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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.

Don’t be a man: do the right thing..

by Tom Philip

I had a feeling the news would not be good. It’s one of those ’gut’ things, when your intuition kicks in, and you try to prepare yourself for the worst.

A few weeks ago, my surgeon said the words that, unfortunately, far too many mere mortals hear at some point in their lives.

"You have cancer," he said.

More specifically, he said the biopsy on tissue removed from my colon a week earlier indicated adenocarcinoma, a very common form of cancer that attacks the gland cells on the wall of the large intestine. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, adenocarcinoma is also the number two killer in the cancer line-up. It’s probably just a numbers game, since 95 per cent of people with cancer have this type. Still, it’s a worry.

I’d been through an investigative procedure called a colonoscopy. My surgeon now ordered a Computed Tomography (CT) Scan as a first step. That imaging exercise will allow him to pinpoint the exact location, and size of the tumor, and to see how far it has spread through my bowel wall.

Adenocarcinomas are relatively slow growing cancers, he said, so I have that in my favour. There is some good news to be found in this nightmare after all.

The bad news is that radiation therapy is rarely indicated when a tumor is located in the sigmoid colon. Surgery is almost inevitable. And this is not the type of operation that even Dr. Basmajian, one of the most skilled general surgeons in Canada, delves into lightly.

According to the good doctor, the bowel resection I would be facing would take from 3 to 4 hours to complete, depending on complications. My cancer is located "very high up" in the colon, quite close to my prostate and bladder. The possible post-op side effects, particularly for the male of our species, are not pretty.

Medical statistics show that a significant number of men who survive the resection operation can look forward to one, or all of permanent erectile failure, chronic bladder problems and sporadic, unpredictable lapses in sphincter control. It is also almost certain that I would wear a colostomy bag for up to six months, to allow the resection to heal. All just ducky news for a man who has enjoyed his sex life, has had no problems with continence or constipation, and who has managed to reach his mid-50s without any extra holes being created in his body.

Still, I am quite willing to wear Depends, change a waste bag and sacrifice regular sexual activity if it comes to it. Facing my own mortality, I think it would be wise not to let these less important things get in the way.

Life is what matters, and I now have a great opportunity to reclaim mine because I listened to someone who said, "Don’t be a stupid man. Do the right thing!"

When I first noticed blood in my stools in January (hey folks, there isn’t any nice way to talk about these things), my reaction was to think that, "this too will pass." Well, I was right. Every time I passed, more blood passed. Bright red blood. No great flow, but it was definitely there. I came to dread that regular trip to the can.

Being a dumb male, I mentioned nothing about this to my wife (let alone my family doctor) for a good three months. Perhaps intuition was working then, too, and I knew that sharing the blood news with her would result in the "do the right thing" lecture. So, I decided it would be easier at that point to see my General Practitioner than suffer Linda’s evil eye.

That visit resulted in a referral to the aforementioned surgeon, and a two-month wait for a colonoscopy at the local hospital. I’ll tell you more about the nature, and importance of that procedure in another installment; but for now, please know that it is painless, and absolutely necessary, and completely covered by my provincial health insurance plan.

Since then, I’ve swallow a berry-flavoured barium drink, had the CT Scan, and had a follow-up consultation with my colorectal surgeon. These are positive things, and positive is the only attitude I intend to have for the duration.

I’ll tell you more about some of the medical procedures next time.

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