“You will be ok. It’s something people say to other people all the time. But I have to say that it’s true. Have hope. Have faith. Fight and know that you will be ok. My treatment was tough, it was so very difficult, but it saved my life. I’m still able to function, to have a quality of life as good as or better than before my Colorectal Cancer diagnosis.”
It’s been a long time since 2013 when Support Volunteer Teres was busy making plans. Her son was graduating college. After years of dreaming, discussing and planning, she and her husband were preparing to move their family to South Carolina.
Then, she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
“The doctor said ‘you have a tumor,’ Teres recalls. “That just shattered me. I wasn’t feeling ill. Other than giving birth, I’d never been hospitalized. Suddenly, I’m getting radiation and a six-week course of 5FU chemo in a pump I carried with me 24-hours a day. We were discussing my ostomy and all that would entail.”
Like many patients, she began her treatment believing she was mentally and physically prepared for the side effects she’d discussed with her medical team. The reality was much more difficult than she’d expected.
“All I would do was cry. I got really depressed and I remember saying to my husband and my kids, ‘I’m not going to get through this, you’re going to have to put me away somewhere.” It was at that point Teres called Cancer Hope Network.
“I loved my cancer support group, but they couldn’t relate to me specifically on colorectal cancer and having an ostomy, especially as a woman. When I called CHN, I was matched with someone in my age bracket, who had had the same treatment and was five years out.”
That Support Volunteer shared a perspective Teres desperately needed. “I’d never met anyone or talked to anyone who had an ostomy. I didn’t know if it was a handicap where I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I had no idea how it would look for a young person who is married. It was so nice for her to say ‘This is what you can expect’ because the unknown is so scary.”
“What I really love about Cancer Hope is the detailed matching. Yes, it’s important to talk to people about cancer who’ve walked it – but when you look a little closer and find someone with a shared diagnosis or treatment, you can really talk to someone who has walked the same walk. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who has never had this ostomy experience. It’s been really great to talk to other ladies and share my story. I can reassure them that their lives are not going to stop.”
Teres has always been a helper, volunteering for a variety of community service organizations through the years. But her diagnosis marked a turning point. “My desire to provide support to others has become heightened since I was sick. I think about all the support and love that I received, which was wonderful. Even strangers stepped up to let me know I was not alone. People I’d never met would send me text messages, I have a box of cards from people who would send me cards to say they were thinking of me. I know how important it is to make sure that you’re giving support.”
During treatment, Teres was surrounded by a loving family, her “rock solid” husband and “lots of prayer warriors who were constantly encouraging me.” An independent person, more accustomed to managing responsibilities and keeping a tight grip on the reins, it was a big adjustment. “I had to humble myself at that time and rely on others to help me through the process.”
Today, she has embraced her “new normal,” paying forward the information and courage that was shared with her. Her husband launched his own trucking company in 2018. Her youngest son joined the Army in 2019 and in 2020, her oldest son welcomed a daughter – and Teres’ first grand child.
Settled in South Carolina, Teres was still seeing her New Jersey-based care team. In March 2020 she was adjusting to life as an empty nester when the pandemic hit. Teres, in the middle of a visit filled with doctor’s appointments and awaiting a colonoscopy was stuck in place – unable to leave New Jersey. Her husband, a long-distance trucker, was on the road. A self-described news junkie, she was glued to the television, watching as another “new normal” began.
Her own experience heightened her compassion for patients undergoing their first rounds of diagnosis and treatment. “I have a lot of family in the medical field and was hearing the pain they were going through. I was lucky. I’m physically well and doing ok. My doctors were able to have phone conferences with me. I’d get really emotional thinking about all the people who truly needed to physically be at their doctor’s offices.”
“I remember talking to some matches during that time – the overwhelming struggles that they were facing trying to get to treatment. People weren’t allowed to accompany them to appointments and visits. You’re already being sick and now you don’t have any support.” That empathy further strengthened her commitment to providing support over long distances.
“I had some friends who lost a lot of loved ones during Covid and they couldn’t be a part of funeral arrangements or see people. Whether it was through you guys matching me or other family members and friends who were lonely, I was trying to be a support system while trying to deal with my isolation,” she recalls. “It made me more aware of the present and how grateful and thankful I am that I’ve endured. I’m in my ninth year of being able to say that I’m cancer free. I didn’t get sick. I was able to still be helpful and useful, especially at a critical time when so many people needed help.”
Cancer Hope Network provides free one-on-one emotional support to adult cancer patients and their loved ones by matching them with survivors and caregivers trained as Support Volunteers and supported by a team of healthcare and social work professionals. Each of CHN’s 400+ volunteers is at least one year post-treatment or successfully undergoing maintenance therapies. CHN serves cancer patients in the United States and Canada. To connect with a Support Volunteer who’s had colorectal cancer, an ostomy – or other experience similar to your own, click HERE or call 877.467.3638.