SEBRING - It started with what she thought was a simple stomach bug last summer, but that illness has led her into a fight for not only her life, but for future of whoever else can be reached.
June 13, 2013, Ila Cox had stomach problems that grew worse and she went to Highlands Regional Medical Center where a stomach scan revealed a large tumor in her ovary and two more large tumors in her colon, which turned out to be cancerous. Five days later, she was at Lee Memorial Hospital in Ft. Myers for surgery and the first phase of what she hopes will be a win in her battle against colon cancer.
Colorectal cancer is a cancer from uncontrolled cell growth in the colon or rectum or appendix. According to the Center for Disease Control in 2010, of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and in women. That year, 131,600 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, including 67,700 men and 63,900 women. Of those, 52,045 people died from the disease.
In the process of Cox's fight against the disease, a registered nurse in the endoscopy department at Highlands Regional Medical Center, Brooke Moran, has organized a set up of the Prevent Cancer Society's "Super Colon," an interactive, traveling educational tool stopping in communities across America showing colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and can be overcome.
The free exhibit, part of March's national "Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month," will be displayed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Highlands County Agri Civic Center, 4505 George Blvd., Sebring. The Super Colon allows visitors to get an up-close look at healthy colon tissue; tissue with non-malignant colorectal disease like Crohn's and colitis; colorectal polyps; and various stages of colorectal cancer. In addition, organizations and businesses such as the Sebring Veterans Administration office, Highlands Regional Hospital, the Ostomy Support Group and local attorneys will have informational booths set up.
All of the efforts, cancer event and informational activities are part of Cox's will to not only survive but help others learn how to prevent contracting colon cancer, which is 90 percent preventable.
Cox, 49, a part-time secretary with Wicks, Brown, Williams and Co. tax service, Sebring, also had a hysterectomy and two days after surgery for the tumors, found out about the colon cancer. She is being treated by internal medicine Dr. Robert Midence, Sebring, and oncologist Dr. Kamal Haider, Lakeland. She is currently getting three-hour chemotherapy treatments every other week at Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa.
Doctors told her in July she probably had about two years left to live.
"They don't want to tell you. You should see their faces, I feel sorry for them," said Cox, sitting in her company conference room Thursday. "I was just heartbroken. All your hopes and dreams are lost in that moment. You think you're going to miss growing old with our husband and watching your grandchildren grow up."
But despite the devastating news, Cox said she has been relying on a network for family, friends, fellow church members at First Baptist Church, Sebring, and a devotion to God to help her through the dark days. After she was diagnosed with the terminal cancer, a prayer vigil was held July 25 at Cox's house, where about 200 people offered words of encouragement and prayers for Cox.
"I tell you what, that came on the heels of hearing I had terminal cancer and that support lifted me up and has continued to make me feel very supported and loved," said Cox, a Mississippi native who's lived in Sebring with her husband, Mark, since 1983. The couple has a daughter, Jamie, a senior at Florida State University and had a daughter, Kinsley, who died of heart problems at 5 in 2002.
Cox's said the keys to staying positive have been her faith, support systems from her husband and family and having doctors she can "trust and rely on" and in addition, Lee Ann Hinskey. The Sebring-based Sarasota American Cancer Society "Relay For Life" cancer walk specialist said it takes 10 years for colon polyps to turn cancerous and that's why screenings are so important. She said Cox's cancer was preventable had it been detected in time but admires her tenacity in her fight.
"She's still beating the odds; she's a go-getter and sweet lady," she said. "She wants to educate the public on the importance of getting screeings."
Maintaining a career and family while fighting for her life has not only been a challenge, but a rewarding experience at the same time. She said despite the setbacks, the disappointments and the ominous prognosis, she won't give up the fight - for herself or for others.
"I rely on my faith. When I don't feel brave or feel weak, God gives me the peace and strength I need to get through each day," she said. "If one person can be saved from having to face terminal cancer just by becoming aware, that's my goal."
For information on the Super Colon, call (863) 699-2855. For information on the next Relay for Life or cancer prevention, see www.cancer.org or call (800) 227-2345.
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