One Man's Journey with Colon Cancer
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One Man's Journey with Colon Cancer

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“When you receive a diagnosis of cancer, it’s devastating,” shares Tracy Phillips. “You’re in total shock. And you can’t help but ask, ‘Why me? Why do I have this awful disease?’”

Anger, guilt, sorrow are just a few emotions Tracy openly shares about his journey with cancer. Tracy was firsts diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009 at the young age of 49 when he was having terrible stomach pain. After his primary doctor, Dr. Peimann, ordered a few blood tests, he then ordered a colonoscopy – a test Tracy was determined to never to have.

“The guys at work would talk about their experiences around having a colonoscopy and I swore I would never have one,” admits Tracy. “But when you get to a point where you are so sick, you don’t care anymore, you just want answers and to feel better.”

The surprising detail around Tracy’s colon cancer was that he didn’t have family history of colon cancer or cancer for that matter. Also most colon cancer victims are diagnosed after the age of 50, which is the age that the American Cancer Society recommends people start to be screened.

“Generally, patients without risk factors for colon cancer, such as family history, don’t need to have their first colonoscopy until they are 50,” states Dr. Aarron Peimann, Tracy’s family medicine provider. “But unfortunately, occasionally individuals like Tracy will develop the cancer at a younger age. That is why it is really important not to ignore changes in your body that don’t seem normal. Symptoms a person may experience that could potentially be a signal that a colon is unhealthy are rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, pain in the abdomen that doesn’t seem to get better or even unexplained weight loss. Anytime you experience symptoms like these that don’t seem to go away, you need to see your provider to make sure something serious is not going on.”

Tracy underwent surgery to remove a mass in his colon, and at that time was given a positive prognosis. It wasn’t until two years later, an uncomfortable sensation on his left side sent him back to Dr. Peimann. “It really wasn’t painful, just kind of an odd sensation. Maybe it was a little nudge from God,” reflects Tracy. A CT scan would show five lesions; four on his liver and one on his pelvic lymph nodes. A biopsy would confirm, the lesions were cancerous.

“My mom was with me when I received the results that my cancer was back and had spread. I was told I had stage four colon cancer, and it just really crushed me,” stated Tracy. “The lesions on my liver were situated in a way that surgery was not an option. Dr. Elsway played it pretty straight with me that they could manage it for about two years. I told my mom then I was going to need help to get through this.”

As a man who had worked all his life in the trucking industry and also a recreational pilot, Tracy needed some type of outlet that made him feel like he was contributing to the world. And he found it at the Trinity Cancer Center.

“I discovered early in my cancer treatment that if I talked about what I was going through, I felt so much better,” he states. Tracy soon found friendships with other cancer patients during his chemotherapy treatments, they were and continue to be what help him stay motivated to fight.

 “Everyone at the Cancer Center has given so much to me in the way of support and encouragement, by helping other cancer patients get past anxiety and depression I feel like I am giving something back,” states Tracy. “The Cancer Center has such a family atmosphere; they bring so much joy to my life and all the patients they serve. I really don’t know how they do it.”

While this has been a journey that Tracy probably wouldn’t have chosen for himself, he is working hard to make it one that has meaning. “I encourage everyone that has cancer in their family to have a colonoscopy,” he states. “Honestly, I think 50 is too late to have your first one. People should have them earlier; I’ve seen way too many young people diagnosed with colon cancer. You should go to your doctor whenever something doesn’t feel right.” Tracy also reminds us, “People are so busy that they end up taking life for granted. Cancer has a way of reminding us to treat each day as a gift, and along the way do what you can to help the people around you.”

According to the American Cancer Society signs and symptoms of colon cancer include;

  • A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss 

To learn if you are a candidate for colonoscopy, please consult your primary care physician.

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