Stephen D. Spinelli
For my 40th birthday my wife, Debra, presented me with two amazing gifts. The first was a surprise cruise to Bermuda. The second, an appointment for a colonoscopy.
A few years prior I noticed little signs that something might be wrong. I had stomach pains. I was always feeling bloated and then there was the constipation. I went to see my doctor who diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or, IBS. He prescribed medication and it did seem to help a little. I felt well enough to ignore the other signs and not pursue it any further, that is, until the bleeding began.
Yes, bleeding is a sure sign that something more serious might be going on. As all my close friends and family can attest, I am not one to run to a doctor until I absolutely have to. And that’s where my beautiful wife comes in. You see, it was when I turned 40 that I started to experience more issues and my wife Debra insisted that I see a specialist. So I reluctantly went to a specialist and got checked out. He said it was just a “fissure” that was causing the bleeding. He prescribed some cream and sent me on my way with a follow up visit in a month. When I went back the following month my doctor said it looked as though it was healing just fine. I was happy to hear the good news. I went home with a smile on my face that is, until my wife said, “You’re getting a colonoscopy.” I didn’t see the point since my doctor said I was too young, it was just a fissure, and that I had no history of colon cancer in my family.
Yet, as any happily married man will tell you, the way to stay happily married is to listen to your wife. So, in the early fall of 2005, I had my first colonoscopy. To my surprise, they found a tumor that was covering 75% of my rectum. No one thing can ever prepare a person for hearing the words, “You have stage 3 colon cancer.” Everything starts running though your head at lightning speed. Why me? What will happen to my wife and my two boys? What do I do now? Is this the end?
Fortunately for me I have a great support system. My employer and my family insisted that I go to Memorial Sloan Kettering. That was the best decision I ever made.
The great team of doctors at MSKCC started me on chemo as well as radiation. The radiation was to shrink the tumor before surgery. This would hopefully save my rectum. So, over the next 3 months, I went for radiation treatments every day while wearing my new friend, 5FU chemo in a baby bottle affixed to a port in my chest.
I had my surgery in January of 2006 and the good news, the tumor shrunk enough that my amazing surgeon, Dr. Jose Guillem, was able to remove it and save my rectum. I did do a follow up chemo regiment for 4 months after surgery, just as a precaution.
It may sound strange but I can honestly say going through what I did was a great gift. It made me a better person. A much more caring, positive person, who truly believes that every day, is a wonderful gift.