Finding light in the darkest days: Stephen’s cancer care journey

When Stephen Koehler was rushed to the hospital because of excruciating pains in his abdomen, he didn’t know he was about to face the toughest fight of his life.

Stephen had already been through a lot for someone who just turned 30 — things like getting kicked out of high school, checking into rehab and his youngest daughter being born with a rare congenital condition.

Still, he wasn’t prepared to deal with the most difficult challenge of all.

Not long after having a CT scan at Mackenzie Health, a doctor was holding his hand, telling him he had a cancerous tumour in his colon that had to be removed immediately. "I was in shock and scared," says Stephen. "At the same time, I knew I was lucky to be receiving care at Mackenzie Health, where they have the most compassionate doctors and staff."

His baseball-sized tumour was successfully removed from his colon using an innovative minimally-invasive technique known as laparoscopic surgery. Relieved and grateful, Stephen was ready to get back to his life.

But a month later, he was hit with more bad news.

The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and he was diagnosed with stage 3 advanced colon cancer. He would have to undergo chemotherapy. "I resisted for a long time," says Stephen. "But when I looked into my daughters’ eyes, I realized I had to at least try or I’d have to live with the fact that I didn’t do everything possible to stay alive for them."

Now in his eighth round of chemo, he admits that there are a lot of dark days. But, despite sometimes feeling like he just can’t take anymore, he finds the strength to keep going. His family and friends make it all worthwhile, but it’s the staff at Mackenzie Health, he says, who continue to make an impact.

"The entire oncology department is full of amazing people," says Stephen. "They’re like family. They’re always checking in, asking how I’m feeling, taking notes, making sure I’m okay. They’re genuinely concerned about my health and they continue to give me the care I need."

Stephen is happy to report that he’s been responding well to treatment and his last CT scans were clear.

He credits Mackenzie Health for guiding him through such a difficult time. "Mackenzie Health has helped me face my fears head-on and given me reasons to have hope," Stephen explains. He also learned how important donors are to the health care experience. Community donations fund 100 per cent of technology and equipment needs — equipment that was vital throughout his journey at Mackenzie Health. "You are the reason Mackenzie Health staff can do what they do," he says with gratitude.

Stephen is looking forward to returning to his normal, everyday life. Still, he knows that many people in our community rely on Mackenzie Health for care in some of the scariest, most vulnerable times in their lives. He hopes his story gives strength and courage to other patients and families in a similar situation.