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COLONOSCOPY: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly! Hot Conversation

The Good: Colonoscopy Screenings Save Lives (Very, very good.)

Routine medical screenings have saved millions of lives. There are many tests we can take each year or every other year or every three months or whatever that will literally save our lives when our health care providers examine the results. Some of the tests are uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing but we march to the testing rooms knowing we must do this to live long healthy lives. Sometimes the tests reveal the worst: cancer.

Recently a friend went to her routine mammogram and the mammography revealed early breast cancer. They believe they caught it in time and she has now received treatment and has gone through some difficult months but her doctor believes her prognosis is good. Another friend went to her doctor for a routine annual exam and merely mentioned she had a tummy ache off and on for a while. She had pancreatic cancer and died six months later. She had no symptoms whatsoever other than the slight tummy ache.

Apparently by the time the patient “feels” something it’s already too late with pancreatic cancer. Better routine screening for early detection of that disease is under development because current screenings do not protect us. They just tell us how bad it is. The pancreatic cancer screenings for people with hereditary predispositions are a must but are not adequate (nor are they for the rest of us). Even if found early survival rates are poor. Same with ovarian cancer. It can certainly be detected but sometimes too late for a cure. Not so with colon cancer. We have a genuine lifesaving test with the colonoscopy.

When I turned 50 my doctor looked at his computer and exclaimed, “Oh, I see it’s time for your first colonoscopy!” It was all I could do to not jump off the table and run screaming from the examining room. Instead, I said, “Oh, sure, okay. Fine. I’ll check my calendar and get back to you.” I lied.

I rarely go to the doctor except for routine screenings because I’m a healthy person. Each year after that particular visit he urged me to make the colonoscopy appointment and each year I lied. As the years went by (twelve of them) he began pointing out the value of the test. Not only did he become more persistent but also a colonoscopy craze was developing throughout the country and on TV. Everyone was having them and we could even watch them performed on the evening news. I halfway began to think I might be invited to a colonoscopy party like a Tupperware party or a Botox party. No polyps, win a prize.

I argued with my doctor that I didn’t believe I was a candidate for such an invasive procedure. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and I don’t have any nasty addiction habits. Other than chocolate binging. But he pointed out that though that was admirable I could not be sure that my gene pool provided me with protection from that particular affliction. Not only that, he explained, what about the environment? Did I live in a bubble? What about the food I purchased? Did it contain anything that may contribute to colon cancer? Each time I visited he provided more evidence that though I was practically a saint in my lifestyle choices I was still living in the world and no one knows for sure what exactly happens in the colon without a little peek.

At 62 I finally gave in. I must confess it was for monetary purposes and not because I was brave. I was about to retire and wanted the procedure done on my company insurance so I set the appointment. I don’t really know why it took me so long but I truly did not feel I was a candidate for colon cancer. I clung tightly to my belief in a pristine diet.

I had four polyps. (But read on because that’s “good.”)

The Bad: “Cleansing” The Digestive Tract (Bad and ugly.)

Prior to a colonoscopy there are a variety of methods used to cleanse the digestive tract so that the doctor’s camera can see anything of a suspicious nature lurking in the feces-free colon. None of the cleansing procedures are pleasant. My health care provider gave me a diet and two enemas to be used over a three- and two-day period. The diet was easy and in fact I lost six pounds in three days. The day before the screening I used the first enema bottle. The only word to describe what happened shortly thereafter is “explosion.” On the morning of the colonoscopy I had to use the final enema and by that time I could barely walk. Let me put this as delicately as possible: We could light a BBQ pit with the flames shooting out of my butt after two days of cleansing. When I arrived at the hospital I told the nurse immediately because I was sure they would have to cancel the appointment and rush me to the emergency room for anus surgery. Perhaps anus replacement. They did not.

The colonoscopy appointment is handled very much like a surgical procedure. I was given a gown and led to a bed where they set up an I.V. that would drip Valium to relax me. Some colonoscopy providers knock patients out. Mine just relaxed me. I must have mentioned my burning and inflamed anus about twenty times when finally a nurse took a peek. She was alarmed and ran to get the doctor. He took a look and said, “Oh, yeah. Whew!” I was ready to hop out of bed and head home but he informed me that he sees it a lot and he told me to buy some Preparation H on my way home and it would be fine in a couple of days. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe he was going through with the procedure with my butt on fire but indeed he did.

By this time the nurses were wheeling me into the small operating room and I noticed a team standing by. I didn’t expect an audience. I was surprised that this was such a big deal because the news reports all made it sound like it was no worse than getting a filling at the dentist’s office. Everyone was quite peppy and they started moving me around and before I knew it I was on my side facing a small TV. A color TV. The doctor explained what he was going to do and at this point I didn’t care about the colonoscopy, I was only worried my anus flames might ignite the operating room. At this point I realized I didn’t feel the Valium at all so I mentioned that and I think someone may have cranked it up. (I didn’t feel the Valium until I returned to my car with my son after the colonoscopy. He was my driver. The procedure cannot be done without a driver because of the sedation, even though I was not sedated until I got back in the car after the procedure.)

The Ugly: Discovering Four Polyps (Ugly but good.)

The doctor said (and I’m not kidding) “here we go” and off he went. I felt nothing. I was fascinated with viewing a part of my body I never thought I’d see and I watched the entire process. It was amazing and it did not hurt at all. Not even the aforementioned inflammation problem. At times I felt a teeny bit of pressure but it was absolutely nothing. As we marched along through my colon he informed me he found a polyp. I could see it too so he removed it in a little flurry of cutting and I think some air or something to remove blood and liquid and then he continued on his journey with his little camera. He complimented me on my colon cleansing effort because he could see clearly without any flotsam and jetsam* getting in the way. The procedure was painless. Soon he found another. He did the same thing with this polyp and before I knew it we were moving on. When we rounded a corner I saw the third polyp and shouted in an exuberant voice as though I had won the lottery, “Oh, there’s another one!” Everyone laughed.

Not long after that the final polyp was destroyed and the rest of the trip was polyp free. Soon the camera was reversing and the procedure was over. I couldn’t believe I had been so worried about this procedure because it truly was a big nothing. And the fact they found those four nasty little potential cancer-producing polyps was outstanding. A few days later I received a letter telling me my polyps were benign but because they found them I would be on schedule for colonoscopies every five years and that my children should have colonoscopies at age forty. That was it. I broke my big toe once and including childbirth, breaking the toe was the worst physical pain I have ever experienced. With the toe being a pain level ten the colonoscopy was a zero. No pain at all. None. (Childbirth was a nine.)

My son and I walked to the car and I felt absolutely normal. We drove to the drug store where I planned to buy a gallon of Preparation H and when we parked my son discovered I had passed out. Must have been that extra crank of Valium that didn’t work when I asked for it. My son got my beloved tubes and woke me up when we got home. I went directly to bed (after slathering on one entire tube of Prep H) and slept for two hours. When I got up I was starving so we went out to eat dinner. I chose a light meal for obvious reasons. I was not going to have a spicy meal with the burning condition of my waste removal apparatus. I felt absolutely rested and fine and with the contents of another tube of Preparation H placed where it would do its magic before bed, I had no pain. I was worried about the inevitable first bowel movement given the inflammation but since my digestive tract had been purged of food for the procedure the amount I had for dinner and other very light meals did not make it through my system for two days and by that time my red hot rear was healed. Remember: the anus inflammation and discomfort was from the cleansing and not the procedure. Just want to make that clear. I’m getting different cleansing materials the next time.

I don’t believe this posting will convince anyone to get a colonoscopy if they feel like I did originally. I was wrong. It may have saved my life, and more importantly, it may save my children’s lives, and it was no worse or no better than a Pap smear. Any time someone is slipping tools or hands inside our bodies it’s going to be weird and there’s a certain amount of dignity lost. But I prefer living to loss of dignity. I have two years to go before my next procedure. This time I’m going to request a different enema and more Valium and will purchase a dozen tubes of Prep H beforehand just in case. Other than that, I’m good to go—again and again and again. The more times I have the procedure the more years I live to have it again. At least as far as colon cancer is concerned. Our bodies are ticking time bombs so we must be brave and have screenings whenever recommended by our doctors for all parts of our bodies. Even though they can be a pain in the butt.

 *the remains of a shipwreck still floating in water

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Posted in A Little Help FOR My Friends!, health & fitness.

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19 Responses

  1. Gramma Gramma says

    Thank you so much for this informative post…..I appreciate the play by play…..=] I haven’t had my first yet….I think I am more scared of the preparation than the procedure.  I am going to reread this post now to gain some more courage…=]

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  2. Generic Image SIZZELN says

    Sharon, Great job here, and I might need to have another…TRACK

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    • Sharon Lee 123 Sharon Lee 123 says

      I put it off for 12 years! Truly, the worst part was the two days of nonstop diarrhea so prepare for that but at least you are in the comfort of your own home. If you are still working you will have to take a couple days off for the “cleansing.”  The procedure itself was just easy and very quick and I wish I had known that. I didn’t believe all the people who told me it wasn’t bad. Good luck!

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    • Sharon Lee 123 Sharon Lee 123 says

      Yeah, guess we have to have them from time to time! So many screenings but some of them can really save us. My kids were not happy to hear they needed them before 50 because of my polyps. My son only has to wait for two years before his!!!  heh heh heh

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  3. She Cat She Cat says

    I am so happy to hear that the polyps were benign…I had my first colonoscopy @ 50, and had 2 removed, with the same outcome.  I was told that I too, should return in 5 yrs, but haven’t as of yet.  Bad, I know..

    I wanted to thank you for the thread, not only because of the information, but for the laughs.  I’m sorry for laughing, but you have a sense of humor, and a way of writing that had me laughing hysterically, and I almost peed my pants….Thanks…

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    • Sharon Lee 123 Sharon Lee 123 says

      Oh, thanks. When I look back on it I do remember part of it as being sort of funny. Not sure my son would agree. He said the next time my daughter has to be my driver.

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  4. Dr.She Dr.She says

    Hello, had my first recently.  Instead of the enema, I did the drink a gallon of citrus sludge route.  The worst part of the whole procedure was getting those last few ounces down.  Though I had a little irritability in my toosh, I did not flame. I don’t know if that is because of our different procedures or not. 

    My doctor knocked me out.  Before I knew it, I was awake, and on my way with my color photos of where the polyps were. Piece of cake ladies…..and the peace of mind it buys….priceless.  Go for it. Book that appointment today.

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    • Sharon Lee 123 Sharon Lee 123 says

      Absolutely. And for those with children it’s important to let them know if they need early screenings. I think I”ll ask for the beverage route the next time. I really do believe I may have been allergic to the enema liquid. I do not mind the thought of another though, even with the flames.

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  5. persimian persimian says

    My doctor has been trying to get me to get one for two years now.  My Mom’s experience was TOTALLY unpleasant (the doctors didn’t use enough anesthesia and she felt the entire process) and so I’ve been putting it off and putting it off.  However, I know I need it done and have made my third appointment for this November.  Let’s hope I keep it.

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    • Sharon Lee 123 Sharon Lee 123 says

      That’s what amazed me. I didn’t feel any discomfort. Once or twice I felt a tiny pit of pressure but that was it. I think this process may be very different from person to person.

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      • persimian persimian says

        My Mom said she would never do this procedure again.  She felt every bit of pain and was supposed to be under so there was no way to alert the doctors that she was feeling it.  This is the reason why I’m not too keen on anybody putting anything up my a@# to look at something.  If there’s a better and less painful way – please let me know.

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      • Generic Image Marilynne says

        Instead of not having the test, I’d go to a different facility.  I woke up once before the test was done.  I was able to talk and joke with the doctor.  If she was in the same circumstances, she could have told them she was in pain. 

        We should talk about this procedure so we know how to choose the best place to go and what to expect.

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      • Sharon Lee 123 Sharon Lee 123 says

        Yes, on my next visit I’m going to ask for more medication. I didn’t feel any pain whatsoever however so that part was great.

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  6. Generic Image Lin says

    I’ve had two through the years and both were fine. The first time, I drank the gallon of nasty citrus stuff, which seemed to be overkill and made me a little sick and sore, but the second time, I went on a clear liquid diet for a couple of days, then took two tablets with a big glass of water the day before the procedure. It had the same effect and didn’t make me miserable. My nephew’s life was recently saved by having a colonoscopy (removed four very pre-cancerous polyps) so I recommend being screened. Health professionals are trained to be matter of fact about potentially embarrassing surgery, so no one should worry about that kind of thing.

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  7. helenw helenw says

    I attended a talk by a holistic doctor who showed us before and after photos of a bowel.  There was no sign of polyps in the after photo. The patient had been taking good quality multi vitamin/mineral supplements plus omega-3.  

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  8. Gigi of eight Gigi of eight says

    I have had two colonoscopies thus far. Since my paternal grandmother died from colon cancer in 1956 and I had a bout with breast cancer, I was told to have one every five years.  First one a small polyp was found and removed.  Second time was just last year and two more polyps were found.  I can tell you from experience, that the procedure prep and treatment has changed over the past ten years…it has gotten better.  Last time, I had to drink a strong laxative in a sport beverage such as Gatoraide.  I was suppose to drink a gallon but after drinking 1/2 of a gallon, my drainage was clear and that’s all they want.  Clear is clear and it won’t improve with more of the solution.  Since I had a very early test time, I was up “doing my thing” all during the night.  I was extremely tired that morning so it didn’t take much to “knock me out”. I awakened to learn that it was over and I rested for about an hour and then was on my way home.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I had both ends examined as I was having digestive issues. So I had an endoscopic exam as well.  Considering the alternative, I will go through this procedure in a heartbeat so I can be around longer for my eight grandchildren.

     

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  9. bunnie bunnie says

    Thank you for sharing that colorful and funny account My Dad survived Colon Cancer and now I know that I gotta get my ass in gear. Literally!!!

    I have to have the “put you to sleep go all the way up” one. Not looking forward to any of it. But I’ll call today,and make that appointment. THANK YOU.

    Xfashion nut

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  10. Generic Image Marilynne says

    During my first colostomy my doctor took out 19 pre-cancerous polyps.  On the second he found a cancerous one.  Do I continue to have the tests?  You bet.  What’s a little embarassment between you and your doctor compared to living healthy?

     

    PS – I was put out.  It made me sleep the rest of the day, but happily I remembered nothing.

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