Born and raised in New York City and New England, Liza Fay was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 58 in August 2017 and started treatments in October 2017, which involved five weeks of radiation and chemo. She now gets chemo every two weeks and her last treatment will be May 16, 2018 and then she'll have surgery this summer. She has a 19-year-old son and after her diagnosis she moved from Texas back to Atlanta, where she used to live, to be closer to family.
We asked Liza to write a blog offering advice to her 30-year-old self based on what she's learned so far on this cancer journey.
I want to tell you something dear younger me — your life is going to change. Change in a way that no one will ever understand. You’re suddenly going to wake up and smell the coffee. Smell it in a way you never did before. It’s going to knock your socks off. But not in a good way.
You're going to wake up on an August morning in a hospital bed after emergency surgery for an abscess — an abscess in a place the sun don’t shine. A place you rather not talk about. But you do. Talk about about. At least with nurses and doctors, etc. Even though you are still not comfortable discussing it. Discussing that place on your anatomy that you don’t particularly care much for.
Not many women do. You’ll probably go through life looking in mirrors to see if it’s too big. Or if the sweater you’re wearing is long enough to cover it. You’ll go through life wishing you had a nicer butt. But are stuck with the one you have.
Then that all changes when the doctor comes in to give the news. When he was draining the abscess he saw a mass. And did a biopsy. Dear younger me, please pay attention. Please forget about how big your butt is. Though it’s not really. Big at all. You get sick. Very sick and lose a ton of weight. But it’s not how you wish to have a smaller bum.
You watch as the doctor comes into your hospital room. Your lying there in that bed. In pain from the surgery you had a few days ago but your pumped full of pain pills. And given a shot of morphine. Yes the pain is THAT bad. Especially when they change the dressing. Which by the way they do as often as necessary. And God does it hurt!!! Damn it hurts.
Instead of closing up the wound where the sun don’t shine they leave it open to heal on its own. Yes younger me your very first surgery hurts like hell after. And for a damn long time after.
But that’s going to change as you watch the doctor. It’s not like I’m the movies. Not in the least. You ain’t going to be told with a loved one. You will be alone in that hospital bed. Wearing that ugly hospital gown. You’ll be told words you’ll never forget.
Please pay attention 30-year-old me. Pay close attention. What the doctor is about to tell you will change everything.
I watch him as he opens his mouth and the words fall out. That mass is cancerous. You’ll be confused. Scared. Then inevitable denial sets in. But you know it’s true. That you have colon cancer.
Cancer? Yes cancer. It registered yet it didn’t. I didn’t know what to say except, “What stage am I?” They hadn’t staged it and had no idea. Of all things to ask. Not that it’s a bad thing to ask.
Younger me, no I didn’t think about all those things like, “Why me?” That would come later. Months later down the road.
Hey you, 30-year-old, healthy me, you don’t stay that way. You get sick. Deathly ill. Scary sick. An illness that has a potential to kill you. Though colon cancer has a very high rate of being successfully treated and cured. That is something positive.
You spend nearly six years in a place you learn to hate. A city you try to escape over and over but you never quite escape. Then you are given diagnoses of cancer and some how, someway you finally escape that town you’ve grown to loath.
Cancer brings you back home. Back home with the family you thought you needed to escape from. Six years ago you needed to escape and now all you wanted to do was give them all a hug. Not because you had cancer, rather because you truly loved them and missed them but your stubborn butt -- excuse the pun, wouldn’t admit you needed them in your life.
Dearest Younger Me, your life is going to change.
But don’t get too down about it. Yes cancer is a huge thing but you are about to go on a long, strenuous journey, you will meet people you’d never have encountered. Experience things you never thought you would. Yes and have a zillion and one needles stuck in your arms. Have several MRI’s when you never needed one before.
You’ll cry. Be sad.
But you will laugh and see the beauty in life. You my dear self will see things as they never were before. It’ll change you.
Life is a paradox. It truly is. I escaped to a place I learned to hate only to get very sick and I found a way out. Getting sick wasn’t a great way of getting out but at the time it was my only way back home.