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    From the daily archives: Monday, March 24, 2014


    That was my reaction to hearing about this procedure, as my friends hit the 50 year mark and had to have one.  Then it was my turn.  If it is time for you to have a colonoscopy and you’ve been putting it off, don’t.  It is a very useful diagnostic tool, and colon cancer, like so many others, is treatable if caught early.  Polyps in the colon can become cancerous, so this is one of those diagnostic tests that is actually preventive, because the doctor will remove any polyps that are found.

    The actual test consists of a tube with a camera inserted into the rectum and all the way into the large intestine.  Being able to actually look means that any problems can be addressed immediately.  What the doctor finds on your first colonoscopy determines when it will be recommended that you have another one.  If all goes well, it will be ten years.  If they find something, it may be five.  Better to know than not!  And, it’s really not that bad.  I was in terror needlessly, and postponed my procedure twice before just doing it.

    As a cancer survivor, I’m not messing around with diagnostic procedures that could save my life.  As I researched the procedure, I learned that 50% of Americans don’t do it, and an appalling number of deaths could be prevented if they did.  Knowing that knowledge is power, I did my research, but there were still questions I couldn’t get the answer to.  So, here’s the path to the least discomfort and the most peace of mind if it’s your turn!

    First of all, the dreaded “stuff you have to drink” has a very good purpose, which is to clean out your colon so the doctor can get a really good look and see if there are any polyps to remove.  The cleaner the better.  The stuff just runs through your system and scours as it goes.  The less there is in there in the first place, the less likely it will be really uncomfortable.  I may have made that up, but it seemed to work for me.  Eating lightly the day before you fast is a good idea.  My doctor had me eliminate foods with any significant fiber for two days.  It was an opportunity for me to congratulate myself on my eating habits, because I had to give up my favorite foods!  No oatmeal, no nuts, no fruit… ah well, it’s temporary. You can manage it for a couple of days, and it will make the rest easier.

    You will not be on the can all day. 

    You may have heard horror stories about running to the bathroom all day long.  I tried to get the real scoop, and couldn’t find it anywhere, so here it is:  actual toilet time is 3-4 hours for the whole jug of solution.  My doses were divided, half in the early afternoon and half in the evening.  The stomach rumbling started about an hour after I started, and the clearing out process took about 90 minutes to two hours.  Then I had a break, and went through the whole thing again in the evening.  It’s not that bad if you’re prepared.

    When your stomach starts to gurgle, the process is immanent.  Gather your supplies and head for your temporary office!

    Take care of your tush.  

    This advice came from my mom, and it was good.  Some diaper rash ointment or equivalent before you even start will prevent any discomfort.  It’s also well worth it to have REALLY soft toilet paper.

    Claim the bathroom as your very own.  

    If you only have one, send everyone else away for the afternoon!  Once the purge starts, it’s pretty continuous until it’s over.  Just accept that fact and take everything into the little room to be comfortable.  I watched back to back episodes of Game of Thrones.  A good book will also do very well.

    Have your prescription drink, a glass, a timer (8 oz. every 15 minutes or so is standard I think) and something else to drink as well.  Why?

    It is very important to stay hydrated.  

    The solution you drink is very high in sodium.  Besides tasting really nasty after awhile, it draws fluids out of your body and can leave you dehydrated, which can result in feeling  bit woozy.  All the liquid foods you are allowed are a good idea.  Enjoy that yellow jello.  Drink your ginger ale.  Keep chugging that water.  After all, you’re stuck in the little room anyway, so what if you have to urinate a lot?

    Another important reason is that it will make the I.V. easier when you have the colonoscopy.  I hate I.V’s. and I am not an easy stick, after all the chemotherapy I’ve had.  Being properly hydrated makes that part go much more smoothly.

    The day of the colonoscopy is the easier part!

    My team was really wonderful.  They know everyone is nervous about this procedure, so they tend to be super nice and reassuring!  Many people don’t remember a thing after they get the intravenous sedation.  I remember it all, and actually found it rather fascinating.  Having the tube with the camera inserted was a little uncomfortable, but the rest of it was not bad, and I could see what the doctor was seeing on the screen.  Once they have the tube all the way in, they pull it out slowly and look with the camera.  If they see any polyps, they remove them.  Then you’re done, and you go chill out in the recovery room.  The medication they gave me for conscious sedation left me feeling rather pleasant and sleepy.

    When you’re coherent enough to get dressed and gather your belongings, your support person can come and take you home.  It seems to me that it was less than an hour after the procedure that I was ready to go.  I felt fine, and once I was home I settled into bed and had a delicious three hour nap.  I woke up in the afternoon feeling just fine.

    The best part is that I don’t have to do it again for another ten years!  It’s nice to know for sure that my colon is healthy.  One less thing to dwell in that nebulous land of the unknown.  I appreciate all the evidence I get that 7 years after cancer I am a healthy middle aged lady.

    If you are about to have this procedure, I hope this is helpful, and if you’ve been postponing it, don’t!  I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery and the dread out of it.  Peace of mind is worth a little minor discomfort.

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