Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Other "Big C"

When I was a kid, the "Big C" was the nickname given sometimes to an indiscriminate killer, cancer.  In those days, if you got cancer, more often than not, you would die after a lot of painful and awful futile attempts to treat it.  A cancer diagnosis, while still pretty awful and all-too-often lethal today, would have been a near death sentence in those days.  So calling it the "Big C" removed some its power, I guess, in the same way that the Harry Potter clan called Lord Voltemort "He Who Shall Not be Named."

There is another "Big C" out there, I suppose, judging how people are all too often reluctant to partake - the colonoscopy.  Most people seem more desirous to jam their face in a hornet nest than have a colonoscopy.  But think about it - the human alimentary canal, starting at the mouth and terminating 20 or 30 feet later at the anus, is a true marvel, but most of it is out of sight.  (Just as well, 'eh?)  A doctor can examine the first few inches of a person's digestive tract easily enough by looking in one's mouth, but the checking out the rest of it is quite invasive.  And although we may not want someone checking out places where the sun doesn't shine, we live in an age where things that were medically impossible not long ago are now possible.  And we should take advantage of that.  Are colonoscopies fun?  Not in my view of the world.  Can they save your live or spare you a whole lot of misery?  Definitely!

So the other day, I prepared for the second colonoscopy that I ever have had.  The previous one was just over eight years ago, and everything was good.  The doctor said to come back in "7 or 8 years," which I interpreted as "eight years."  I did everything right the day before the test, not eating after a very early breakfast consisting of a piece of toast, other than some lemon jello during the day.  I drank the very vile fluid - a pint of it - at 5PM, with extremely predictable and unpleasant results.  I woke up at 2:15AM (and stayed up, believe me) to drink the second pint of this nasty tasting stuff.  It works really well.  Anytime I decided I could leave the bathroom for a few minutes, I invariably was back in there within 60 seconds - if not sooner.  It is a moving experience!

The test itself is not bad, because they sedate you.  Yeah, you get to wear one of those sexy little "backless gowns" that everyone looks so good in and enjoys so much.  But they sedate you, and you are not really aware of what is going on, or if anyone is cracking jokes at your expense or not.  I doubt anyone on your medical team will see anything they haven't already seen.  I know that I felt some pain or discomfort during the procedure.  I must have been moaning, or maybe crying like a little boy, because they gave me a shot of benadryl which put me down for the count.  Even after I woke up later and they were telling me about the exam and results, it felt more like a dream.  That stuff makes one's brain so foggy!

So the bottom line, so to speak, was I have to come back in five years because I had a polyp.  It is almost certainly benign, but the laboratory will determine that one way or another.  But what if I had waited a few more years to go back?  Would the polyp have turned malignant by then?  Would it have still been benign but so large that I would have had to have a chunk of intestine cut out?  Or would it have just stayed small and benign?  There is no way to know, but I am glad that I had this procedure done now.  I know that having another one in five years is not going to be pleasant, but compared to colon cancer?  A piece of cake!

Colon cancer is almost 100% curable if it is caught early (or better yet, before it becomes cancerous).  But let it grow and metastasize, and it is anything but curable.  Stage 3 or 4 colon cancer is not the news anyone wants to get.  So if you are over 50 - or maybe even younger but with a family history, or having some kind of problems - get one: soon!

It is easy to ignore and forget about the inner workings of our bodies.  We shove that piece of chocolate cake in our mouth, and the only part of the digestive process we are really aware of is how good it tastes.  Then, it slips down our gullet and it is time to stuff in the next bite.  But - sight unseen - there is a lot going on without any thought from us to process that cake into energy (perhaps stored energy if you are not exercising enough) and waste products.  And sight unseen, there can be potentially very bad things going on that you want to nip in the bud before they become bad.  So, if you are due or overdue for a colonoscopy, get it done!

Although they may seem painful, inconvenient, embarrassing, and uncomfortable, colonoscopies are really not these things in life's general of scheme of things.  But no matter how you look at it, colon cancer is all of those things - plus potentially lethal.  Trust me, if you need this procedure, don't delay too long.  It just may save your life - and that is a life worth saving, isn't it?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes!

Today being St. Patrick's Day, I was thinking about the Shamrock Half Marathon at Virginia Beach.  A year ago, I was there, running my third half marathon: in that case, to celebrate ten years surviving cancer.  This year, I was nowhere near the place and frankly, running 1.3 miles would be a challenge.

A year ago, my left knee was in constant pain.  Today, after taking a year off from running, it still hurts but not as much.  So I guess in a way, that is progress.  But I miss running and wish I could figure it out.

I hope the folks running and walking today, and wearing the green, had a great time.  I surely did a year ago.  I was thinking about it this morning.  I know that Team in Training has a strong presence at this race - a hundred or so people running and walking for a cure.

What I am trying to decide is: should I go back to being a TNT walker and give up on the running?  Or should I try to run again and risk more injury?  Clearly something is different about my knee than a couple of years ago, because it hurts some most of the time, even when walking.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nothing Like a Girl's "Sweet Sixteen!"

Wow, three weeks since I posted!  So much for my goal of posting in this blog at least once a week.  I was doing pretty well, though, and will get back to it - promise!

Today, I am going to write about my Team in Training friend Nicki's "Sweet Sixteen."  No, she is not a 16 year old girl, but it is 16 years just over a week ago since she survived lymphoma.  She had a 5% chance of survival IF she got a bone marrow transplant, and a 0% chance of living without the transplant.  Someone - a total stranger in a state far away - gave her the miracle of life that February so long ago, and that stranger's and Nicki's lives will never be the same.  And they are strangers no more - Nicki has met the lady who breathed life into her, and they have become friends.  In a way, they are like mother - daughter, and they try to get together each year.

Nicki has made the most of her 16 years of extra life.  She graduated from college.  She's had a career.  She has been the loving "mother" to many pets and made a huge difference in their lives.  She's gotten married.  She has been a friend to many.  She's traveled a bit.  She's been an inspiration.  And she has become a marathoner and half-marathoner many times over, running events for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and a few on her own as well.  Here we are almost exactly a year ago before the start of the Shamrock Half Marathon.

Nicki is now training for yet another half marathon, The Nike Women's Half-Marathon, and raising more money to celebrate her "Sweet Sixteen" in style.  Want to make a donation in her honor?  Go here. How about 16 bucks?  Want to do something else to help?  Register with the national bone marrow donation registry.  It is simple and painless.  Maybe someday, this simple action will be part of saving another person's life.  How amazing would that be?  Blood cancer survivors like Nicki and me can never donate blood or marrow to anyone, but if you are healthy, you can.

Six years ago, Nicki's sister had special wrist bands made in the purple, green, and white of Team in Training to celebrate Nicki's 10 year survival mark, her "Decade of Strength."  Nicki gave me three of these and for the last year and some months, I've worn it every day.  Originally, I only wore for special occasions because I wanted the one I had to last, but once she gave me the others, I started wearing one every day.  I still have two left.  When my current one breaks, I'll save the last one for special events.  But last year being my 10th survival year, it was a real honor to wear Nicki's 10 year wristband every day.

In the past three years, I've had three friends and my sister perish from cancer, all well before what should have been their time.  So there is still plenty of work to do to find a true cure.  But amidst the sadness of losing loved ones, it is great to see examples like Nicki, surviving and living strong against odds that were so stacked against her 16 years ago.

So, happy "Sweet Sixteen," Nicki.  There is nothing like a girl's "Sweet Sixteen!"  And there's no one like you!  May you give us many more decades of strength, and of inspiration!