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Colon Cancer Survivor

Barbara Crummins

It was late January 2006 when Barbara Crummins, a graphic designer from Seattle, became sick. She had eaten a huge Mexican dinner couple days before and attributed her discomfort to that.

“I never ever get sick,” she says. “I don’t even have a doctor. And my stomach hurt and I was swollen up for like four days. And about the fourth day I decided to look up in the yellow pages and go see a doctor. And the earliest I could get in to see somebody was the following day.”

Barbara remembers that appointment. It was a Friday at two in the afternoon, “and I was pretty delirious by then, I was feeling horrible,” she says. She saw a gastroenterologist, “and he poked my belly and sent me down the street to a facility for an MRI scan. I’d never had one before. I had no idea what was going on or what he was thinking. I just thought I had a bad stomach ache.”

Barbara went for the scan and immediately after, it was read by the radiologist who rushed her to a local hospital where she was admitted.

“By the time I checked in it was about 5 p.m. A surgeon came in with his coat and briefcase; he was heading home for the weekend. He looked at my scans, poked my belly, and he says, ‘I’m going to stay late and operate because you probably won’t live till tomorrow.’”

Barbara was dumbfounded. A self-professed “health-food freak” since high school, before she realized it, Barbara was whisked away to surgery. She felt befuddled and really didn’t understand what was going on or what had happened. Her surgeon would be there on Saturday to explain, she was told. “I just had no idea,” she says.

Diagnosis

On Saturday her surgeon made his rounds and came to see Barbara, announcing that he had removed a “huge tumor in her colon,” part of her liver, and 13 lymph nodes.

“I’m just looking at him and going, are you talking to the right person? Because, like I say, I exercise, I take care of myself impeccably, and I was in my 40’s. How could this possibly happen? So that was a lot to digest in one day thinking about it,” Barbara says. 

Her cancer was Stage IV. “And he looked me right in the eye and said you probably have 3 to 6 months to live even with treatment, maybe 8 months,” Barbara says.

Options and Treatment

After a bad experience at a local hospital, Barbara decided to seek treatment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with Dr. Samuel Whiting, SCCA medical oncologist, on a friend’s recommendation.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Whiting. He’s great,” Barbara says. “He worked with me, as stubborn as I was, and I wanted to do a lot of other things, like acupuncture, and vitamins. I didn’t want to take chemotherapy alone. So, he humored me and went along with some of my ideas. Deep inside of me, I know I had to do what was right for me, not what was right for anybody else.”

Barbara received chemotherapy treatment in two rounds, but decided not to complete each course in its entirety. A year later, the cancer came back. She did a little more treatment, and quit again.

“I’m here, so that’s the good part,” Barbara says. “And in June it will be two years since the last occurrence.”

Best Advice

Barbara felt like everyday she had to beat it, had to do the best she could and keep a happy attitude. “And I think that’s a huge part of it. Because people who hear that, it’s like a death sentence, and they say, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die in six months!’ They take somebody’s word. And then they believe it. And I think then that kills them. It kills their spirit and they can’t keep going.”

Thanks to her “wonderful friends” who dragged her out to dance and hear music, even with staples, Barbara kept joy in her life as much as she could.

“When they first gave me a time frame (3 to 6 months), my brain said okay, if it was three months, that’s 90 sunsets I could see. That’s 90 dinners. Which friends would I want 90 dinners with? I started calling friends and going through things like that. It’s bizarre to think like that—like you could start checking them off your calendar,” she says.

The advice Barbara wishes to impart to anybody is “to really, really get in touch with the deepest part of yourself and go forward from that.

“Because everyone’s going to send you an article about this cure and that cure, and this shark oil ...I had articles from people I didn’t even know coming in my e-mail box. I couldn’t even read them all. So, you can’t listen to everybody else. You can take it in and absorb the information and process it as much as you can. But ultimately it’s up to you and your creator or whatever you want to call it. You have to just be true to yourself.”

Genetic Connection

Barbara found out a year later that her grandfather on my mother’s side had had the same type of colon cancer three months before she was born, and she never knew that. Colon cancer can be a genetic disease. To learn more about the Risk Factors for colon cancer, go to: http://www.seattlecca.org/colon-cancer-risk-factors.cfm

Learn more about early detection and annual screenings at http://www.seattlecca.org/colon-screening.cfm

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