An EOU Cancer Survivor’s Story

The Covid-19 crisis has been at the forefront of the public consciousness for nearly two years. News regarding case numbers, hospital capacity, and vaccination rates take center stage when it comes to updates in medicine and healthcare. It’s easy to forget that there are plenty of people struggling with pain and sickness far removed from the pandemic. For one former member of The Voice, that struggle only recently ended. 

In early 2021, then current editor-in-chief for The Voice, Ian Crawford, was diagnosed with sigmoid colon cancer, kicking off over a year’s worth of surgery, treatment, and isolation. Diagnosis  was sudden, the cancer not showing up in blood tests until it had already progressed. Unfortunately, the true severity of the situation became known both as the pandemic was picking up and right as Ian had taken out loans for classes at EOU, among other coincidences. As Ian explained in an interview with The Voice: 

“At the time, my uncle had actually passed just a couple days before my birthday, so I was physically in just horrible shape. I was just draining weight off on a consistent basis, pretty much spending every day just lying there suffering, grieving. Then I got the phone call that said, ‘yeah you’ve got a gigantic tumor in your hind side so we’re going to have to deal with that now.’”  

Specifically, the tumor blocked Ian’s lower colon, as he put it, “it was about as big as my fist, pretty much clenched down in the pipe enough to stop me up for the most part, so that was pretty horrible. There’s a lot of gross details to get into here.”  

While undergoing chemo and later direct surgeries to remove the mass, Ian had to undergo an ileostomy, a temporary external bypass around his colon. Explaining those gross details, Ian said, “[It’s] pretty much a straight pipe out of the small intestine into the large and they divert it out of the side of your belly. It’s literally like having a permanent hernia and a bag glued on to you to, you know, to catch the stuff.” 

Pain and nasty operations were far from the only hardships, and isolation set in. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the non-availability of vaccinations at the time, and Ian’s frequent trips to and from the hospital, physical contact with his family and friends was limited, “kind of an extra gun to the head when I already had one,” as he put it. Tiredness and rest meant he wasn’t always able to keep up with them remotely either, as he explained, “when you’re that sick there’s no secret about it. You can’t make that time; you’re just tired all the way.”  

That being said, Ian wasn’t totally alone and powerless. Despite the difficulties, he still managed to keep in touch enough with family and keep spirits up, explaining “I had a certain note of loneliness of course, but it wasn’t like they were not present, just consistent enough to check in, to converse and share some of the madness of the situation with them, that was amazing in itself.” 

While he kept himself occupied during the day with the odd movie or video game, Ian had help managing the logistics of his condition. Community Connections of Northeast Oregon stepped in to make sure Ian wasn’t left destitute during this time, covering six months of rent and extra utility cost. 

“If you’re sick you need to find ways to get around, you need to find ways to afford bills that are unusually high. When I first started, I was cold sweating overnight and so I had to have my heat on and I had to have all blankets and heater running in every room pretty much cooking me all the time, so that started to add up quickly. Once we got them involved, they made sure those power bills started to fade away,” Ian explained. 

Likewise, the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) stepped in to cover medical expenses and set him up with a nationally top ranked surgeon in Boise. In an odd way, Ian’s prior experience with OHP, receiving medication for attention deficit disorder, mentally prepared him for the somberness of the situation, reflecting: 

“Knowing kind of in context of how some of those pills affect me, I just kind of recognized ‘all right, this isn’t a situation where your brain is making dopamine.’ It’s not letting you have the happy motivating drugs at all, just the natural components that function for that. You’re pretty much in the hole.”         

Still, Ian pulled through. The final hurdle came from a three-day long Ileus, “which your body just decides ‘alright, nothing’s going down,”as he put it. Thankfully, that experience concluded with a popsicle, his tongue no longer feeling “like a mummy’s toe,” and finally regaining bowel control.  

Grossness aside, Ian noted that he was lucky, still being able to talk to his family and having no serious lingering health issues. Currently Ian is in the last months of chemo and final checks and looking forward to getting back to work and having an outdoor adventure, telling The Voice,  

“Going outside and swimming and stuff is all out the window when you’ve got a bag attached to you. Boy, I’m almost done healing and I would kill to get in a swimming pool or a freezing cold lake or anything just to float in zero gravity for a minute or two,” 

Happy to be alive and grateful for his family sticking by him, even at a distance, The Voice wishes Ian the best on his final stages of recovery. For those going through a similar situation or who have just been diagnosed, Ian gave his thoughts on what they can do. 

“A sense of humor is pretty important. You know, it’s going to be gross. There’s going to be things in places where you don’t want them to be. You’re going to be all sorts of chemicals up and down and left and right. You’ll get a few windows where it’s pretty nice. But it’s not always a battle you can win so in your own head you need to mentally prepare for that. And in your own way, if you can help your friends and family prepare for that, that’s good because it may still turn around. These are situations that can just pop back up every couple of years. They keep track of this for, I think, five years, scanning and probing just to make sure you’re good. But a sense of humor is going to get you far if you can enjoy the company of the people you’re with. You don’t know how much longer you got, they don’t know how much longer you got, so try to like it, try to enjoy it. It’s an experience in itself.” 

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