MIKE HENNESSY, SR.
The first few times
Sara DeBord noticed her left ankle swelling, she wasn’t aware that she might have lymphedema, because she didn’t know she was at risk of developing it.
Yes, after receiving a diagnosis of metastatic colorectal cancer, she’d had the tumor and affected lymph nodes at the left side of her abdomen surgically removed. But no one had warned her that taking out the nodes could cause fluid buildup in her leg, resulting in swelling.
Following surgery for cancer, pre-emptive treatment can help lessen the severity of lymphedema if it develops — and this is crucial, because there is no cure for the sometimes debilitating condition.
“After the reality of my diagnosis set in, I’m not sure what disappointed me more — that I wasn’t told this could happen to me, or that my own oncologist was so ignorant (about) a condition that could affect many of his patients,” DeBord wrote in an online blog for CURE®
; she also writes about anxiety in the pages ahead.
Preventing and easing side effects is enormously important for survivors of cancer, and it’s the reason this issue of CURE
® includes a feature article on the symptoms that can arise after treatment for gastrointestinal (GI) cancers: We’re sharing some of the key questions to ask and steps to take through different forms of treatment.
Knowing what to keep watch for helped Peg Myrick after she received a diagnosis of metastatic colorectal cancer at age 36.
“I could only tolerate five rounds of oxaliplatin because the side effects were too much. I had (numbness) in my hands and feet, along with cold sensitivity,” she says in our article. “I stopped because ... I didn’t want the neuropathy to become permanent.”
Prevention is also an issue for previvors of GI cancers, like Tara Kirk. In this issue, she shares details of her ongoing medical surveillance due to Lynch syndrome, a group of inherited gene mutations that predispose her to colorectal and other cancer types. This is a bit invasive, but a necessary safety measure.
Genetic and genomic testing — evaluating a person’s inherited genes and the acquired changes in their tumor, respectively — also are becoming increasingly crucial for people who have GI cancers. Our article on gastric cancer discusses some of the mutated genes in this disease that can — or soon may — be treatable with drugs. It’s this kind of discovery that’s changing the face of cancer treatment.
The understanding of genes that drive cancer is strikingly important in colorectal cancer, and is gaining momentum in pancreatic and esophageal cancers, as well as in cholangiocarcinoma — as we illustrate in the pages to come.
We hope these thoughts on the prevention of, and awareness about, GI cancers and their side effects will be helpful to patients, survivors and caregivers alike. Understanding your disease and advocating for what you need to get the most appropriate treatment is crucial, and our goal is to help you accomplish that throughout the cancer journey.
As always, thank you for reading.