I have a small model of Westminster Abbey on the book shelf in my living room. Despite what my wife thinks it is not just the dust catcher she deems it to be but a treasured gift from a grateful lady and a reminder of the benefits of a good thorough look.
Doris Parsons was in her late 40’s when we met for a new patient physical examination. The examination was normal and aside from slight fatigue she had no symptoms. Her laboratory study, however, did reveal an unexpected anemia. It has to be explained. This led to a thorough methodical search for a cause. She had undergone a hysterectomy years prior so menstrual loss was ruled out. There were no overt signs of blood loss but a fecal blood test raised my eyebrows. A subsequent colon exam revealed colon cancer. For the sake of her survival the cancer, of course, had to be removed … sooner than later. She had a long planned trip to England that she really wanted to take even though it would delay her planned surgery for about two weeks. With the promise that she would not delay the operation further she was given our blessing. Upon return, having had a marvelous time, she presented me with the memento, the Westminster Abbey model. Her surgery and recovery went smoothly and thanked me for “saving my life.” I saw her again a few times over the next few months and she continued to not only do well but, in fact, thrive. When her insurance coverage changed we lost touch.
Cancer, were it possible to ask, would certainly want to be left alone to do what cancer does; this is true of all living things. It wanted to have a say in determining the course of its’ life, her life. But cancer has no say in the matter; it had to go … period. Doris could’ve demanded to be left alone which is her prerogative, not the cancer’s, but it could’ve cost her her life.
Denial can be detrimental to one’s health and well-being. Wisely, Doris did not ignore the evidence that there was a potential problem looming and took the necessary steps to address it. Regular checkups and screenings as recommended by various peer reviewed organizations — the American College of Physicians, the American Cancer Society, among others — have their place and should be acknowledged and followed in conjunction with one’s primary care physician. An ounce of prevention can go a long way.