Just a few short weeks ago a long-time friend, Graham Owen, learned he has cancer. As I think you know, writing about my cancer has proven personally therapeutic. I invited Graham to share his story. As he is at the beginning of treatment, I suggested to Graham that he treat this as Installment 1. Phil O’Hara
Hello, my name is Graham and just a few weeks ago I learned my life is changed forever. I was blindsided with a cancer diagnosis.
On reflection, there were signs that things were off for a while, but when I awoke recently with an extreme pain in my lower rectum, it was clear something was seriously wrong. It was like nothing I’ve ever felt before, a pressure of sorts that was clearly abnormal. But much more than a pressure; the pain was over the top.
I struggled getting myself up and dressed for work. Just sitting in my truck while driving can be best described as torture which continued as I tried to sit in my office chair. It was obvious that I could not in any way, shape, or form function normally. I needed help.
I contacted my doctor. Due to COVID restrictions, all I could do was arrange a virtual appointment. Once I explained the nature of my pain to my Doc’s Assistant, I was connected to my doctor and without delay, asked to come in for an examination. From there I was sent to the Dartmouth General for additional tests. After an agonizing couple of days, which seemed like forever, the biopsies came back leaving no doubt that I had rectal cancer.
The rectum is the last several inches of the large intestine as shown at the bottom of the larger image. It starts at the end of the final segment of your colon and ends when it reaches the short, narrow passage leading to the anus. Rectal cancer begins in the rectum. Thanks to treatment advances over the last few decades, rectal cancer survival rates have improved.
My first reaction was one of disbelief. I was at a loss on how to proceed. Like others getting this kind of devastating news, my mind was running at warp speed with numerous unanswered questions. It was not just about the cancer. It included my life expectancy, the impact cancer will have on my family and how my friends will deal with the news; there were too many conflicting ideas running through my brain which raised my level of anxiety.
I’ve been following Phil since he started blogging about his cancer and decided I’d reach out to him as he’s been a source of inspiration for me even before finding myself heading down the same miserable road. We had a good phone conversation, mostly with Phil listening, and we agreed to meet so he could help me emotionally prepare for what I was facing going forward. Phil truly has the right thought processes on how to win and succeed in this battle. His knowledge is not about treatments and cures; it is really about the attitude you need take to the table with the horrendous challenges slapping you in the face.
The anxiety I experienced while waiting for results was and is the worst part. I’ve spent a lifetime believing I am in control of my destiny, but cancer robs you of that luxury. My emotional state is stretched to the limit, and I struggle to stay positive. I turn to Phil to remind me how important it is to stay upbeat every minute of every day. As difficult as it is, it truly makes a difference.
I was facing numerous tests and scans which seemed to be going great. And then the bomb dropped; I was advised that I needed to be re-scanned with the goal of checking that my cancer had not spread to other organs, especially my lungs and liver.
I reached out to my faith and recited a daily cancer prayer that was given to me by a good friend; I genuinely believe in this cancer prayer. After six excruciating long days, the results came back as negative. A weight I was lugging around got lifted from my shoulders in that moment.
I started the treatment stage after making my first visit to the cancer clinic in the Dickson Centre. Even during these times where COVID limits how many people who can enter the clinic, I am surprised at how the waiting room was so full of others with cancer. I had no idea there was so much cancer in Nova Scotia.
I met my cancer team who will be with me throughout my treatment.
I learned that without treatment I would have somewhere between 6-8 months to live. I don’t want that option, so I am about to start five radiation treatments followed by chemotherapy. After a short rest period of a few weeks to allow my body and blood numbers to recover, I will be admitted for surgery. My only viable option is to have my entire rectum removed and I will be fitted for a colostomy bag which becomes my constant companion for the rest of my life.
I need to step back and share that I was checked for an alternative which would have still required a colostomy bag for a brief time and then reconstruction of my rectum and anus. Sadly, this is only an option when rectal cancer is detected early. If you are getting the kits from the province to check for cancer in the bowel, do not ignore them. Send in a smear. I wish I had. The quality of your future life is best served with early detection.
I remain strong and will get through this challenge. My Team is confident that the odds favour me being cancer free at the end of my treatment. That is obviously my goal. With my family and friends in my corner and Phil as a coach, combined with my faith and the many prayers being said for me, I am confident there is a successful outcome in my future.
I was humbled when Phil asked me to write a guest blog and did not hesitate to do so. If I influence just one person to get checked and/or mail in the test kit, I take that as a win; and I like to be a winner.
Please don’t take these tests for granted when you receive them in the mail. Unfortunately, I did not send them in which would have produced an early detection and a cure without the consequence of my cancer remaining with me for the rest of my life in the form of a colonoscopy bag.
This is a game-changer you can avoid!
Thank you for reading – Graham Owen