COMMENTARY Cancer: a journey taken together

Cancer is a journey you do not want to take, yet millions of people all over the world experience that journey.

As a cancer survivor of six years, I boarded a plane at JFK, to fly to Florida last month to attend a conference on colorectal cancer in Tampa, Fla.

Weeks before, I had discovered the Association for Colorectal Cancer on the Internet. Communicating with other colorectal cancer survivors and caregivers, I felt a shared bond and made a decision to attend a conference that would address the latest treatments for colorectal cancer.

The folks at the conference were ready for us — with all the knicknacks and booklets you get at those events. The color for colorectal cancer is blue. I don’t know how they decide that!

All of us “blue cancer” folks filled the modern auditorium at Tampa’s Moffitt Center to hear from doctors in the field of oncology. The speakers included: Dr. Catherine Chodkiewicz, Dr. Junsung Choi, Dr. Sara Hoffe, Dr. David Shibata – radiologists, surgeons, oncologists and others from Moffit, a Comprehensive Cancer Center designated by the National Cancer Institute.

With the help of a giant screen, each doctor informed the very serious audience of the lastest treatments for colon and rectal cancer. I felt like a medical student. Yet, not being a med student, I did my best to understand.

From what I could understand, all decisions on treatment are based on: tumor size, number of tumors, location, patient’s current health, stage of the cancer.

Where things got complicated was the many different changes in chemo medications and the ways in which radiation is administered.

Since the time I had my surgery in 2002, they have made giant strides in focusing the radiation to the exact location. They used words like “intensity modulated RT” and “image guided RT,” a huge round machine, which looks like a CT scan that quickly delivers doses of radiation. Cylinders which can be placed directly into the body near the tumor, and then removed, delivering measured amounts of radiation.

To lighten all this serious material, we were treated to a wonderful lunch, featuring a very humorous keynote speaker, who herself is a rectal cancer survivor.

I came away from the conference with a mission I had sensed before, but it was reinforced: that of educating all men and women over 50 to get colonoscopies as a preventative measure. It is one of the cancers which can be prevented when caught in the early stages.

Believe me it’s worth the time and temporary discomfort.

Lucy Degidon is an artist and lives in the Bronx, N.Y.