Don’t Bet Your Life On The Odds

I have finally learned to say the word “bowel” without giggling or turning red. Unfortunately, it took my husband’s diagnosis of rectal cancer for me to overcome my infantile response and give the bowel the respect it deserves.

Once we both reached 45, and after my husband’s brother went through a bout with colon cancer when he was 50, I started bugging my husband to get a colonoscopy.

“I will,” he said.

But he didn’t.

Not until this past January, at the age of 54.

The doctor removed a polyp. He said it was no big deal. Except for some excessive bleeding from the site, everything looked fine.

We were so certain everything was fine that I didn’t attend the follow-up visit. Nick stopped by the doctor on the way to work.

Then the call came.

Nick, in a weaker voice than normal, said, “They found cancer.”

People who have had someone give them this news know the terror that strikes at that moment.

It’s been said that when you believe you are going to die, your life flashes before your eyes. When I heard the word cancer our future flashed before mine.

The cancer odyssey, like life, is an uneven one. One doctor told us it was stage one cancer, which was considered curable with the removal of the polyp. The safest bet for a man my husband’s age and with his overall good health, however, would be to remove the part of the rectum where the cancer was found.

Of course, he could choose to do nothing. Since the chance of the cancer having spread to the lymph nodes was only between 10-12 percent.

We were told time was not an issue. Our doctor sent us to the oncologist, who looked at the information and concurred.

We went for a second opinion at the Cleveland Clinic.

The doctor there said the same thing. Operate or wait and see. But with my husband being young and healthy, surgery was indeed the best way to insure that the cancer was gone.

Due to incorrect insurance from our insurance company, we could not use the surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.

The surgeon recommended to us by our gastroenterologist wasn’t on the insurance company’s, list we were told. So we made an appointment with a surgeon who was on the list. Neither of us cared for him. His office was dark and dingy. His staff seemed complacent. And when he asked, “What are you doing here?” I knew he had not read the records that had been sent to him.

Another call to the insurance company revealed that the surgeon we wanted was, indeed, in their network.

We knew within 30 seconds of meeting her that she was the right one. Again, we asked what our options were. And again we were told my husband could wait, get checked often, and see if things change, or, proceed with a resection.

The wait and see method sounded so good to my husband. No surgery. No recovery. Life goes on.

Or would it?

At all four doctor visits I asked, “If this were you, what would you do?”

All said they would get the surgery. That answer trumped willful thinking.

The operation took twice as long as it was supposed to. Each time one of my daughters or I walked up to the board where nurses report patient progress in coded names, there was a small scalpel next to the initials DBW. Nearly everyone else who had been with us in the surgery waiting room had left to visit their recovering loved ones.

Obviously, something had gone askew.

Two and a half hours later after the surgery was scheduled to have been finished, the small scalpel on the board disappeared.

Yes, there had been complications, the surgeon said. After finishing the original surgery, she had found a leak in the bowel so she had to redo the surgery. But now everything looked good. We would get the pathology results on the lymph nodes in about five days.

The surgery was on a Tuesday. On Thursday, I finally decided to go home, shower and change clothes.

A half hour after I returned home, the phone rang. If a tear has a voice, the voice on the other end of the phone would have been full of them. The doctor had just left my husband’s room.

“They took out twenty-three lymph nodes,” he said. “They found cancer in one.”

Forget the shower. Forget the change of clothes. I flew back to the hospital. When I’d left the hospital my husband had stage one cancer. When I returned, it was stage three. I didn’t go home until several days later, when my husband did.

There is a public service announcement on television where a woman is hanging on the back of her husband nagging him to get checked for colon cancer. I wish my husband had headed my warnings to get a colonoscopy. But in my heart, I wonder if maybe I didn’t tug hard enough.

Odds are, if I had, he would not now be undergoing chemo and radiation treatments.


Post Script  – This essay is from eleven years agoIt was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I have been going through some of my writings and posting those that I believe still have relevance. Nick is eleven years out from stage 3 colon cancer.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Brenda Schmidt says:

    My husband’s started 3years ago in the prostate only way he knew his he stopped urniating another man refused check ups then the radiation then after all this he finally agree red to a colonopsy well found it in his colon had surgery 19 lymph nodes removed all 19 had cancer this stuff was aggressive and moving fast had to get a ostomy bag then 12 weeks of chemo plus 3 days of chemo at home. 3 years still here. God has a plan for all of us just hope he waits a little longer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan DeBow says:

      I am glad that your husband is still here for another day. Both he, and you, and been through a lot. Blessing to you.

      PS I think I mixed up my comments. Sorry.


  2. Susan DeBow says:

    I am glad that your husband is still here for another day. Both he, and you, and been through a lot. Blessing to you.


  3. Teresa says:

    I can’t imagine going through this with my husband. You both are very strong. I’m so happy he overcame the cancer and is still here to share life with you.

    And, Brenda, my heart hurts for all you’ve been through. Again, I’m happy your husband has overcome and is still here with you.


    1. Susan DeBow says:

      Oh, Teresa, you are strong and you would get through this, too. One day at a time. We each have our own trials to overcome. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, so many others. We do want we need to do. Thank you for always reading and commenting.


  4. Thanks for your post. I am happy that Nick is eleven years past such a scary time for you both.

    This post brought back the memories of when my daughter was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I did as you and wrote about the whole journey. It was painful, but so many people told me my book convinced them to finally go get a colonoscopy. Those people made it worth the pain of writing the book.

    In Sherry’s case, there was no warning as she was too young to be tested. They discovered the tumor one day and she was in emergency surgery the next morning. The tumor had been inside her for 3-5 years and 15 out of 25 lymph nodes tested were cancerous. An early colonoscopy would have saved her life or at least extended it longer than three years. Because of Sherry’s situation, my youngest daughter was able to get her first colonoscopy at 41 years of age.

    I have been getting a regular colonoscopy for years. Every test there has been at least one polyp. The doctors remove the polyp along with lymph nodes. While sharing family medical history with Sherry’s surgeon and oncologist, I was informed that breast cancer, ovarian cancer and colon cancer can be related, so I encourage women to get properly tested on a regular basis. .

    I have had breast cancer twice and my doctors had never mentioned that fact to me, even though I had female issues starting in my teen years. Happy to say I have been in remission for five years this time. Someday cancer or something else will get me, but I’m still kicking (not very hill, but kicking).

    I strongly encourage a colonoscopy and other regular testing for everyone, male or female. Get familiar with your family history and don’t be afraid to talk to your doctors about it. Ask questions and become an advocate for yourself and those you love. Life is too short to let fear control us.


    P.S. Didn’t mean to come on so strong, but knowledge and advocacy can save lives. I am quietly putting my soapbox away for now.


    1. Sorry for the spelling error. I really must start taking time to check my comments more carefully before hitting the send key. I am not kicking a hill, but still kicking as high as I can. LOL


    2. Susan DeBow says:

      Hi Agnes,

      You have every right to blast your message. It is an important one. If we don’t have people like you, keeping the message alive, more people will go undiagnosed. You have seen this up close and lived through it. You speak for your daughter, now. Thank you so much for sharing.


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