Most people's lives have been touched by cancer in some way. I was recently leading one of our hospital's monthly employee forums, where I asked people to raise their hand if they didn't have a family member, loved one or friend who had been affected by cancer. Not a single hand went up.
For me, it was my son, Christopher. Right before his fourth birthday, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Eventually, the cancer spread to his liver and lungs.
As a father, when I heard the news it literally knocked the wind out of me. There were months during that time when we practically lived in the hospital day and night. But I also knew that our family would survive, and we remained hopeful.
By way of background, I'm a doctor of pharmacy, so it helped that I understood what treatment we were doing and what to expect. The routine and predictability of our journey was comforting. And hearing from lots of patients with similar experiences who survived was inspiring.
This year alone, however, the American Cancer Society estimates nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed, and approximately 600,000 people will die from cancer. That makes cancer the leading cause of death right behind heart disease.
The good news is that through the years, we've made great strides in the war on cancer. Advances in radiation, chemotherapy and targeted treatments have improved survival rates — particularly for breast, prostate, lung, liver and colorectal cancer. But beyond technology and treatments, one of our finest weapons against cancer is promoting awareness and the importance of screening.
In my age bracket, for instance, colon cancer screening is recommended at age 50. Although I'm not quite 50, it's on my radar; despite its standing as one of the top three cancer killers, colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and has a 90 percent survival rate if found early at the local stage. In the last 10 years, the rate for people diagnosed with colon cancer has actually dropped 30 percent, which researchers credit to awareness and more people getting the recommended screening tests.
To help raise awareness for all types of cancer, Sharp Grossmont Hospital will be observing World Cancer Day on February 4. The day is intended to get as many people as possible around the globe to talk about cancer. Several employees, including myself, will color our hair lavender — the color representing all cancers — to raise awareness and honor loved ones, friends and patients whose lives have been touched by cancer. We have deemed the day, "Get Your Lavender On" Day.
As a hospital administrator, I believe in the power of raising cancer awareness, and I encourage everyone to do the same. There are many things you can do — from getting involved with a charity that supports cancer to volunteering at a local hospital. The important thing is to attach passion to the cause and together raise awareness and prevent cancer.
As for my son, he had a rough course for a while. But after a year-long battle, which included a bone marrow transplant, he has been in remission for seven years. Today, he's a happy, healthy 11-year-old boy, and I love spending my free time with him playing baseball or attending sporting events.
If I had to give advice to someone who presently has a family member or friend fighting cancer, I would tell them to never lose focus on quality of life and never lose hope.