Elliot Rhoades is a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. When asked how old Elliot was when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, he responded “I was 59 when I was diagnosed, and I turned 71 this past year so it’s been about 12 years and so far I’ve been lucky and still surviving!”
It all started one day while he was doing work in his yard; Elliot took a break and had to use the bathroom. Elliot noticed blood in his stool, washed up, and then went into the living room to tell his wife and daughter what he had found.
They asked, “Is that normal?”
He said “No I never noticed that before.”
They replied, “Well do you want to get it checked out?”
Elliot replied, “Not really, I’m in no pain”. After further discussion, Elliot decided to get it checked out during a weekend.
During Elliot’s first visit, he was in no pain so the doctor suggested that it could be constipation and did not think it was that serious. Elliot decided to go back and he talked with the PA at the IHS hospital. His doctor then decided to do a colonoscopy, and scheduled him one in Bismarck, ND at the cancer center.
His doctor said, “Elliot we found a tumor… a pretty good size tumor and we think it’s cancerous.” Elliot’s doctor advised him to go back to his physician, have the tumor removed as soon as possible due to its severity. Elliot followed up with his physician and scheduled an appointment for surgery.
After his surgery, his doctor told him that they took the tumor out along with 6 inches of his colon. During Elliot’s process of recovery his doctor kept him in the hospital and monitored his progress until Elliot he felt he was well enough to be on his own. After a week of Elliot’s healing, his doctor followed up with him and started him on chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Elliot’s treatment lasted every day for 6 weeks, and his doctored advised him of the side effects. Elliot’s doctor warned him, “It may wear on you but it is necessary and it needs to be done”.
While Elliot was doing this for about four weeks, Elliot’s nurse was curious and asked “Elliot, who is driving you back and forth to treatment?”
Elliot’s said, “I am! This is my problem. It’s not my wife’s problem and it’s not my daughter’s, they’re both working and they don’t have time to be hauling me all over and driving me.”
Elliot’s nurse told him that she was stunned because other patients she was seeing had been having a hard time getting around during treatment. Elliot was surprised because he didn’t lose his hair and he felt completely fine. Finally on the last week, Elliot took the last week off of his treatment because he finally reached the point of being extremely exhausted. When Elliot completed the last week of his radiation chemo treatment, his physician advised him to do follow up visits quarterly for 2 years. So Elliot seen his physician every 3 months for follow up tests. They ran their tests for 2 years and everything was fine. After that his physician told him to come back twice a year and he finished that treatment. In the 5th year of his treatment the physician told him that he has been cancer free for 5 year and graduated Elliot out of his treatment program, but his doctored advised him to get a colonoscopy every 3 years.
With Elliot’s last colonoscopy, his doctor mentioned “I won’t have to see you for the next 5 years.” As of this year Elliot is still cancer free, and participates in regular colorectal cancer screenings.
“I’m usually pretty tough about things, but in the end that treatment did get to me… If you want to live you will do mostly anything, I got my family, my wife, my kids, and I got some grandkids… I want to be around them for a few more year. Yes I went through a lot, but it was worth it! I am now a 12 year survivor of colon cancer.”
When we asked Elliot how colorectal cancer changed his life, he responded:
“It made me very aware of what cancer can do. It’s scary but, it doesn’t have to be a death threat. I’ve talked to groups here and other places around the rez and I told them my best advice I can give you that I went through is, you know your body better than any doctor or nurse… if something does not seem right or normal, get it checked out! No matter how scared you are or how afraid you are about what they are going to tell you, check it out… especially when it comes to cancer. Cancer can be defeated but you have to go in for a diagnoses, you got to go in for treatment, and you got to follow up on your visits after… that’s the only way you keep track of that thing and make sure it doesn’t come back. And that’s all I can tell you and I did it, and luckily I’m still here and everything turned out ok.”