Bowel cancer and the dreaded colonoscopy.

If you live in Australia, you will get at least one 50th birthday present – guaranteed! Your bowel cancer testing kit will turn up in the mail! I put my first “gift” on the shelf and left it there for the next two years until I got another one at 52. I chucked the first one out and replaced it on the shelf with the new kit. After a few more weeks, I decided that it was probably a good idea to just get it over and done with.

There was no reason to delay, and I am not sure what my aversion to doing it was. I am not the squeamish type, and I KNOW early detection is essential. My tests at 54 and 56 were both negative, but this time round, one of my samples came back positive.

My GP and I discussed my risk factors and decided that I could afford the wait to get a place at the local public hospital rather than paying for a private hospital.  I filed my papers and went on the waiting list. Now 5 months after the results and 2 months since my specialist appointment, I have my date for the “procedure”.

The positive result surprised me. My family has no history of cancer. Plenty of other things like Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, narcolepsy, dementia, haemochromatosis but no cancer!

I have always been a healthy eater, and over the last 2 years have been actively creating a healthy gut by feeding my gut bugs plenty of plant-based food, exercising, reducing my alcohol intake and reducing stress. My gut should be singing with good health!

Given I have yet to have the test, my gut may be very healthy indeed! What follows is a blow by blow real-time account. Don’t be prudish, this is what being older than 50 is all about! I am grateful I live somewhere with good free healthcare!

 

Preparing for your colonoscopy

There is a two-day preparation process. The aim is to clear out your bowel so that the colonoscope can see what’s inside your large intestine with an unobstructed view. The hospital or your doctor will give you some laxatives and tell you when to take them.

Two days before the  procedure

Today is white day. My diet is usually a rainbow of plant-based foods. This made the list of allowable foods very unpalatable and alien. You can only eat white or yellow food. No seeds, no fibre, no colour! Only dairy products, boiled eggs, white fish, boiled chicken, boiled potatoes, stewed apple. Ewwwww!  All washed down with plenty of fluids. As I ate my white rice with boiled eggs, I apologised to my gut bugs. Sorry fellas! You’ll be going hungry too! No fibre left over for you to munch on today! I got some yellow Gatorade in readiness for tomorrow.

At least I’m not hungry!

The day before the procedure.

NO SOLID FOOD today!

Only clear liquids. Tea without milk, coffee without milk, clear apple juice, Gatorade that’s it! I started to feel light-headed by 12:30. MAN! I was hungry!

Since my procedure is set for the morning, my first dose of PicoPrep is scheduled for 2 PM. I took the afternoon off work because I had been told some horror stories about the rapidity of onset. The Picoprep didn’t taste too bad. It was gritty and akin to drinking chalk, but it had little flavour. I sculled it down in one go and sat down to wait.

And I waited!

…. And waited!

As a good scientist, I took notes of my observations. Nothing happened till about 17:30. Two trips to the loo but things seemed “normal”. This is not too bad, I thought to myself. I waited some more and then the shit did hit the fan! Perhaps not the literal fan, but you get my drift!

18:50

19:01

19:03

19:05

Gosh, I feel like I am going to turn inside out.

My second dose of Picoprep is due at 20:00. Could there be anything left? This time it was harder to swallow. The novelty had well and truly worn off. I stopped feeling hungry, and I felt a little shaky.

After midnight it’s Nil by Mouth!

Day of the procedure

I slept better than anticipated, although, I needed to dash to the bathroom a couple of times.

Ten minutes after arrival, I was taken into the admissions area where my blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate and oxygen saturation were checked after answering the usual questions of name, date of birth and why I was there. The nurse and I had a chat about whether or not we had met before because she said I looked familiar.

colonoscopy 2Within 30 minutes, the anesthetist came and inserted a cannula in my hand and asked the same questions again.

Thirty minutes after that, I was taken into the procedure room, and the sedative was given through the cannula and an oxygen mask applied. The next thing I know, I was being shaken gently by the nurse, asking if I was OK, back in the recovery area. I could have gone to the moon and back for all I knew!

No pain, no discomfort, only a little temporary disorientation. Once my vitals were re-checked, I was moved from the bed to a comfy recliner where I was given some food and a cup of tea. My goodness that plain cheese sandwich tasted good!

The doctor who performed the procedure told me he had removed two polyps, and that I had a few diverticula, but nothing really to worry about.  I will meet with the gastroenterologist in three weeks for the follow-up.

colonoscopy 1Another 40 minutes later my brother had dropped me home, and it’s all over.   I’ll do as instructed and take it easy for the rest of the day, no driving, no making important decisions, no cooking(??). So here I am, in front of my computer chatting with you folks!

Playing Dr Google

Of course, I played Dr Google leading up to the event. I found this video from an American source helpful and the Cancer Health NSW site is terrific.

 

This friendly chap tells you how to do the poo test

 

If detected early bowel cancer can be treated in up to 90% of cases. 


Talking about poo and having a flexible tube inside your intestines may not be a sexy subject to talk about, but neither is dying from bowel cancer. If you have access to early detection tools like the one offered in Australia, take it up.

Enjoy your birthday gift!

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