By Mwabi Kaira

A week before Thanksgiving in 2014, we celebrated my brother and sister’s joint birthdays with a party. Somewhere between the dancing, the drinks and cutting the cake, my big sister casually mentioned that she hadn’t been feeling well and google had told her that she probably had colon cancer.  I rolled my eyes and thought she was being dramatic.  Everybody knows that Doctors despise google and the self-diagnosis it brings.  I told her to make the appointment to ease her fears and I would accompany her.  At 41 it was an uphill battle to get a colonoscopy scheduled because she was young and female.  Routine screenings are not recommended for adults under 50 and colon cancer has been more common in males historically.  A month later, I was in the waiting room scrolling my timelines when the doctor came out to inform me of the cancer he had found in my sister’s colon and the surgery he had to perform right away.  She had Stage 3 colon cancer.

After the surgery we got a crash course in all things cancer; what it was, how it was caused, and what we should expect. The questions were endless. Doctors were baffled that we did not have a family history of any cancer at all and that my sister was African-American and female. These were all things they had not seen at their practice.

As I drove her home from the hospital days after her surgery that December, she asked me to stop at her nail salon for a manicure and pedicure. I obliged and recognized her fight; she refused to go home and get under the covers and let this cancer diagnosis take over her life. My sister begun her 12 rounds of chemotherapy and ended her treatment with radiation. We rang the bell to celebrate her last chemo in July 2015. She was in remission in September and the family along with her three kids rejoiced. However, she started feeling not so well again in December and ended up in the ER New Year’s Eve. The cancer was back and this time it was stage 4 rectal cancer.

My sister did not look sickly and kept her lashes, brows and face beat at all times. She was self-employed and continued to work. You could not tell she had stage 4 cancer. I didn’t get worried until December 2016 when she started slowing down, and could barely eat two bites before feeling full. She was exhausted all the time and it was the beginning of her deterioration. Months of being in and out of the hospital followed.

I was getting an oil change the morning of August 9 and planned on going to the hospital that evening after work when ‘Good Morning America’ was on in the waiting room of the car dealership. I stopped flipping through the magazine in my hands when I heard them say colon and rectal cancer were on the rise in young women. Not even 3 years prior my sister was a rarity with her diagnosis and now it was so prevalent in young women that a story was being done on it. I made a mental note to look it up later and went to work. I was at work for barely an hour and felt a tugging to leave and be by my sister’s side in the hospital. What greeted me was a scene I will never forget and can still replay. My sister, Donna, took her last breath during the morning hours of August 10, 2017 with her family by side. She had just turned 44.

Colorectal cancer is still low in people under 55 but a study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that cancer is increasing among millennials and those born circa 1990 have nearly double the risk for colon cancer and quadruple the risk for rectal cancer compared to those born circa 1950. Colon cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your doctor and ask for a colonoscopy:

Dark Blood in Your Stool

Don’t be alarmed from bright red blood as you wipe because that could be from straining or a small hemorrhoid but large maroon or black-tinged blood are cause for concern because they would indicate bleeding further up the colon.

A Change in Your Bowel Habits
My sister noticed that she was going more frequently and that alerted her to pay attention. For some this could be noticing more diarrhea or constipation. If you have done nothing different to your diet and suddenly see changes, pay attention.

Persistent Abdominal Discomfort

If you notice more frequent cramps, gas or pain in your stomach that lasts for days and over the counter medicine doesn’t cure, pay attention.

Using the Bathroom but Still Feeling Full
If you go to the bathroom and still feel like you need to go then this is a sign that something is not right.

Weakness and Fatigue
We all feel lethargic some days but if you’re feeling weak and exhausted and have some of the symptoms above, there could be a problem.

Unintended Weight Loss
We all want our clothes to fit a little looser but if you have very loose clothes in a short period by unintended weight loss paired with some symptoms above, there could be a problem.

How often do you listen to your body?

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her athttp://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/

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