Finding Strength in the Storm
In 2011, Kenneth Williams of Guyton, Georgia, knew something was wrong. He was only in his early 30s and he led a healthy, active lifestyle. Yet he felt bad all the time.
“I felt like I had the flu and stomach pain on and off for at least six months,” said Williams.
There were some stresses at home. He had a 1-year-old son and an infant daughter and he had just moved to a new house. His doctor thought perhaps Williams’ stomach problems were related to stress and depression. Williams took prescription antidepressants, but he still felt sick. To complicate matters further, he was mysteriously losing blood. Over the course of several months, he had three blood transfusions, followed by iron transfusions. But he still felt bad.
By May 2011, Williams was so sick he was admitted to Memorial University Medical Center. He spent seven days in critical condition. Doctors tested him for a variety of intestinal diseases, including Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis. What they discovered, shocked them.
“I had colon cancer. My doctor said it would be almost impossible for somebody my age to have colon cancer, but that’s what it was. It was stage three and the tumor was the size of a softball,” said Williams.
Williams was no stranger to cancer. His grandfather had battled the disease four times, beginning at age 36. His mom, his grandmother, an aunt, an uncle, and a cousin also had different types of cancer. Because of his family history, Williams decided to have a genetic test to see if he carried a colon cancer gene. The results made his situation even more challenging – he carries a gene mutation that makes him extremely likely to develop colon cancer throughout his lifetime.
Now that he finally knew what was making him sick, Williams was eager to begin the treatment process.
“I had two kids at home. I knew I had to fight it out and get through it,” said Williams.
His fight began with surgery. Colorectal surgeon Patrick Hammen, M.D., removed a portion of Williams’ large intestine. This was followed by another surgery to implant a port in his chest so he could receive chemotherapy drugs. Then came 12 rounds of chemotherapy with medical oncologist Christopher Haberman, M.D. Williams knew it was going to be extremely difficult.
“Chemo is what it is. It makes you sick, tired, and run down. There are days you don’t want to get out of your chair. So when you have a good day, you take advantage of it. You find foods that taste good. You get up and walk. You find what makes you happy, and you do it,” said Williams.
Williams used to play guitar, but had given it up. At Haberman’s suggestion, he started playing again. The music was great therapy. Williams also found strength from prayer and his church. But his greatest motivation to get well came from his two small children, Brascher and Alyssa.
“The kids didn’t understand what was going on, but they knew I was sick. They would walk around with Band Aids and medical tape all over themselves and say that they were sick too,” said Williams.
After chemotherapy, Williams endured another difficult surgery to repair and reconnect what was left of his colon. Because of his genetic predisposition for colon cancer, he will see an oncologist and have blood tests every six months for the rest of his life. The port will stay in his chest in case he needs chemotherapy again in the future.
Despite everything he has endured, the 35-year-old is healing and moving forward. He recently received clearance to return to his job after an extensive medical leave. To improve his stamina and lose the weight caused by chemotherapy, he took up running. Williams now tries to run five miles every day. He stays busy raising his children who are now 4 and 5 years old.
Williams attributes his well-being to the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute (ACI) at Memorial University Medical Center. At every appointment, he is treated like family and receives exceptional care. Now, he wants to help other cancer survivors. He regularly participates in Relay for Life and he is a member of the new Survivor Link peer support program at the ACI. Williams has an important message for anybody lost in the fog of a cancer diagnosis:
“There is life after cancer. You can have a normal life again.”
Williams made it through some extremely difficult times. He knows that cancer is always a risk for him, but he is determined to live life to the fullest and appreciate each day.
Learn more about early screening for colon cancer.