Amy Kaplan is a three-time cancer survivor. That's right - she has battled, and beat, breast, cervical and colon cancer. As a retired teacher and now entrepreneur, Amy has gotten involved with the Colon Cancer Alliance as a Buddy and serves on the Survivor Advisory Board for the Connecticut Challenge. She’s been making noise about these diseases, and healthcare at large, since being diagnosed, even having the opportunity to ask President Obama a question in 2010 (check it out!). Let’s hear from Amy herself.
How were you diagnosed with colon cancer?
When I was 46, my gynecologist sent me to the colon surgeon for an external problem she could not diagnose. The colon surgeon knew it was a fissure, a reaction to antibiotic use and said it should go away on its own. But while I was there, he said, "As long as you are here, let me take a peek inside." He examined me with a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy and found an 8 cm polyp above the rectum. I then had a colonoscopy and the doctor was unable to remove the entire polyp. When I went back to have the rest removed, it had turned cancerous underneath, which he said was very unusual.
How about your breast cancer diagnosis?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Honestly, I wasn't surprised. Every member of my mother's family had cancer, all the women breast cancer among others. However, none of them died young and we're talking about diagnoses in the 1960s and 70s. They did, however, all have much more radical treatment that I did, as I was screened regularly from a very young age.
What kept you going when things got tough?
As I do not have much family left, I have some very close friends who were and are always there for me. There were not too many support groups 17 years ago when I was first diagnosed with colon cancer. There were a few breast cancer groups locally, but they would not let me join as I did not have a “women’s” cancer.
I ultimately went to NYC to Memorial Sloan Kettering's Post Resource Treatment Center. I really did not need too much emotional support after the breast cancer, but have been very involved with The Connecticut Challenge. They offer emotional support, exercise, nutrition programs and anything else any cancer survivor could need.
What do you think about our new Screen This Too! campaign?
It is so much harder for people to talk about the colon. The Screen This Too! campaign brings it more to the forefront. Also, many people do not know that breast, gynecological and colon cancers are linked. I think people need to know that a colonoscopy is so much easier than a colon resection. Screening is so, so, so much easier than surgeries and treatments. And, it saves lives.
As a cancer veteran, what's your #1 piece of advice for someone who has been newly diagnosed?
Listen to your gut (literally and figuratively). If you quiet your mind, it will tell you the best course of action and treatment. Your life will change, it may never be the same (I wish someone had told me that), but it can be good, even great and rewarding in ways you can't even imagine. Some days will be difficult, some painful, but many will be joyful and inspiring. I can't remember what life was like before cancer, but I'm not sure that it is important. My life has changed in ways I never could have dreamed, but it is a good life, a useful life, a rewarding life and most likely a better life.