Jesse Outward, 47
Martins Ferry (Hometown)
Stage 3 Rectal Cancer - Diagnosed September 2009
Jesse with his family, from left, Damon, Dawn, Jesse, Shayla.
My cancer story:
I was told at the age of 8 that with my illness, severe Ulcerative Colitis, that my odds of getting cancer were much higher than the average healthy person. At the age of 12, my disease had become so life-altering I was having on average 15 bloody bowel movements a day. The doctors decided my best chance at a fairly normal, healthy life was to remove my entire large intestine and give me an ileostomy while the remaining section of my rectum could heal. After two years, my ileostomy was reversed and my small intestine was attached to my rectum. All was well for 30-plus years. I had witnessed cancer like most of us in my family and friends, but assumed I had beaten the odds. Not so, at the age of 44, I began to have blood in my bowels, something I hadn't seen since the age of twelve. After a biopsy was taken during the middle of my sigmoidoscopy, the doctor revealed to me that I had rectal cancer and there was no reason to wait for the results. I had to take action now. My biggest fear was having to tell my family. My children, Shayla and Damon, were at an age where they would understand everything that was happening, and telling my wife was going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. Turned out I didn't have to tell her. The doctor called and told on me. I think he knew I would keep it to myself for a while, and he knew I had no time to spare. I wanted my surgery to be from the Cleveland Clinic where I had started this journey as an eight year old on my first trip there. While we were driving there, I got a call from a friend of mine, Coach Bubba. He was in the middle of going through colon cancer and had drainage tubes coming out of his stomach to drain fluids that was building up around his tumors. We coached wrestling together in the winter and talked a lot. He knew everything I was going through. He remembered the date that I was seeing the doctor and in all the pain and suffering from a hospital bed, he called me to see if I was ok. He told me to never give up and everything would be ok. I will never forget that conversation. The doctors determined that I had stage three rectal cancer and decided they needed to shrink the tumor first before operating. I went through six weeks of chemo and radiation. The radiation caused layers of flesh to come off my rear. Going to the bathroom felt like someone was dripping acid in an open wound. I would have tears every time I went from the pain. I stopped eating because in my mind if I didn't eat, I wouldn't have to go to the bathroom. My weight went from 170 to 125. After surgery, which consisted of them removing the rest of my rectum, some small intestine and my anus, and a six-day stay in the hospital. I was sent home where I developed an infection on my rear. After another surgery to remove the infection, I was left with a three inch deep wound on my rear and my original incision on the front was about nine inches long and an inch and a half wide. Both wounds would require about three months of a vacuum system and weekly packing. The repacking felt like someone was rubbing sand paper over an open wound, but as time passed, things got better. I was scheduled for more chemo, but that was cancelled because they were confident they got everything. My wounds healed and I am cancer free! I have good and bad days, and I have learned my limitations.
Message to newly diagnosed and patients in treatment:
Do not worry until there is something to worry about. We all waste countless hours worrying about things that will never happen. Stay positive and never give up. Don't question why you survived and someone else didn't. Live the rest of your life in a way that would honor that reason. Find the good in everybody and be thankful to God for each precious day He gives you.
My family, friends and church congregation gave me a large dose of support, encouragement and cards. I love cards, but nothing compares to the strength of my wife. She never ever left my side. I never saw her sad or cry. I didn't realize that much strength could come from somebody that small. She slept with me in the hospital. She packed my wounds at home. She changes my stoma and gives me my weekly chemo shots. She showed me what unconditional love is and I am forever grateful to her for that, and I can't imagine my life without her. I love you, Dawn Michele. God blessed me with a good one.
Lessons learned on your cancer journey:
God is always guiding my life. There are obstacles in the way to help me grow stronger and to lead me in the direction He wants me to go. I have witnessed so many miracles. Money for bills showed up everywhere. Hundreds of dollars would show up in my mailbox. My daughters softball team held a fundraiser and made thousands of dollars for ordinary me. My insurance was extended for two years for workers who had twenty years of service. I had twenty years and four months. I've learned when things are beyond our control to give all your troubles to God. You will find peace.
Jesse walks in the Riders For a Cure Mini Relay and Relay For Life of Belmont County each year. His daughter, Shayla, was also the student chair for the first ever Riders For A Cure Mini Relay event three years ago. For more information on Relay For Life of Belmont County, please visit www.relayforlife.org/belmontcounty or call 888-227-6446.