Sue Godersky was 46 years old and had finally gotten her health on track, shedding nearly 110 pounds over the course of two years. “I was addicted to exercise; I loved it,” she says.
But all the diet and exercise in the world hadn’t prepared her for the next challenge she would face – a cancer diagnosis.
Shortly after achieving her weight loss goal, Sue began to experience intermittent rectal bleeding that eventually became more frequent and worrisome. The initial diagnosis was an internal hemorrhoid and a colonoscopy was scheduled. As it would turn out, Sue was suffering from rectal cancer.
“I was completely shocked by the news,” she says. “I was only 46 years old with no family history of colorectal cancer.”
Treatment and Surgery
In the immediate days following her cancer diagnosis, Sue met with a colorectal surgeon, a medical oncologist and radiation oncologist. From September to November 2014, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. And on December 10, 2014, just three days before her 47th birthday, she underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor.
Sue recalls waking up post-surgery and hearing the news that due to the size and location of the tumor, her rectum, anal sphincter and anal opening had to be removed. And while she was able to retain her colon, reattachment surgery was not a viable option. The devastating result was reliance on a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.
In the months to follow, Sue struggled with depression despite being told by her medical team she was lucky her cancer hadn’t spread further. “I was mad and sad all at the same time. I was mad at my surgeon for telling me I was lucky when I was bound to a colostomy bag for the rest of my life,” she says.
Sue credits the unwavering support of her family and online support groups for saving her mental health. “My husband has been so accepting and supportive,” she says. “This entire experience has brought us closer together.”
Freedom and the New Normal
In August 2015, Sue gained a bit more freedom when she was introduced to bowel irrigation (flushing warm water into her bowel through the stoma). “Irrigation really opened up my world. It has allowed me to maintain a normal wardrobe, to travel, exercise and continue to work as a nurse at Columbia St. Mary’s – Ozaukee Campus,” Sue says.
Despite recent setbacks, Sue remains grateful and optimistic. “I choose to be happy. My goal is to prevent this from happening to others. Anyone age 50 or older with a family history of colorectal cancer or having symptoms should see their doctor and have a colonoscopy,” she says.
And on December 13, 2017, Sue looks forward to celebrating her 50th birthday cancer-free.