Subject: Colonoscopies (Yeah, I know–super fun!)
I labeled this “number one” because I know there will be other “delicate” subjects to talk about in the future.
I’m writing this post to assure folks who may be nervous about getting a colonoscopy that it’s a relatively simple procedure these days. Early detection of colon cancer is crucial for effective treatment. It’s the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths.
A little backstory:
I get a colonoscopy every four years because my mom (69) and grandma (72) both died a long and miserable death from Colon Cancer. Plus, I’ve had Ulcerative Colitis (1-see notes at the end of the post) since elementary school. I had my latest colonoscopy a few days ago.
1977: I had a massive colon tumor. I underwent a colon resection at Stanford Medical Center — about a month after our first son was born. That was not a fun time on so many levels (see 2); however, we got a healthy, happy baby boy (3).
1979: I experienced my first colonoscopy. In the years prior, starting at 8 years old, I had many sigmoidoscopies (4), endoscopies, and upper/lower GIs. So much fun!
The first modern colonoscopy was performed in 1969. In 1979, the procedure was still relatively new, and I must say, it differed significantly from what it is today. First off—the prep was much harder and unpleasant. Not only did you drink quarts of vile-tasting stuff, but you also had to have Fleet enemas.
After a full day of prepping for my first experience, my husband, Mike, took me to the clinic the next day. As I waited in the lobby, an older man stumbled out of the procedure area and collapsed in a chair near me. He crumpled in his seat, wailing that it was the worst experience of his life. This definitely did not help my ramping trepidation.
But the clincher was my gastroenterologist did not anesthetize or give me painkillers. I was wide awake and felt that tube snake throughout my bowels. From the lowest part, the rectum, all the way up through the colon, to the lower end of the small intestine. Each turn in the intestinal tract was pure agony. When he reached the top of the tract, I knew he’d pull the colonoscope back out so I could relive the nightmare again! Now I understood what that poor man was moaning about.
The prep is so much easier these days!
Yes, you still must drink a lot of laxatives and cleanse your system (let’s call it a colon cleansing), but it’s no longer a gaggy-disgusting drink that makes you want to vomit with every swallow. The concoction tasted good — no salty, yucky flavor. Drinking the bowel cleanser is the thing that most people who’ve done it before dread doing again. It’s undoubtedly the reason so many put off doing it. So, this is a significant improvement. And boy, it did the job. Even better than past cleansings.
Prep: Two days before, I ate very little. Some people stuff themselves on that day because they know they can’t eat the next day—but that just makes the cleansing more arduous. The day before the event, prep day, I ate nothing per instructions. You may drink clear juices, sodas, or broth, and suck on hard candies. Lately, I’m into Werther’s Original Hard Candies. A few days ago, I introduced my 9 year old grandson to them and he flipped! Shh! Don’t tell his parents!
At noon, I took four Dulcolax.
At six, I mixed 64 ounces of clear Apple Juice (I’ve used Gatorade in the past – but it made me gag) with 8.3 ounces of powdered MiraLAX. I drank half—one cup every fifteen minutes for an hour. It tasted just like plain apple juice. Then I consumed the second half the following morning—6 hours before the procedure.
At the Out-Patient Medical Center: As I waited in my cubicle to go into the procedure room and be blissfully anesthetized, I heard a doctor telling a nearby 60-ish woman who’d just had her colonoscopy that she had colon cancer. He asked her when her last colonoscopy was, and she said she couldn’t remember. He gently told her this is why they recommend doing your first at age 40-45. If there are no problems, redo every ten years. As I listened, I realized that if she had done this regularly, she would not be in the dire predicament she is in now. My heart aches for her.
The friendly staff wheeled my gurney to the procedure room and in no time, I woke up in my cubicle and realized it was over. A few minutes later, my gastro doc told me all went well, and I’m fine. A few polyps were removed, and moderate Diverticulosis (5) was discovered. My hubby took me home, and after a light snack, I took a relieved and peaceful nap with my dear doggie-nurse, Emma.
(1) That may wind up as another “Can We Talk?” subject.
(2) Another story for another day. A lot of bad stuff happened in 1977. The only bright spot was the birth of our son.
(3) Casey, the baby I had in 1977, had his first colonoscopy six months ago. And my younger son has it on his calendar.
(4) Until the mid-1960s, the closest thing to a colonoscopy was an endoscopic procedure using a rigid sigmoidoscope. This device had minimal movement and reach and could not remove polyps.
(5) Several factors may increase your risk of developing Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis:
Aging: Yup, I’m aging!
Obesity: Nope—not obese. But could lose ten pounds and not miss them.
Smoking: Never—except as a teenager when I smoked a couple times because I thought I looked sophisticated. Yeah, right.
Lack of exercise: I do exercise, but one can always do more.
A diet high in animal fat and low in fiber: I’m a vegan. A healthy, well-balanced vegan diet is very anti-inflammatory. I think it’s why I don’t have any achy joints.
Some drugs, like steroids, opioids, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can cause side effects: I frequently must take steroids to control chronic hives. They were dormant for over twenty years until I got the Covid shots. This has happened to many people.
From 2000 to 2015, colon cancer rates significantly rose across increasingly younger populations. For adults aged 40–44, colorectal cancer incidence increased by 28%; for those aged 45–49, it increased by 15%; and colonoscopy rates increased by 17% in those aged 50–54.
Rising colorectal cancer rates have led to efforts such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s 2020 recommendation that all adults aged 40–75 should be regularly screened.
I have no intention of quitting until I am no longer a resident of this planet.
I hope this Blog Post will encourage my readers to keep on schedule with colonoscopies and other necessary medical procedures as needed. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then do it for your loved ones. They’re the ones who would have to nurse you through Colon Cancer. You know what good old Ben Franklin said:
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I’ve lost too many people to colon cancer.
Mom, Grandma, and some dear friends. Let’s stay as healthy as we can be!