Hi, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kimberly Holiday-Coleman, and I am a Stage 2 Colorectal Cancer Survivor of six years. As a Texan native who currently resides in Kentucky, my life revolves around being a Wife of 23 years this July, Mom of six, ostomate, content director, writer, Fight CRC 2022 Ambassador, burlesque performer, motivational speaker, and international model.
My Journey with Rectal Cancer
The day that the doctor told me he found a fist-sized tumor in my colon after a colonoscopy will forever be in my memory. I first began to notice symptoms in January of 2015. It all began with feeling off, lightheaded, and dizzy. Then the symptoms progressed to bloating, incomplete bowel movements, constipation, decreased appetite, fatigue, and blood in my stool.
After finally getting an appointment in March, my gynecologist did not think anything major was wrong. She initially attributed the bloody stools to hemorrhoids. I pressed for a solid answer and she gave me a Fecal Occult Test to determine if cancer was present. It came back negative.
And she said, "If your symptoms get worse, let me know and I will get you a consultation for a colonoscopy." I monitored and journaled my symptoms, and called her back after a couple of months. She then gave me the referral for colonoscopy. Seven months later after my first notice of symptoms, I was scheduled for the procedure.
Upon awakening from the colonoscopy, my husband and I were joking around to ease the tension when the doctor came in. With a stoic face and somber voice, he told me that they found a fist-sized tumor in my sigmoid colon and that it was malignant.
My whole life changed at that moment.
He paused and stood there quietly as tears began to well up in our eyes. I asked him, “Are you saying that I have cancer?” And he said, "yes." After which, he left the room with me wondering if I was going to die from this. In that moment, this life-altering diagnosis left me seeing things through a completely different lens, and everything in my life changed after that.
What is an ostomy?
An ostomy is a life-saving medical device that allows waste to pass through a surgically created stoma on the abdomen into a prosthetic known as a pouch. Its job is to collect feces because the patient can no longer have bowel movements through their anus.
Initially, I was only supposed to have the ostomy for six weeks. However, after undergoing six weeks of oral chemotherapy combined with 33 radiation treatments to my pelvis. The treatments ended up over-radiating my colon to the consistency of tissue paper which then, led to me having a bowel obstruction and perforation.
As I was resting up and awaiting my tumor removal surgery, I had a bowel perforation and obstruction a week before my surgery date. They rushed me into emergency life-saving surgery. Afterward, the surgeon told me that if my children were not home that day, I would have died.
My ostomy was supposed to be temporary for two years because of the severity of the perforation. However, I have chosen to keep my stoma named Toodles permanently. As an ostomate, there have been a lot of challenges. However, because I have this life-saving device, I'm still here and thankful for the extra time I have been afforded.
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 creates massive changes in your body. And with ostomy surgery, you have this rewiring of your internal organs. In life with my ostomy, I've experienced lots of blockages, food malabsorption, dehydration, and repeat hospitalizations which were all challenging. All of this affects the way medications and treatments react in your body so it is important to work with a WOCN or Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse to help make living with an ostomy easier.
How common is it to have cancer and an ostomy?
It seems to be pretty common for people who have had colorectal cancer to have an ostomy, even if it is temporary. With ostomy surgery during cancer treatments, the doctors remove the diseased sections of your colon, which they call a resection. Then, they reconnect you with the healthy colon parts and attach the bag to your abdomen. Ostomies collect stool or urine depending on the type of ostomy you have.
Many patients receive a temporary ostomy which helps your body to heal quicker from the surgery. Otherwise, can you imagine trying to have a bowel movement through this freshly new bowel resection incision? Therefore, they give you the temporary ostomy as a way to give internal organs a chance to heal and put less physical stress on the patient.
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This article was transcribed from an interview with Kimberly, and has been edited for content and clarity.