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Sheila's Story

As Sheila Ladow tells it, her life changed while she was unconscious.

One minute she was counting backwards from 100, waiting for the anesthesia to kick in before a colonoscopy. The next minute her grim-faced doctor was telling her she had cancer.

 

The diagnosis was unexpected. She was only 42 years old, physically fit, and experiencing no symptoms. Just three days earlier she participated in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition!

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But the diagnosis wasn’t a shock. Her life and her understanding of her cancer risk had been intertwined for 18 years, since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 24. A decade in, she started the ritual of cancer surveillance colonoscopies.

By the summer of 2019 it had been three years since her last scope, but she just wasn’t motivated to get it done. She hated the prep, the inconvenience, and the fact that she was the youngest person in the colonoscopy suite. She dragged her feet for months. She considered skipping it entirely. After some nagging from her GI, she finally went in.

"I am living proof that getting screened can save your life. Do not put it off."

The cancer news went from bad to worse. Initially they thought it was a stage I tumor, but quickly upgraded it to stage II. After her colectomy they found cancerous lymph nodes, moving her up to stage III.

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During six months of chemo Sheila went from "fighting form" to rough shape. She developed neuropathy, bladder issues, and blood clots, to say nothing of the anxiety.

"I couldn't have made it through it without my husband. He would persuade me to eat and drink and help me fall asleep at night when I was overcome with fear that I would never wake up.”

During the darkest days she made plans to bury her cancer experience deep in the recesses of her mind, never to be spoken of again. But she’s come to have a different perspective. “It hurt a lot to talk about at first, but I don’t want anyone to go through what I have. I want to put my story out there for other people to know about." 

"If sharing my story can help someone else, it's my responsibility as a human being to speak up."

Three years after surgery, there’s no evidence of disease in Sheila's body, though there are still more scans and blood tests ahead to look for any sign of cancer or circulating tumor DNA.

In July 2020 she had her ileostomy removed and a J-pouch created.

She’s living a less restricted life now that she’s cured of colitis. She’s also bringing a fresh perspective.

"I tell my people I love them six times instead of once. And I'm not sorry. I don't want to take anything for granted."

“I’m still learning,” she says, “but cancer sure helps you understand what matters and what doesn’t. It’s helped me let go of some things and to remember to hold on to other things tighter.”

 

Late last year, she got one more person to hold on to: her first grandchild was born on December 13.

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