Kristen Boucher knew something was very wrong even though she had no pain. The 31-year-old nurse from Ashburnham, Mass., went to see her primary care physician for an episode of rectal bleeding in the summer of 2007. The doctor ruled out hemorrhoids, and that worried Boucher. If not hemorrhoids, then what?
She followed up with a GI physician, and later her PCP called with the test results. It was a 2-3 centimeter adenocarcinoma of the sigmoid colon. Boucher was referred to a specialist for more tests before treatment. It turned out the tumor was not in her sigmoid colon, but 9-10 centimeters up in her rectum. It was stage IIA.
With no family history of colon cancer and being far younger than when most cancer occurs, Boucher prepared for the year ahead, a year that would be filled with scans, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and a dreaded ileostomy.
She had to throw everything she could at the cancer. A wife and mother of two children, ages 2½ and 5, Boucher remembers her husband, John, saying of the cancer, “This is not a sprint, but a marathon.” She chose an extensive, aggressive and thorough treatment. “I wanted to look back after this whole thing and not say I wish we would have done this or done that (treatment),” says Boucher.
Six weeks of radiation and chemo with a port-a-cath began Boucher’s treatment. Surgery followed from which she awoke with the ileostomy. The pathology came back with the acronym, PCS, or pathological complete response—no cancer. She credits her physicians at Lahey Clinic (Stuart, Cassady and Ricciardi) and nurses (Marks, McLean and Underhill) for this, but also the fact that she had chosen no treatment shortcuts. Treatment, however, was not over at this point. Boucher still had to wait four weeks before restarting chemo, this time by infusions. This regimen of chemo would take another six months to complete.
Just about two years ago, Boucher’s ileostomy was reversed. “That was wonderful! That was the best day of that whole year,” she exclaims. “That was a good, good day. The day I finished chemo, that too was also a good, good day!”
Boucher was on leave for an entire year while battling cancer. Her friends and family rallied around her, helping with housekeeping, child rearing and nursing. She went into menopause from the radiation. She had nausea and lost weight. Her hair thinned from the treatments, but not too much. Today she has neuropathy in her feet from the chemo, something she hopes will resolve.
“Beginning cancer (treatment) is a very dark place. You don’t know what is going to happen,” says Boucher. “Looking back, my husband and I have had life lessons others may never know. We have been married for 10 years, and had cancer in one of those years.”
Learn more about the patient-centered, high-quality approach to cancer care provided to patients diagnosed and treated at Lahey Clinic's Sophia Gordon Cancer Center.