This is part I of a who-knows-how-many-part series I will write about my continuing battle with Stage 3 colon cancer.
“Being that you are 51 years old, you REALLY should get a colonoscopy,” my doctor said.
It literally went in one ear and out the other that day last June. I walked out of Sanford Clinic in Brookings after getting a clean bill of health after my yearly physical and figured I was good for a few years.
Went back to my desk at the Register and started working again. Then it dawned on me I hadn’t gotten a refill for my heartburn medicine. So I logged into My Chart online at Sanford and put a message into Dr. (Zoilo) Lansing’s nurse.
There across the top of my chart I saw in red letters OVERDUE COLONOSCOPY SINCE 4/3/2018. Not sure what made me do it. I’m going to call it divine intervention because there’s no part of me that would normally schedule a health procedure. I’m a healthy guy, what’s the point?
I went ahead and scheduled a colonoscopy. The sooner the better, I thought. Just get it over with. I was able to get in about 10 days later in Sioux Falls. I’m telling you the worst part of the procedure is drinking the laxative solution. Seemed like about five gallons worth of stuff. You know what happens next. Over and over. All night.
My wife and I arrived at 5:30 a.m. in Sioux Falls for the procedure. Got all checked in, put on my fancy hospital gown and waited for the procedure, which took maybe 20 or 30 minutes.
Then we waited patiently for the doctor to come visit with us and discuss his findings. We waited and waited. Probably for roughly 90 minutes. I jokingly said to my wife it must be bad news.
When Doctor Dennis Glatt finally came into my room, he sat down and said he had found a “lesion” and it didn’t look good. “I’m very concerned,” he said about three times. “Concerned, as in I have cancer?” I asked him, pretty much horrified at this point.
He reminded me pathology would confirm if it were cancer or not and that would take a few days. He told me to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I’m thankful for his honesty. His frankness allowed my wife and I to really come to grips over that weekend with the fact that I might very well have cancer.
Doctor Glatt called me Monday to tell me that I did indeed have a cancerous tumor in my rectum. Yikes, what a gut punch. Next steps were CT scans, MRIs, staging and developing a plan to whip this disease.
The tests came back as Stage 3 colorectal cancer. Stage 3 because the cancer had jumped to at least one lymph node in my stomach area. Learning it had not spread to any distant organs was a big relief. My wife and I knew it could have been much worse.
Next we sat down with an oncologist – Dr. Jonathan Bleeker, who developed my plan for which the hopeful outcome is “cure” or cancer free. I have eight chemo infusions over the next two months (I have completed four so far), followed by oral chemo and radiation (28 straight days) that will last toward the end of the year. Surgery is the final step – roughly Feb or March 2020.
Slowly I broke the news to family, work colleagues and friends. What has happened since then has been overwhelming and I have to admit often moves me to tears.
The cards, the calls, the texts, the gift cards, the silly socks, books, Facebook messages and meals delivered to our house. This is such a caring community and I am beyond thankful to live in a place that takes care of people in need. People from outside of Brookings have reached out, too. Even my small group confirmation class of eighth-graders at First Lutheran Church gifted me with a care package.
So many people know that Tuesday is my chemo day and like clockwork the texts start on Tuesday morning wishing me the best in treatment that day.
It is all received so well by me, my wife Carley, and my children, Thomas (23), Camden (6) and Kendall (4).
No matter what the diagnosis, or what cancer throws my way I feel blessed to call this place my HOME.
Billy McMacken is the publisher of The Brookings Register. Contact him at [email protected]