The Major Types of Rectal Cancer Surgeries | For Stage 1 – Early Stage 4 Patients

Hello!  Last week I mentioned that this week’s video would be about my surgery, but I thought before I get into the details of the slicing and dicing of my surgery for rectal cancer that I should maybe describe what the surgery actually was a little bit more. Then you’ll have a better idea of what the surgery entails before I start going into the details of what it was like to be a patient going through this surgery. If you don’t remember me mentioning that, well you must be new here. Welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor. I created this channel to help those that have been diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer better understand what they might expect as they’re going through treatment and even after treatment, plus, to help promote awareness of this crappy disease. My name is Jelena, and in May of 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer. If you are new here, please make sure you’ve hit the subscribe button over here, or in the description below there’s also the link to subscribe so then you’ll never miss a new video. And now, on to all of the different surgeries for rectal cancer.

Early Stage Rectal Cancer Surgery

If the cancer is found at an early stage there are 2 options for surgery, neither of which require any incisions The first one is a polypectomy. This one is done during your routine colonoscopy. If the doctor finds a polyp during your preventative colonoscopy they will just take it out right then and you don’t have to go back for a separate surgery. However in the United States, as soon as that polyp is removed during the procedure it changes from just a preventative screening to a surgery, which means you could end up with a surprise bill in addition to the surprise that cancer was found in your colon. This can be especially hard on patients that are on Medicare that are already on a fixed income.

This is why advocates like myself have been working with the organization Fight Colorectal Cancer to close this federal loophole so that the procedure is covered 100%, even if a polyp is removed. The bill passed the House on December 12, 2019 and is now waiting for the Senate to pass it. It has a bi-partisan group of over 330 co-sponsors in the House, which means that the bill is “veto-proof” once it passes the Senate because there’s enough support to override a presidential veto. The bill currently has 60 Senators as co-sponsors, so we have the support, we just need that final push to bring it to a vote. If you would like to help get this passed, please contact your Senators and urge them to pass this. Here is the link that will take you directly to Fight Colorectal Cancer’s page and it has a short form, for you to fill out, and it even has a prewritten message to send directly to your Senators. They even take the legwork out of finding the contact information ’cause as soon as you fill in your address they will know who your two Senators are to send this message to.  If you do send a message let me know in the comments below, we need all of the help that we can get.

Now to learn about the second type of surgery that can be done to remove early-stage rectal cancers, which, this one can also be done during a colonoscopy but some of the tissue from the rectal wall is removed also because the polyp has grown a little bit into the tissue. Just like the polypectomy, as soon as the local excision happens during your colonoscopy it changes the procedure from a preventative screening to a surgery, so you’re billed for a surgery. Both the polypectomy and local incision are done as outpatient procedures and require no hospital stay as long as everything goes according to plan.The digestive system from the appendix to the anus

Rectal Cancer Surgeries for later-stage patients

If the tumor is too large or it has grown too deep into the rectum wall, then there are 2 different options that are available depending on the location of the tumor. My tumor ended up being high enough in the rectum that I received a Lower Anterior Resection.  Let me show you a picture of the colon and rectum again so that you’ve got a better idea of what I’m talking about here. In a Lower Anterior Resection, they cut out the part of the rectum that the cancer was in, and in my case, they also removed some of my colon. They then reconnect the remaining colon and rectum, which is called a resection. This surgery typically takes around 4 hours. This is done through either an open surgery or a minimally invasive surgery, also known as laparoscopically. In an open surgery, they cut a long incision down your abdomen to open you up for surgery.

For laparoscopic surgery, several small incisions are made in the abdomen and they call those incisions, ports. So through those incisions, these tube-like shaped things called

trocar picture
Trocar – By Magnus1313 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

trocars are inserted into those incisions. Through the trocars, a small camera and specialized instruments are inserted into the abdomen,  and your abdomen is inflated with carbon dioxide so that the surgeon has a better view and has more room to maneuver during the surgery. Even if your surgery is done laparoscopically you still may need an incision down your abdomen to remove those parts of the colon and rectum that have been cut out. The incisions are then closed with sutures or staples.

To allow the resected site a chance to heal before stool starts passing through there again, many patients also receive a temporary ileostomy. The length of time that you keep that temporary ileostomy is really up to your surgeon.  Some like to reverse it after just a couple of weeks, others like mine wanted to wait until I was finished with my IV chemo before reversing it, which means that I had mine for around 7 months. Others that are on chemo for life may choose to keep their temporary ileostomy forever because taking a break from chemo means they’re taking a chance that their cancer is going to grow and/or spread.

The other type of surgery is called an Abdominal Perineal Resection, or APR. This surgery is done for patients where the tumor is so low in their rectum that the sphincter muscles can’t be preserved. In this surgery, the lower part of your colon, all of your rectum, and your anus are all removed. This is surgery can also be done either via an open surgery or laparoscopically. Even if the surgery is done laparoscopically, they still make an incision in your perineal area which is the area from your anus over to your genitals. And that’s the site where they remove the colon, rectum, and anus. Because your anus has been removed, that hole plus the perineal incision site are all closed up, giving you what many patients call a “Barbie butt.”

Patients that undergo an APR end up with a permanent colostomy because all of those end parts that you need to be able to poop normally have been removed. If you need a reminder on what a colostomy or an ileostomy are, I’ve got a video that describes what the different ostomies are. Just click on the link up here and that’ll take you over to refresh your memory on those.

Because the LAR and APR surgeries are much more involved surgeries, they typically require a 4-7 day hospital stay if there are no major complications.  And that’s your summary on the different surgeries for Stage 1 through early Stage 4 Rectal Cancers. Next week I will be talking about my experience and the caretaker perspective on the day before and day of surgery. If you happen to have missed my treatment plan video, that’s right over here, you can click on that and it’ll take you right to it. Thanks so much for watching.

*This video was originally published on February 12, 2020

Gift Ideas For Someone Going Through Radiation Therapy

Today I’m going to be sharing with you some great gift ideas for giving to somebody that’s going through radiation therapy. If you’re new here to this channel welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor. My name is Jelena and I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer in May of 2016. Radiation and oral chemotherapy were the first steps in my treatment, and I’ve talked about going through each of those in my last two videos. If you happen to have missed those, I’ll have the link above here to the playlist where you can find both of those videos. I’ll talk in future videos about great gift ideas both for someone that’s going into surgery and is gonna have a hospital stay and also for somebody that’s going through an ileostomy reversal so make sure you’re subscribed to my channel so you’ll get notifications when those videos are live. And now for the fun stuff, the gifts!

The first really helpful gifts that I got were shorts and tank tops. Theshorts were especially great because I could easily pull them down to my knees for treatment and then quickly get them back up when it was done. They weren’t super tight-fitting as you can see so they easily slid up and down and they weren’t even tight like in the butt or anything so when you start getting burned they’re not aggravated by tight pants. And were quickly and easily removed when that radiation diarrhea starts setting in. I went through treatment in the summer so the tank tops are nice and flowy and comfortable and they’re perfect for going from radiation treatment straight to bed for those midday naps. For cooler weather, pants like these are similar to the shorts in that the waistband, nice and comfy, not too tight, and they easily transition from radiation to nap.

For the rest of the gift ideas, and actually, for those pants, I’ve got links to all of them in the description below so check that out. I think I’m also supposed to tell you that those links lead you to my Amazon affiliate account so if you click on those and you happen to buy anything I will get a small commission off of the purchase price of those items. I’ll let you know in the description below if it’s a product that I used and highly recommended, a friend used and highly recommended, or I just got the recommendation of an item and so I chose one based on what they recommended. Now back to what you’re really here for, the gift ideas!

I got a care package about halfway through my treatment from a group of high school Box full of giftsfriends and in that I got this cute little USB Drive loaded with music. The music was separated into five different playlists: rest, rollick, rumble, remember, and relax. It was a good combination of music to pump me up on my rides to and from radiation every day and also to help me calm and relax and just stop thinking about cancer for a little bit. And since it was music picked out by my friends it was a lot of stuff that I really liked but didn’t have so it mixed up my playlists.

There was also this hilarious book that I should have read on those days when I was too tired or hurt too much to get up and do anything but I mistakenly waited and took it with me while I was there for surgery for my hospital stay and I’ll tell you why it was not a good idea just for this kind of book for surgery time, at least for me in that video about gift ideas for surgery.

There were also animal crackers in there which were nice easy to grab snacks that were also really gentle on the tummy when it was in turmoil from radiation. Then last but certainly not least was a gift card that was good to use at multiple restaurants around town. That was really handy once the hand and foot syndrome started kicking in and it’s painful just stand on your feet let alone try to cook. Plus your caregiver is getting exhausted by then as well.

To help soothe the area that’s being radiated before burns really start setting in, fellow survivor friends recommended either Aquaphor or calendula cream. One friend suggested unscented lotion, another scented lotion, either one lotion is an excellent gift idea. When someone goes through radiation treatments their white blood cell counts drop which means you’re more susceptible to getting sick and if you do get sick it’s much worse than if a normal healthy person gets ill. That means lots of handwashing which dries your hands out really bad, so that lotion is very helpful to help soothe those dry hands. And if the person is taking the oral chemotherapy Xeloda, that means they’re more susceptible to getting Hand-Foot Syndrome, so lathering your hands and the bottoms of your feet and lotion can help delay the onset of Hand-Foot Syndrome.

Next up is a bidet. There are cheap versions that are just a nozzle or a sprayer that you attach to your toilet. Those are about twenty or thirty dollars. Or if you’re a really generous friend, you can give them a bidet that’s got a heated seat and even a butt dryer for $300+. This is not just a short-term gift either. If they’re going through pelvic radiation they’re gonna get burns. Any rubbing is gonna irritate them and the water from the bidet feels much better on the tush. If they’re going to have a temporary ileostomy that bidet will be a lifesaver after they go through their reversal surgery and I’ll talk about that in a future video.

Another great gift is maid service. As radiation treatment wears on the fatigue starts to set in more and more and cleaning the house is kind of put on the back burner. Having a maid service gives that person a nice clean house to look at while they’re just laying around the couch because they’re too tired or hurt too much to get up and do anything. Plus their immune system is gonna be taking a hit during treatment so at a minimum having a clean bathroom is really gonna be helpful for them.

Gift certificates for a manicure or a pedicure are great too. It’s a greatway to get pampered for a little bit and the results can be seen for days maybe even weeks after. Even when you haven’t showered in days and you feel like a disaster, having some nicely polished nails can help be a little bright spot in someone’s day. Or if nails aren’t really their thing other fellow survivors also suggested scalp massage or reflexology session. The reflexology was recommended by a fellow survivor to help with calming your nerves and anxiety which you’re gonna have some if you have cancer.

I got many other great suggestions from fellow survivors too. Comfort items like fuzzy socks which I got these fuzzy socks for surgery or a blanket. Things to do when they’re too tired or hurt too much to get up and do anything like puzzles or good books. And to help with that radiation-induced diarrhea a box of Imodium. Just a card tora let them know that you’re thinking of them too is always appreciated.

Of course, each person is different but these are some of the top gifts that any person going through radiation would love to receive. I hope that this list has helped you figure out a great gift to give. Next week’s video is gonna be a true cancer vlog where I take you along with me on the adventures of getting a CT scan because it’s that time of year so I want to bring you along with me for it. If you need to catch up on any of my earlier videos the playlist for the beginning of my cancer journey is right up here. My face is down here for you to click on and subscribe. So, I want to thank you guys for watching and I’ll see you next week.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Don’t worry, it’s at NO COST to you.

🎁Links to the gift ideas I suggest in this post:

👖Pants that I have and highly recommend:

💾Minion USB drive that I got:

📘Book I received that was hilarious:

🐪Animal crackers I received:

👍Aquaphor cream highly recommended by a fellow survivor:

👍Calendula cream was highly recommended by a fellow survivor, this one is highly rated: 🚽Budget version of a bidet that is highly rated & a best seller: 🚽Fancy bidet that I’ve used at a doctor’s office and was FANTASTIC:

🦶Fuzzy slipper socks I have and highly recommend:

💙Cozy blanket I have and highly recommend: 💊Last but not least, Imodium! I’ve used the brand name stuff here:, but usually buy a generic brand at the grocery store.

*This video was originally published on December 11, 2019

What I Eat In a Week – Post-Ileostomy Reversal | 7-Day Food Diary

As a colorectal cancer survivor that had an ileostomy which was reversed, I get a lot of questions all the time about what I eat and what I take to help control my bowels and to keep the toilet from ruling my life. It’s really hard for me to describe to people what exactly I do so I thought that doing a food diary vlog and taking you guys with me for a week to show you exactly what I eat and what I take would be the best way to give you a sense of the bigger picture of things, so here we are!

If you’re new here welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor. This channel will give you all the ups AND the downs of what life is like after you hear those words, “You have cancer.” My name is Jelena and in May of 2016, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer. If you are new, please make sure you hit the subscribe button down in the corner or right underneath the video. I also have the link in the description so that you’ll be notified when all of my new videos are uploaded.

ileostomy stomaFirst, if you’re unsure what an ileostomy is let me give you a brief explanation. So it’s basically when part of your small intestine it’s run out of your abdominal wall and you wear a bag over it to collect your waste. So basically you’re pooping out of your stomach instead of your butt. Not using your full digestive system for months and having part of that digestive system cut out and sewn back together it just wreaks havoc on the system so that ileostomy reversal surgery is when they just tuck that small intestine back in. That’s when a lot of people start having issues with digestion and with their bowel movements. I’ll provide a more in-depth explanation and show you pictures of more of what exactly they are in a future video so stay tuned for that in a couple of weeks.

Doctors don’t even fully understand how to solve these digestive issues, so as patients we do a lot of trial and error trying to figure out how to solve and make our bowels a little bit more controllable. I also want to say that I only got two diet tips from my surgeon after my ileostomy reversal surgery. One was to just go back to eating like normal immediately after I got home from the hospital including a very high fiber diet. Then two and a half weeks later at my follow-up appointment with my surgeon, he said that I could start taking Metamucil and Imodium to help control my bowels but didn’t give me any kind of tips as to how to take them. And that was it. Did you get better advice from your surgeon? If so, let me know in the comments below any good tips that you got to help out fellow survivors.

This fall I went in to see a gastroenterologist that specializes in both woman’s digestive issues and colorectal cancer survivors. I went to the GI doc based on a recommendation from the therapist that I was seeing, which I was seeing her because of anxiety issues that I was having because of my cancer diagnosis. Now I want to emphasize that all of our digestive systems are different so what works for me may not work for someone else but this could be a starting point of some new ideas for you to discuss with your doctor to try.

I’ve been experimenting with different solutions to regulate my digestive system for the last two-and-a-half years and it seems like whenever I would find a solution it would work for a couple of weeks maybe a month or two, but then my digestive system it would get used to it and be like, “Nah, I don’t want that to work anymore,” and then just throw fits and I would have to find a new solution. I’ve been doing this current routine since the end of August and it’s now January so this might be a long-term solution for me. It’s been working well for the most part. The holidays didn’t even throw things off very much. And then the only thing that I don’t really show in the video is that I always have water with me so I’m drinking a ton of water all day. But otherwise, I’ve tried to show everything in there I may have forgotten a couple of times like my nighttime pills I may have, I didn’t videotape those every evening but those are taken daily.

At the end of each day I’ll have a calendar pop up that’ll show you a summary of what I ate for the day and I’ll just keep adding to that as the days go on throughout the video so keep an eye out for that. So here we go, here’s what I ate for the week.

Yesterday (Monday) I had that CT scan and did the barium smoothiewhich cleansed me out so I have not pooped yet today but seeing as how much I went yesterday morning after those smoothies, not a huge surprise. So I have been gassy and it’s been pretty smelly but nothing solid yet but for dinner, I want to show you what I’m having for dinner and you might think that I am crazy because for dinner, chili. Yes, that’s black beans, kidney beans, and corn and then this is some focaccia bread that’s got parmesan and tomato on it. So this chili it should be okay for one day I can’t eat this two days in a row otherwise I will have another one of those colon cleansing episodes but I’ll keep you posted and let you know how tomorrow goes and if corn and beans are just coming straight out of me.

Hi guys! It is bedtime. I usually shower at night and I don’t know what is going on with my little swoopy hair here I just let my hair air dry but anyway I wanted to go over my bedtime pill routine because that could have an effect on my bowel habits as well. These first two I don’t think because I’ve been all over the place and I’ve been on these basically well I guess a little after my reversal. So those are the two pills that I’m on for at least the next 10 years are because I went into menopause from treatment so artificially going into menopause in your 30s puts you at higher risk for heart attacks, osteoporosis and I mean just going through menopause you get a ton of hot flashes which I totally was getting. So I’m on 100 milligrams of progesterone and one milligram of Estradiol.

So both of those they’re hormone replacements basically. Then starting in June of this year I started taking Escitalopram, 20 milligrams. I started having anxiety attacks and so because I was having issues with that they put me on meds so that I was not having daily panic attacks. And because I was having trouble sleeping once those attacks started I’m also on 50 milligrams of trazodone nightly but I have cut them in half I don’t know if you can tell that so I’m only taking half of a pill each night now. I’m trying to get myself off of that because I’m just like constantly feeling tired and it’s really hard for me to stay awake when I drive more than 20 minutes. Which is bad when I have to shuttle my daughter all over town for practices so I’m hoping within the next maybe week or two I don’t know or by the new year I’ll be able to get off of the sleeping meds and then also after the new year I’ll talk with my doctor about starting to wean me off the Escitalopram for my anxiety. Since it’s been under control since I have adjusted to that med. So I just wanted to talk to you about those real quick because those side effects are you know different things with your bowels so those could also have an effect on how often and the consistency as all that of my bowel movements. So I’ll see you tomorrow morning for breakfast.

So I forgot that I also take vitamin D every day. I had a vitamin D deficiency before I even started cancer treatment so this is one thing that I did already take before all this went down so I take 5,000 IU’s every day and that gets me to the level that I need to be at. So two of these little ones I have are teeny tiny.

Now that you’ve had a glimpse into what I eat over the course of a week I want to briefly elaborate on a few of the things that you saw in the video.

The first one I want to talk about is the psyllium husk. I would always take it first thing in the morning no matter what time I woke up, but I finally realized that if I take it any earlier than 6:00 a.m. it ends up giving me diarrhea but if I take it after 6:00 a.m. it bulks up my stools which is what I want it to do. So on the days that I have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to take my daughter to the skating rink for practice, I just focus on getting myself hydrated and drink a bunch of water first thing, and then when we get home I take the psyllium husk and it’s usually around 8:00 – 8:30 when I’m taking it. After taking the psyllium husk, I limit my liquid intake for that first hour to make sure the husk gets into my digestive system and bulks up what’s in there and doesn’t work as a laxative. After an hour I’ll drink my coffee and then after 2 hours, that’s when it’s ok to start taking medications so that’s when I will take my 1 Imodium tablet.

The high potency probiotic was recommended to me by my GI doc. She was also the one that recommended I increase my daily Imodium intake from one tablet to two tablets, one in the morning and one in the evening every day. That change has both helped to regulate me and has decreased the amount of gas that I have and even the potency of my gas. I haven’t been back in to see how long that I’ll need to take those high potency probiotics, but after I finished the first bottle and I tried just stopping them my gas did increase and my stools loosened up some. So at least for the near future, I’ll continue to take those.

I also want to briefly mention that the kombucha, I only do it every so often I’m not drinking it every day. I get stomach cramping occasionally usually maybe like once or twice every month or two so it’s not often but when I do drinking the kombucha on the day that the cramping starts and then continuing for a few days helps to relieve it and kind of regulate things again.

It’s been two and a half years since I had my ileostomy reversed and I’ve gone from going to the bathroom 20-plus times a day right after surgery, to anywhere from 1 to 3 times a day now. So I’m pretty happy with where I am at the moment. I still have some bad days occasionally but I’m feeling like I really have things under control a little bit more and this is kind of the best spot that I’ve been in right now in the past two and a half years.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions you can comment below or my “About” page you can find my email address and you can reach out to me if you have any other questions that you’d rather not discuss in public since bowel questions can be a little bit of a touchy subject, a little taboo to some people, not to me obviously since I’m talking to you guys about it but others may not want to publicize their issues that they’re having.

Next week I’ll be talking about all the preparation that went into getting ready for my lower anterior resection surgery also known as LAR surgery. Please click on the like button if you enjoyed this video and make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss any of my future videos. I want to thank you guys for watching and I’ll see you next week.

Bonus for my website visitors!

Interested in the recipes for some of the things that I ate in my video?  You’re in luck!  Here are links to a few of the recipes:

Healthy Banana Bread – I use maple syrup, coconut oil, and whole wheat flour from the options that the recipe gives.   

Massaman Curry with Baked Tofu – I LOVE lime juice, but I leave it out in this recipe and to me, it tastes WAY better.

Kitchiri – This one comes from a cookbook I have, The Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook by Roz Denny.  (If you click on the link for the cookbook, know that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Don’t worry, it’s at NO COST to you.)  Here’s the recipe:

Serves 4

  • 1 onion
  • 1 cup Indian masoor dhal or green lentils
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 tbsp vegetarian ghee or butter
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 1/4 cups basmati rice
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves (or 2 tsp ground)
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 cups stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste 
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
  1. Boil water then put lentils in for 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Fry the onion and garlic in the ghee or butter and oil in a large saucepan for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the rice, stir well to coat the grains in the ghee or butter and oil, then stir in the spices.  Cook gently for a minute or so.
  4. Add the lentils, stock, tomato paste, and seasoning.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 20 minutes until the stock is absorbed and the lentils and rice are just soft.  Stir in the coriander or parsley and check the seasoning.  Remove cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and cardamom pods.

*This video was originally published on January 8, 2020