“What do you do now?”
Tamara Halvorson asked herself, when she was faced with multiple visits to the doctor only for them tell her that the fissure that was causing the bleeding was still healing.
Initially, Halverson was seeing a provider about complications with her diabetes. Halvorson believes it was the switch of medications and Metformin that lead to the early detection of colorectal cancer at the age of 30. During this time, she was experiencing diarrhea for 6-8 months and she couldn’t finish meals without heading to the restroom.
Halvorson ended up stating her concerns to her normal provider who changed her Metformin to slow acting, but to no avail, as she continued to display symptoms with blood in her stool. She was then referred to Sanford in Bismarck ND when a doctor did not do an exam and did not order one. The doctor believed it may have been a fissure that was causing the bleeding and only prescribed topical cream.
Halvorson waited for 6 months to meet with a provider, and during that duration she still had symptoms of bleeding. After many months of what felt like being on the back burner, Halvorson finally met with a Dr. in Parshall for her diabetes and she mentioned bleeding in her stool. The doctor then ordered an exam and said that something wasn’t right and that she shouldn’t be bleeding.
Halvorson was referred to a GI doctor in Minot ND. Her appointments were once again delayed from May to July till she met with her doctor who did and exam and ordered a colonoscopy for the following week. Halvorson came in for her procedure on July 31st and was put to sleep. When she woke, the doctor had terrifying news and said that she had cancer.
Halvorson exclaims “It seemed like a bad dream and that it couldn’t be right”.
A very large mass was found and needed to act aggressively and be treated right away before the cancer spreads from a stage 3 to a stage 4.
Halvorson said, “The way he explained it was that there were 3 layers to the colon and the tumor had gone through all 3 layers and affected 5 lymph nodes on the outside of the colon”.
That following week, she had an appointment and got a port in her chest to receive chemotherapy. Halvorson completed 28 rounds of radiation and 6 weeks of chemotherapy. After her chemo, the tumor was removed along with lymph nodes and her entire rectum. The procedure was very extensive, taking the surgeons 15 hours of operating.
The tumor was sent to a pathologist and everything in the tumor was dead due to the radiation and chemotherapy. During this time, Halvorson was placed on chemo once again and completed 4 more month of chemotherapy. Due to the chemo, she now has neuropathy in her hand and feet and lost most of her hair from it. Halvorson experienced a lot of side effects with her 2nd round of chemo which made her very sensitive to the cold, and winters were very brutal as she recalls coming home and “fell over from the cold and couldn’t breathe cold air. Very rough chemo, it affected my body so much. I was 30 years old and it was difficult, I can’t imagine how older people do it”.
Halvorson’s colon cancer was slow growing and was growing for at least 4 years. She had no family history of colon cancer but she some of her family had other cancers. Her tumor has grown larger than the size of a baseball and filled the entire rectum. Mayo has since then kept the tumor and put it into a bank for research to study for future colorectal cancer patients. During her healing process, she fell into depression with the ileostomy bag.
“It made me feel weird… I lost confidence. Is the bag going to leak? Etc. I had to carry supplies for it if it ever leaked. You feel weird. Went through depression with the bag.”
Luckily she didn’t have to wear the colostomy bag full time. Many people have to wear it full time but she only lived with the ileostomy bag for 6 months.
“I can’t imagine having that for my whole life. It took me 2-3 months to learn to do it correctly where it didn’t hurt, leak, etc. It was a long journey.”
When we asked Tamara Halvorson what types of challenges she encountered, she replied:
“Most of it was just dealing with the depression. From the time you find out, am I going to die? Uncertainty, doctors can only do so much, it either works or doesn’t work. Am I going to die? My world is over? I went through a lot mentally, emotionally, and physically. The biggest thing to get through was that. Through it all I would wake up in the morning saying “it could be worse” and that would lift my spirits. Everything that’s still here, I am still here, everything will be alright. Would tell myself this every day. Many people said I didn’t look sick, some people couldn’t see that, was glad that they didn’t see that. My family knew, people closest knew.”
She was offered depression medication but did not take them, because she wanted to fight through that on her own. She wanted to beat it on her own. Depression was one of the hardest. The physical yes, but the mentally getting down made her more down even more.
Halvorson has had an open wound on her stomach from surgery at the Mayo Clinic to remove the bag and put her intestines back. She had fluid buildup and went to ER in Minot twice and was hospitalized and now she is healing.
“I think from this I will be more outgoing, more seizing of the day and not being scared. I didn’t do anything, no drugs, drinking, smoking, none of that. I have always worked. I want to do more things and go more places, experience life. Want to take more chances, I only have one life. After finding out I was diagnosed I went to Las Vegas and went on the zip line, it was the scariest thing ever (I am afraid of heights), scary but I am going to live my life. I want to do more things like that.”
She also says,
“If you can get out and tell your story, don’t be scared to tell you story. It could influence someone else to go get screened, to get a checkup, to check their health. If I can do this, anyone can do this. Don’t be scared. Just go do it. There is nothing but good that can come of it. Knowledge. If you are scared, especially men, scared of colonoscopy. I think it is more of a man thing to not want to do that. I convinced my brother to get one. Brother you need to get one, you can’t play, this is serious and if something is wrong you need to know.” “People with diabetes should be checked more, they already have complications in health and could trigger other things in your body to happen. Cancer could be genes, something mutated, as a result of something. No one told me this, but I do firmly believe mine was caused from taking the wrong Metformin. I don’t know how true that is but connecting dots that she’s heard from all doctors that’s what she thinks. Diabetics need to be screened.”