Ed is a Warrior Battling to Raise Colorectal Cancer Awareness
Just looking at Ed Yakacki, you would never know he battled stage IV colorectal cancer. A big guy with big tattoos and a big heart to match, Ed, of Mantua, NJ, has taken a frightening diagnosis and turned it into an opportunity to help saves lives.
Ed started to have issues with constipation and diarrhea at age 29. By age 30, Ed was married, with a career and a house, and he was very athletic, but he was still dealing with those symptoms. “As they got worse, I decided to get checked so I could fix what was wrong and go about living my life like a normal 30 year old.”
In December 2008, after numerous tests, Ed was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. “From that day, my life changed forever,” he says.
Ed’s Hard-Fought Battle Against Colon Cancer
Ed endured chemotherapy, radiation and bowel resection surgery (where part of the colon is surgically removed). He had to leave his job at U.S. Foods because he was unable to do the heavy lifting and manual labor required for the job.
Soon after, he got the news that he had a cancerous mass on his liver and that the cancer also had spread to his blood and lymph nodes. Treatment required 6 more months of aggressive chemotherapy. He recalls: “I felt like the cancer was spreading all over my body and doing its best to try to kill me.”
Five months after liver surgery at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Ed was still not feeling well, with sweats, pain and sickness. Radiation treatment led to an abscess (infection) at the surgical site of his bowel resection. He had to have a colostomy, which is a procedure that reroutes the colon to allow the damaged part to heal. The colostomy connects to a bag (called an ostomy) that hangs outside the body to collect waste.
“It was hard enough to have the colostomy bag put on after everything I went through, but then I found out that the infection spread to my blood,” says Ed. “I was sent to an infectious disease doctor to heal it, and it was cured after three weeks—I finally felt healthier. But then, I was stuck with a colostomy bag, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to get it reversed.”
The Pain and Suffering from Cancer Can Infiltrate Your Life
Along with his health, Ed’s personal life was falling apart. “At the end of my battle with colorectal cancer, I was in a very dark and depressed place,” Ed remembers. “Cancer tried to kill me—but, I also let it ruin my life. My marriage was in shambles and some friendships, too. When I try to help someone newly diagnosed, I look at them, and I see myself. I see the pain and suffering and the fear. When I was sick, I wish I had someone I could relate to like that.”
How Ed Finds Light in the Darkness
Life has a way of turning around for the better, and it did for Ed. He met his fiancée, Amanda, and that changed everything. One of Amanda’s friends suggested they participate in a colorectal cancer walk in Philadelphia. They went, and the sense of empowerment Ed felt from talking to other participants was overwhelming.
Donning a blue t-shirt that reads I am brave, I am a fighter, I am a survivor, sunglasses and a blue bandana, Ed is now an advocate for cancer survivors. He travels all across the country to speak with survivor groups. He has appeared on television and radio shows and has his own website, Fightin 4 Blue. He also appeared among 12 survivors under age 50 in the 2016 Colondar, a calendar published for the past decade by The Colon Club, a nonprofit dedicated to raising colorectal cancer awareness.
“I'm always going to doctor appointments and dealing with different issues. And, wearing a colostomy bag has been life-altering," says Ed. "But despite those challenges, I try to raise awareness as much as possible. Every time I help someone get screened or checked, it puts meaning to everything I’ve been through.”
But none of this would have been possible without the medical care Ed received at Virtua. “I had extraordinary doctors and surgeons who I consider lifelong friends. I feel like they treated me like I was one of their family members,” Ed says. “Virtua’s hospital staff is first class and always went the extra mile to try to make hospital stays easier on me and my family.”
The Battle Continues
After being in remission for almost 7 years, Ed found out in June that he has thyroid cancer and he underwent surgery; he was then diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in August. He’s facing another 6-9 months of aggressive chemotherapy.
“Sometimes you get to choose your battles, and sometimes they choose you,” says Ed. “It looks like another battle has chosen me, and I'm ready to conquer it like I did before!”
Follow Ed’s Fightin’ 4 Blue Facebook page for updates on his health and treatment, and to learn more about the importance of colonoscopy screening.
Updated March 22, 2017