In honor of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, I interviewed Tommy Chong on my radio show, Aches and Gains. Tommy shared his battle with rectal cancer and the triumphs he has achieved in overcoming his pain.
As you may already know, Tommy was a part of the legendary counterculture comedy team of Cheech and Chong. With partner Cheech Marin, he starred in numerous comedic movies, notably Up In Smoke and Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, as well as appeared in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours.
My two-part interview with Tommy is available as a podcast when you subscribe to Aches and Gain On-Demand. Please click either link below to sign-up
What You Should Know About Colon Cancer
Despite decreases in the death rate from colon cancer over the past two decades, the disease remains the third most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society. There are huge benefits to routine testing, and early detection can significantly reduce the number of cases that result in death.
The Mayo Clinic notes that cancer sufferers in the early stages of the disease may not experience symptoms, which is why routine testing is critical, especially for high risk groups such as adults over 50, and African Americans. When symptoms manifest, they can vary:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Blood in stool
- Change in bowel habits (constipation, narrow stools)
- Passing excessive amounts of gas
- Abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
Rectal cancer requires a doctor’s diagnosis (usually an oncologist) and severity depends on the size and location of the tumor. Since there is a genetic component associated with the disease, it is important to know your family medical history and discuss it with your physician.
Although inconclusive, some studies suggest diets high in red meat and processed meat increase risk.
Colorectal cancer almost always develops from abnormal growths in the colon or rectum called precancerous polyps. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends colonoscopy screenings starting at age 50 or earlier if a parent, sibling, child or more than one family member develops the disease. Treatment is most successful when colorectal cancer is detected in the early stages. If pre-cancerous polyps are detected, they can be removed before they grow into cancer.
Tommy’s Cancer Battle
Tommy started feeling weird during his time on Dancing with the Stars. His main symptom was blood in the stool. A medical exam found a tumor. He did not experience pain, just discomfort. Be aware that pain can be one of the first symptoms of rectal cancer, though. Changes in bowel habits experienced as bloating or severe constipation can also reflect symptoms of rectal cancer.
The cancer itself might not be the worst thing to happen to you during the course of the disease, unfortunately. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy can all lead to pain. In fact, 50% of cancer patients suffer from pain and much of that isn’t well controlled.
Tommy needed radiation, chemotherapy, and underwent surgery.
Sometimes the effects of chemotherapy can be worse than the cancer itself. Tommy told me, “It tears up your immune system. It changed my mood. Instead of being creative, I got very lethargic. I was tired all the time.”
He dropped about 30 pounds with the treatments. Jokingly, he said that he had been trying to lose that weight for years. Humor was his way to turn negatives into positives, which is how managing chronic pain can be approached. After his surgery, Tommy used an intravenous patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) device, a computerized instrument of pain control that gives patients the power to control their dose of opioids. The doctors placed an epidural catheter for pain relief during his surgery. Both worked well.
Making Pain Relief Go “Up In Smoke”
Of course, we all want to know how Tommy’s infamous use of marijuana helped with his cancer.
Following his surgery, the rectal area remained very sensitive and uncomfortable. Special care needed to be taken to aid in recovery and the protracted period of healing the body requires. The nerve endings were extremely raw according to Tommy, and he wasn’t able to simply think happy thoughts to make the pain go away.
Tommy smoked marijuana once in the morning and at night before going to bed. He told me that his use of marijuana calmed his nerves so that he could tolerate very painful dressing changes.
Before he started smoking, he could not eat. His lack of appetite lead to significant weight loss. After smoking, he felt his “taste buds come back to life” and his appetite improved.
Today, Tommy is cancer free.
His experience demonstrates the value of opioids, epidural catheters, and even marijuana for needed improvement in cancer pain. My two-part Aches and Gains interview is available in its entirety by signing-up to Aches and Gains On-Demand podcasts. Please join today and you will gain access to my full library of innovative pain-relieving strategies plus upcoming new shows.
How to Reduce Your Colorectal Cancer Risk
What can you do to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer?
Obesity, smoking, alcohol, and living a sedentary life contribute to your risk of developing colon cancer, along with age, genetics and family history. The Centers for Disease Control, The Mayo Clinic, and Colon Cancer Foundation as well as many other authorities, recommend:
Staying physically active: Work toward 30 minutes of physical activity between three to five days a week, whether it is sports, running, dancing, walking or another activity.
Eat healthy food: Avoid a diet low in fiber and high in fat and calories.
Receive screenings: Regular exams can catch tumors early when treatment is most effective. This is key. Consult your physician.
Remember, no one is immune to pain but together we can overcome it.
OTHER OBSERVANCES FOR YOUR CALENDAR
March 3 – 9 – Endometriosis Awareness Week
March 25 – 31 – National Physicians Week
March 19th – National Certified Nurses Day
March 22 – Brain Injury Awareness Day