The grooves between my eyebrows are definitely deepening. With the birth of each child, most of us also receive a big basket of worry. Are they okay? Will they be okay? Am I okay? What have we done? I am pretty sure it's a package deal.
When I think of what friends in my age group typically worry about, cancer ranks high. And it's no surprise. In 2015, an estimated 76,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Ontario and about 28,500 Ontarians died from the disease.
Sadly, our generation is at an age where cancer can strike us from every direction. Parents, their friends, or older relatives may be battling cancer. We have all likely lost a friend who was far too young to be taken by this disease. Even more tragically, most of us know at least one child who has been diagnosed. All of this can provide enough grief and anxiety to fuel our nightmares for a lifetime.
My most recent strategy for regaining control over my cancer fears entailed diagnosing myself as terminal through random internet searches on a weekly basis. This practice had to be disbanded once I was strictly reminded that the stress of this practice would kill me long before cancer had the chance. In the words of the wise and wonderful Erma Bombeck, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
The creators of My CancerIQ can turn worry into action with free, confidential, online risk assessments for melanoma, kidney, colorectal, lung, and female breast cancers. These questionnaires are designed to empower Ontarians to be more proactive about our health and to help us determine our risk of being diagnosed with certain types of cancer. This amazing tool can help us focus on the changes we can make to lower our risk of cancer and live healthier lives. My favourite part is the personalized risk assessment and action plans I received after answering the questions. The action plan provides tips and resources based on my individual risk factors.
While we can’t change our age or family history (Lord knows I have tried!), there are things we can do to reduce risk and take control of our health, such as quitting smoking, improving our diet, exercising regularly, and getting screened regularly, if recommended.
The My CancerIQ questionnaires are simple, attractive, and take less time than the Facebook test I took last week on colour blindness.
Many people assume cancer can’t be prevented. But studies have estimated that as many as half of all cancers in Ontario could be prevented by eliminating known risk factors. My CancerIQ includes a series of risk assessments that estimate a person’s risk compared to other Ontarians of the same age and sex. These tests are not intended to predict precisely who will or will not develop cancer.
Since its launch, more than 175,000 cancer risk assessments have been completed at MyCancerIQ.ca. So far, I'm only responsible for taking each test fourteen times.
Recently, My CancerIQ added risk assessments for melanoma and kidney cancer. Both of these cancers have at least one controllable risk factor and both can be treated and cured if detected early. Here is a little bit about each of these diseases.
Dermatologist, Dr. Jillian Macdonald of The Ottawa Clinic, recently won my heart by performing biopsies on my husband and I for suspicious moles. We now return to her for regular checks and great advice. According to Dr. Macdonald, the incidence of melanoma is still increasing and it's currently the seventh most common form of cancer in Canada. Although melanoma can be lethal if it spreads to the blood or lymphatic system, it also has a 90% cure rate with surgery if detected early.
She went on to tell me that there are many factors that influence a person's risk of melanoma such as genetics, skin type, number of moles and family history. However, one of the biggest risk factors is UV exposure which we can control using smart sun behaviour. Wear sun protective clothing, sunscreen and seek shade in peak sun hours. Tanning beds must be avoided. Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma commonly affects younger people as well and damage can start in childhood if we are not careful. We must also be diligent with protecting our children and be role models for sun safety.
Worrying that I had melanoma was scary but finding out that I didn’t, making a plan with my doctor for check-ins, and finding out how to reduce my risk felt great.
Kidney cancer is one of the ten most common forms of cancer and quitting smoking is a known way to reduce your risk of being diagnosed with it. Like melanoma, kidney cancer can be cured surgically if detected while still confined to the kidney. Cases where the cancer has spread outside of the kidney are much more difficult to treat.
Iva Mcdonell is a vibrant non-smoker and grandmother of six. She is one of my mother’s best friends. In 2010, Iva was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Her kidney was removed and she is now considered cured. During our chat, Iva revealed that what scared her the most was knowing how few treatment options would be available to her should the cancer have spread.
Dr. Sean Pierre is a urologist who surgically treats kidney cancer in Ottawa. According to Dr. Pierre, online tools like My CancerIQ can help decrease an individual’s risk of kidney cancer by demonstrating the role that smoking plays in their risk assessment. “These tests might also reveal information about family history leading to conversations with a patient’s family doctor about further behaviour changes.”
With the help of My CancerIQ, we can reduce our worry of getting cancer by learning more about our risks and taking positive steps towards reducing them. Speaking from experience, it feels so much better to take the test and make a plan. Understanding the monster and gathering a few weapons is so much more satisfying than hiding under the bed. Plus we all deserve the time it takes to care for ourselves. The people who love and need us are counting on it.