Diagnosed with Cancer Later in Life

Alice Madsen was a spry 89 years of age when she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

Because of her age, Alice didn’t feel like she wanted an invasive treatment like surgery and her physician also believed an operation might be more of a disadvantage for her as well, since it may have interrupted her lifestyle more.

With several factors to consider for her treatment, such as her age and the fact that colon cancer was slow growing, the recommended treatment was chemotherapy. “And I went along with that, because that sounded better than an operation,” Alice said.

Going Through Cancer Treatment
Alice decided to go forward with the treatment. She felt good and was in good spirits. “If it will prolong your life, and this is what you want, then I’m all for it,” she says.

When Alice first started her chemotherapy treatment, she began to suffer from several side effects, such as fatigue and diarrhea. “I just wasn’t doing well,” she recalls, as she was almost housebound because of the side effects. At that point, she was switched over to Erbitux (cetuximab), which was a targeted drug therapy for metastatic colon cancer. Unlike traditional chemotherapy drugs, which may often damage a patient’s healthy cells while attacking the cancer, targeted drugs seek to go after the cancer cells without damaging the patient’s normal cells.

Shortly after she switched to the targeted therapy, Alice noticed less side effects and began feeling better in general. “It was like night and day,” she says. “Does it have a GPS or something to know where to go?,” Alice asked with a chuckle.

The erbitux treatment was administered to Alice intravenously via her port, or portacath. She went in for her treatment every other week, with treatments taking about three to five hours per visit.

Alice didn’t have any problem with spending a good chunk of her day getting her treatment at the Oncology Associates Blair clinic, where she always found the staff upbeat and enjoyed the positive company of other cancer patients. “They’re sweet, as can be. A nice happy bunch,“ she says about her health care team. “You couldn’t ask for any other nurses than what we’ve had here.“

Alice recalls actually looking forward to her treatment because of all the camaraderie she found there with other patients in the chemo room. Getting to know the staff at the clinic and meeting with other patients was something positive and good that came out of her cancer experience. “I always pray for the people in the chemo room. And it’s a good feeling to know that we’re all in this together. We all understand,” Alice adds.

Her philosophy on her cancer treatment was to “go for it” and see how it worked. “Each one of us is different,” she says in regards to handling cancer treatment. “Our bodies handle it differently,” she adds. “I’ve had good health up till now, but I don’t plan on living to be a hundred.” “It doesn’t scare me and I’ve never shed a tear over it.”

As for her side effects, Alice was quick to point out that it might have had something to do with her age, even though she never “feels” her age. “I want to think that I’m sixty, but I’ll be eighty-nine now next month,” she says. “I always say that my couch is crying for me when I leave, so I’ll go home and take a good nap.”

When Alice was preparing for her treatment, she thought about getting a wig. “I was going to have one of these cute ones,” she says. “I wasn’t going to have a gray haired one. I was going to have something that would lift me up,” she recalls. However, Alice learned that hair loss would not be a side effect of her treatment. “You don’t lose your hair, so I’m stuck with what I’ve got,” she laughs.

While Alice generally feels pretty good during her treatment, she does recommend making sure to have any side effects looked after. “Whenever I’ve got a problem it’s the ER I run to. They send the x-rays and all back to Dr. Lemon, and so he’s on top of it.” Alice stressed how important it was to be able to go to the clinic or to the hospital if she had any problems and that they’d be taken care of. “It’s comforting to know,” she adds.

On Support – The Importance of Family and Friends
When Alice first learned about her cancer diagnosis, she decided that she wasn’t going to bother her family with the news. Her plan quickly changed, however, once she walked into the chemo
room for the first time, as she realized that she knew a lot of other cancer patients in that room. “I’ve got to tell me family,” she recalls. “Because otherwise they’re going to hear it from an outsider and I couldn’t have that,” she says. “So I went home and called my family. Blair is a small town and word travels fast, so I thought it was time to tell my family. that’s one thing about a small town. You.know everybody.”

“I’ve got neighbors and I’ve got my church family, so I’m fine,” says Alice. “I’ve got my own little rescue squad,” she adds, referring to her two sisters who she’s very close with and who live in her town. “When I need a rescue squad, I call them and they haul me in. They’ve got problems too, but we all stick together and that’s good. You need family.”

On Having Cancer
“It’s not going to upset my life,” she says. “In fact, I haven’t let cancer upset my life,” Alice proclaims. “I’ve had a good life,” she says. “If this is the way I have to curl my toes, it’s not going to bother me,” she adds. “I’m thankful for every day that we have.”

“That’s life. We can’t be born and die with nothing. And what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Isn’t that right? Cancer is not as scary as you might think it would be.”

More Information
Learn more about Colon Cancer.

Read more colon cancer stories.

Learn more about Targeted Cancer Treatment.

Alice passed away at the age of 90, surrounded by her family and friends. Except for a few years, when she lived in California, Alice lived her entire life in Blair. Her wonderful sense of humor and her positive outlook on life will be missed.