My colon cancer was diagnosed in April 2009; I had no family history or symptoms and had waited eighteen months for my routine colonoscopy (I was 55 years old). I had microsurgery, and began chemotherapy in July. The day the bottle providing the 3-day infusion of 5-FU and Oxaliplatin was removed I had the first of several heart spasms that I experienced throughout the summer, including a minor heart attack. This was an unusual but not unique reaction to 5-FU, and we decided to try again, but with a one-time IV application rather than a slow infusion. I received this in hospital so I could be observed. (Fortunately I was observed by my husband Ron, because the pump was incorrectly programmed.) I was OK for a few weeks, and then became very ill, again with a severe reaction to the 5-FU. I was in hospital for 3 weeks, including almost a week in the ICU.

As I was not able to tolerate the 5-FU it was not much of a surprise when my cancer recurred. More surgery. This time the chemotherapy we used was the drug raltitrexed, with oxaliplatin. Around this time we began attending meetings of the Colorectal Cancer Resource & Action Network (CCRAN), run by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC). Raltitrexed is not funded for colon cancer, but thanks to the information, advice, and encouragement of CCRAN and the CCAC we were able to obtain some funding from the company that makes the drug, plus some from our insurers.

Over the next 2 years I was on medical leave from my position as Director of Bioethics at the Hospital for Sick Children, and spend most of that time receiving chemotherapy. Throughout this time we were assisted in our decision making by information we received from summaries of current research compiled by CCAC’s Director of Education and Clinical Information. It was also helpful to hear the stories of others who attend the CCRAN meetings.

In the fall of 2012 I learned that Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto was offering surgery combined with heated intra-peritoneal chemotherapy (H.I.P.E.C.) to patients who fit the appropriate criteria. Dr. Andrea McCart and her team performed my 11-hour surgery in February 2013. As of May 2013 I am recovering well, thanks to the excellent care I received from my great oncological team at the Juravinski Cancer Centre and the surgical group at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the support of members of the CCRAN and CCAC, and my friends and family.

By Christine Harrison