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Evelyn Stanley continues to live life while battling colon cancer

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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

By Gina Clear

On the outside, Evelyn Stanley appears to be a passionate, vibrant, healthy 47-year-old woman, but looks can be deceiving.

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On the inside, the Elizabethtown woman is battling inoperable stage 4 colon cancer.

Early last March, Stanley was scheduled for a physical, but postponed it. She went in two days later feeling weak and complaining of cramps. In another day, she was at the emergency room as the pain steadily increased. She was admitted and over the course of five days, doctors conducted a CAT scan and colonoscopy.

The news came March 8, 2013: It was Stage 4 colon cancer.

“I had flashbacks to when my father was diagnosed with colon cancer,” she said. “He died at 59. I was 46. It was pretty traumatic.”

Despite the diagnosis and her family history, Stanley was determined to begin treatments as soon as possible to give her the best chance to beat the disease.

“I said, ‘I will do what I have to do to fight it and beat it,’” she said. “I didn’t let it get me down.”

She felt urgency to begin treatment immediately, but local cancer centers didn’t have any appointments for more than two weeks, so she sought treatment in Illinois.

“I thought, ‘I need something tomorrow,’” she said. “Let’s start it right away.”

The cancer spread to multiple lymph nodes and she was told it was inoperable. The best course of action would be chemotherapy – which was not curative, just a way to prolong her life.

A native Italian and mother of three who lives in Elizabethtown with her husband and two sons — her daughter currently is studying abroad — she began an aggressive treatment regimen of chemotherapy infusion and six pills a day, which shrank the tumor by half. It still was not operable.

After some time, she became ill while her mother was visiting from Italy. Stanley, who loves cooking and eating, was unable to enjoy her mother’s meals and spent a majority of her visit in the hospital.

“I wasn’t able to eat anything,” she said. “I got down to 100 pounds. If I tried to eat, my body wasn’t absorbing anything.”

Two weeks after her mother’s visit, she went back to Illinois for her next round of chemotherapy, but had an allergic reaction. Stanley insisted on trying the dosage one more time because she was scared to change what was working.

In the midst of treatment, she showed signs of another allergic reaction, so doctors stopped. Now her treatment is reduced to only five chemo pills a day.

In the last three CAT scans, her tumor has not diminished. She said doctors call it “controlled.”

“I’m very close to the point where I can’t continue the chemo much longer,” she said.

She now knows the pain she was experiencing was a symptom of cancer, but symptoms only begin to show in the later stages of colon cancer.

“When you have symptoms, you don’t have cancer, the cancer has you,” she said. “I know now at age 40, I already had polyps.”

Now, educating others is part of her mission. She encourages others to receive regular colonoscopies beginning at age 50 or sooner if a person has a history of colon cancer in their family.

“If they find the polyps, they can remove it,” she said. “Why wait for it to be cancer?”

Throughout her treatment, she never lost her hair or will to live, but she noticed differences.

She has neuropathy, a discoloration of skin, especially on feet and hands, with feelings of pain and numbness. She’s lost about 50 percent of the feeling in her hands, she said.

“I have to be more careful,” she said. “I like wearing heels and I fell going to the garage. I forget I can’t feel.”

She also doesn’t have the energy to work full days or to go dancing, another passion.

“I don’t dance too much anymore because I lose my balance,” she said. “I used to be very full of energy. I would push myself above and beyond what I should. I don’t want to relinquish that.”

So she continues to work part-time on Fort Knox and cram into each day as much living as she can.

“I love life and I don’t want to give up, so I won’t,” she said. “I’m living three months at a time. I’m still going to beat it.”

Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1746 or gclear@thenewsenterprise.com.