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My View: Cancer screenings must not be ignored

By Caitlin McHugh

As I have recently begun the 22nd year of my life, I have been reflecting on some of the greater lessons I have learned. Many of them can be related to how colon cancer has impacted my life.

With National Colon Cancer Awareness Month now upon us, and as I focus on my own health, I want to speak out about the importance of getting screened for colon cancer and knowing your family history.

In 2010, my family and I were thrown quite a curveball. My father had perforated his colon and needed to be rushed into emergency surgery. The doctors discovered that this was a result of cancer that had formed in his colon, and it had spread to his liver.

My father had a history of suffering from ulcerative colitis on and off for periods of time dating all the way back to his early 20s. For years, he experienced flare- ups and remissions of ulcerative colitis.

On Sept. 5, 2011, my father lost his battle with colon cancer. He was only 46 years old when he passed.

For as long as I can remember, he was the healthiest, most active person I have ever known. He had the healthiest diet I have ever seen, even to this day. He spent a great deal of time cycling and running on a daily basis.

He took his health very seriously, so when he got sick it was very difficult to watch the strongest man in my life start to become weaker as his cancer progressed.

The emotions I endured from this have all come to me in stages. First I was scared. The idea that he could die from this became my worst nightmare.

Then I was sad, as I began to realize and accept the reality of what was happening.

As I tried to put reasoning behind it, I found myself experiencing intense feelings of anger. It was unfair and my family didn’t deserve it.

Today, however, although I still have days where I miss him, I have grown a great deal in my emotional journey. When I think of my father now, it no longer brings me sadness or anger.

I hold onto and cherish my memories of the times spent with him in the 16 years I was blessed to know him. Along with my emotional growth from this experience, I have found it very important to educate myself and others on the disease.

Had my father gotten the proper screenings done, given his history of ulcerative colitis, his cancer might have been detected in an early enough stage that he might have survived.

After seeing firsthand what colon cancer did to my father, and knowing how difficult it has been on my family to overcome this, I can honestly say that it is important to be aware of how to take preventative measures.

More information about available screening options can be found on the American Cancer Society’s website, cancer.org.

One of the things I want more than anything in life is to have a family of my own some day. And I will get screened when the time comes because I want to be there for them. I don’t want to miss out on my children’s graduations, weddings and life milestones.

I will get screened so that I don’t have to miss out on all of the things my father has – and is still missing out on – because of colon cancer. I will get screened because I know it could save my life.

Caitlin McHugh, a native of Syracuse, is a senior at Canisius College majoring in journalism.
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