Cancer. As a kid, I had linked it directly to a death sentence. All I remember when hearing the word spoken by an adult was the amount of time a doctor would give a person to live upon discovering the sickness.
I’d get scared. I’d try to avoid looking at the the man or woman, wanting to run away from them, afraid that their sickness would rub off on me somehow.
The person is going to die, I thought. When you got cancer, you died, I told myself. I don’t want to die. I don’t want cancer. I don’t want to even be around someone who talks about cancer, let alone contracts it.
And then it hit me.
A doctor told me I had cancer.
He said it with no emotion whatsoever in his voice.
Cancer had grown in my colon and had caused me the pain and suffering I had lived with for six months.
It was a relief, in a way. I thought the pain was caused by something I got exposed to while in a sweat lodge I had sweated. I felt a little sick shortly after taking part in my third sweat lodge experience. Could the sweat in the lodge have caused such a discomfort? Someone noticed a spider or two in the lodge before we added hot coals to the pit and began the sweat. Perhaps I got some sort of poison from one of the spiders, I pondered. Or maybe it was something in the food some ten of us had prepared for a pot luck dinner shared after the sweat.
It’s irritable bowel syndrome, I had eventually determined I had gotten. My stomach began to swell and I developed all the symptoms of the disease, to include cramping and constipation, not to mention diarrhea and occasionally throwing up in the most inconvenient places like a Target store in Chestnut Hill, a high-class neighborhood in Philadelphia.
I restricted my diet, took herbal supplements and read anything I could get my hands on from the Internet. I saw two different doctors and neither one could pinpoint the cause of my sickness, nor confirm that it indeed was IBS.
I had a cat-scan done with nothing out of the ordinary showing. Next came an ultrasound test with similar results. Both showed that I had something wrong with my kidneys, but I knew that going in, and I was assured it could not have caused the problem on the right side of the stomach.
Finally, hospital staff members at the Veterans Administration of Philadelphia performed a colonoscopy test. I had not had one for over nine years, and was not due until this past August.
“You got a large growth here,” the doctor at the VA hospital told me when the initial results from the procedure were available. He told me that it looked like cancer. Within hours, a biopsy report confirmed that the growth was indeed cancerous.
And in less than 10 days, the hospital admitted me for surgery and I went under the knife on May 23, 2014.
I wouldn’t know if the surgeon got everything out for another 10 days. And I can tell you that I had not felt such dread for my life since being shelled in combat while serving in Vietnam.