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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.


Just turn on your left side please.

by Tom Philip

The last time we got together, I introduced you to my diagnosis of colorectal cancer. It’s a subject that clearly would not be my first choice for small talk in social gatherings. Probably not yours either. But it is also not simply a six-letter word. It is a deadly disease, and we must learn to talk about it.

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates doctors will tell 19,600 Canadian men and women in 2005 that they have colorectal cancer. On average, 377 Canadians will be diagnosed with the disease every week of this year. An estimated 8,400 of us will not see another New Year’s Eve.

This is serious stuff, and not something that we find easy to talk about. But we must, and that’s why I’m sharing this story with you. Breast cancer is, thankfully, talked about a lot these days, and an increasing number of Canadian women are being screened each year. Still, an estimated 5,300 of them will die of it in 2005. Similarly, about 4,300 Canadian men will die of prostate cancer this year. And lung cancer, the country’s number one killer, will claim more than 19,000 Canadians before 2006 has rung in officially.

Awareness of colorectal cancer indicators and early detection of cancers helps you beat the odds of meeting death too soon. Some of those indicators include ongoing, unresolved changes in bowel habits; unexplained weight loss; regular pain or tenderness in the lower abdomen; or, as in my case, the appearance of blood in the stools.

I hope to be one of the lucky ones, because my cancer is in the early stages of growth. A couple of mildly invasive medical procedures helped to determine that. There was the colonoscopy that I mentioned briefly in my last article; and a Computed Tomography (CT) scan of my system to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor.

In both situations, I was anything but calm. Both procedures require the insertion of a tube into the rectum. So, when the kindly voice (they’re always ’kindly’ and reassuring, aren’t they?) said, "Just turn on your left side please," I knew what was coming.

A colonoscopy is a visual examination of the colon using a fiberoptic endoscope. I was sedated, so I felt nothing, not even the insertion; but I was awake enough to be watching the monitor when Dr. Basmajian discovered a large polyp in my colon.

I was also alert enough to hear him say that he could only remove about 80 per cent of it. He got enough for the pathologist to confirm malignancy, and to order the CT scan that I had a week ago. And the scan itself resulted in more good news, bad news.

The good news: the tumor is relatively small, and has not migrated outside my colon. The bad news: the cancer is too close to other organs to chance radiation. Surgery appears to be the only option.

Still, I will get a second opinion from a cancer specialist. More about that next time.

next  Make sure you get my good side.

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