OPINION

Make that appointment now

Tony Bender
Local Columnist

A friend of mine from my old school stops in once a month. He sells paper products, and I only need so much, so he doesn't often get an order, but anyone who's ever done that job knows you couldn't do it if it wasn't about the people. “I just like seeing you,” he said.

It's an opportunity to catch up on hometown news, the changes in our families, and ultimately, the state of business. “We're hanging in there,” is my usual answer. I once told a date about myself. “Well, I went into AM personality radio just as it was dying. It was a dinosaur. Then I went into newspapers on the cusp of the Internet Age. And I collect fossils.” She howled.

My friend who sells paper in an ever-increasingly paperless PDF world, lamented the COVID supply chain issues. He's having a hard time getting paper cups and copy paper is being rationed because there are few warehouses anymore. With computer logistics, product travels from the manufacturer to the end-user in a “just in time” supply chain. That's when everything's going right. But get a ship stuck in a canal for a couple of weeks, clog up the shipping lanes, and we're reminded of just how vulnerable we are.

The COVID complications that took place more than a year ago still affect supplies in the same way an accident and rush hour slowdown used to affect my drive home in Denver. The accident might have been cleared up 45 minutes earlier, but the traffic snarl was still there.

That's what happened to health care. Routine tests and surgeries were stalled. A few months into the pandemic, most cancer screenings were down nearly 90 percent. Unfortunately, cancer didn't just go away. The number of diagnoses just dropped. I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to run the COVID gauntlet for treatment with a precarious timeline. I needed chemo and radiation, and then, if things went exactly right, the prize was major surgery at Mayo. They used the word “cure.” I clung to that word like a life raft. But a COVID setback had the potential to set me back, possibly beyond a cure.

Two weeks ago, I had my first scans since all of that and they came back clean as a whistle, which is what we expected, but you mentally prepare yourself to dig in and fight again. I wonder how many people weren't as fortunate I was and lost their lives because of our health care supply chain issues. If you can avoid hospitalization through a vaccine, you aren't just helping yourself, you're helping others you'll never know about. I've been in the trenches. I know.

I'd vowed to myself that I wasn't going to spend a lot of time talking about cancer, but it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I realized that I needed to do what we all should be doing, our part to

make lives around us better. So schedule that mammogram today. And if something doesn't feel quite right, get it checked out. I had no idea that acid reflux could lead to esophageal cancer, so it was a shock to see my doctor come in with a long face after my endoscopy. He and his nurse were more shook up about it than I was, but that might have had something to do with the anesthetic.

I was driving back from treatment one day talking to my sister on the phone. “I feel guilty,” she said. “I never had to go through the chemo and radiation that you and (our sister) Patty (bladder cancer) have had to endure.”

“Good grief,” I said. “You lost a breast!” But they'd caught it early. No further treatment was necessary. She's a retired RN. She knew enough to go in when she discovered a lump.

You get my message. No excuses. Get checked out. Many hospitals offer discounted mammograms. I get the natural human psychology. Somehow, we feel better not knowing even if there's a niggling suspicion in the back of our minds. Most tests will come back clean, and I can tell you there are no sweeter words in the world than “cancer-free.”

Advances in treatment mean it's no longer a death sentence. Just in my small circle of friends and family, I can count a dozen success stories. A couple of them were on the ropes. Patty's immunotherapy treatment has her cancer on the run. “I feel like we're both in the same canoe paddling like hell,” I told her one day.

Make that appointment. And paddle on.