One day in mid-2007, my oldest daughter called to tell me she had colon cancer. My mind swirled: she was only 38;how could this be happening! Then she said something even worse: it was Stage 4. I thought colon cancer was an “old person’s disease,” not a diagnosis for an active young mother who saw her doctor regularly. Through my Internet research, I quickly learned that the odds were really stacked against us. Statistically, there was only a 7 percent chance she would survive.
Angie was determined to beat the cancer. Angie’s positive attitude and outlook, through the most difficult period of chemotherapy side effects, sustained our family. We prayed she knew something more than we did. The day her hair started coming out, she cried. Then, one day, she sat in a wheelchair and never walked again. Next, she laid in bed suffering, up only to bathe and go to the bathroom. Suddenly, she couldn’t get up. She lost control of her bowels first — along with a lot of herself. She was so embarrassed and in such pain. It raised her pain level so high to be moved, but we had to do it. We shared the highs and lows of the medications, hospice nurses gave her comfort and washed her, one sang to her.
Thanksgiving Day 2008, we sat up tables and chairs in Angie’s room. Once we were seated, Mom and Dad, Sister and her family, her three children and her significant other, Angie looked at each of our faces as if to carve them into her mind. Almost immediately after that meal, she took a downward turn. The pain was much more aggressive and relentless. I remember thinking that she needed that family gathering. She needed to say goodbye to each of us and we all knew that we had to let her go. It’s daunting yet amazing how much you can love someone and how torn you become about the letting go process. I finally told Angie how much I loved her and that she had to go to escape the pain. A week later, she took her last breath with all of us around her-everyone from that Thanksgiving table was there to say goodbye.
Angie was a warrior. She bravely fought the demon cancer but lost the battle. She helped numerous people along the route from those she met and counseled in chemotherapy to the family members lives she saved with her insistence that we all have colonoscopies. She didn’t fit the model for colon cancer prevention. She wasn’t close to 50 (prescribed colonoscopy screening age) and there was no documented family history of colon cancer. Several family members have had pre-cancerous polyps removed. My oldest grandson, 23 years old, had his first colonoscopy last week and the doctor removed a polyp. Undoubtedly, his mother saved his life too.