Friday, August 1, 2014

The "C" Word

My father's mother had cancer. When the doctor discovered it there was really not much they could do to combat it. The doctor's best opinion was that she not be told. Then she could live her life with no worry.

Many, many years later other doctors decided to do surgery to see if they could cut out most of the cancer and let chemotherapy and radiation take care of the rest. When they made the incisions and took a look they just closed the incisions and said there was nothing they could do for her. Her body was full of cancer.

My grandmother died a slow agonizing death. I don't know that she was in pain as much as being alive in that condition is no way to be alive. Pain medications helped her deal with the pain.

My mother's father had leukemia which is cancer of the blood or bone marrow. He was such a big strong man all of his life. When he died he looked so frail. Again that was at a time there was little they could do to treat him. I loved him so much and it hurt to see his condition.

Many of my aunts and uncles on both sides of the family have died of various forms of cancer. My youngest aunt who is just a few years older than me is struggling against leukemia. A few months ago the doctors told her it seems as if she is improving.

Over time treatments have become more sophisticated and more successful. Millions of people can be tested for all types of cancers. These tests can discover cancer or cancer dangers before it is untreatable.

Even if cancer is the diagnosis there are many different types of treatments. There is surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. Even diet and nutrition treatments are recommended. There are alternative therapies which are many times experimental. Try to find a doctor you trust and then listen to what the doctor recommends.

I realized when I was about eight years old that I would have cancer when I was older. Strange what children come up with. Well almost 11 years ago I had a routine physical and colon cancer was discovered.

I had been fighting against the colonoscopy. Just the thought of what had to be done was repugnant to me. First you drink this nasty strong laxative the day before. Before you drink it you can have nothing to eat or drink except jello, broth and clear liquids. Of course the laxative does what it is supposed to do and you spend a lot of time in the bathroom while it cleans out the area to be examined.

The next morning with still no food you go to be tested. After they put an IV in place they wheel you off to the room where the colonoscopy is done. In most cases the doctor will be a specialist who sets aside days to do nothing but colonoscopies.

An anesthetist puts you into a light sleep. The doctor inserts a camera and looks around at the lining of the intestines and colon. If any irregularities are seen biopsies are taken and sent to the lab. The lab checks for malignancies.

My first colonoscopy was done by my own doctor. It was just part of the routine physical. When the test was finished he came to talk to me.

The doctor began by telling me that he had found a couple of polyps. Then he lowered his voice to a sympathetic tone and tried to find a way to speak to me. Finally he realized that I understood. He came right out and said, "You have a cancer, " and let out a deep breath.

I said, "Okay. What do we do next?"

He said that he had almost missed the cancer. It was in a hard to see spot and he was just going to leave it but something made him go back to take another look.

An appointment was set up with a specialist. I got to go through the whole colonoscopy thing again in a couple of days. Yippee!

The specialist told me the same thing... cancer. My children were there. My youngest son had so many questions. Cancer is a scary word.

My only question was, "What are we going to do about it?"

Surgery was recommended. When did I want to do it? I told him that it might as well be as soon as we could set it up, thinking that there would be a backlog in the hospital.

This all happened on Friday. I had to go through the cleansing routine on Sunday because I was having surgery on Monday!

I called my boss. He was shocked and concerned. My son and daughter-in-law told their children. They were teenagers. My grandson sounded hurt and said, "Grandma Emma?" My daughter told her children who were quite a bit younger.

My oldest granddaughter drew a special picture in colored charcoals for me (She is a talented artist). It is a unicorn in my favorite colors. It still hangs on the wall in my room. The younger two grandchildren each sent me a stuffed animal (an elephant and a bear) to keep me safe.

When I awoke from the surgery the doctor told me they had cut out the cancer. It had perforated the wall of the colon and lymph nodes were taken to see if they were also cancerous.

I felt good and had a fast recovery from the surgery. I was only in the hospital for a few days. I was to be home from work for 6 weeks.

A few days after I went home I went to see the surgeon for a check-up. Basically he just wanted to talk. The tests on my lymph nodes showed no evidence of cancer.

Now I had another decision to make. Chemotherapy or no chemotherapy? Many people had chemo in cases like this just to make sure all the cancer was gone. Many decided to take their chances.

I felt good. I was certain the doctor had removed all the cancer. I opted for no chemo. It was a good decision for me.

Now after 11 years I am still cancer free. I am fortunate. Each case is different and should be judged on its own. Doctor recommendations should be seriously considered.

The cancer would not have been discovered if not for that routine physical. I had no symptoms and I felt good. If I had not listened to my doctor I might not be here today.



  1. Sorry to read that cancer claiming your grandparents, Emma. It is truly a very nasty disease. But it was heartening to read of your own diagnosis and successful treatment. And your advice that folks see their medical specialists annually was well taken as we do so ourselves. I agree that a colonoscopy, before and after, is not ANY joy at all.

    1. Thank you for your comments. A special thank you for taking care of yourselves and getting those terrible but necessary physicals. I have lost so many family members to cancer. It is better to find it in the early stages and promptly deal with it. I still dread colonoscopies but the alternative is that I would never have to hate another one. And I would never experience the joys that have been in my life either.