In this contributed blog, Nicole and Chris, a daughter and mother, recount their experiences as Nicole was diagnosed with colon cancer — and how themed hats have lifted their spirits.
Nicole: A call that changed my life
It was March 1, 2021, when I got the call that would change my life forever. "You have stage IV colon cancer." (Ironically, the call was the beginning of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month!) I was 47 — a wife, daughter, sister, friend, a busy mother of three children, and enjoying my career as a teacher.
At the end of January, I started feeling tired and out of breath. I had a cough that would not go away and pain in my chest. I went to my primary care doctor, and she ordered some tests and blood work. The only answer to my symptoms was my hemoglobin was low. After a few weeks on iron supplements, my hemoglobin was lower than before. I was bleeding somewhere, but where?
My doctor sent me to a gastroenterologist for a possible bleeding ulcer. He ordered a scope and said, “Well, you are close to 50 and will be out already, so let's go ahead and do a colonoscopy." I reluctantly agreed.
I woke up to the words, "You have a tumor on your colon, and I’m pretty sure it is cancer." More tests and scans revealed it was stage IV, metastasized to the lymph nodes and liver. Just two weeks later, I had my first chemo treatment. I was in shock at how quickly all this was happening and scared.
Chris (Nicole’s mom): A call you don’t want to get
In March of 2021, I received a call no mother ever wants to get. "Mom, I have stage IV colon cancer.” I can still hear those words in my mind — the shock and numbness I felt was unbearable. I just wanted to put my arms around my daughter and hold her as long as I could.
I thank God every day that I had just retired. I was determined that she would never go through any treatments alone. Her husband needed to work; kids required attention. Life had to go on outside those treatment doors. I would be there even just to sit and talk or (her preference) be quiet so that she could rest.
The first chemo treatment was brutal and depressing for all of us as she was very sick. She could barely walk. I was dying inside, and I prayed, “Please help my baby!”
After that horrible day, I went home and cried, and I knew I could not take this away from her. So, I decided we would fight this with everything we’ve got, and I would bring a smile to her face on chemo days as much as I could. This is where our theme days were born.
Nicole: Making the most of each day
I'm sure it is not how my mom planned to spend her retirement days. I have chemo every other week, and although it is a drag, we make the best out of it.
My mom started making chemo day-themed hats. Each treatment day is a new theme: sports, teaching, holidays, my favorite things in life. The nurses and staff get excited when they see us coming, and our family and friends anxiously await the facebook reveal of the week's theme!
Life is short, and we must make the most out of each day and moment.
Chris and Nicole: Together
We have, in the very smallest way, made these days a little brighter with these themed hats. The future is unknown, but we will bring some happiness as we all go through this journey together. Nicole says, "Cancer is only a chapter in my life — it is not my whole story."
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