Trisha Coburn

Photo: Olivia Barr

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Deep Trouble
Her doctor assured her she was in good health, but eerie dreams left Trisha Coburn with a sense of foreboding she couldn't shake.

I was 46 years old, I had three terrific kids, a happy marriage, and a painting studio where I spent hours every day. Not only was nothing wrong in my life, plenty was incredibly right. But then I had the dream.

I was standing at a barbed-wire fence across from five or six terribly frail people with huge dark eyes and ghostly pale skin. They were trying to tell me something in a language I didn't understand. It was intense and disturbing, and it left me rattled.

A week later I had the dream again, only this time there were a dozen people trying to get me to grasp what they were saying.

The following week the dream returned, but now there were 20 people, and they looked desperate. I woke up crying. I started feeling afraid to go to sleep.

Even though my husband thought I was overreacting, I called my doctor to schedule a physical. I didn't know what else to do. The receptionist pointed out that I'd just had a physical six months earlier; the most I could talk her into was some new blood work. At the appointment, I told the doctor I felt that something wasn't right. He smiled. "You eat well, you exercise, you're healthy. Quit worrying." Two days later, his nurse called to say my blood work was fine. I relaxed and figured I could put my fears behind me.

A week later, the dream was back. There must have been 100 people—wailing, screaming, pleading with me. I kept saying, "I don't know what you want from me! Please, please tell me what I'm supposed to do."

A few days later, the fifth and final dream: Back at the fence, only this time nobody is there. I fall to my knees, sobbing, "Come back. I need you to help me." And suddenly I hear one voice. And that voice says two words—in perfect English: "Look deeper."

I called my doctor the minute his office opened. "What's the deepest place in the human body?" He said, "I suppose it's the colon." And I said, "Then I want a colonoscopy." He explained that I had no family history of colon cancer, no symptoms, that insurance would never cover it. I persisted.

I told the gastroenterologist I wanted to be awake for the procedure. I watched the camera twisting and turning and following the curves through my colon, and then I heard the doctor draw a breath and say, "Oh my." There, on the screen, was a black mass. And the doctor promptly put me to sleep.

It was cancer—aggressive and fast moving. She later told me that if I'd waited even two months, my prognosis would have been...grim.

—As told to Lisa Kogan

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