Last week my Grandma Lee was diagnosed with colon cancer.
As is often the case, the symptoms that became the most acute and were the blatantly obvious did not point right away to the ultimate diagnosis. Initially, it looked like congestive heart failure, especially since she has respiratory problems that are, for the most part, untreated (they can either cause congestive heart failure over time or be a result thereof). When some of the blood tests came back from her initial visit, it was determined that her hematocrit was obscenely low (about half of what is normal – worse than Sarah’s before they diagnosed her Hodgkin’s – and you don’t want to tell your Grandma that she looks positively corpse-like). She was given an infusion, but that didn’t bring her hematocrit up enough. It was then thought that perhaps she had bleeding ulcers. She was given upper and lower g.i. tests including a long-overdue colonoscopy (she’d had polyps the last time she’d had one – fifteen years ago).
Her stomach was fine. Unfortunately, the doctor could immediately tell that she had a cancerous mass in her colon. He did think that the area (about four inches of her colon, I think) could be excised and her intestines reconnected. However, now the tumor (I’m crossing my fingers for just one) needs to be tested and staged, and she is having a number of other diagnostics to pinpoint and hopefully rule out spread of the disease. Today she also started on a series of iron infusions that the oncologist hopes will bring up her hematocrit.
Now you may ask why I said, “Secretly.” Well, the truth of the matter is that she would be completely horrified if she knew I was doing this. And it’s not just because of her personality and propensity for anxiety (in MY FAMILY – how could that BE?). She is “of a generation” where you don’t say “cancer” except, perhaps, in a whisper. Her sister, for instance, whose husband, my Uncle Ron, died this summer, did not want to talk about the “cancer” aspect of his illness. To someone like me (and my cousins) this doesn’t make sense. His illness WAS cancer. And I believe in speaking about it.
I believe this so strongly, in fact, that I volunteered a number of months ago to be the “leader” of the LIVESTRONG™ Local Army in Utah. I haven’t done anything to advertise, “get going” with a word-of-mouth campaign or organized any events – these are my responsibilities. Well, there’s nothing like a wake-up call like this.
And now I will present two wholly antithetical requests for today:
My Father, for instance, could have colon cancer in addition to his (prostate) bone cancer. They excised two (or was it three?) pre-cancerous polyps during his colonoscopy a few years back. I even saw the pictures.
So indeed, that’s the important message here (and I do not care if it’s redundant – and I assure you that you’ll hear it AGAIN even if I have to resort to graffiti): Do the preventive testing that is prescribed at the appropriate age. Well – start with getting check-ups IN GENERAL. And do consider your family history. Some cancers have a larger genetically inheritable component than others. For instance, my brothers should have PSA tests YOUNG, and my Dad’s brothers should NOT ever miss them, because my Father has his initial Stage II prostate cancer in his mid-forties. Moreover, my Father’s Father had prostate cancer (though it was not the cause of his death).
Now, since my Grandmother has colon cancer and my Father had pre-cancerous polyps, some schools of thought would say that my siblings and I should start having colonscopies at age forty instead of fifty. As it is, since my Grandmother had a polyp at her last colonoscopy, they told my Mother that she needs her next colonoscopy in five years instead of ten (the same goes for my Father, because of his polyps).
So that’s it for now. I shall be enlisting your help (almost literally “enlisting,” come of think of it). And you shan’t turn me down, because I AM YOUR LEADER! Okay, I’m your leader if you’re in Utah, but if you think I won’t sic the leaders from States on you (and most of them have regional leaders in their States, so it will be easier to get you), you are sadly mistaken.
I love you, Grandma! And we are all there for you (even though we might not mention why or how).