Colon Cancer Awareness Month always leads me to reflecting upon my own family's experiences with colon cancer. I've mentioned before that FAP has ran in my family for many generations and we have had countless numbers of members die from colon cancer. Although my father's family doesn't have FAP, my paternal grandmother died of colon cancer and a very beloved paternal aunt of mine also unexpectedly developed and survived colon cancer.
Growing up with both my grandfather and mother living with FAP allowed me to gain a lot of firsthand knowledge and understanding of ostomies, FAP symptoms, and eventually cancer. I realized that the majority of people weren't experiencing what my family was and yet it was all completely normal to me. With each generation of FAP in my family, the more we've gained in information and understanding.
My grandpa survived colon cancer and appeared to lead a healthy, stable life. He developed colon cancer in the late 1950s and had his colon removed and a reconnection. I have vague flashes of visiting him in the hospital in 1994 when he developed rectal cancer and underwent another surgery for ileostomy and radiation. I never saw him struggle with his health after that until the last year of his life. He didn't let his ileostomy stop him from what he enjoyed. We went on several fishing trips, hiking through the woods, canoeing and camping trips every year. My grandpa was one of the most cherished individuals in my life. He taught me indescribable amounts of knowledge, skills, and values; we spent countless days and sleepovers together. There was no one like my grandpa and in my eyes, he could do no wrong. He was a strong, independent man with a great love for the land and his country; he fought in World War II and was awarded a Purple Heart. He saw and experienced unimaginable horrors that he kept locked away, rarely to be spoken of again. He was a no non-sense man and yet he could laugh and play in the most fun loving ways with his grandchildren.
|Me and My Grandpa|
My mom was the only child of my grandpa's to inherit FAP and expected her experience to be much like his had been the majority of his life. My mom's journey was fairly calm until she unexpectedly received a diagnosis of colorectal cancer shortly after giving birth to me. My grandpa's health wouldn't change for the worse until 14 years later so everything up to this point was considered normal in our family. My mom expected to have the same surgery as my grandpa's first surgery, large bowel removal and reconnection. My parents were surprised with different news - a permanent ileostomy and very little information. Soon after my birth, my mom had her surgery and experienced a multitude of complications and nearly lost her life. Unlike my grandpa, whose struggles I rarely witnessed until the last year of his life, I witnessed my mom's struggles daily with her energy, ostomy, and frequent intestinal blockages. I've been fortunate to never have issue with food causing intestinal blockages. Yet my mom experiences intestinal blockages nearly monthly in spite of her best preventative efforts and would often require hospitalizations from the blockages. Fortunately, her number of hospitalizations have significantly reduced over the years. In 1998, she underwent the Whipple Procedure due to a precancerous FAP polyp in her duodenum. The surgery was successful but she had a difficult recovery with extreme pain and stomach issues that seriously impacted her ability to eat for an extended period of time.
|Me and My Mom|
Like most families affected by FAP, colon cancer is sadly part of our family. I think of the numerous ancestors my family has lost to colon cancer and how it has touched each of my family members. The rarity of FAP, a colon cancer causing disease, is evident in each of our stories. We all experienced doctors who were unfamiliar with FAP and thought cancer stopped with the colon with FAP. Medical care and informed medical decisions were not properly provided to all of us. This lack of information and proper medical care significantly impacted us and our outcomes could have been drastically altered with the proper information and treatments. My grandfather and mother could have been diagnosed significantly sooner, received treatments at the early stages of cancer and not have experienced such risks to their lives and ultimately death for my grandfather.
This is yet another reason why research and awareness is essential for the treatment, cure, and survival of individuals with rare diseases and cancers. The FAP Research Fundraiser was a huge success and we raised $640 to start a FAP Research Fund with the National Organization for Rare Disorders. You can now find all kinds of products with various designs with proceeds donated to NORD FAP Research Fund at Life's a Polyp Shop. I hope you'll join our efforts.