Elkins resident Judith McCauley said when cancer strikes, you don't have a choice in the situation and unfortunately, it can happen to anyone.
"I went in for a routine colonoscopy that I had been putting off," McCauley said. "I had no symptoms of cancer and when I woke up from my scoping, I was told I had cancer."
McCauley said the news was hard to believe at first.
"I spent my whole life being healthy," she said. "I exercise regularly, I don't eat junk food, I don't eat at fast food restaurants, I eat plenty of fruits, grains and vegetables, I do not eat meat and I have never smoked. I always thought I would be the last person who could get cancer."
But in October of 2010, McCauley learned she had stage 3C cancer.
"I was in shock by the news and overwhelmed by the sense of helplessness," she said. "It was like I had lost control of my life. I had never felt like that before."
Following her colonoscopy, McCauley had emergency surgery. Three days later her physicians spoke with her about her cancer and said her odds were not good. The physicians outlined their proposed plan of treatment.
"I felt like I had to get back in control," McCauley said. "So I researched my illness and read everything I could get my hands on about my illness. I got online and learned all I could."
McCauley said she discovered many things.
"The best thing I learned was that the protocol set forth by my physicians was the same as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University Hospital," McCauley said, "so I knew I was in good hands, receiving the most up-to-date treatment. This gave me a great feeling of confidence, and I felt my physicians were committed to keeping me alive."
McCauley said her husband bought her composition books to keep her notes together.
"I used these to staple in my lab results, to keep vocabulary terms and questions I wanted to ask others and my doctors," McCauley said. "I also kept a commentary of where I was going, what the doctors said and what was being done."
McCauley said this offered her a better sense of control.
"I wanted to make sure I was in charge of the situation - not the cancer," McCauley said.
Following her treatment and initial surgery, McCauley had six months of chemotherapy, radiation and more chemotherapy. She also had three additional surgeries because of complications.
"It beat me up, but I strived to work as much as possible," she said. "This was my son, Ian's senior year in high school, and I didn't want it to be about him having a sick mother."
McCauley said that living through cancer and treatment offers the person a membership to an exclusive club - bonding with people who have been through it because others cannot possibly understand the experience.
"My husband would say he could not imagine how I was doing this and how I felt," she said. "And that's the truth. You build this friendship with others facing and fighting a battle with cancer, and that bond is really special. You receive a lot of comfort and support from others and it is encouraging for those fighting cancer to see that I am still here and survived stage 3C cancer. We are cheerleaders for one another.
"When I was ill, friends and neighbors would call, send flowers, send cards and stop to see me," McCauley said. "I still re-read the cards when I am down and it makes me feel better. Flowers always brighten my day and the support from my family and friends really helped me in my battle."
There's one issue McCauley is adamant about - "Don't make the same mistake I made," she said. "Have a colonscopy when your doctor orders it. It is an important detection tool and can save years of treatment with early detection."
McCauley said she plans to attend the Randolph County Relay for Life today at Elkins Town Square.
"I have gone ever since I found out about my cancer," she said. "The first year, I had just finished my treatments and was still wobbly, but I went. It was a triumphant feeling to make that survivor lap and hear people cheering for everyone and listening to the songs of encouragement. During my first Relay for Life, my husband and oncology nurses walked the survivor lap with me. They were so important to me and surviving my treatment. I am fortunate to have others surrounding me who were encouraging, nurturing and knowledgeable."