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Running for Her Life

A Cancer Survivor’s Lifelong Commitment to S.C.O.P.E.

March 2009

By Rachel Winters

Patricia Jones, age 60, is a colorectal cancer survivor who manages to make exercise a top priority, even though her life is extremely busy these days.

In addition to working as an assistant to an ophthalmologist in her hometown of Texarkana, Arkansas, Patricia spends her free time scrapbooking with friends, traveling around the world and enjoying life with her husband, two children and four grandchildren.

The most important part of Patricia’s day is beginning each morning with yoga stretches, followed by a 30 minute power walk on her treadmill. The most important part of Patricia’s year is traveling to Houston to participate in MD Anderson’s Annual 5K Sprint for Colorectal Oncology Prevention and Education (S.C.O.P.E.) fun run/walk, which raises funds and awareness for colorectal cancer.

“People should exercise and keep their bodies strong,“ Patricia says. “Race participants travel to S.C.O.P.E. from all over the U.S. The race really gets the word out about colorectal cancer prevention by educating people about early detection and screening exams.”

Exercise and Colorectal Cancer Prevention

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer among men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer death. Colorectal cancer is, however, a preventable cancer, and fortunately, the number of annual deaths has been declining. Hopefully, education and awareness through events such as S.C.O.P.E. will save even more lives.

“Research shows that exercise can help prevent many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer,” says Cathy Eng, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology. “S.C.O.P.E. is a great way to encourage people to exercise.”

Individuals who exercise regularly are in better overall condition than those who do not. For people who have never had cancer, this means that regular exercise gives them a better chance of fighting and beating cancer if they happen to get it.

“Research also now shows that colorectal cancer survivors who exercise have a decreased chance of recurrence,” Eng says.

The American Cancer Society recommends that to reap the full benefits of exercise, adults should engage in at least minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (although 45 to 60 minutes are preferable) on five or more days of the week.

Patricia’s Battle with Cancer

Having survived colorectal cancer, Patricia Jones makes daily exercise and the annual S.C.O.P.E. fun run top priorities.

Patricia learned she had colorectal cancer in August 1999. While having her annual gynecologic exam, Patricia’s doctor recommended she have a colonoscopy because she had just turned 50-years old, the recommended age for healthy people to begin colorectal cancer screening. Prior to her colonoscopy, Patricia showed no symptoms of cancer.

“Before I had my first colonoscopy, I hadn’t really ever thought much about the colonoscopy or colorectal cancer,” Patricia says.

The results of Patricia’s colonoscopy were positive for colorectal cancer. A few months later, doctors in her hometown removed her tumor, and after six additional months of chemotherapy, Patricia was told she was cancer-free.

Then, in August 2004, Patricia began having sinus trouble. Unable to diagnose the problem, Patricia’s allergist sent her to a specialist, who scheduled a CT scan for her. Unfortunately, Patricia’s condition quickly deteriorated, and she was rushed to the emergency room before her scheduled appointment. A CT scan revealed that her colorectal cancer had traveled to her brain.

“Developing a brain tumor occurs in less than 5% of all colon cancer patients, and the chances of survival also are less than 5%,” Eng says. “Patricia is proof, however, that a dangerous recurrence can happen, and it is crucial for cancer survivors to continue regular colorectal cancer screening exams.”

MD Anderson doctors successfully removed the tumor in Patricia’s brain, and she has not experienced any long-lasting effects.

“Honestly, it was a miracle.” Patricia says. “My life is a miracle.”

Early Detection Plays a Key Role in Survival and S.C.O.P.E.

Since 2006, the S.C.O.P.E race has helped to build awareness, promote education and celebrate survivorship. Participation in the event has grown by 25% each year, and the organizers’ eventual goal is to obtain enough funding to support education research grants for colorectal cancer. This year, the 4th Annual S.C.O.P.E. run/walk and Kids 1K will be held at MD Anderson on March 28. Race organizers are hoping to have almost 1,300 participants.

“S.C.O.P.E. was created because of the prevalence of colorectal cancer, and it’s potential to be prevented,” says Eng, who is one of the race’s co-founders and a race participant. “The point of the race is to reach those without symptoms and those who have a family history of the disease to convey the importance of screening. Another goal of S.C.O.P.E. is to recognize and celebrate colorectal cancer patients and survivors. It’s very special to see my patients coming across that finish line.”

Patricia, her daughter, her son-in law and her grandchildren all have participated in S.C.O.P.E. every year since it began. When possible, Patricia also brings her husband, and this year, her sister will be participating in the day’s events for the first time.

“I’ll continue to participate in S.C.O.P.E. for as long as I can, and I encourage others to attend as well,” Patricia says. “Come and see what it’s about, and learn what you can do to reduce your chances of getting colorectal cancer.”  

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