Friday, February 6, 2015

A Simple Test Can Save Your Life

Recently, I had a colonoscopy. I know -- gross! Actually, it was my third colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends getting one every five years beginning at age 50. I started at 46 because I'm at a higher risk.  My dad and his mom both had colorectal cancer.

If you have ever had a colonoscopy, you know that the actual procedure is anticlimactic to the preparation for it. The day before, you have to drink this laxative mix, eat nothing, drink clear liquids and stay really close to the bathroom. 

For the actual procedure, you are asleep so you really don't know what's going on, which is ok with me. When you wake up, you have to expel all of the gas the doctor blew into your colon so he could examine it with his snake-like camera. That's really embarrassing, especially if a family member or friend is sitting with you. The recovery room is a really loud place.

I don't like taking any of these tests that detect cancer -- colonoscopy, mammogram, PAP test, etc. The test itself isn't so bad usually, but the worry afterward is unnerving. Most often, a week or so after the test, after I have moved on and life has removed it from my memory, the mailman delivers that letter from the doctor stating the test results. I hate that letter. I hate the little knot in my stomach when I see the return address because I know that what's written on that doctor’s stationary inside that envelope could totally throw my life into turmoil. That letter could mean the end of life as I know it. 
I’ve been lucky so far, but many of my friends and family haven’t. Cancer has taken many of them, well before they should have died.

I’ve never understood why people won’t take these tests. Sometimes it’s because they would rather not know if something is wrong.  I have a friend who didn’t get a mammogram for years. Once, she had one that showed a small, suspicious spot. She had to have a biopsy which showed she was ok; however, she was such a wreck after the whole ordeal, she wouldn’t have a mammogram for several years.

Early detection is the key for all types of cancers, especially colorectal cancer. If it’s found and treated early, the 5-year survival rate is about 90%. But because many people are not getting tested, only about 4 out of 10 people are diagnosed at this early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful. For those 140,000 Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer yearly, more than 50,000 die from it.

Yes, having a colonoscopy is unpleasant, but having to endure months/years of chemotherapy, surgery, or the ostomy bag should encourage everyone to have the test. Personally, I'd rather suffer through the prep, the test and that unsettling letter than suffer through the alternative -- cancer.

February 4th is World Cancer Day, the day to recognize and remember those who have cancer, who survived it or who died from it.

On February 4, I thought about all the people that I know who have died from cancer. I miss you Daddy, Nana, Aunt Jane, Aunt Nell, Uncle Bub, Amy, Debbie, Kathy, Sharon, Marsha, Steve, Billy …