OHSU

My Knight Cancer Story: Angie Laroche

AngieDiagnosed at age 40 with stage IV colon cancer that spread to her liver, Angie is an active advocate for early detection for everyone, regardless of their history and age. Angie feels a healthy diet and exercise plan made all the difference in getting her through treatment, and she urges everyone to pay attention to symptoms, no matter how small. Angie and her family live in Newberg, Oregon.

A routine physical in 2007 proved to be the turning point that would change my life forever. I mentioned that I was having more diarrhea than I thought was normal, but I really wasn’t concerned. ‘I just feel like there’s something off in my body,’ I told my doctor, Anne Nedrow, M.D., M.B.A., at OHSU. Blood work showed I was anemic. Thinking colitis was the culprit, Dr. Nedrow ordered a colonoscopy. Cancer wasn’t even a concern – I was under 50, no family history.

They were almost finished with the colonoscopy procedure, and the nurse put his hand on my arm and said, ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s all I remember until I woke up in recovery. The team, led by Ronald Katon, M.D., couldn’t get the scope past the tumor they discovered, it was so big. Colon cancer. Stage four. Spread to the liver. People die of old age in my family. I always took it for granted that I would, too. I went along thinking and hoping cancer could never happen to me, and when it did, it was such a blow.

Successful surgery was three days later. Surgeons Brett Sheppard, M.D. and Daniel Herzig, M.D., were my team and I don’t know how I was so lucky to have my care placed in their hands. Stage four is a huge thing to swallow – it took me a long time to even say it. But they gave me hope; they never put a timeline on my life. Rounding out the team were a host of nurses, physician assistants, and genetic counselors – all there for me. Wonderful caretakers.

Seven weeks after surgery, I began 12 rounds of chemotherapy under the care of Charles Lopez, M.D., Ph.D.,. Chemotherapy was one of the scariest things I have ever faced. Reading all the possible side effects and not knowing which ones I would have to experience was frightening. I decided to seek out help from a cancer naturopath. It was a turning point in my treatment.

The naturopath encouraged healthy eating to help me through chemo. He had me on a daily protein shake plus special vitamins and supplements that helped protect my digestive system from some of the side effects. He encouraged me to walk every day, and soon I worked myself up to walking over four miles every day. The adrenaline and energy boost I got from walking cannot be explained in words; with every mile I got stronger in body and spirit. If you are going through treatment, I would encourage you to talk to your doctor about how diet and exercise can positively affect you.

Looking back prior to my diagnosis, I realize now that the changes to my body that I thought were part of aging (diarrhea, gas pains, narrow stools) were something I should not have ignored; they were not normal. For several years I dismissed these symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome; they somehow became a regular, accepted part of my life. Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed and scared to talk to my doctor about it, which could have cost me my life. So if you have symptoms, including any changes in your bowel habits, don’t be afraid to speak up and get tested via a colonoscopy. It could save your life.