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One of my daughter’s favorite movies is 21. It’s about some MIT students who use their math skills to improve their chances at blackjack in Las Vegas. Just like the MIT students, callers to the Colon Cancer Alliance’s toll-free helpline (877 422 2030) often want to know how to improve their chances. Having just reached the 12th anniversary of my stage III diagnosis, I started wondering, “Is there anything people can do to tilt the odds of surviving cancer in their favor?” 

Crawford Clay

This blog was written by Certified Patient Support Navigator Crawford Clay.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Decide on your goals. Do you want to live as long as possible no matter the cost? Or, are you more interested in quality of life? Is there a certain event (birthday, wedding, etc.) you want to make it to? Use these occasions as goals to guide your decision making.
  2. Take time to make decisions. A week or two to research and decide what course to take should not make a difference in your cancer progression. Yet, it can make a huge difference in the quality of life. This can be the difference between a permanent and a temporary ostomy.
  3. Gather information. Knowledge is your friend, so don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out more. As a starting point, check out the Colon Cancer Alliance’s questions to ask your doctor guide that you can download for free. Also, keep all of your treatment records and take them to all of your appointments.
  4. Get a second opinion. That’s the best way to make sure you are getting the best treatment. If it bothers your doctor, that means you need a new doctor. The Colon Cancer Alliance recommends you talk with a National Cancer Institute-designated hospital to find doctors.
  5. Make a connection. My kids met each of my doctors. That personal connection made a real difference. I think the doctors knowing my kids made them appreciate the reality of it all. It also helped my family to trust my doctors more.
  6. Work at communicating. Doctors are notoriously bad communicators. It’s up to you and your caregiver to make sure you understand what’s going on. Sometimes clarifying with a nurse or a treatment technician is your best option.
  7. Create a care plan. How you follow up during your first few years out of treatment is important. Know when you are having your next colonoscopy. How often are you doing CT scans and bloodwork? Make a plan and follow it.

I’m not saying following these 7 steps guarantees a positive outcome—cancer is too complex for that. However, like understanding the math behind blackjack, understanding these steps can increase the odds in your favor.

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.


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