Page ContentIt’s taken Addy Johnson over 10 years to get to where she is now. After several surgeries and the help of multiple specialists, she has finally said goodbye to the pain and discomfort that’s plagued her for more than a decade.
Colon cancer is a scary prospect. It’s even scarier when you have a family history and personal experience. For Addy Johnson, she was just 32 when she began to show symptoms that were
concerning for such a young woman. When she experienced bleeding after a hysterectomy for endometriosis, she assumed hemorrhoids were to blame. But since her father had passed away after a battle with bladder and colon cancer, she knew she needed to take her symptoms seriously.
After a consultation with gastroenterologist Dr. Khaldun Khatib
, it was decided that Addy would undergo an exploratory colonoscopy
, just to be safe. Inside, Dr. Khatib discovered that not only did Addy have diverticulosis, she also had several tubular adenomas—pre-cancerous polyps that become more dangerous as they grow. Dr. Khatib was able to remove the polyps, but Addy would need annual colonoscopies to make sure the polyps didn’t return as cancer.
Thanks to Dr. Khatib’s follow-up plan, Addy knew her chances of a late colon cancer diagnosis were now greatly reduced.
“I think the world of him. He’s been a blessing to me and my family,” said Addy.
What Addy didn’t realize was that this was only the beginning of her battle with gastrointestinal disease
After several healthy reports, Addy was able to move her colonoscopies from every year to every three years. But while the threat of the polyps diminished, her pain increased as her diverticulosis advanced to diverticulitis.
Diverticulosis is a condition that occurs when small pouches form and push outward through weak spots in the wall of your colon. Diverticulosis is often found through tests ordered for something else, such as a colonoscopy to screen for cancer.
When diverticulosis progresses to diverticulitis, one or a few of the pouches in the wall of the colon become inflamed, causing severe abdominal pain, cramping, constipation and diarrhea, fever and chills, and nausea and vomiting. In serious cases, diverticulitis can lead to bleeding, tears, or blockages.
“I was feeling left-sided pain and discomfort. It was uncomfortable to even walk,” said Addy.
Along with the pain, Addy felt limited when leaving her house and in public due to the sense of bowel urgency diverticulitis can create.
“It hinders you. Sometimes I didn’t want to go out and about because I was worried about when I would have to go to the bathroom. I wondered, ‘am I going to be able to get through a meal?’ It really runs your life,” said Addy.
Over the course of a year, Addy experienced eight diverticulitis flare-ups, leading her to seek the help of Dr. Viet Phuong
and Dr. Bindhu Oommen
, general surgeons with Hunt Regional Medical Partners Surgical Associates
Together, Dr. Phuong and Addy made plans for her to undergo a colon resection
, a procedure where part of the diseased colon is removed.
“I initially went and saw Dr. Phuong who suggested the colon resection. He explained that I may never have diverticulitis again, or I could have it more often and then the bowel would perforate,” said Addy.
“We chose to be safe with my history and do the resection,” she said.
Before surgery began, the plan was to perform a colostomy
—a procedure that brings one end of the large intestine out through an opening (stoma) made in the abdominal wall. Stools moving through the intestine drain through the stoma into a bag attached to the abdomen.
But when Dr. Phuong and Dr. Oommen began operating, they realized that Addy’s colon was much sicker than they thought. Instead of the colostomy, they performed an ileostomy, a surgery which involves the lowest part of the small intestine.
During an ileostomy, the surgeon makes an opening in the belly wall and brings the end of the small intestine through the opening. Similar to a colostomy, waste moving through the intestine drains through the opening into a bag attached to the outside of the body.
However, during an ileostomy, it most often means all of the large intestine has to be removed.
The recovery from either surgery is both physically and mentally challenging.
“About 11 to 14 times a day I was dumping that bag. In the first three weeks, I lost 28 pounds,” said Addy.
The goal of a colon resection is to rid the body of the unhealthy colon so that gastrointestinal diseases—like colon cancer and diverticulitis—no longer have a hold on the body. After the surgery, the ileostomy bag can either be temporary or permanent.
Addy was determined that her ileostomy would fall under the temporary category and was adamant about reversing the procedure and getting back to her normal life. Nine weeks after surgery, Dr. Phuong was able to make that wish a reality.
Addy had her ileostomy bag for two months before she was well enough to try and reverse the procedure.
When an ileostomy is temporary, a patient uses the ileostomy bag while they recover from their first surgery. Because a colon resection is a major surgery, the body needs this time to rest and heal before it is well enough to attempt a reversal.
If the patient is a candidate for reversal, a surgery will be done to reattach the ends of the small intestine. After the reversal, the ileostomy bag is no longer needed.
Addy’s reversal was a success. But because of her long journey and health history, she was at risk for infection and other complications. To prevent infection, she underwent three weeks of wound care
before she was finally in the clear.
Even though Addy’s surgery ended up being more extensive than originally planned, she says she credits Dr. Phuong for getting her to where she is today.
“He is A-1. I just love him. He went above and beyond for me and my family, and I’m grateful to him for everything,” she said.
“I like to share my story because, through it all, I had the best people. You know, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger. It really does,” she said.
During her recovery, Addy says she had plenty of support. But that didn’t stop her from feeling overwhelmed by the reality of living with an ileostomy bag.
“I had the best support system with family and with co-workers and the best healthcare team. Yet even with all of that, I still felt alone,” remembers Addy.
“I didn’t know where to go,” she said.
She began to wonder how other patients without a network of family and friends coped with life after ostomy surgery.
She decided to use her struggle for good, and with the help of Hunt Regional administration, formed an ostomy support group
The group meets from 10-11:30 a.m. on the fourth Saturday of each month in the Weaver Conference Room at Hunt Regional Medical Center and allows those with ostomies to share what they’ve learned with others.
“Some of the members will bring supplies that may not work for them anymore and other people that use that supply get extra materials that they wouldn’t normally have,” said Addy.
“We talk a lot about our situations, things that we can do to improve, doctors, and other resources. I really hope that people walk away from the meetings feeling like they’ve been helped or know where they can go for help,” she said.
Quality of life
Addy’s surgeries worked as they were intended. Her diverticulitis is gone and she says her quality of life is better than she could have expected.
“I’m just grateful. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” she said, thankful her pain is now a thing of the past.
Reflecting back on her surgeries, Addy says one of the things she remembers most about her stay at Hunt Regional was the care she received.
“From beginning to end, I had the best care ever. I felt like I was family to them. They treated me like they would treat their family,” she said.
“The quality and care that you’re getting is above and beyond. It’s exceptional care.”