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Survivor Stories - Meet Rebecca Cannon

  • Category: Cancer
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Rebecca CannonJuly 14, 2020, started out as a normal day. Normal for me had become being so exhausted most of the time that I could barely get out of bed, being so weak that I could not sit down on the floor to play with my granddaughter, Swayze, without needing help to stand back up, daily stomach cramps that were so bad at times I could barely breathe, significant changes in bathroom habits, and never having an appetite. I got up that morning, dressed for work in scrubs that pretty much swallowed me because I had lost so much weight then drove to the primary care clinic where I work. Mid-morning, I was checking in a patient, trying to hide the fact that I was feeling so bad I thought I was going to pass out. I excused myself, alerted my co-workers that I needed help and called my daughter to come take me to the emergency room because it was long past time to find out what was happening to me. After many tests and scans, I was told by the emergency room doctor that I had a large mass in my lower abdomen that would require exploratory surgery that evening. Hearing that I had “a large mass” was shocking but in all honesty, I wasn’t that surprised. For a long time, I had contributed my symptoms to poor dietary habits and stress but deep down I knew it was something more; I just didn’t want to believe it and certainly didn’t want someone to confirm it. After talking with the surgeon, I said “see you soon” to my daughters, Holly and Taylor, told them I loved them and was taken back for surgery. Later that evening, I was pretty much still in a fog from the anesthesia but after talking to the surgeon, I was able to sort out that I had a bowel blockage from a large tumor that he was unable to remove at the time and I also now had a colostomy to bypass the blockage. The rest of that night, I tried to sleep but woke up several times because of physical pain from the surgery and, even though no one had said the C-word so far, I pretty much knew that it was cancer, and I was afraid. I have two adult daughters, a granddaughter and a life that I was not ready to leave behind. I had plans to live a long time and so many things that I still wanted to do. I kept wondering how could this be happening to me? That was one of the longest nights of my life but at the same time it was the shortest because I really didn’t want to hear what I would surely be told the next day. I got a phone call from my oldest daughter early the following day. She had spoken with the surgeon the night before who told her that he was unable to remove the tumor and that I would require chemo and radiation to hopefully “shrink” it so it could safely be removed at a later time. When I heard her say to me “chemo and radiation” I thought to myself, there it is, I just walked through the door into my new life with cancer, leaving my old life before cancer behind. Between asking for pain medication, trying to make a few phone calls and restless sleep, I had so many thoughts racing through my mind. Why didn’t I pay closer attention to what my body was trying to tell me instead of brushing off the symptoms I’d been having? Would I see my next birthday? How many more Christmases will I have with my girls and granddaughter? Will I be able to work and pay my mortgage and other bills? What is going to happen to my dogs? I wasn’t ready to give up but for a while I was afraid and thought that this was going to be the end for me. Later that day I met, for the first time, one of the most amazing doctors who would soon become and remain one of my most favorite people in the whole wide world. I work at the local VA Primary Care Clinic, and I had seen Dr. Cuervo’s name in some of my patients’ records, but I had never met him. That evening, he came into my hospital room, pulled up a chair and we talked for what seemed to be an hour or more. We talked about the usual medical things, but he also understood how I was feeling and talked to me about my fears and uncertainty of what was to come. I found out that I had Stage 3 colorectal cancer that would require chemo, radiation, and surgery. I was also told by this amazing doctor that he could not make any promises, but he was going to do everything in his power to help cure me. I needed to hear that because it gave me hope. From the moment I heard those words, something in my brain clicked and I made up my mind to fight with every ounce of energy and determination I had inside of me. I had to because I have a family, friends, a work family and a life that I was not ready to leave. That night I also promised myself I would not research statistics for my type and stage of cancer because I am a whole, separate person, not a number, and I intended to live no matter what any statistical evidence may say, so I made the decision to not read any of it. To this day, I have only researched side effects of certain medications and procedures, but not once have I read anything regarding statistics! It has been a long year and a half of chemo, radiation, surgery, more chemo and I still have one more upcoming surgery to reverse my ostomy. There were some rough days but for the most part, I did very well with my treatments and surgery. In fact, during chemo and radiation, I was able to drive myself to and from every appointment. I was also able to continue working, except during the recovery time after my surgeries. During this journey, I’ve had the best medical team I could ever hope for at Carteret Health Care. From the first time I set foot in the emergency room I have been treated with nothing but respect and genuine concern for my health and well-being by every single person I’ve met. I cannot express how much I love and appreciate each person who has had a part in my care. I have also had amazing support from my family, my work family and many friends who have all helped me maintain a positive attitude, listened to my sick sense of humor without judgement, listened to my stories, worries and concerns and prayed for me. I am truly thankful for every single person who has shown kindness and genuine love and concern for me. I have come such a long way from where my journey began. It feels amazing to schedule surveillance appointments. We are now monitoring for recurrence rather than trying to get rid of cancer. I feel great and I appreciate my life and those who are in it so much. Sometimes I feel that before I was diagnosed, I took a lot of things for granted, worried too much about things that don’t really matter and didn’t enjoy my life to the fullest. My youngest daughter said something to me several months into my treatment that was so profound, I printed and framed it. She said, “I think this is your reset.” I have it hanging on the wall by my bathroom sink, so I’ll be sure to see it every day. Being stopped in my tracks by a cancer diagnosis has renewed an appreciation for my life and everything and everyone who is in it, my reset. I have now walked through a new doorway into my life after cancer and I plan to make the absolute most of this second chance I have been given with a most grateful heart.