Hatteberg's People - Anal Cancer: Living Life Four Months At A Time

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Monday, November 7, 2011

On Hatteberg's People, last night we learned about anal cancer and Michele Longabaugh's two-year battle with this rare disease. Following treatment, her health improved, but she lives life four months at a time. That's the time between her CT scans. Last night, we watched as she received her latest scan to see if the cancer had returned. Tonight, she gets the results.

The hardest part is always waiting for the news of what the scan did or did not show. Michele keeps busy with small things, like wrapping a birthday present for her mother in law.

"I guess when you are faced with the fact that there is a chance that you could die, you realize how much you under appreciate the little things that are enjoyable to do," said Longabaugh.

A week after her CT scan, Dr. Johnson will tell her if the cancer is back.

"A lot of times you can tell by the patients facial expression how they feel. You walk in, get their weight, see how the patients demeanor is doing, so you get an idea of how they are doing and how that fits in with the test results," said Johnson.

With professional subtlety a near art form, Dr. Johnson tells Michele and her husband Jerry the scan results.

"You look great, your weight looks good, and your scan looks negative," said Johnson.

This was the best news. Michele's scan is clear and shows she is cancer free, but there will be another scan in four months.

"I just try to fly under the radar and stay cancer free," said Longabaugh.

But as all cancer patient's know, living with it and not knowing if it will return is difficult. Since she was diagnosed, Michele has kept an intimate blog. It's called "I Have Butt What?!" In it, she shares the innermost details of her feelings and thoughts. In one entry, Michele remembers when they first got the cancer diagnosis:

"Jerry and I look at each other in stunned silence, I begin to cry and so does he. We hold each other. This is a precious moment in my life. I know that sounds odd, but it is. Me and my husband on the same emotional ground….with nothing to cling to but each other."

While her sister took care of her during treatment, Michele shared these words:

"Sometimes I was heaving and retching so hard my sister said she expected to see my body invert on itself and disappear into the toilet. I felt such despair and anger at those moments... Out of control. Scared. I would sob between heaves, begging God and anyone who would listen for mercy. My sister would stand by me her hand on my back whispering encouragement, murmuring words of comfort and crying with me."

Michele says she hopes her blog helps others understand.

"I think that is why my blog is so important. I'm able to articulate it so if somebody reads it, they know who I am as a person and not just as that 'lady' that had anal cancer," said Longabaugh.

Living between CT scans has changed Michele's outlook on life.

"We'll take what we can get., four months at a time, and it's the best four months we've ever had... We live it like it is the last four months we've got, and then if my cancer comes back we know that times are going to get tough again... I'm not afraid to die, I'm not afraid. I just don't want to."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"When you say you have anal cancer, you really shut down a room. All people want to do is change the subject."

Her name is Michele Longabaugh. She has anal cancer. So, this is a special Hatteberg's People two-part series. I met Michele when I was told I was on her bucket list of people she wanted to meet in case she died. That's never happened to me before. So we met. When I heard her story, I thought she should share it. All cancers are bad, anal cancer seems to be worse because of its location and stigma, but Michele is incredibly open about it because she wants to help others. For two years she's been living with it and with an uncertain future.

Michele grew up in Johnson City, New York. She had a normal childhood with the usual fond memories. She is one of those people you immediately like with a warm out-going personality and a reality-based optimist with a sense of humor. Married with three children, Michele's life was following the script.

"People get married and you stand up there for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. They don't know what they are saying until you are really in it for sickness and in health," said Michele Longabaugh.

Michele had what she thought was a bleeding hemorrhoid. The doctor disagreed.

"I will never forget the look on his face and he said, this is not a hemorrhoid."

It wasn't. It was Stage 4 Anal Cancer.

"It was a speechless moment for my husband and I. I remember literally my mouth hanging open and not being able to shut it."

Michele's husband, Jerry Longabaugh, is Principal at Eisenhower Middle School in Goddard.

"But as for that day, that was perhaps the worst day of my life... At that point in time, we only had each other. That's how tough it was. it's like getting hit with a Mack truck," said Jerry Longabaugh.

"It was the lowest I felt like I had ever been. I felt so hopeless just at that moment," said Michele Longabaugh.

Anal cancer is rare. It affects about 5,000 people in the U.S. each year. Dr. David Johnson, of Wichita, is Michele's oncologist.

"The interesting thing about anal cancer is the treatment is relatively short but very intense... but it's a tough, tough go." said Johnson.

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for the disease include old age, multiple sexual partners, anal sex, smoking and the HPV virus. Michele says, that doesn't describe her. She doesn't have a single risk factor for the disease.

"When they told me that there was a possibility that, in three years, I wasn't going to be here I made up my mind at that minute. I wasn't going to waste any more time. It is being in the moment, not just going through the motions," said Michele Longabaugh.

Recovering from the chemotherapy, Michele wanted to get back to life as usual. She's a nurse and a businesswoman. She and a business partner sell sophisticated medical devices to doctors and hospitals. Getting back into the swing helps, but not knowing the future is difficult especially with her college age kids.

"When you get cancer, everyone in your family gets cancer. I said you can do something for me to make me better, and they said, 'What mom, we'll do anything.' I said stay in school, get good grades and don't give me anything to worry about. And all three of them did that."

Michele lives four months at a time. That's how long she has between scans that will tell her if the cancer has returned.

"One bad scan can mean Michele's life," said Jerry Longabaugh.

I went with Michele to her last CT scan. The barium didn't go down well, but it's necessary. She made the best of it.

"I just think to myself, there is nothing I can do to change what's going to be on that scan. There is not one thing I can do... I feel that I buried my head one because of ignoring the symptoms, and to not do a scan would be like a relief. But I can't bury my head. I have to know," said Michele Longabaugh.

Now the wait for results begins. Monday at 10, we go to the doctor with Michele to get the results of the latest scan to find out if the cancer has returned. We'll also take a look at her intimate personal blog where her emotions are laid bare.

Symptoms for anal cancer can include bleeding that is sometimes confused with a hemorrhoid, pain in the anus area, a growth in the anal canal and anal itching. If you have any of these symptoms contact your doctor. Early diagnosis is key.


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