Advanced Colorectal Survivor

Be Brave and Fight to Win

After months of dealing with digestive problems, Ed Yakacki lost nearly 40 pounds before doctors were able to pinpoint the problem. The painful and embarrassing bathroom issues he couldn’t ignore were caused by a 3-inch tumor that was found attached to his colon. Ed’s life was forever changed shortly after his 30th birthday when he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Seven years later he’s cancer-free, happy and hopeful that he can help others adjust to life after colon cancer.

 

I almost let this disease ruin my life several times, but thankfully I was able to turn it all around and I want to help others do the same.

Almost immediately, we began aggressive treatment consisting of six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, which I dreaded because of the painful side effects.

Surgery was needed to repair a bowel obstruction, and I was told I would need a temporary ileostomy bag for anywhere from three weeks to three months. To add to the chaos, doctors discovered that the cancer was worse than we thought — it had spread to my blood, liver and lymph nodes.

That’s when we began six months of aggressive chemotherapy called FOLFOX, with oxaliplatin, 5-FU and leucovorin.

I was constantly sick, exhausted and emotionally drained, but after treatment ended I instantly felt better. During the course of a year and a half, I also had many different surgeries as well, including one to reverse my ileostomy that caused a severe infection that nearly killed me.

We knew that something wasn’t right post-op, but thought it was all part of the healing process, so the infection went undiagnosed for over a year. I had to take a month of strong antibiotics through my port because the infection was in my blood, plus I also had to get a permanent colostomy bag because the reversal was unsuccessful.

I was nowhere near ready to accept the fact that I was going to have to live the rest of my life with a colostomy bag. When I was told I was in remission I knew I was supposed to feel happy and thankful, but I actually hated my life because of my colostomy bag. It was — and continues to be - a huge adjustment to this day, but I’ve gradually come to terms with it and you can too.

At the time I was going through my treatment, I did not self-educate at all and wish that I had been given more resources for colon cancer and ostomies. Since being in remission however, I have been attending many seminars, summits, and support groups to better understand this disease.

Believe it or not, being open about my experience has made life easier. Sharing my situation helps me to keep a positive outlook while being proactive in the quest to find a cure for cancer.

Besides scars from surgery, chemo also caused permanent neuropathy, which is manageable with medication.

I am eternally thankful for my family’s unconditional love and emotional support during this time. As well, my puggle, Bear Bear, has been my constantly cute companion and has helped keep me positive, grounded and grateful during treatment and recovery.

When it was time to pick up the pieces after treatment, I honestly didn’t know where to start. I had spent three years being told what to do under the careful watch of my physicians and now I was just supposed to start living my life again.

There were times that I felt so alone, but once I spoke with a therapist and got involved with support groups like Colon Town and the Colon Cancer Alliance, I was finally able to start recovering emotionally.

Finding other people who have been through the same treatments and complications as you is important because it gives you hope and helps you to cope with the short- and long-term effects of cancer. The real turning point for me was when I got involved in my first Undy Run/Walk in 2013.

It’s taken me about three years to come to terms with all of the changes — although I have to admit that no one is ever quite the same after dealing with cancer.

I received some great advice throughout but specifically remember my surgeon saying, “you may not be living the way you thought you would be living at 31 years old, but you’re alive and everyday you wake up you become more of a survivor each day.”

No matter where you are in your journey, remember to keep fighting and that anything is possible. Every day may not be a good day, but there will always be something good in every day.

Visit www.Fightin4blue.org to learn more about Ed’s organization, and the following for additional support:

 

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