Feeling old before my time

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

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Visit our new web site

It's official! We are WNC Health Advocates.
Please visit our new web site, Visit WNC Health Advocates
The new name reflects what we do -- advocate for health care for everyone and help people access and navigate our current health care system.
While we still hold onto the memory and the generous spirit of Mike Danforth, we need people to be able to see our name and understand who we are.

Help Life o’ Mike

We need your help now more than ever. Your tax-deductible donation will help us get Patient Pals and Family Friends to more people in need of peer support. Please consider a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one.
Donate here or mail your donation to Life o' Mike, PO Box 1213, Asheville, NC 28802.

Patient Pals & Family Friends

Life o' Mike has a peer support program for people with one or more serious or chronic medical issues or disabilities.

We aim to reduce isolation and fear among people who have conditions, including psychiatric illness, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, mild dementia or other cognitive disorder or disability, thereby reducing depression and complications as people learn to improve self-management of their medical conditions.

Patient Pals help alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration. They can help people develop a list of questions to ask the doctor and then accompany the person to the doctor to make sure all the questions are answered, taking notes to be sure the person understands the doctor’s answers.

Our trained volunteers also accompany their “Pals” to art exhibits, movies and walks outdoors, meet for coffee, call to check in and more.

Our Pals have experienced weight loss, improvement in diabetes, HIV, psoriasis, depression and more, just because they have someone who cares about them. Some relationships develop into longer-term friendships; other Pals move on to more independent lives.

Family Friends are there to help caregivers and other family members grow into their new role.

We need volunteers, who are asked to donate a minimum of one hour a week. Training is free and includes information on active listening, ways to help and when to know more help is needed.

And of course, we need funding.

To learn more, call Leslie Boyd at 828-243-6712 or e-mail lifeomike@gmail.com.

Life o’ Mike honors Joe Eblen

Life o' Mike presented its first Michael T. Danforth Community Service Award to Joe Eblen at a luncheon on June 8, in the Friendship Hall of First Congregational Church, 20 Oak St., Asheville.
Joe, seen here with Leslie Boyd, left, and his wife, Bobbie, has spent his life helping children and families, both as a coach and game official for more than 60 years, and as founder of Eblen Charities.

Start From Seed

Life o' Mike has a new program- Start from Seed (SFS).
SFS is a volunteer doula program aimed at providing non-medical, comprehensive support to low income, high-risk women and families of Buncombe County focusing on three areas:

1. We help new doulas with certification and training in return for their participation as a volunteer doula for SFS

2. We mentor volunteer doulas with their first few clients

3. Our volunteer doulas provide birth and postpartum doula services to low income, high risk moms, providing support and tools to empower them as a new parent.

A birth doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; a postpartum doula provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Start from Seed clients are referred to us from the Buncombe County Department of Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership Program, Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Mission Hospital. The Program is intended and designed for growing clients’ inner strength and helping them gain empowerment to help them cope with the emotional, physical and mental challenges of childbirth, labor, and motherhood.

Our new moms and their infants have many needs. If you would like to help them get off to a good start, please visit our Start from Seed web site: Start from Seed, or call Program Director Chelsea Kouns at 804-814-9946.

Events in the community

Free birth and labor classes

Peaceful Beginning Doula Services holds free birth forums, Peaceful Birth, 6:30-8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month (except November) at Spa Materna, 640 Merrimon Ave., above The Hop, in Asheville.
All are welcome, expectant women and their partners are encouraged to attend anytime during their pregnancy. We also encourage doulas and other maternal/child professionals to attend and share in the discussions. The forums are "birth circle" style, focusing on normal birth which follows the Lamaze Six Care Practices for Healthy Birth. The forums are led by certified and experienced educators.

NAMI Family-to-Family Class

NAMI of Western Carolina holds 12-week classes for families and caregivers of individuals with a severe mental illness 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays at Charles George VA Medical Center, 1100 Tunnel Road in Asheville. The course covers major mental illnesses and self-care. Registration required. Info at 828-299-9596 or rohaus@charter.net.

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