Wayne cancer survivor: ‘Don’t quit until you find an answer’

Written by Dalton Godbey

IMG_20160623_103634Doctors told her nothing was wrong, that she should not be concerned. But Monticello resident Grace Shearer knew something wasn’t right. It was 1982, and she was 26.

Although Shearer had no family history of colon cancer, she understood it was still possible from what she had learned volunteering with the American Cancer Society. She continued to search for answers.

Months later, a doctor performed a screening known as a sigmoidoscopy (similar to a colonoscopy), and that’s when she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

More than 130,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colon cancer annually, and it is the second leading cause of death among cancers that affect both men and women. Though Kentucky’s colon cancer rates have decreased by more than 25 percent in the past few years, the commonwealth still leads the nation in colon cancer incidence.

In Wayne County, there have been more than 150 colon cancer cases since 2000, according to the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

Shearer’s battle began immediately after her diagnosis.

“I got the diagnosis on Tuesday and went in Thursday for surgery,” she recalled. “I could not go home and worry about this.”

After a successful surgery, Shearer began the 5-FU chemotherapy treatment that, ironically, the American Cancer Society developed through its research efforts.

It would last 12 months. As the weeks passed, Shearer started to struggle. The treatments begin to wear her down, bringing on sickness and other complications.

“I dreaded going to those appointments,” she said. “It made me sick just thinking about it.”

But with a positive attitude and support from family, Shearer kept fighting until she finished her last chemotherapy treatment. Since then, she has remained cancer-free.

“I still get my follow-up colonoscopies about every three to five years,” Shearer said. “They haven’t found anything since.”

Shearer is still an active volunteer for the American Cancer Society, a program that may have been the factor which saved her life. The experience allowed her to become educated on the topic, and that knowledge kept her asking questions until she got the diagnosis.

Shearer is an advocate for cancer prevention. “Don’t brush the small issues off,” she advises. “Know your own body and don’t quit until you find an answer.”

Symptoms include such things as stomach cramping, bloody stool, or unexplained weight loss. Those with concerns about symptoms should see their doctor.

The Southern Kentucky Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in partnership with the Colon Cancer Prevention Project is sharing colon cancer survivor stories this summer to bring awareness to the importance of early detection. Southern KY AHEC’s mission is to improve the health of its 15-county region, which includes Wayne, through education and workforce training.

For more information on colon cancer and colon cancer screenings, call the Wayne County Health Department at (606) 348-9349 or call the Colon Cancer Prevention Project Hotline at 1-800-841-6399. Other educational resources are available at kickingbutt.org or cancer.org.