A Survivor’s Story
W. Phil Evans, M.D. is the national volunteer president of the American Cancer Society
Most authorities consider a person to be a cancer survivor from the time of his or her diagnosis through the balance of life. According to the American Cancer Society there are nearly 12 million cancer survivors in the United States today. Approximately two-thirds of those diagnosed with cancer between 2001 and 2007 lived five years past the time of diagnosis, up from about half just three decades before. These numbers tell the good news about the progress being made against cancer, but what does it really mean to be a cancer survivor?
In my profession as a diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging, I look for signs of breast cancer on mammography, ultrasound, and MRI exams, trying to find it early, when it is most treatable. When cancer is found, I am usually the first physician to tell the patient, and over the years I have done this many times. Listening and being sensitive and empathetic has always been my first concern when delivering the unwanted news.
Sixteen years ago, when undergoing medical testing for an unrelated problem, I was found to have kidney cancer. At the time, I had been an ACS volunteer for more than 12 years. My involvement began because of my passion for saving lives from breast cancer. It never crossed my mind that one day a physician would tell me that I had cancer. Fortunately, even though the cancer was aggressive, it was found early and was relatively small, but I did have surgery to remove my left kidney. My doctors were wonderful, and I am thrilled to wake up each day and to celebrate another birthday each year.
For me, being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment was truly a life-changing experience, because for the first time I totally understood the gift of life. I appreciated my family and friends more than ever. I could fully empathize with my patients and understand in a personal way the impact of a cancer diagnosis as never before.
My hope on National Cancer Survivors Day is that as your ACS President, I can do my part to help increase the number of lives saved from cancer. That means many more cancer survivors and many, many more birthdays with those we love.