Cancer has a way of reaching out and touching just about everyone; some harder than others. Depending on your age, you may have been personally touched already, and survived. You may have friends or relatives that have not, or are currently battling this common killer.
Cancer first touched my life when I was only six years old, with the death of my father from lung cancer. He was a smoker and an asbestos worker in the shipyards (a huge factor in lung cancer). When he died in 1957, medical science had not even linked either one as a cause. I recently found a medical book about lung cancer published in 1957 that had only three sentences about the inconclusive relationship to smoking. Treatment was limited to drastic surgery and radiation; none of which were very successful.
In the next few years, I heard about lung cancer several more times when my grandfather and three uncles died of this scourge in our tiny, coal mining community. We considered it our “family disease”.
When I started my medical training in 1969, I worked in the hospital to pay for my tuition. Nearly all of my elderly hospital patients had some type of cancer: lung cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, uterine/cervical cancer, brain cancer, or prostate cancer. Just the word “cancer” would strike fear in the hearts of patients and their families. For many, the Big C was a death sentence. Doctors would often give the proverbial “six weeks or six months” to live speech without really knowing the final outcome. When you were told you had cancer, you started to put your life in order for your family.
In the last few years, I have lost dear friends to pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, and breast cancer. Many of my close friends and relatives have been diagnosed with various forms of this dreaded affliction. Three of my close male friends now have prostate cancer. Most will do well with modern treatment modalities. When this lightning strikes so close to home, a person cannot wonder when the Big C is going to knock on their own door.
For each person who is diagnosed with cancer, several more lives may be saved. Why? Because cancer motivates loved ones to get tested themselves, or to make lifestyle changes to reduce their own risks. I just finished my own colon cancer screening test and have made an appointment for my annual physical exam to get the ol’ prostate checked. After my brother was diagnosed with a tiny melanoma, I can assure you that I had a thorough skin survey by a dermatologist. Cancer can definitely frighten people into healthier habits, but you really have to practice those habits consistently. You don’t just wear seat belts when you think you are going to be in a car accident, and you don’t just practice cancer prevention when one of your friends or relatives gets it.
Ten things you can do:
- Know your family medical history. Some cancers run in families
- Don’t use ANY form of tobacco….ever. If you do, stop now. Today.
- Eat a healthy diet like your life depends on it (because it does). If you are overweight, lose those extra pounds.
- Stay physically active. Don’t just sit there…do something! Get up and walk around until you think of something physical that you might enjoy.
- Get Immunized: HPV, Hepatitis B
- Stay out of the sun or at least be proactive to prevent skin cancers (sunscreens, hats, protective clothing)
- Practice safe sex. Enough said.
- Get regular medical care. Let a medical professional do their job.
- Do the recommended cancer-screening tests: pap smears, colonoscopies, mammograms, etc.
- Be an evangelical friend. Support those how have cancer and spread the word about the importance of all of these cancer-prevention steps.