This article appears in the October 2020 issue of the
PE GI Journal
Lisa Issa discusses what she learned from her experience with colon cancer
Lisa Issa—yes it rhymes, she says jokingly—is a 34-year-old school aide, mother to her 9-year-old son, Carter, and wife to her high school sweetheart, Chris. She grew up as the oldest in a family of five and still lives near many of her family members, seeing them often. In April 2012, her life was just as she expected, caring for her young son. That changed when she was diagnosed with cancer in her colon, lymph nodes, and liver, despite a lack of family history of the disease. Over the next two years, Lisa fought an exhausting battle against cancer; however, she came out the other side in remission as a survivor. In this interview with PE GI Journal, Lisa opens up about the experience, her feelings, what advice she has for others in a similar position, and more.
Melissa Landis (ML): Can you tell me a little bit about your overall journey with colon cancer?
Lisa Issa (LI): Overall, I can say it was successful. I made it. The journey itself was long and exhausting, but there were some pretty magical moments along the way. A cancer diagnosis can bring out the best in the people around you, and I can’t explain the love I felt coming at me from all directions. I felt scared a lot, too, though. It was like staring down the barrel of a gun for two years, and then, slowly the gun was put down. I don’t feel free of the fear entirely, but I’m much more at peace with my new normal.
ML: How was the cancer initially detected? Were there any signs that alerted you to the issue? What made you go to the doctor?
LI: I skipped over my family doctor and went straight to a gastroenterologist to talk about my concerns. I was having a lot of bleeding when I went to the bathroom, was going more than normal, and was extremely fatigued. These symptoms had been going on for a few years, but really accelerated after I had my son. When we decided to start trying for another baby, I wanted to just get myself checked out to make sure I was healthy. It’s funny how you suddenly start caring more about your health when you have people depending on you. Long story short, my doctor didn’t mess around and ordered a colonoscopy right away. When I woke up from the procedure, she told me the that she found a tumor and was 99% sure it was cancer. After further testing, it was confirmed stage IV CRC.
ML: How did you feel when you first received the diagnosis?
LI: Numb. I felt like my feet were stuck in cement, and everyone else was running forward. Then, hope kicked in, and I started making small steps.
ML: Were you seen in a GI ambulatory surgery center or a hospital? Can you tell me about your experience there?
LI: I went to Jefferson for all of my surgeries and Comprehensive Care for chemo and radiation. I felt extremely taken care of at both places. My doctors were amazing, and I always felt like I was in good hands. I also felt like they believed in my case. There were doctors who put a time stamp on me, so I decided I’d never see them again. It was crucial for me to know that my doctors believed they could cure me.
ML: Tell me a little bit about your treatment process. Did you face any unforeseen obstacles? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?
LI: Oh, yes. Towards the end, I just started to assume that there would always be something unforeseen. It’s the nature of the beast, I guess. I don’t feel like I did anything special to overcome them—I just did what I had to do.
ML: What did you do to meet and overcome the challenges of your treatment?
LI: We planned things to look forward to. There was a day toward the end of year two where I told my husband that I didn’t think I could finish my chemo regimen. He convinced me to finish by
booking a vacation as a finish line—It worked!
ML: What has this experience taught you?
LI: Life is fragile and growing old is a privilege denied to many. Hard times can make you stronger while at the same time break you down. This experience taught me gratitude more than anything else.
ML: What would you tell someone who just got their cancer diagnosis today?
LI: To just think about short-term goals—thinking about the whole journey and everything that lies ahead is so overwhelming, and worry doesn’t serve a purpose. Come up with a plan; meet your short-term goals; learn to swerve when things don’t go in the direction you planned; and take one day at a time. And, of course, now I share a special bond with other people diagnosed—reminding them that they aren’t dying today, so they should try to live each day to the fullest.
ML: Can you describe how sharing your story with others has affected your journey with cancer?
LI: It feels wonderful to be able to shed some hope onto those who otherwise feel like they just received a death sentence. Stories of hope mean the world to those newly diagnosed—I know that I couldn’t get enough of them when I was just starting out.
ML: What would you want other people of screening age, who are hesitant to get a colonoscopy, to know?
LI: That it isn’t as bad as they think. They’ll be surprised at how simple the whole process is once it’s over. For younger men and women, I would also say: Watch for signs and always listen to your body—I wish I listened to my body earlier.
Visit the Colon Cancer Coalition at coloncancercoalition.org/get-educated/what-you-need-to-know/colon-cancer-facts to find out how on-time screenings and timely evaluation of symptoms can help eradicate this disease.
Melissa Landis is Digital Marketing Coordinator at Physicians Endoscopy (PE). She can be reached at email@example.com.