I do not have the right kind of cancer. The cancer I have is not talked about. It’s not glamorous. It’s messy, embarrassing, and it kills more people than breast cancer. This year 11,210 more people will die from colon cancer than breast cancer. Colon cancer, however, is not something people want to talk about. It causes problems that people do not want to think about, and often the solution is something people don’t even know about. I didn’t.
I didn’t have a clue. Colon cancer is found almost evenly between men and women. More surprisingly, 9 out of 10 people who have this are over 50, making it hard to understand where I fit in. Less than one percent of people with colon cancer are between ages 20-34. I was diagnosed at 21.
I often don’t understand why there’s so much time and money spent promoting breast cancer. It’s not that I don’t support breast cancer research, but why breast cancer? Why can we not just look for a cure for cancer? Why is it when a disease can kill hundreds of thousands, we create a hierarchy of cancers? Why are breasts the posterchild for cancer?
A week before my birthday I had my first surgery. My colon was removed and I was given an ileostomy for the next four months. An ileostomy is a surgical opening constructed by bringing a piece of the small intestine to the surface of the skin through the abdomen wall. Intestinal waste passes out of the ileostomy and is collected into a pouching system stuck onto the skin. I spent 11 months in and out of the hospital, never going a week without a visit.I had not had a real job in almost a year and my savings were completely depleted. With debt collectors calling me everyday, I decided to look into finding aid. I turned to the Internet hoping to find something to help me pay my bills. I was disappointed to learn there was nothing. Why? Because I did not have the right kind of cancer. I was the wrong age, lived in the wrong area or had the wrong skin color.
ABC news described colon cancer as ‘icky.’ Thoughts like that hinder education on colon cancer. My senior year at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, my life became my thesis; I photographed every aspect of what I went through. The photo of my ileostomy provoked feelings of disgust and horror. People couldn’t stand it and asked me to leave it out of my project. The image became a center of controversy, despite its function being unknown.
I never regret my ileostomy. That procedure saved my life, but it not being widely known or accepted hurts. The fact that colon cancer can kill so many people yet is overlooked because it is not glamorous is absurd. Cancer is something serious and I hope people will not forget that.