My grandmother, my mom’s mom, passed away from colon cancer when I was just four years old. I have slight memories of her but at this point I have more memories of her from the stories told about her by my brother, sister and cousins.
Nana, as we called her, grew up before and during the Great Depression in rural Missouri. You learned to get by and tough things out. She had three children, my aunt and my mom, and a son that died when he was ten years old. The doctors couldn’t do much to help him and we think the combination of that experience and then the ‘tough it out mentality’ put something in my Nana’s mind that she would just be fine – if she was sick, the doctor’s wouldn’t be able to help anyway. Looking back, my uncle that passed at age 10, passed away in the 1940s while my Nana had colon cancer in the 1970s. Medical science had taken a ton of knowledge leaps in those 30+ years, but people’s experiences sometimes don’t allow those realizations to enter their thought process.
In the early 70’s, Nana started to get sick and not feel well a lot. My grandfather would push her to go to the doctor, but she wouldn’t go. My aunt and my mom did too. But again, she refused to go. Over the next year she would get worse overall, but have good months and bad months, good weeks and bad weeks, good days and bad days. Well over a year plus, she broke down and let my grandfather take her to the doctor. They knew it wasn’t something a small town could treat or diagnose, so they sent her to St. Louis. Eventually, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and it was already past the point of being treatable. The thing that stuck with my grandfather, mom and aunt and was always talked about, was the doctor said if she had come in just a year earlier and they caught it, they could have treated her. Her stubbornness, fear of past experience, whatever kept her from going, kept her from getting the treatment in time. She unfortunately passed at the young age of 64. My grandfather, on the other hand, went on to live to 85…21 more years without her.
Jump ahead to the early 90’s, and I am living with my sister and cousin as we were all going to the University of Missouri. One Friday, I was trying to call home and couldn’t get anyone. This was before voicemail and we didn’t have an answering machine. I called my dad’s work, they said he wasn’t in. My mom only worked part-time, so I knew she wasn’t working. My sister got home from class and I asked her if she knew what was up, and she had no clue.
Later that night I tried again, and my dad finally answered the phone. I asked where they had been, and he said, “Well you know Mom was having surgery today.” I replied, “No, what?” He went on to explain, that he thought mom told us. She feared that she might have the same issue as my Nana and went early to have her colon checked. She had an early form of colon cancer and she had surgery that day. She must not have wanted to worry us. So, frustrating in the moment, but I was glad she went early. I saw the need for early detection of diseases that run in the family. My brother, sister and I all started getting checked at 40. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that don’t.
When detected early, Colon Cancer is highly treatable. Don’t delay…it could be a matter of life or death.