Cancer has taken the lives of many of my family members on my fathers side. Breast, lung, bladder, and colon cancer has shown no mercy. Why am I choosing to talk about colon cancer today? To quote Sharon Osbourne, "Nobody [cares] about anybody's colon 'cause it's up your arse...It's not sexy.” I think she hit the nail on the head. We hear a lot about other types of cancer, but who wants to talk about a colon?
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in the US. It is estimated that around 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if people aged 50 and over were screened regularly. I think there is kind of a fear attached with getting a colonoscopy. I know I certainly don’t want to talk about my behind with a doctor, even if he has seen and heard it all. Then all the horror stories you hear about the prep! I’ll be honest, the prep for the procedure is NOT fun! But here is another quote, one from Dave Barry, that I found on Zimbio that was very funny, and I could really relate to what he was saying:
“MoviPrep is a nuclear laxative. I don’t want to be too graphic, here, but: Have you ever seen a space-shuttle launch? This is pretty much the MoviPrep experience, with you as the shuttle. There are times when you wish the commode had a seat belt. You spend several hours pretty much confined to the bathroom, spurting violently. You eliminate everything. And then, when you figure you must be totally empty, you have to drink another liter of MoviPrep, at which point, as far as I can tell, your bowels travel into the future and start eliminating food that you have not even eaten yet.”
I’m 32. I’ve had to have 2 colonoscopies already. I can tell you, the prep is really the only bad part of the procedure. Once you get through that, it’s all A OK from there. Once you get wheeled in to the operating room, you get sedated. You wake up not remembering anything, and you don’t feel anything but a bit groggy and very hungry.
I have ulcerative colitis. A few years back someone posted a link to The Colandar, a calendar of colon cancer survivors, on a website I like to visit. I don’t know what drew me to clicking the link, but I am glad I did. I remember sitting there reading these stories about people who were diagnosed with colon cancer, and they were all so young. Many people associate colon cancer as an “old mans disease” and I was shocked there were people in their 20’s who had been diagnosed. I was on that site for hours reading stories, studying symptoms, just absorbing it all. With cancer so prominent in our family, it’s always good to know the signs. My dad’s brother passed away in his early 40’s from colon cancer. When I was done reading the site, I remember thinking, well, that won’t probably ever happen to me. I’m a woman, my grandma passed away from breast cancer in her early 40’s, if I get cancer, it will surely be breast cancer.
I kid you not, 2 weeks later my stomach was cramping horribly. I went to the restroom and when I went to flush, all I saw was a bowl filled with blood. I panicked. I tried to ignore it, but for a week I was constantly running to the restroom up to 7 times a day, and every time it looked like I was bleeding myself to death. I got back online and reread the stories. I started researching colon cancer websites. I needed to to come to terms with the fact that it was a good possibility that I was going to be a 27 year old cancer patient. It took another 2 weeks before I told my husband what was happening.
I made a doctors appointment. It couldn’t have been worse. I hadn’t been eating, was still spending my days in the bathroom, and had to have a fecal occult blood test done. The test showed nothing. My doctor didn’t believe me. He told me that I probably had “Kool Aid” that I was eliminating and was confusing myself (I don’t drink Kool Aid). He said I was too young to have anything wrong with me. I had to insist on a referral to a gastroenterologist, who also told me I was too young to have anything wrong with me, but did the colonoscopy anyway. This confirmed that I had Ulcerative Colitis.
Living with UC can be complete hell at times. Unless you live with it or love someone who is suffering from it, I don’t think people realize what a toll it actually takes on a body. I even had an emergency room doctor roll his eyes at me once and say “Oh, you just have bloody diarrhea, that’s not a big deal.” Actually it’s so much more than that. I would say that the cramps associated with it are at times worse than labor pains. I have suffered dehydration. I have to get tests often to make sure I’m not anemic. When I am sick I will drop down to 100 lbs which is scary since I am normally 125 lbs, and I am constantly battling fatigue. It also takes a toll on my mental health. I am constantly in a panic when I have to leave the house. Long car trips are out of the question. I have to have a map of bathroom locations when we are at place like amusement parks. If a restaurant only has one bathroom, well, we aren’t eating there. I had to give up food I love- dairy, raw veggies, red meat, high fiber foods, and juice.
It took me 4 years, and 3 different doctors, and a lot of medication switches, but thankfully I have been in remission for the past year. Unfortunately, I know that it can come back at any time. I have also been told that the longer you have UC, the more likely it is that you will get colon cancer. I have a double whammy since my uncle passed away from colon cancer, so it is always on my mind. I have to get screened yearly now.
The point I’m trying to make is it is so important to know the signs. Screenings aren’t anything anyone wants to have done, but they are so important in early detection, and like I said, the actual procedure you won’t even remember. I know it can be embarassing at times to talk about your colon, but I was more at ease with all 3 of my GI doctors than I have been with any other type of doctor. You are never too young to be diagnosed with colon cancer. If you suspect something is wrong, get tested. If you don’t believe the results, get tested again. You know your body better than anyone else.
The The Colon Cancer Alliance has a lot of great information on it’s site. If you find yourself with Chron’s Disease of Ulcerative Colits, the CCFA is also a great website to research.