Conditional Survival from Colon Cancer: My Survival Odds Have Increased in the Last Four Years
Why I started thinking about conditional survival...
Cancer means different things to different people. We all bring our personality characteristics to our illnesses and our choices about our illnesses. I am not the Dean Ornish type A type nor am I the totally Ostrich stick-my-head-in-the sand type of person. When I was first diagnosed with colon cancer, I was told I had stage IV cancer. Eventually I looked that up on the web, and saw that for most people that meant an 8% chance of surviving 5 years. I wasn't too happy about the odds but immediately set out to do some of the things I had always wanted to do. I guess I am a little weird but finding out more about astronomy and organic chemistry were two of my goals. Another was to be a counselor. Still another was to be a teacher. Working on these goals has kept me busy.
Despite being involved in these endeavors, I did notice that I was still alive. That made me start thinking about the conditional probability of survival from colon cancer. By that I mean, what if I had already survived a year? Would that mean I had a better chance of living than I did right after diagnosis? In other words, did my odds change after having survived a certain amount of time?
The answer is yes, as you will find out below. As of this writing, my chances of surviving another five years have gone from eight percent to forty six percent in the last four years. If I live until next April, my odds of living another five years will increase to 57%. The road has been a bit rocky, but I am not as glum as I was previously.
Chances of Survival Increase afer Survival
Just as I suspected, chances of survival improve by just surviving. Eating healthy and exercising increase one's chance of surviving even more. Although some results are inconsistent, eating more fruits and vegetables is a good strategy as is getting one-half to one hour of aerobics a day. I have cut down on my soft drink and red meat consumption as well. Sometimes I lift weights but I have not been thorough in keeping up with that.
My oncologist did not tell me to cut out red meat but she did tell me to eat a plant based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, a little dairy, and small pieces of meat. I studied both the Mediterranean diet and the paleolithic diet but thought the Mediterranean diet sounded more functional and realistic.
I was already an exercise nut before my cancer diagnosis, and I have been working exercise back into my schedule as much as I can.
Would you want to know your survival odds if you had cancer? - A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
Would you want to know your chances of survival?
Use it or lose it
I bike a lot and walk when the distance I am going is not challenging to bike. I try to go to the fitness center when I can. I read somewhere that skinny people are less efficient than fat people. So, I deliberately try to do things inefficiently like take out the garbage one bag at a time instead of two bags at a time. Sometimes, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I might buy one or two items in the grocery store, walk them home and then go back for anything I forgot. (Having a bad memory is a great way to get in some extra steps particularly when you forget what you came into a room for. You go back to the room you came from to refresh your memory. Ha!) One exercise that is good for colon cancer survivors is squats - particularly when going to the bathroom. See the squatty potty video at the bottom of the page for more details. Exercise can be beneficial in sessions as short as 10 minutes each. In the mornings, I make my coffee by squatting beside the coffee pot to put the coffee in the coffeepot. Doing pushups against the wall can also help. As far as helping with weight control, fidgeting counts as exercise and so does shivering!
Diet and Survival
Eating for good health
Before I had cancer, I was a hamburger and hot dog person mostly although I had tried to eat vegetarian during one period in which I found out I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Now I am more prudent. I eat less beef, pork and processed meat. I eat beans, chicken and turkey. I try to eat oatmeal, whole grain breads and brown rice. I eat nuts and peanut butter. I am actually thinking about buying a nut butter machine. I have cut down on soft drinks and other sugary drinks. I eat more fruit but less fruit juices. I eat fresh salads, soy products and lots of tuna and sardines.
People used to recommend vitamins and supplements to prevent cancer but as the data comes in, the evidence is that whole foods are the best foods to eat because when you try to isolate ingredients you might also isolate health benefits of the whole foods. Coffee is in these days as is red wine. Because I had a problem with alcohol in my youth, I don't drink alcohol but I do drink coffee a lot. Since I drink it straight without sugar or cream, it is also a good substitute for the soft drinks I used to guzzle down. Apparently from a recent article in the "New York Times", coffee drinking improves survival odds for people who have colon cancer. I also drink tea usually hot black but sometimes green tea as an alternative to coffee. I try to eat my calories rather than drink them. I am lazy about food but will peel an orange or tangerine now.
This is a comglomorate of ideas gleaned from others. Depending on how healthy you want to be and how much you can afford, you can use rolled oats or whole oats chipped into little pieces or quick oats.
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup oats
- 2 apples chopped with skin left on
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- brown sugar to taste
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- Mix water, cinnamon, apples and brown sugar.
- Boil for fifteen minutes.
- Add Oats.
- Simmer until desired thickness is reached.
- Add walnuts and stir.
Sleep, Rest and Emotions
Of Mind and Matter
Getting enough sleep is very important for me. I have read that retired older people get more sleep and take better care of their health than their working counterparts. I believe that! Getting exercise helps me to sleep. So riding my bike is good sleeping medicine too. Sleeping in the buff is recommended by the AARP.
I have a spiritual group that I meet with on a semi-regular basis. Although I do not have strong theoretical beliefs, I do think spirituality is a plus in survival.
I also see my psychiatrist regularly, talk to my friends and try to keep my stress level down. One thing I learned in a 12th step program was not to get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired. They called it "HALT". I guess I could definitely use some anger management at times.
One important feature of being a colon cancer survivor is to do followups. This includes tests for colon cancer but also tests for other kinds of cancer since having one kind of cancer increases the probability of developing another kind of cancer particularly if one does chemotherapy or radiation as part of their cancer treatment. I have had a chest x-ray and a mammogram recently. My life does not revolve around going to see my doctors but they are an important part of my life.
Even for atheists
Has anyone else appreciated Pope Francis' reaching out to atheists? We all have spiritual needs regardless of our religious beliefs. Having a cancer diagnosis has tuned me in to spirituality more. Below are some moving scenes of church architecture in Evanston.
Don't get me wrong now. As a former Southern Baptist, I am subject to another foxhole conversion in the future. Even some religious people have trouble with spirituality if it interferes with their preconceived notion of God or religion. So there!
Churches in Evanston - Little RomeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Books on Amazon Related to Surviving Cancer - Expert or Experienced
I looked at the books on Amazon to see what I thought would be good choices on the topic of surviving cancer.
Survival Websites - People Who are fighting back
- Colon Cancer Survival Calculator - MD Anderson Cancer Center
- Coffee drinking tied to reduced risk of colon cancer
Describes research linking coffee drinking to survival from colon cancer.
- Conditional Survival Among Cancer Patients in the United States
The Oncologist is a journal devoted to medical and practice issues for surgical, radiation, and medical oncologists.
This is Chris' website. He had Stage II cancer and followed it up with diet and then exercise. He did not undergo chemotherapy.
One of the first classes I took after I found out I had colon cancer was a class on how to build a website. I built this website for that class.
Do you squat to poop? - Squatting vs Sitting
Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
After my colon cancer diagnosis, I was subjected to many tests and procedures as standard follow-up. On a CT Scan a couple of years ago, the doctors saw a small spot. They watched it for awhile. It was moving too slow to be a virus and too fast to be benign. Last summer I had a biopsy and the growth was malignant. On September 2, 2014, the lower lobe of my right lung was removed. Here is a picture of my shortly after the operation. I was on oxygen for awhile after the operation but am past the six month survival for that now, and back walking if not biking.
A Selfie after Removal of the Lower Right Lobe of My Lungs
Three and a half years later....Oxford House
When I had part of my right lung removed, I got a little discombobulated. I stayed at an Oxford House on the Southside of Chicago. Although having cancer did not "drive me to drink," I decided that a sober living place would help keep my thoughts in the right direction.
Regaining cautious optimism.
A few months ago, I had another temporary setback. I was responding to a fire drill, and I tripped on the snowy concrete steps where I lived. Ordinarily, I would have only a sore butt but because of my brittle bones, I fractured one or more vertebrae in my spine. Of course being thin in my youth and smoking cigarettes heavily until I was 47 probably contributed but so did chemotherapy as I have discovered though searching for information on the topic. It has been over six months now since the deed, and I am back at the gym.
Brittle Bones and Chemotherapy
Four Years Later: Five Year Reprieve From Colonoscopies
Good news. I had a followup colonoscopy on Thursday. Not only was there no cancer, I didn't even have any polyps. Boy, was I happy. The lung surgery kind of took the wind out of me, pun intended, and it was good to get some good news. The surgeon said I did not have to have another colonoscopy for five more years!
Blending vs Juicing
Recently I purchased a blender from Ace Hardware. It was only $35.00, and I have been wearing it out. I am making vegetable and fruit smoothies. I know a lot of people are in to juicing but since I have bad teeth, I am letting the blender do the chewing for me, and am drinking my fruits and vegetables. So far, I have used kale, spinach, ginger, bananas, strawberries, almond milk, celery, and peaches in various combinations. Oh yes, I sometimes add a little neem honey which has anti-inflamatory properties.
New Job Training
I am working on my CADC at Oakton Community College, and am doing an internship at The Women's Treatment Center at 140 N. Ashland in Chicago, IL. I go there three days a week, and am enjoying working with the women. At first I worked on the detox unit. Now I am on a residential unit that houses women with children for their treatment.