Cancer. That’s one word that the mere mention of it can bring shivers through the spine for most people. (And I will mention that word here several times.) Especially if you or a loved one is on the receiving end of that word.
As a medical doctor, I have tackled with that word as part of my work. I have diagnosed, treated, cared, and sadly to say, lost patients with cancer. With my subspecialty, dealing with deaths from cancer goes with the territory. Lung cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths in both men and women. Though the most common malignancy for men is prostate, and breast for women.
Even with my daily exposure to cancer, including my training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, nothing prepared me, when it was my mother who was diagnosed with it. It was always just part of my job before, but now we were on the receiving end.
I was home in the Philippines for the holidays, after celebrating 15 Christmases in a foreign land, away from home. It was then that my mother informed me that she was noticing blood in her stools for several weeks. It could be just hemorrhoids, I told her, but we needed to be sure. So I scheduled her to see a specialist. After a diagnostic procedure, my mother was diagnosed with rectal cancer. It was 2 days before Christmas.
Colorectal (colon + rectal) cancer is the third most common cancer, as well as the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in both men and women. What does Former President Corazon Aquino, Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz, and actress Audrey Hepburn have in common? They all died from colorectal cancer.
With the advent of recommended screening for colorectal cancer, the mortality from this cancer has declined. The screening includes, yearly fecal occult blood test (checking for traces of blood in stools), sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy every 10 years after age of 50 (or more often if high risk), and the dreaded (at least from my stand point) digital rectal exam. These screenings help diagnose colorectal tumors in their early stage.
For people who have close relatives diagnosed with colorectal cancer, they may need screening colonoscopy much earlier than age 50. I know my close friend who is a gastroentorologist, had already told me to have one, but I have not heeded his advice yet. But I would (doctors are the worst patients, you know).
Advanced age, strong family history, diet high in fat and low in fiber, smoking, heavy alcohol intake, and obesity are all related to increased risk for developing colorectal cancer. My mother has the first two risks, that is age and genetic predisposition. There is nothing you can do about that, as you cannot stop aging nor choose your family’s genes (maybe in the future we can).
After further work-up and more consultations with other specialists, my mother underwent surgery to remove her cancer. And that was twenty months ago.
Currently she is alive and healthy, and still enjoying life. In fact, she is currently visiting us here in the US for a couple of months. Though she has a constant reminder of her battle from cancer – a permanent colostomy. Yes, caring for a colostomy could be a nuisance, but for a survivor like my mother, she regards it as a battle scar. A scar that she dutifully embraced and is wearing it with pride. For she fought…..and won.
O cancer, where is thy sting?