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Colorectal Cancer Brings Blessings in Disguise

Colorectal cancer patient Carol Ann Matthias.

August 13, 2019

Carol Ann Matthias, a nurse manager at The University of Kansas Hospital, knew she was overdue for her first colonoscopy at age 56 in July 2009.

“I had put off this examination until I couldn't any longer," admits Carol Ann. “I'm a typical wife, nurse, mother and caregiver, but not necessarily for myself.”

Having no telltale symptoms, it was a huge (and terrifying) surprise to learn she had a colorectal tumor. Her physicians said they suspected it had been present for a decade.

Positive colorectal cancer outcome

“I immediately went into warrior mode,” says Carol Ann. “I knew that the way you react to a health situation can affect its outcome. My focus was on survival and making it the very best journey possible. I would only accept a positive outcome!”

Carol Ann’s mother had a colon resection several years ago to remove a benign polyp. But Carol Ann says she wasn’t informed to consider this a risk factor for her own health.

She and her husband, a chiropractic physician, partnered to create a healthier lifestyle. They made major dietary adjustments, increased hydration efforts and took a more holistic approach to supplement the impending medical care she was to receive. “I wanted my body to be as healthy as possible to fight off my cancer diagnosis,” she says.

At the time of her diagnosis, nothing indicated that her stage 1 tumor had spread. However, it was soon detected that 2 of her lymph nodes tested positive for malignancy, which placed her at stage 3 colorectal cancer.

“I was lucky to have had just a colon resection and not a colostomy,” says Carol Ann. Her treatment plan also included 12 cycles of chemotherapy over 8 months.

Ask questions and engage

“I believe that the more you invest in your treatment by asking questions, the higher quality care you will receive,” she says. “I was allowed to ask questions and be engaged in my treatment plan. Both Dr. Mazin Al-kasspooles, my colorectal surgeon, and my oncologist, Dr. Joaquina Baranda, made me feel like an individual who had a say in what was happening to me. I appreciate and admire the work we do here at the cancer center.”

As an employee at the hospital, Carol Ann was concerned about keeping her cancer journey confidential.

“It was a very private thing for me because I didn’t want my diagnosis interfering with work,” she shares. “My privacy was treated with the utmost respect and that was awesome! It was nice to not have to leave this world-class setting for care and to be able to come to work each day and be related to as a nursing professional, not a person battling cancer.”

As a 5-year cancer survivor, Carol Ann says that her cancer journey brought her many blessings in disguise.

“A healthier lifestyle, a more prioritized view of my life and many other positive things came out of this for me and my family. Am I happy that I had cancer? No. But, am I happy with my journey? Yes!”

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