Stage 4 Survivor
This is my story
My name is Joanna, I am British married to a South African living in Johannesburg with our five year old daughter.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer aged 39, on 8th August 2019 via a phone call from my GP in the UK (I had only been in South Africa two weeks) he told me that the cancer had metastasized from the colon to the liver and lung. My husband and I communicated with the UK to get all my records sent across and I was soon sat in a surgeon’s office.
On the 22nd August 2019, I had a tumour (4cm) removed from the sigmoid region of my descending colon and thankfully no other cancer was found in the colon. The resection was very successful and no complications. My mum had come over from the UK to support me for three weeks, which was amazing as we all want our mums when we are at our lowest.
During this period, my mum had returned home (10th September) and was suffering severe constipation, she visited the GP twice to no avail and on the tenth day of returning from South Africa, she was rushed to A&E. Her colon was being crushed by a large tumour on her right ovary. Biopsies revealed that she had stage 4 incurable colon cancer which had spread throughout her body. She tried chemotherapy but her poor body could not handle it. She was in and out of hospital for various reasons and despite how bravely she fought, she passed away on 11th April 2020 at the age of 64. I never saw her again.
In November 2019, I started an aggressive regime of FOLFOX chemotherapy and my mum and I supported each other via video calls. I had an amazing clinical response to the treatment, mum passed away before my final session (17th April 2020) but I carried on for her and by May 2020, I was told I had no evidence of disease!
I had a routine scan in August 2020 and the liver lesions had become active and my CEA tumour markers were 22.6 (<2.5 ng/ml normal) so I was swiftly referred to a surgeon and I had a liver resection the following Monday, 24th August 2020. He removed 70% of my liver and my gall bladder. I had a severe infection afterwards and so recovery took three months. However, I am happy to say that recent blood tests show that my CEA tumour markers are 1.5 ng/ml and all the cancer has gone.
It is hard to summarise the pain and grief that I have experienced over the last 18 months but I was surrounded by an amazing medical team, love and support from both my family and my husband’s, friends, the cancer community and my beautiful daughter, who has astounded me with her bravery and resilience.
“No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength - if we have the virtue of resilience.”
Joanna has a blog page where she shares many inspiring stories https://jojosjourney.com