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Doug Dallmann (Colorectal Cancer): Don't Let Cancer Overwhelm You

Doug Dallmann (Colorectal Cancer): Don't Let Cancer Overwhelm You

Diagnosis

I am Doug Dallmann, a Patent Attorney living in the United States. At the age of 40, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer—a complete surprise as it went undiagnosed by nurses and health professionals who thought it might be something else. Discovering that I had a tumor during my annual check-up at 40 was utterly shocking.

Treatment

I had gone through treatment for a year, and I went through radiation and Chemotherapy for a month and a half before Surgery. After a month and a half, I had a major surgery, and my tumor was removed. I also had to go through some post-surgery chemotherapy, which lasted about a year. I was occupied with myself getting treated for cancer, from January to December 2010, and to be honest, it was not easy.

I was always an active and healthy guy apart from cancer, and this has helped me get back in proper shape in no time. Everyone becomes a fighter when they face such circumstances. Five years down the line, after being diagnosed with cancer, I gave it my all and got back in shape to participate in a physique competition. I followed a strict diet and trained heavily to accomplish my goal, which was to overcome cancer. I also wanted to spread out a message that cancer is not an excuse to stop doing what you were going to do.

I always tell people who have been newly diagnosed with cancer to write down the things they want to do in life and get out to accomplish those milestones. Cancer is not an excuse to sit at home and stop enjoying life. In 2018, I packed my bags and went outdoors to the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2500 miles trail from Mexico to Canada. I got 900 miles through it before my body gave up, but anyways it was a fantastic experience. After that, I got pretty involved in the Colon Club, which is an American based colorectal cancer group that gives out calendars every year with young cancer survivors on it, and I was on it too in the 2013 edition. The Colon Club now makes magazines with the same 12 cancer survivors and encourages them to share their stories to inspire other cancer patients worldwide.

Chemotherapy

The chemotherapy I had gone through, post my Surgery was a pretty basic; 5FU radiation to my pelvic region. There wasn't much side effect until the wearing under treatment, a 30-45 days course of chemotherapy, and radiation. I felt somewhat fatigued, had some soreness, and a burning sensation in the pelvic region because of the painful radiation. So I rested and gave my body some time between the chemo and radian before Surgery. After the surgery, which was a significant thing for me and was quite painful as well, which is why we gave a break and later started full chemo.

I was on a three-week cycle, and I felt a lot fatigued, making it difficult for me to go through. I had to go in for fusion and then take pills for two weeks, and then I had a week off that I used to recover before the next round started. I felt a bit nervous before the next round started and had always counted days for my treatment to end. The only known side effects of those chemo sessions were feeling Fatigueand loss of energy. However, I was not as good to get back in shape and had to wait for the Chemotherapy to end to get physically active again.

My role as a caregiver

A few years ago, I met Sarah, who also had stage 4 colorectal cancer. She passed away last month, but I had been her primary caregiver since January. This experience allowed me to understand not only from a cancer patient's perspective but also from a primary caregiver's point of view. I feel incredibly honored to have taken care of someone in their final month. It was a difficult job, and being a cancer patient myself, I could relate to her in some ways, though not entirely to her mental outlook.

Sarah used to teach mothers with cancer how to care for their children despite their illness. She believed that you can be a parent from anywhere—whether resting on a couch watching movies with your kids or from an infusion room. Her mantra was to do what you can and live the best life possible.

Taking care of her and her two sons was particularly challenging during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was a tough situation to be a primary caregiver amid such a crisis. Being a primary caregiver is demanding, and it requires being in command of many responsibilities. Sarah was undergoing the same chemotherapy that I had experienced, which deepened my empathy for her situation. I could profoundly understand what she was going through.

Life before cancer

Before my cancer, I had a lot of work-related anxiety and things weren't going as planned. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, it made my life simpler, keeping my focus solely on surviving each day. After a year of treatment, trying to return to normal life was scary because I feared falling back into the old rat race. But gradually, life got back to normal, and I learned to take more time to enjoy moments with friends and family. Cancer taught me to live in the moment because no one is promised a tomorrow.

Life as a cancer patient

When I was going through cancer, I didn't have a caregiver. I had my dogs, though, who were like emotional support for me then. Some people offered me support, and I took it whenever required. I drove myself to chemo and radiation. After surgery I had my friends and family support, but when their visits were over, I kind of took care of myself. I liked my alone time, and I wanted to sleep. I had a few people coming over to my place, getting me something to eat, and just sitting there to chat with me.

I did visit the support group at the hospital a few times before the Surgery and thought that it wasn't for me, and after surgery, I went again and realized that I do need this. My physical recovery was quicker compared to my mental and emotional healing. It took me years to be comfortable with that, and going to that support group had helped. The weekend I flew for the calendar photoshoot and it was incredibly healing for me. Sharing experiences with 11 other people was a wonderful feeling.

Involvement in the Colon Cancer community

I have been involved in the Colon Cancer community for several years now, and I have seen many young people die from cancer. I feel sad for them because they did not get to do what they had planned, and that is why I grab any opportunity that comes my way. I always seek to enjoy my time and give myself quality time to do things I've always wanted to do.

In 2017, my work wasn't going as planned, and I decided to quit to head out for the Pacific Crest Trail. Quitting my job allowed me to spend quality time with my family and friends, which is more important. Going through cancer made me realize that the smaller things in life matter a lot. I have a much better job now, I am where I want to be, and things are pretty good. Cancer gave me the courage to live and the wisdom that life is short.

I have seen many people who are fearful for various reasons and have a negative attitude. I understand that when you get diagnosed, your life can turn upside down, and a lot of fear can arise from uncertainty. Getting your doubts cleared by medical professionals can be helpful. It's tough for others to stay around a cancer patient because they need to provide the motivation and support required for recovery. There are some people who seek attention and use their cancer to do so. Having a negative attitude won't help you in your journey, while a positive mindset is crucial and can do wonders for your body and how you perceive the world.

The statistics say that 15 out of 100 people with stage 4 cancer can live with it for about five years, so there is a chance that you are among those 15. There are exceptional cases like Sarah, who survived with stage 4 cancer for over nine years. You just need to find the positivity out there and have the willpower to live. You should make the best of the time you have left, create memories, and cherish the small things in life.

Post surgery

My first scan after surgery, I had no evidence of the disease, which was a relief. You don't realize how stressed out you are until after you get the report. It's tough to let go of the security blanket, and you are scared that cancer might come back. I would tell people that don't let cancer stop you from living your life. Allow yourself to do the things you planned for and do not hold back. If you are newly diagnosed, it will be a long journey, and it is a chronic thing, but you should do what you can and make the best of the situation.

Parting message

Try to live your best life even under those circumstances. Don't let your cancer overwhelm you. You can't just roll in a ball and sit in a corner. I am thankful to everyone who has helped me along the way. I'm grateful to the health care team, the cancer center, the surgeons and the nutritionists, the oncologists, and the whole community that I met over the years.

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