My previous blog on July 3, dealt with one of the treatments that cancer patients have offered to them at the time of diagnosis, chemotherapy. This blog focuses on it’s ugly stepsister, radiation.
When I was diagnosed, I had no clue what the long term issues I would face would be, if in fact I did survive. I believe most patients and obviously your doctors are more concerned with keeping you alive. While those options were much different for me in 1990, modern medicine has advanced to make treatments like radiation and chemotherapy one of many treatments your doctor should suggest.
When I was two months into treatment, my tumor had disappeared and I no longer had any signs of cancer in my body. My doctors and I discovered this after a bone scan I had done in early February 1991.
Despite receiving such wonderful news, I still had five more chemotherapy treatments and four weeks of radiation to complete. I wanted to stop treatment and resume my life, but my doctors assured me and my mother that doing so would kill me. “This cancer hides” my doctor told my mother, “and if Mark stops treatment it will be like putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger”.
Needless to say that wasn’t much of a choice for my mother to make. Being that I was still 16 at the time, I could not make that choice for myself.
I was terrified of facing the remainder of my protocol. Rhabdomyosarcoma had been a death sentence for the previous patients diagnosed. Even if they treated the initial cancer, it would return in a much more dangerous form. If I wanted to survive and live a long life, I had to complete my protocol.
Radiation treatments took away my ability to have children. It also took away other aspects on my manhood that no 17-year old should have to face. Months later during bone marrow transplant, the effects of the radiation tore my bladder wall and caused severe bleeding that resulted in 11 bladder surgeries in three weeks. It was a miracle that I kept my bladder and survived.
I soon discovered four deep, long scars on my lower back. This was a result of the radiation reaching an area it was not supposed to. The radiation was supposed to be limited to my mid section, going no lower than my rear and no higher than my hip bone. How it wound up higher and left me with scars on my back, I have no idea.
After treatment ended, the long-term side effects of radiation started to appear. I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in 1992. IBS turned into colitis, in 1997 which then resulted in Crohn’s disease in 2003. Eventually the side effects of Crohn’s, which includes bowel blockages and a thinning and scarring of my small intestines, would result in me having to retire from ESPN and took away my ability to consistently work. While surviving cancer was something I was extremely grateful for, living with side effects that now prevented me from earning a living has left me facing a very unknown future on how I can provide for myself.
I don’t post these things to scare anyone, but to make them aware of all the possible side effects radiation can cause. PLEASE PLEASE get a second opinion and seek other options if your doctor suggests radiation. Make sure they explain all the possible side effects that can result from where they will be radiating. Treatment has now advanced where other options should be available that will not cause long-term side effects or add diseases that will permanently affect your life.
For more on my story of cancer survival and the side effects suffered, read my book “My Scars Tell A Story”.
NEXT BLOG DATE: July 11, 2019