Since March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I shouldn’t allow the month to end without asking you to schedule your colonoscopy.
A couple of months ago, I experienced my first colonoscopy. It’s not something most people talk about, other than to tell horror stories to those you haven’t yet undergone the procedure. But preventing colon cancer is worth a mention.
There was a time when doctors recommended a colonoscopy for anyone over age 50. In some cases, doctors say that age should be 45.
No one in their 40s wants to think about that particular procedure. I get it.
But I assure you that it wasn’t something I looked forward to at 51, either. I did know, however, that I was technically overdue for my first one. I don’t have a family history of colon cancer, which is definitely a factor on my side. But my dad’s doctor found two polyps during his first colonoscopy, and he had to go back on a five-year interval at first because of that.
In his case, both polyps were benign.
The prep is not as bad as you’ll hear.
Everyone told me they’d call the procedure itself a piece of cake. You’re out like a light. You never even knew it happened when you wake up. And you wake up feeling like you’ve had a really, really good nap. All of that turned out to be true. The anesthetic they give you definitely puts you out, but it doesn’t leave you feeling groggy when you wake up.
I never worried about the procedure itself (except for my inner hypochondriac, which worried about them finding something bad). I worried about the day before the procedure.
I went into detail about that in my post back in January. You can go back and relive those exciting moments here. No, it’s not pleasant. It’s fair to say you’re not the greatest company during that “cleanout” phase.
But it’s also not nearly as bad as some warned me that it would be. Not by a long shot.
Honestly, by the time it was over, I was convinced it actually was over. From the horror stories I’d heard — one classmate told me he was sure he’d passed a cheeseburger that had been stuck in his gut since 7th grade — I figured I’d be caught off guard by one final, horrible bathroom visit.
Let me reassure you: don’t listen to all of those horror stories.
What’s important is the procedure itself.
They found three polyps during my colonoscopy. One of them was benign. The report labeled two of them “precancerous.”
That means I did not have cancer. But it also means that if I’d waited, out of fear of the procedure or its prep, those polyps could have had time to become cancer. My doctor assured me I did the right thing in coming in for an exam. Because of my family history of polyps, they want me back in three years. If they find no polyps, you may not be due for another appointment for 10 years.
That should tell you something important: colon cancer is a slow-forming disease. In three years, if they find no new polyps, they may move me to a five-year interval.
But for someone with no polyps, medical science has reached a point where they can wait a decade and still catch the cancer before it’s too late.
All we have to do is show up for our appointment when it’s due and not put it off.
I’m glad I didn’t put it off any more than I did. And I’ll be happy to go back in three years to make sure there are no new ones forming.
The American Cancer Society recommends everyone get their first colonoscopy at 45. In many cases, your health insurance will cover the entire cost of the screening. Mine did.
That’s one less excuse to avoid scheduling yours.