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  • Colon Cancer: Bill

Colon Cancer: Bill

Surviving with Faith

Bill CahoyAs the dean of the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Bill Cahoy had taken to heart the monastic mantra to “keep death daily before your eyes — be prepared.” After a large-massed tumor was discovered in his colon at age 60, Bill’s prayer wasn’t just to not die, “My prayer was to not die because of my own stupidity by not getting a colonoscopy,” he said. “I’ve spent my life fighting the consequences of ignorance.” After teaching others for 34+ years about the true depth of life, Bill quickly got to experience his wisdom first-hand.

Bill’s symptoms were not blatant. There was no blood in his stool or abdominal pain. His symptoms were common — weight loss and feeling run down. “I assumed this is what it’s like to be 60,” he said. Bill was scheduled to do a lecture in Portland when he noticed a scratchy throat. He went in for a strep test to get on antibiotics and clear it up in time for his trip. However, the strep test came back negative.

After visiting Chris Wenner, MD, at CentraCare Health Paynesville – Cold Spring Clinic, his hemoglobin tests came back extremely low. Bill had a CT scan on a Tuesday, was admitted to St. Cloud Hospital Wednesday, with a colonoscopy scheduled for Thursday. Friday morning, he had surgery where they removed one third of his colon. His surgeon, Stephen Sahlstrom, MD, said his grapefruit-sized tumor had been there for a long time. Luckily, his body created an abscess around the tumor encasing it from spreading to the rest of his body. After his 10-day hospital stay, Bill went home 30 pounds lighter. His main job was to eat and rest. “My wife likes to cook and I really like to eat, so that works out,” he laughed.

After starting chemotherapy in April 2015, Bill experienced fatigue and neuropathy. “My chocolate and red wine just didn’t taste as good,” he joked. To help fight his fatigue and keep his spirits up, Bill made sure to exercise regularly using his elliptical and free weights. He didn’t let his chemo pump get in the way — not even during his first few weeks back to teaching in the fall.

Bill has felt amazingly blessed with tremendous support throughout this unexpected journey. His wife, Jennifer, has been there for him not only daily and with every appointment, but hourly and always with great cheer. Spending time with his children and grandchildren has been uplifting. The support and accommodations from Saint John’s University and his fellow staff was very heartening and helpful throughout his struggle. “I will never forget waking up in the hospital with one of my friends sitting next to me,” he said. “Or receiving homemade pudding to enjoy, getting a package full of boxes from a friend — one box for each upcoming chemo treatment, visits from work friends, friends volunteering to mow my lawn and prayers. People praying for me, here, and all over the country. I felt lifted up. All of the love and support out there — it was an incredibly moving experience.”

When asked what stood out the most, Bill stated, “My experience with Coborn Cancer Center was unfailingly positive. To me, it captures the spirit of the whole place and how patient-centered it truly is. The nursing staff is awesome, just incredible. They do the real work of patient care, and they are amazing. The chemo infusion staff was tremendous — I felt very well-cared for. My surgeon, Dr. Sahlstrom, was phenomenal — I can hardly see my scar,” he laughed. “I liked Dr. Jurgens’ style — it clicked with me. He was very knowledgeable and experienced. Everyone just really paid attention to me and my needs here.”

“Once my treatment was over, the support offered by Coborn Cancer Center was not over. My survivorship visit was incredibly helpful,” Bill remembers, “I had questions pertaining to my surgery and where I’m at now. This visit works through that entirety from beginning to end, wrapping up all those loose ends. I appreciated the knowledge and being informed on what was available — it was a good experience. There may be needs going forward. To know this support is there, is a gift.”

Bill described, “Coming face-to-face with his own finitude” as being his toughest challenge. “People say you need to listen to your own body,” he said. “However, I always lived with the idea that my body needed to listen to me. I have always been in charge — my strength of will. However, it became clear that at a certain point, my body just said ‘No.’ Coming to terms with that and limitations on what I could and couldn’t do was a struggle. I have learned a lot throughout this journey. I’m still unpacking what I’ve learned from all of this. My first and last message for everybody — get your colonoscopy.”

A colonoscopy or other digestive procedure is probably not at the top of your to-do list. But it doesn’t make it any less important.

Talk to your provider about the Digestive Care services, screening and CentraCare location that is right for you.

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