Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ask Me Why I'm Blue... My Shift in Perspective

Have you ever gone to work simply expecting it to be just a regular "day in the life" and then had something extraordinary happen to you?  I mean, it really causes you to step back and re-evaluate your life?

I've been lucky to have some amazing, unexpected moments in my career thus far.  I'm literally in a position to create positive changes in how people feel about themselves and, let me tell you, there is no greater feeling than when someone tells me that I've impacted their life for the better.

However, a few days ago... a couple of brave, inspiring people impacted MY life for the better.

It happened while I was participating in a Colon Cancer Awareness program at work.  In February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, "Colon cancer is the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 2nd leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the U.S.  Although 90% of new cases and 95% of deaths occur in people aged 50 and older, men and women of any age can get colon cancer."

The mayor of Cambridge, MA declared March 6th as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Day and my company offered the awareness event as a means of encouraging employees to get screened and maintain a healthy lifestyle as a means of prevention.

Blue has become the color associated with colon cancer awareness, so we wore blue to show our support, had information tables, fitness demos (including Zumba and resistance bands), pedometer giveaways and a giant, inflatable colon setup where people could walk though and actually see the varying stages of the disease and the difference between a healthy colon and a diseased colon.

The Colon: Supersized

As I learned from reading the inside of the giant colon... the key to early detection is regular colon screenings.  A polyp (a fleshy growth in the lining of the colon) might be discovered in the screening and is usually benign; however, if left untreated, it can possibly develop into colon cancer.  Most patients survive colon cancer if it is found early and removed.

There were also a number of speakers during this event but two in particular had a profound impact on me:
  • both were females... 
  • both were under the age of 50 (one of them was actually under the age of 30)... 
  • and both had been diagnosed with colon cancer

1) The under-30 year old shared stories of numerous doctor's visits she had (since middle school!) due to various gastrointestinal issues.  Every time she went to the doctor, she was instructed to either increase her fiber intake, eat healthier or told that she had hemorrhoids or acid reflux.

She was vegetarian, ate more vegetables than anyone she knew, athletic, exercised regularly and had no family history of the disease.

It wasn't until she went to a specialist when the colon cancer was discovered... estimated to be about 8 years after it had started... and diagnosed at a stage that lists survival rates at 34%.

After undergoing  a colectomy and chemotherapy, she is now considered to be in remission and about to graduate from law school, which made me so happy to hear.

2) The 2nd speaker is a married mom of four young children, as well as a Registered Nurse.  Her colon cancer was discovered after her doctor suggested getting her first colonoscopy due to questionable blood test results for a separate issue.

Her cancer is very advanced and she is nearing the end of what current available medicine is able to provide.  Her regular chemo treatments leave her weak but she was strong enough to stand up and relay her story to us.

What she told us practically had me in tears... Here is a woman who has had to prepare herself AND her family for the inevitable (her life expectancy average for the stage of cancer she has is 15 months, which she is about halfway into), yet her attitude is more positive than many people I know.

Although she remains optimistic for a breakthrough in clinical trials to come down the pipeline for her, she continues to compose letters and videos for her family to remember her by.  In the meantime, she is choosing to live each day to its fullest... no regrets.

I got served perspective on a platter while hearing both of their stories and it really caused me to  take serious inventory of myself.... Do I sweat the small stuff or am I living each day to its fullest?  Do I choose to be positive regardless of the cards I'm dealt? Or do I allow myself to sometimes wallow in self-pity and excuses, which, really, only serves to dampen my spirit?

Here are two remarkable women, two of many people dealing with cancer, and remaining strong in the face of death... and both teaching me a lesson on embracing life and being grateful for the opportunity to LIVE.

I recently read a great, timely blog post from Marc and Angel:

The strength of these two women to tell their stories is extraordinary and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to hear them.

They have inspired me to:
live each moment consciously...
to not be in such a hurry to spend time I'll never get back...
to be braver in my actions instead of simply toeing the line of my comfort zone...
and to explore, discover and DO instead of sitting, waiting and watching.

To find out more about colon cancer, including facts, myths, risk factors, symptoms and other FAQ's, visit the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons or the Colon Cancer Alliance.

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