What to expect when you're expecting a camera up your butt? Nothing terrible! It's over before you know it.
I was pleasantly surprised when, while writing my original CaringBridge Blog, I would receive emails from complete strangers thanking me for sharing my story. A mutual friend may have shared the link, or perhaps they discovered it through a topic search on the CaringBridge site itself. What always touched me the most, was how comfortable they were with sharing their own stories with me, telling me details about their cancer journey that they may not have told even their closest friends and family. Because of this, I have made many new friends, and have a healthy flow of emails every day from people with whom I've connected. It feels great. It's an awesome responsibility at first, but once we get chatting, I realize how important it is for us to feel like part of a tribe -- the only people who really truly understand what we have been through.
I also get a lot of messages from people who are watching someone else's cancer journey from the outside -- caregivers, family, and friends -- people who see what's happening and feel powerless to voice their opinions. Some are relieved that the patient is taking the doctor's advice, while others are mortified at the decisions the patient is making. I am guilty of this, too. Sometimes I hear from people who have decided against chemo, despite their oncologists' advice, and I have to bite my tongue (or freeze my fingers on the keyboard) because even if it wasn't the choice I would have made, it is theirs alone to make. Chemo, radiation, and immunotherapy all come with their own unique sets of side effects, both short term and long term. None of us go into these treatments lightly, and I don't know what circumstances other people are experiencing that lead them to reach certain conclusions, but I do know that it's their unique road to travel, just like I have my own path to take. Refraining from criticizing cancer patients' medical decisions is important for all of us to remember.
There is something, though, that I won't stay quiet about, and that's telling everyone to get a COLONOSCOPY!! If you are 45, it's time to get your first one. If you are a close family relation to someone with polyps or colon cancer, you will likely be told to get your first one at the age of 25. If there is a history of colon cancer in your extended family, your doctor may tell you to get your first one at 40. If you are of Ashkenazy descent or perhaps have Lynch Syndrome, you will also be advised to have genetic testing.
What frustrates and worries me, though, is how many people are resistant to getting their colonoscopy. I have already written extensively about why you should skip the Cologuard home test and just go straight to the colonoscopy. There are so many people who believe that they can just take this test and ignore their doctor's advice to just get the full colonoscopy. Although convenience is a major factor for them, so is fear.
Why are so many people afraid of getting a colonoscopy? Are they worried they will feel it? Are they nervous about the bowel cleanse? Let's discuss these points.
Perhaps the doctors aren't clear enough when they explain the procedure to patients, but all colonoscopies are done under some level of sedation. There is, of course, full anesthesia. In this case, it's just like having surgery -- you will be completely unconscious for the entire procedure. You'll have to recover from the drugs, also like with surgery. It can take a good portion of the day to come out of the haze. You will not feel anything during or after the procedure.
I had what are called "Twilight drugs" which put me in a very loopy, semi-conscious state. I felt nothing as the procedure was happening. I was laying on my left side, facing the monitor, so I could see the view from the scope. I felt nothing during or after the procedure. It was easy to recover from the drugs, I was completely conscious, walking, and feeling nearly normal by the time I was dressed and out the door. If, in the future, I am given a choice as to which drugs I prefer for my next colonoscopy, I would choose to have these again.
I can't say this enough: no matter which sedation you are given, you will not feel anything during the procedure.
I assume this is the part people dread the most. What is going to happen to them once they drink the laxative? Are they going to be sick? When people have a stomach bug and have diarrhea, it's usually accompanied by painful cramping. This is how we assume the bowel prep will go because it's the only thing we know about unrelenting diarrhea.
What is my experience? In the past year, I have had to do five (5!) bowel preps for multiple colonoscopies and surgeries. Some of those preps were done over two days. It wasn't pleasant, but it did not hurt and I never felt sick. I drank the laxative (I was given SuPrep) and about an hour later I was in the bathroom. In most cases, it took me about 2 hours to complete the cleanse. With the colostomy, I just stayed on the toilet with the open bag between my legs and played games on my iPhone while my body took care of the rest.
The worst part about the cleanse is the diet 24 hours before. You may be told to be on a liquid diet (like I was), in which case I drank a lot of veggie broth and ate a lot of popsicles. You have to stay away from red, purple, and blue foods (natural or dyed) because any residue in your colon could be mistaken for blood by the doctor. Yes, it sucks to have to stay away from solids for a whole day, but you're not going to starve to death. It's uncomfortable, but you'll live. The next day, when you're home recovering from the drugs, you can make up for everything you didn't get to eat the day before. Have fun refilling your colon -- but ponder the notion that you've been given a literal clean slate, and maybe even use this opportunity to begin a new, healthier relationship with food.
If your doctor sees any polyps during your exam, they will remove them right then and there. Those polyps will be sent to the lab and a few days later you'll get your results. In so many cases, polyps are just that: polyps. But, in the rare case that they are pre-cancerous or cancerous, you'll be glad that the doctor found them early so treatments can begin right away. The sooner any cancerous growths are found, the easier colorectal cancer (CRC) is to treat.
If you avoid getting a colonoscopy, it's like thrusting your head into the sand. If you don't have the test, you'll never have to face the diagnosis. CRC is one of those cancers that grows really slow, so by the time you start to have symptoms, it means that it has progressed pretty far.
My case is not unique -- I was not yet 50 (the age of first colonoscopy back when I was getting diagnosed), I was of seemingly low risk, and I did not have any symptoms until I suddenly had symptoms. There are more people in their 40s being diagnosed with CRC now than ever before because we just aren't being screened.
If your doctor recommends a colonoscopy, just do it. You have two days to lay around and watch a lot of Netflix, but you are more likely to walk away with a clean bill of health and the peace of mind that everything is going well inside of you.
JUST DO IT!!