March Blue

 

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By Leighann Sturgin

Infusing IV fluids all day and TPN at night I have to pee…quite often. If it’s not my ostomy, it’s my bladder but I feel like I’m running to the bathroom 100 times a day. At night, I frequently dream I’m searching for a bathroom. Sometimes in my dreams I find a toilet, pee but still feel like I have to pee. Sometimes there is something wrong with every toilet I find so I can’t go. Most nights I get up 4 times to pee, on a good night it’s only twice. I never sleep through the night.

Last night I dreamt I was in an airport searching for a bathroom and found a lounge that had a recliner with a built-in toilet. I’m sitting there peeing and a guy walks in (he doesn’t realize I’m peeing) and asks how I feel about breast cancer awareness month and all the pink around. We had a serious, in-depth conversation. Everything I said to him in my dream was the truth about how I feel. Since my subconscious mind feels the need to have this conversation, here I am to share my feelings as I did in my dream.

It’s Saturday morning. My teenage sons will be attending the homecoming dance tonight. It’s been a week filled with homecoming activities, parade floats and whatnot. One such activity of “Spirit Week” was breast cancer awareness day where everyone is supposed to wear pink. This annoys me. I don’t have anything against pink or breast cancer awareness. I can appreciate what The Pink Agenda is all about and the good it has done. But why should my son be told to wear pink when he’d rather wear blue. Yes, it’s October, not March, I understand that but pink doesn’t mean anything to him, blue does.

At the homecoming football game last night my son’s teammate was wearing pink socks and wrist bands. His grandmother died from breast cancer. I think it’s a great way to honor her memory. The pink means something to him. (He had a great game, earning ‘Player of the Night.’) I was happy for him. His wearing pink is probably why I had this dream as this was on my mind when I went to sleep last night.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information breast cancer was surrounded by secrecy until the 1980s, when brave individuals such as former First Ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan, and founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Nancy Brinker (Susan Komen’s sister), began speaking publicly about the personal impact of the disease, which increased awareness of breast cancer and made it more acceptable to talk about it openly.

Guidelines established in the 1980s encouraged women to perform breast self-examinations, have screening mammograms, and go to clinical breast examinations. Other events that helped engage consumers were increased media coverage of breast cancer issues, the founding of the Komen Race for the Cure in 1983, and the establishment of other programs that both educated the public and raised funds. Political action became possible when breast cancer advocates joined together in the 1980s and 1990s to work toward legislative, regulatory, and funding changes, such as passage of the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) and increased funding for the National Cancer Institute. These efforts contributed to a more than quadrupling of federal funding for breast cancer research in the 1990s.

MQSA became law on Oct. 27, 1992. Congress enacted MQSA to ensure that all women have access to quality mammography for the detection of breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages. These are all good and much needed actions towards a very serious women’s health issue that needed to and should’ve happened. I’m not here to begrudge anyone of these achievements. I, of course, have breasts and have benefited from these efforts.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in 1985. Fifteen years later, in February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. There aren’t any football teams wearing blue stuff in March…of course this might be because the NFL seasons starts in September with the Superbowl played the last weekend in January or first weekend in February. There aren’t millions of products packaged in blue in March. I’m guessing most people outside of the colorectal cancer world don’t even know March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month or that the color blue denotes it’s awareness. This doesn’t bother me per se.

What bothers me is that colorectal cancer is extraordinarily likely to be misdiagnosed in young people. When a young women (or man) goes to the doctor and says I have a lump in my breast a mammogram is ordered right away. If a young person presents with every symptom of colorectal cancer…abdominal pain, blood in stool, change in bowel habits, constipation, narrow stools, passing excessive amounts of gas, anemia, fatigue, or weight loss…most often it takes months and sometimes years before a colonoscopy is ordered. Young people are told a plethora of things such as: you’re too young for colorectal cancer, you have hemorrhoids, irritable bowel. Sometimes young women are told the blood in their stool is due to a recent pregnancy. For young people, colon cancer isn’t on even on their doctor’s radar. This needs to change.

This will only change when we start talking about our colons (and our poop) like we started talking about boobs in the 80’s, start having more media coverage and political actions taken to change colorectal screening guidelines.

A pink October is good but remember to ‘March Blue’ too. Know the symptoms of colorectal cancer. If you have them, at any age, see your doctor. Don’t be satisfied with just an endoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, demand a colonoscopy. Don’t let them tell you you’re too young. Colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable.