“It all started in the summer of 2014. I was 30 years old and I traveled as a worship leader for a teen girl conference. We ended up taking a break that summer, so I got a part time job at a local juice bar to pass the time until the next tour started. I noticed I would have air bubbles in my stomach every once in awhile that wouldn’t go away, but other than that I felt great and was probably the healthiest I had ever been!
One day, while I was at work, my stomach started to hurt. Throughout the day it progressively got worse, so I left work early and went to an urgent care center. They ran a number of tests but couldn’t determine anything exclusively, so they ended up referring me to a gastroenterologist. I saw him a week later and he was very informative, but didn’t seem concerned. I don’t have a family history of colon cancer or other gastrointestinal diseases, so he said it was probably something minimal. He decided to schedule a colonoscopy anyway, just to be safe.
About three weeks before the colonoscopy, I had gone out on a first date with a guy named Reid Patterson. That first date turned into a 2nd, and a 3rd, and by the time the colonoscopy came around we were well on our way to ‘defining the relationship.’ When I couldn’t find anyone else available to take me to the procedure, I reluctantly reached out to Reid. I didn’t know if we were at the point in our relationship where I was comfortable with him seeing me right after anesthesia, but what could it hurt?
On October 14th, 2014, they wheeled me back and with a smile on a face and not a care in the world (probably because the happy medicine had kicked in). I yelled back at Reid, ‘See you soon!’
The next thing I remember, I opened my eyes and I was completely alone in a very dark room. My mind wandered to the possibilities of their findings, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to hear. The doctor came into the room and he immediately pulled up a stool and sat right in front of me. With tears in his eyes he told me, ‘We found a large tumor in your rectum.’
Anything he said after that sentence became a blur because I was sure I was in a nightmare. I didn’t cry, I didn’t make any kind of emotional response and, because of the fragile state of my new relationship with Reid, he wasn’t in the room with me when I found out.
The doctor told me they had already done a biopsy and would send it to be tested. He also told me to be prepared. He didn’t know for sure, but from what it looked like it could possibly be cancer, and either way they would need to do surgery to remove it. If it was cancer, I would need to see an oncologist and start chemo and radiation immediately.
He said it, the dreaded ‘C’ word.
I slowly got dressed, walked out of the examining room, found Reid in the waiting room and with no emotion on my face just asked if we could leave. We got on the elevator, walked outside and then it hit me like a ton of bricks; there is something really wrong with me. I hugged Reid and starting uncontrollably weeping. He somehow knew exactly what I needed in that moment because he didn’t ask me any questions, he just let me cry and held me close. He was patient and waited until I slowly uttered the terrible words.
‘Cancer.’ I’m sure I said more, but that’s the only word I remember coming out of my mouth.
It usually takes about a week to get the results of a biopsy back, but my doctor put a rush on the results and had made an appointment with my new surgeon for two days later. On October 16th, 2014, I headed into the doctor’s office and was so incredibly scared. I knew that day was going to be one I would never forget. I was surrounded by close family and friends and of course, Reid, but I decided to go into the doctor’s office alone. My heart was beating so loudly I was sure everyone could hear it.
Dr. Briley sat me down, did a quick exam and grabbed a pamphlet which said, ‘Dealing with Colo-Rectal Cancer’ on the front. Oh, no. It can’t be. Brave face Amanda, brave face.
‘You have Adenocarcinoma, a very common form of colo-rectal cancer.’ I remember being more confused with every word that came out of her mouth. Not only did I not understand medical terminology, I just didn’t understand how I could have cancer. I was 30 years old, I worked out almost every day, I was the healthiest I had ever been. It just didn’t make sense.
I quickly got the results back from a CT Scan and she told me they had found spots on my liver and ovaries and needed to run more tests. I had a PET scan the next day which confirmed I had late stage cancer, but the spots on my other organs were too small to biopsy. They also found a nodule on my thyroid they wanted me to get checked out, but they didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about. They would continue to watch for any kind of abnormalities but they wanted to move forward with chemo and radiation before removing the tumor.
That week I started 24/7 chemotherapy and went to radiation five days a week. My life literally turned upside down in a matter a days and I quickly began feeling the typical side effects of the drugs meant to save my life.
A few weeks into chemo they did a biopsy of the nodule in my thyroid and I was back in an examining room, just as I had been before, waiting to hear the results. Except this time, I wasn’t really worried. There was no way I had TWO separate types of cancer that weren’t related. Absolutely no way.
The doctor walked in and as soon as I saw the look on his face, I knew. That look was sadly so familiar now.
He told me, ‘You have a very common type of thyroid cancer which has spread to your lymph nodes.’ He said, ‘Compared to colon cancer, this is a walk in the park.’ I’m not sure if it was supposed to make me feel better, but it didn’t. The plan was to schedule surgery to remove my thyroid as soon as the first round of chemo was done. He was very hopeful, but he could see the utter defeat on my face.
‘It’s going to be ok.’ He said, ‘We caught it pretty early and we will do everything within our power to take out the cancer and make sure you are healthy. There is some bad news, however.’ There was more bad news? How was it even possible? ‘There is a risk for your voice with this surgery. We have to move the vocal cords out of the way in order to get to your thyroid so there is a chance you may not be able to sing again and a small chance you may not be able to talk above a whisper.’
I had colon cancer, thyroid cancer, and now I may not be able to speak or sing again? It was too much.
I felt so many emotions during those first couple of weeks, but I would say the one which stands out the most would be ‘overwhelmed.’ I didn’t know what I was doing. I was bombarded with doctors, needles, tests and people wanting to poke and prod every inch of my body. Modesty became a laughable subject because, as anyone who has been in a hospital gown knows, it’s impossible. The money issue was staring me in the face as well because I didn’t have any health insurance. I was sick, hurt, defeated and confused.
Over the next year I went through 8 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation and 5 surgeries. The fact that everything I went through that year can fit into one small sentence baffles me. It was the hardest year of my life and there were so many times I didn’t know if I would survive. I was so weak and frail and honestly found it almost impossible to fight. But I did, I held on, I inched forward when I didn’t believe I was capable. The good part about hard times is they remind us to fight for what matters and what mattered most to me was my life!
In October of 2015, I sat in another examining room awaiting the results of a my most resent CT Scan. My doctor came in and with a giant smile on her face all she said was, ‘Cancer Free!’ I have tears in my eyes as I write this because I can remember everything about that moment. My sister, Brianna and Reid were both in the room with me and we just hugged each other and cried. All of the hard work was not in vain. I had survived.
Three weeks later I said, ‘I Do,’ with my own voice, to the man who stayed by my side at every moment. He literally held me up when I couldn’t stand and I was so thankful I had made it through and could marry the man who showed me what love truly meant, even from the very beginning.
What I have learned the most over the last five years is to hold onto hope, even in the darkest of circumstances. God turned what was an awful situation into my most treasured gift. He literally turned my mourning into gladness and I wouldn’t take back a moment of it. There will be days, no matter who you are, when you won’t feel like you will get through. But days will turn into weeks, and weeks into months and one day you’ll look back and wonder how you ever had the strength to make it out. The truth is we are all fighters. So don’t give up on hope or yourself. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am living proof!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Wilcox of Franklin, TN. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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