Fundraiser raises awareness of colon cancer

People never expect their family vacations to end with a stay in the hospital. This, however, was the case for the Osaki family.

“The day we found out he had cancer was actually on his discharge day [for an emergency appendectomy],” said Paul Osaki, describing the experience of his older brother Glenn.

More than 200 people gathered at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) on the afternoon of July 17 to support Glenn’s battle with the disease. The Osaki family and the JCCCNC organized a fundraiser featuring video interviews with the Osaki family members and musical performances to raise awareness of colon cancer in the Japanese American community.

Glenn’s wife, Colette Ikemi-Osaki, was one of the singers during the fundraiser.

The family was in Hawai‘i, Glenn’s favorite place, when they learned that he had stage four colon cancer. Since being diagnosed almost five years ago, Glenn has gone into remission. However, he is still in poor health as a result of the chemotherapy he received.

“Most days I would say he’s not doing well,” his brother Jon, the executive director at Japanese Community Youth Council, said in the video presentation Glenn put together for this fundraiser.

The reason for the fundraiser was not only to contribute funds to Glenn’s medical treatment but also to raise colon cancer awareness. The Osakis said it was important to know that cancer affects entire families and not just the individual.

During the gathering Glenn and his family urged people in the audience to be proactive and get screened.

During the presentation Paul recalled how surprised he was when his brother was diagnosed just before Christmas on their family vacation.

“I think I was just really numb,” said Paul, the executive director of the JCCCNC.

Glenn himself said the thought that plagued him was how to explain the news to his daughter.

“How was I going to tell Shannon,” said Glenn. Despite their shock the family was already familiar with this disease when they were informed about Glenn’s diagnosis.

“Mom had breast cancer followed by colon cancer,” Glenn’s brother, Dean Osaki, said.

His mother survived and since Glenn’s diagnosis everyone in the family has been screened. Now the family continues to be concerned about Glenn’s declining health.

“He is in pain all the time,” Glenn’s mother, Sally Osaki, said.

“He has no quality of life and that is what you would want most for your children,” she said.

Compared to the man who appeared in the family photos five years ago, Glenn has withered away. He says that at one point he weighed only 125 pounds. “He is wasting away,” Shannon Osaki said.

Glenn said that the hardest part of being ill was the effect it has had on his family. He said it has been difficult to hear his doctors tell his family that if he does not gain weight soon they will lose him from malnutrition.

The presentation included a segment about Glenn and his three brothers. Paul reflected in an interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly that he still finds it hard to grasp the idea that he might lose his brother with whom he has enjoyed many interests.

“It’s hard to imagine that one day we may not be able to do that anymore.”

His family members said they would love for Glenn to experience another trip to Hawai‘i. “It was his favorite place to take Shannon,” his mother said.

Toward the end of the presentation as Glenn sat on stage between his wife and daughter, holding their hands, he told Shannon just how important she has been to him and his recovery.

“You give me the strength to get through this,” he told her.

COLON CANCER PREVENTION TIPS

What are the risk factors?

Age and heredity play a major role in the diagnosis of colon cancer. The disease is found most commonly in people over the age of 50. According to the National Cancer Institute the average age of diagnosis is 72. However, colon cancer is not restricted to people in this age group. For people who have a history of colon cancer in their immediate family (parents, siblings, children) the risk is somewhat more immediate.

Also at risk are those who have a chronic history of ulcerative colitis, which is an inflammation of the colon, and women who have a history of ovarian, breast and endometrial (uterus) cancer.

What are the stages of

colon cancer?

There are five stages of cancer, all of which depend on the severity of the condition at the time of diagnosis. The first is Stage 0, when the cancer is found only on the innermost lining of the colon. Stage I, when the tumor has spread to, but not beyond the wall of the colon. Stage II, when the tumor has gone beyond the wall of the colon and possibly to other tissues. At Stage III the cancer has reached the lymph nodes but has not spread through the body. Stage IV is when the cancer has moved beyond the colon and has spread to other parts of the body.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include: constipation or diarrhea, blood in stool, unexplained weight loss, lethargy, nausea and gas pains. Since these symptoms could have a number of medical causes it is important to consult a physician to determine the root of the problem first. A diagnosis may be made before symptoms are noticed. The cancer may exist even without the signs.

What is the treatment?

The four treatments for colon cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy and radiation therapy. The physician would recommend the treatments based on the individual cases. For example, surgery, in which malignant polyps are removed, is the most common form of treatment for colon cancer particularly when the cancer is detected early enough not to have spread to other parts of the body.

How can the disease be prevented?

Screenings are essential to prevention. Colon cancer can be detected through a number of methods even if there are no symptoms. It is important, particularly for those at higher risk, to get screened regardless of whether they experience symptoms or discomfort. Doctors encourage a diet high in calcium, fiber, fruits and vegetables.

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