Advanced Colorectal Survivor

Trust in What’s Important to You

Lauretta Dortch was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer when she was in her early 30s, an unusually young age. She garnered strength from the love and support of her family and her faith in God, and now she helps others going through similar situations stay strong and keep fighting.

 

When I first had rectal bleeding, my doctor performed a sigmoidoscopy and said I had a tiny tear. The bleeding continued and I was concerned it could be a sign of cancer, but he said he’d ruled out cancer. He tried other remedies that were painful, like cauterizing the area to stop the bleeding, but nothing worked. After a frustrating year, I switched doctors. My new doctor immediately scheduled a colonoscopy. When I awoke from the procedure, he told me I had colon cancer.

I thought he surely had me confused with someone else. I’d spent the last year being assured that I didn’t have cancer.

He didn’t think the cancer had spread, but he set up a CT to confirm and recommended an oncologist to manage my care going forward. I prayed for God to send me to the right doctor. I wasn’t this oncologist’s first cancer patient, but I was his first colon cancer patient. Still, I felt confident with him, so we scheduled surgery. I blocked out everything, including the anger I felt at the misdiagnosis, and focused on getting better. That same week, I had a colon resection, and 18 inches of my colon were removed.

My oncologist recommended chemotherapy and radiation therapy. About a month later, I had a port put in surgically for administering chemo treatments. I began treatment with a good attitude but got very sick the first night. Every day, I had chemo and radiation, and every day, I was severely nauseated. They didn’t expect me to lose my hair, but I did. I also lost too much weight. I felt miserable. At one appointment, my doctor saw my blood work results and realized he’d prescribed too high of a dosage for me. I was immediately admitted to the hospital for blood transfusions and fluids.

I had been fighting anxiety and depression, and I finally broke down in the hospital. A psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants that helped.

Once I regained strength, my doctor wanted to resume chemo. He changed the dosage, so I knew it’d be better than before. I listened to The Moody Blues, watched funny TV shows and used visualization techniques, like Pac-man eating the cancer, and thinking about planting my flower bed. My parents came into town to help with the kids, and they were great sources of support. They kept me laughing. We all tried to find things to laugh at. My husband was my pillar of strength.

I was on chemo for several months. When it was over, I was concerned. Something just didn’t feel right. I told my doctor and, even though it was three months before my next scheduled MRI, he ordered one and discovered the cancer had spread to my liver. I was mortified. I couldn’t believe anything could live through all of that chemo. I had never heard of a good outcome from cancer in the liver, but my doctor was positive. Test results confirmed there were two tumors. We scheduled surgery to remove them.

Three months later, just before surgery, I had another MRI. It showed the tumors had grown from small spots to the size of golf balls. I had quite a time with this surgery. The doctor accidentally cut my bile duct, so I had to have a drainage tube. I also developed pancreatitis. I couldn’t eat and had to get my nutrition through an IV. I was in the hospital for two and a half weeks. I went home with the drainage tube and had it for more than a month.

My doctor wanted to start me on chemo again, and I just couldn’t do it. He told me the cancer was gone and chemo was an insurance policy. My husband asked me to rethink my decision. He didn’t want me to regret it, and I eventually agreed.

I was almost done with chemo when I started to feel good again. This was tough, but it helped me appreciate everything positive in my life. One morning, I was lying in bed, almost awake, when I heard God’s voice. He said he’d healed me and that he had a plan for me. He wanted me to spread joy to others. That was my affirmation that I was healed, and I consider myself cancer free.

When I got stronger, I joined a ministry at church and began volunteering at the Bloch Foundation to encourage others in similar situations. I’ve shared tips that I hope help. Fortunately, many improvements in cancer care have been made since I was treated, and I don’t hear from people that they are as sick as I was from the side effects. I tell them to keep fighting, trust yourself and trust in God.

 

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