Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Word or Two About Colonoscopies

Two days ago I checked in for a routine colonoscopy and discovered, much to my surprise, that I am 54 years old. This was quite a shock, as I was fairly certain I was still 53. At this rate, I’ll be well on my way to 60 in no time at all. As it was, I hadn’t eaten for a day and a half and my digestive system had been going through hell since the night before, so I’m fairly certain I looked at least 54, maybe even 55.

Should I be sad about my impending old age? I mean, what’s the alternative? If I weren’t progressing chronologically I wouldn’t be alive, would I? So isn’t aging the better option?

I could be stubborn about the entire thing and claim that I want neither to be dead, nor to be aging, but that sort of viewpoint is rather illogical, isn’t it? It’s not as if mother nature is playing a cruel joke on me or anything. I’m fairly certain that everyone else is going through the same sort of thing – unless one’s a vampire, but then there’s whole “can’t be out in the sun” issue. I’m not sure it’d be a good trade-off.

It’s not the aging that bothers me, it’s the pain in my legs and being so tired I could really use a good nap right about now. Those things have nothing to do with age however, so I can’t lay the blame on the calendar, as much as I would like to blame someone.

But there are so many good things about aging! In no particular order:

  1.  No one expects me to look like I’m 20 anymore. This is good, since even at 20 I didn’t look like I was 20.
  2.  I’m wiser now than I was then. That’s not saying a hell of a lot, since being wise isn’t a) all it’s cracked up to be, and b) not something I’m really good at, even now. But still.
  3.  AARP has me on their radar and sends me lots of lovely junk mail.
  4. I can turn down invitations with “I’m old and feeble, and so therefore can’t go.” This usually gets me a disdainful look, but I’m too old to care.
  5. I can start planning for my retirement! You know, the one that I won’t be able to take for a good many years yet since I have a teeny little retirement account.
  6. I no longer have to wonder, “Should I have kids, or should I not?” Really, it’s sort of late to think of things like that.
  7. I get to have routine things like colonoscopies!

II   I think number 7 is definitely the best part of being older. I had so much fun not eating for a whole day, then ingesting vile fluid that turned my insides to fluid, which had to come out repeatedly over and over again all night, then the next morning, when I got to ingest more vile fluid. While I was doing so, I was thinking: Really? This is necessary? They can’t figure out a better way to take a look at things? This is modern medicine at its finest?

Everyone says a colonoscopy is no big deal. And they’re absolutely correct. It’s the prep that sucks the most, and the colonoscopy itself is a breeze, mostly because I had no idea what was going on when it was going on. Afterwards I was ready for a huge meal, and then a long nap.

I know what happens when one doesn’t get diagnosed in time, and so how important a colonoscopy is. My friend Stew, who stars in An Uncommon Friendship: a memoir of love, mental illness, and friendship, didn’t get one when he needed one, and he was only in his mid 30’s, so it hadn’t come up. Instead, he was subjected to all other kinds of tests and diagnoses and procedures, and by the time they got around to figuring out he had colon cancer, it was too late, and it had already spread to his liver. I watched from a distance as he grew worse, and then I was there with him for his last days, and I sat with him and told him everything would be okay.

“Okay” when one is dying doesn’t mean the same thing as when one is not dying.

For months he threw up everything he ate, and even during those last days, anything ingested came back up, even a few sips of a smoothie. We couldn’t even give him morphine orally because it would come up also. Instead, he received topical morphine, rubbed into his arm.

Here’s what I have to say about colonoscopies: If you’re of the age when you should be screened, get one. Seriously. It’s a major pain in the ass (pun intended), and I’m happy knowing I won’t have to do it for another ten years, but it’s better to find out if there’s something going on sooner rather than later. Early detection = better chance of beating it. This is coming from someone who tends toward the “whatever” philosophy regarding her own health, so if I were you, I’d listen.

I don’t want to watch anyone else die from colon cancer. I’d rather everyone get old with me.


  1. Great post. A touch of humor, yet realistic, and it packs a powerful message because of your friend's death from colon cancer.

  2. Age 60 and nothing so far has convinced me to get one. Except this. Thanks, Monique. I'll schedule one this week.

  3. I agree the prep is the worst. I do mine without anesthesia.. I have a high pain threshold and if you park your dignity at the door, it's not that bad being awake... and you can drive home afterward. I also surprised the doctor and her assistant by joining their discussion on real estate sliding prices. Since my dad had colon cancer, I'm on the 5 year call back, after a clean screening. I won't miss it.

  4. Well written, Monique! My mother had malignant cancer colon when she was 52. With early diagnosis and treatment, she lived another 30 years cancer free. GET TESTED!!!

  5. See, Neekia! You did it, posted about it and now a life is changed for the better already! Good job!

  6. I am always amazed at how just quick test (even such a pain in the ass one), can help so much to save us from worse pains later on! Good reminder to continue my own self-care!! :) As always, you kick ass, Monique (oh yeah-pun intended again!)