Auburn couple vows to raise awareness while battling disease
Special to The Union
Colorectal Cancer Warning Signs
Often there are no symptoms of colorectal cancer. If symptoms are present, they may include:
— Change in bowel habits
— Blood or mucus in stool
— Narrow stool
— Abdominal pain
— Painful bowel movements
— Iron deficiency anemia
— Feeling that bowel doesn’t empty
— Unexplained weight loss
— Weakness or fatigue
For Michael Rigby, the battle of his life started with what doctors thought was a simple hemorrhoid.
“He’d been having some discomfort,” recalls Rigby’s wife Audrey. “He felt like he wasn’t able to empty his bowels. Our primary care doctor thought it was a hemorrhoid but when he went to have it treated, we discovered it was actually much more serious.”
Rigby was sent for an emergency colonoscopy. Doctors found stage IV rectal cancer.
“It was a shock. Mike had been completely healthy,” Audrey says.
Rigby is one of the roughly 140,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year. Affecting slightly more men than women, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, when compared to other cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. For several weeks prior to his diagnosis, Mike had not felt quite right. In addition to the sensation of having full bowels, he had lost a lot of weight suddenly and without reason — all subtle symptoms of colorectal cancer.
Mike would spend 33 days at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, undergoing chemo and radiation simultaneously. On Feb. 8, 2016 — Mike’s 54th birthday — Dr. Stephen Waterbrook performed surgery to remove Mike’s cancerous rectum completely.
“Mike had a tumor that was very deep in his pelvis,” says Dr. Waterbrook. “It was close to vital structures. The removal had to be delicate yet complete.”
Audrey says Dr. Waterbrook gave Mike the most important gift of all on his birthday — the gift of more tomorrows.
“From our very first appointment, Dr. Waterbrook and the entire Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital team have been our beacon. They became family to us. We never once doubted that we were in the right place, receiving the very best care.”
Because Dr. Waterbrook had to remove his rectum, Mike received a permanent colostomy — an opening in the abdomen where bodily waste is collected in a pouch for disposal.
To care for Mike, Audrey quit her job as a kindergarten teacher and they sold the livestock they farmed at their Auburn ranch.
Audrey says her job is more than just caretaker now — she and Mike are also advocates.
“We feel called to share our story and to bring awareness to colorectal cancer. We want people to be aware of the need for screenings and to better advocate for themselves. Too many cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed at stage IV!”
Screening tests, like a colonoscopy, can identify the colorectal polyps that may turn into cancer early in their growth, often before they have a chance to become cancerous. Even if a polyp is already cancerous, finding it early dramatically increases survival rates.
Prior to his diagnosis, Mike Rigby had never undergone a colonoscopy.
Today, Mike is still undergoing treatment. The Rigbys hope that by sharing their story, they can help to decrease some of the embarrassment associated with colorectal conditions.
“Don’t be ashamed to talk about concerns you have with your bowel movements,” Audrey says. “Being open and honest could literally save your life. Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right or doesn’t seem right, talk to your doctor. Don’t let shame or embarrassment stop you!”
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