Colon Cancer Survivor
- Experienced gastrointestinal symptoms for at least a year before seeking a doctor.
- Received his first-ever colonoscopy at age 55.
- Diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with liver metastasis.
- Treated with chemotherapy followed by surgery to his colon and liver.
On January 6, 2011, Philip Siers went in for his very first colonoscopy ever. He was 55 years old at the time.
“I’d been having gastrointestinal issues for about a year, maybe longer,” he says. “They were issues I couldn’t identify, like having to go to the bathroom more than usual.”
“He got rosacea, too,” says Philip’s wife, Shawn, who was the instigator behind Philip finally getting to the doctor.
The doctor who performed Philip’s colonoscopy broke the news to the Siers about Philip’s diagnosis—stage IV colon cancer with metastasis to the liver. “They started talking statistics right off the bat,” Philip says. “It left us stunned.”
“Clutching at straws, we decided to go to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance,” Shawn says. “Within 15 minutes, I knew I wanted SCCA for treatment,” Philip says. “We started talking and by the answers and direction of the conversation, it was clear to me that SCCA is much more professional and focused on finding a cure. They never talked statistics… not once.”
Philip and Shawn appreciated the frankness of the oncologists at SCCA. The nurses and staff are amazing.
“My doctor told us I’d have to manage the disease for the rest of my life. He gave us hope,” Philip says.
Philip liked that the doctors at SCCA are actually University of Washington faculty physicians. “There is no comparison to the suburban doctors,” Philip says. “When your life is on the line, you want the best. I saw the best at SCCA.”
From that point forward, it was all business, Philip says. They got a treatment plan based on his scans from the other physicians. “And they wanted my input, too,” Philip says. “I liked that. It was a collaboration and negotiation process.”
Philip says they took the systemic approach to treatment first, using chemotherapy to stop the cancer cells from multiplying and get control of the tumors. Then there would be surgeries to his colon and liver to remove the tumors.
Philip received the traditional FOLFOX chemotherapy treatment given for colon cancer. FOLFOX is made up of the drugs FOL– Folinic acid (leucovorin), F – Fluorouracil (5-FU), and OX – Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin). He did well on this treatment for 11 months. “I was lucky. It was easy to manage the side effects,” Philip says.
Philip had surgery with Dr. Mika Sinanan, professor of surgery at UW Medicine on April 1 to remove approximately seven inches of his colon, taking about eight days to recover. And then he had more chemotherapy prior to the surgical removal of three liver tumors.
“Six weeks later I had a CT scan before having liver surgery, and there had been three places of metastasis, and after two rounds of chemo, two of the three were gone and the third almost gone! I responded well to chemo,” Philip says.
On June 4, Dr. Raymond S. W. Yueng, UW Medicine surgeon, removed the tumor from Philip’s liver using laparoscopic surgery, which required only half as long to recover from.
“All detectable cancer was removed from my body,” Philip says.
To finish off his treatment regimen, Philip received another traditional treatment called FOLFIRI, a chemotherapy regimen made up of folinic acid (leucovorin)-FOL, a vitamin B derivative used to "rescue" from the high doses of the drug methotrexate that also reduces the side effects of fluorouracil (5-FU)-F; and finally irinotecan (Camptosar) – IRI, until the end of the year. This treatment was more difficult for him to tolerate.
“It was an option they gave me before going on maintenance chemotherapy,” Philip says. “I was supposed to get four treatments, but only got to two. I lost my hair, was exhausted, and deteriorated so rapidly that they took me off of it and I went on Xeloda® (capecitabine), at a maintenance dose.” Philip is also taking Celebrex for neuropathy in his hands and feet, which seems to help.
Philip will be on Xeloda, an oral medication taken every two weeks with one-week breaks in between, until December 2012. He also comes to SCCA every three weeks for an infusion of Avastin (bevacizumab).
“I told him if he got through his treatment, he could treat himself. He bought a vintage Corvette!” Philip’s wife Shawn says.
Getting Through It
“It’s hard asking for help,” Shawn says. “But I should have because people didn’t offer much. It would have been nice if people just said, ‘hey, how about I do this for you,’ and be specific. Most people don’t know about cancer. It’s a long battle.”
“You deal with cancer on a daily basis,” Philip says. “And it’s unique in a lot of ways compared to other diseases. But it can ruin your constitution unless you manage it mentally. I found ways to compartmentalize my thinking, so that the wear and tear that the knowledge of having cancer can have on me is minimized. I just lock away the awareness that I have cancer until it’s needed. That’s not the same thing as denial; it’s a way of self-protection which enables a normal life, and I encourage any cancer patient to try it.”
As the caregiver, Shawn was the “worrier” she says. “I plan everything in advance. I had to learn how to take it day by day. I worked four days a week and ended up leaving that job to work full time because we didn’t know if Phil would be able to work or not during or after treatment.”
They rented out their large home and downsized to live in a townhome. “I couldn’t afford our mortgage on just my salary,” Shawn says, even though Phil is back to working again.
Her number one recommendation for getting through cancer treatment though, is hiring a housekeeper.
“We worked on staying positive together,” she says. “And I made sure he ate frequently and as much as he could. I even gained weight!”
During treatment it helps to have a large support circle, too, Shawn says. “And you need to remember that you still need to take time to be together, to normalize your life as much as you can and simplify it as much as possible.”
They continue to eat organic foods, and eat fish at least four times a week. Now that Philip is feeling better, they’re both working on exercising again, too.
“My health was perfect before cancer,” Philip says. “I used to exercise a lot. I had a good lifestyle before. It was the luck of the draw that I got cancer,” Philip says. “I was mad that I hadn’t gotten my colonoscopy sooner.”
Shawn was mad, too, especially since she pestered him frequently over the years about it. “Guys think of prevention as good eating and exercise, and not screening. But you need to get screened, too,” she says.
“In a way, cancer has made me a better person,” Philip says. “It opens up your thinking more than I was before. I know what my priorities are, family and friends, and I don’t take things for granted like I used to."