It’s always concerning when cancer runs in a family, especially the aggressive types. Luckily, the cancers in my family tree are mostly preventable; staying out of the sun for skin cancer and getting a routine colonoscopy.
If it’s all the same, I prefer to slather on the sunblock than undergo a colonoscopy. But who wouldn’t?
My Family History
Both of my parents had colon cancer. My dad developed his tumor in his mid-50s. My mother in her late 60s. My father didn’t get regular screenings and his cancer metastasized to his lungs. My mom is a cancer survivor and takes meticulous care of her health as a result. At the time, I didn’t think much of my parents’ cancers until I mentioned it to a medical professional in passing.
“With your family history, you’ll need to get your first colonoscopy at forty instead of fifty,” she said, her voice grave.
My stomach did a nervous flip. Ten years early? Was she kidding? Why the hell couldn’t my parents have taken better care of themselves?
For the next fifteen years, my mind would occasionally drift to when I’d have to pony up to the gurney, bare-assed for the anal probing.
Our Society’s Fear of Butts and All Things Butt Related
The US is a very uptight nation. Chalk it up to our Puritan roots. The taboo of talking about bowel movements and such has led to more than a few preventable deaths. According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US and the third most common cancer in both men and women.
I get it. I had the same fear. In my younger years, I used to cover the sounds of bowel movements with loud music and running water. The thought of someone knowing I was pooping was so embarrassing, I did everything in my power to hide it. Then I met my future husband.
Like Beets and Carrots
Our courtship didn’t follow the usual path. You know when you start dating someone and you go home to poop and leave the room to fart. Well, about two weeks into our relationship, Matt bought a juicer. We headed to the grocery store and purchased an array of leafy greens, fruits, and root veg. We headed back to his place with our bounty and began to macerate innocent plants into cocktails.
With our 32oz Big Gulp like cups filled to the brim with kale, beet, carrot, pear, and apple juice, we settled in for a movie. Twenty minutes after slamming our libations, yes, they were that yummy, the rumbling commenced.
For the next hour, we took turns skittering into the bathroom, butt cheeks clenched, to relieve ourselves. While the first couple trips were mortifying, they gradually became easier to endure. If it had been the only one afflicted, I would have slunk home, too embarrassed to ever show my face in his home again. But since both of our digestive tracts were hostages, it became a bonding moment.
The Big 4-0
The moment had come. I had turned 40 and it was time for my first colonoscopy. As I readied the mixture of Gatorade (a drink I hate) and Miralax, my heart sank. I had to drink enough laxative to move the bowels of a horse. I needed to divide the 16-oz package containing 16 servings in two. I then needed to mix it into two 32-oz bottles of Gatorade. The first of these needed to be choked down within 90 minutes. Good lord, I thought, I’ll be shitting all night.
Turns out, I wasn’t wrong.
The Human Colon
It’s astounding how much waste the human colon can hold. The day before my procedure, I could eat breakfast. After 10 a.m., my fast began. I could eat Jell-O, Ensure Clear, tea and coffee without milk, any electrocute drinks, and water.
I’m not a huge fan of any of these beverages, and I hadn’t eaten Jell-O since childhood. It’s amazing how hunger will drive a person to consume items they avoid any other time.
I managed to slurp down three packages of strawberry flavored Jell-O, a 4-pack of pomegranate Ensure Clear, and a couple cups of tea. Yet, despite my efforts to stay hydrated, nothing could have prepared for the deluge of watery emissions from my rear.
Every few minutes, I would race to the bathroom as a torrent of filth flowed from me. I couldn’t believe how much crap lay nestled in my large intestine. By midnight, I became afraid to drink anything least the hell I was going through would never end. This turned out to be a huge mistake.
Hair of the Dog
I awoke at 7 am after a few fitful hours of sleep to battle through my next 32-oz. dose of Gatorade-Miralax mixture. I felt awful. My heart raced, my mouth was as dry as the Central Valley in summer, my head pounded, and my stomach rumbled with a vengeance. Basically, I felt like balls.
Now, I am no stranger to hangovers. Yet, I’ve never experienced one without the joy of drunken photos, fuzzy memories, or friends relaying all the stupid shit you did but can’t remember. I also never knew how much of a hangover is pure dehydration.
Stoically, I poured my first glass of liquid shit storm. My body both applauded the electorates and deplored the hidden element that would continue to send me to the toilet for the rest of the morning. Half out of spite, half out of queasiness, I left half a glass of liquid hate undrunk. It felt good to break the rules after such a restless night.
I had feared the half hour drive to the gastroenterologist, thinking I would shit myself on the way there. This wasn’t the case.
It didn’t take long for the laxative to take effect. Yet, much to my surprise and glee, the second round wasn’t as bad as the first. I only hastened to the bathroom a handful of times before the urge to pass nothing but liquid abated.
The waiting game
After the prep, waiting for the procedure was the second worst part. I was hungry, tired, and thirsty. Waiting for the check-in (get my vitals taken, disrobed and IVed) did nothing to quiet my anxiety.
Thoughts of being the 1 in 1000 who suffers complications raced through my mind. What if I woke up during the procedure (something that has happened to me in the past)? What if they perforated my intestine? What if there was something wrong with me and they couldn’t complete the procedure? What if they found cancer?
In the end, no pun intended, it all went well. The anthologist did his job beautifully. I awoke in the recovery area with intense gas pains which two days to dissipate (the third worst part of the whole experience). My doctor found a tiny polyp that ended up being benign but precancerous. So, I’ll be going back in five years.
I’d give the experience a 6 out of 10. The first day of prep was by far the worst bout of food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. Waiting for someone to probe around in your rear is nerve-wracking. But, getting to eat after a two-day fast is amazing. I have never tasted a burger so good. And the peace of mind that comes with a good bill of health is priceless.