According to the American Cancer Society, rates of colorectal cancer have decreased dramatically among non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics since 1988.
This may be due to an increase in screening over the years. Early screening can detect polyps before they turn into cancer. In addition, colorectal screening is highly treatable if detected early. Colorectal cancer has a five-year survival rate of nearly 91 percent if it is detected before it spreads beyond the intestinal wall.
In California, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and third leading cause of cancer-related death among men and women. The California Colon Cancer Control Program is committed to changing this statistic for the better by increasing awareness of colorectal cancer and promoting the importance of early detection through screening.
Susan McKee is the District Director for the State Senate President Pro Tem. Her story of surviving colorectal cancer highlights the importance of screening and being properly informed.
McKee received her first colonoscopy five years after the recommended age of 50.
“Maybe it was because I was groggy after the colonoscopy or in denial, but I really didn't spend the time after that waiting to hear about cancer. I thought they were going to tell me everything was okay, so I was kind of knocked out by the call.”
McKee triumphed through two surgeries, two rounds of chemo, one round of radiation, and losing half a head of hair to become a colorectal cancer survivor. (See more of McKee’s story).
As McKee went through chemotherapy and radiation, she continued to work full time as her side effects were minimal. She also continued to exercise regularly and was confident about her recovery.
“I didn't have a lot of the side effects that some people have. I was never nauseous. I started to have neuropathy in my fingers and I was extremely sensitive to cold. I had the sores in my mouth and some of that stuff, but for the most part, I was just chugging along... I never thought I would die. It did not occur to me. It wasn't in the realm of possibility. I didn't sit around and say 'Poor me' or 'Why me'. I just felt that this is an obstacle I have to get through and I'll get through it... It did make me more appreciative of my friends and my family... Cancer doesn't have to be a life destroyer. Afterwards, you have a recognition that you've gone through something tough and you've come through it just fine. It gives you a different sense of self confidence.”
McKee’s story of survival provides encouragement for those who are battling colorectal cancer. Her story also points out that getting her first screening at age 50 could have prevented her cancer. There are several screening options available, so please talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you. Screening services may be easier to access than you think. For screening resources near you, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.