March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Did you know that there is a month set aside for colon cancer? We all know that October is breast cancer awareness month but we don’t hear a whole lot about March. I get it. Our colon is not exactly a hot topic and doesn’t really make for great dinner conversation. But (pardon the pun), this is one topic that we should not avoid.

When I was 23, my dad died from colon cancer. From diagnosis to death he lived six months. He had stage 4-colon cancer that was inoperable and treatment would have only been palliative. That was back in 1996. Fast-forward to 2015 when I was diagnosed with stage 4-colon cancer. You can imagine the tailspin that news created for my family and myself. We had seen this monster before. But my story is not my dad’s.

The Gift of Hope

Instead of the doctors giving me a conclusive diagnosis with a tragic ending, they gave me hope. They talked about the advances they have made in cancer research and development; they talked about the options available to me for treatment and they talked to me about the hope that I could beat stage 4 cancer. And beat it is exactly what I have done. I am here today because my doctors gave me hope.

What is Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is a complex disease stemming from the abnormal division of cells in the colon. It is the second leading cancer related cause of death in the Western world. There are numerous possibilities as to why people get colon cancer. There are both life-style and nutrition factors that can either contribute to colon cancer, or work to prevent colon cancer.

Colon cancer in its early stages generally shows no signs or symptoms. Often the symptoms of colon cancer resemble symptoms of other health conditions.

These signs or symptoms most likely will include:

  • Changes in bowel movements, including constipation or diarrhea that don’t seem to go away
  • Feeling like you can’t empty your bowels completely or urgently need to have a bowel movement
  • Bleeding or cramping in your rectum
  • Dark patches of blood in or on your stool; or long, thin, “pencil stools”
  • Discomfort or bloating in your belly
  • Unexplained fatigue, weight loss, and loss of appetite

It is also possible that someone with colon cancer may experience:

  • gas, cramping, bloating and feeling full
  • pain or discomfort in the rectum
  • a lump in the abdomen or rectum
  • anemia, which may cause fatigue and shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a tear or hole in the intestine (called bowel perforation), which may cause widespread infection
  • frequent urinary tract infections
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • enlarged liver
  • jaundice (a condition in which the skin and whites of the eyes become yellow and urine is dark yellow)
  • build up of fluid in the abdomen
  • pain in the abdomen, buttocks or leg
  • breathing problems

These lists are not meant to scare you but to bring awareness to how colon cancer can express itself. In future posts we will explore ways you can live to prevent colon cancer and foods you can eat to be your healthiest self.