread. You hear about that happening all the time.
Once I began my journey, I remember running into people who told me I was in denial about my condition because I didn’t look or act like I had cancer. I still worked and went on about my business because I thought, Why do I have to go around looking or acting a certain way, just because I have cancer? I wasn’t in denial, I came to an understanding. There wasn’t much I could personally do about the cancer myself. I had to allow the doctors and the medications to do what they were designed to do. All I could do was pray and move forward. I’m not saying I didn’t have moments of crying because there were many. When I left the MD after receiving the diagnosis, I drove around for hours. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew I couldn’t go home yet. I didn’t want to go home to my daughter where she could see that I was upset. So I waited until I calmed down and got all my tears out. I didn’t want to frighten or upset her; I also wanted my child to know that everything was going to be OK, even if I wasn’t so sure that it would be.
The tears came many more days, but I was able to hold them in when I was around others. I didn’t want anyone to see me sweat. Most people were already looking and staring at me as if I was already lying in a coffin. I wanted everyone to see that I wasn’t worried, even though I’m still not that confident that I’m going to be OK in the long run. But in the midst of my treatment, there was always something in the back of my mind telling me I was going to be OK, and I went about each day, each treatment, and each surgery with that mind set.
I had to have multiple surgeries during my breast cancer period because I began to experience extreme pain. I had thoughts that perhaps the cancer had spread to other organs, where else could all this pain be coming from? Doubts of my survival began running through my head. I had so much pain in and around the surgical site — stinging, burning, sharp pain, dull pain — it felt as if the area around the scar would burst. One of the doctors I saw (there were several) gave me an order to go through massage therapy because along with the extreme pain from my surgery site, I had developed Lymphedema (swelling in arms or legs) due to the many lymph nodes that had been removed around my breast surgery site.
Once I began therapy, I couldn’t stand for the therapist to touch me, the area was too painful to touch. The sessions were canceled immediately; I didn’t see the need for them. Once I had exhausted all of my options from pain meds to nerve blockers I decided there was nothing more that could be done but to live with the pain. The MDs finally gave me a name for my condition: Neuropathic/Severe Nerve Damage, including Post Mastectomy Pain syndrome.” The pain is with me all the time, increasing when it’s aggravated or during extreme weather; but when you have no choice but to deal, you deal.
Years had gone by and I had finally gotten to a point where I was happy every single day to be alive and have survived everything I’d gone through. And then all of a sudden I was hit with another diagnosis: colon cancer.
If you’re wondering, yes, I’m a little angry. Who wouldn’t be? I’ve done this before. Why me again? At the same time, I’ve said to myself, “Why not me again?” Nothing surprises me anymore. What did surprise me is I wasn’t as afraid or as angry as I was with my first cancer diagnosis. Maybe because I know that there are no answers as to why this keeps happening, no matter how often I question how much one person can take. But I had to get past that because if I was going to fight and get through this cancer as I did the first one, the negative thoughts had to leave my mind. Cancer is truly like a boxing match, one of us has to win and the other has to lose. Like it or not, I had cancer again. I didn’t ask for it, but here it was, and I had to deal with it. Yes, I still had moments of tears, but the nights of crying became less and less, until I was all cried out.
My colon cancer was diagnosed as stage three and, naturally, I questioned my chances of survival. I had to have a colon resection which required that I wear an ileostomy bag. I also had to go through extensive chemo and radiation treatments, which was hard but I did it. Yes, I was left with complications from both cancer diagnoses, but I’m not sure there’s anyone who’s gone through cancer once or twice and doesn’t have some negative effect lingering on. It’s like your body is a car that was ran over and over then put through a car wash multiple times. You’re going to be left with dents, but you can survive and still shine. Through it all, I realized that I was about to face a new beginning, new hope, do and see more with a whole new prospective on life. When I think of the “gift of life” that was given to me, I know that I will continue to develop and gain even more strength. Initially, I wasn’t happy with the way I looked after my surgeries. I had to look at those areas daily as a steady reminder of my disease, but I decided to snap out of it. I thought about the individuals that are no longer here because of cancer. There will always be someone worse off than I am, so who am I to complain?
There was a time during one of my surgeries, I experienced something of a miracle and felt the compulsion to write it down. I composed a poem about that experience and I called it “Peace” because I felt as if I had gone to the other side. Writing has became therapy for me. I took that poem along with many others I had written during my tragedy and placed them in book form. I had that book published, along with another inspirational children’s book, and I’m now working on my third publication.
I never sat out to become a writer, I just became one. A lot of times you go through journeys in life to get to another. I’m now hoping by sharing my experiences I can make a positive impact on someone else who’s ill and help them develop the strength to embrace life in a whole new way. I truly believe when you survive a horrific tragedy or a disease as horrible as cancer, it’s for a reason; you have purpose. I’m a true example that you can survive cancer not once, but twice. If you catch it in time, have faith and allow that faith to direct your path. I’m not saying all will be easy; I won’t even say everyone will survive, but as you travel through such a journey fight with all your might and believe that no matter what there’s someone with you every step of the way.