When you turn 50 you get an invitation to join AARP and sometime after that your physician may remind you that it’s time to get your very first colonoscopy. Yay.
A colonoscopy is (for all you youngsters out there) a screening test for colorectal cancer (CRC).
First, some facts about colrectal cancer and colonoscopy tests from www.webmd.com.
The American Cancer Society says 135,430 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2017 and 50,260 people will die from the disease. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related death for both men and women. However, if it is caught early, colorectal cancer has a 90% survival rate.
Not only does (a colonoscopy) screen for CRC, it is one of the only screening tests that can actually prevent colon cancer. By finding and taking colon polyps out before they become cancer, doctors can prevent their later development into cancer.
If you have been reading this blog for a while you know how I love me some prevention. You also know that I love to share experiences and since Brad is so squeamish about stuff like this I figured you all would reap the benefit of his discomfort. You’re welcome.
After a referral to a Gastroenterologist to schedule a colonoscopy, I was examined and scheduled for an appointment. My doctor gave me a 3 day prep plan and then I went to pick up the strong laxatives that would get things moving. (Note – I have only taken laxatives once in my life and they worked very well but I’ll just give you a tip, don’t go for a run the next morning).
I scheduled my procedure for a Thursday in July so I’d have Mon-Wed to prep.
3 Days Out: Eliminate nuts, seeds, beans, fruit with seeds, corn, whole grains
Ok, so I’m plant-based. I eat beans, berries, corn, whole grains every day. Those are my foods! So I had a little panicky feeling then quickly zigged and zagged and figured out what I could eat and not starve to death. Because this girl doesn’t fast. This girl doesn’t skip meals and this girl loves her beans, grains and berries.
2 Days Out: Drink lots and lots of fluids; eat balanced meals still avoiding the offenders above
Greens, sweet potatoes and mushrooms and avocado. Veggie burger (soy based) with an english muffin, arugula. Ok, I’ve got this. A huge bowl of watermelon before I realized I was eating the seeds. Crap.
Day Before: Prep Day – See below for instructions
1. Eat a “low residue” breakfast
2. At 10am begin a “clear liquid diet”
3. At 6pm down the 1st prep drink plus 40 oz. clear liquids over a 2 hr period
Well ok folks, here we go. I ate as much as my belly could hold for breakfast and then snacked at 9:50pm.
10am – My heart sank, sad music played in the background and my stomach growled
Noon – Had lime jello. Had a juice drink that had pulp (whoops) so I had to pour it over a paper towel in my strainer into a glass to get rid of the pulp.
2pm – Took a nap
4pm – Heated up veggie broth (OMG, so horrible), had 2 fruit popsicles and a jello. It was going to be a long afternoon and I was actually looking forward to 6pm when this shit show could start. Ha ha, crack myself up sometimes.
6pm – Ran to the kitchen for the prep drink. Shook it up, popped my metal straw into it (because I’m so green), plugged my nose as I shoved the straw to the back of my throat (past the taste buds) and took long draws.
I. Can’t. Even. Describe. Cloyingly sweet. Thin. Weird medicinal smell. I got it down as quickly as I could. The last two pulls on the straw made me gag but I finished it off like a champ and stuck my head under the sink for a drink of water.
Then I pushed another another popsicle in my mouth, sat down to do some work. And waited. A few puffs of gas. A few belches. A few gurgles. A few twinges deep in my belly. Then nothing. So I kept working. And had a glass of white wine with a 20 oz. water chaser.
7:45pm – Here we go. (And if you’re grossed out by poop, scroll waay down). First pass was normal. Then I started to get up. Wait. Sat back down. I was in the bathroom for 30 minutes.
As time passed, I could feel the complete emptying (or so I thought at the time) of my bowels. Firm to soft to softer to slop to whatever that was that came after. It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t pleasant. It was fascinating. It felt like I was working down many levels of my bowels, like taking an elevator to the basement.
I won’t get too graphic but I’ll just share that if you wanted to know what I ate for dinner on Sunday, you could look in the toilet or on the toilet paper.
Surprisingly, I was pretty much done for the night. I think there was one more quickie, but that was it. I thought, ok, not so bad.
I did have a difficult time falling asleep because my anxiety was on high alert and didn’t nod off until 11pm.
The Day of the Procedure
My alarm trilled me awake at 2am. The cats circled thinking it was breakfast time. Sorry kitties, no such luck.
2:15am – The second bottle of the prep had to be drunk (drinked, drank). This time I tried to hold a lemon under my nose (this was one of the tips on the instruction sheet) but that wasn’t working so I took a gulp of prep, sucked on a lemon wedge as if I was doing tequila shots. Gag. Then 40 oz of water with strict instructions to stop having any fluids by 5:30am.
2:40am – I was folding laundry watching Southern Charm when I bolted to the bathroom.
Here’s a mistake I made after I came back and sat down. At this point of the process, it’s not gas.
So at the first gurgle, I learned to get moving. After my third rush to the potty (and going through my second pair of jammies bottoms) I realized I should have moved my laundry folding action to the hallway.
Prep 1 is to get the big stuff out and clear away any solids. Prep 2’s role is to act like Drano and flush out any remaining bits, pieces and particles out in gushes.
Wow. Lost of random bits and particles. How long was that there? I wondered? Because, yes. I looked.
At 4am I was done and set my alarm for 6:35am and fell asleep. I got up, took a shower (I’m courteous that way), and waited to get out of the house with my stomach gurgling and ignoring all food stuffs in my kitchen.
I arrived at 7:45am, filled out paperwork and was taken to the back where they have the prep room, procedure rooms and recovery area. I stripped down to a bra, climbed into a gown (open in the back, please) and lay down on the bed.
I was given toasty warm blankets from a warmer thing (divine) got hooked up to an IV and given the 411 on the anesthesia. I asked if I would wake up partway through and be awake but not able to move (I saw a Phil Donohue once when I was a kid where a guy explained how that happened) and I was assured it wouldn’t happen and that I was in good hands.
My doctor came in asked how I was feeling, asked if my stomach issues and reflux issues were better or worse since he saw me in March, patted me on the arm and I was wheeled in to the procedure room.
I tried to forget that strangers were going to see me, ass over tea kettle on a gurney with a tube up my butt and probably drooling. So I leaned into the anesthesia and cozied up for a nap. The last thing I remember was the anesthesia going into my arm and it being very uncomfortable and as I went to say something….
I came to in the procedure room with the lights on and people talking. I was wheeled out into recovery (on my back, and fully covered thankfully) and answering questions with a very thick tongue.
I rested a bit, got dressed, was helped up and out. My friend Lisa drove me home. I ate the best avocado toast ever and took a nap for an hour. When I woke up, I had no idea what day it was, where I had to be (if anywhere) or where anyone was. Then I remembered I was right where I was supposed to be and fell back asleep until 2pm.
I felt a little punk all day, tired and gurgly and went to bed early. The next day I was fine.
My initial results came back clear, no polyps or growths. They did a small biopsy in my esophagus to rule out anything serious due to the reflux and I’ll get those and a full report in about a month. I was told that with my mother’s history of polyps I should come back every 5 years.
Many of my friends have done the Cologuard test (where you poop on paper, smear it on a swab and mail that little packet of joy to your doctor). I did that too and it came back negative for anything. However, my doctor also recommended a colonoscopy because it can not only detect polyps, but they can be snipped out right there and biopsied. An extra level of prevention. My doctor is not one to prescribe or recommend procedures very often or easily so I took her advice. However, you should do what your doctor recommends. We don’t offer medical advice here.
While it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience (for me or my immediate family), I’m very happy I did the procedure. Colonoscopies, mammograms, blood tests, prostate checks, visits to the cardiologists, ob-gyn appts, skin cancer screenings and the like are helpful tools for early detection and we should take advantage of them. They may very well save your life.
Now go run!