My Battle With Colon Cancer

As part of Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, Billy V of Hawaii News Now shares how colon cancer has affected his life.

Mahalo diverticulitis.  If not for you, I don’t know where I would be now. Diverticulitis is a painful condition that occurs when pockets form in the colon. Food can get caught in the area and get infected.  My family doctor, Irene Yamamoto, warned me that this could happen and she was absolutely right.

It came time to find out just how bad it was so she set me up for a colonoscopy with Dr. Donn Marutani so he could take a look. There it was. Diverticulitis. A bunch of my colon would have to be removed.

Unexpected News
When I met with Dr. Marutani to discuss his findings, we got the unexpected.  He said, “We also found a very early stage of colon cancer.” My wife went silent. She touched my hand, hers shaking. The tears started streaming and she couldn’t stop them.  I smiled at her, squeezed her hand, and asked Dr. Marutani, “Okay… what’s next?"

Dr. Marutani referred me to Dr. Andrew Oishi who took the bull by the horns. First, surgery was needed to remove the infected section as well as the cancerous sections. I was a little concerned (a little? Haha!) as to how far down near the rectum that the cancer might be.  Here were the big steps:

   • Remove the affected areas with surgery.
   • Install an ostomy bag where waste material will go while the surgery area heals.
   • Take the bag away when healing is done and turn on the internal plumbing.
   • Recover from surgery.

The Medical Journey Begins
I have such a profound respect for the medical community. They deal with all types of ailments with new discoveries constantly changing the playing field and treatment options. Not to mention the ease or difficulty of the patients they treat.

Surgery was supposed to be about four hours. It took almost six hours due to the difficulty of removing the areas and making sure the “plumbing” was secure. My transition from “normal” to ostomy bag was pretty seamless. Most people have the bag for six to nine months; I had mine for a year and eight months due to my busy schedule and the healing time from my difficult surgery.

My wife and I are proud we were able to hide my physical changes despite the number of appearances—both live and on television—that I made in those 20 months of having the ostomy bag.

In early December 2015 I finally had the bag removed. The plan was to heal in time for the Hawaii Bowl and the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, two big sporting events at the end of the month that I normally work. It was a difficult trek, but we made it.

Since then it’s been an up-and-down ride. My body is still healing from the surgery. Mornings are great because I don’t feed the system during the Sunrise show, so everything is pretty quiet. After I leave the Hawaii News Now studios, I feed the body. Some days are very good. Some days the body is just uncomfortable and it takes me out the rest of the day.

Basically I need to get my body used to getting regular food down “pipes” that were meant for much smaller items and to the regular healthy foods that my body needs.  I’ve improved slowly since surgery, but I know I need to listen to my body and be patient. I was never a patient person to begin with…LOL.

You’re Not Alone
I consider myself very lucky. Lucky I have a good wife and son who love me and are behind me all the way. They were both there when I was most embarrassed. Losing control of your ability to hold your waste materials in front of your son and wife and being nowhere near the toilet can bring a man to tears. The first time I cried.

I’m a proud man I guess and never wanted my family to see me like that. They picked me up and told me no matter what they will help me and that they love me. I’ve had to learn to allow them to help me and it’s brought us closer together (My wife Sawako and son Leion are pictured with me above).

I’m lucky that I work at a place that allows me to take as long as I want to heal. My immediate supervisors, my news director, and my general manager at Hawaii News Now made sure I knew that going into this battle. This is especially so in the final parts of my recovery, which has been the most trying physically. I appreciate my work family so much.

As I learned of my condition and shared it on social media and as word went out, different people approached me. The very first was Jim Leahey. I was at my first University of Hawaii game after my first surgery and he greeted me by saying “You know, we are brothers forever. Don’t you forget that. You are not alone.” He gave me the firmest handshake and biggest hug. I didn’t know what to say.

Others who have battled cancer in one way or another also approached me with encouragement and with big smiles like they hadn’t seen me in years. The big hugs do wonders for you. I stand taller it seems every time I get one.

Folks come up to me and say things like “Thank you. Because I heard your story, I went and got my checkup,” “I got my colonoscopy,” “I had surgery, thank goodness because I heard what happened to you and I have the same thing! We got it early!”  Those are the things that move me almost to tears. I never knew I could make a difference like that and I’m proud to spread awareness.

So get that checkup; don’t wait. A colonoscopy is your friend. You want to find these things early. My profound respect for the many departments and teams that help people get better. Mahalo Dr. Yamamoto, Dr. Marutani, Dr. Oishi and Kuakini Hospital!

One more thing: I had a colonoscopy as soon as I could after the bag removal so they could take a really good look in there. There were a few polyps. They were tested. They were found to be non-cancerous. Instead of a checkup every year, I was told I would not need to have another checkup for another three years.