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But Wait, There’s More

May 16, 2014

I recently sent a health update via email to family members, and since I’ve always been a big proponent of recycling, I thought I’d post it here as well instead of writing a whole new post. Read on…

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As usual, sorry to be sending a mass email with bad news, but I have spent so much time on the phone over the last week to doctors and my parents that I’m afraid any more cell phone exposure could give me a brain tumor! (Just a little cancer humor…)

I wanted to let you know that a recent colonoscopy found two new cancerous lesions. I’ve known for about six weeks that this was a possibility – my annual scope in early March found a suspicious area that showed “severe dysplasia” when biopsied. This was not good, but didn’t necessarily tell us much – it could have meant as little as inflammation or as much as cancer. I did a second scope a week later to get further biopsies, but these came back less suspicious, so the docs decided to wait a month and then repeat the test.

This time, it found definite cancer in two different parts of my colon, which my doctors think are two new colon cancer diagnoses, not metastases of my previous cancer. This is because the cancer appears to have originated in the colon, and neither growth is in the same area as my original colon tumor. Based on this finding, they are recommending that I have my entire colon removed. This is routinely done in patients with Lynch Syndrome, a hereditary condition that increases both risk of colon cancer and the likelihood of developing additional colon cancers, and often causes it to occur at an earlier age than usual. When I was first diagnosed in 2011, I did genetic testing for Lynch and other mutations and hereditary conditions, and all of it came back negative. But since we only know what about 5% of the genes do, only certain mutations can be tested for – so of course it would be possible that I’d have one that hasn’t been discovered yet.

Of course this is a bummer – I’ve been on chemo for the past three years of my life with the explicit aim of avoiding having to ever get just such news – but it’s a better outcome than the alternative (that these lesions are metastases of my previous cancer, growing into the colon from the abdominal cavity). This possibility can’t be ruled out until the surgeon gets his eyes on my insides to see what’s going on. And even if the new cancer is confirmed to be new primaries contained within the colon, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t still be other metastases from my previous cancer(s) (in addition to colon cancer, Georgetown diagnosed me with appendix cancer after my second surgery in 2012) lurking somewhere.

Because that possibility exists, one colon surgeon here in DC has recommended that we schedule another potential shake-and-bake (http://www.hipectreatment.com/about-the-hipec-procedure/) procedure with this surgery. That way, if they do see further spread when they open me up, they can zap it then. Surgical multitasking. I like this surgeon very much, but am going to the Mayo Clinic next week to get a second opinion before confirming anything. Whatever I decide, surgery will likely be mid-June.

Until then, my goal is to get as strong as possible, in terms of both weight and physical fitness, in hopes of speeding my post-surgical recovery. As you may know, I went on a weeklong climbing trip in Moab, Utah in May 2012 (just after learning of my cancer’s recurrence and metastasis) with an organization called FIRST DESCENTS that offers young adult cancer survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same. I had an amazing time and met 14 other awesome survivors who helped me prepare mentally for the major surgery that was waiting for me upon my return to Washington, DC.

I’m signed up for a second FD climbing expedition in September, this one to the Gunks in southern New York state – and I still have every intention of following through with it. While these trips are free to participants, they cost at least $1,000 per person to run – so to go on a second trip, FIRST DESCENTS asks us to pay it forward so that more young cancer survivors can rediscover their strength through this experience. We do this by fundraising through a physical challenge of our choosing. I am currently participating in a 5K training program for cancer survivors that is preparing us for a race in Washington, DC on June 14. It is likely my surgery will be before then – so I am pledging run a 5K before this surgery. I am also engaged in a weight-gain competition with another FD alum who shares my struggle with keeping the pounds on. You can read more about my challenge and donate here: http://tfd.firstdescents.org/goto/YingsOnTheRun.

When I called the FD office last week to let them know about my upcoming surgery and tell them my 5K plan, I was told that I didn’t have to worry about getting my challenge in beforehand. But running this race means a lot to me. It’s not a huge distance, but it’s one I’ve never run all at one time. I want to feel strong going into this operation. I want that perceived strength to help me through the recovery. And I want to do everything I can to make it on this trip in September – the idea of another surgery is much easier to accept with this trip to look forward to.

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After I wrote this message, I fell going down the stairs and hurt my foot. My cousin took me to the ER on Wednesday, and after a couple of hours and four x-rays, the doctor told us that it was only a bad sprain. I see my orthopedist (yes, I have an orthopedist, since I broke this same foot just before my last surgery) on Monday, so I’ll find out then whether I have to postpone my 5K! I’m hoping not – it has already improved a great deal in less than 48 hours. But until then, I will try to follow the ER doc’s orders to stay in my trusty fracture boot as much as possible…

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