Every year, on February 4th, the world stops spinning. Everyone takes a moment out of the hustle and bustle of their busy lives to take notice of a very important cause, cancer. According to WorldCancerDay.org, “Cancer is a disease which occurs when changes in a group of normal cells within the body lead to uncontrolled, abnormal growth forming a lump called a tumor; this is true of all cancers except leukemia (cancer of the blood)." These tumors can be benign, which means they are not cancerous and rarely threaten life, or malignant, which means they are aggressive and can grow and spread rapidly to cause damage to tissue. Cancer is a very serious disease and should be treated with a massive amount of attention, which is why this day was created for people to acknowledge this disease, and to renew attention on research.
Statistically, 10 million people die from cancer each year worldwide. Surprisingly, 1/3 of the most common forms of cancer are actually preventable and it is believed that millions of lives could be saved each year just by implementing specific resources to help with prevention, early detection and treatment. This is precisely what Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the company behind World Cancer Day, is hoping for with this special day.
Getting involved in World Cancer Day can be as simple as devoting a few moments to spending all day spreading awareness. This ranges from creating your own social media message and sharing it to recording a video message or writing an op-ed or blog story. Awareness can take many forms, so don’t be shy and get involved! You can access resources by visiting the website at WorldCancerDay.org/take-action.
A great way to spread awareness about cancer could take the form of simply sharing a story. Maybe you know someone who has had a cancer scare, been diagnosed, or is going through treatment? Maybe you have a loved one who has passed from cancer? Any little bit of awareness helps, which is why I’m going to share a story from a former classmate from Fresno Pacific University, Ashlee "Michelle" Ward. As a 28-year-old single mother, she was diagnosed with a rare form of appendiceal cancer, officially known as Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, that originated in her appendix. This very rare form of cancer affects 2 out 1 million people and there are no known genetic or environmental causes. She chose to share her story in an effort to help bring more awareness to cancer and to understand it (and any illness) can strike at any age.
This is her story, in her words:
“On October 22nd, 2021, I went to urgent care for some abdominal pain I had been having for about a week, the urgent care sent me directly to the ER because the location of my pain was typical for appendicitis. A CAT scan at the ER revealed a malignant cyst on my appendix, I was urgently referred to a surgeon, but because I am considered low-income and have Medi-Cal, the wait to see a surgeon about this matter proved to be too long. By the time I was approved for and taken into surgery at a county hospital it was too late. When the surgeon opened me up to remove the appendix, he saw that the malignant cyst had already ruptured and spread cancerous material throughout my abdomen. I was officially diagnosed with an exceedingly rare form of appendiceal cancer and referred to an oncologist at UCSF.
The only way to treat this cancer is a very invasive surgery that will last up to 12 hours and remove any non-vital organs that were touched by the cancer (including my uterus and ovaries, colon, bowel, spleen, gallbladder, et cetera.) and then wash the area with chemotherapy liquid that’s heated to 107 degrees. This surgery requires a minimum 2-week hospital stay and a 3-6 month recovery period to adjust to my “new normal”.
I only had stomach pain; it wasn’t even ‘that bad’…I don’t feel sick! This all happened so quickly, in October I was fine, then in December, I was being told I have a life-limiting illness. Now, in January, I’m being told that if I want a chance at a normal life-span, I have to surrender all of the organs that are affected, this means no more biological children. To be honest with you, I feel robbed. This cancer came in hard and fast and the only way to fight it is to ravage my body of unnecessary organs and put my life and education on hold to recover from the ravaging! They keep telling me this cancer is a 2 in a million thing, I’m thinking I should start buying lottery tickets with this kind of “luck”. For me, cancer has been a spiritual lesson, teaching me faith and resilience, and I’m sure I will continue to be confronted with new challenges and opportunities for growth through this dark time. I never imagined that at 28 I would be facing a life-limiting diagnosis, I always took my health for granted. “Live fast, die young” was always just a lyric in a song, not a possible reality!
A cancer diagnosis affects more than just the patient. It affects the family and the fear and anxiety that comes with it are unparalleled, and it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge about the condition. Family is able to advocate for me when they are informed and that’s amazing. Support is a two-way street, as scared as I was to hear the word “cancer”, I believe my family was even more scared, we have to take turns supporting each other.”
In sharing her story, Michelle hopes to advocate for awareness and recognition. In fact, she says, “just because a disease is rare, does not make its sufferers invisible.” When asked if she would have done something different to prevent or prepare herself for the diagnosis, she explained about her past vices with smoking and drinking. While there were no known causes, she says she became aware of how reckless 20-year-olds are when it comes to what they put in their bodies. She hopes everyone will recognize that we are not bulletproof and everything we put in our bodies, whether it's alcohol and drugs or processed foods, is an investment or a detriment. Her parting words: “Invest in your health, because it is not guaranteed”.
Official Website of World Cancer Day by UICC | 4 February. https://www.worldcancerday.org/.