Lifestyle

Why I'm So Glad I Begged My Doctor For A Colonoscopy

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Courtesy of Jen Frase

So yeah, I had a colonoscopy last month. I’m only 45, which isn’t even close to 50 (I mean, not super close), which is when they officially start recommending them, but my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer six years ago and because I’m a raging hypochondriac, I’ve basically begged my doctor for one every year since. (My mom is fine, by the way). Here is my colonoscopy story. Sit down, grab a coffee and enjoy yourself.

For six years, since my mom’s diagnosis, my doctor has told me that my mom was old enough when she was diagnosed that it wouldn’t be considered hereditary, so there was no need for early screening for me. But you’d be surprised how adamant a middle-aged woman with a healthy case of generalized anxiety disorder can be. At my physical this year, my doctor finally looked at me and said, “Fuck OKAY already. You can have a colonoscopy if you promise to shut the hell up about it.”

He didn’t say that. But he did agree to it.

So I scheduled it. First up was a mandatory COVID-19 test. I guess COVID can fly out of your anus into the doctor’s face, so they want to make sure you don’t have COVID before a colonoscopy. The more you know.

My COVID-19 test happened to fall on the first day they decided to make patients start swabbing their own nostrils. Let me tell you what doesn’t work: Swabbing your own nostrils. I just stuck it up there and the nurse kind of snickered and was all, “Yeahhhh, that’s nowhere near far enough.” And then I started sneezing like the dickens and had to start over. I finally get it up far enough and she says, “That’s good, now twist it around.” So I punched her.

I didn’t have COVID so now it’s time for colonoscopy prep. Not sure if you’ve heard about this, but it’s by far the worst part. First, you have to stop eating 24 hours before the procedure. 24 hours. My doc tells me this and I scream, “Are you kidding me?!? 24 hours!? I MIGHT DIE!” And he’s all, “Smidge dramatic, no?” He didn’t say that. Anyway, then the night before, you have to drink a 16-ounce mixture of this liquid/gel/death relish and it is horrendous. I gagged with every sip. They tried to flavor it strawberry which feels like trying to cover the smell of a corpse with an Anthropologie candle. Doesn’t work. And somehow, makes it worse.

I get it down and then basically pooped uncontrollably for the foreseeable future. Not only that, but I sort of felt like crap too. So I empty out my bowels completely and go to bed early because despite feeling like I have food poisoning, I’m starving. Because, you know, I’m me.

I don’t have to jump out of bed to poop even once overnight! So that’s a success. But guess what? I have to drink that shit again that morning. I repeat last night’s gag fest and continue pooping nonstop, but by this point, it’s all air. Pooping air is an interesting sensation, FYI.

I head to the colonoscopy place — my mom drives me because I can’t operate a vehicle afterwards, but she’s not allowed in with me, thanks to COVID. (Funny how I wanted my mommy there with me, even at my age. Such a baby.) Anyhoo, I get undressed, get in a gown, all that good stuff, and then I get an IV and we’re almost ready to go.

They wheel me into the small operating room and the anesthesiologist explains that I’m not under general anesthesia, but she would be giving me propofol. I’m not afraid — I just ask her to watch my breathing carefully which now cracks me up: The hypochondriac reminding the doctor to do her job. She tells me it works super-fast and wears off super-fast and, in my mind, it’ll feel instantaneous from the moment she starts it to the moment I wake up.

Indeed, this is exactly what happens. I remember her saying she’s starting the propofol and literally the next moment, I’m being woken up in the recovery room: “Jennifer! Jennifer, wake up. Do you want some animal crackers?” Now they’ve got my attention. Yes, please.

But I am totally on planet Q. I don’t know what the hell is really going on, as I’m half-asleep shoveling animal crackers into my mouth. The doctor comes in and starts firing off information that I truly can’t comprehend and don’t end up remembering. I have recollections of him saying, “Huge polyp. HUGE.” And “I’m so glad you came in” and “It took much longer than normal” and “I didn’t finish” and “precancer” and “You need another colonoscopy in three months.” My mind is spinning and I’m terrified and so very confused. Do I have colon cancer? What is a huge polyp? I have to go through this shit again in three months? Aren’t colonoscopies recommended every ten years? What the fuck? Oh and also, am I dying?

They tell me that my mom is here to get me, which doesn’t seem right since I’m trying to comprehend what I was just told and I’m still super busy eating animal crackers. And I’m really supposed to stand up right now? That doesn’t feel safe. So I don’t. I just keep eating.

Finally, they’re all, “Um Jennifer? You can get dressed and leave anytime now.” Fine, I’m done with my crackers anyway, and they don’t seem to be offering me any more. I cry all the way home and all night long. I’m terrified and I think I have cancer. I hug my kids tight that night and cry some more. I don’t want to be sick.

The next morning, I feel much better. Physically, I just feel a little bloated and tired. Emotionally, I feel way more optimistic. Why did I think I was dying last night? The propofol wore off quickly but I felt super weird for hours and I wasn’t prepared for the overly emotional side effect. I was so weepy and barely remember that entire afternoon/evening. I leave a voicemail for the doctor to call me and go over what the hell he told me, as I truly don’t remember the details.

He calls me back, and here’s the deal. Colon polyps (little masses) are super common, usually small, and can easily be removed during a colonoscopy. They can turn into cancer so that’s why you have colonoscopies — to remove them before that happens. Small polyps are less than 5mm and larger ones are 5-10mm. Mine was fucking 25mm. Did you hear that? 25mm. I mean…that’s basically a dead mouse in my colon. I don’t even know how poop was getting through, to be honest. Just how wide is my colon?

He says he doesn’t think it’s cancer yet, but we have to wait for pathology results to be sure. But it was definitely precancer. Awesome.

A painful three weeks later, I get the results that it is pre-cancer, but so so so fucking close to cancer. So close. He said to me that if I had waited even a few more months to have this colonoscopy, “We’d be having a very different conversation right now.” That’s scary to hear.

The repeat colonoscopy in three months is to make sure he got it all out — it was HUGE, as you know, and he had to take it out in pieces. He said he tattooed the spot in my colon where it was so he would know where to look when he’s back in there. I asked if he tattooed anything fun like a heart with my dog’s name in it, or skull and crossbones. He didn’t seem to understand this joke.

He also tacked on this small detail — because my polyp was “huge” and difficult to remove, I was under sedation for too long and they had to cut the rest of the procedure short, so he DIDN’T EVEN FINISH checking out the rest of my colon. Good lord.

Overall, I feel incredibly lucky and relieved. I’m not happy to do this shit again in three months but I’m thankful I went in when I did. And apparently, I’m high-risk now, since I had this big polyp, so I will need to watch this more carefully than most people.

So here’s my plea — COVID is all anyone is talking about, but if I ignored my inner-psycho about my colon for another year, I’d have colon cancer. Take care of yourself, don’t forget your regular checkups, and be an advocate for your own health! Truthfully, what my doctor said the last few years was correct – it shouldn’t be hereditary because my mom was 67 years old when she was diagnosed, so I actually don’t blame them for not allowing me to have a colonoscopy five years ago. But I’m really glad I stayed on it.

**Update: I had a follow-up colonoscopy three months later and everything was clear. I did poop my bed the night before though.

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