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HomeCancer Survivor StoriesVanessa Ghigliotty (Colorectal Cancer Survivor)

Vanessa Ghigliotty (Colorectal Cancer Survivor)

Expert Guidance from Cancer Coach

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Vanessa Ghigliotty (Colorectal Cancer Survivor)

Symptoms and diagnosis

When I was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, I was only 28 years old. I have no family history or known genetic mutations. The way that it was discovered was really scary. I am a 19-year survivor. 

When I was about 26 years old, I started feeling a lot of pain in my abdomen, and also fatigue, and nausea. I never had time for myself, so I foolishly thought my fatigue was because I didn’t sleep well. The smell of food that I normally ate, would make me nauseous. When I went to the doctor, they told me to take a rest. My condition worsened and also my life became more stressful. I had growth on the right side of my body which was hard as a rock. It hurt when I touched it. When I went to the doctor, he ignored all my symptoms and said the mass was just gas.

The pain in my lower abdomen was unbearable. I couldn’t even walk. My mother took me to the emergency room. I went into triage and they put me into a private emergency room. I went for X Rays. They said that my appendix had burst and there was a lump on the side. They went in to drain what they thought was containment of fluid. The pain from when they tried to drain the fluid woke me up. A surgeon told me that they found a solid mass on the side, so it’s not an appendix but it might be a tumour. So, I had right-sided colon cancer. It ate up my appendix and was coming through my abdominal wall.

Treatments underwent

As soon as I healed from the surgery, I started my chemotherapy. I was worried about my ten-year-old son. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to raise him.

My oncologist told me to get my affairs in order because they didn’t know how effective the chemo would be. She basically told me that I am going to die. I told my mom what the oncologist said. My mother flipped and said that I wasn’t staying in this hospital. Then we went to Memorial Kettering Cancer Centre and I met with Dr. Leonard Salt. He said that I was young enough to be really aggressive with the chemo. Also, he said that he didn’t know where else the cancer cells can metastasize. He even said that I have a choice. Because it was my body and he couldn’t tell me what to do with my body. Whatever it is that I need, it is my power to do it. He gave me the strength to be able to fight the biggest fight I have ever had in my life.

The chemo was very aggressive. I did not do well on chemo and spent almost three years vomiting. I also had burning issues in my stomach and my oesophagus. I’ve had ten surgeries in total because of recurrences. I had a lot of reparative surgery and had to deal with a lot of complications. 

After three and a half years, they found a mass in my heart. So, they had to stop chemo. They thought that cancer might have spread to other areas. But it turns out that this happened because I don’t have cancer anymore. It wasn’t a tumour in my heart but a clot in my heart due to a chemotherapy port. After six months of daily blood thinners, my clot kept growing. So I had to have open-heart surgery. That’s how my cancer journey ended, with open-heart surgery. And 15 years later, and I am still calling myself cancer-free.

My support system

My parents were with me. I did feel relief because then they were home taking care of my son, so I didn’t have to worry about him. And I had a great care team. My fiance was with me, and also my friends were amazing. 

How cancer changed my life

Cancer gave me purpose in life. It also gave me my passion. My purpose is to advocate for those who don’t have a voice. I was 28 when I was diagnosed. This April will be 20 years from when I was diagnosed. And I definitely want to celebrate and do something big. But I’m at this place in my life right now where I dreamed of growing old. I now have the ability to grow old. It’s a very weird feeling. My whole life is dedicated to giving back. I speak to people every single day of my life either online or on the phone, through blogs or videos, or conferences. People see my story, and they reach out to me. I’m a patient Navigator with organizations to support the patients. I feel so blessed that I’m able to help them out.

And I’m also able to sometimes have patients that don’t know their rights. I tell them that they can get a second opinion. You can go see another doctor if you’re not happy with this one. I’m glad I’m able to go to Capitol Hill to fight for more money for NIH. We have an amazing victory of having the screening age move from age 50 to age 45.

The advantage of screening age changes is, for example, if someone’s 40 years old, the doctors might take a look and send them for a colonoscopy. It’s such a big difference and I know I played a large part in that. I played a large part in advocating for that and in pushing and in fighting and empowering others to fight and to give back. And it’s just given my life such purpose and meaning and I’m so grateful.

Expert Guidance from Cancer Coach

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