Increased awareness of cancer may be the best hope for survival

 

Scary.

That one word may best describe the reaction we all feel when confronting one of humankind’s most deadly diseases: Cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, this scourge will kill nearly 1,600 people across our country every day this year. That’s more than a half-million people, roughly the equivalent of wiping out the entire population of every county from Savannah to Valdosta and west to Tifton. Tragedies like the gruesome death of school children at the hands of a crazed shooter can grip public attention for weeks or months but the quiet struggle engulfing families, often for years, can go relatively unnoticed.

The question is often asked if we have “more than our share” of cancer striking homes in Southeast Georgia. Seems every day we hear of someone else who’s just been given that dreaded diagnosis, often young children. Cancer is often maddeningly random in its attacks and is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths. Only accidents kill more American children every year than cancer. Fortunately, substantial progress has been made in combating childhood cancer but, as our community knows well, every death is still a tragedy.

We’ve all had friends battle cancer but thoughts of the continuing fight against the scourge are renewed this time every year thanks to a generous pubic awareness campaign waged for more than a decade by two local physicians, Dr. Sohail Choudhri and Dr. Craig Kubik in Waycross. These men see first-hand one of the most frustrating aspects: cancer incidents that could have been avoided.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and, annually, Digestive Disease Consultants sponsors messages in our newspaper, calling attention to area residents who have had their lives prolonged because of successful detection of cancerous growth through colorectal screenings. Cancer incidence rates of this type have been decreasing for years, largely due to these screenings.

For more than a decade, I have interviewed men and women throughout our area who share their testimonies on how “routine” tests gave them a second chance on life. A recurring theme in the stories is how many times these men and women are shocked to find they are carrying a pre-cancerous polyp or an already-malignant tumor. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women.

“I had the world by the tail, everything going my way,” one man told me several years ago. 

Just past his 50th birthday, this supposedly healthy man finally “got around” to having a routine colonoscopy, as recommended by most doctors. That’s when he got the shock.

“When I woke up, the doctor told me he couldn’t even finish the procedure,” he said. “A large tumor was blocking nearly my whole colon.”

Today, that man is back on the job and in good health.

Stories like that are good, but, we hear often of those who are losing the fight against this awful disease.

How many of us are rolling the dice with our lives on the line? The answer is ... scary.

• See Page 11 for Madelyn Tanner’s testimonial on the importance of early checkups and treatment.

• Robert M. Williams, Jr. is Editor & Publisher of The Blackshear Times. Email: rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.

Robert M. Williams, Jr. can be reached at rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.