Tag Archives: Treatment

Colon Cancer at 21

It was the end of a great year in school. I had spent the previous summer at University of Michigan working on research and had won an National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledgment for my work, I had met the greatest guy in the world and I had gotten a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) at the end of the semester. I was on top of the world! After all, isn’t that what we all expect when we turn 21? I would have to say that the answer is yes. I did expect to be on top of the world. At 21 I felt invincible, I thought I was going out into the world to get my dream job, dream wedding, dream house, in the end, I thought I was living a dream of a life.

Soon enough reality knocked on my door. It was no longer time for “La Vita Bella”. It was time to learn a new life lesson…nothing is forever. My diagnosis, colon cancer! Imagine, colon cancer at 21 years of age! Colon cancer is something I thought affected people over 50 years of age. Surely, I started questioning the validity of statistics and probability. Within a short time I was having surgery and being scheduled for chemotherapy. To my surprise I did not cry and I was not scared, not because I am made of stone, but because I have faith. Not only do I have faith, I have a family that supported me like you would not believe and I have friends that crowded my room so frequently the nurses where starting to wonder if I was some sort of celebrity. To tell you the truth, I felt like one.

As I started chemotherapy I decided that I wanted to stay in school and continue my school year as normal as possible. I went once a week for my treatment and got back to school as soon as I was done. No one knew, except for my roommates. I was tired and nauseous all the time, and my skin was so dark from toxicity that a classmate thought I had become a surfer…yeah right! I kept living my everyday life like nothing was happening. I refused to have cancer lead my life. I never lost my hair (a blessing for which I am thankful still to this day), a strange fact, but explained by my doctors as an effect of my positive attitude.

Time went by and after eight months of chemotherapy I was cancer free. I finished my degree with a 4.0 GPA which earned me the medal for highest GPA in my concentration and I had been accepted to the Medical Technology school of my choice. I was on the right track again, and after much thought I realized that I had actually never gotten off track. Yes I had cancer and yes I had to go through surgery and chemotherapy, but I never let any of these things dictate what my life should be. Cancer was never my life, it was just a small part of it. When put against all of the positives in my day to day life, cancer became a smaller and smaller negative spot in it.

It is now almost ten years later and I am blessedly healthy. I keep my family and friends close to my heart since they are the therapy no psychiatrist can provide. I’ve had seven invasive colon exams and other numerous tests on a yearly basis to make sure I keep healthy. Do I love it? No! But to live my life with peace of mind I do it all. It has been a long journey and for the rest of my life it will be. There is not one day where I don’t look at what I am eating and wonder if this meal will be the one to give me another tumor. There is not one day where I don’t think about cancer. But, there is not one day in my life where I forget to live it because I am too busy thinking about cancer. I married the wonderful man I met in college on my return from summer research in my dream wedding, I have my dream job and my dream house. Thanks to cancer I realized that being alive is the dream and that I am therefore living a dream of a life.

My name is Michelle and I am a ten year colon cancer survivor.

My Personal Account of Surviving Breast Cancer

A New Meaning to Three Little Words

Before I was diagnosed with cancer those “three little words” meant “I love you.” They were words that made me feel good. Then one day I heard “three little words” that didn’t make me feel so good. They were “you have cancer.” Those three little words changed my life forever.

I had just moved to Texas from New Jersey in July of 2000. Less than a year later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I never missed my annual mammogram and always had good reports so those three little words left me speechless and in shock. Not me… no, not me! It must be wrong. A biopsy confirmed what I didn’t want to hear. I had breast cancer.

My first reaction was a common one I am sure. I thought I was handed a death sentence and was going to die. I felt sick inside. I thought about all the things I hadn’t done and wondered how much time I had left. I was scared… and I cried.

I realized that I could not change what had happened to me and took things one step at a time. I didn’t want to think far ahead…just one day at a time. I went through the next few months in a daze. My cancer was small, less than a centimeter, and was buried deep. Even the doctor could not feel it. I was faced with having to make the difficult decision of having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy and my head was still spinning. I chose the lumpectomy.

Once my surgery was scheduled I decided to let everyone at work know what was going on rather than hide it. They would all find out eventually and I would rather they heard it from me. It was the best thing I could have done. What a support group I had. So many of them were cancer survivors themselves or had close relatives who survived cancer and they all shared their stories with me, sent me cards and wrote me letters of encouragement. I was told to bring a cooler in to work during the last few days before my surgery. Everyone contributed a frozen homemade dinner for me to put in my freezer for my recovery period. Do you think they knew about my husband’s cooking? To this day I can still remember how touched I was by their kindness and the memory brings tears to my eyes.

My biggest supporter was my husband. After my surgery I was sent home with drains that had to be dealt with and I was not even able to reach them. Thank God for my husband. He took such good care of me and was the best nurse anyone could ask for. He held me through my tears and comforted me when I needed it. He was always there for me, never complaining. I was so lucky to have such a wonderful man.

Later on I had to have radiation treatments. They zapped all my energy from me and I was tired all the time. I worked as much as I could during my treatments and had to switch them from the morning to the afternoon so I could go right home afterwards. I was exhausted and could barely stay awake. I almost fell asleep while driving home one day. Long after my radiation treatments ended I still had very little energy.

That was almost six years ago. Today I am considered a survivor. Those three little words made me realize that I want to live my life, not just exist. I want to experience all that I can in whatever time I have left on this earth. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

I realized that I cannot put my dreams on hold for tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come. I can plan my future but I must live for today. I always dreamed of having my own brand new home someday and like the saying goes, “There is no time like the present.” We bought our very own brand new house and had a swimming pool installed. It was truly a dream come true!

Since then I have experienced many more new things. You won’t find any grass growing under my feet!

Here are some of the things I have done since my recovery:

1) I joined the Red Hat Society.

2) My husband and I started traveling a bit more.

3) I started writing. I wrote about anything and everything, including a children’s book and some short stories, articles and poems. I even had some of my work published. I am still writing almost every day. During National Poetry Month I was asked to be a guest speaker and organize a program for a branch of the local library. Now there is something I would have never foreseen.

4) I began painting and paint glassware and wine bottles for sale and for gifts.

5) I expanded my knowledge by taking several online classes as well as a class in Stained Glass at a local community college.

6) Hollywood look out. Here I come! I was an extra in a commercial as well as a couple of movies shot locally. I even got to speak a couple of lines in an independent horror flick.

7) Last, but not least, I went to clown school and graduated in 2006. I am now Noodles the Clown. That gave me the opportunity to learn even more. I learned how to create balloon sculptures and face paint and put smiles on the faces of children and adults. Every clown needs a web site so I created my own, complete with music. Along with a couple of other clown friends, Noodles volunteers her time for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life annual event.

This is just some of what I have done during the past six years. Today I am looking forward to retirement (just a couple of years away) and really enjoying each minute of every single day!

I still hear those “three little words” every single day from my husband, but they are the ones that make me feel good and I hope to hear them for many years to come.

So get out of my way… step aside. I’ve got a lot of living to do!

Lawn Cancer

It’s been two years since I’ve thought about my Uncle John and his lawn. After his death in 07′ my mind it seems, had closed the door on the terrible events of that day in September, locking the memories up like a murderer with a life sentence. But how long could I really keep them stashed away there? After all, they weren’t buried so deep. All it took was one phone call to throw the door wide open, and as I sit here on the couch in my tidy little apartment in Bridgeton, I’m finding that I remember it all as if it had happened yesterday rather than over two years ago. The mind has a disturbing way of putting the bad stuff to sleep I’ve discovered, sorting through it like a postal worker at the Dead Letter Office. But it’s still there, and all it needs is a nice jolt to wake it up and get it talking.

Before I fill you in on just what happened that day, for now I feel that I must, there is something you should know. My Uncle John was not crazy, and neither was he senile. And although his last days were spent in a tremendous amount of pain, not once did he slip into that drug induced stupor that always seems to befall the sufferers of a terminal sickness in it’s final stages. The last time I saw him alive he was still possessed of all his faculties despite the cancer that was ravaging his body and I still believe he was quite sane right up until the time of his death. Just as long as you know this, I can begin my story.

It was hardly a gentle September day. The temperature, which had been on a steady rise all week, had made it to ninety-three degrees by noon. The heat wave that had smothered much of Southeast New England for the past eight days was nearing its peak and we were all praying for that final break when the temperature shifts gears and autumn comes along to usher in some kind of relief. I had decided to wait until mid afternoon to go to Uncle John’s in the hope that maybe the temperature would drop a little, sparing me the torture of cutting his grass in such unbearable heat. By the time I arrived at his house around three, the old Coca-Cola thermometer tacked to the porch in the back of his house had peaked at ninety-seven degrees. I remember exiting the cool interior of my Pontiac and being assaulted by the heat, the thick humidity clinging to my body like a wet, itchy sweater.

Uncle John was already waiting for me on the porch, sitting in an aluminum lawn chair and holding a can of ginger ale. He wasn’t even sweating, I noticed, as beads of perspiration collected at my temples and began to run down the sides of my face. He didn’t look so good, but that was no longer a shock to me. The pain had been getting worse for him lately and the Morphine tablets he took several times a day seemed to be no help. Even standing for an extended period of time had become difficult for him and he certainly wasn’t in any condition to push a mower around the expanse of his lawn for two hours. As stubborn as he was, when he realized he couldn’t open his garage door without help, he wasted no time calling me. When it came to his lawn, even pride did not stand in the way of having it tended to.

The process was the same each Saturday. After a few words of greeting, (there were less and less of these words, I noticed, as the Saturdays came and went,) Uncle John would follow me across the back yard to the shed, ambling behind me in a slow, determined gait. I had taken to slowing my own pace so he could keep up, but it did little to lessen the guilt I felt for being young and in good health. I wondered how many more Saturdays would pass before he wouldn’t be able to make it out of the house, much less the thirty feet to the shed. I knew where everything was, of course, and I knew exactly how he wanted me to cut his lawn. Still he insisted on coming with me, relaying the same explicit instructions each week. It was the closest he could come to doing it himself, I figured, so I didn’t mind the supervision as long as he was up to it.

I lifted the door to the shed and the heat hit me along with the mingled smells of oil and gasoline and the faint odor of dry grass. Every item in the shed was in perfect order, rakes and shovels and various gardening tools hung in their respective places, lining the walls of the shed like well-trained soldiers ready for battle. I dragged the mower out first; a huge Bessal Lawnmate that had once been painted in gleaming red enamel and was now covered in a thick layer of oil and dirt. Uncle John had owned the machine since as long as I could remember and as a boy the thing had seemed evil and monstrous, a nasty conglomeration of steel and moving parts that devoured grass and spat out smoke and fumes as if angry with its purpose in life. Over the years the paint had begun to chip away on the front rim forming a grinning mouth of sinister, hungry looking teeth. I couldn’t help but feel a little silly that the thing still gave me the creeps after so many years.

Once the mower was out I got the gas can, a seventy five yard length of garden hose and the sprayer that I used the to water the lawn. Uncle John walked to the rear of the shed and came back with three jugs of chemicals that he used to fertilize the lawn. I never knew what was in those plastic jugs, but according to him it was better than any Miracle Grow or Scotts Turf Builder. He had to order it special from a company in Ohio and it cost him a small fortune, but it kept his lawn green nearly eight months out of the year.

The shed was located to the right of the house on the opposite side of the driveway. There was a small spot of lawn in the back of the house, no more than ten or fifteen square yards of dry dirt spotted here and there with struggling patches of crabgrass. After a condo development went up nearby the back four acres had been reduced to a swampy woodland dotted with a few ailing pear trees that were losing their battle against the steady onslaught of encroaching vines.

It was the front lawn that really mattered to Uncle John. If you stood at the corner near the road and walked to the opposite end you would have traveled almost a hundred yards. Follow the side down to the house and you’d have gone another fifty. The lawn was completely flat; no rocks, no trees, not even a sidewalk leading up to the concrete steps at the front door. Nothing but green, beautiful grass.

The lawn was the only thing Uncle John had ever taken a sharp interest in. This interest had grown into something of an obsession after retiring from the textile mill he had worked at for almost forty years. The rest of the house could have fallen into complete disrepair and the lawn would always remain full and green. Even though I had been taking care of it over the past few months, Uncle John would still be sitting there on the front steps, watching me carefully, making sure I did everything right. As I look back, maybe he was keeping an eye on me for my own good, the way someone would spot a pipe worker at the bottom of a deep ditch, watching for signs of a possible cave in. The fact was, he wanted to be a part of his lawn right up until the end. And as it turned out, he was.

Looking back I think that he knew his lawn was dying. I remember clearly the day he had told me the doctors had found a tumor in his stomach. We were sitting out on the front steps just before dusk, drinking from cans of Coors and looking out at the lawn. As I sat there, mulling over the revelation of my uncle’s illness, I noticed the brown patch of grass, perfectly round, right in the middle of the lawn. I said nothing about it. I could tell by the hollow look in Uncle John’s eyes, the way he stared at the lawn with a look of hopelessness, that he knew his lawn was dying with him.

In the weeks that followed more and more of the brown circles began to appear. Some were the size of dinner plates, others were as big as those kiddy pools they sell at the local Wal-Mart. Uncle John’s cancer was growing progressively worse; new tumors were popping up throughout his body and the doctors pronounced his condition as terminal. They urged him to stay in the hospital and undergo treatment, otherwise he could begin a regimen of pain medication and try to stay as comfortable as possible for the next three to four months. He opted for the pills, left the hospital and never returned. After that he would only leave the house on Saturday when I came to cut the lawn. Sometimes I would stop by his house during the week. I would let myself in and find him in the living room, sitting there stoically, his old Lay-Z-Boy turned away from the TV and towards the bay window that looked out front, his gaze fixated on his failing lawn.

‘This must be the last time,’ I thought as I pushed the Bessal up the driveway to the front yard. I knew the lawn would never grow again after this cut. The dead grass, in their oddly circular shapes, had spread quickly over the past week. They were now covering nearly half the lawn. ‘The lawns dying,’ I thought with a sickening dread, my head spinning in the heat. ‘It’s terminal.’ Uncle John followed me up front and waited at the mower while I got the rest of the things from out back.

“Looks like this is it Tommy,” he said upon my return. His voice sounded strained and tired and somehow complacent. “Won’t be no more after today.” 
He looked at me then, his face thin and skeletal, the flesh hanging from his cheeks like a loose fitting mask. His eyes were yellow and bloodshot, floating in their sockets like solitary vegetables in two tiny bowls of pink broth. Those eyes, which had looked out over the lawn so many times when it was at it’s greatest; they looked at me, actually met my own for the first time in weeks. They were trying to tell me something. They were telling me to run.

“Go ahead and give her a cut,” he said, looking away from me and down at the mower. “Do it low this time Tommy, as low as you can get it. Then we’ll talk while you mix those bastardly chemicals.”

I positioned the mower at the corner of the lawn and pulled the cord. It started on the first try, coughing out thick blue smoke that hung in the still summer air like oily fog. I began the straight line down the front of the house, going over tufts of lush green grass that were spotted here and there with those odd patches of brown. The heat seemed to intensify ten-fold as I pushed the aging mower over what was left of Uncle John’s lawn. The humidity and the fumes from the mower permeated the air, encompassing me in a sickening atmosphere of carbon infused heat. About halfway through the lawn, I looked down at the grass and what I saw nearly stopped my heart.

The grass was moving. As I pushed the Bessal towards one of the brown patches color would suddenly rush back in, turning a dying piece of turf back into a thriving spot of lawn. The brown seemed to crawl out of the mower’s path as I went over it and I watched, horrified, as the individual blades actually began to stiffen and stand up as green flowed back into them. As I trudged across the lawn in a terrified daze I looked back and saw the brown wash in and gradually take up residence, bringing the section of lawn back to it’s withered dying state.

I continued up and down the lawn, thinking I might be suffering from the early stages of heat stroke, or that I was quite possibly losing my mind. As I overlapped the paths I saw the same thing. The patches of brown would retreat from the mower’s path just as I was about to hit them and then return after I had passed by. I suddenly felt as if I was being watched. Actually, targeted, is a better word. I was almost sure there was something following me, waiting for the perfect moment to rear up and pull me under the dying grass. I cast a nervous glance at Uncle John but he seemed not to notice. In fact, he wasn’t looking at me at all. He sat on the steps, looking thin and fragile, staring at his lawn like a sailor watching his homeport disappear under the horizon.

Suddenly I didn’t want to be on the lawn anymore and I began to push the mower faster. I realized that I hadn’t even refueled the thing and I knew that if I had to stop now there would be no way that I’d finish. The feeling of being watched, that something terrible and sinister was lurking just behind my back was stronger than ever. I concentrated on the driveway and I pushed. If I were to look back over my shoulder I was certain that whatever was out there would surely be waiting, ready to grab me and pull me under. I sprinted over the remaining few yards of lawn, not caring if it got a proper cut or not. When I reached the driveway relief washed over me as I stood there drenched in sweat, my breath coming in short, uneven hitches. I let go of the safety catch on the mower and it shut down with a choking shudder.

I looked at the lawn. There was no movement, no sign that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. All I could see was a once impeccably maintained lawn in the final stages of death. Uncle John was standing now and I watched in horror as he stepped onto the lawn. I could feel the terror rising up, a scream about to escape from my mouth. But nothing happened. Uncle John crossed the stretch of lawn to the driveway in a slow, casual stride. He approached me, quiet and solemn, his skeletal frame looking like a stick figure under clothes that were now too big on him.

“Gotta mix them chemicals,” he said looking down at the Bessel. “May be our only chance.”

I wanted to tell him no. I wanted to tell him what I had seen out on the lawn. I wanted to tell him that there was something going on here that was scaring the shit out of me and that it might be better just to leave it alone and call it quits for the day. There were a thousand things that I wanted to tell him as he stood there staring down at the Bessal, his eyes drooping with a combination of sadness and defeat. But I could not bring myself to utter a word. After a moment Uncle John turned and began his painful shuffle towards the shed and the awaiting chemicals. I followed obediently, throwing an apprehensive glance over my shoulder at the lawn.

I knelt down in the driveway and unscrewed the cap on the first jug. The word XENAL was printed on its label in huge block letters. I poured the viscous, ivory-yellow liquid into the sprayer’s reservoir up to the first mark. A tart, acrid odor wafted up into my face, singeing my nostrils and causing my eyes to water.

“This used to be your Grandpa’s house Tommy,” Uncle John began suddenly. “Of course, you’re to young to remember him. And before that it belonged to his Dad, my Grandpa. And before he built the house back in ’23 that lawn out there was one great big green field that spread out over a road that wasn’t there yet, stretching right up to a thicket of oaks that hadn’t been cut down and replaced with tract housing. From the time he built this house my Grandpa always had the best lawn on the street, in the whole town for that matter. And it’s stayed that way ever since I was old enough to remember.

“When Grandpa died in ’57 Grandma was already two years in the grave. There was really no one around to take the house so my Dad got it by default. We moved in right after the funeral, Mom and Dad and me, your Mom and our baby brother, your Uncle George. Your Grandpa, well he was just as obsessed with the lawn as his Dad and he kept it nice and green right from the day we moved in.

“Years went by and your Mom took off with your Daddy,” he chuckled slightly at this memory, the first time I’d heard him come close to laughing in months. “Boy didn’t that raise a stink in the family, and your Uncle George joined the Navy when he was eighteen and got stationed out in San Diego. Your Grandma died a few years later, Angina, the doctors said. And after forty years of smoking your Grandpa joined her soon after. Lung cancer.”

Uncle John paused now to catch his breath, which came out in a raspy, labored rhythm, and I suppose, to sneak a quick glance at his lawn. I started on the second jug as he continued.

“I was the only one left in town so the house became mine the same way my Dad got it. I could’ve sold the place and moved over to Hopedale and be closer to the mill but I didn’t. I felt an obligation to stay, to look after things. To look after the lawn.”

I looked up from the sprayer and Uncle John was glaring down at me. “It was still the best lawn in town, Tommy,” he said, his eyes fixed and serious. “And it was my job to make sure it stayed that way.”

He drew in a deep, rattling breath, coughed a bit, and spat out a wad of pink phlegm. He turned and looked at the lawn. “But now…now I just don’t know if we can save it.”

“The lawn is kinda like your body,” he said dryly, his weakening breath scraping over sandpaper. “If you neglect it it’ll turn on you. And it can get mean.”

I tore myself from his haunted gaze and poured the contents of the final jug into the sprayer. I thought of the grass and how it had changed color, how it seemed to move and shudder as I ran the mower over it. I thought of Uncle John’s Father and Grandfather. Of them maintaining the lawn over the generations with near religious zeal, battling the weather and the seasons and some malevolent force that existed beneath those once green and flourishing blades of grass. I wondered who would be taking care of the lawn after Uncle John died and realized with dread that the only one left was myself.

The sudden, sharp odor from the third jug snapped me into reality like a dose of ammonia salts and I had to crane my head back painfully in order to avoid the fumes rising from the sprayer. When it mixed with the other chemicals in the reservoir the liquid coalesced into a dark crimson that looked all too much like blood. My mind filled with images of mosquitoes and leaches and thirsty looking vampires.

“Screw the hose on and drench that lawn Tommy,” Uncle John said as I finished pouring. “A treatment might actually save it for Christ’s sake.” He turned and walked across the lawn to the front door.

“Pain’s getting’ bad,” he said, making his way gingerly up the steps. “Gonna take a pill and hit the sack.” He opened the door, stopping just inside the threshold to look back at me, his face a grim portrait of concentration fighting through worlds of pain. “Be careful,” was all he said before disappearing inside.

I stood at the edge of the lawn; my feet were planted safely on the paved surface of the driveway, the sprayer gripped in my hand like some alien ray gun. The garden hose trailed out behind me, long and green and snakelike. I squeezed the lever and water rushed out of the nozzle in a fine maroon mist, drenching the dead grass at my feet. I watched closely and waited, not knowing exactly what I was expecting to happen. I didn’t have to wait long.

When the water hit the grass the lawn shuddered then heaved up as if reacting painfully to the chemicals. Green replaced brown and the blades shot straight up, reaching towards the cascading water. I swung the sprayer back and forth and watched as the brown color raced beyond the range of the stream. The green patches in the lawn, untouched by the fertilizer, began to wilt and fade to a pale yellow, as if the sickness in the grass had opted to retreat to a safer location. But in a distant part of my mind I knew it wasn’t on the run. I knew it was searching. Searching for the source of its pain.

Without thinking I stepped onto the lawn. The moist grass was thick and spongy beneath the soles of my sneakers. With each pass of the sprayer new life poured into the grass in front of me. My head was slowly filling with a subtle electric static that clouded my thoughts like bad radio reception. Spotted images of my great Grandfather, a man whom I’ve never seen even in a photograph, flashed in my mind with lucid clarity. I saw a sea of grass, bright and green and thriving, flowing into the horizon. I watched as it rose and dipped lazily in huge oceanic swells. I could hear no birds chirping, no barking dogs; not even the sound of a passing car. Uncle John’s house was no more than a hollow phantom, replaced by a limitless emerald pasture that stretched into eternity.

The sprayer jerked suddenly in my hand and I turned, horrified to see that the hose was actually being pulled under the lawn. Not much time now, I thought, this lawn is getting mean. I ran the length of the hose, spraying the grass in front of me with the strange chemical solution. The lawn coughed it up like wad of tubercular mucous. I pressed further across the lawn spraying wildly to my left and right. The brown patches were now confined to the far right corner. Could I be winning this terrible battle with the lawn cancer? I had the mad idea that by ridding the lawn of this ferocious disease I could simultaneously cure my Uncle John of his illness.

I closed in on the remaining portion of lawn. Looking at the sprayer I noticed the once opaque liquid in the reservoir was turning a pale pink as the water diluted the chemicals. As I aimed the stream at the dying grass a terrible screech arose in my head, blotting out the world around me and sending an electric shiver down my backbone. The sound was distinctly animal, primal and stupid and full of frustrated agony like a wolf caught in a leg trap with nothing to lose but its life and its mind. It filled the air with a sharp, rending vibration that blurred my vision. Through the haze of my invaded mind I could see two children across the street playing on their front lawn. Surely they could hear this awful screaming, could feel the caustic energy that was surging up out of the ground in endless, nauseating waves. They did not seemed to notice though, carrying on as if the grass beneath them was no more dangerous than a passing wind.

The vibrations grew in intensity as I struggled to keep the stream trained on the last bit of grass. My legs were weak and the sprayer felt like a concrete block in my right hand. The pink hue of the thinning chemicals was fading to the sparkling silver color of pure tap water. I prayed there was enough left to finish the battle.

Without warning the grass in front of me rippled violently then surged up in one last, desperate heave as something beneath the surface struggled to get out. I stepped back as two tendrils of blackened lawn snaked out and whipped towards me. I doused them with the sprayer and they recoiled back into the lawn in painful, stuttering movements. The grass began to deflate, sinking slowly into the ground until suddenly I was standing over an abyss that reached not into the earth but into a world that seemed to exist just beyond my thinning plane of reality. A small trace of yellow light appeared in the abrupt blackness and began to rise toward me. As it neared I could see it was an eye, strange and horrible and unblinking, racing up through the ground as the sun reflected off of its gleaming, solitary cornea. It was yards from the top, then feet, then inches. The scream in my head grew to a fevered, kettle-whistle pitch. The fiendish eye crested the mouth of the pit. There was a sudden, piercing snap and the world around me was drowned in green.

I opened my eyes to a clear summer sky that glared down at me with crystalline brilliance. The placid blue held me, flooding my mind with it’s subtle, cleansing radiance. The dull throbbing in my head faded quickly as I gazed skyward in complete rapture. I felt as if I could lay there forever, letting the tranquil beauty of that sky inundate my exhausted body and mind with absolute serenity. Then I remembered the lawn.

Instantly I was on my feet, the feeling of calm obliterated by sheer terror. The sprayer was still in my hand and I held it to my chest like some enchanted talisman. I looked all around me, expecting to be surrounded by a horde of Lovecraftian beasts intent on dragging me under the grass and devouring me alive. But I was alone, standing on a once ravaged lawn that was now an exquisite landscape of green, healthy grass. I scrutinized every inch of the lawn, keeping a wary eye out for any sign of those peculiar brown patches. As far as I could see there was nothing, no brown grass, no unearthly movement, not even so much as a wilted blade. I lowered the sprayer with cautious reluctance, the fear inside of me fading like the residual images of a terrible dream. I inhaled deeply, taking in the humid air along with an overwhelming sense victorious accomplishment. The battle was over. I had won.

As I made my way to the front steps I noticed a plate-sized circle of brown grass about ten yards to my right. It had not been there a moment ago, of this I was positive, and the sight of it froze me in my tracks. I stared at the circle with a dreadful sort of fascination as it began to move across the lawn in my direction, leaving a trail of scorched grass in its wake. I raised the sprayer instinctively and squeezed the lever. The diluted chemicals had little effect but to slow the things progress and it inched towards me with steady determination. More circles began to appear all over the lawn, taking shape with frightening speed and making their way in my direction. I dropped the useless sprayer and sprinted for the front steps, cursing myself for being so stupid.

You cannot cure terminal cancer. Denial and ignorance had blinded me to this fact, making me believe I could save the lawn and rescue my Uncle John from a painful, undignified death. But cancer in its progressive stages, especially one so widespread, is impossible to treat. I know this now. I also know that sometimes, when all seems well and you think you have it beat, there is always the chance of remission.

I reached the house just in time. The discoloration washed up to the concrete steps and I felt them shift slightly under my feet as the menacing force within the lawn tried in desperation to reach me. The entire lawn had turned a sickly, pale-brown with not a single blade of green to be found. I watched as the sprayer was pulled under the lawn. There was a sharp, metallic PLINK as the hose snapped from the spigot on the far side of the house and was sucked into the grass like a long, green piece of spaghetti. Sheer exhaustion assaulted my body and my legs began to tremble, threatening collapse. I nearly sat down right there but suddenly even the steps didn’t feel safe anymore. I opened the front door and stepped inside.

The first thing to hit me was the heat. Even in the ninety plus heat the air from within the house felt like a blast from a furnace. I recoiled back a step or two but I did not go outside, knowing full well what my fate would be if I set foot on the lawn. A repulsive odor of mold and stale urine invaded my nostrils and I gagged involuntarily. Every shade in the living room was drawn and as far as I could see so were the ones in the kitchen. I heard the central air running and checked the thermostat, stunned to see that it was set at ninety-five degrees.

‘How long had it been like this?’ I wondered in horror. ‘How hadn’t I known?’ But it was surely possible. I could not recall going into the house last Saturday or the weekend before that. Live snakes of guilt slithered in the pit of my stomach.

I tiptoed cautiously across the living room floor, taking a shocked assessment of the room around me. An oily, gray fungus was growing on the fabric of the couch and most of the furniture. The wallpaper had faded and was peeling in places and the finish on the hardwood floors had flaked off right down to the wood. Gauzy curtains of cobwebs hung from the corners of the ceiling. The entire room had an aura of great age and abandonment. It was hard to believe that Uncle John or anyone for that matter had ever lived here.

Uncle John’s bedroom was at the extreme end of a long, narrow hallway. I made my way down the corridor, the tight proximity of the walls augmenting my fear as I struggled to take in air the consistency molasses. I approached the bedroom, noting how the door was rotted through in places and sagging on its hinges. A new odor came to me as I stood there, overwhelming the lingering scent of age and advanced decay. It was a familiar smell, sharp and pungent, and I struggled to put my finger on it. Grasping the tarnished brass doorknob, I covered my mouth and nose with the collar of my shirt and gently eased the door open.

The temperature inside the bedroom had to be well over one hundred degrees. It was a miracle that a fire hadn’t started. A clear plastic pitcher sat on the nightstand slumping to one side, melted by the intense heat. Two empty candlesticks stood on the dresser, liquid wax pooled at their bases. The Panasonic television in the corner of the room had a huge zigzagging crack running through the middle of its screen. A thick canvas blanket covered the window, tacked to the molding with industrial sized staples. Uncle John, or what was left of him, was lying in the bed.

He was dead, there was no doubt about it. He had stripped down to his underwear before lying down; his skin was pale and gray, like a thin leather sheet that had been draped over a pile of crudely laid bones. His eyelids were sunken in, his lips pulled back over his dentures in a morbid grin. Clutched in the gnarled fingers of his left hand was a plastic jug with the word XENAL on its label. The floor next to his bed was littered with perhaps a dozen empty jugs and I realized in horror why that tart, biting odor was so familiar. He’d been drinking the very chemicals I had used to treat the lawn.

My head began to spin and I felt a bubble of nausea rise in my stomach. I stumbled out of the bedroom, barely making it through the back door before my breakfast came spilling out of my mouth. Over an hour went by before I could work up the stamina to go back into the house to call the paramedics. I waited for them in the driveway, far away from the lawn.

The ambulance came. So did the police. They asked the usual questions and I answered them with forthright honesty. They asked me when last time was that I had talked to my Uncle John and I told them this morning. They said that was impossible because the body looked like it had been there for days, maybe even a week. They asked me if I was positive about the last time I had seen him and I told them I was. They looked at each other, then at me, then they closed their little notepads and left. As they walked up the driveway to their squad car I heard the younger of the two officers say, “Shitty lawn, huh.”

And that was it, up until now of course. After talking with my doctor earlier today I’ve been thinking about what he had to tell me. That he would like me to come down to his office tomorrow and discuss the results of my exam in person rather than over the phone. But mostly I’ve been thinking about Uncle John and his lawn, and the strange and terrible burden that seems to have been passed down over the years.

He left me the house in his will, you see, and by doing so I guess I’ve inherited a whole lot more than just a three-bedroom ranch style on four and a half acres. I drove by the place after work today, something I haven’t done in so long. The lawn is there, dead and quiet but still menacing after all these years. As I passed slowly by it looked to me like a rusted, forgotten trap waiting for someone to come along and place an unsuspecting foot into. The For Sale sign, placed by the realtor almost two years ago, had sunk into the lawn up to it’s lettering. I know that even though I haven’t set foot on the property since the day Uncle John died, the house and the lawn are still mine and always will be. I also know that it wasn’t only Uncle John who lost the battle with the lawn cancer that day. It was me as well.

Breast Cancer Symptoms, Stages and Inflammatory Breast Cancer Information

Breast cancer infects thousands each year and a large segment of the population find out too late. Like any other cancer, breast cancer typically forms as a tumor, ranging from one to five centimeters. This is most often felt as a lump. A complex staging system defines the severity of the tumor and doctors determine the stage by examining variables such as tumor size, location, and the speed of multiplication and spread. There are five stages broken into sub-stages which are crucial in determining the aggressiveness of treatment needed.

In its early stages, breast cancer is easily treatable and not considered a life threatening disease. Stage 0 or ductal carcinoma in situ is a precancerous condition when abnormal cells are found in the lining of the breast (Stages of Breast Cancer). They have not yet spread to other tissues in the breast but possess the potential to do so. The abnormal cells normally do not become invasive cancer, but increase the chance of developing more complex cancer in later years. Stage I is also simply analyzed as a tumor that is 2 centimeters or smaller and has not spread beyond the breast. A lumpectomy to remove the tumor and a round of chemotherapy eliminates the threat of cancer.

As breast cancer advances into stages II and III, severity of treatment rises. In stage IIA, the cancer has spread to the auxiliary lymph nodes (the lymph nodes under the arm) or the tumor is 2 centimeters and smaller and has spread, or the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters but not larger than 5 centimeters. In stage IIB, cancer has spread to the auxiliary lymph nodes and is larger than 5 centimeters (“Stages of Breast Cancer”).

Stage III is when treatment begins to delve into surgical methods such as mastectomies with much more serious repercussions. In stage IIIA and B, cancer has spread beyond the breast to lymph nodes or tissues and muscles within the chest wall (“Stages of Breast Cancer”). Stage IIIC is divided into operable and inoperable stages. The breast cancer is still operable if cancer is found in lymph nodes beneath the arm or collarbone, but is inoperable if cancer has spread above the collarbone and into the neck. It is important to note that while Stage III is intensely advanced, treatment options are still available such as chemotherapy and drug cocktails. The only stage of cancer that is virtually untreatable is stage IV cancer, or metastatic breast cancer. In this instance, cancer has spread to distant organs in the body, beginning with the bones and eventually invading the lungs and liver (“Advanced (Metastatic) Breast Cancer”). Treatment for this stage consists of lessening pain for the patient and prolonging their life rather than ridding the body of cancer.

While most breast cancers take the form of tumors and are organized according to the staging system, in recent years a deadly variance has emerged. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is an extremely rare but deadly form of breast cancer that kills 60% of its victims within five years of diagnoses (Ackerman 10). This high death rate can be attributed to the absence of a tumor or lump and so is not caught by routine self-examinations or mammograms. This lack of overt evidence has baffled doctors and researchers in recent years. Several symptoms include redness, swelling and warmth in the breast, which many attribute to natural occurrences during the menstrual cycle, and so do not think to question their doctor about possible symptoms (Ackerman 10). The most obvious warning flag is the presence of a rash or bruised skin that does not heal. Las Vegas school teacher Pat Wintermute thought she had a simple breast infection and wanted to deny her symptoms. After the rash grew larger and did not respond to treatment with antibiotics, she was diagnosed with IBC in 2005 and is currently still undergoing treatment (“Inflammatory Breast Cancer Becoming More Common”). Wintermute admitted that she had never heard of this form of breast cancer before her condition.

If losing one’s health and sense of infallibility was not enough, many women associate breast cancer with a loss of femininity, especially if they undergo a mastectomy and lose their breasts. Breasts are associated with attractiveness and sexuality in the Western culture, and many women fear they will appear grotesque or unattractive following surgery (Breast Cancer). The easiest way to alleviate these fears is to talk to a counselor or family.

Much of the population may wish to persist in its belief that breast cancer is a strictly post- menopausal women’s disease, but the truth is, it affects everyone. Husbands lose their wives, children lose their mothers, and the emotional devastation reaches far beyond the patient. Because the public largely still connects breast cancer with older women, many misconceptions exist about the disease. The lack of clear information can lead many to assume false fear or hope.


Ackerman, Todd. “Trial in Breast Cancer Therapy Proves Success.” Houston Chronicle 3.15.Dec. 2006: 10A. TCR Collection. NewsBank Inc. Gilbert School Lib., Gilbert, AZ. 26 Sept. 2007 .

“Advanced (Metastatic) Breast Cancer.” Imaginis: The Women’s Health Resource. 2007. Imaginis Corporation. 13 Nov. 2007 http://www.imaginis.com/breasthealth/metastatic2.asp>.

“Stages of Breast Cancer.” National Cancer Institute. 19 July 2007. U.S. National Institutes of Health. 26 Sept. 2007 .

How to Detect Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a common cause of cancer death in the United States and Western world. Current estimates place it as the second leading cause of cancer death. Sometimes referred to as colorectal cancer, up to one third of people diagnosed with colon cancer will die from it. Because of this very high mortality rate, extensive screening guidelines have been developed in an effort to detect colon cancer as early as possible. The earlier you can detect colon cancer, the more effective the treatments will be.

Aggressive screening for colon cancer allows for early detection of the disease, often before symptoms appear. In addition, some screening procedures can double as minor treatments. An example of this is the removal of benign polyps, some of which can eventually turn cancerous. Current guidelines recommend that all people begin screening for colon cancer at the age of 50. Up to 90% of all cases of colon cancer develop after age 50. In select high risk populations, screening procedures should begin as young as age 40.

Several factors go into making an effective screening test for detecting colon cancer. The test must have a high degree of sensitivity. This means that the test must be able to detect a majority of cases of potential colon cancer. A test which misses most many potential cancers is useless. In addition, the test must be specific. A test which gives a positive result in a wide range of different diseases is not as accurate or useful as a test which is positive for only colon cancer.

A good screening test must also entail as little risk to the patient as possible. Lastly, the screening test must also be able to detect the potential cancer at a very early stage, when something can still be done to effectively treat it.

Because most cases of colon cancer take many years to develop, early detection of a potential colon cancer can be quite effective in lowering a person’s risk of dying from this disease. Some colon cancer detection techniques have been shown to lower risk of developing colon cancer by up to 90%.

There are currently four major tests used to detect colon cancer. Each of these tests has advantages and disadvantages. This article is meant to be a quick introduction to each test. For more detailed information about each screening test, and its appropriateness to your health, you should speak with your doctor.

Fecal occult blood testing

The method used to detect colorectal cancer is fecal occult blood testing. Bleeding is a common symptom of colorectal cancer. Often this blood and can be hard to see by looking at your stool in the toilet. The fecal occult blood test is a way to detect very small amounts of blood in your stool which would otherwise be impossible to see.

The fecal occult blood test is relatively simple to administer. You are given a set of three credit card size, chemically treated paper cards. Each card has room for two small stool samples. Each stool sample is very small – a mere smudge on the paper. The cards are then folded up, sealed tightly, and sent to a lab for testing.

Fecal occult blood testing will give a very high number of false positive results. This means that only about 3-5% of positive results will actually lead to colon cancer in the future. This is because there are many possible causes of blood in the stool, not just colorectal cancer. If you have a positive fecal occult blood test, it does not mean you have, or ever will have, colon cancer. A positive fecal occult blood test will usually be followed up by your doctor with further testing.

Barium enema

A barium enema is another test used to detect colon cancer. The most commonly done version of this test is actually known as a double-contrast barium enema.

This test involves taking an x-ray of the entire colon and rectum. Before this is done, you will have a liquid solution containing barium injected in to your rectum. This liquid will cover the inside of your bowels. It is drained out before the x-ray is taken. The barium solution which coats the lining of the bowels shows up nicely on the x-ray, allowing the doctor to have a good look at the structures of your bowels.

A double-contrast barium enema is able to detect about 40 to 50% of precancerous polyps in the tested area. The test is a bit uncomfortable for the patient, but it is safe. Much like a fecal occult blood test, a barium enema which shows a potential cancerous area is usually followed up with a colonoscopy (discussed below).


A sigmoidoscopy is the first of two tests to detect colon cancer that allows a doctor to get a direct look of the inside of your bowels. The test involves the insertion of a small, flexible fiber-optic tube into the lower part of your colon. The test is often referred to by doctors as a “flex sig”.

There is a small camera on the end of the tube which is hooked to a TV monitor. This camera allows the doctor to take video and pictures of the inside of your bowels during the test.

A disadvantage of a flexible sigmoidoscopy is that it does not look at the entire large intestine. A doctor is only able to see about half of the total area of the colon and rectum. Flexible sigmoidoscopy involves little risk to the patient. In very rare cases, the camera can cause a small puncture or tear in the lining of the intestine.


A colonoscopy is a very similar test to a sigmoidoscopy. A major difference is that it is somewhat more invasive and allows the doctor to see the entire large intestine. In some cases, a colonoscopy will allow a doctor to remove small polyps. Some types of polyps can be pre-cancerous. Colonoscopy uses a similar camera to the flex sig, but it is a little larger and longer.

A colonoscopy can be somewhat uncomfortable for the patient. Because of this, a mild sedative is given to calm and relax the patient during the exam.

Colonoscopy has an excellent ability to detect many lesions which may be cancerous. The doctor is able to see the entire colon and rectum during this exam. There is some increased risk with a colonoscopy compared with some of the other tests used to detect colon cancer. The tube used to do the exam can puncture the wall of the bowel, although this is still quite a slim possibility.

You should work with your doctor to develop a screening plan and assess your risk for colon cancer. Each of these tests are important in the process of early detection for colon cancer, however you must work with your doctor to determine which of them may be most appropriate for you. If you have specific questions about the details of any of these exams, speak with your doctor.

I Have Thyroid Cancer

It’s a fairly rare cancer, or so I am told. But I have it. I didn’t know anything was wrong. I had no idea anything was going wrong in my body. I felt great. I still do. But I have thyroid cancer. My story started at my yearly physical exam with my doctor. I love my doctor. I have always liked her, but I have an entirely new admiration for her now. She found my cancer. We were chatting like we usually do about kids and summer and life. She was feeling of my throat with her fingers when she said, “Hush and swallow”. I did both. “What?” I asked. “Hush and swallow again”, she said.

“You have a nodule on your thyroid,” she told me. “No I don’t.” I said.

She put my fingers to the spot and told me to swallow again. Yes I did. I did have a nodule. Even I could feel it. She asked me if I had been having trouble swallowing. I had not. I asked her what this meant. I asked if I had a goiter. “Yuck”, I thought. She told me I had better hope it was a goiter, because the alternative was cancer. Ouch. The thyroid is a gland at the base of your neck that has sort of a butterfly shape to it. It makes thyroid hormone which regulates your metabolism.

She booked me an appointment for an ultrasound of the suspicious nodule. That was easy and painless. Yes I had a nodule. As a matter of fact I had several. I have since found out that women over 40 commonly have nodules on their thyroids. Great. Just turned forty and my parts are wearing out. Okay, so the ultrasound confirmed what my doctor already knew. What now? She wanted me to have the nodule biopsied.

“Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that means a needle in my neck?” I asked.

I was right. Back to the radiology department at the hospital for me. They had me to lie down on a table with a rolled up towel behind my neck. The doctor came in and located the nodule in question with another ultrasound. Then he used some medication to numb the lower middle part of m neck. Okay, it burned some. Well quite a bit, but only for a few seconds and then the burning was gone. Next he stuck a really small needle into the same area and thanks to the numbing medication I felt no pain. It did, however, feel like someone was standing on my throat. I could breath just fine, but still that feeling was there.

He did this two times and decided he had enough cells to make a determination for me. He said I should know something in two or three days, but that most of the time these things are nothing. Great. I liked that. They placed a band aid over my neck and off I went.

Three or four days later I receive a call from my doctor. Confident she was calling with good news, I did not ask my son to leave the room. A decision I would soon regret. She read me the pathology report and told me it meant that I had thyroid cancer. Unfortunately they were not able to differentiate what kind of thyroid cancer it was from the tissue they had. She kept asking me if I was all right and if I had any questions. To be quite honest the entire conversation is a bit of a blur. I do remember her telling me that if I had to have cancer this would be the kind to pick because with surgery this was a curable cancer. She referred me to a surgeon in town who specializes in thyroid surgery. My doctor was going to let this surgeon make the decision for my next step.

I hung up the phone in a bit of shock. I had done my homework on thyroid nodules and discovered that only 5% of them are cancerous. I had conveniently placed myself in that larger, 95% group. I had fully expected my doctor to be calling with news to confirm this. But rational thinking would later remind me that your doctor rarely calls with good news. Usually the office staff has this privilege. Only when the news is not so good do they feel the need to call themselves.

My son had been sitting in the room and hearing the entire conversation. When I got off the phone he asked me what was wrong with me. I lost it then. Right in front of him. Not good. I called my husband who was thankfully on his way home anyway.

I was scheduled to see the surgeon a week later. By then I had gotten myself together and realized that this truly was a curable cancer when treated. The surgeon shared lots of information with my husband and me that day. I learned that she planned to take out my entire thyroid through a small incision on my neck. I learned that she would not know until the surgery just what kind of cancer I had. There are a few different kinds of thyroid cancer. I learned that depending on the kind of thyroid cancer she found, she may need to remove some lymph nodes in my neck, too.

I also learned that there was a possibility that I would need to take a few radiation pills if the kind of cancer warranted it. These pills are radioactive iodine or I-131. The thyroid gland is the only part of your body that uses iodine. It needs it to make the thyroid hormone that helps to regulate your body’s metabolism. So the radiation in the pill goes right to any thyroid tissue that’s left after surgery and destroys it. The only snafu with this treatment is that for the duration of the treatment (4-5 days) the patient is not allowed close contact with children (Due to the shedding of radiation), is not able to prepare food for or eat with others, and must sleep alone.

Following the surgery the surgeon told me I could expect to have a sore throat from the breathing tube that would be placed during surgery, and a moderate amount of pain at the surgery site. I would need to take one or two weeks off from work, and I would not be allowed any housework for at least six weeks. This was said tongue in cheek for my husband’s benefit. I like this surgeon.

So now I’m waiting a month for my surgery. For something that’s supposed to be so rare, I have talked to many people who have known someone with thyroid cancer. I am happy to report that I have heard of only great outcomes. Although I suppose no one would tell me the bad stories, if there are any. But I am encouraged. I have had lots of hugs and lots of prayers said on my behalf.

If you are over 40, and especially if you are female, let me encourage you to have a yearly check up. Have your doctor check for nodules on your thyroid and then if anything shows up, have it checked out. Most likely it will be just fine, but untreated thyroid cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, and the bones. Like with everything else, early detection and early treatment is best.