Thriving After A Colon Cancer Diagnosis

Harry CorbinI told my wife once that I'd do everything in my power to give us forty years of life together. Well, we're passed that and now I'm working on the next installment. I'm thinking 18 more years. I'm 82 now so that would put me at an even 100. I can't be sure that I'll get there but it's a worthy goal and I'm working toward it.

My Diagnosis:
"Talk about a one-two punch!"

I had a scheduled appointment with my primary care physician and everything seemed to go well. After the exam we talked for a bit as we always do and he asked me if anything about my health was different, if I seemed to have any symptoms of anything. I told him I had a little diarrhea occasionally, not big deal, but he immediately got me an appointment for a colonoscopy. During the procedure they took some tissue samples to be evaluated in the lab.

About a week later I was traveling in Atlanta and got stuck in a bad traffic jam. I'll never forget it. Just then I got a call from the gastroenterologist, a digestive system specialist, telling me that the biopsy was positive for colorectal cancer. Talk about a one-two punch! I find out that I have cancer and then have a 12 hour drive home with nothing to do but think about it. I've had a lot of great road trips but that sure wasn't one of them. But I made it back home, called my PCP, and got the ball rolling.

My Riverside Experience:
"I was able to stay close to home and family."

The first thing was the appointment with Dr. Shahwali Arezo, a Riverside gastroenterologist in Williamsburg, not too far from where my wife and I live in Toano. He ran some additional tests and referred me to a Riverside colleague, Dr. George Kannarkat, a medical oncologist who practices in several locations including Williamsburg. Dr. Kannarkat handled the chemotherapy part of my treatment and pretty much coordinated all of my care from that point on.

I took the chemo in an oral form and got radiation therapy simultaneously. The idea was to shrink the tumor before I had surgery to remove it. I got the radiation in Williamsburg, also, where I was under the care of a Riverside radiation oncologist, Dr. Mark Chisam. So I was able to stay close to my home and family through that phase of treatment.

After a month of chemo and radiation, I took some time off before the surgery. I have to say that I felt better than you might expect after getting a double treatment like that. About half way through I found that didn't have much appetite and lost some weight, but other than that I was basically feeling alright. My wife made the kinds of food I liked and the radiation staff gave me some good tips on nutrition and I eventually gained the weight back.

I had the surgery at Riverside Regional Medical Center. Dr. Brian Billings, a colon and rectal surgeon did the procedure. Actually, it was two procedures. I had a temporary colostomy that stayed in place until the lower part of my colon was healed. Then Dr. Billings did additional surgery to reverse the colostomy.

Throughout my treatment everything was coordinated well and I was treated with a lot of respect. I think the staff realized I was the kind of person who took things very systematically. Something happened and now I have to get through it, step by step. That's my approach to things and they all did a good job of supporting my feelings beginning with my Riverside primary care physician, Dr. Jay Floyd, who moved quickly to get the whole process moving.

Life After Treatment:
"Now I'm working on the next installment."

Harry CorbinOnce the second surgery was over I was glad to put it all behind me. I was never really in any pain but my energy level had decreased quite a bit. I've been swimming, splitting wood that we burn in the winter and doing other exercises for years. And I've always done a lot around the house. I think staying physically active is important. Dr. Kannarkat told me that he came up with a particularly aggressive treatment plan for me because I was in decent shape and seemed to be pretty tough mentally, too.

After the surgery it's taken a while to get my strength back. As my energy continues to increase I'm looking forward to traveling again. My wife and I have crisscrossed the country numerous times, we've lived in a lot of different places and we both enjoy getting out and seeing new things. Along with our daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren here in Virginia we have children and grandchildren out of state, so that's a good reason to get on the road, too. Whatever we do I plan to keep on doing it for awhile.

A long time ago my wife and I made a pact. I told her I'd do everything in my power to give us forty years of life together. Well, we're passed that and now I'm working on giving her the next installment. I'm thinking 18 more years. I'm 82 now so that would put me at an even 100. I can't be sure that I'll get there but it's a worthy goal and I'm working toward it.

Some Things Worth Sharing:
"You've just got to keep on living."

I'm sure there are as many different approaches to life after cancer as there are people who have had cancer. What helped me get through, along with my wife who was my main caregiver, was the fact that I tend to take things in stride, even this. I just don't worry a lot about what I can't control. I got good doctors and I followed the plan.

As far as specifics go, I think you have to watch what you read on the internet. There are some reliable online resources, but also a lot of misinformation. And I highly recommend spending some time in the company of people who have a personal sense of what you've gone through. That's why I participate in a cancer survivors support group.

But more than anything, I think the key to the whole experience is just don't fret so much. Worrying about what might happen can get you down as much as the disease and some aspects of the treatment. In the midst of everything, you've just got to keep on living. I know it may be easier said than done, but that's the best advice I can possibly offer.