Todd Colitti was being treated for a bleeding ulcer but found no relief, so he began researching his symptoms. When everything he read pointed to colorectal cancer, he asked his doctor for a colonoscopy. The doctor told him, “You’re too young for colon cancer,” but reluctantly sent him for one anyway.
He had a tumor that was blocking 95% of his colon, and a CT scan found lesions on his liver. Todd was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at 35, and his doctor gave him a 50% chance of even surviving surgery. Todd prepared for the worst. He prayed that someone would take care of his children, wrote a will and got his legal papers in order.
Todd woke after surgery in ICU, missing parts of both his liver and colon. He was overjoyed to be alive, and optimistic when he learned that his abdomen was not full of cancer, as had been expected. His doctor still warned that the cancer would likely resurface and gave him a 5% chance of surviving one year. Todd kept hope throughout chemotherapy, but when he finished, his doctor again cautioned that he would probably relapse and die within five years.
Todd beat the odds and this month celebrates being a ten-year survivor. He continues regular check-ups, and his doctors call him their “miracle man.” He knows how important it is to believe in hope, especially when it’s the only thing you have.
Todd’s story as told by Todd
My name is Todd Colitti, I am 44 years old. I am a lieutenant on the Waterbury, Ct. Fire Department, and I am a cancer survivor.
My story begins back in November of 1999, when I was being treated for a bleeding ulcer for two weeks before my doctor finally gave in to my desire to have a colonoscopy done. During the two weeks of treatment I was not getting any better, so I decided to do some research online of my symptoms. Everything I was experiencing and other signs I had not yet acknowledged but also experiencing were all pointing to colon cancer. On a follow up for my treatment of the bleeding ulcer I shared my findings and concerns with my doctor. He said “you are too young for that”. So because I did not meet the stereotypical profile and age criteria as many people do not, he was hesitant to order a colonoscopy, but he gave in and sent me for the procedure.
I went for the procedure and that is when what I was finding on the internet became my reality. My colon was 95% blocked by a malignant tumor. I was sent for the next step for cancer patients, a CT scan and the news got even worse… the cancer had spread to my liver as well. I had four lesions on my liver, the largest being 4.5 cm.
The doctors wanted me to stay in the hospital, and go to surgery as soon as possible. My prognosis was poor, they were only giving me a 50/50 chance of surviving the surgery. But wait, when I came to the hospital this morning I was ok. I have children at home. A 5 year old little girl, a 7 year old son, a 19 year old son, and a 9 year old foster son I am trying to adopt. I have tickets to the races this weekend. My friends and I are flying to Atlanta to go to the races and to tour Talladega superspeedway. No!! I am not staying in the hospital; I am going to live my life. But it wasn’t that easy, my red cell count was extremely low and before I left the hospital I needed two units of blood.
My decision was a very unpopular decision with the doctors of course, but also with my family. I don’t know if I was scared and running or just needed time to let it sink in. I don’t feel that anyone understood what I was thinking or feeling, but I just needed my time. It bought me some time to make videos with my kids. I tucked them in each night and told them I loved them, and many nights I would return to their room to watch them sleep and pray that if I died someone would watch over them. I wrote a will and got my legal papers in place. To this day my decision is a source of contention with my family, but I have no regrets for my decision. It gave me time to accept life’s mortality.
This was all happening before Thanksgiving. The Friday before Thanksgiving I went to my surgeon who told me the worst case scenario; he expected to open me up and find my abdomen full of cancer, and that being the case he would resect my colon and liver, and if all went well close my abdomen send me for chemotherapy. He was only giving me a 50/50 chance of surviving the surgery and making it off the table.
On the following Monday I had surgery and woke up in ICU. My abdomen was not full of cancer as expected. They removed 1/3 of my liver and ½ of my colon, my gallbladder, and my appendix with no need for a colostomy. Wow good news and I was alive. But they (the doctors) were not as optimistic. They cautioned me that the cancer could and probably would resurface in other areas or that I would have a relapse and at this time my prognosis was still grave, with only a 5% chance of survival in the following year. I was released from the hospital ten days later.
I did not let that get me down and was always extremely optimistic that I would beat this. I would start chemo after Christmas “and see what happened” the doctors said. And I did start chemotherapy and endured it well. I was very lucky that I was able to receive chemo as scheduled throughout the first year with only one setback because my white cells were too low and we delayed a week. I was not extremely ill and experienced few side affect except for being tired at times.
At my six weeks check up I was feeling good but the doctors still cautioned me that I had an extreme risk or relapse and felt that I was at great risk of mortality from my cancer. After 5 months I returned to full active duty on the line as a firefighter. I continued chemotherapy through the end of December, 2000 and had regular check ups. The regular check ups were every three months, and each check up was good and positive. Blood work became fun, I know all the nurses by name and each CEA level came back good.
A year went by and I went for my check up. I had won and beat the odds. I was still alive and cancer free.
Even still the doctors cautioned me that my mortality was still at risk and I would probably relapse and succumb in the next 5 years.
I have continued with my check ups, they have gone from quarterly to biyearly to yearly. My colonoscopies, chest x-rays and CT scans have also been positive and now I only have these every other year.
I go to visit my oncologist Dr. Bowen and his staff on a regular basis, I would include them all as part of my family. They call me their miracle man. As for Dr. Bowen and my surgeon Dr. Alosco, they are my heroes, without them I don’t believe I would be alive, and I thank god everyday for second chances.
Life has given me many second chances. I have remarried; to my first love from 30 years ago. I have learned to SCUBA dive and gone to Jamaica SCUBA diving. I am riding my bicycle and have completed two 75 mile bike tours; I am lifting weights and am in better health now than when I was in my 20’s. I don’t worry as much and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I live today and each of my tomorrows to their fullest; I take chances, and I live with no regrets.
On November 29, 2010 I celebrate my 10 year anniversary of being a CANCER SURVIVOR! I have no doubt that I will make it and beat all the odds stacked against me. I want to continue to share my story of hope, and to educate people to be proactive with their health and get screened. To educate the medical community to remember, that not all patients meet the medical criteria for screening, and to let their patients have a colonoscopy to rule out their symptoms or provide them the time for treatment, and the opportunity for the same success that I have had.
My hope is that by the 2010 Colondar colon cancer awareness and education will significantly decrease the number of patients, and the mortality rate will have greatly decreased, and that all that go through colon cancer be blessed with the outcome I have had.
For all those people going through treatment now – never give up hope and always believe!