"From the time of discovery through the balance of life, any individual diagnosed with cancer is a 'survivor.'" - NCCS charter  

Colorectal Cancer: Awareness for All Ages

Pam Gwaltney, Nurse Navigator, Presbyterian Cancer Center

As a Presbyterian Cancer Nurse Navigator, I work with patients diagnosed with GI cancer. In this role I have the opportunity and privilege to work with patients during a difficult time in their lives and help with the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. No matter who you are, the diagnosis of cancer in any situation can be devastating.

Patients diagnosed with colon cancer comprise the largest percent of GI cancers. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, claiming more than 53,000 lives each year. An estimated 145,000 men and women will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year alone.

Early colorectal cancer usually has no signs or symptoms; therefore screening tests are relied upon to find colon polyps, precancerous lesions and early cancer. Such screening tests include: flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and fecal immunochemical test (FIT).

When thinking about your risk to develop colon cancer, it is important to look at both your family history of colon cancer and your personal history of colon polyps, as both may increase your risk of developing the disease. Warning signs include blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits such as constipation, frequency, or lack of a bowel movement. You may have general stomach discomfort or frequent gas pains, weight loss that may happen despite no changes in your daily habits, or chronic fatigue. Just know that any of these symptoms should be discussed with your doctor. Even though colon cancer screening isn't recommended until age 50, everyone knows their own bodies. Listen to your body, and let your physician know what is not normal for you. Be proactive!

The face of colorectal cancer is as different as each diagnosis. As a cancer nurse navigator, I work with and support the colorectal cancer patient spectrum, from young adult to 50 plus.When I started in this new role, I thought colorectal cancer was a disease for the "over 50 crowd." My, how my perspective has changed. I have been challenged with working with a younger group of cancer patients and seeing some of these "atypical" faces of colorectal cancer.

A 25-year-old young man who noted blood in his stool, a 35-year-old man expecting his first baby who experienced six months of what he thought was hemorroids, a 43-year-old female experiencing urinary tract infections and vaginal discharge, a 32-year-old mother of two who had abdominal distention and pelvic pain, a 33-year-old mother of three who was first treated for gynecological issues and pelvic inflammation - all with a story of surviving colorectal cancer at such a young age. These are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, co-workers, who are affected by colon cancer.

Why do I talk about these people? They are the reason I want to raise awareness about colon cancer: to be an advocate for colon cancer patients - to educate, provide support, reduce anxiety, answer questions about their treatment - be a point person in this life-changing event.

I recently was asked to be a part of a group called "Get Your Rear in Gear," and no it is not a weight loss center! We are a group of committed survivors and supporters who have been touched in some way by colon cancer. This group is sponsored by Colon Cancer Coalition, and the mission is to increase awareness about colon cancer.

As a committee member, I am privileged to work with event directors Susan Falco, a 39-year-old wife, mother and business owner diagnosed with rectal cancer in March 2008; and Mary-Karen Bierman, a successful attorney diagnosed with sigmoid colon cancer while in her fifth month of pregnancy who had surgery and later delivered her baby. In March 2010 the first "Get Your Rear In Gear" 5K Run/Walk will be lead by these strong young cancer survivors in Charlotte, NC.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a colorectal cancer diagnosis, please contact a cancer navigator.We will make sure you journey through treatment with all the resources and support you need. Call 704-384-5373.

Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center is considering starting a monthly colorectal cancer support group. Please call 707-384-5223 to express your interest.

Get Your Rear in
Gear 5K Run/Walk
Sat., March 13, 2010
Registration begins at 7 a.m.
Hawthorne Park, near Uptown Charlotte
For more information or to register visit www.GetYourRearInGear.com

Learn more about how our cancer patient navigators can help you along the journey