This one didn’t quite fit into the mainframe of the colon cancer survival stories that I sought out for this month’s series, but only because initially I was planning to focus on people under 50 since there will be so much media hoopla for those over to get screened this month. I’d planned to highlight it in April. That’s what I thought at first, but as I was re-telling her story to one of my good friends (who’s in her 30’s), I was surprised at how effected she was by it. Charged up would be a good description and it really inspired her.
I could’ve done a Q&A with Helene, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be nearly as authentic. So, in her own words, here is the lovely and oh so inspiring Mrs. Helene Weinberger – A stage II colon cancer survivor, to give you yet another reason to go get screened…
When I originally started to bleed slightly from the rectum I naively said to myself, “Well, you”re getting old, Helene, and this is simply a phase.” I was then 74 years old. When I confessed to my normal physician, who happened to be a gastroenterologist, he suggested a colonoscopy, or at least a sigmoidoscopy. This advice I totally ignored, My father had not died from his major surgery for colon cancer, and it was so easy to fool myself. Frankly, I did not feel threatened.
I tend to believe (erroneously, some times) that mind, body, and spirit work together – and because I almost died twice by the time I was 4 years old, with mastoidectomies, and then had to have another single one when I was 11 years old, that many physical things that doctors wanted to do to me, such as foot surgery, threatening me at the age of 15 that I would not walk by the time I was 30 if I did not allow them to correct surgically short heel tendons (which I subsequently corrected with exercise), I developed distrust. Some of this stuff they wanted to do for other than real need – and frequently for profit. I can cite other examples. IN THIS CASE I WAS DEAD WRONG. My father was fine after the surgery, and so was my aunt – I had no idea years ago that there was a genetic threat.
Six months later, while at an Elder hostel in Baltimore, I hemorrhaged.
I phoned my son in Cleveland who got me on a stand-by flight, and the exam at home within 3 hours revealed so much blood that they scheduled a colonoscopy within 3 days. Whoops! That showed major trouble, and they scheduled me for surgery June 4, 1998. Recovery in the hospital was relatively easy; however, they found a couple of interesting lymph nodes which had been affected, requiring chemo-therapy.
The oncologist was a bright, successful research physician, which apparently did not give him a particularly empathic attitude to a very human individual, who had had enough surgeries in her youth. Those memories had already created an intense distrust, dislike, and immense fear of all medical practitioners.. But I started with chemo anyhow, and because I am comparatively slight, they were giving me too much poison, so I immediately dehydrated and had to go to the hospital for hydration. They had informed me that this kind of chemo would not normally make anyone sick HOW HILARIOUS! By the time I had another surgery to handle my newly acquired bowel obstruction as well as five of the six monthly shots of chemo, I was absolutely convinced that the sixth one would result in my demise. I refused the treatment.
To this day I have had no reason to regret that decision. I fought my way through and insisted that I was a human being with cancer, not a nameless, faceless, object of a disease. Now, of course I realize fully how lucky I have been. Nonetheless, luck is not the exclusive reason for my health. I have exercised ever since I was in the army during World War II. My normal eating habits were reasonably healthy, and I emphasized fiber, veggies, and fruits subsequent to my cancer. Other than battling the oncologist for my human values, I simply could not waste time being panicky about the possible recurrence. My husband was in nursing home, and his care was preeminent in my life.
I tried going to a support group for colon cancer after several months. For me, it was valueless – I was going to a support group where I volunteered at the nursing home, trying to cope with my husband’s situation, and this confrontation with my own past cancerous situation was doing me harm, not helping. I am hugely aware of my mental block fourteen years ago, and now that we all know that there is a genetic predisposition, my kids have had and continue to have the tests. This year, at the age of 89, I’m supposed to be tested, and will go, despite my intense dislike of the entire procedure. When anyone says, as they did to me, that chemo is only a “blip”, I question their sanity.
– Helene lives in Cleveland, Ohio