By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Bunny Tabatt, Little Falls, is a graduated field-representative for Leader Dogs School for the Blind, begun by Lions Club International, and an active Lions Club member. But, that is not what she will be speaking on during the 2013 Morrison County Relay for Life event to be held Friday, July 19, at the Little Falls Community High School track. She will be speaking about her personal struggle with cancer during the opening ceremony at 7 p.m.
“I had colon cancer. I was diagnosed in 1990 after a routine colonoscopy,” she said. Her doctor had told her she was “at the age” to begin having the tests performed. If that doctor had not recommended the test then, the story may have had a different ending.
“The surgeon found a thumbnail-size polyp, took a biopsy and found it malignant,” she said. “It was my regular doctor who told me during a follow-up visit that I had cancer.”
Tabatt said she was terrified, in shock and devastated, yet she kept her fear bottled up, even after the surgery.
But, through tears, she did talk to her grandmother, Andina Wright, about her cancer diagnosis.
“She told me, ‘Life is for the living and you’re going to live.’ It was her way of saying to be strong,” Tabatt said.
Tabatt’s diagnosis came 10 years after losing her husband, Lee Tabatt, to heart disease. At the time of her battle with cancer, her then fiance, Gary Martin, was having stomach issues. She said her faith was a huge part of how she coped.
“I prayed a lot,” she said.
Tabatt said she was back in surgery almost immediately after the diagnosis and the polyp was removed.
“It was all very quick,” she said.
What Tabatt found out after surgery was the doctors took 17 inches of her colon, too.
“They said it was a precautionary measure,” she said.
While the doctors told her they got all the cancer, she said, “I took the high road and internalized my fear. I was not going to show my kids or my friends I was afraid. I kept my routines.”
After the loss of Lee and again after the loss of part of her colon, Tabatt took full advantage of the support groups at the St. Francis Center.
“I am blessed with my children, my friends and my faith. I could not have gotten through all this without them and the St. Francis support groups,” she said.
Tabatt is the first person in her family to have cancer, that she knows of. But, it’s not the first time it’s touched her life. Her husband, Lee, had testicular cancer when he was 24 years old . He made a full recovery after surgery and treatment at the University of Minnesota. Also, four of her leader dogs since 1988 have passed away due to cancer.
Tabatt said, “I lost Buff to bone cancer in 1988, then Bear to lymphoma in 2002. I lost Baker to lymphoma in 2011 and just last year, I lost BentLee to bone cancer.”
Tabatt also lost Martin to esophageal cancer in 2011. She continues to have regular colon screenings every five years.
Colon cancer is the cancer of the large intestine, or colon. It’s the lower part of a person’s digestive system. Rectal cancer is detected in the last several inches of the colon. Together, the two are referred to as colorectal cancer.
Most cases begin as small, noncancerous polyps. Those clumps of cells can, over time, become cancerous.
Because those polyps produce few, if any symptoms, doctors recommend regular screening tests as a preventative measure.
Symptoms of colon cancer include a change in bowel habits or bleeding, but the disease usually strikes without symptoms. Hence the need for regular cancer screenings. If cancer is detected early, surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy can be used as an effective treatment.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2013, there will be more than 102,000 new cases of colon cancer and almost 51,000 deaths of colon and rectal cancers combined.