For some time I’ve been dealing with a medical issue, which many of
you already know. A number of concerned folks have been asking me what
the outcome of recent doctor’s visits and tests is. I’ve talked to
those closest to me (including family and friends). I’ve decided to
put it into writing and let the rest of you in on what’s going on with
The short answer: I was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and I will
be having surgery soon to remove it. I expect to be out of work for a
month for recovery and then back to normal.
The longer answer is more involved and will also answer many questions
people have. If you care to learn more, including events that led up to
the diagnosis, my attitude about the situation, prognosis, etc., then
please keep reading. If not, I understand completely. At least now you
know and the mystery is revealed.
Why write about it?
I gave a lot of thought to whether or not to write about this and share
it with people via the Internet. Ultimately I felt it was a good way to
tell my story one more time, to inform people who want to know more
details without my having to retell it in person. I am pretty open about
things and I don’t mind sharing my experience with people who
sincerely want to know (rumor mongers and nosey people, not so much).
I have told the story, discussed my feelings, and discussed the possible
prognosis quite a few times already. I love that people care enough to
want to know, but I am getting tired of telling the tale. Each time I
relive some of the emotions. I am already physically fatigued at times.
This gives me something to point people to who want to know while giving
myself a break from talking about it.
How it began
Around the early part of May I developed symptoms, rather suddenly (or
so it seemed to me); constipation being the most obvious – and
uncomfortable – one. There was also a trace amount of blood. Not
enough to worry me but enough to make me think ‘Hm. That’s odd.’ I
tried home treatment, thinking it would clear up soon.
After a couple of weeks it didn’t clear up. In fact, the feeling of
needing to use the rest room increased in frequency and it eventually
starting interrupting my sleep at night. I was also losing a little
weight (about 20 pounds over the last 3 months). These were the symptoms
that people around me may have noticed.
None of the symptoms were as embarrassing as the gas, however. Good
lord, the flatulence was worse than anything I’d ever experienced. It
was though that cancerous tumor was emitting a deadly poison in attempts
to keep any threat away from it. I know that seems counter-intuitive but
it became like mega-bad. Of course, like my other symptoms, it got
progressively worse, as well.
I called my hospital and had a “telephone visit” with a doctor (not
my regular physician). She ordered a battery of tests. I submitted the
samples needed and the tests all came back negative. That is, there was
nothing abnormal showing up.
I realized, practically speaking, that I could be looking at any number
of things, from diverticulitis, to spastic colon, colitis, up to and
including cancer. Mentally I was prepared for whatever it was, because
whatever it was we were going to diagnose it, get rid of it, and I was
going to go back to a normal and long life. But really, if the tests so
far didn’t indicate cancer, what was the likelihood of that?
The “telephone” doctor contacted my regular doctor to refer me to
the gastroenterology department for follow up.
The “scope” of things
I remember seeing my assigned physician (a formality required to get the
necessary referral; God love the HMO) and talking to him about the
“It looks like they want to scope you,” he said.
“Scope me? That doesn’t sound pleasant,” I said, trying to keep
“It’s not,” he said rather matter-of-factly. Now, my doctor is a
pretty straight shooter. He comes across as dry and direct but I rather
like that about him. He doesn’t mince words or blow smoke up your
backside. He just tells it like it is. And he does have a sense of
humor. It’s just that he doesn’t inject it if it will affect his
I was scheduled for the procedure, called a sigmoidoscopy, for Friday,
July 18th. For those who don’t know (which included me not long ago),
a sigmoidoscopy is when they insert a sigmoidoscope – a device like
something out of War of the Worlds with an extending neck, a light, a
camera, a claw, and both an air blower and a suction device –
you-know-where that goes up into your colon for a tour. During the
procedure they go up into your sigmoid colon, which is the roughly the
last third of your colon. All told the journey’s distance is about two
feet or so. Doesn’t sound like much but, as my doctor said, it isn’t
The day before the procedure I had to be on a clear liquid diet. Clear
liquid diets suck. It left me feeling perpetually hungry. Only Jell-O®
and chicken broth, with its chicken-noodle-soup-like aroma, could fool
my body into thinking it had been given real food, although that only
lasted a short while.
The day of the procedure I went in and was quickly prepped. I laid on
the table facing the monitor, able to take in the video presentation of
my innards in real-time, just like the doctor. Of course the doctor was
“driving” and didn’t have to endure to near-constant discomfort
and cramping as my body reacted to the “scope.” But I digress.
He found and removed one polyp, but he also found something far more
worrisome. A tumor, about 4 centimeters in diameter, in my lower colon.
When I saw it on the screen I knew it was not good. He biopsied it, took
a few pictures, and then the procedure was done.
Afterward, we discussed what we’d seen.
“That doesn’t look good,” I said. He hid his upper lip and shook
his head. “So, it’s cancer,” I said.
“Well, I’ll send the biopsy tissue to the lab and put a rush on
Great. Non-committal comments from the doctor. Not my bag.
“So, there’s a chance it will come back negative?” I asked with
He shrugged his shoulders, sighed and said, “Even if it comes back
benign, it’s still ugly and will need to be removed.”
That’s when everything hit me at once. I have a cancerous tumor and am
headed for surgery. I confess that, despite my being “mentally
prepared” to hear the words, I wasn’t. I felt queasy, light-headed,
and it was hard to focus on what else he was telling me.
That following Monday the GI doctor called with the biopsy results. The
fact that he called rather than sending the results by mail told me that
the results were not what I was hoping for. Reality had really sunk in,
like an overweight explorer sinking in a pit of quicksand.
(Thus the witty header. Heh!)
I went through a variety of emotions. Anger, sadness, fear, blah, blah,
blah. But you know what? I decided I didn’t have time for all that.
It’s normal, it’s healthy, etc., but I began looking at getting
healthy right away.
Excerpted from "Semicolon; Memoir of a Colon Cancer Survivor" by Mark T. Arsenault. Copyright © 2014 by Mark T. Arsenault. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.