Years before Valarie Schlosser was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, she watched her older brother, Louis Jackson’s, health deteriorate.
From his hospital bed, Jackson told family that smoking had led to metastatic lung cancer. The explanation was good enough, and Schlosser believed it — until after he died. That’s when the truth, which had been obscured by stoicism and outdated beliefs about colon cancer, was revealed.
“My brother lost the fight to colon cancer in 2010,” says Schlosser. “I wish he had told us.”
The importance of transparency
Colorectal cancer is the nation’s second deadliest cancer, and cases are rising in people under age 50. People who have an immediate family member with the disease are considered higher risk and should be screened earlier. About a quarter of cases suggest a genetic factor.
Genetics could have been at play when, at age 49 and five years after her brother’s death, Schlosser drove herself to the emergency room with intense stomach pains. Doctors found a lemon-sized tumor in her colon. Had Louis been more forthcoming, Schlosser says she would have seen a doctor earlier.
“If we had been sitting at dinner, and he said, ‘I might have colon cancer, and these are the symptoms,’ I would’ve been able to relate to it,” says Schlosser. “I should’ve been diagnosed sooner.”
In the years since diagnosis, she has become an outspoken advocate for screening. Schlosser trembles when she talks about her daughter’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.
“I am petrified,” the Tampa mom says. “I’m scared for her, I’m scared for me, and I just don’t want her to go through this.”
It’s not the most sentimental ritual to pass down from mother to daughter, but after some convincing, Schlosser’s daughter, Peyton Schlosser, agreed to get screened this August — alleviating worries about perplexing symptoms that include stomach pains.
“She kept saying she didn’t want to know,” Schlosser says. “Her father has polyps removed every time he gets a colonoscopy, and here I am with stage IV colorectal cancer. It’s better to know now and be preventative than being diagnosed — it’s a no brainer.”
Steven Bushong, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, [email protected]