Why You Need A Colonoscopy, And How To Survive It

by Kelly Schaffer
A doctor and a nurse preparing to perform a colonoscopy with the patient next to them
Wicki58 / Getty

This time last year, as a 34-year-old, I was in the throws of a rectal cancer scare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal (colon and rectal) cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. This was a surprise to me, as was the fact that colon and rectal cancers are on the rise in younger adults. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s talk shit.

It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, because, in general, preventative colonoscopies for people at average risk aren’t recommended until age 50. Knowing the red flags will help you be an advocate for your health, especially if you have concerns in advance of the typical screening age. If you have symptoms that aren’t normal (remember, rectal bleeding isn’t always due to hemorrhoids), your doctor might send you for a colonoscopy. Many people will tell you the same thing — the preparation for a colonoscopy is far worse than the procedure itself. Sure, bowel prep results in your insides emptying with the force of a fire hose – but truthfully, it’s not that bad.

With three bowel preps under my belt in the past year, I no longer consider myself a novice. If the thought of bowel prep has been preventing you from getting screened, look no further. Here’s the down and dirty on how to cruise through your bowel prep and come out with a sparkling colon.

1. Keep it light.

The day before your colonoscopy, you’ll likely be on a clear liquid diet. This is your bowel prep day. On the day prior to clear liquids, should you stuff your belly full? Hell no! First, what goes in must come out (see fire hose reference above). Second, consider how empty your stomach will be after that feast moves through. You’ll be starving! Instead, use the day before your clear liquid diet as a low-fiber, light-eating day. Keep it easy. My go-to dinner before the clear liquid diet starts is Rice Krispies and toast.

2. Bulk up on broth.

During your clear liquid diet be mindful of getting calories. Prior to my first rendezvous with bowel prep, I bought a few cans of broth and thought I was all set. I came to find out they were only 5 calories per serving. That’s not going to do much for your completely depleted energy from the shit storm taking place in your bathroom. Make real broth. This is finally your reason to get an Instant Pot, and the recipe is easy – a few cups of water and chicken. Strain it. Boom, calories.

3. Stock up in the baby aisle.

Make a pre-colonoscopy list. Put two things on it: diaper cream and baby wipes. During your bowl prep, use both generously. Shit, wipe, cream. Shit, wipe, cream. Shit, wipe, cream. You get it.

4. Stay hydrated.

In the days leading up to your bowel prep, make sure you’re getting plenty of water. Then, during your bowel prep follow your doctor’s instructions for how many liquids to take in. Keep drinking up until the time you’re told to stop all fluids. What’s worse than going into your colonoscopy hungry? Being hungry and thirsty, of course. I’ve gone so far as to set my alarm for the time I was told to stop fluids so that I can squeeze in a few last sips.

5. Get down to it.

When its time to drink your bowel cleansing solution, don’t delay. The sooner you get started, the sooner it will be over. I thought it was overkill when I read advice saying not to wander far from the bathroom. It turns out that’s valid advice and I’m passing it right along to you.

6. Lower your expectations.

Read a book. Watch a movie. Nope and nope. Instead, aimlessly attempt to clean the bathroom. Pace up and down the hallway. Count the tiles on the bathroom floor. Read the back of the diaper cream tube 600 times. Keeping it real. Don’t worry, the madness will subside.

7. Do not panic.

This tip comes from my husband (because me = panic) and is relatively self-explanatory. Really, it will be fine. If you’ve ever had a potty-training child, you know there are toilets just about everywhere. And you know all the tricks for when bathroom emergencies arise. The prep will be fine. The procedure will be fine. You will be fine. Getting a colonoscopy is one of the first steps toward determining the cause of symptoms. It is important and necessary.

When I described bowl prep to a friend her response was, “It’s 2018 for fuck’s sake; there isn’t an easier way?” No, there’s not an easier way. While it isn’t exactly a joy preparing for a colonoscopy, that’s no reason to avoid getting one. Colorectal cancer is preventable and is curable when caught early. Join me during this Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month to help educate others about colorectal cancer and the importance of screening.