A Colorectal Cancer Clinical Trial Changed My Life

With the wedding over, health insurance squared away, and our embryo’s safely in deep freeze, I was ready to start colorectal cancer treatment.

I had one more appointment to go over the treatment plan, which was slated to be first chemotherapy, then radiation, then surgery. I was scared. I knew chemotherapy was going to take a toll on me physically and mentally. I also knew radiation was probably going to be painful and likely change my sex life, and, the cherry on top, I knew surgery meant a colostomy bag. The laxatives Colace and Miralax, I was told, would be a daily part of my existence.

At 28, it was really hard for me to wrap my head around It all. However, I didn’t have much of a choice. As I arrived at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where I was being treated, I was called in for my appointment, expecting to be told my start date.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I was pulled aside by one of the research nurses. She asked if I was open to hearing about a different option, rather than the initial chemo plan. I said yes, without hesitation. She proceeded to tell us about a clinical trial for colorectal cancer of a new drug that, at the time, only three other patients in the country had been on. It was interesting, but a bit scary. She went over the side effects of the drug, and they didn’t sound nearly as bad as chemotherapy. If it didn’t work, I was told, I would probably still need chemotherapy and radiation. Without much hesitation, I agreed to give this drug a shot.

Once every three weeks, I’d receive a 30-minute transfusion, for a total of nine treatments. I would then be allowed to go home, most likely feel a little fatigue, but not much else. Knowing that chemotherapy usually takes around two hours, as well as the difficult side effects that come shortly after that type of treatment, this option sounded a lot better.

For my first treatment, I was able to bring my best friend, my mom, and my son. Having their support put me at ease. And being a patient at Sloan Kettering truly made me feel like a part of their family. Nurses checked in on me, giving me warmed blankets and snacks. I even got a foot massage.

That was my last treatment with friends and family there. By the next treatment, we were in a pandemic. The whole country shut down. I remember questioning if I was going to be able to get treatment. Thankfully, I was, but I had to go alone. Me being me, I looked at it as "me time." I brought crayons and a coloring book, and I began beading and journaling.

Out of the nine treatments, there were a few treatments that stand out in my memory. My second treatment was one of them. I found myself in the bathroom for a long time that next day, but for once not constipated. It was the complete opposite, to the point that it was alarming. I called my mom expressing my concern. She quickly called my doctor asking if this was normal. It was. And it was good news. It meant the tumor has shrunk enough for stool to begin to pass through my colon. I had been so backed up because the tumor was blocking my colon, until then. My body was finally able to flush everything out. This day was the day I began to feel better.

The in-between weeks were hard, but if it weren’t for family and friends, it would have been a lot harder. With the pandemic happening and my immune system compromised, it was scary for my husband or I to leave our house at all. My parents were grocery shopping for us, wiping everything down and leaving it on our doorstep. We had friends randomly stopping by leaving gifts and food on our doorsteps, as well.

My husband was teaching remotely, while I tried to gain the strength to take care of our son, Jayce, during the days. We were so preoccupied with what was happening between our four walls we weren’t all that concerned about what was going on outside of them. Looking back, I think the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for us. We were able to spend time as a family. Really lean on each other emotionally.

Jayce was my strength. Every day, I looked at him with more love than I could have ever imagined. I knew he was most likely the only baby I would only be able to naturally have. I believe being pregnant with him is what truly brought my symptoms to the surface. He gave me the light I needed every day. There were more times than not that I actually felt lucky.

Or course, there were moments I didn’t feel so lucky. It was easy to mentally spiral. I would think about how we weren’t able to have our dream wedding, how I didn’t like my body anymore, how I was still scared about radiation, about what if the drug doesn’t work, or how we’d pay for a surrogate if we could barely save for a house and vice versa.

I knew it was okay to feel that way. However, I also knew I couldn’t sit in those thoughts for too long. I knew having a healthy mindset was what would get me through this journey. It came to a point that I built an armor around my heart and my feelings not letting myself or anyone see me being scared. I knew if I acted that way, my body would feel it. I was doing my best to feed my mind with positive outcomes.

Every four months were the big checkups. They entailed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, and a sigmoidoscopy accompanied by biopsies. Soon after my fourth treatment, my mother and I traveled the hour to New York City for one of them. I was wide awake for a sigmoidoscopy and four biopsies. It took about seven minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

We were informed that my tumor had shrunk to half its original size.

I was in awe with excitement, as was my mom. At this appointment, we were then told about the prior patients that were on this research trial drug as well. We were told this drug had completely eradicated their tumors. One of the patients was about a year or so out after completing treatment, in remission. I was told that If my tumor were to disappear by my ninth treatment, I would not need any follow-up chemotherapy.

For the first time, I had real hope that I could get better.

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