Christine Bacon, a 46-year-old colorectal cancer survivor, will never forget the day her smile got locked on her face.
“I’ve always said that we have to make lemonade out of lemons, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the day my face froze,” says Christine. “I was hooked up to my 48-hour chemo pump when my youngest daughter called from school, upset because she’d forgotten an important homework assignment. I said to myself, I’m still a mom, and I’m going to get it to her. It was the middle of winter and -2 degrees outside, so I wrapped myself up as warmly as possible and headed over to the school.
“As I was driving, I realized my face was completely frozen in a smile, and there was nothing I could do about. I was terrified it wouldn’t go back to normal and called the doctor, who reassured me that it was a typical side effect of the oxaliplatin and that eventually my face would thaw back to its normal state, which it did.”
Christine, who lives with her husband, William, and their three children, Jackson, 18, Bella, 15, and Livi, 13, in Ellicottville, New York, learned she had colorectal cancer in 2016. “I had scheduled a colonoscopy after some unusual symptoms. I’d always tried to take such good care of myself — physically, spiritually, and emotionally — and then this happened. I’d watched my mom die of ovarian cancer at age 63, when I was still in college, and I asked myself, What did I do wrong?”
After the initial diagnosis, Christine sought a second opinion and learned that she had stage 3 colorectal cancer. She investigated her options and underwent treatment out of state, including a week of radiation followed by an ileostomy — surgery to remove the cancer as well as part of her rectum.
“Recommended treatment included six months of chemotherapy, but having worked in the natural health field for 25 years, agreeing to have chemo was a tough decision for me,” recalls Christine. “Ultimately, I couldn’t argue with an 89% survival rate, and that led me to Roswell Park, which was closer to home than the place where I was first treated. I’m truly grateful for my experience at Roswell. Having spent time at three other hospitals, I can tell you it’s a unique place where everyone has been extremely supportive of what works best for me.”
Christine adds that focusing on her faith and having the support of her family and friends has been essential to her recovery. “My friend, Kristina, a naturopath whom I’ve known since preschool, came with me to appointments. The doctors and nurses always took the time to answer our questions — and we had a lot of questions!
“My chemo nurses were very supportive of my choice to add prayer to my treatments, which helped me greatly, especially at times when I did feel lonely and couldn’t keep up with my family. I was fortunate in that I always had someone with me, but it gave me comfort to see the volunteers at Roswell who were always there with patients who were alone.”
Today Christine continues to focus on her blessings. Her son, Jackson — named for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Christine and William met while training as ski instructors — is a freshman at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Daughter Bella is a competitive slope style skier, making travel a major part of the family’s life, and Livi continues to develop a passion for the arts, with pursuits in dance, theatre and design.
“Cancer was a life interrupter,” says Christine. “I had to miss a lot of daily life outside the home, but my husband and kids helped out, and we had wonderful support from my dad, Paul; stepmom, Diane; my sister, brothers and their families; and ongoing prayer sent by our community at Believer’s Chapel. Even our dogs played an important role, comforting me when I was in my cocoon on the couch for six months.
"People would send me pictures of cute dogs, so I said, 'When I’m feeling better, we’re going to get a Corgi — and now I have Lucy, my angel dog.'"
Still seeking answers, Christine pursued genetic testing at Roswell Park. “My tests didn’t show any abnormalities, so getting cancer was a fluke — just part of my story.
“I did feel sorry for myself, but I didn’t stay there too long. Now that I’m cancer-free, I feel good, my hair has come back fully, and I’m back to working in the health food store. I’m enjoying being a mom and wife and taking care of myself, and I’ve been looking into getting certified in aromatherapy and essential essences so I can help others.”
Because cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms in the early stages, screening tests are very important. Most people should begin screening for colon cancer at age 45. If you have risk factors, talk with your doctor about starting screening earlier.
If you experience any of the following symptoms of colon cancer, make an appointment to see your doctor for evaluation:
- A change in bowel habits — for example, diarrhea or constipation
- A change in the size of your stool — (if it becomes pencil-thin)
- Blood in your stool, or rectal bleeding
- Dark stool (black)
- Abdominal discomfort, such as pain or cramping
- The sensation that you need to have a bowel movement, even after you have had one
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness or feeling tired
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Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.