Written by her husband, Tom Gronek
Lisa was only 43 when she was diagnosed with Stage IIII colon cancer, signet cell strain.
As you probably know, this strain is very rare, as well as being ‘typically aggressive’. After 15 months of being on multiple types of chemo, she succumbed to the disease on January 31, 2009 at the age of 44.
Lisa and I met in high school in 1981. Our first date was the high school prom and from that day on, we never dated anyone else. We dated for six years, we got married. We had our first son (Sam) in 1994 and our second son (Bryan) in 1998. Once Bryan was born, Lisa decided to quit work and become a full time mom. Being a mother was everything to Lisa. She never regretted giving up a career, she never looked back. She became very involved in her boys school and was a very significant volunteer at the school. Actually, that is where her and Shirley met. She loved to go on field trips with her boys, watch them play basketball and volleyball at school. She helped organize school functions like picnics, dances, graduation events, grandparents day. She was around the school every day and that was because she loved to be around her kids.
We did everything as a family. Some parents take turns going to different activities for their kids, but Lisa and I loved to watch everything our kids participated in so we would always be at events together. We not only loved our kids, we loved each other’s company.
During the months of September and October of 2007, Lisa was dieting. She began to have some constipation issues and went to see the doctor in late October. The doctor put her on some laxatives which didn’t result in any change. After a second visit, he ordered complete bowel rest which meant nothing by mouth for a few days. This didn’t seem to make much difference.
In early November, he ordered her to have an MRI of her abdomen. I remember her calling me and saying that the doctor wants her to come to his office. I met her there and she was already in the doctor’s office when I walked in. The doctor told me that Lisa had colon cancer. Lisa already had heard the news a few minutes earlier and was fairly composed. I lost it, I cried, I didn’t want to believe it, I was scared for her, for me and mostly for our two boys.
He told us that the growth is in her sigmoid colon and she would need to get a biopsy and perhaps have a stent put in to relieve her discomfort. Two days later, they did the biopsy(the day before thanksgiving) and she was sent home to try to enjoy the holiday, though she couldn’t eat anything. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Lisa was getting worse so I called the doctor. He said the biopsy was positive and he suggested she come to the hospital because he didn’t want her bowel to rupture.
By this time, she looked probably seven months pregnant from being so bloated. Over the next week, so many things happened that it was the absolute worse week of our lives. They were able to put the stent in her colon to relieve the blockage. They did a ct scan and discovered a growth on her ovary and a spot on her lung.
We met her oncologist and she was setup to have a port put in. They told me that her cancer strain was very rare and typically aggressive. The doctor told me that she probably has two years. I almost fainted in the hallway of the hospital. I asked the doctor to not tell her what stage she was unless she asked. I also told the doctor to not give her any prognosis unless she asked. SHE NEVER ASKED, EVER.
She began chemotherapy in December of 2007. FOLFOX for five months with a resection for the colon & ovary in March of 2008. She went back on FOLFOX and a few scans after the surgery showed only the two small lung spots. The oncologist said that those spots don’t worry her as much as her beginning to have peritoneal seeding.
Of course, I had to learn all about that. Signet Cell colon cancer usually spreads to the peritoneum > and not usually to the liver. In May of 2008, she went on XELODA and Avastin. In July, she had a more significant reoccurance as the cancer had spread to her other ovary and her peritoneum. She started folfiri and erbitux in August and that was not working after three months.
With the doctor running out of options, she decided to put Lisa on Taxol and Carboplatin which are used for ovarian cancer because ovarian cancer spreads to the peritoneum also. After two months of that, Lisa had finally lost all of her hair and she was in the hospital in December of 2008 because she was having problems eating anything. The decision was made to start her on TPN and manage her symptoms. Even during this time, Lisa thought she was going to get better. We spent the Christmas holiday in the hospital as a family. We spent the new years holiday in the hospital as a family.
On January 27th, the doctor informed me that the only thing keeping Lisa alive was the TPN and her quality of life had declined. It was a joint decision between the doctor and me to stop all treatments, all TPN and allow Lisa to rest peacefully until she would pass away. Since we had a 14 and 10 year old at home, Lisa didn’t want to come home and be a burden on the boys and on me.
On January 30th her breathing started to become erattic and I spent the entire day talking to her, holding her hand and praying to God that she be free of pain. At 3:00 am, January 31, 2009 I watched the woman I had loved since 1981 take her final breath, close her eyes and be welcomed into Gods kingdom. I remember just sitting with her for 15 or 20 minutes before I even called the nurse. It was a peaceful time, a time to reflect and finally a time for me to realize what had just happened.
Since then, obviously life is nothing like it was before. I remember telling people that during her fight, you wake up thinking about cancer and you go to bed thinking about cancer. Now, I wake up thinking about Lisa and I go to be bed saying goodnight to Lisa. I miss so many simple things in life. I miss her touch, the comfort she brought the boys, her cooking, her smile, everything.
When her friends approached me about this [Get Your Rear in Gear Chicago 5k Run/Walk] walk, I was absolutely floored that they would organize this for her. I told them that I want to be part of it and so do the boys. I asked them when it was and they said April 25th, I almost fell over. This is our wedding anniversary and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her than walking for her and raising money for colon cancer awareness.
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