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Sharon Osbourne 'Unstoppable' In Beating Colon Cancer

Photo Credit: Thomas Neerken

Sharon Osbourne and her surgeon Dr. Edward Phillips team up to fight colon cancer.
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

On the Emmy-winning MTV show The Osbournes, Sharon Osbourne is frequently described by her husband Ozzy as "unstoppable." Never has that remark been more appropriate than when describing Osbourne's passion for helping people with colon cancer.

"I want to put all my energy that I would have normally put into rock 'n' roll into raising awareness about colon cancer," Osbourne says. "Over the eight month period that I was having my chemo, I would sit and think about what I could do to help people. I decided that the little things mean so much to you when you're not well. Little things, like someone cooking you a meal, make your journey a little more bearable. That's what I feel I can do. This is my way of giving back to everybody who helped me."

But the outspoken Osbourne is doing far more than talking.

On Wednesday Osbourne and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced the establishment of the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute in Los Angeles. Osbourne credits Cedars-Sinai for saving her life.

"I am passionate and I am making this my personal mission to make sure that people with colon cancer can get the same kind of treatment that I received," Osbourne states. "I'm going to be raising as much money as I can for this program."

To that end on Thursday, October 7 Osbourne will open her house to an exclusive 250 person fundraiser called An Evening with the Osbournes. Sir Elton John will perform during the intimate garden dinner. All proceeds will benefit Osbourne's colon cancer program and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

But while Osbourne's star-studded life is glamorous, the mother of three continues to use the humbling experience of her cancer battle and chemotherapy as motivation to help others less fortunate.

"You get very dehydrated when you're undergoing chemotherapy, but I had the luxury of having a nurse come to my home and hook me up and give me all the fluids I needed," explains Osbourne. "In the hospital for chemo, I would see the people who came in for dehydration and I thought, 'My God they must be so exhausted - I can barely lift my head off the pillow -- and they had to travel to get here. It must be Hell.'"

Unfounded fears

Osbourne cannot imagine how her fellow colon cancer patients made it without support and clearly recognizes the disparity of their situations.

"I felt guilty and I wanted to make sure something was done," says Osbourne, who plans to tour the US in January to raise more awareness and money for her Cedars-Sinai program. "I don't think it's right that some people had no one to bring them to the hospital and had to ride the bus. How do you cook for the kids and take care of them when you're going through chemo? I know there is no way I could have done it. On my journey I experienced a couple of severe setbacks. One time I was so dehydrated that I was nearly unconscious and had I been left alone with no one to care for me God only knows what would have happened to me. I would have probably died."

Unfortunately, far too many people do die from colon cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common non-skin cancer in America. In 2004, more than 106,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease which will claim nearly 57,000 lives.

Colon cancer begins as a polyp or small, initially benign growth in the lining of the colon and rectum. Because virtually all colorectal cancers begin as polyps, a colonoscopy exam can actually prevent the disease and save lives.

But many people needlessly fear getting a colonoscopy, a procedure where a flexible, lighted tube with a camera is inserted into the rectum and up through the colon. Others fear colorectal cancer because of something akin to vanity.

"One of the fears that many people have is that colon cancer means having a colostomy or wearing a bag permanently," says Edward Phillips, Osbourne's surgeon and the director of minimally-invasive surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "Only a very small percentage - less than five percent - will require a colostomy bag temporarily let alone permanently."

Phillips emphasizes that a colostomy bag, a procedure used to divert and store bowel waste products, is only used when it is necessary for the healing process.  About 95% of patients, including Osbourne, have complete, normal bowel function within days following colon cancer surgery.

"The best way to insure you never need a colostomy or colon cancer surgery is to get colonoscopies done in a timely manner," states Phillips, who is also director of the Saul & Joyce Brandman Breast Center at Cedars-Sinai.

Maximum care

But even if colorectal cancer is found, both Osbourne and Phillips stress that treatment is very effective when the cancer is found early.

Recently a national, multi-center trial established that the kind of procedure Osbourne had -- minimally-invasive laparoscopic colon surgery -- was as good a cancer operation as open colon surgery.

"We've proven that in a prospective, randomized trial," Phillips reports. "Laparoscopic surgery also results in less disability, less discomfort and better cosmetics. There is also less chance of infection, patients spend less time in the hospital and are back to work sooner. In the long run it is less costly for the patient, the hospital and society."

Phillips says his most-famous patient is doing "magnificently" and is free of disease. In fact, Osbourne was feeling so good she contacted Phillips to help her create the new colon cancer program.

"Sharon's program is going to make the whole process more humane for patients," Phillips says. "We're very good at the chemotherapy and the surgery. What we don't do as well are the nice things like 'How are you going to get to the hospital?' This program does that. The patients and their doctors can apply for a grant for funds that go directly to patients to pay for these much needed services."

Having announced her new colon cancer program, Osbourne is looking forward to her speaking tour and being able to share her advice with others fighting colon cancer.

"I hadn't even finished my chemo and I went right into working on another TV show," Osbourne says. "I should never have done it. I didn't take even a week for myself to rest. I should have rested, and I felt it this year. I was really tired. This tour will allow me to share some my do's and don'ts."

Meanwhile, Ozzy is already hard at work supporting his wife's favorite cause.

"Ozzy is touring right now and 25 cents from every ticket gets donated to this colon cancer program so we're serious about making a difference," Osbourne says. "Cedars-Sinai changed my life for the better so whatever I can do to help I am going to be unstoppable."

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 8/3/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 8/3/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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