This article was transcribed from an interview with Kimberly, and has been edited for content and clarity.
Hello! I am Kimberly Holiday Coleman, and I'm 52 years old this May 20th. Yay! I was originally based in Texas, and currently, I live in Kentucky. I'm a Stage Two Rectal Cancer survivor. I also am a writer, a burlesque performer, motivational speaker, international model, mommy of six, and a wife of almost 21 years in July. That's me in a nutshell!
My Journey with Rectal Cancer
I was diagnosed with stage two rectal cancer in July of 2015. I still remember that day. In January of 2015, I noticed that I just wasn't feeling well, feeling kind of off, lightheaded, and dizzy. Having symptoms like bloating, not fully voiding when I went to the bathroom, and just feeling off in my body. Then I got an appointment in March. I went into my gynecologist and told her what was going on. And of course, they kind of, "Oh, this is probably hemorrhoids," cause I had bleeding from my rectum too. They just attributed naturally to hemorrhoids, and she did a fecal occult stool sample test that came back negative.
And she said, "well, if it gets worse, just let me know." That was January to March of 2015. I monitored my symptoms, and I called her back after a couple of months and was like, "Hey, the bleeding has increased. I'm barely able to eat. I'm just not feeling right." She gave me a referral for colonoscopy and they got me in during July. I was 47 at the time. When I woke up from the colonoscopy, the doctors told me that he found "a fist-size tumor in my sigmoid colon and that he presumed that it was malignant." Those are the words he used. He never said cancer. My husband was there, and we were both like, "ahhh!" I just paused, and I was like, "Hey, are you saying I have cancer?" And he was like, "yeah." My whole life changed in that moment.
My whole life changed in that moment.
My doctor's bedside manner was lacking even after he said that. And I asked him the question to verify and validate for me that I have cancer. And he's like, "yes." I just got misty-eyed. My husband was crying, and the doctor just left the room. He was like, "well, I got to go set up your other referrals. Cause you know, you got to get you to an oncologist", and he just left us with this unknowingness of what we were just told with a void of no information, wondering if I was going to die from this. It was one of those life-altering diagnoses, you know, like when they say seeing life through rose-colored glasses, I literally felt like I'm filtering my vision in my life, you know? And everything changed after that.
What is an ostomy?
An ostomy is a medical device that is placed outside of your body, like generally on your stomach, above your pelvis, that collects feces so that you can no longer go to the bathroom to have a bowel movement through your anus. They reroute your internal plumbing (intestines) so that you can now poop in this bag. It's a life-saving medical device. I was only supposed to have it for six weeks initially because I had six weeks of oral chemotherapy combined with 33 radiation treatments to my pelvis. They were trying to shrink the tumor before they operated and removed it. They ended up over-radiating my colon to the consistency of tissue paper.
As I was resting up and waiting for my surgery, I actually had a bowel perforation and obstruction a week before my surgery date, and I almost died. I was rushed into life-saving surgery. Afterward, they told me that I would only have the ostomy for two years now. So it's gone from six weeks temporary to now two years. And I've actually chosen to keep it permanently now because life with my ostomy is fine. I just don't want to endure any more surgeries. As an ostomate, there have been a lot of challenges naturally. I have this life-saving device, and I'm still here. So I'm great!
Aside from your colon rupturing early, did you find the process of getting treatment for your cancer and having your ostomy affected one another?
They do affect one another because of chemotherapy and radiation. Especially with chemotherapy, it causes a lot of changes in your body. So now you have this rewiring of your internal organs. You also have this rewiring of your body cell structure, and they're almost competing for the healing process. So it was very challenging. I ended up being hospitalized quite a few times. I've had like a lot of blockages that were hospitalization worthy and almost had to have a second surgery. It was a challenge, and no one prepared me for that. And I had no idea what to expect. No one says, "Hey, when you get this ostomy, there's other things that are going to affect this medical device and how your body processes things from now going forward."
How common is it to have cancer and an ostomy?
It's pretty common for people who have rectal cancer or colon cancer to have an ostomy. When they do an ostomy surgery, they cut out the diseased material and reconnect you with the healthy material. The temporary six-week ostomy is to allow the internal parts of your body to heal. Because otherwise, you can imagine trying to have a bowel movement through this freshly new incision. So they give you the ostomy as a way to give your internal organs a chance to not be used, to not have those spasmodic moments for something to pass. And so they rewire you in the hopes that internal have that time to heal. So it's actually pretty common amongst anyone who has colon cancer or rectal cancer.
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