I’m 25 years old. I may be older than most other undergrads, but it’s still not very old. Mike, my husband, is 30 years old. That’s not very old either. But right now, the things we’re dealing with are more common with people in their sixties and seventies than with our fellow college students.
Dr Hammen, Mike’s colorectal doctor, told us the other day that the cancer found in his colon was a t2s3m0. Well what does that mean? Basically, what it means is that cancer cells were observed in his lymph nodes making the cancer a Stage 3. It was not caught as early as we thought it had been. We had both assumed that since the margins were zero—meaning that the edge of the piece of colon removed was not cancerous—that it was a Stage 1.
Without treatment, a Stage 3 colon cancer has a 60% mortality rate. With treatment, there is a 30% mortality rate. In other words, there is a one in three chance that this is going to kill him.
We’re discussing—seriously discussing—what if I become a widow? I’m only 25—much too young to be ready to deal with such a thing. Mike apologized for putting me in this situation decades before my time. I don’t think it’s typical for a spouse’s main concern about the one left behind to be “I want you to make sure you finish college.” After all, those in their sixties, seventies, and eighties have already done this if it’s important to them.
Then again, at 30 it’s much easier to deal with treatment. Dr Hammen assured us that because the mortality rate includes everyone—like little old ladies in poor health to begin with—Mike is probably looking at much better odds. He can handle aggressive radiation and chemo and is planning on fighting this as fiercely as possible.
Unfortunately, we really have no solid background information to look at. Colon cancer in someone as young as Mike is such a rarity—one of the reasons why it’s not recommended that people under 50 go in for colonoscopies. Unless, of course the person in question is as much of a rarity as Mike. Due to a birth defect, doctors removed his bladder and rerouted his kidneys to his colon when he was a baby. They don’t do this anymore although it was state-of-the-art at the time. You see, it was discovered that there’s a great reason people’s kidneys don’t drain into our colons. It causes cancer.
We’ve known about this for a few years. People with Mike’s surgery are encouraged to get the surgery reversed and to go through yearly colonoscopies. It had only been a few weeks after Mike’s last colonoscopy when he needed surgery to remove a blockage. Only a few weeks since we were told the results of said colonoscopy: normal. Because of this, we assumed that the cancer found in the blockage must have been only a Stage 1. After all, it hadn’t even shown up on the colonoscopy yet.
Originally written March 31, 2005