Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fighting cancer one step at a time

One in three. Those are my odds of developing invasive cancer at some point during my lifetime. Men are a bit worse off. Their odds are one in two. 50-50. At age 48, I have about a one in 11 chance of developing invasive cancer before I reach my 60th birthday.

Kind of helps you put in perspective those one in three gazillion odds of winning Lotto, doesn’t it?

These sobering statistics are from an American Cancer Society publication, “Cancer Facts & Figures: 2006,” I don’t know about you, but I really had no idea that the odds were that high. I should have.

All I need to do is look around at my own family and circle of friends. My mother, both of my grandmothers and two uncles have died of cancer. The number of friends and acquaintances who’ve been diagnosed blows my mind whenever I stop to think of it.

You can relate, I’m sure. Statistically, Southold should see 103 new cancer cases in 2006, and 42 Southolders will die of cancer this year. Of the 22,000 people or so who call Southold home, more than 9,100 will develop cancer at some point, and 4,640 will eventually die of the disease. With odds like those, there isn’t anyone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by this disease.

That will be nowhere more evident than at Jean Cochrane Park tomorrow night, where hundreds of people will gather to take a stand — or, more accurately, a walk — against cancer, in Southold’s first Relay for Life.

“It’s about communities taking up the fight against cancer ... Relay brings communities together to make a difference,” says an American Cancer Society’s brochure about Relay for Life. Funds raised by Relay participants support American Cancer Society research efforts and programs that support and educate people battling the disease.

Relay is a fun overnight event, a giant community camp-out with barbecues, music, contests and, of course, plenty of walking. Participants form teams and raise money in all kinds of ways, ranging from individual solicitation to car washes to some very odd and creative efforts — like populating a front lawn with cardboard gnomes under cover of darkness and making the homeowner pay to get the gnomes removed. Each team has to try to keep one team member on the track all night long. (This is one time when being the parent of teenagers, who love to stay up all night, is actually a convenience.)

Most Relay team members will have a real personal reason for being there because — well, who doesn’t? Some will be cancer survivors themselves, and they will proudly wear their purple survivor T-shirts and take the track for the first lap of the evening, known as the survivor lap. There can be no doubt that a cancer diagnosis changes your whole life, from the way you spend your time to the way you look at the world. One survivor friend of mine told me, “I don’t have any patience or tolerance for superficial BS any more.” A face-to-face with one’s own mortality tends to have that effect on people.

Increasingly, thanks to improved screening, earlier detection and innovative new treatments, there are people more around who’ve had that confrontation and lived to talk about it. Cancer death are going down; survival rates are increasing.

The Suffolk Times will have a team on the track tomorrow night. If you’re not on a team yourself, come down and cheer our team — and all the other Relay teams — on. Don’t miss the lighting of the luminaria as night falls. Candles placed inside white paper bags around the track are lit to honor our survivors and remember loved ones lost to cancer. It’s a moving sight you won’t soon forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

During the cancer diagnosis doctors look for the site of origin of the tumor and the type of cells. Cancers arise in any organ. The body site, where cancer develops first, is the primary site. The tumor spreads (metastasizes) then. Common cancers include skin, lungs, breasts, prostate, colon and uterine tumors. There are many signs and symptoms of cancer. Doctors may find tumors directly, by X-ray or MRI imaging, or through lab tests.

However, these signs and symptoms of cancer may mimic other diseases. Weight loss and abdominal pain may mean stomach cancer or an ulcer. Weight loss and swollen lymph nodes may mean lymphoma or AIDS or tuberculosis. Blood in urine is a sign of bladder or kidney cancer or a kidney infection. Blood in stool is a sign of many bowel problems, not just cancer. Benign looking skin mole may be deadly melanoma. Doctors often need a biopsy (microscopic check of tissues samples) to diagnose cancer. The cancer type is found by microscopic examination. If the type is different from surrounding tissue, the cancer came from another primary site. Metastases can spread directly or through blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels. Biopsy helps to find the primary site. Treatment also depends on the cancer cell type. Cells could be more or less differentiated and originate from different layers of the same organ. If the cancer cells resemble healthy, mature cells, they are differentiated. Undifferentiated cells look like very immature primitive cells. Checking the differentiation allows doctors to know how aggressive the cancer is. Grade one cancer is less aggressive than grade four usually.

Also doctors classify cancers by stage. Stage depends on the size and spreading of the tumor. Stage determines the mode of treatment - Whether it is surgical, radiation, chemotherapy and so on.