Greenville News Op Ed

By Dr. Nancy Welch

In my life I have worn many labels: cheerleader, preacher’s daughter, Sorority President, TV personality, College Vice President, Mediator, Chairman of the Board, Author, Elder, Inn Keeper, Interior Designer, cook, wife and mother, to name a few! When the surgeon looked at me and said, “You have rectal cancer,” that was a label I was not prepared to wear. I thought to myself, “I have the Big C.” Cancer, just the word itself, felt like a death sentence. I had first-hand knowledge of this disease as my mother had died with cancer some 40 years ago. She had not had the same kind of cancer, but at this point, cancer was cancer. My mind was racing from one image of cancer to another and I had not even left the doctor’s office. Three days earlier I had undergone a colonoscopy. Three polyps had been found: two were fine, but one was not.

The doctor left the room for a moment and my husband and I were alone. I looked at him for reassurance and he quickly said, “Positive attitude, positive attitude!” I knew he was right and I was grateful that he had changed my focus away from a pity party. But in all honesty, the shift was more a leap of faith than anything else.

The doctor might as well have written a big C on my forehead, because I came out of the room feeling as if everyone that I saw could tell I had cancer. As I went through the motions of getting the appointments for the next week, I remember taking a card from the receptionist desk. I turned the card over and wrote on the back, Rectal Cancer, so that I would be sure I knew what I had.
I asked what the side effects were for the treatments I would have. “Fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea,” seemed to be what each physician said. Those were certainly three of my favorite things!

I have now completed 28 chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments and am waiting for surgery in early June, complete with a colostomy. The best part of the summer will be consumed, I assume, with surgery, recovery, surgery, recovery and then the rest of my life! That’s the part I am looking forward to the most. I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.

So what does this have to do with you, the reader of this, the journey I never thought would be mine? Two words: Early Detection! If you have any age on you at all, you know when your body is speaking to you about something that is not quite right. Most of the time, you have an idea about what your body is trying to say to you, if it could talk in words you could understand. I am writing this to tell you to do two things: listen to your body and get checked out and second, don’t wait for your body to give you a wakeup call. By then, it might be too late. I’m not a Doctor, though I have played one! But almost every medical Doctor says that nearly every cancer is curable if detected early. That means having all of the screenings, on time, as they are recommended. For me, I say have a colonoscopy every 5 years, not 10, but that is just my recommendation since 10 years didn’t works out so well for me! The convenient thing about a colonoscopy is that you don’t have to have a physician’s referral. You can just pick up the phone and make yourself an appointment. So why don’t you do that today?

They tell me I will eventually be cancer free. I certainly am counting on that and I want you to hear those same positive words that they tell me I will hear. That can only happen if you listen to your body and get regular screenings. The Big C doesn’t have to stand for Cancer. It can stand for CELEBRATION as I have faith it will for me.