About the “Perspectives on Cancer Survivorship” Patient Partner Series

What is cancer survivorship? By definition, survivorship is the absence of cancer after the completion of treatment or living with, through, and beyond cancer [1]. However, depending on a patient’s cancer and treatment, their perspective on survivorship will vary. The intention of this series is to highlight these variations among patient partners, to further the understanding of life after cancer.  

To Michelle Lim, a rectal cancer survivor, survivorship is about being grateful for each day. In February 2017, during a colonoscopy, Michelle was told that she had rectal cancer. She soon started radiation therapy and oral chemotherapy at BC Cancer between March and May 2017. After having some time to recover, she underwent surgery to have her rectum removed (TaTME), as well as her ovaries and fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). Unfortunately, due to the procedure, she developed an ileus [2], which resulted in a difficult two week stay at St. Paul’s Hospital. Luckily, her pathology report indicated her cancer had not spread. Michelle continued to recover at home, which allowed her to focus on her cancer survivorship and adjusting to life with an ileostomy and pouch, which was reversed 3 months later [3].  

In late 2017, Michelle found out she had a rectal-vaginal fistula [4], which she identified as the lowest point of her survivorship journey. An operation to repair the fistula failed, however, her fistula later resolved itself naturally, but having gone through so much during her active cancer treatment already, it was a tough process. Experiencing this complication also allowed her to better understand what gynecologic cancer patients go through. Having supported her grandmother who experienced uterine cancer, Michelle has gained an abundance of empathy for gynecologic cancer patients. “Regardless of what cancer you have, it is physically and psychologically hard. It has a tremendous impact on you, your partner, family, and friends – your life in general,” Michelle shares.  

With the support of her friends, family, and health care providers, Michelle has made great progress and is immensely thankful for where she is now, over 4 years since her diagnosis.  She is also appreciative of BC Cancer for her progress, so she volunteers her time as a Patient Partner. In BC Cancer’s Journal of Family Practice Oncology, she shared what she wishes she had known about rectal cancer and treatment (aka “Butt Cancer 101”). She highlights aspects of her survivorship journey, such as losing normal bowel functions while going through treatment and having to relearn those functions during recovery. 

Since Michelle released her piece, it has been shared with many colorectal cancer patients through BC Cancer and St. Paul’s. “I can’t change what happened to me. All I can do is try to help other people to make their journey a little bit easier,” she said. As a welcoming and caring person, she has offered her support to colorectal cancer patients and survivors, but hopes that in the future there are more cancer support groups.  

A big takeaway for Michelle was understanding that survival meant that life after rectal cancer would include a lot of adjustments to her daily life. However, she highlights the importance of seeking professional help, whether that be physical or psychological, to assist with recovery. To mirror her sons’ passion for baseball she shared with us that “life is full of curveballs and sometimes you’ll take one in the face. You just have to tough it out and get back in the batter’s box and be ready for the next one and hit that out of the park.” 

[1] According to https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/what-survivorship 

[2] Condition where bowel movements are obstructed.  

[3] Ileostomy is a surgery that creates an opening, a stoma, to allow human waste products to be passed outside of the body into a pouch. An ileostomy closure reversal surgery allows for normal movements. (According to https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/surgery/types-ostomy/ileostomy

[4] A fistula is an abnormal connection between two body parts. (According to https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002365.htm

Michelle Lim is a proud mother of two adult sons, a wife, daughter, friend and cancer survivor (rectal in 2017). When not working as a Communications & Marketing Manager, she is also a passionate volunteer for many organizations, including the BC Cancer Agency. She hopes that her experiences during her cancer journey, which included 3 surgeries and 28 days of chemo & radiation therapy, will help others as they battle cancer, a disease that affects not only the patient, but also their family and friends. Michelle has been in touch with several other patients as they progress through the various stages of a cancer diagnosis & treatment, and welcomes the privilege of doing so (the_lims@hotmail.com).