March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – in the event you didn’t already know that! Globally, colorectal cancer is
• the third leading cause of cancer in males,
• the fourth leading cause of cancer in females.
• is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S.,
• a disease that kills women than men, and
• there are approximately 1M CRC survivors in the US today
Approximately 150,000 people this year will get the same type of grim news that I got in August 2002: “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you will not need to wear a bag”. (My orange-sized tumor was located in the ascending colon.) Many folks will get the news that they will be facing the colostomy experience, and this news will not be easy to hear.
On August 26, 2002, I became one of those 150,000 people to be diagnosed with CRC. This was the day I had my second diagnostic colonoscopy and was given the news that evidence of “some disease” had been found, that my next steps to take were to have a CT scan (the next day), and to meet with my surgeon the following day. This was a second procedure because the first one had been “inconclusive” – the GI specialist had not been able to effectively see “around the bend” into my ascending colon and had, therefore, missed the tumor. He ruled out chances of there being tumor, based upon the fact that he had seen no polyps in my colon wall. And, despite the fact that I had more and more visits with my doctors in attempting to find out what my ailment was, subsequent tests seemed to rule out anything of a cancerous nature – until that fateful day in August.
Surgery took place right after Labor Day. My entire colon was “redesigned” with the removal of the tumor, my spleen, and 12 lymph nodes. My surgeon disclosed that my disease was staged at III, 8 of the 12 nodes were “positive”, the spleen had not been affected by the cancer but was gone, and that my “margins” were clean. He felt that I must have the gold standard of chemo and, if I did that, I just might “make it” – that I might become “one in a million”.
I got the message. After I recuperated from surgery, I was started on a regimen of 6 months of chemo – a cocktail that gave me no pleasure but provided me with more insurance that I might be able to beat Stage III disease. And I do believe that that chemo insurance paid off – grueling as it was.
Six and ½ years later I am “called” NED. I’m one of the lucky few who’ve made it through stage III disease and who have not experienced any progression of the disease. (Too many stage III’ers of CRC experience progression within the first couple of years of their initial diagnosis and treatment. Many – but not all – succumb to the disease within that 3 year window.)
NED: these three lovely letters make up a word that cancer folks love. Meaning “no evidence of disease”, those of us who use the term, use it sparingly – especially around other cancer folks. We know full well that so many folks are not able to describe themselves in this way, and that feelings are understandably very sensitive and mixed. Somehow the designation of NED puts us into a slightly different category; we no longer belong in the cancer world in the same “old way”.
We survivors often wonder what we can do to be of the greatest service to that world to which we used to belong (and could rejoin!). I’ve decided that most important thing I personally can do with the rest of the life that I’ve been given is to both provide support for current cancer patients and to raise awareness about prevention.
To that end, I do two specific things to help with the cancer matter:
1. I make myself available to anyone diagnosed with colorectal cancer to talk with, meet with, accompany to screenings, etc. Some very kind people did that for me when I was weak and sick, and I’m happy to be there in the very same way for the “new” crowd. Call me: 303.780.9111.
2. I’m getting more deeply involved in the topic of prevention of CRC, the area upon which I choose to focus. Too many people are not getting the message that CRC IS PREVENTABLE!! In other words, were those 150,000 people to be screened, colorectal cancer could be caught and so much of the misery and death possibly prevented. I’m declaring myself to be “a Passionate Prevention Promoter”, and I’ll soon have business cards upon which my own CRC signs and symptoms are printed. **
Read this at the American Cancer Society’s website (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/cri/content/cri_2_4_1x_what_are_the_key_statistics_for_colon_and_rectum_cancer.asp
The death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) from colorectal cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years. There are a number of likely reasons for this. One is that polyps are being found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers. Screening is also allowing more colorectal cancers to be found earlier when the disease is easier to cure. In addition, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last several years. As a result, there are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
You, too, dear folks, may just be one of these lucky “millionaires” if you take very seriously the message of PREVENTION THROUGH SCREENING. I hope you do!
** Watch For….
Unexplained weight loss
Blood in stool
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Unexplained Abdominal Pain