Rectal Cancer Survivor
“I thought of myself as healthy,” said Melanie Ryan, pharmacy director for Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital. “Cancer was not in the plan.” Melanie is the pharmacy director for Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital. She is a wife and mother of three. She is also a rectal cancer survivor. “Rectal cancer is not a pretty cancer, not that any cancer is pretty,” Melanie said. “But rectal cancer definitely is not one that you want to talk about with everybody.” Initially embarrassed about sharing her cancer story, Melanie is now relaxed and confident. “If I can help somebody,” Melanie says, “I will talk about it.”
When she was diagnosed in January 2013, Melanie was only 45 years old. “At my annual GYN appointment, I mentioned a minor symptom,” Melanie said. “What seemed fairly normal to me wasn’t, so it’s a good thing I had it checked out.” Melanie was stunned when her gynecologist referred her to a colorectal specialist. Melanie and her husband, Mike, who is also a pharmacist, met with colorectal surgeon N. Anh Tran, MD, at Methodist Jennie Edmundson.
When testing confirmed the presence of a malignant tumor in her rectum, Melanie knew she needed the right care team, treatment plan and care setting. She also knew she didn’t have to look far. “I chose to have the majority of my care at Jennie Edmundson because I knew the people, I knew their expertise, and I knew they would care about me — not because I work here, but because they care so much about every patient,” Melanie said.
Melanie’s case was presented at multidisciplinary treatment planning conferences at both Methodist Jennie Edmundson Cancer Center and Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center. “All providers recommended the more aggressive stage 3 treatment because I am so young,” Melanie said. “We wanted to make sure the cancer wouldn’t come back.” Melanie was scheduled for oral chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the tgumor, surgery to remove it and then more intensive chemotherapy.
By June, the treatment had reduced the once strawberry sized tumor to the size of a small pea. The five-hour surgery to remove it, called a low anterior resection with ileostomy, was performed by Dr. Tran with the assistance of surgeon Michael Zlomke, MD. Melanie admits to feeling apprehensive about the ostomy necessary to allow her rectum to heal. Her bodily wastes would exit through this external abdominal opening – perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently, depending upon how well the surgery went give the tumor’s location.
“Dr. Tran told me a temporary ostomy would be on the right, permanent on the left,” Melanie said, “so the first thing I remember after surgery was my relief at finding the bandage on my right side.” With the help of the ostomy nurses at the Methodist Jennie Edmundson Advanced Wound Center, both before and after her surgery, Melanie became increasingly comfortable with ostomy self-care.
The next phase of Melanie’s treatment lasted from August through October. “This was a rougher series of IV chemotherapy, but at least I got to keep my hair,” Melanie said. “And I knew too well that things could be a lot worse. I’ve seen it.”
Melanie says she has learned to take one day at a time and enjoy each one. She especially enjoyed moving toward a new normal after surgery to reverse her ostomy in December 2013. Melanie has found the time and energy to give back and help others with their cancer journeys through teaching in the Time to Heal program, participating in Relay for Life and counseling other cancer patients.
“I believe things happen for a reason. Without cancer, I would never have met the many wonderful people I’ve met or come to understand what a patient really goes through,” Melanie said. “Cancer opened many more doors for me than it closed.”