Fear and uncertainty seem to be everywhere in 2016. With the upcoming US election, Brexit, increasing terrorism, gun violence, the Zika virus, global warming, and so many other things, some days feel like a little too much.
But recently, I learned about something dangerous and frightening that’d been lurking right inside my own body for some time.
In my rectum, to be precise.
It was a pre-cancerous polyp. A tubulovillous adenoma, if you want medical accuracy, but for me, it was enough to know that this growth had real potential to become malignant. And while I’m thrilled that it’s now gone, I also realize I may have dodged a bullet. Because even though I turned 50 two years ago, I was seriously dragging my heels on the colonoscopy issue.
Like so many other people—and I believe this applies more to women than men—I was fully aware that the American Cancer Society recommends getting your first colonoscopy when you turn 50, but I saw no reason to rush. After all, on paper, I’m not particularly high-risk. I’m not obese, I’m physically active, I don’t smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol, and I haven’t eaten red meat since I was a young teenager. Nor do I have a strong family history of colon cancer.
But to be honest, my reasons for procrastination were more about comfort, modesty, and convenience. I mean, who wants a camera up their ass? And then there’s that “horrific” prep we’ve all heard about. You know the one, where you drink a large container of laxative fluid, then poop for hours? Not only does that sound gross, but who has time for it? Right?
Well, let me tell you, it’s not so bad. Not bad at all, really, and nothing like the urban myth it’s become.
I’m sorry, but right now, I’m a little pissed off at the overly dramatic people who bitch and moan about their colonoscopy prep. No, it’s not a party, but getting this thing done can seriously save your life.
Here’s something I didn’t quite understand until recently: If you go for regular screenings, most polyps can be found and removed before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Think about that. Sort of makes the colonoscopy a no-brainer, doesn’t it? And yet, colon cancer will kill 50,000 people in the US this year.
Still feeling nervous or freaked out about going for one? Let me tell you how it went for me.
The day before the procedure, I consumed nothing but clear fluids and avoided anything red in color. Was I hungry? Sure, but it was only one day! I realize this is more difficult for people with health issues, but for many of us, not eating for a day is simply a first world problem. I drank a lot of apple juice and seltzer, made some lemon Jell-O, and had a few cups of tea without milk. I was perfectly fine.
Then, late in the afternoon, I drank the laxative solution (not delicious, but not repulsive either) and my colon cleaned itself out very quickly. It wasn’t uncomfortable like with food poisoning or stomach flu, because I wasn’t sick, and hadn’t eaten any bad food. Really, it was no big deal. The next morning, it was a bit more of the same: more laxative, more cleaning out, no pain. Then I went to the hospital, answered some questions, and got sedated.
The procedure itself was uneventful on my end. I slept soundly while the doctor did the exam and removed the polyp.
Now I’ve heard people say things about not wanting their naked butt hanging out on the operating table while they’re unconscious, but my only response to that is seriously? I mean, doctors and nurses have all seen butts before. And since the ones who specialize in colonoscopies do them every day, they’ve probably seen hundreds—if not thousands—of naked asses.
Also, do you go for PAP smears and mammograms? Have you gotten a bikini wax? Have you had an internal exam, abdominal surgery, or given birth? If so, you’ve probably exposed as much of—if not more than—yourself during those procedures. So why the concern over the butt? I’m sorry, but it’s not rational to me.
I never once felt humiliated before, during, or after my colonoscopy.
What I did feel was tremendous relief and thankfulness when the doctor explained how he’d removed the polyp, and that it didn’t appear to be cancerous yet. And when he sent a letter a week later with the lab results, I was even more grateful.
That’s why I’m sharing this info today. I know most people are busy, and don’t like dealing with things that take time away from work and fun, but consider the alternative. I have two friends who suffered terribly with colon cancer before recovering, and sadly, have lost three others to the disease.
So if you’re over 50 and haven’t yet had a colonoscopy, please schedule one today. And after you’ve had it, tell a friend. Or two.
It’s a shame that this life-saving procedure has a stigma attached to it—especially for women—but if we’re willing to talk about it, we can make life a little less frightening, sad, and painful for our friends and families.