[Editor's Note: Long-time concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out two years ago that he had stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events, on top of other freelance work and working a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
It was close to two years ago that I passed out at work. Fortunately, I work as a pharmacist in a hospital and was immediately rushed down to the emergency room. During the several months prior to this incident, I had lost about twenty pounds and started to get fatigued very easily. The streaks of blood in my stool probably should have risen more red flags. At the age of 35, my thoughts jumped to a possible diagnosis of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
When my gastrointestinal doctor appeared in my room, he suggested I have a colonoscopy and a CT scan to see what was happening. After the CT scan, I was wheeled down for the colonscopy. Eager to hear about my results, I asked my doctor what the scan showed moments after being injected with some anesthetics. The last thing I remember before going under was the doctor telling me the scan showed I had some spots in my liver. Why would anything be in my liver?
I awoke in the recovery room in a daze, and the nurse asked the doctor if he wanted to give me the results. He mentioned he would tell me upstairs in my hospital room later that day. I can remember the moment vividly when the doctor said I had a tumor obstructing my colon by 98 percent. They could not perform the colonoscopy as I was too obstructed, and immediate, life-saving surgery was crucial. I've never cried so hard in my life than when realizing I had stage IV colon cancer.
The cancer had aggressively spread from my colon into my lymph nodes, which sprayed the disease like a shotgun blast into my liver. Things like this aren't supposed to happen to people my age. How did I get so lucky? It didn't make any sense, and I was shell-shocked. My physician called me later that night to see how I was doing. He could tell I was distraught.
My life slowly flashed before my eyes, as I knew having colon cancer was a death sentence. How would this affect my life? I was immediately thankful I didn't have a wife or children who would have to suffer with my burden. Would I be able to see my niece and nephew grow up? My thoughts even jumped to whether I would ever be able to photograph or review a concert again, as this was my main hobby and passion.
The five-year survival rate for stage IV colon-cancer patients is 6 percent. I figure I have three years left if I am lucky. I've had more than 100 doses of chemotherapy and numerous ups and downs over these two years, and I plan to revisit some of these stories with you. Ideally, this column will enlighten and bring some awareness to this deadly disease, as well as how to deal with friends or family members who have this terrible affliction called cancer.