Mark is 34 years old and 18 months ago, his life completely changed forever when his fiancé was diagnosed with Colon cancer. During this time, he has learned first hand that cancer is a battle that takes and affects more than just the individual diagnosed. Read more to learn about Mark's story.
My girlfriend Ana and I love hiking, the gym, and being active. During a camping trip at Fossil Creek in Arizona during the summer of 2012, we did something new and exciting for the first time; we went cliff jumping. It was definitely a rush - we will never forget standing on the top of a 30 ft. cliff, looking down at the crystal clear water and just jumping in before chickening out.
About a week or two later, on Father’s day, Ana complained about a pain in her stomach that just was not going away and she was even starting to look bloated in her lower stomach. The following Thursday, she went to see her doctor. After learning of our recent camping trip and swimming in creeks, the doctor was sure it was a parasite. Ana, on the other hand, was not convinced and wanted a PET Scan.
I remember I was at work that day. I knew Ana was going to the doctor but when my phone rang at about 3PM, I was not ready for what I was about to hear.
"It's a tumor."
What does that mean? We really had no information. All we knew was it was a tumor and the doctor said was probably was not cancerous. We were going to see a specialist the following day. As I stood in the specialist's office with Ana, I still did not completely understand what was going on, what was going to happen, or what all this meant.
The doctor scheduled a colonoscopy for the next Monday, giving Ana the weekend to prepare. The weekend was full of questions, concerns, freight, confusion and lots of liquids and little solid food. It seemed like the procedure took forever, but finally, the doctor came back out and informed us that Ana had Cancer. He was not sure to what extent but he scheduled an emergency laparoscopic surgery for the following day. When we showed up at the hospital the following day we were confused, scared and…confused.
I sat with Ana until the anesthesia kicked in and they took her back. It felt like forever…again. When the doctor came finally out, he pulled us into a room and told us that he started laparoscopic, but something blocked him, so he had to go full abdominal.
That's when he told us it was Stage IV Colon Cancer and it had spread. He said she would heal at the hospital for a couple weeks but would then need to start very aggressive chemo. I stood there for a second to process this, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks; my 38-year-old girlfriend, and mother of 2 children has Stage IV Colon Cancer? What the @#&$!!! I remember just about everyone hugging me but I just wanted to be alone in the hall.
That moment started the rest of my life.
Since then, Ana has gone through 18 months of that aggressive chemo. She has had great days, good days, and not so good days. It has been a struggle but she has been an inspiration to us all, and shown me who I truly can be when I need to be. I hate shots and never could have imagined having to stick a needle in my loved one, but when she needed 30 days of blood thinner shots, I did it every single night for 30 days.
The first few days of this journey were dark -we didn't know what was going to happen or how long she had. Would she be here for Christmas? It was all unclear. But it's been 18 months, another major surgery and a positive attitude from us both, and here we are. Ana is asleep right now; we are at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, AZ getting her last chemo treatment of 2013.
Through all of this, I have never given up faith for a long life with Ana. I have just about completed my MBA during all of this and will graduate in a few more months. We also got engaged on a plane
flying to Ana's home town of San Francisco, got a great little dog for the family, and have created a website, 38tooyoung.com,
and social mediums to document Ana’s journey and raise awareness.
Are you a caregiver to someone with cancer? Share your journey and advice in the comments below.