5,000+ people will get a cancer diagnosis today. Monica Pearson has this advice

Two-time cancer survivor Monica Pearson one of more than 18 million cancer survivors in the U.S.

Sunday marks National Cancer Survivors Day. Almost all of us have been touched by cancer … a relative, an acquaintance, a friend, a co-worker, and maybe even yourself. As a two-time cancer survivor — breast, 26 years and liver, 9 years — I embrace this day and count myself blessed to have survived and continue to thrive.

I am not alone. The National Cancer Institute estimates there were 18.1 million cancer survivors in January 2022, about 5.4% of the U.S. population. And that number is expected to increase 24% by 2032.

The number of people dying from cancer has declined. The American Cancer Society reports over four million fewer deaths in the United States between 1991 and now. But while cancer no longer is an automatic death sentence, many people tend to still see it and treat the diagnosed that way. Which is the last thing we need. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

This year, two million people will be told they have cancer … that’s 5,500 people a day, according to the American Cancer Society. But again, it is not a death sentence in a majority of cases.

A Monica Moment column debuts.

Credit: AJC file

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Credit: AJC file

What has led to the decrease in deaths? Lifestyle changes for some and early detection for others. People aren’t smoking cigarettes the way they used to. There are tests available to screen for cancers: breast, cervical, colon, lung, prostate, uterine. You’ve heard the saying, “early detection means early cure.”

To the women, are you regularly doing breast self -exams? Are you getting a routine mammogram? My breast cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram. However, it took me being an advocate for myself to insist on a biopsy when a technician told me calcium deposits were found in my left breast and I should wait for a biopsy. I insisted and got it after complaining to my doctor. That biopsy discovered DCIS, known as ductal carcinoma in situ, abnormal cells in the milk duct and a noninvasive breast cancer. Surgery left me with a one-inch scar on the side of my breast. What if I had waited until I could have felt a lump?

No one in my family had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that is the case for most women. But knowing your family health history can be a clue as to whether you could have a risk. The American Cancer Society says if you have a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer, your risk doubles.

For men, 1 in 8 will get prostate cancer and as you age, your risk goes up. Again, knowing your family health background is important too. If one of more of your close relatives had prostate cancer, your chances of having it increase, especially if you are a Black man.

Please don’t make assumptions about how or why people get cancer. It adds to the stigma. When I was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2015, I was surprised when people actually said to me, “I didn’t know you drank that much.” I don’t and didn’t drink alcoholic beverages on a regular basis. What led to my liver cancer, we don’t know but I can now understand why people are reluctant to share a diagnosis.

You don’t share that information because there still is a stigma attached to having cancer. The perception is somehow you did something that caused you to get it.

And then we don’t get screened because of fear. How often I’ve heard women and men say, “I’m not getting checked because they might find something.” They forget, early detection means an early cure. Routine exams can be a lifesaver.

But so can lifestyle changes; changes that can help to reduce cancer risks. The American Cancer Society advocates that we don’t smoke, that we exercise regularly, watch our weight and eat healthier — fruits, vegetables, whole grains. We should limit processed foods, alcohol and always use sunscreen and protective clothing when exposed to the sun.

However, there is no guarantee that you will not get cancer. But if you do get cancer, may I offer some advice. Use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate your life and those in it. Negative Nellies and Normans should be kept in abeyance. I wanted people around me who had positive attitudes. No lip service, but service from bringing over meals to sharing funny videos, running errands for me and just being available when I wanted to talk and not always about cancer.

Everyone handles a cancer diagnoses differently. There is no right or wrong way. It is your way. But a pity party for a long time is not healthy for you and those around you. It is ok to cry and scream and question God when you feel like it but don’t wallow in it. You’ve got to be a fighter. And there are groups that can help support you, for example, Sisters By Choice, Zero Prostate Cancer or support programs through hospitals and the American Cancer Society.

As a woman of faith, cancer was my time to live out my faith. Since God brought me to this, He would see me through it. When, I asked, why me? He answered why not you? Then I realized, telling my story publicly would cause others to say, if it can happen to her, it can happen to me, so I better get checked. It was amazing how many people called or wrote me and thanked me. Some learned they had breast cancer, while for others it was just having a peace of mind.

My attitude is simple. My body is like my car. Parts break. You get it fixed and you keep moving until there are no more fixes available. And that’s when one of my mother’s favorite sayings comes to mind, “None of us came to stay.”

However, on this National Cancer Survivors Day I will celebrate survival with millions of others, who survived and now thrive.

Be sure to check out the new podcast, “The Monica Pearson Show” featuring interviews with Jason Carter, Killer Mike, Ms. Pat and Sanjay Gupta. You can listen and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts.