The holidays are a time to gather with friends and family for food, fun and great conversations. But imagine those conversations not going as planned and the joy of being with your loved ones overshadowed by someone sharing that they have cancer. You may not have been ready to have that discussion, yet it was happening. And you may not be prepared to talk about screenings with your loved ones, but it’s necessary. As someone who has had two different cancers in my life, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting screened.
It was 2015 when I first heard those earth-shattering words, “it’s cancer.” I thought back to a conversation with my doctor just a few months earlier when they recommended a routine colonoscopy screening. Instead of getting it done right away, I kept putting it off. My life was busy. I had a family and was in the midst of a successful career. It just wasn’t a priority for me, and all the while, I was unknowingly putting myself at risk. Then fast-forward to a critical moment with my doctor. It was too late; surgery was needed to treat my cancer.
If I’d gotten my colonoscopy, a screening for colon cancer, when it was recommended, it’s possible that I could’ve avoided surgery, treatment, and the emotional toll I put on my family. Even though the treatments saved me, I had to learn the hard way not to take unnecessary risks with my life. So, three years later, when my doctor recommended screening for prostate cancer, I did not wait. I completed the screening immediately, and we were able to find and treat my second cancer at an early stage. Now, I am once again cancer-free and sharing my story to help others understand why they should be getting screened.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, yet the discussion of cancer screening remains taboo in our community. Now is the time to start having conversations about cancer screening and having it often. Be an example for your friends and family. It’s OK to say, “Hey, as your buddy, I want us to be together 20 years from now. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. That includes going to the doctor and getting screened for cancer.” It may be a tough conversation to have, but you may be the one that could make a life-saving difference.
Cancer wasn’t something I was prepared to factor into my life. But through my experience, I learned some tough lessons. It is important to listen to my doctor. I need to take the time to share with others, so they don’t make the same mistake. It’s necessary to go to the doctor on a timely basis. It’s OK to have scary conversations about health with loved ones. And if a doctor recommends cancer screening, get screened.
Through my work with the American Cancer Society, I have seen that cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s not just older people getting cancer, anyone can be at risk. This is why it is so important for you to talk to a doctor about the type of health care and screening you may need. You can’t play around with your life. It’s more than just a cancer screening, it’s a way to help ensure that we will be around for our families. The longer we are around, the more opportunities we have to live our dreams and to see our loved ones achieve their goals.
As we prepare to gather for the holidays, whether it’s a large gathering or with immediate family, I encourage you to have a conversation with your loved ones about regular cancer screening. I hope that you take the steps yourself to schedule an appointment to get screened. If you need cancer screening recommendations, resources, as well as tips to start the conversation, visit cancer.org/get-screened. A small discussion can make a life-saving difference, so please don’t wait.
–David Ford is a two-time cancer survivor, senior government relations manager at Southern California Edison, and member of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network board of directors.