Time to Talk About Colon Cancer

March 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Since it’s the afternoon of the last day of March, time is running out for me to tell you something important: March is (was?) Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. You knew that, right?

Funny thing is, I didn’t know it either. This is odd,  because awareness of colon cancer is a fundamental component of my identity. Not only have I had colon cancer, a mob of my closest relatives have had it too. My mother. My mother’s sister, after whom I am named. That aunt’s son, a first cousin who looked more like my brother than my brother does. My maternal grandmother, beloved “Dommie,” ostensibly died of pancreatic cancer, but myself, I’m convinced it was an unidentified metastasis of colon cancer that killed her; what’s the point of being a Turner/Dodds/Ronan if you don’t have, and in many cases die from, colon cancer?

The story is that these family members and I all have (had) something called Lynch II Syndrome, a genetic defect that causes colon, uterine, and other abdominal cancers.(My mother, aunt, and I had uterine as well as colon cancer). Even before they actually discovered that I had the Lynch II gene, the doctors assured me I had some genetic defect; how could that many people in one family have colon cancer by accident? And let me assure you, a major component of my awareness is tracking how far away I am from my annual colonoscopy. The day after I have it and learn that the big C hasn’t returned is the happiest day of my year.

So here’s the question: how come I, and probably you, didn’t know that March was Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month? I can’t say for sure, but here’s my hunch: nobody wants to think about colon cancer because the colon is perceived as a dirty, shameful part of the body. “The lowly colon,” as my genetics counselor, Peggy Conrad, characterizes it.

Now you might respond by saying nobody wants to think about cancer, period. But what about breast cancer? Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for curing breast cancer. Some of my best friends have had breast cancer, and several of them died from it. But just think about how much more coverage breast cancer gets than colon cancer. Compared with the Komen Race for the Cure, the Undy 5000 races to spread awareness of colon cancer and raise money for local screening are practically secret events. There’s one in Central Park tomorrow but have you heard a word about it? I didn’t. And did you know that some people dress in blue to spread colon cancer awareness the way others wear pink ribbons for breast cancer?

The problem is, resistance to thinking about colon cancer–and fear of the primary procedure for detecting it, the colonoscopy–has serious, indeed, deadly consequences.  Colon cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death in the US, second only to lung cancer; estimates are that  51,690 will die from colon cancer here in 2012. And colon cancer is definitely not a post-racial disease: in part because of lower screening rates, African-American men and women have a 20% higher risk of developing colon cancer and a 45% higher mortality rate than Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. Regular screening for everyone over 50 and even earlier if there’s any family history of colon cancer is the best way to avoid dying from this terrible disease. (You’ll just be dealing with a little poop, nothing to be ashamed of!). This year, why not declare  April colorectal cancer awareness month and make an appointment with your doctor right now?

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  1. Marian, What a great service you have done in posting this, I have never read such an issue as this. You are right, no one talks about it, tells you they had it, etc., etc! You are so good to pass this on to us, I am going to send it to my family and friends. It is put in a really good light, everyone needs to be aware of it. I have had one also (colonoscopy)…and wasn’t sure I should do it again.
    Thanks for making us more aware of this problem. Alexa


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