If you've been to the doctor recently, it's likely he or she advised you about a lot of things: Watch your weight, quit smoking, exercise more, and, by the way, let's schedule a screening colonoscopy, shall we?
When people hear the word "colonoscopy," a dozen reasons why they shouldn't have one leap to mind. I'm too busy, they say, or I don't like hospitals or my brother-in-law had one and said he'd never go through THAT again. But there's one very good reason to have the test, which trumps all the others: You could be preventing colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Only lung cancer claims more lives.
In the past, colon cancer didn't get as much press as some of the other types of cancer, even though 56,000 Americans will die from it this year. But once Katie Couric volunteered to undergo a colonoscopy on the Today show, the number of people having the screening tests rose significantly. And the amount of media coverage on this form of cancer did, too.
Katie's reasons for her weeklong report on colon cancer were very personal: Her husband, Jay Monahan, died in January, 1998, of colon cancer at the age of 42.
After nearly two years of coming up with reasons why I shouldn't have the test (see above), I finally gave in and had one. Like so many things in life, the anticipation was worse than the real thing.
The worst part of having the test -- and you will hear this from everyone who has had one -- is the preparation the day and night before. I won't go into details, but once you start the preparation, don't make ANY plans to leave your home until the next morning when you go to the hospital. Trust me on this.
(It seems to me that the healthcare gurus should be able to come up with an easier-on-the-patient preparation for this procedure. I don't think that's asking too much of the medical community, especially with the ever-changing technology available these days, but I digress…)
When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, I was treated kindly by the hospital staff (who seemed to be middle aged or older which was comforting). After asking some questions about my history and starting an intravenous line, they wheeled me into the room where the test was to take place.
I chatted away for a while with my doctor as he prepared to begin, in an attempt to let him know just how relaxed I was. (I'm not sure how mesmerized he was by our discussion, though. In fact at one point, he told me I was talking too much and needed to be still! Talking too much? I blame it on the drugs.)
I thought at the time that I had watched my entire test on the monitor, which lasted about 30 minutes, but thanks to the medications they administered, I am slowly forgetting what happened. I didn't see Rod Sterling, but I'm pretty sure I was in the Twilight Zone for a while.
My test results were good so I have been negotiating with my doctor to not schedule a second colonoscopy for, say, ten to 20 years. But I am trying to work on my negativity -- again -- and will go along with his recommendation that I have my next one in five years. It's not something I'll look forward to, but it's not something I'll put off, either.
There are precious few preventative measures we can take in our lives to ensure our continued good health. As the doctors tell us whenever they get a chance, eating healthier, exercising more and not smoking are very important, but this simple test with the bad reputation can also do its part to keep us around a while longer.
I may sound a little preachy, but I think it goes with the experience. You may have noticed that most people who've finally given in and had the test feel like ambassadors afterwards whose job it is to get others to have one, too.
So you might as well give in and schedule a screening colonoscopy, just to shut us up. Keep in mind that colon cancer is 90 percent curable if it's detected early. Where can you get better odds than that?
By Teresa K. Flatley