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Promoting Colon Cancer Screening in the African American Community, With Kim Hall Jackson

Kim Hall Jackson headshotKim Hall Jackson is a seven year survivor of rectal cancer. She was first diagnosed in December 2008, as Stage I. She had a bowel resection and temporary ileostomy. Two weeks after surgery she went to get her staples removed and was informed her cancer had been re-staged to Stage III rectal cancer. She began looking for an oncology and radiation team. She then started treatment after her ileostomy reversal.

From her Colon Club interview:

WHAT HAS SURVIVING RECTAL CANCER TAUGHT YOU…

About life? Everything is not as important as it used to be. The important things are even more important.

About family? My family is strong, supportive and brave.

About your body? Listen to your body. It’s your body; you should know it. You only get one so you should know everything about it. Don’t be nonchalant – don’t assume it will pass. Be an advocate for your healthcare and treatment.

Do you do anything now that you didn’t before, thanks to cancer? I tell people to get screened and to not think it can’t happen to you because you’re an African American, under age 50 or even because you work out or took dance. Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t think cancer ran in my circle. While there may not be a direct family history (there may be some cancer here and there) it had to start somewhere. Don’t assume it’s not going to start with you.

What’s your message to the African American community? Our risk is higher and we are normally diagnosed at a later stage. We have a higher death occurrence rate because we’re normally diagnosed.

Has cancer changed your life for the better in any ways? I don’t save my favorite things like shoes, outfits, and china – I may have been saving once but I use it now. I tell people that I love them more. Since being diagnosed, I’ve joined cancer support groups, done colon cancer walks and jumped on any opportunity to do an event and talk to people. I’ve also become part of the Buddy System to help others through it.

What do you hope your message and survival story will do for others? I hope they look at me and think, “Is that a black girl? Wow that can happen! She looks like an everyday person; it can happen to me. I’m going to get screened.”

Listen to Kim talk about the “Black and Blues Brunch,” the event she created to help raise awareness about the importance of colon cancer screenings in the African American community: Click Here

 

 

Never Too Young for Colorectal Cancer, With Marty Andrews

Marty Andrew

Never Too Young for Colorectal Cancer, With Marty Andrews

Marty Andrews was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer at the age of 33. As he tells his story:

I was living what I thought to be the normal life of a 33 year-old man. I was married for almost three years and my career had reached a new high. The future looked bright and much time was spent talking about buying a home and starting a family.

This all changed on May 12, 2009. I had been going to the doctor for several months because of some unusual bowel symptoms. Like most men, I didn’t go the doctor often, but these symptoms were really starting to negatively impact my life. I remember the first trip to his office. I was embarrassed and, given my symptoms, terrified at the thought of what kind of tests he was going to do. I was relieved when he simply recommended that I start taking a fiber supplement.

Unfortunately, my symptoms persisted. My life was beginning to revolve around where the bathroom was. As soon as I entered a store or restaurant, it was the first thing I looked for. I traveled a lot for work, so I began sitting in the back of the plane so I could be near the restroom.

Eventually, I became my own best advocate with the doctors. I knew something was wrong and I was sick and tired of the life I was living. My own research indicated that it could be colorectal cancer, but I quickly dismissed that because of my age and lack of cancer in my family history. I discussed other possibilities with the doctor, and my persistence finally paid off when he referred me to a specialist. After my initial visit, the doctor believed I had Crohn’s disease or colitis but would need to conduct a colonoscopy to confirm. I was so excited to be getting somewhere that I actually greeted a colonoscopy with open arms. (Remember, just a few months earlier, I had been terrified to even go to the doctor and nearly skipped out of his office after simply being prescribed fiber supplements.)

My colonoscopy was set for May 12, 2009. The rest of my family lives in Seattle, and all of them had been supporting me from a distance. I remember getting a lot of texts that morning wishing me “good luck.” I was awake during the procedure, but was heavily sedated. I remember watching the colonoscopy on the digital screen in front of me. At one point, the doctors discovered the abnormality that was causing my symptoms. I assumed it was Crohn’s or colitis, and was relieved to finally have an answer.

The doctor came in shortly after the procedure and told us (my wife was with me) that she had bad news. It was cancer. I remember thinking, this must be sort of mistake. She must have the wrong room. I can recall feeling very hot and my ears ringing. I thought to myself, I am going to die…and what am I going to do between now and death?? The doctor was still talking but I wasn’t listening. I thought, all cancers are not the same and maybe I was overreacting. But after looking at my wife’s face and seeing the red welts that had appeared on her neck, I quickly realized that was not the case. I snapped out of my haze and asked the doctor what was next. All she could tell me was that I needed to have surgery. The crazy thing about being diagnosed with cancer is 10 minutes later you’re out on the streets and back in the world.

After I got home, I called my family and told everyone the news. I felt terrible about unloading it on everyone. None of it seemed real at the time, and everyone had a lot of questions…and I didn’t have any answers.

I woke up the next morning and thought, did that really happen yesterday? Do I really have cancer? Once I realized it wasn’t just a bad dream, I broke into tears. Reality was setting in…and I was scared. I didn’t want to die.

The next step was to schedule appointments with other doctors. I’m not sure if there’s anything more frustrating than being told that you have cancer, and then calling for follow-up consults and being told that the next available appointment is in four-five weeks. I had another meltdown. I thought to myself, Hello!! I am dying here and the quickest you can get me in is a month! Will I even be alive then? Again, being persistent is my best advice to getting things to move quickly. You have to be your own best advocate.

Through a series of visits, it was determined that I had stage III colorectal cancer. If the thought of dying was not bad enough, I started thinking about whether my career (which I had worked very hard at building) may now be over. And the thought of paying medical bills for the rest of my life was overwhelming.

Over the period of the next 16 months, I had a grueling fight for my life. I underwent six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, followed by surgery to remove a section of my colon. Complications during surgery required me to temporarily use an ostomy bag, which just prolonged the process. After surgery, I had another six months of chemotherapy. I believe cancer is just as much of a mental battle as it is physical. For me, the mental battle may have been even worse. My post-surgery chemotherapy regimen was every other week for a total of 12 treatments. It slowly breaks you down, and there is nothing worse than starting to feel better, and then having to go back in and do it all over again. After I finished chemo, I had a final surgery to remove the ostomy bag.

I was excited to get back to a normal life, but quickly realized the life I had before cancer was gone. Even though I had a clean bill of health, I realized that I still needed frequent check-ups and close monitoring. This was an adjustment, and it took time to not let the fear of recurrence run my life. I learned to accept that this is now a part of me and who I am.

Shortly after returning to “normal life,” it became apparent that I although I had beat cancer, cancer beat my marriage. The divorce brought on a completely new set of challenges.

Today I find myself believing that everything happens for a reason. I’m happy to be alive and know that there is no guarantee for tomorrow. I plan for the future but live for today. All of my initial fears were overcome. My career is thriving (I was promoted a year after returning to work).

No one wants cancer but it changes your perspective on everything. You learn what matters most in life, who loves you and who you can live without.

I now have an outlet and a passion to help those affected by this disease. I actively participate in a buddy program with the Colon Cancer Alliance. The program allows me to share my story with newly-diagnosed patients and offer them hope. This is one of the most rewarding things I do. For me, it really makes the long journey and fight worthwhile when I can help and inspire others. I feel very strongly about educating the young that this is not an “old person disease” that only affects those with a history. The posters on the walls in the doctor’s office are wrong and I am proof of that.

Once you have cancer, you join a group of brothers and sisters for a lifetime. You meet fellow survivors and have an instant connection. If you ever hear those words, “you have cancer,” you will never feel more alone. But know that you are not alone. You will be tested but you have to fight the fight. Give it all you have and you too will see the sun shine a little brighter and the grass a little greener in a new life. A life after cancer…

Fighting Colorectal Cancer as a Patient and Researcher, With Dr. Tom Marsilje

2014-07_First Team TriathlonHow does someone go from the best day of their life to the worst in under 12 hours? Dr. Tom Marsilje knows. In June, 2012 he was recognized for his work, co-discovering a drug for lung cancer. Hours later a colonoscopy revealed he had colon cancer.

During our conversation, Tom discusses his journey. He talks about how his diagnosis motivated him to become a long distance runner, renew his faith and begin writing a blog; Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic.

Cancer patients need to be their own advocates. There’s no
reason to suffer if there are resources to help. Most cancer
centers now offer palliative care, nutrition counseling, clinical
trials and psycho-social support for cancer patients – ask if a
doctor doesn’t bring it up.

Important Links:

Tom’s Blog: Adventures In Living Terminally Optimistic

Tom’s article – Colorectal Cancer Immunotherapies: Vol. 1

The Best of The Colon Cancer Podcast 2015, Part 2

Podcast Holiday 2015 Part 2This is part 2 of the 2 part series; The Best of The Colon Cancer Podcast 2015.

In this episode, Colon Cancer survivors Tony Pace, Claudia Kittock, Chere’ Garcia, Sue Kidera, Mark Aresnault, Amy Marash, Sherri Graves-Smith and Dawn Eicher share their words of hope and inspiration.

The Best of The Colon Cancer Podcast 2015, Part 1

Daniel Shockley, Michael Holtz, Dr. Travis Bray, Grace De La Rosa. Ed Yakacki III, Kimberly Bishop, Anita Mitchell, Todd Spurrier, Betsy Henson, Candace Henley, Dr. Robin McGee

The Best of The Colon Cancer Podcast 2015, Part 1

In part one of this two-part podcast, we revisit the words of advice and inspiration from 11 colon cancer, and hereditary colon cancer syndrome, survivors.

Staying Positive While Facing Stage 4 Rectal Cancer, With Chere Garcia

Chere Garcia

Staying Positive While Facing Stage 4 Rectal Cancer, With Chere Garcia

Chere and her family have had one hell of a year. In May 2014 Horacio’s mother, Aurora, was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was heartbreaking news to the family. Chere took initiative to care for aurora by being present day to day, cooking for her, helping with her medications and doctors appointments and so much more. Soon the family would learn that Aurora’s cancer had spread. Knowing that they didn’t have much more time with Aurora, Chere and Horacio decided to get married so that she could be in attendance. They had a beautiful wedding in August 2014. Aurora’s health continued to decline and she passed away in October 2014. Chere cared for her until she took her last breath. In November 2014 Horacio was laid off of his job. Chere has been the sole provider ever since. As you can imagine this is very unfortunate, but they just kept pushing forward and doing the best they could. It was around this time that Chere started experiencing changes in her health. She had decreased energy levels, no appetite, and changes to her gastrointestinal system. These symptoms progressively began to worsen. Everyone around her assumed that these symptoms were stress related. Still mourning the loss of her mother in law, the pressure of providing for a family, and other day to day stressors would do that to anyone. She is always taking care of those around her, and in turn she was neglecting herself. On April 23rd 2015, our lives were changed forever. Chere went in for a colonoscopy and endoscopy. The endoscopy was normal, but the colonoscopy was not. I think everyone has known someone who has had cancer. What we never want to think about is the day that one of our loved ones is diagnosed with it. Chere had a mass in her rectum. The mass was too large to advance the scope further to evaluate the rest of the colon. She was then sent for a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis that day to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else, and scheduled an appointment with a colo-rectal surgeon the following day. The next 24 hours until her follow up appointment and waiting for the results of the CT scan were the longest hours of our lives. But finally the time arrived. The surgeon discussed that the biopsy results showed that she has rectal adenocarcinoma, the most common form of rectal cancer. The CT scan showed the rectal mass and questionable spots on the liver. He explained that these could be just cysts or metastasis of the rectal cancer. She will need to complete a PET scan for further evaluation, and will be meeting with an oncologist on Monday. The oncologist will be able to provide more answers, support, and confirm the plan of care. Since Chere is only 34 the health care providers have been very reassuring that she can be treated aggressively to fight this horrible disease. Please keep Chere and our family in your thoughts and prayers. She is so very strong for her loved ones, and now she needs to know she has an army supporting her in her fight against rectal cancer.

Follow Chere on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cheres-fight-479066702246398/?fref=ts

 

Colon Cancer Alliance September Hero of the Month, Marisa Perez

Maricel Perez

Colon Cancer Alliance Hero of the Month, Maricel Perez

Depending on who you are, you may call her Marisa, “mom” or “The Colon Chick!” Marisa Perez has a passion for colon cancer prevention and an enthusiasm that can get anyone excited about screening. The mother of two has been running a colon cancer screening program for the last nine years and shows no signs of slowing down. This month, she organized a successful Screen This Too! luncheon where she stressed the importance of protecting all of your assets this October—including your colon. This dedication to prevention is just one of the many reasons we’re honored to spotlight Marisa as our Hero of the Month.

Tell us a little about yourself!

I’m a single wrestling mom of two awesome boys (ages 20 and 15) and during the week I manage patients with chronic illnesses. I’ve been a part of this Chronic Disease Team for more than a year and have been extremely successful in keeping patients out of the hospital. For leisure time, I love to watch MMA, hike, go to the gym and spend my weekends watching my sons’ wrestling tournaments.

When did you become so passionate about colon cancer prevention?

I started working with Neal Shindel, M.D. in 2006. His passion for preventing colon cancer was contagious and after learning how preventable this disease is, I quickly became an advocate. We’ve held successful community outreach events, done a commercial for colon cancer prevention and worked with the mayor to declare our city a “Colon Cancer Free Zone” in 2009—and that’s just the start!

A few years after working with Dr. Shindel, my little cousin died from colon cancer at just 26 years old. This turned my colon cancer fever into overdrive and I’ve been spreading the word ever since.

How did you get the nickname “The Colon Chick”?

That’s a funny story! I was invited to one of our OB/GYN’s 50th surprise party. For a gift, I naturally wrapped up a box of MoviPrep. He opened it and said, “What else would my colon chick give me?” It was until then that I realized how many physicians referred to me as their “Colon Chick.”  I proudly wear that title as a badge of honor!

You recently held an awesome Screen This Too! event. How was it? Oct. HOTM Pic

This lecture was a very proud moment for me. Not only have I had a cousin pass from colon cancer, but I also have a cousin that had to have a double mastectomy a few years ago. Being able to talk about breast cancer and colon cancer awareness in one lecture was something I would do again and again. The lecture was initially meant for my immediate department, which is only about 15 people, but it quickly grew. More than 50 people attended!

After the lecture, I received emails from my coworkers thanking me for putting the program together. They also stopped me in the hallway to tell me how much they learned. Additionally, the education department asked me to do another lecture for a monthly RN meeting, which will be held this month.

What do you want people to know about colon cancer?

What I stress most when speaking to people is that colon cancer is preventable and the screening prep has gotten a heck of a lot more tolerable. I’ll be in line at the supermarket and I somehow am able to talk about prevention with strangers. What’s my message? Colon cancer is preventable. I’m at the mall checking out—what’s my message? Colon cancer is preventable. I’m out at dinner with my boys—what’s my message? That we have the “power of prevention” and I could help them prevent colon cancer too!

What advice do you have for others who want to spread the word about prevention?

Striking up a conversation about getting your rear checked out is not an easy thing to do. When speaking about this disease, you have to think out of the box. Using the “Screen this Too!” undies was a great way to “Break the Ice” (that was another slogan I used and received awards for). You have to break down barriers and try to make it something that is easier to speak about. I made stickers that said “Cancer is also blue, so screen your booty too.” As silly as it may sound, things like that work!

– See more at: http://ccalliance.org/blog/hero-of-the-month-marisa-perez/

Psycho-Social and Emotional Support For Cancer Patients, Survivors and Caregivers, With Dr. Robert Bright MD

Dr. Robert Bright has been a member of Mayo Clinic’s staff since 2007. He is a Consultant and Vice Chair of Education in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

Conversation With 4 yr. Colon Cancer Survivor Shannon Lee-Sin

IMG_1130Shannon Lee-Sin is a 4 yr. survivor of colorectal cancer. She stopped by to chat with me during Live Your Best Life 2015, the Colon Cancer Alliance conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Interview With 8 yr. Colon Cancer Survivor, “Coach” Steve Abrams

Coach Steve Abrams

“Coach Steve Abrams

A former college football player and high school football coach, Steve has had to endure and overcome many challenges associated with IBD and colon cancer.

Steve is a speaker who has the ability to share, connect and motivate his audiences. His message is this:

When you make that decision to fight, you will find you have a spirit and strength that you never knew you had. You will learn that you possess so much courage and perseverance than you ever imagined.

Those of us who are battling everyday have a common bond, we will not allow this disease to claim our quality of life, we will survive. Allow your spirits to be lifted knowing you are not alone, find encouragement and inspiration to fight the good fight and get your life back.

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