"Annie's Story" was published in an edition of Colon Cancer Newsletter in memory of SFP Graduate Ann Guthenberg '01 who lost her battle to Colon Cancer three weeks shy of her 28th birthday. Annie is the daughter of SFP Math teacher Bob Guthenberg. Bob and his wife, Mary Ellen, are forever grateful to the Prep community for their support in both words and deeds. In addition to the prayers of the community, a fundraiser was held for Annie so that she could do a little traveling in the last few months prior to her passing.
peas in a pod – twins; that is how many people would often refer to my
sister and best friend, Annie and I. Although three years older than me,
we did everything together, especially enjoying the time we spent with
friends and family, shopping or even
the beach. We both had our own interests in sports; Annie was always
the more athletic one; she enjoyed basketball, softball and swimming. I,
on the other hand, enjoyed the casual run. In March of 2010, I
participated in the Colon Cancer Challenge – my first
15k Run, and I did so in Annie’s memory. Annie was diagnosed with colon
cancer at the age of twenty-four. And, she proved to be a valiant
opponent to Colon Cancer, but lost the long battle in late September
2010, three weeks shy of her 28th birthday.
Annie and I were in college at the same time, and often commuted to
class together. One semester, however, I remember Annie started to
juggle different doctors’ appointments. She asked me to accompany her
to some of them (including one for an endoscopy).
My sister, a student in her twenties, and someone who I even shared a
room with, went from a person in "healthy” condition and in great
physical shape to someone who suffered from various different conditions
like stomach pains and discomfort to frequent
urination. She went from appointment to appointment, strung along to
different doctors based on the referrals and recommendations. One of the
doctors advised her to keep a journal of what she ate daily: Annie was
diagnosed with Celiac disease (an immune-system
reaction to the wheat-protein Gluten) and was also advised that she was
suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
As soon as my family learned of Annie’s diagnosis of Celiac, our
kitchen at home went gluten-free. We mastered reading ingredient labels
(to avoid anything that would contain traces of wheat), and even
researched restaurants to dine at with gluten-free
menus in our neighborhood. Since Annie had lost some weight, my family
and I decided we would learn how bake a ton of gluten free breads and
sweets, and we cooked some of Annie’s favorites without gluten. In
addition, my sister-in-law and I developed a plan
to have breakfast with Annie before work and class in attempt to
encourage Annie to gain the weight back without having to worry about
finding something gluten-free at school. The first morning we had our
scheduled breakfast together, I made gluten-free pancakes-
Annie did not eat too much but she had a fair amount. When I returned
later that day, Annie said to me, "your pancakes made me sick.” At
first, I thought how that could be possible. Nothing contained wheat and
all the pots, pans and utensils were sterilized.
However, while I was skeptical, I figured, I must have mixed something
up or not have cleaned something properly. Even with the change in
diet, Annie’s ailments continued and were actually worsening.
The next day, our mother took Annie to urgent care because she was
still not feeling well and was dehydrated. After some time, the doctors
informed us that they were really not sure what was wrong and admitted
Annie to the hospital. Annie’s room was consistently
busy with doctor after doctor examining and questioning her. The
doctors simply did not know and collaborated with Annie’s
gastroenterologist to ultimately arrive with Annie’s Stage IV Colon
Cancer diagnosis. That was not the news Annie, or anyone else (including
the doctors) were expecting to hear. We were all perplexed, and
questioned how a twenty-four year old could have colon cancer.
While studies indicate colon cancer is most common in older men, it
is not just a disease that affects African-American men over fifty.
Colon cancer is a disease that sees no age, shape or color and this is
why my family, friends and I support the Colon
Cancer Challenge Foundation (CCCF)- "dedicated to a world without
colorectal cancer.” It is imperative to understand the symptoms, spread
public awareness, and provide doctors with funding for their research
towards reaching this goal.
learning Annie had colon cancer, she immediately had two massive
surgeries to remove the large tumor pressing on her bladder. She was in
recovery for what seemed like the entire summer and when she was strong
enough – she started a chemotherapy routine at Memorial Sloan Kettering
in NYC every two weeks for several years.
While Annie’s life (and my family’s life) changed very drastically,
Annie still maintained a positive attitude and made every attempt to
live each day to the fullest (even while being pushed around in a
wheelchair). Even when I knew Annie was not feeling
well, she still made an attempt to get dressed and groomed, and even
put on makeup, up to the weekend before she passed. While these are
little gestures that become routine, they are an important reminder that
shed a lot of light on how to live: always putting
our best face forward and doing it with gratitude. Annie and I spent
that last weekend together in Atlantic City with friends and family.
While we were there we went out to eat, played the slot machines and had
lots of laughs, and these are great memories
I will always have of my sister.
to the CCCF’s website, this year there will be over 150,000 new cases
of colon cancer diagnosed and 50,000 people will die from colon cancer
in the U.S. By sharing my story and supporting the CCCF, I hope to
spread awareness to ensure no family ever goes through
a similar situation. Help find a cure and fight back to cancer: with
early screening, colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable!
"Get busy livin” - Annie
-Kathleen Guthenberg 5/31/2013