Cancer - Leslie H.


“To say I was shocked when I learned I had cancer would be a radical understatement,” says Leslie Hagen, who was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer nearly two years ago. As a result, Leslie entered a physical, emotional and spiritual roller coaster ride that today has transformed her view of life and how to live it to the fullest.

“I realized that whether I’m on this earth for five months, five years or 50 years, I don’t want to spend a single moment worrying or regretting what has happened to me,” reflects the 49-year-old marketing communications manager who lives in Campbell with her husband Mike and their two black labs, Oscar and Dewey. “I want to experience as much as I can — authentically — regardless of what’s to come.”

Leslie’s odyssey began in the fall of 2010, when she started experiencing bouts of severe upper abdominal pain. After initial tests came back normal, she was referred to gastroenterologist Geoffrey Spencer MD, who performed a more extensive exam and testing of her gastrointestinal tract. Still, nothing was found.

As a precaution, Dr. Spencer ordered a colonoscopy, though the expectation was that it too would be normal. Leslie was fairly young to have colon cancer, and there was no history of the disease in her family. When biopsies came back showing cancer, everyone was surprised.

“I’ll never forget my reaction,” recalls Leslie. “My ears were ringing and I barely heard anything the doctor said after the word ‘cancer’. All I could think was, ‘This isn’t happening to me’!”

Despite the shocking news, Leslie had yet to reach the low point of her harrowing journey. When she entered the hospital for surgery, everyone was confident. But, the procedure revealed nodules of metastatic cancer throughout her abdomen. When she awoke, Leslie learned the extent of the cancer. Her surgeon, colon and rectal specialist Kristina Hobson, MD had performed a hysterectomy and removed three sections of her colon.

Leslie bounced back quickly from her surgery, leaving the hospital in just five days. Four weeks later, under the care of oncologist Elwyn Cabebe MD, she entered the next leg of her journey — chemotherapy.

“The first day of chemo was one of the most frightening days of my life,” relates Leslie. “But, I had the honest advice and support of a relative and a family friend who had both been through it, and this really helped. Plus, I couldn’t have managed without my husband, who has been with me every inch of the way.”

Leslie is quick to point out that her support system extended far beyond family and close friends. Soon after surgery, a friend mentioned her condition on Facebook, and the e-mails, cards and flowers began to pour in. Prayer groups from virtually every religious denomination sent messages focusing on her recovery.

“I felt this whirl of energy around me and an unbelievable upswelling of love and support,” she explains.

After more than four grueling months of chemotherapy, Leslie slowly began to feel better. Soon she was able to start walking for exercise and returned to work. Today she works full time, feels fine and is making plans for the future. Her most recent colonoscopy was completely clean.

“Leslie was a surprising patient in so many ways,” comments Dr. Hobson. “I never expected her condition to be as bad as it was, or that she would do as well as she did afterwards.”

“Being diagnosed with cancer was definitely an awakening for Leslie,” observes Dr. Cabebe. “But, together with her wonderful support system, she turned it into something positive and inspiring.”