Matt Sanders: Dealing with Rectal Cancer at Age 43

20150808_092318You don’t expect a self-proclaimed “fitness nut” to get sick. When it happened to Matt Sanders, a 43-year-old small business owner, husband, father and avid daily exerciser, he shook off dealing with it for a while.

Matt’s weight gain didn’t make any sense to him because he was eating healthier than ever before in his life. Matt’s abdomen was bloated every day, and gas pills didn’t do much to help. His stools were “shrinking…it was hard to go to the bathroom. I knew something wasn’t right,” he said. At one point, Matt saw blood and finally went to the doctor and scheduled a colonoscopy.

The colonoscopy revealed a large mass in Matt’s rectum. The biopsy was conclusive: rectal cancer.

Matt’s wife Joanie immediately starting phoning around for recommendations for a colon and rectal surgeon, and the couple landed at The Colorectal Center with Dr. Sree Suryadevara.

“I’ll never forget driving from Cookeville to Nashville to that first appointment,” Matt said. “We had the biopsy results with us, and we opened the envelope and started reading the report. Both Joanie and I knew it wasn’t good. That was a tough drive, really tough. At one point, I looked over, and Joanie was crying.

“But once we got there and saw Dr. Suryadevara, he explained everything to us,” Matt said. “He was very reassuring and confident he could help me. I really liked that about him---his assurance and his confidence. After the initial shock was over, I was able to be more positive. Dr. Suryadevara told me the fact that I was in such good shape would really help. Now, he and I have more of a friendship-type bond because he’s a really likeable guy. You can tell he’s really smart. I just love that confidence he has. He made me feel very secure, that everything was going to be okay.”
Matt’s cancer was Stage 2. Matt hoped for surgery to simply remove the cancer, but he needed chemotherapy and radiation first, to be followed by surgery.
Matt’s next surprise was the idea of having an ileostomy after his surgery. “I was very reluctant about that, but it truly turned out to be the best way forward. The more I read and talked to people, I learned the temporary time I would have the bag was the best way, so everything could heal properly. I later had a second surgery to close the ileostomy, so it turned out that I just had the ileostomy for nine weeks.”
Overall, even with a serious diagnosis, an adverse reaction to the chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries, today Matt Sanders is very thankful.

“It was kind of rough, because two-thirds of my rectum was taken out along with nine inches of my colon. But today, everything is reattached just fine, and my scars are even looking good. My body is relearning how to perform these natural functions, but I’m really coming along very well.”
Matt credits a large part of his recovery to his strong faith, along with Dr. Suryadevara’s support.

“I’m on the prayer list at church,” Matt said. “Joanie and I found a quote that we really liked and adopted it for this whole journey. It’s ‘When Christ becomes our focus, contentment replaces anxiety.’ You’re going through this, and the more you talk to people about it, even though it’s a tough subject, the more it helps because you create a community of support. There are people at church who have had the same thing, and just talking and hearing their success stories was great. The success rate is going up with colon and rectal cancer. I knew the good Lord has plans for me, and while I don’t know exactly what He has in store, I believe he wants me to talk to people about it, and give other people what Dr. Suryadevara gave me: confidence and security that everything is going to be okay.”

Within two weeks of Matt’s surgery, he was back at work, and just five weeks after his second surgery he ran the Undy Run as part of The Colorectal Center’s team to raise money for colorectal cancer research.

“I came in third place in the survivor male category,” he said. “The last two or three weeks have been wonderful, healthwise. I’m getting physical at work again (Matt owns Affordable Driveways and Patios in Cookeville). Exercising is the key to recovery, walking, running, jogging…any kind of movement. If you just sit around, you’ll carry the pain with you. The more you move, even just walking, the better you’ll get.”
In addition to his relationship with Dr. Suryadevara, Matt appreciates the office staff at The Colorectal Center.

“They are wonderful. They knew me and remembered things about me every time I visited,” he said. “One person knew I like Ohio State and was always talking about the national championship with me. They are just really good, friendly and courteous people there. They always knew my name, and that meant a lot.”

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