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Monday, December 16, 2019

What is slavery? Slavery refers to a condition in which an individual is owned by someone else and is therefore entirely under the control of another person. A slave cannot eat, sleep, rest, create, or make any kind of personal choices without the approval of his or her master. During the Pesach holiday, we retell the story of our enslavement in Egypt and our redemption, ultimately alluding to the 40 years that it took us to free ourselves from the emotional bondage of slavery and to become a truly free people and nation in our own land.

While that path to freedom can be interpreted in many ways, and the highlights of that journey are numerous, I would like to focus upon one aspect of freedom, and that is the ability to make determinations about one’s own health and well-being. As noted, a slave can make no independent decisions. The master may be concerned about the slave’s health, but that concern would generally be based solely on the impact the slave’s health may have upon his ability to work. The free person, on the other hand, has many more things to keep in mind when considering his health. We would thus do well, as free people, to contemplate exactly what it is that we should be concerned about regarding our health.

Most of us tend to take our health and well-being for granted. A good number of us do not really even think about our health until a medical problem arises and we are feeling ill or are in pain, or we become aware of a devastating health situation that befalls somebody we may know. It is of course true that many ailments and diseases are outside our control. Biological risk factors for disease are non-modifiable; for example, the biggest risk factor a person has for getting breast cancer is being female. We similarly do not have any control over our genetics or our family history. We do, however, have control over what and how much we eat, over our movement, and over our sleep, and as free people, it is our obligation to take care of ourselves properly in whatever ways possible.

We also have the freedom to become familiar with medical advances, to be alert to medical conditions, and to determine how best to respond to them. In this connection, it is worth mentioning some important screening tools that are presently available to us. The month of March has been designated as “Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.” Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it. Yet this disease is highly preventable if one gets screened on a fairly regular basis beginning at age 50. The screening tests help prevent colorectal cancer by finding precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) so that they can be removed before they cause irreparable harm. In recent years, there has been an increase in colorectal screening in this country, with approximately 65% of the population over 50 now participating in some type of testing. This means, however, that 35% of the population, a significant number, does not get screened, an unfortunate statistic.

The gold standard for colorectal screening is the colonoscopy. For those who have never had a colonoscopy because of your age, because you just never got around to scheduling it, or because you are fearful of having one, let me describe what is involved so that you can be an educated consumer and an effective manager of your own health. Twenty-four hours prior to the procedure, you can partake only of fluids. The evening prior to the colonoscopy, you will be prescribed a liquid solution that tastes awful and causes diarrhea; while this may certainly be unpleasant, it is necessary to clean out your colon so that the screening will yield the most accurate results. At the time of the procedure itself, you are placed under sedation, a flexible tube is inserted through the rectum into the colon to search for polyps, and if any are found, the gastroenterologist removes them. Because you are indeed sedated, you of course feel none of this, as you are in what is actually a comfortable sleep. Recently, a new test has been approved for screening called Cologuard; this test is non-invasive and involves just a stool sample. In clinical trials, the Cologuard results were impressive in detecting abnormalities that may be associated with cancerous and pre-cancerous conditions. Cologuard is not appropriate for people with a family or personal high risk for colon cancer; consult your physician to see if this test may be appropriate for you.

If you are over 50 and are still hesitant or fearful of screening, remember that a colonoscopy can save your life. My mother, Hannah P. Shulman died in 2003 at the age of 69 from colorectal cancer. My mother was a smart, beautiful, fun-loving, hard-working businesswoman. She was a wonderful sister, mother and grandmother, and her life was cut short by colon cancer. Her children, siblings, and grandchildren miss her every day. While my mother was in great physical condition prior to her illness, and saw her physician regularly, she never had a colonoscopy.

If you are aged 50-75, you owe it to yourself - and to your family – to get screened, be physically active, maintain a healthy weight, avoid drinking too much alcohol, and refrain from smoking. As we prepare for the holiday dedicated to our redemption from bondage, please remember that we have been blessed with the freedom to take some control over our own health.

As we prepare for the holiday dedicated to our redemption from bondage, please remember that we have been blessed with the freedom to take some control over our own health.

Wishing you all a joyous chag of good health.

By Beth S. Taubes