Colorectal Cancer: My Story
By Janet Wilson
Here in Israel I found that the doctors really bug you about doing an annual stool occult blood test. It’s not the most fun thing to do, so if you are like me, you probably put it off until your doctor bugs you again.
I was a bit surprised to get a doctor’s call to come in immediately after my latest stool test. The results prompted an immediate colonoscopy (my first in all my 70-plus years), which in turn showed that I had cancer in my colon. That was just over a year ago.
The doctors moved so fast scheduling me to meet with a surgeon, get a CT and a surgery date that I didn’t have a chance to absorb it all. And I’m not sure I still have.
My ascending colon was removed laparoscopically, and recovery went quite well. Afterwards my oncologist suggested that I do three months of chemo, even though out of the 17 lymph nodes that were removed, 16 were clear. Throughout all this time—even while recovering in the hospital—I continued my part-time work and volunteer work and carried on with life quite normally. I appreciated the support and soups from friends—as my diet was restricted for a time. I switched to non-plastic disposable plates to reduce housework, my husband was my rock and basic support person and I took advantage of the discounted treatments at the Yuri Shtern Holistic Center, which happens to be in my neighborhood.
Hadassah Mt. Scopus did a multi-pronged preparation for the chemo treatments. We met with a social worker who helped my husband with his concerns and reassured me that my feeling of not quite connecting with the reality of the events was just a coping mechanism.
How could I have cancer? I was a healthy whole foods eater–with probably a bit more sugar than I should have, though! I’d practiced yoga for decades, went to an acupuncturist, took natural remedies, had a positive outlook on life, a wonderful family and great friends, didn’t need to take any medications….
The big ah-ha came when we met with the genetic counselor and I had to come prepared with a list of all my family members who had cancer. I solicited the help of my siblings and was astonished to discover how many extended family members had cancer. My own parents and my youngest brother had died of cancer, as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins. Several are survivors.
You would think that I would have paid more attention to the screenings that would help find out if I too had cancer or pre-cancer. An earlier colonoscopy, for example, would have found the polyps before they became cancerous. A Google search yields “The American Cancer Society (ACS) has released an updated guideline for colorectal cancer screening. Among the major guideline changes, the new recommendations say screening should begin at age 45 for people at average risk.” I don’t know why one was never recommended for me, but I must take responsibility for that omission myself.
Several years ago, the Ministry of Health in Israel implemented the National Program for the Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer in conjunction with all local healthcare funds. “Every individual over the age of 50 is summoned to undergo a fecal occult blood test. Patients at high risk are entitled to a colonoscopy exam, according to their attending physician’s recommendation.”
I was gratified to hear that after my diagnosis, several family members went right out and had colonoscopies. I encourage you to learn from my omissions and take those stool tests seriously. I so far am now cancer-free, thanks to the quick and skillful work of my doctors, but the reality is that things could have gone the other way.