CANCER TALES Colon cancer survivor seeks to inspire, educate others

U. Shaye Dunn poses with Capt. Colon. UDunn survived colon and lung cancer. She has started a cancer support group.

U. Shaye Dunn poses with Capt. Colon. UDunn survived colon and lung cancer. She has started a cancer support group.

By U. SHAYE DUNN

A nagging lower backache I’d been dealing with for weeks really got my attention on St. Patrick’s Day, 2004. Before getting in the shower, I sat on the toilet and knew I had a problem when blood began pouring out of my rectum.

I went immediately to my doctor. My blood pressure had dropped so low from the blood loss that she sent me directly to the emergency room. There I learned I needed to see a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. After a consultation with her, I was scheduled for a colonoscopy.

I was able to see the images as the procedure was taking place. When the doctor located the tumor I asked, “What is that? It looks like a bleeding brain! It was the cancerous tumor. I couldn’t believe it — 36 years old with colon cancer. I always thought it was an “old person’s disease.”

A few days after the colonoscopy, I had a colon resection. The surgery went well, but doctors determined my cancer was Stage IIIB.

I knew then that I was in for the fight of my life.

A month later, I had my first chemo treatment, just two weeks after getting an infuse-port implanted in my chest. I received treatments every two weeks. I developed terrible neuropathy and by the time I was near my last chemo sessions, I could barely stand because my feet would go numb.

Coping with the drug Oxaliplatin was also really hard. I’d crave a glass of cold water, but the sensitivity to cold the drug caused felt like thousands of needles were pricking me if I attempted to drink anything chilled. I also suffered from unbearable fatigue that sleeping did not relieve. After my last treatment in November 2004 I thought I’d beaten the cancer. I returned to work in February 2005 and was sailing along just fine until a routine PET scan in September 2005 revealed my worst fear. The cancer had metastasized to my left lung.

I would now have to undergo a thoracotomy, one of the most painful surgeries. And although I was warned, I still was not prepared for pain of that magnitude.

One month later, I went back for another round of chemo. Amazingly, during my first round of chemo, my hair actually grew. Not so the second time around. Not only did I lose my hair, but I’d never been so sick in my life.

Determined to make the best of the situation, I began coloring pictures for other chemo patients, and soon there was an “Artwork by Shaye” wall at the hospital. It was therapeutic to do something to help other patients.

The second round of chemo was so very hard. I grieved the loss of my hair, my weight ballooned because I retained fluid, I looked like I’d been baked in an oven, and did I mention I was sick as a dog? The chemo caused me to develop other health issues – including kidney stones and a shot gallbladder, which had to be removed.

There were days that I really saw no point in continuing to live and prayed that God would just call me on home.

Fortunately, I got through those dark days. I am blessed to have a wonderful support system of family, friends, co-workers, church members and fellow survivors. My mom has been with me every step of the way. She often calls me a little trooper, but she’s one too!

Joyfully, I completed my second round of chemo in April 2006 and a few months later, a dear friend hosted a “Completion of Chemo” party for me. It was a blast, and some say it was the party of all parties!

I now know that I survived cancer to inspire and educate others. In June 2007 I launched my website, www.proudsurvivor.com as an on-line resource for cancer survivors, their family and friends.

The one thing I always say about colon cancer is that it is survivable! Just look at me. I celebrated my 41st birthday in 2008 and I’m still cancer-free. And just to think, doctors told me I’d never make it this far.

  • CANCER TALES: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES WRITTEN BY METRO ATLANTANS TOUCHED BY CANCER
  • Cancer touches us all. Nearly everyone living in metro Atlanta knows of someone living with cancer or dying from it. Email us your story: JKJOHNSTON@AJC.COM

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