I recently learned that a friend of mine died after a long battle with cancer. The news came to me while I was in a blissful state of mind, following a recent visit to my oncologist. I was told that I’m cancer-free and was filled with gratitude. I’d been contacting my family and friends, sharing good news and thinking how different these calls were, compared to those I’d made when I was first diagnosed. Now I’m picturing my friend’s family, making the saddest calls of all.
Cancer takes lives in many ways. It may last for decades, with alternating periods of illness and remission. It can claim its victims after a few years, because the organ it’s invaded is more vulnerable or the type of cancer is more deadly. And cancer might also be fatal within a few months, because it was diagnosed too late and treatment is futile. I’ve heard too many of these stories, lately. “He was gone in three months!” “She felt fine, but her new job required a physical and they discovered she had cancer.” “He was only 35; they don’t do a colonoscopy until you’re 50!” The last remark was made by a nurse who was tending to me during my recent check-up.
It’s common knowledge that the earlier cancer is detected, the better the outcome will be. Having periodic diagnostic tests is very important, but I’d like to discuss another important component of cancer prevention. I’ll briefly tell you my story, even though the details are very “personal.” My heartfelt intention is to help anyone I can by sharing my experience with this life-changing illness.
While I was at work one day, I used the bathroom and was surprised to discover a small amount of blood in the toilet. Obviously, I was somewhat concerned, but I felt fine, so I returned to my desk. About an hour later, I became a bit dizzy and called a friend who drove me to the hospital ER. After an examination, the doctor told me I had an internal hemorrhoid that had developed a blood clot. I asked what the treatment was and the doctor said no treatment would be necessary. She suggested I “wait until it becomes too annoying” and at that point contact a surgeon, who would remove the hemorrhoid with a simple procedure.
It’s my opinion that if something’s in your body that isn’t supposed to be there, it should be removed. Waiting can necessitate a more involved or extensive procedure; I prefer to nip my medical issues in the bud. So, the next day I called a few surgeons for a second opinion. During one call I was asked “Were you bleeding?” When I answered “Yes,” I was told “We need to see you today.”
During my visit, I was examined and three biopsies were taken. Four days later the surgeon called me to explain that I had a rare form of rectal cancer. Luckily, further tests revealed I was in Stage One, but the tumor was growing rapidly, so my treatment needed to begin ASAP. The goal was to avoid surgery through the aggressive use of chemotherapy and radiation. I met with my team of doctors, learned as much as I needed to be an active participant in my cancer treatment, spiritually prepared myself for “battle,” and with loving support from my family and friends went through four months of treatment, eventually emerging as a grateful cancer survivor. My tumor was completely destroyed and I did not need surgery!
When I tell my friends this story, almost every one of them remarks, “I would have just gone home and waited for the situation to worsen,” as was suggested to me in the ER. One of my physicians remarked that oncologists rarely see a case of rectal cancer in Stage One, because people assume they have an internal hemorrhoid or simply ignore their symptoms. I recently read that instances of this type of cancer are increasing, because most people wait until they’re in real distress before seeing a physician.
The point I feel compelled to make is this: Pay attention to your body’s signals and take action. I realize that many people avoid second opinions or doctor visits because they fear hearing “bad news.” However, if you let fear guide you, the news you get at a later date could be worse than what you’ll hear today. It’s been said that we’re motivated by either fear or love. Please, love your body and listen as it guides you!