Listening to My Body — and Surviving Colon Cancer

Acquista, CharlieWhen I began seeing blood in my stool, I hadn’t been to my primary care physician for 10 or 15 years. I read that the cause could be internal hemorrhoids — not unusual for a 47-year-old man. Fortunately, I didn’t ignore the signs and instead decided to call my doctor.

After discussing my symptoms and family history, my doctor strongly recommended a colonoscopy. He explained that the guidance for colon cancer prevention has shifted, and for many patients, doctors no longer suggest waiting until age 50.

The colonoscopy itself was no big deal. The prep is certainly worse than the procedure. I woke up and the doctor told me that she had obtained a tissue sample and that she would be sending it out for testing. I went out to lunch with a friend — a reward I had planned for myself in advance for following through on the testing.

About a week later, the doctor called to say the tissue had tested as cancer. That’s how I ended up with Dr. Jen Davids and the surgery program at UMass Memorial Medical Center.

I’m an engineer so just as with any other project I came to that first meeting with a dozen questions. Dr. Davids opened by outlining exactly what we could expect to happen — talking us through the procedure and her capabilities. Her explanation covered a lot of my questions before I even asked them, and she gave me a lot of confidence that I was doing the right thing, and that I would have the best chances of coming out of this in the best condition possible.

I had started doing CrossFit and eating healthier about two years before, and Dr. Davids said that would help in my recovery. I had plenty of appetite and wasn’t fatigued so she said to keep doing CrossFit and eating clean, good food to help prep for the surgery.

Following that meeting and through the pre-surgery appointments, the coordination and communication by Dr. David’s office and various hospital departments were fantastic. I was impressed and felt like the staff was competent and able to really take care of me. As a “process guy,” I appreciated the smooth, efficient coordination. I was getting help from every side, and the team did all the heavy lifting.

After I woke from the surgery Dr. Davids told me that the surgery had gone to plan and that she had been able to perform the least invasive surgery possible.

I had great care from the nursing staff on the Memorial Campus. I found it incredible that I was eating and walking within hours of surgery — like magic.

I had a follow-up a month later with Dr. Davids to make sure that I was healing correctly. She then referred me to an oncologist. I’m young enough that they recommended chemotherapy to prevent recurrence — but as of the surgery, I am 100 percent cancer-free.

I returned to the gym six weeks after surgery. I ran into a friend there. When I told her my story, she said her mother had the same symptoms I had at the same age. However, she didn’t have a colonoscopy right away. She died two years later of colon cancer. But that’s not me.

If you take anything from my story, please understand how important it is to listen to your body, know your risk factors and get screened. Colon cancer is preventable — and it’s treatable, especially when it’s caught early and treated by the right team.

Guest Blogger: Charlie Acquista, colon cancer survivor

Related: Colorectal Cancer: Education = Prevention

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