A Little Inconvenience Could Save Your Life

April is Cancer Awareness Month, so perhaps it’s fitting that it’s the month I learned whether or not I have cancer. But I shouldn’t have had to wait four months to find out.
Back in November of last year, while at the doctor’s, she commented that the lab hadn’t received my fecal occult blood test back. The sad truth is, I’m given a fecal occult blood test kit every single year and I never return it. There’s no good reason why. Mostly it’s just too inconvenient. Never mind the slight ick factor of collecting stool samples, there are food restrictions to follow, you have to remember to do the test three times in a row…Blah, blah, blah. Excuses.
My doctor told me about a new test, called FIT (fecal immunochemical test), which was easier to complete and more efficient. She wrote down a requisition for it along with some blood work, and off I went to the lab. When I got home I opened the kit and read the instructions. Much simpler. No food restrictions and only one sample needed. So I did it. And it was super easy.
The next week I got a call from the doctor’s office asking me to make an appointment to discuss my test results. I assumed it had to do with my blood tests. I assumed wrong. The FIT test showed positive for blood in my stool. What does that mean? I asked. Possible cancer, the doctor replied, or precancerous polyps. Either way, it needed checking out so she was requesting an urgent colonoscopy. I didn’t panic or worry or even really think seriously about it. Naturally I discussed the test results with my hubby, and I also told a friend, but decided not to tell anyone else until I knew something definitive. I didn’t want anyone worrying about me, especially not my mom or kids. Besides, I’d be getting the colonoscopy soon, and I’d have my answers. Or so I thought.
December went by in a blur. I was beyond super busy with work; there was Christmas and all that. Then January flew by. We had our vacation and when I got back, I didn’t really have a spare moment to dwell on why I hadn’t been booked yet. And I didn’t concern myself with the possibility of having cancer. Much.
As February went by, every once in awhile, especially when some other family members had their own very real brushes with cancer, an insidious little voice in the back of my mind would whisper, maybe you have cancer too, maybe it’s growing worse every day. I’d immediately quash that voice. After all, I had none of the risk factors for colon cancer except for being over 50 and probably too sedentary.
Come March, on another visit to the doctor, I asked her why I hadn’t been called yet. After all, when we’re talking possible cancer and with the test deemed urgent, waiting over three months didn’t seem right. She agreed and said she’d look into it. The following week while I was away visiting family, the hospital called to schedule. Isn’t that the way it is? I wait three months and they finally call when I’m not there.
Anyway, when I got home I booked the appointment for the Friday of following week and soon received an email with the prep information. Yikes! And I’d thought the previous test was too inconvenient.
One week before the test I needed to stop taking my low-dose ASA and multivitamin. It was also suggested I eat no nuts or seeds for a week. No biggie. The day before my test, I was to have a small breakfast: a bowl of cereal, milk, coffee. That’s what I usually have, so fine. For lunch that day, I was to have something light and clear, such as soup broth, no milk or solids. Again, no problem. I’m not a big eater.
But there were other aspects I worried just a bit about.
My finicky tummy doesn’t do well when it’s empty. Basically the acid tries to eat through my stomach lining, which really hurts. My blood sugars also drop if I don’t eat regularly, making me lightheaded and nauseous. I was concerned too, because of my IBS, that the powerful laxative might cause painful cramps. Then there was the worry about the trip to the hospital after drinking all that laxative. (Wearing Depends was recommended! OMG!!) Funny, I wasn’t worried about actually drinking four litres of PEG (polyethelglycol bowel prep) and I wasn’t worried about the colonoscopy. I wasn’t even the least bit concerned about the test results.
Turns out I worried about all the wrong things.
At 4:30 on the afternoon before the test, I had to start drinking the PEG solution. In the space of two hours, I needed to down two litres. That’s 500 ml every half hour. No problem, right? Wrong. Besides the nasty aftertaste (or maybe because of it), my strong gag reflex was operating on high-alert that day. If only I could chug things down the way my hubby can. Glug, glug, glug and 500 ml are gone. Me, it’s more like sip, sip, gag, sip, sip, gag.  You get the picture.
My stomach actually did just fine being empty. I never once felt hungry or lightheaded, not even after more than 24 hours without food. And I took the Gas-X tablets as recommended, so the acid problem didn’t occur either. And there were no cramps, well, nothing serious. To put it delicately, input was far, far more difficult than output.
The next morning, I had to immediately start back on the PEG solution, needing to finish another two litres by 9:00. I honestly didn’t know how I’d get through it without throwing up. I managed, but I won’t lie, it was rough. By the time we left for the hospital, my insides were as clean as a whistle, and I had no worries about needing Depends. Whew!!
At the hospital, we ran into a little roadblock with the IV, but that’s nothing new with me. After a couple of failed attempts, another nurse was called in. She had me lie on a gurney, wrapped my arm in a hot towel, attached a blood pressure cuff and voila! Veins appeared and the IV needle went in smooth as butter.
They use the IV to administer two medications. One is a pain killer/sedative and the other is this miraculous little drug that removes all memory of the events, even though you remain alert. I’d been given this drug a few years ago while having an endoscopy, and I found it both amazing and a little creepy. One minute I’m chatting with a nurse in the procedure room, the next I’m chatting with a completely different nurse in recovery. Bizarre.
This time it didn’t work quite that slick. I had memories of pain. No recollection of the procedure, just of holding a nurse’s hand and breathing through some serious belly pain. I’m usually quite stoic, but I guess I felt ripped off by that memory and I (nicely) let the recovery nurse know I remembered the pain. She apologized and said that my bowel was unusually twisty and it proved a challenge for the doctor. Of course, my bowel would be twisty. Nothing is ever straightforward with my health or my body, so why should my bowel be any different?
I ate a muffin and drank cranberry juice, then the doctor came by to tell me he had discovered and removed a polyp. One single precancerous polyp. Small and relatively innocuous, but with the potential to become big and nasty if left to its own devices. I felt very fortunate.
Colon cancer is one of the deadliest of cancers. It’s also one of the most treatable – if it’s detected early. So if your doctor suggests you complete a FIT kit, please do yourself the favour of complying. Cancer is far more inconvenient than the test. If you’re over fifty, and most especially if you have other risk factors, ask your doctor about taking the test. Be pro-active with your health. All sorts of pertinent information can be found at screencolons.ca.
You can be sure when the lab tech hands me that FIT kit next year, I will go home and do it. And if my doctor tells me I have to have yet another colonoscopy, I will readily submit myself to the inconvenience of having it. This past scope proved timely and successful. I intend to keep it that way.
Now, fingers crossed for the same positive results on my recent mammography.



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