Editor’s note: March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
My young niece exclaimed “TMI! TMI!” (Too Much Information) when I told her what was on my calendar for Monday.
An older nephew made a wisecrack that will go unrepeated.
I said “the word” and my colleagues at work laughed and wriggled in their seats.
But what I’m going to tell you about is not funny at all. It’s about a procedure that could save your life. In fact, in some other era, without this procedure, I might be checking out in about five years.
I’m talking about the, um ... er ... colonoscopy. There, I said it — colonoscopy. The much-maligned, joked-about procedure that makes many adults, adept at handling chainsaws and fixing cars, squirm at the thought.
Shelve the jokes and stop squirming. A colonoscopy is easier than you think. In fact, it’s not a big deal at all.
A colonoscopy is the endoscopic examination of the colon with a fiberoptic camera on a flexible tube. During the colonoscopy, the doctor can examine lesions, polyps and ulcerations, and remove polyps as small as one millimeter or less. Once polyps are removed, they can be studied to determine if they are precancerous.
“Routine colonoscopy to look for early signs of cancer should begin at age 50 for most people — earlier if there is a family history of colorectal cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or other risk factors,” according to the National Institutes of Health. “The doctor can advise patients about how often to get a colonoscopy.”
When it comes to cancer, early detection is key. Now, consider that colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Some 53,005 people died of colon cancer in the United States in 2005, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control has statistics.
Here’s what Dr. Sheila Lally, DO, at the Pacific Surgery Center in Poulsbo had me do to get ready. Sunday, a light breakfast at 10 a.m., followed by fasting (Jell-O allowed), taking a laxative, drinking a lot of water (broth, coffee and no-pulp juice allowed), and taking a laxative again. My last drink of water was allowed eight hours before check-in.
The first 6-ounce bottle of laxative, called Suprep, went down OK. Mixed with 10 ounces of water, it tasted salty with a hint of lime. The second bottle of Suprep, later in the day, was the toughest part of the preparation for me. I had to chase each gulp with Sprite.
I was in the Pacific Surgery Center at 6 a.m. the next day. A nurse prepped me, made sure I was comfortable, and explained what to expect. The anesthesiologist and the doctor visited with me. Then a nurse walked with me to the surgery. Bob Seger was singing “Night Moves” as I laid down and the anesthesiologist put an oxygen mask on me and said something I don’t remember because I was out and the next thing I know I was looking at my wife Molly and asking when I was going in for my procedure.
I had the results and was napping back at home by 8:30. I was back at work Tuesday. I even got a souvenir photograph that will not go into the family photo album. Definitely TMI.
Turns out, there was a polyp. Not cancerous. But …
According to the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, most polyps remain benign; the likelihood that they will become cancerous is very low. But some benign polyps have a chance of becoming cancerous if not removed. Some polyps, known as adenoma, mature into early cancer at 2-5 years.
Dr. Lally does about six to eight of these procedures a day. She and the Pacific Surgery Center staff are life savers.
I don’t expect a colonoscopy to be as easy to talk about as a health checkup, because it really is some personal stuff. But I hope the stigma goes away, as well as the jokes (I must admit that I think “Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!” is pretty funny, though). And I hope people realize how easy it is. And most, importantly, that it could save their life.