You must take charge of your own medical screening. And here’s why:
When I began to have symptoms of cramping at age 60, I told my primary doctor about my family history of colon cancer. He did not feel a colonoscopy was needed yet. I went for a year with the symptoms before he finally scheduled a colonoscopy with another doctor. The scope found the blockage and I had surgery the following week. During surgery, two lesions were removed from the liver as well. Post-surgery CT scans showed three more lesions in the liver and three tumors in the lower lobe of my left lung.
I was diagnosed as stage IV and told I had a life expectancy of six months to two years. My family physician told me it was his fault for not ordering the colonoscopy when I first sought treatment. In retrospect, the cancer had probably been present for a few years.
I chose aggressive treatment with chemo, surgery and radiation. Over the ensuing years I have had a year of chemo, removal of a lobe of each lung, removal of a quarter of the liver (since regenerated), an ileostomy and reversal. Last year I had two tumors removed from my left thigh attributed to the adenocarcinoma from the colon. They couldn't get it all so I had 25 doses of radiation at Duke.
My original diagnosis was in 1996 at age 60. I am now 76 and although I am still considered stage IV, I have no significant impairment other than shortness of breath, which is greatly relieved by Spiriva.
My longevity seems extreme to most oncologists, but not unheard of. The physician who did the colonoscopy told me to ignore the timeline regarding my life expectancy. "Those are statistics and you don't have to accept them," he told me. That's the best medical advice I've ever received.
The point of this long story is that from beginning to end you have to be in charge of your own treatment. Your immune system is, I believe, hard wired to your brain. If you let the mind tell you you’re not going to go on, the immune system will probably obey.
It certainly is not that simple, but attitude is very important in seeking treatment and in recovery. Self-pity and anger are so destructive. In the end, everyone wants the highest quality of life for the longest possible time. And that's true whether you’re totally healthy or told you have a serious illness.
Be aware that you are in charge of your own body and your own treatment. Listen to the medical experts, learn your options and then choose what you feel is right. That's not Pollyanna that's practical.
But first, do the right screening at the right age, especially if there is a family history of cancer. You can't be too cautious.
Tom Jones, 76