I had hoped that during this National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, I might feel that there needs to be less awareness and more action. But the other day, I caught an episode of The Dr. Oz Show, and a woman who was participating in the show told America's favorite cardiac surgeon that she didn't worry about colon cancer because it was a man's disease.
I honest to goodness started crying at her words. I'm not sure if it was disbelief or what, but my heart ached that this woman probably represents more Americans than I would like to think.
For the record, anyone who has a colon can get colon cancer; it isn't gender biased.
Another misconception about colon cancer is that it's an "old person" cancer. Regular screenings aren't recommended until a person hits 50 (unless in the case of family history, like I have), which may help propagate that notion.
But just like it doesn't discriminate on the basis of gender, cancer doesn't really care how old a person is. I've already talked about Dylan Reboer, the high school football player who passed away just hours before his team took to the field in the state championship game. Cases like Dylan's are certainly rare, but more and more I am reading stories about people in their 30s and 40s being diagnosed as well.
One of those diagnosed in his 30s is my second cousin, Greg. In 2002, he was diagnosed with hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), a cancer that is derived from a genetic mutation. His mom, Vicki, is my dad's first cousin. She battles non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This week, she sent me a package that not only contained some wonderful family pictures but also some important family health information:
- My paternal grandmother had both breast and ovarian cancer (I already knew this; the information I was sent verified it)
- Her sister, Vicki's mom - my great-aunt, died of a bone cancer that spread to her brain.
- Their mother, my great-grandmother, had stomach cancer that cut her life short at age 68.
- Her husband, my great-grandfather, had gallbladder cancer in his 80's.
Clearly, we're pretty sure from which part of the family our cancer history comes.
The most vital information that Vicki sent me, however, is the fact that Greg had the HNPCC (which is also known as Lynch Syndrome). This type of colon cancer is derived from a genetic mutation for which there is a test, and hopefully I can now have insurance cover that test for me. I actually tried to get it last year, but my insurance at the time denied the claim, stating that I needed to show that another relative already had the gene. Hard to do when the two people who might have qualified me - my father and my grandmother - had both passed away. While a second cousin once removed having a positive test result is something of a longshot, I am hoping that my new insurance company is more willing to cover the test so that I can be even more proactive about preventing cancer in the first place.
It's important to note that if a person does test positive for the genetic mutation behind HNPCC, he or she isn't guaranteed to get cancer. But there is an increased risk, especially for colon cancer (the risk is actually up to 80% greater than people without the risk by the time a person hits age 70).
I am so grateful to have received this information. It helps put more pieces of the family medical history puzzle into place, and I can go forward with more preventive actions because of my knowledge. Today, March 2, 2012, is National Dress in Blue Day. It is part of this month's campaign to raise awareness about colon cancer and how preventable and treatable it can be. It is my hope that everyone and anyone who reads this post will take some time to collect his or her own family medical history and to start looking into routine screening in order to prevent becoming another colon cancer statistic.
In the spirit of colon cancer awareness, which is signified by the blue ribbon, I wanted to embed this video. My dad was a huge fan of Patsy Cline, and the song "Blue" was originally written for her before her own untimely passing. When my dad heard LeAnn Rimes sing it, he was enthralled.