Health
July 7, 2020
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Fifteen-year cancer survivor

By: George Malkemeus
May 22, 2020

With COVID-19 shut down, elective medical procedures have been postponed.  But some procedures will begin again  June 1, including colonoscopies. Even with the current COVID-19 scare, I would not put off cancer screenings.  In April 2005, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.   Since the original diagnosis, I have had radiation, chemotherapy, colorectal surgery, 10 colonoscopies, and six PET scans. My last colonoscopy was June of 2015 with a wonderful cancer-free result.  I am presently on a five year check, so I have scheduled a colonoscopy next month.

During the winter of 2005, I felt great, thought I was in excellent health, while not needing to take any medications.  I had great vital signs, including low blood pressure, low cholesterol and low pulse rate. After the surprise diagnosis of an advanced stage of colorectal cancer in April, I was in shock and devastated.   The following two years were extremely stressful.  I should have been checked at age 50, but I put it off, since I was in such good health.  I thought that cancer couldn’t happen to me. 

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States after lung cancer.  Each year, there are about 52,000 deaths from colorectal cancer and about 154,000 new cases detected.  It is equally common in both men and women. It is also one of the most easily prevented cancers if discovered early. The cancer develops from polyps that can be easily removed at the pre-cancerous stage if they are detected early with a colonoscopy.

Colon polyps are fleshy growths or bumps that occur on the inside lining of the colon.  Polyps in the colon are extremely common.  Polyps are found in over 50 percent of the people undergoing a colonoscopy.  Polyps are slow growing and easily removed during the colonoscopy procedure.   I could have avoided my stressful, involved treatment if I had been tested earlier.  

Only a small percentage of the people who would benefit from a colorectal screening proceed with the testing. There are several weak reasons people don't get the colorectal screenings. People say that it is inconvenient, or that the preparation prior to the test can be unpleasant.  Many simply don't understand the importance of a regular colon screening. The fact remains that regular colorectal screening for both men and women is the best way to monitor colon health and to catch any problems early.

A colonoscopy is not uncomfortable.  I am an old pro: I have had the procedure 10 times.   A colonoscopy entails taking a video of the rectum and colon in order to look for abnormalities and polyps. The worst part for me is not eating for a day and swallowing the cleansing drink the night before hand.  I actually enjoy looking at my insides on video.  The video is similar to the video camera that I use for dental examinations in my office, letting my patients look at their own mouths and being involved in their own treatment. 

Two-thirds of the people who get colon cancer have no family history of the disease.  In my case, no one in my family history had colon cancer.  If you have a parent, brother, sister, or child who has had colon cancer, then early testing is even more important for you.  I encourage everyone to get a colonoscopy by age 50.  Most colon cancers occur in men and women who are 50 or older.

Colon cancer is a silent killer; it can be growing for many years with no symptoms.  I was in great health with no symptoms and yet I had advanced cancer growing in my colon.  The cancer had been there for over two years. In dentistry, it is similar; symptoms of pain and discomfort are not felt until oral cancer, gum disease and/or decay are dangerously advanced.  I encourage everyone to get regular dental examinations and cleanings.

Obesity, lack of exercise and smoking are associated with colorectal cancer.  Diet that is high in red meat is also associated with polyp formation and colorectal cancer. Lifestyle modifications, include reducing red meat and dietary fat, increasing fiber, ensuring adequate vitamin intake, losing weight and regular exercise, can reduce the risk of cancer.  Fiber plays a protective role in the colon by adding bulk and easing the passage of the stool.  This keeps the waste moving through the colon and passes toxins through the body.  A diet with at least 10 grams of fiber per day is recommended with an ideal goal of 25 to 35 grams per day.  

So what have I learned and how have I changed after my experience with cancer?  I definitely did some soul searching.  I understand that some things are outside my control, but smart things can be done to help, like cancer screening.  With COVID-19 pandemic, the use of Personal Protective Equipment, Social Distancing and Shelter In Place will help until a vaccine is available.

With my second chance, I have fresh joy in my life.  I want to feel purpose. My work as a dental healer means so much more to me now.  Because of my life threatening experience in 2005, I wanted to give back and began writing health articles for The Community Voice newspaper in 2006.

My family brings me amazing love.  I want to enjoy every precious moment.  I try to enjoy every little aspect of my time on this earth.  I enjoy cleaning the kitchen, taking out the garbage, going for a walk and just gazing at the sky. We have so much abundance; we must take time to appreciate it. Remember to smell the roses! 

I have a strong purpose to help people and bring my joy to others.  I choose to be positive, warm, joyous everyday and I hope my love of life will have a positive affect on everyone around me.  We only have one go around so let us cherish each moment.    

If you haven't had a colon screening or feel you are due to have one, talk to your doctor and get yours scheduled today. It may save your life.  I know it saved mine!

 

 ENJOY LIFE AND KEEP SMILING!

 

George Malkemus has had a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com.  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ new Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com