Kathy Clark of Summerville, Georgia, is learning to live life to its fullest. After the fight for her life from rectal cancer and a full removal of her rectum and colon, she understands the importance of putting the people you love ahead of most anything else. That’s why she loves spending time with her husband of 21 years, Eugene, and her large family (including four grandchildren).
“Before cancer, it was easy to take things for granted. But now I see what the people in my life mean to me,” says Kathy. “Spending time and just being together is so important. We’re all so busy, but we need to stop and realize what we have in our family and friends.”
Don’t Ignore the Symptoms
At age 50 and much younger than she could have ever anticipated, Kathy started experiencing troublesome symptoms like diarrhea, constipation and some bleeding. She shrugged it off as hemorrhoids because she had often had similar symptoms throughout her life. Over time her symptoms became worse, and her husband and mother encouraged her to see a doctor.
Kathy’s family doctor found blood in her stool, and the colonoscopy that followed showed she had stage 3 rectal cancer. She credits being embarrassed about her symptoms as the reason she waited nearly four years before talking with her doctor.
“The advice I’d give to anyone would be go talk to your doctor if you have bleeding or any of these other symptoms – it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she says. “I thought I was too young to have something this serious, but it turns out that my cancer was far along and it was almost too later.”
High Quality Cancer Care
Kathy was referred to Shauna Lorenzo-Rivera, M.D., colorectal surgeon at University Surgical Associates as part of her cancer team and she ultimately had her rectum and colon removed, meaning she now also lives with an ileostomy bag. Her surgery was extensive, but she made steady progress with her recovery. Every day, Kathy made a point to get up and move, and she believes that helped her regain her strength more quickly. One thing that was always a comfort to Kathy was the fact that her team was very open and answered every question truthfully.
“Dr. Lorenzo was a wonderful doctor who tells you like it is – she let me know I could get through this,” Kathy remembers. “She’s a kind person, a wonderful surgeon and she answered every question that came to my mind.”
Kathy is also quick to point out that her large family was by her side for her recovery. Her brothers and sisters held garage sales, supporting her every day for chemo and radiation. Her mom, dad, husband and daughter were a constant presence and helped her through a difficult time.
Now Kathy is cancer free and enjoying her life! But she still has regular check ups with her oncologist and surgeons who monitor her health closely. She also has adjusted to life with a colostomy bag, something that’s such a part of her routine that it doesn’t bother her anymore.
“Although this isn’t something I would have chosen, people can have wonderful lives and active lives,” Kathy says. “I’m thankful for my healthcare team that I truly believe saved my life. I’m soaking up every minute.”