Wouldn’t it be nice if “our story” was just one about our marriage, our children, our life together and our family ..? But “our story” also involves cancer. Colorectal cancer that my husband has been fighting for 5 years.
Ryan was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in March 2015. He was 39 years old, and otherwise in great health. In September 2015, he had treatment to shrink and surgically remove the tumor. He also received chemotherapy to ensure the cancer was gone. In January 2017, through a routine scan, it was discovered that the cancer had moved to his liver. In February 2017, he had 1/3 of his liver removed. In June 2017, he had a clean CT scan, but in November through a visit to the ER department, a CT scan showed a recurrent mass (cancer) on the outside of this rectum. This is called a “local re-occurrence”.
Our family, our amazing supportive family, has done this a few times: receive the news, process it, and then get ready for the “fight of our lives“. This one was the hardest: we know that when cancer comes back, it’s never good. We waited 10 days, 10 really long and sad days to meet with the surgeon, who sat across from us and said there was “nothing” that they could do, and a referral would be put in to someone who might be able to help, but he seriously doubted it.
This was devastating and horrible! I would not wish this moment on anyone. The next day my husband and I woke up, looked at each other and decided “this cannot be it”. We are not done fighting, there has to be an option, there must be someone out there who can help us.
I have worked in not-for-profit my whole career, yet I never thought to find the association that deals with colorectal cancer, not until that day. I wish that I had found them 3 years ago because that moment, that day when I reached out to Colorectal Cancer Resource & Action Network (CCRAN), our life changed, our fight changed, and our outcome changed.
Filomena from CCRAN reached out to me on a Saturday night, and immediately I emailed her and she talked to me for 40 minutes about options. She gave me hope for the future, and within seconds I knew I had an advocate. We were referred to the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook, a centre of excellence. We were also told about the “Young Adult Colorectal Cancer Clinic” headed up by Dr. Shady Ashamalla. This is a clinic which specializes in treatment for those people diagnosed with the disease before the age of 50. We had an appointment with a highly skilled and expert surgeon in a week’s time. He believed he could remove the tumor and bring my husband back to health, a life without cancer. A week later, we had met the rest of the team: the radiation oncologist and medical oncologist. Each appointment moved us further in our plan and each interaction with the staff at Sunnybrook and CCRAN has been positive, uplifting, and safe.
As I mentioned before, that first call I made to CCRAN changed our life because we took the power back, we have a plan and an excellent care team. It changed our fight; now we are fighting with more knowledge; our team of supporters has grown; we have an entire organization and cancer clinic supporting us in this journey and it has changed our outcome. Before I called CCRAN, we had to sit down and tell our young daughters for the 3rd time that their dad has cancer and unsure if anything could be done. After the call and the support we received from CCRAN though, we were able to tell our daughters differently! Yes, their dad has recurrent cancer, but his medical team has a treatment plan in place and is working very hard to achieve a goal of no evidence of disease (NED) for him. We know nothing is absolute, and anything can happen, but we have hope, knowledge, and advocates as we navigate through this part of the journey with CCRAN, and that is a huge difference!
Our story if one of hope. Cancer will not define us! Instead, our determination and willingness to do everything we possibly can to help my husband Ryan will define us as a united family. Thank you CCRAN!