WASHINGTON, D.C.—On April 23, I had a routine colonoscopy and found out that I had cancer. I knew then I’d have to write this column once I knew the outcome. I had 25 days of chemotherapy, simultaneous with radiation therapy, followed by surgery on August 11.
The pathology reports came back yesterday. They were as my surgeon said, “The best possible, given the circumstances.” They were clean margins and clean lymph nodes. The margins are the areas all around the site of the surgery. The lymph nodes are where cancer usually spreads first, from its original site.
In layman’s terms, I am cancer free. Going into my purpose for this column was, and still is, to save some lives. Three of the most common cancers in America today are colon and prostate cancer for men, and breast cancer for women. All three have a common characteristic, and they can be often and easily cured if they are detected early.
Let me repeat that, and pardon me for shouting, but these cancers can be easily cured if they are detected early!
What stands in the way of early detection? The tests for these cancers, especially colon and breast, are obnoxious. Everyone winces and shudders when the tests are mentioned. I know.
I felt the same way when a routine examination with no symptoms showing, saved me from colon cancer once before. That one was only pre-cancerous. But it would have developed to the point of killing me years ago, if I had let it go.
After one time at the rodeo, you get cautious. I got routine exams on a regular basis. The readers of my columns are, I know, older and better educated than most. Many of you are women or men “of a certain age.” Or, you may have risk factors for cancer in your personal or family history.
If there is any reason in your age or risk factors as to why you should have a routine exam for any of these cancers, set this column aside and make the call. A day or two worth of discomfort and embarrassment is a small price to pay for a couple of decades of not being dead.
I’ve written about my situation as if it was, or had become, a day at the beach. It isn’t and it hasn’t. Chemotherapy and radiation both tear up your systems. When my father died of cancer, 40 years ago, both of those treatments were crude, in their infancy, and nearly as harmful as the cancer itself. Today, the reverse is true. Both treatments have been refined, and are used together to shrink the cancer in advance of surgery. That’s exactly what happened in my case.
With the good news I got yesterday, I ought to be in a good mood. Well, there is this gastric tube down my nose that is continuously draining my stomach. That is to compensate for the fact that my colon has not fully awakened from its slumber. And, did I mention that I’ve given up all pain killers to aid in that process?
Try being stitched up down your front like a baseball. Then add that you must cough to clear your lungs, to avoid pneumonia. Then add that I have refused any pain shots. Since August 11, I have eaten nothing but ice, and two cups of apple juice. Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.
I am not, however, complaining. As Maurice Chevalier said of old age, “It is fine, considering the alternative.” The alternative is what I came to talk with you about today. There are people reading this right now, whose lives can be saved, if you get an exam right now.
Let me repeat that, your life might be saved if you get a cancer test today.
I expect and hope that about five people will have their lives saved by my relating my experiences in this column. And, yes, the title of this column was a deliberate pun. If this works for you, please let me know.
Note that I haven’t mentioned my doctors or nurses. There were nine doctors, and many more nurses. I am grateful for the excellence of their medical care.
Changing subjects abruptly, part of the goal of my surgery was to be ready on September 12, to march down Constitution Avenue with 38 of my fellow citizens, dressed as the signers of the Constitution. I get to be Ben Franklin. There should be about a million Americans there. I hope the American press might even notice and cover that event.