Friday, September 9, 2011

Thoughts on the C Word......

Cancer.............just the mention of the word strikes fear in hearts. I don't know anyone that doesn't visibly react at the word. Even the bravest of men can be brought to his knees in tears over such a diagnosis for himself or a loved one. And why not? Known as the most proflific serial killer of mankind, we have reason to be afraid.

Most of us probably remember from our earliest childhood hearing about cancer and its ravages. Even though we may not have had someone immediate to us fall victim, we heard enough to know it was an experience we did not want to see up close and personal. Cancer has most certainly earned its gruesome reputation.

It is the most dreaded of all diseases and maybe even one of the most baffling. With all its forms to its blantant disregard for all things human, it leaves us trying not to think about it, talk about it and we sure as hell don't want to hear anyone we care about has it.

I remember when they used to say one in ten of us would be affected by cancer. Then it was one if five, then four. I think the latest I heard was that one in three of us would get cancer at sometime in our lifetime. I remember thinking that meant if those statistics were correct, we hadn't seen our last of the dreaded C word.

Yet even with that kind of reaction, I must admit that I have not been diligent about taking the kinds of tests, seeing the kinds of doctors I should see to be on top of any contest I might find myself in with this disease. Of course, I should have been. With my family history I most certainly should have been.

My father died from colon cancer when I was twelve. I believe his first diagnosis was when I was six or seven. Then sometime around my nineth year, cancer was found in his liver and they gave him six months. He lived two and a half years.

I remember from that first diagnosis no talked to me about my dad's illness, not my friends, neighbors, teachers and most certainly not my mother or my father. Everything to do with his illness was hidden from us. Even the last two years of his life he spent very little time at home. Most of it he was in a VA hospital and that is where he died.

You know I used to save my allowance so I could ride the bus home from school instead of walking. The bus ride was horrible and took forever but it made the loop through the VA hospital grounds and I would ride that bus because it was the only way I could get anywhere near my father. I would search the windows hoping to catch some glimpse of him as the bus made its way across the campus.

I never did see him but I always talked to him. Inside my head I told him about my days at school and, of course, about how much I missed him. I didn't get to ride that bus nearly often enough.

Sometimes I wonder if we had been allowed to witness what happened to my father if that wouldn't have changed my avoidance of his disease as part of my medical history. All I know for sure is I have very few memories of actual time spent with my father. All I really remember is what he looked like and that most of the time he was alive he was nowhere near me.

I knew because colon cancer killed my father that I was at risk but to be honest, I didn't really believe it. I guess I had some trumped up reason in my head about why I thought he got it so I believed that genetics weren't a part of it. Whatever it was, I am 64 years old and have never had a colonoscopy.

I learned in the hospital I should have started having them much sooner than the usual 50 years of age. Because my father got the disease much earlier, the recommendation is ten years earlier than the initial diagnosis. That means I should have started those tests in my twenties.

Obviously I survived until now without the test. I do wonder if knowing the actual protocol assigned because of a disease course like my fathers might have affected my denial some but mostly I mention it because it's just not said enough. Ten years earliers than the initial diagnosis for relatives to begin testing makes a lot of difference than that 50 benchmark I was hearing.

In my defense I will say I did have a "good" reason for avoiding a colonoscopy. Not that any reason is really good but it was good enough for me to hide behind and I'm pretty sure there are others out there using the very same excuse as me.

Because I suffered extensive sexual abuse as a child, I had some tremedously strong triggers affecting me. Even though it was an important medical test, to me it read more like a total loss of control over a portion of my body that had seen horrendous violation. Giving up that control and allowing myself to be that vulnerable was a hard thing to manage.

I did get to that point. Actually had the test ordered by my primary care physician. Then the insurance company decided to play games and insisted on all kinds of things to verify the test was actually necessary. By the time it was finally approved, our insurance had run out and we couldn't afford to pay for the test with my husband out of work.

That was about the first of this year. We both turn sixty-five next February and will be eligible for Medicare so the test would have to wait until then. One year in my adult life without health insurance, what could happen, right?