By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC
Sue Atkins reads this column in a local edition of the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. Rather than feel shame, 63-year-old Atkins doesn't mind openly sharing her experience of having a colostomy. She said, “Many people consider a colostomy the kiss of death and would rather die than have the operation.”
She continued: “I was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2007. When I first heard the word 'cancer', I was okay with it. My dad and grandfather had lung and esophageal cancer and seeing them go through it helped prepare me. And the oncologist said they had a 95 percent cure rate with their protocol.”
Even with that high cure rate, the cancer returned. Atkins had colostomy surgery on Christmas 2008.
She said, “When hearing I needed a colostomy, I wasn't particularly concerned either because my cousin at 15 had an ileostomy in which they removed his entire colon—and he is still alive. I thought the operation would take care of the cancer. I returned to work the next year and never had any problems with the way people treated or thought of me.”
After the colostomy, she did have some problems maintaining an adequate stoma (opening) and other difficulties, but her biggest trial was having to endure regular, energy-sapping chemotherapy treatments.
A year ago due to chemotherapy, Atkins was unable to physically keep up with all the demands of her job and had to retire as a sixth-grade remedial reading teacher. Then her life abruptly changed. She said, “I have a house in North Carolina, and while driving through the mountains last November was wondering if I should quit chemotherapy. I had decided I was willing to risk stopping it, but didn't know what to base my decision on. Then suddenly, I heard a voice (God) saying I didn't need to live like that anymore. So I stopped chemotherapy and began working to come back from its (negative) effects.”
In part, she has been rebuilding her strength through lower-body weight training, seeing a chiropractor, and taking B12 shots. She keeps mentally active by playing the harp, painting, writing a book about her experience, being a team captain in Relay for Life, and helping her local ostomy association as a web administrator, newsletter writer, and visitor to people diagnosed.
She said, “I'm proof you can live a normal, happy, and healthy life, and even forget you have a colostomy.”
Contact: danieljvance.com [LittleGiantFudge.com and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.]