Patient Story

Lea’s story: Blessed by her support system and ‘amazing’ care team

Lea Conway found out she had cancer in April 2021. She had been experiencing lower back pain and bleeding during bowel movements. Having recently moved, she thought her symptoms were the result of lifting heavy items or hemorrhoids. When she visited her primary care physician, a test for colon cancer showed negative. Her doctor recommended a colonoscopy. 

This is what happened next, in Lea’s own words … 

After the procedure, [the doctor] let me know that he discovered a tumor, and it was most likely cancerous. I felt numb. Those were words I did not expect to hear. 

Next was a whirlwind of tests and scans. I was referred to oncologist Dr. Pradeep Jolly, Georgia Cancer Specialists. I felt very comfortable with him. He informed me that I had rectal cancer, stage 3. His course of action was for me to take an oral chemotherapy twice a day along with radiation. I would have a break of about six weeks and then surgery. After another break of about six weeks, I would have six months of chemo through a port.

I did not tell a lot of people about my cancer. I could tell when some people found out by the look they gave me. While it probably was unintentional, to me it was of pity and sorrow. I thought to myself, nope, I’m not going to have that, I’m going to be fine!

I have an amazing team of care providers! They all made me feel like they were in this with me.

Dr. Nancy Wiggers for radiation oncology. I went to high school with her and did not anticipate seeing her in this capacity. Dr. Wiggers and her team were wonderful. I saw them five days a week for five weeks. One my last day, I was able to ring “The Bell” and received a certificate of completion signed by the team! My co-workers had asked me what time my appointment was and sent me a video of them ringing a bell at that time!

Dr. Wayne Ambroze, Georgia Colon & Rectal Surgical Associates, was my surgeon. I met with Dr. Ambroze to discuss the surgery. He informed me that with the location of my tumor I would need an ostomy. I asked him if it would be reversible. He said no. I asked if he could go through a previous incision. No. I then asked if he would throw in a tummy tuck to sweeten the deal. No.

One of my concerns with having to have an ostomy bag was that people would be able to tell by looking at me. When a friend who knew I had gone through the procedure saw me and asked which side the bag was on, I realized that might not be the case.

Going in for chemo treatment every two weeks seemed like going and hanging out with friends.

Nurse Steve was the first one to hook me up and became one of my favorites. I always enjoyed when I had Nurse Randall in triage because we would talk about his grandson coming to visit him.

The chemo and radiation physically weakened me. I would take a lot of naps. The radiation affected my legs as I could not stand for long without having to sit down. I had a couple of chairs brought upstairs so I could sit while I was doing my hair and makeup.

After six months of chemo every other week, my last treatment was in May 2022. Again, I got to ring “The Bell”!

I began to get my strength and everything back. My appetite was minimal, and food just didn’t taste the same. A friend motivated me to start walking. He would walk 4 miles. My course in my complex was 0.7 miles. I may or may not be a teensy bit competitive, but I started to double my walk length and soon was doing 4 miles almost every day.

I attended Northside’s Cancer Survivor Celebration at the Zoo last year with a dear lifelong friend who is also a cancer survivor and an oncology nurse. She had planned to accompany me to my first appointment with Dr. (Pradeep) Jolly but due to COVID restrictions could not attend. She was on the phone with us. We are looking forward to attending this year’s celebration at the Braves game in April!

Another friend was going to Las Vegas and told me I should join them. I thought why not; a little getaway would be nice. The buffets in Vegas are over the top. I thought this would be a great opportunity to “jump start” my appetite. This trip was my first since my lifesaving yet life-altering surgery. I was concerned if I had enough medical supplies packed. I had to explain to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agent that strange object showing on the screen was an ostomy bag. They still had to feel around it.

I have been blessed with extraordinary friends. This has been my journey, but I did not and could not have done it without them. Whenever I came to a point of needing something or not knowing what to do, I had someone in my circle to help me.

  • Kaitlyn, my daughter who lives in Portland: We’ve got the jokes on ostomy bags!
  • Taylor, my younger daughter, moved in with me for a couple of months following my surgery to help me.
  • Steve, my favorite person, my in-case-of-emergency person: I live alone. I had extra keys to my house made for Steve to use just in case. I cried in the middle of Lowe’s watching those copies being made because to me they meant there might be a time I would not be able to take care of myself. Did I cry when I was told I had cancer? No.
  • Paige, an oncology nurse and cancer survivor, was going to accompany me to my first appointment with Dr. Jolly but due to COVID restrictions could not. She has been a source throughout this experience and we enjoy celebrating life!
  • Ann, registered dietitian, helped me when I had to switch to a low-residue diet and was wondering what the heck that even means.
  • Alan, reversed coloscopy, informed me about life with an ostomy.
  • Tamara Skin, oncology trained esthetician, gave me a skin mask especially formulated for radiation patients. The radiation caused damage to my skin that was similar to a third-degree burn.
  • Leslie, like a sister, checks on me, makes me laugh and thinks she gets to submit her own opinion piece on this!

I could go on and on listing all the wonderful people that have helped me.

I am currently cancer-free! I do have to have a scan every six months. Last September was my first after my treatment ended and it was clear. I remain hopeful they will continue to be clear but there’s always that what-if. I remember that in the midst of treatment there were times when I did not have the strength, energy or ability to get the pain under control to go out and do things. I used to think maybe I’ll go next year or see them the next time they are in town. I have plans! I want to go places, see things, do things! I attended my first live NASCAR race – the Daytona 500. I have a quick trip to New Orleans before my next scan in a few weeks. I have plans to go to Chicago, the Bahamas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the Dominican Republic this year! There are also plans for concerts, sports events, festivals, Rugged Maniac and other events. I am determined to live life and have fun! 


* The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50% five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.


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