It all started back in January of this year, Vann started having some stomach issues. At first, doctors thought it was lactose intolerance, then maybe parasites. After those were ruled out, he saw a GI specialist in early May and got a sigmoidoscopy which included a biopsy, to checked for things like Colitis, Crohn’s and CANCER -- everything was negative. His diagnosis was some inflammation which was leading to constipation. Following the sigmoidoscopy, symptoms (exhaustion, severe weight loss and constipation) continued to get worse.
At the end of June, Vann and Elizabeth went on a long weekend vacation to Aruba (their first without kids). From the moment they landed, Vann did not feel well, but he tried to ignore it and enjoy their vacation. Then, on the second to last afternoon there, he started having diarrhea and throwing up…all night. The next day, they had a snorkeling cruise booked. Vann still wanted to power through the excursion….he was excited to see the SS Antilla shipwreck. When they returned to the hotel, he started experiencing excruciating stomach pains so they rushed to the ER, which luckily was literally across the street from their hotel. At the hospital, they performed a CT scan and found that there may have been a perforation in his lower bowels and would need surgery immediately to fix it. They asked to be med flighted home for the surgery, but the doctors advised against it, as frankly they didn’t think Vann would make it home in time. What started as an exploratory surgery, turned into a 5 hour Colostomy after a tear was discovered in Vann’s sigmoid. The surgery was successful and Vann began his recovery with 5 other Arubians in a shared room. Sharing a room after all this initially sounded awful, but Vann and Elizabeth actually became friends with his roommates and their families as they recovered from their own surgeries. He could see their hotel and the beach from his window. The view and new friendships formed helped Vann push forward to recovery. On the sixth day of his recovery, the first day he was able to get out of bed and take a few steps on his own, feeling like he finally turned the corner and things were looking good, Vann’s surgeon came in with pathology results that were shattering. It was determined, from a part of his bowels that was removed for biopsy, that is was a tumor, not just inflammation. The surgeon couldn’t tell them what kind, if it was benign or not, or any other details other than when Vann returned home he would need chemotherapy. The Aruban medical team wanted to send his sample to Holland for further tests. Vann and Elizabeth intercepted and asked for all of Vann’s medical records and samples so that they could get answers back in the U.S.
After 7 days in the hospital, Vann was discharged and they flew home. Vann had an oncology appointment at Mass General Hospital his first day home. The next 6 weeks were spent lining up doctors and getting blood draws all while making sure Vann healed and recovered properly from the surgery. Further pathology was done and he also had a PET and CT scan, which resulted in his diagnosis of Stage IV Colon Cancer that had metastasized to lymph nodes in the abdomen, neck, and one lung. Having fully recovered from surgery and feeling the best he’d felt in 8 months, this was a devastating blow to Vann and his family. Within one week he had a port placed for treatment and began Chemotherapy. Vann will be continuing his treatments with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He will receive chemo every 2 weeks for the next 3 months when more imaging will be completed and the plan re-evaluated.