A Cancer Survivor Raises Awareness With Laughs

How far can a good laugh take you? Colon-cancer survivor Tammy Figg of St. Louis leans on humor to raise money for cancer research through her Figg Tree Foundation. Its annual event is called the “Whats Up Your Butt Comedy Show,” and its slogan is “How to Keep Your Rear in the Clear.” So far the foundation has raised $88,000. Figg, 33 and in remission, wants people to open up about colon cancer. She talked with Health about facing the disease with candor and irreverence.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with humor?
A: What the Susan G. Komen Foundation has done with getting people to talk about breasts is what we want to do with colorectal cancer. When were successful, you wont be afraid to tell your doctor if youre bleeding just because its embarrassing to talk about what comes out of your rear.

Q: Did you have a lot of bleeding?
A: Yes. Then I went to the ER, where they did a colonoscopy and found the cancer.

Q: How difficult was the recovery?
A: I wasnt prepared to have an ostomy bag. When I woke up from surgery, there was a little bit of, "Oh my gosh, what is that?" Next thought: "Ive got to wear a wedding dress with that?" I was thankful to have the bag reversed after three months. My plumbing now is like it was before, just with a reconstructed rectum. What that means: When I have to go, I absolutely have to go. I started feeling better in a couple of weeks. Later, I had radiation five days a week and chemotherapy, 24 hours a day, on a drip. That was draining.

Q: Are you afraid that the cancer will come back?
A: Once you have had cancer, I dont think you ever let it go. But I do things that are supposed to lower the risks. I still eat healthy like I did before—fruits and vegetables—and I dont eat a lot of red meat. Plus, I do kickboxing, work out on an elliptical machine, and lift weights.

Q: You posed in a midriff-baring outfit in the national Colon Clubs “Colander.” What were you thinking?
A: I figured someone would see me and get screened for colon cancer
. I dont look at my scars and cringe. Its more like, “Look at this—Im pretty proud of it.”

Q: How did this crisis affect your marriage?
A: I was diagnosed just six weeks before our wedding, so I was scared. I remember looking at Bryan when I was just out of surgery and saying, “If you want to pick somebody else because Im kind of broken, Im OK with that.” He said, “It doesnt matter if I have you for one day or 100 years. I want to be with you.”

Q: You were able to have a child by doing in vitro. You want more kids?
A: Wed love to, but we also realize that we werent even supposed to have one. Each day I look at my son, Ayden, Im reminded that hes such a gift. Its so hard to discipline him!

Q: About 26,000 women will get colon cancer this year. What do all women really need to know?
A: That you should stop worrying so much about the size of your butt and start talking about the health of it. Know your family history, talk about it with your doctor, and get screened when the time is right. And donate to the foundation (www.figgtree.com), too, so we can fund much-needed research.
Nancy Larson
Last Updated: April 28, 2008
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