I have often said that had I been born 200 years ago I would have died before the age of 50. Modern medicine has fixed my broken parts many, many times. Nearsightedness, a damaged knee, a ruptured disk, two retinal detachments in my left eye, cataracts in both eyes, and secondary cataracts in both eyes. I just wasn’t born for the long haul.
I apparently also have a little genetic flaw. About 25 or so years ago, my mother contracted colon cancer. She caught hers in time, had an operation, and lived to the age of 90. Inside of my colon cells lingers a strand of DNA that is going
Tick, tick, tick.
Colonoscopies are examinations in which a doctor uses a fiber optic camera at the tip of a long flexible probe to search for irregularities. Cancerous tumors are of immediate concern but so too are polyps, bumps in the wall of the colon that can become cancerous.
When I was around 40, I had my first colonoscopy. In order to clear out my pipes, I had to drink about a gallon of laxative solution that tasted pretty wretched. My mother, who weighed less than half of what I weigh, had to drink about twice as much. Once, she was diagnosed, she had to have frequent colonoscopies. She didn’t mind the procedure itself but she HATED that “stuff” as she called it.
My first colonoscopy came back clear. My second revealed a couple of polyps which were removed and proved to be innocuous. My third not so much. I had seven polyps. My once every five year routine was bumped up to once every three years. In recent preparation for a colonoscopy next month, my doctor showed me why. He pulled out his tablet computer and pulled up a picture from my last procedure. All the way back, at the furthest point in my colon, I could clearly see what looked like a wart. It was an adenoma. This is a type of polyp that could have morphed into a tumor had it not been removed. Welcome to the high risk list.
I have no symptoms. I felt fine then. I feel fine now. But I know that dear old Mom left me a gift that I don’t want to open. So in a month, I go for my fourth colonoscopy. Each of my four procedures has been a little different. Each time the laxative solution is less voluminous and less nasty tasting. One time I was given light sedation. This was rather fun (I loved up at the nurse who injected me and said, “That feels WONDERFUL” as the drug worked its way into my brain) except when the instrument had to turn a corner. Last time I was knocked out completely. No muss, no fuss.
Here’s how the deal will go down:
I stop eating small foods like corn, peas, and nuts beginning on Sunday. On Wednesday I drink only clear liquids. No solid food at all. At 6 pm on Wednesday, I drink a 16 ounce solution of the stuff. Then another 16 ounces on Thursday morning at 8. At 1 pm, I go to the hospital. At 2 they do the deed. At 3 I will be at home having something to eat before sleeping off the lingering anesthesia. Friday, I go back to work.
It’s that easy. It doesn’t hurt. Regardless of the outcome I will be much better off for having the colonoscopy done.
If you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy.
Whether you have a history or not, if you are 50 or older, get one.
Don’t believe all the unpleasant stories you’ve heard. It’s not bad at all. It’s way easier than retina surgery or back surgery. And it’s way easier than contracting undetected colon cancer and having a bowel resection or worse.
Yeah, it’s icky. It’s inconvenient. Do it anyway.
And finally a special note to my middle-aged (sorry, middle age begins at 40) friends who live an awesomely healthy lifestyle (e.g, yoga, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, whole 30, microbiotic). Good on you. Now get your ass to the doctor! No excuses. To my friends go all woo woo about the universe taking care of you. It’s time to put a colonoscope in your present moment.