Cancer isn’t picky about its victims


“…I had never heard the term core biopsy. I didn’t know about radiation or sentinel node biopsy. I didn’t know what these things meant…Knowledge is power. Without it we’re lost.” —Jaclyn Smith, about breast cancer diagnosis.

Lung, breast, lymph nodes, colorectal, skin. These are cancers that have shown up in my family. Some have been beaten and others are still being fought. It’s scary to realize that everyone who wakes up in the morning is fair game. Cancer isn’t picky.

When my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma, I didn’t even know what it was. Who would think a woman who rarely got more than a mild cold would end up with cancer centralized around the immune system?

Think lung cancer only affects smokers? It doesn’t. Counting on monthly self-exams to be the warning of breast cancer? They may not. Assume skin cancer only appears where the sun hits the body? Not always—it can show up on the bottom of feet. Think mostly men get colorectal cancer? It’s gender-blind, just as common in women as men.

In honor of the a local upcoming Relay for Life event, and since knowledge is power, these are statistics and information on cancers that could be affecting you right now, directly or indirectly—or could someday.

The top 10 cancers (as reported by the CDC), regardless of gender are prostate cancer, female breast cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, uterine cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma (skin), kidney and renal pelvis cancer, and ovarian cancer.

The top three for women are breast cancer, lung and colon. For men, prostate, lung and colon.

Symptoms for the most commonly diagnosed are not always obvious, or they show up after the cancer has advanced.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some things to watch for:

• Breast cancer: Lump or thickening that feels different, change in the shape, size or the skin of the breast.

Before reading a book by Kristin Hannah called “Firefly Lane,” I had never heard of a type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer. Not knowing about it was the scariest part.

The symptoms can begin not with a lump, but with what looks like a bug bite. (It can also cause redness, warmth or swelling.) It’s extremely aggressive and easy to overlook because most people don’t think twice about an apparent mosquito bite.

• Lung cancer: Early stages cause no symptoms. When it progresses, it can cause a cough that won’t go away, shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, bone pain or headaches. (Frustratingly, these are symptoms to a lot of things.)

• Colon/rectal cancer: Symptoms can be non-existent. Screenings are the only way to detect.

• Prostate cancer: Also may not produce early symptoms. Advanced symptoms can be trouble urinating, blood in the urine, leg swelling, back pain and pelvic discomfort.

It’s pointless to worry about every symptom, that’s no way to live. But just hearing the signs every so often, along with a suggestion to be on the lookout, is a necessary reminder we can all stand to hear.

I’ll be on a team walking the luminaria-lined track in a couple of weeks, like so many others will be. If you can’t walk, you can donate.

Nobody plans to need the research funded by those donations, but that’s not the way the game works. Cancer hits the best of the best.

I am so thankful for the years of research that went into lymphoma before my mom was diagnosed. And I fully believe that the people walking around a track or running in a survivors’ race funded that research.

Her diagnosis, and the others that are in my family now, are the ones that stand out for me. And each one of you can probably drop in a different name and cancer into your own experience. We all know first or second hand, how vulnerable cancer makes us feel.

The success stories are there for many reasons, but a big one is research and the money it takes to do it. Without it, we’re lost.


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