I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season, enjoying shopping for gifts, visiting with friends and family, and making great resolutions and promises for the New Year.
What have I been doing?
My vacation started about a week ago. But I don’t know that many people would envy what I did during the first week of my long awaited and much needed respite from my daily routine: I had a screening colonoscopy.
Yup, that’s right: a screening colonoscopy.
I write and lecture a lot about the importance of preventive medicine.
I previously wrote a blog about my holiday experience two years ago, when I found out I had some fairly serious but common medical problems as a result of not following my own good medical advice. My bottom line: I was stuck in “do as I say and not as I do.”
Two years later, fortunately all is much better and under control. I made a commitment at that time to myself and my family to take care of myself, and I have done reasonably well—although like everyone else, I am certainly not perfect.
But my wife reminded me recently there were still some “unmet needs,” and colorectal cancer screening was at the top of the list (wives are like that from time to time).
So, being the good doctor that I try to be, two months ago I made an appointment with my friendly local gastroenterologist to get screened in December on the first day of my holiday vacation.
I can’t say that it was a fun way to start my “time off.” I don’t know anyone who relishes the idea of having a long tube put you-know-where.
But it really wasn’t all that bad.
The prep was much simpler than it was when I had my first screening ten years ago (however, I wouldn’t exactly say the liquid that I had to drink was particularly tasty).
The staff at our local hospital’s outpatient procedure area were exceptionally friendly and accommodating (I especially appreciated the warmed blankets they offered while I was waiting. That was a very nice touch, I must say.).
The GI doc was also pleasant, especially when I volunteered the fact that I was very familiar with the procedure and the need to have it done. It isn’t easy dealing with me at times, and this was definitely one of those times.
Then came the fun part—although I have no recollection whatsoever of the procedure. A couple of milligrams of Versed and I was out like a light (although I understand that it was in fact a bit more than a couple of milligrams).
Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t remember, since I have had a couple of reports subsequently that I was a bit chatty during and after the procedure.
I guess the good news is that everything went well—including the finding of a small polyp which was benign.
And that brings me to the serious part of this discussion: why the American Cancer Society recommends screening for colorectal cancer in the first place.
Although I may sound like I am making “light” of a serious matter, the reality is that many people in this country—especially men—are reluctant to get screened for colorectal cancer.
The net result is that we have thousands of people dying every year whose lives may have been saved if they followed the Society’s screening recommendations for this disease.
You may choose to screen using other methods, including laboratory examinations to look for blood in the stool, or by having a sigmoidoscopy with annual stool tests.
But the end message is still the same: if you are 50 years of age and older, and at average risk of getting colorectal cancer, you need to be screened on a regular basis, consistent with the choice of test you select. Remember, that the test you get is the best test for you.
This isn’t something you should put off for another day.
Hearing that I had been screened, an acquaintance of my wife asked her to ask me to write about my experience in the hope that she could persuade her husband to be screened.
This couple had made an agreement with each other to get colonoscopies. Apparently, she kept her part of the bargain. The mistake, however, was that she didn’t make hubby go first. He is now making excuses and hasn’t scheduled the test.
My mother had colon cancer at an advanced age. That puts me at increased risk for this disease.
My first screening 10 years ago was negative. This time, there was a very small polyp, and consistent with the American Cancer Society guidelines for follow-up, I will get screened again in five years.
No one can say for certain whether or not that little polyp would have grown to become something more serious, and turn into a cancer. But now we do know for certain that it is gone and will not cause a problem.
Having endured the prep and the “event,” I can assure you that the piece of mind is worth far more than the inconvenience. And, based on conversations I have had with many others, the odds are overwhelming that your experience will be similar to mine.
Taking some time to get some “preventive health maintainence” isn’t a bad idea for anyone. Maybe you won’t take time from your holidays to go through a colonoscopy, but you can make a commitment and get an appointment now to do it early next year.
So my wish to you this season is that you have a wonderful holiday, and that you and yours have a happy, prosperous, and (especially) healthy New Year.
And, while you are out there spending money and spreading joy, take a moment to take care of yourself and your family.
That could turn out to be the greatest gift of all.