The wind beneath her wings

July 6, 2018

Judy Caswell credits Dr. Robert Stevens for lifting her up during one of the most difficult experiences of her life: a Stage 3 rectal cancer diagnosis.

In 2013, Judy and her son were training to run a marathon. At the time, she chalked up her stomach pains and occasional discomfort to how hard she was pushing her body to perform. “The pain was manageable, and I figured I was working my body really hard, that I was getting older and this was part of the aging process,” Judy recalls. “I ran the marathon — beating my son by one minute! — so that made the effort all worthwhile!”

However, Judy’s symptoms began to worsen, even after she quit her punishing training regimen. At work, she had to carefully time her day and her food intake to coincide with her bathroom runs. She became further concerned when her son challenged her to a second marathon (a redemption run after she beat him the first time). She had a hard time keeping down food or fluids, often vomiting along the trails or running as fast as she could just to get home to the bathroom. She began searching the internet for answers, coming to the conclusion that she needed medical attention ASAP.

When Judy received her cancer diagnosis in May 2016, she was told she’d have to start taking it easy, reducing her running schedule. That didn’t sit well. When she met her colorectal surgeon two weeks later, she was bracing for a lecture. “I walked in with an attitude!” she chuckles. “I thought I’d be rushed — what doctor wants to meet with a newly diagnosed, obnoxious person on a Friday afternoon? I figured I’d get a lecture, that he’d tell me to slow down and to start taking a ton of pills … I promised my husband I would listen to what the doctor had to say, but under my breath I kept muttering, ‘No one is going to tell me what to do!’”

Thankfully, the exact opposite happened. Dr. Stevens spent time with her, clearly explaining her diagnosis, the implications of treatment, an overall plan and timeframe, and what she could do. He also made it clear he planned to be there every step of the way … and that Judy would play an active, important role in her care. “Dr. Stevens gave me confidence in him, but also in myself. I felt in control, and I left my appointment thinking that WE could handle this.”

Judy’s family embraced her can-do attitude, rallying around her as she underwent six weeks of daily chemotherapy and radiations, surgery, another six months of chemo, more surgery, and eventually surveillance protocol. Along the way, Dr. Stevens was there for continuous encouragement and education as she progressed through different stages of treatment.

“He responded to my 1,001 questions with such incredible kindness and compassion,” she says. “My family and I did remarkably well. I felt so good along the way that I was able to continue running and hiking.” Of her journey, she says, “Who would ever think that a cancer diagnosis could produce such a positive life experience and outcome? Yet Dr. Stevens paved the way for this to happen.

Today, Judy is in remission. She’s encouraged her boys to take preventive measures, including early cancer screenings under the care of her favorite doctor.

When Judy credits Dr. Steven’s for her remarkable recovery, she turns to Bette Midler’s power ballad to explain the depths of her feelings. “The lyrics from this song say it better than I ever could. He was ‘content to let me shine’ while he was ‘the one with all the strength.’ He never took credit for what he did, always saying it was my doing. He downplayed his impact and influence, but he really was the ‘wind beneath my wings.’ And I’m so thankful.”