As published in the Cayman Reporter July 18, 2014 Marlene With faith and humour she survived The Lions Club of Grand Cayman recently organised the 3rd Annual Delano Hislop 3 Day Journey for Life walk/run event. This event not only raises funds for men afflicted with prostate and colon cancers but also seeks to raise awareness of the disease.
It was during a frank discussion with someone at the walk that I realised there are still individuals who are not aware that colorectal cancer affects an equal number of men and women. Many women, however, think of colorectal cancer (CRC) as a disease only affecting men and may be unaware of important information about screening and preventing CRC that could save their lives. Marlene Smith a cancer survivor shares her story.
Marlene Smith is a vivacious and attractive fifty something Canadian who has been coming to the islands since 1989 and has made her home in North Side. During a routine colonoscopy she had polyps removed but her surgeon did not seem too concerned and reminded her to schedule another in three years’ time.
It was May 2010 and she had just returned home from Cayman. She booked an appointment with a new doctor; as her usual doctor was preparing to retire. During her consultation he inquired about her last colonoscopy. Since polyps had been discovered and removed during her last colonoscopy, he requested that she did another.
“Well, I procrastinated,” Marlene said. “Not that the actual colonoscopy is painful-you do not feel or remember a thing. It is mainly the prep work and inconvenience the day before.” The months flew by and finally by November she could not put it off any longer and finally booked the appointment.
As she was waking from the anesthesia, her doctor informed her that he had removed some polyps and had taken a biopsy of a tumor he had discovered. The results would come back in two weeks. “Since he was not pleased with what he saw, he sent it on to a cancer clinic for more testing and brought it to the attention of Dr Simunovic a colorectal surgical oncologist. He concluded that in the New Year, the tumor should be removed,” Marlene said.
On January 6, 2011 Marlene went in as an outpatient, the surgery was done and she went home to wait for the results. Four days after returning to Cayman she received a phone call directly from her surgeon telling her the tumor was malignant and he wanted to operate in the next 2-3 weeks. “When I heard the news that I had stage 1 colorectal cancer, I was numb! I literally walked around in shock mode for 3 days crying at all times of the day or night.”
“Finally, I realised that I needed to get a grip on things and start thinking positive thoughts,” Marlene said. She began telling all her friends in Cayman what she was about to undergo and that in two weeks she would have to return to Canada and have surgery.
Marlene’s surgery was a success despite the pain and waking with an ileostomy bag. “Prior to surgery, I knew I would get an ostomy bag and when I met her, I named her Maxine. She went everywhere with me! Fortunately, the airlines did not charge me for “extra baggage” when I flew. I had to find humour in this somewhere,” quipped Marlene.
“If it had not been for all my friends here in Cayman rallying to keep me busy so that I had no time to think about it I do not believe I could have done it without them. All their thoughts, concerns and words of encouragement before, during and after my surgery enabled me to be positive throughout the entire ordeal. Emails and phone calls continued, all inquiring as to how “Maxine” and I were coping.”
Two weeks after her surgery, the call came in that she had been dreading. The news was good though! Her surgeon had been successful in removing the entire cancerous tumor. “He told me I would not need chemo or radiation. I cried tears of happiness,” said Marlene. The road to recovery was a long one, but Marlene feels she had been blessed. Nine weeks after surgery, she returned to Cayman to continue resting and healing.
“Four months with Maxine was definitely a learning experience, however again I was fortunate to be able to return home and have the reversal surgery done. That is where they remove the ostomy bag and reattach my intestines to the bowels. Teaching the bowels to start working again after being shut down for four months is a long, slow, healing process. It took six months to a year. Each month is better than the one before,” Marlene said.
Marlene is back to being active. She works out at the gym and does everything she once did before. Discovering that she had early stages of colorectal cancer and beating it gave her a whole new outlook on life. “Life is way too short and I do not take people or things for granted anymore. I continue to try and think positive thoughts even if I am having a bad day,” Marlene said. She encourages everyone over the age of 50 to get checked by their doctor for colon cancer. She added, “If you cannot do it for yourself, do it for those that you love. I am a survivor and you could be too if it gets caught in time. Like the old saying, “Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today”. It could save your life.”