On my 49th birthday, my friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. At the conclusion of the longest and most difficult year of her life, somewhere around my 50th birthday, she said to me, “Mel… I put off having a colonoscopy because I thought it would be inconvenient. Well, I’ll tell you that colon cancer is fucking inconvenient.” Aside from the typical trauma of surgery and chemotherapy, she dealt with other complications which were pretty horrifying. Her ureter was severed on her left kidney during the initial surgery, which for her meant going through chemo with the burden of a nephrostomy. When it was all over, she lost the cancer, but she also lost a kidney. This warrior woman – she faced every challenge with grace and humor… and a knitted viking helmet. She insisted on keeping the staff who would care for her in good spirits, even through her own great discomfort.
I remember a segment on Oprah, back in the day, where Dr. Oz stated that if you have polyps today, in ten years it WILL be cancer. I have never forgotten this. I have been waiting for the arrival of 50 with great anticipation. The urgency was expanded a few years ago when a 36 year old co-worker had the procedure due to symptoms she was suffering. She called me on her way home that day and said, “Mel… they found polyps!”
I couldn’t help but consider that if she had not had these troubling symptoms, which turned out to be nothing to worry about, she might not have had her first colonoscopy until those polyps had already created dis-ease within her body. So… I have been eager for this time to come. The week I turned 50, I asked my doctor for the referral. That was in January, and finally in mid-April, tomorrow is prep day. (woohoo!)
Seriously, folks. This is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. If you can lower your odds with a day of fasting and cleansing, followed by a lovely nap on the date-rape drug… I mean, why the heck would you skip this? Ha!
So, tomorrow we fast. But today… today we pre-fast. In other words, I baked cookies, and had coffee with half and half (before breakfast and before dinner), and enjoyed brunch with friends, and shared some rotisserie chicken with my cat. I’m currently eyeing a banana across the room.
In case you have been avoiding this, and are seeking some courage, I’ll share the super secret ritual of letting go that proceeds this particular rite of passage. The day before the procedure, one will consume liquids only. They will not be of dairy, nor the colors red or purple. Then, around 7pm, a six ounce bottle of magic elixir is consumed, along with two or three bottles of water. Then, at 8am the next morning, a second bottle of magic elixir is consumed with another couple of bottles of water. At noon (for me), we show up with our driver (who will stay for the duration – 3 hours), and we wake up from a short nap to hear that all is well. (That’s my plan, anyway.)
So, you see… it’s not that scary. It just takes a little time and dedication. But really, aren’t we worth it? Preventive health care is self-care. Self-care is a kindness in which we engage for those who love us. Of course, shit happens (no pun intended)… but for those things that are preventable… we hold all accountability.
Cancer screenings aside, if I failed to treat my sleep apnea, I could have a stroke. Then, someone in my life might feel the burden of my care. Certainly, everyone who loves me would feel the sorrow of empathy for my struggle. So, I choose to go the unglamorous route of sleeping with a mask that forces my airway open, so I don’t suffocate when I sleep. I used to dread what that might do to any romantic future, but now I realize that anyone worth sleeping with will love me enough to prefer my comfort and good health over the alternative.
So, as my friend prepares for an adventure she could not have dreamed of last year, throughout her recovery from colon cancer, and I prepare for my own cleansing adventure over the next two days… we wish for you the joyful inconvenience of self-care. Here’s to our health. CHEERS!