Thursday, February 4, 2010

How Cancer Has Touched My Life

When I was nine, my mother became ill.  It seemed sudden to me that she was in the hospital - a few times in a manner of months.  I knew during one of those visits that she had surgery.  I didn't know why.  I think my parents were trying to protect me.  It wasn't until her cancer returned, three years later, that I would learn she had colon cancer.  From that point on, she endured a lot - she was in and out of the hospital for several surgeries, a colostomy, removal of the colostomy, return of the colostomy, radiation...  Eventually the cancer spread to her lungs and other parts of her body.  She gave chemo a try at the end; a sort of last attempt at warding off the inevitable.  Finally, Hospice was called and she died in our home when I was sixteen years old and she was just 53.  I will never forget that night.  It was the night I realized she wouldn't be here to see me get married or to become a mother myself. 

I will also never forget how strong she remained throughout her lengthy battle.  The doctors didn't think she would live as long as she did.  She was a true fighter.  Any pain she may have been showing was hidden by a smile the minute I entered the room.  She didn't want me to see her suffer.  I was a teenager throught most of this - I'm sure I made things difficult on more than one ocassion (isn't that what teenagers do?) but through it all she stayed strong for me. No matter what.

I began getting colonoscopies when I turned 30.

On May 31, my 24th birthday, I came home from a river vacation to Laughlin with my friends to find my father home from work ill.  He looked worse than I'd ever seen him.  The next day his doctor sent him for chest xrays and I thought he was going to fall over on the way to the car.  I don't think I've ever been so scared. 

The chest xray showed fluid.  A surgical attempt to remove the fluid a few days later would show that it was actually a type of tumor.  He had mesothelioma. He tried chemo and several experimental drugs.  His battle would not go on as long as my mother's.  I know it pained him deeply that he would be leaving me an orphan.  I know he tried hard to fight.  Just three short months later he died at Hospice; two weeks shy of his 62nd birthday.  I had to convince him that it was ok to go and I would be alright.  He, too, always tried to put on a smile when I came in the room.

After he died I was angry.  Very angry.  You see, one of our constant battles was that he never went to the doctor.  He didn't have health insurance and didn't think he could spend the money.

There are, sadly, so many more friends and family members affected by this horibble disease:

  • My dear friend died of prostate cancer when he was just 22.
  • My mother's best friend, my sort of surrogate mother, died of colon cancer 3 years ago.
  • Another dear friend fought a battle with cervical cancer 2 years ago and is a survivor!
  • I had pre-cancerous cells removed from my cervix in 2003.
  • My best friend's grandfather has had numerous skin cancer surgeries.
  • Yet another dear friend is currently battling colon cancer.
  • A friend's dad is in remission from prostate cancer.
  • Another friend's dad has been battling pancreatic cancer for six months.
  • Numerous women in my mom's group have/had family members affected by cancer.
My extended family has been affected by colon cancer, Leukemia, breast cancer...  Too much.

So today, World Cancer Day 2010, I strongly encourage you to do your best to stay healthy.  Maintain regular doctor visits, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking, wear sunscreen, stop tanning.  Pay attention to your body!  Encourage your friends and family to lead a healthy life and give up those bad habits.

Maybe some day they will find a cure.  I pray they do.

The following information is courtesy of the UICC World Cancer Campaign:
  • Each year, 12 million people receive a cancer diagnosis and 7.6 million people die of cancer. If no action is taken, the worldwide cancer burden is projected to reach 26 million[1] new diagnoses in the year 2030 and 17 million[2] deaths, with the most rapid increases occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
  • The good news is that experts estimate that approximately 40% of cancers are potentially preventable. You can significantly reduce the risk of you or your family developing cancers related to tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, excessive sun exposure and obesity by avoiding these risk factors and encouraging healthy behaviour such as regular exercise and eating healthily.
  • In addition, some cancers such as cervical, liver and stomach cancers are known to be caused by chronic infections. Prevention of these infections is possible through interventions such as vaccination, antibiotics, improved sanitation and learning simple avoidance strategies.
  • World Cancer Day, under the campaign slogan “Cancer can be prevented too”, is led by the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), the leading international NGO which unites over 300 member organisations in more than 100 countries in the global fight against cancer through the implementation of the World Cancer Declaration.
Support World Cancer Day 2010 - February 4th. Visit http://www.uicc.org/

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