Colon Cancer

Does a plant based diet completely protect you from colon cancer? In my experience, not necessarily.

On May 27, I went kicking and screaming to my very first colonoscopy.

I don’t know why, but for some reason I got roped into my first physical in, er, MANY years. And woof, it was a doozie. The doc knew I’m a fairly bad patient and wouldn’t be back for at least a decade so he threw the book at me. I had every test known to human kind and to my delight, all the reports were coming back stellar.

When he said I could do my colonoscopy immediately or wait. I said I’d wait. Then he said, “No problem. We’ll have to redo your physical again, but that won’t be a problem. I’m up for another round.” Then he added, “We always need a physical before we can do the colonoscopy.”

I felt hoodwinked. So, simply to avoid another useless physical, I consented to the procedure.

Having passed every prior medical test, and exceedingly cranky from the colonoscopy “prep,” the last words I said to the doc before the procedure were, “This is a waste of time. Such bullsh*t.”

When I awoke, I knew something was amiss. First, nobody offered me orange juice. They promised me orange juice (I felt famished and dehydrated). Worse yet, everyone looked at me odd. Finally the doc came out and informed me he found a large malignant mass. I was scheduled for immediate emergency surgery.

Surgery didn’t go well and they wound up slicing a huge gash into my abdomen.

The good news is all the pathology is in and tumor was literally within millimeters of breaching the large intestine and entering my abdomen. For the geeks out there, my tumor was a mild variety, stage two, “T3 N0 M0.” I will not need chemo or radiation. They got it all.

So… I spent the last few weeks hopped up on Vicodin and after three weeks am finally feeling somewhat “normal.” A couple days ago, the surgeon removed all my staples and replaced them with some lovely strips.

My belly looks like a war zone.

My point? (I always have one.)

I remember one evening in the hospital. I laid there listening to my husband snoring as he attempted to sleep on the plastic couch. My hands continually shook for no apparent reason. I pondered how the Hospitalist informed me that I’d likely experience premature menopause due to the tumor removal. Earlier that day, an infection blossomed in my wound causing continual drainage. I recently discovered I gained four pounds in 24 hours eating nothing but a couple saltines and one glass of apple juice. The words “ostomy bag” entered conversations far more often than I liked. I felt gross, imagining all the other inconveniences this new life episode would generate. I felt so depressed, I supposed surgeon removed my ability (or desire) to write when he removed the tumor. Knowing I now had two fewer feet of colon, I felt profoundly sorry for myself.

Then the nurse entered my room to take vitals and said, “Do you realize how lucky you are?” She continued, “You knew you had cancer for less than 24 hours and you’re already considered in remission. They got it all. It didn’t spread.” As she changed my bandages, she continued, “Sure, you have a nasty incision. This infection is bad, too. But you were in pretty good shape before the surgery and are making remarkable progress. You’ll get better fast. Also, can you imagine how bad you’d feel trying to recover while dealing with chemotherapy?”

A tear dripped down my cheek.

“And look at that man on the couch,” she continued, “He hasn’t left your side. You’ve got a mountain of flowers over there. You’ve got your health. You’ve got tremendous family support. You’re young. You’re the luckiest person here.”

While I didn’t really appreciate her sentiments at that particular moment, I could hang on to her words long enough to get through the next day as well as the next.

Which brings me to today.

Every doctor I spoke with, every hospital dietitian I met thoroughly supported my plant based diet. I was delighted. They praised the high fiber and said the nutrient dense composition of the food was perfect for someone in my situation. That’s pretty gratifying.

Although nobody can be sure how long this tumor was in my body, docs said my tumor would have been inoperable in two years. I would have been dead in five. I had no idea I had this thing growing in me. No symptoms. No clues. Nothing.

I may sound like a cliché here, but here’s my big point: Your health truly is your greatest wealth. While it feels like I’ve been recovering forever, I’m barely three weeks out and have resumed nearly all my normal activities. Not too bad considering I had a seven day hospital stay, a gazillion staples in my belly, and a raging e coli infection. When I left the hospital I could barely climb two steps without bursting into tears. Today I’m hobbling all over the place. 🙂

And I’m very, very thankful. I’m thankful for every reader who takes the time to stop by. I’m thankful for every person emailing telling me they’re scheduling their colonoscopy. I’m thankful for each new morning.

None of us know how many days we’re privileged to walk this planet because in one instant, your life can change forever.

Me? I’m recovering. My priorities (my Polaris, for you who have my Advice to Freelancers series) are more clear than they’ve ever been.

I suppose that’s one of the gifts I take from this experience. After all, there is a gift in every event. Sometimes you have to dig pretty deep to find it, though.

Wishing you the very best,

Beth

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  • Susan

    I am so sorry all of that happened to you Beth. You are a wonderful person. Best of luck for a speedy recovery!

  • Jenn

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! I’ve always felt that claims about plant based diets preventing cancer or making the body inhospitable to cancer were overdrawn, although I do believe good nutrition plays an important part in the body’s ability to fight disease and infection.

    It’s refreshing to hear you had such positive feedback to your diet in the hospital! I’ve heard too many horror stories about doctors not understanding or being intolerant of plant based diets. I’m glad to hear some places are coming around.

    And finally, of course, I’m glad to hear you’re doing well. Best wishes and keep sharing!

    • Thanks for your comment, Jenn. You wrote:

      “I’ve always felt that claims about plant based diets preventing cancer or making the body inhospitable to cancer were overdrawn, although I do believe good nutrition plays an important part in the body’s ability to fight disease and infection.”

      I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know when this tumor started, I don’t know how fast it grew. I do know the plant based diet (lots of fiber) is really helping my recovery. My shorter colon seems quite pleased with my menu so far. 🙂 As for a plant based diet preventing cancer? I’m not a doc, so I can’t comment.

      I can say, I’m totally gobsmacked at the diagnosis but am thrilled at how the surgeon and dietician embraced this food plan. That much I know.

      Thanks again for your kind comment. — Beth 🙂