Colon and Rectal Survivor

Survivor’s diligence in regular appointments proved life saving

Bobbi Bisserier is a diminutive dynamo, who in 2008, was diagnosed with stage IIIC colon cancer. With a family history of breast cancer, she was vigilant in maintaining her health, but colon cancer was completely unexpected.

Most recently, Bobbi has worked as an independent sales representative for New England Promotions. She volunteers with the Bloch Cancer Hotline and Love on a Leash, and works out regularly. Bobbi and her dog Suleika live in Solana Beach, California, where she is in a committed relationship with a wonderful gentleman named Art.

 

I am very grateful to a doctor for saving my life. Because every one of the women in my family was diagnosed with breast cancer after menopause, I have always been super vigilant in seeking my yearly physical exam. Thankfully, they were all long-term survivors, but I was aware of my propensity for having cancer.

In 2008, that commitment to good health saved my life. I went for my annual checkup and everything was normal. Then I went to my gynecologist’s office, where during my internal examination, she identified an abnormality that concerned her. Despite the fact that my colonoscopy two years prior was clean, she was insistent that I go back to the gastroenterologist.

After having a colonoscopy, I went for the results, and my gastroenterologist told me I had colon cancer. It was located in my sigmoid and was stage IIIc — almost IV. What a shock! No one in my family had ever had colon cancer.

The tumor that was detected was a flat tumor, rather than a polyp (which can look like a mushroom) and only the size of a fingernail. My doctor explained that flat tumors can hide in the folds of the colon and are often difficult to detect, which is why it wasn’t discovered in the previous colonoscopy. Although my tumor was very small, it was extremely aggressive, but was still contained in the colon wall. Ten lymph nodes were also removed and five of them were positive. One of the doctors told me I had only a 48% chance of survival.

Within two weeks of my annual checkup, I was scheduled to have colon surgery and the doctors were recommending follow-up chemotherapy. That was a scary time — I thought I was going to die.

Before my surgery, however, I wanted a second opinion. My son, who lives in New York, came and went with me. We consulted with a preeminent colorectal specialist at an academic center, and he confirmed my doctors’ recommendations for surgery and chemotherapy. I’m always an advocate for a second opinion, as it will either solidify the diagnosis in your mind, or it will help you think differently about your options.

I followed the doctors’ advice and chose laparoscopic surgery, which removed one-third of my colon. After my surgery, my doctor told me that my colon was completely clean of cancerous cells. To be on the safe side, however, I also elected to have intense chemotherapy.

For 20 years or more, the standard chemotherapy regimen for stage III colon cancer had remained virtually the same, but prior to my diagnosis a new drug passed FDA approval and could be added to the protocol. This drug was shown to give as much as a 12% increase in survival chances, but there were some nasty side effects that could include permanent numbness in my hands and feet. Nonetheless, I wanted the treatment that gave me the highest chance of survival.

The seven months of chemotherapy were tough and I had difficulties with overly prescribed steroids and breathing. I was frightened and depressed, but the doctors and I worked through the physical struggles and made appropriate changes. I was miserable emotionally, however, and really needed to talk with someone who had walked in my shoes. Through the Cancer Center at my hospital, I was put in touch with Mary Ellen, a volunteer with the Bloch Cancer Hotline, who was a 13-year colon cancer survivor. She encouraged me and gave me hope. We became friends, too.

It’s now been two and half years. There are no signs of recurrence, I have minimal residual side effects from my treatment and I am not required to take any follow-up medication. Every time I go for an exam, I get an exhilarated feeling that I beat it once more! I wouldn’t have made it without the support of Mary Ellen, my son and the wonderful doctors and nurses who saved my life.

Having cancer and looking at my mortality changed my outlook on everything. Life is more precious to me now and I’m even more appreciative of those around me. While I wouldn’t want to go through it again, I think I’m a better person because of this experience.

 

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