Those of us on the far side of fifty know that you start having to do all kinds of extra things to keep your health, things you never realized you'd have to do.
One of those things is a colonoscopy. If you have had one, you know it's not something you look forward to.
Because both my father and my grandfather had colon cancer, I've had to develop a mental approach to colonoscopies which I wanted to share.
The secret is: Colonoscopies are your friend:
- A friend that shakes up your routine
- A troublesome, but worthwhile friend
- A friend that can save your life
But first, let's talk about what colonoscopies are and why you have them, and then let's talk about the test prep.
What is a colonoscopy and why would you have one?
More people die of colorectal cancer in the United States than any other type except lung cancer. Most people get it between ages 65 to 74 years; the median age at death from colorectal cancer is 73 years.
Colon tissue generates quickly, and there is a higher chance of cancer developing in that type of tissue. Also, the colon gets exposed to high rates of environmental toxins, which can cause mutations that turn into tumors. Diets high in red meat and processed meats increase the odds of developing colon cancer, whereas diets high in vegetables and fruits tend to prevent colon cancer.
A colonoscopy is a medical procedure in which a doctor puts a flexible scope up your rectum and checks for abnormalities or polyps, which could be precancerous or cancerous. They can remove these growths and take tissue samples during the procedure. The University of Michigan reports that they
find polyps in at least 25 percent of patients over the age of 50 through colonoscopies.
It’s a kind of exploratory surgery, but wihtout having to actually make an incision.
What it’s like
I’ve come to think of colonoscopies as a visit from a friend who comes to town occasionally – we drink a lot, have a crazy time, pass out, and when it’s all over I’ve learned something and feel better about myself.
There’s a whole other part that comes before that, the prep work in which you set aside the time beforehand to clean out your body, so that the doctor has a clear view of your insides.
Here’s where I like to think of my friend, the colonoscopy, as a wild Hollywood fad dieter. You know how in California, they have various diet crazes like eating only pineapple, or kale smoothies, or quinoa bowls? Imagine you have a friend who adheres to a seed-free diet. For three days that your friend is in town, you want to be a good host, so you too, will avoid eating seeds for three days. No tomatoes, sesame seeds, kiwi, berries, granola, or popcorn. For some reason your friend is also on a LOW-fiber kick: no whole grains, nuts, dried fruit, or raw fruits or vegetables.
So that’s the first three days. But that’s not enough for your friend. She's enthralled by liquid diets, too. So on the fourth day, she decides to skip eating. And no red, purple, or blue-tinted liquids. Only lemonade, Sprite, green Gatorade, clear chicken broth... Oh, you can have jello, or popsicles. But realistically you’re going to be so busy getting ready for the main evening event that you’ll be too distracted to be concerned.
The night before your colonoscopy will be intense. You’ve gone to the pharmacy. You’ve picked up your prescription laxative. In fact you take two kinds: a pill at 4 pm and a mixable powder that goes into a half gallon of gatorade. You take it in the evening. It’s just you and your friend, hanging out at home.
Think of it as having a really cheap, salty margarita. It’s so bad you can barely taste the tequila. In fact there’s no alcohol in it at all. But because it’s so cheap you bought a huge amount, a half gallon. You’re swigging it down until you think you might throw up.
Next thing you know, you’ve got the trots. Like a bad night at the bar, except thankfully you’re at home. You’re on the toilet off and on for what seems like hours. Pretty soon when you go to the toilet, there’s nothing left to pass but clear liquid. Maybe now you can sleep a little. Because next morning is the big event!
Step back for just a minute because when you go in for your colonoscopy, they will require you to have a real friend to drive you home. You’ll be sedated and they won't allow you to leave without an escort.
In the morning you and your real friend go in to the hospital or clinic. You sign in, get into a hospital gown. Then they put you under and do all their procedures – and make a video of it – but you probably won’t feel or remember anything.
When you wake up they’ll tell you if they found anything but you’ll probably be a little groggy and out of it. Your friend will drive you home and you’re free to eat again.
But it was a pretty wild ride there for a few days. You did it! You survived a visit from your friend, the colonoscopy.
By the time you're fifty, you've done your daily routine hundreds of thousands of times. A colonoscopy is like a friend who adds variety to your routine for a few days -- a friend who can save your life.