Getting your first colonoscopy is a dubious rite of passage. But undergoing one around the holidays and having to wait for the results? There’s a special definition of holiday hell that has nothing to do with extended family.
Actors who’ve just turned 50 joke about the procedure on talk shows and even greeting card copywriters try to wring a few laughs from it. For me, the very idea of a colonoscopy was scarier than finding my first AARP card in the mailbox. Which is partly why I kept avoiding it.
Not that I’ve neglected all the other recommended health screenings for women. One of my grandmothers had breast cancer, so I’ve never missed an annual mammogram at ’s Rose Cancer Center in Royal Oak, for instance.
But one birthday rolled into the next, and before I knew it, I was sailing through my mid-50s and still hadn’t mustered my courage for a baseline colon screening.
Of course, I had the perfect excuse to justify my negligence: For the past few years I’ve been driving my elderly mother to various medical specialists all over Oakland County. I kept telling myself that the last thing I needed was to find more doctors to visit.
My colonoscopy could wait.
Or maybe it couldn't.
A couple of dear friends had been diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year. And every time I sat in a waiting room with my mother, it seemed, I’d run across yet another brochure or magazine article about colorectal disease. In one, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited some worrisome stats: Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in women and men. Luckily, it’s also preventable – and curable – if caught early.
So, a few weeks ago I finally phoned for an appointment to meet Dr. Omar Kadro at Beaumont Hospital’s Endoscopy Unit. (Much as I hate to admit it, I still chuckle like a 10-year-old boy when I hear the word “endoscopy.”) Two days after I made the appointment, our mail carrier delivered my list of instructions for the dreaded colonoscopy prep.
Before I go on, please rest assured: I promised my editors that I wouldn't share graphic details about the prep, which is carried out the day before the colonoscopy. Suffice it to say that it involved a jumbo-size bottle of Miralax, several gallons of Propel and a very long day of fasting.
In retrospect, spending an entire Sunday camped near a bathroom was probably the most awkward aspect of the whole thing. The colonoscopy itself was painless, or at least I didn’t remember much of it after I was rolled to the recovery room.
Waiting a week for the results of the pathology report was the hardest part.
As it turned out, Dr. Kadro found three polyps during my procedure. As is typically the case with any routine colonoscopy, my polyps were removed and sent to a lab for a biopsy.
Most colon polyps are harmless, but some are “precancerous” or can become cancerous over time, which is why periodic screening helps prevent colon cancer.
The kindly Dr. Kadro didn’t indicate there was any need for concern at that point, but he said to call his office in a week for the pathology report. The man had no idea that he'd just performed outpatient surgery on the official Queen of Worry and Rumination. In other words, I am the sort of person who automatically starts selecting music for her funeral the minute she hears the word “biopsy.”
‘Tis the season to be stressed
A week can feel like eternity when you're waiting for the results of any medical test.
Several years ago, for instance, “something suspicious” had been discovered on my annual mammogram, just a couple of weeks before Christmas. I was sent to Beaumont to have the breast lump removed and biopsied, and then waited a long week to learn that it was benign. Other than the first Christmas after my father's death, I can't recall a more difficult holiday season.
At the same time, I somehow managed to uncover the silver lining of the experience.
As my breast surgeon explained, it's not uncommon for patients to reorder their priorities while awaiting biopsy results. Our former problems seem less significant, and ordinary life suddenly shimmers like newly fallen snow. We treasure every single minute ticking away on the kitchen clock and wonder how we ever doubted there was anything more important than a clean bill of health.
Of course, as weeks pass and the scar tissue fades, it’s easy to lose that spiritually liberating perspective. Life returns to normal. The dogs starts pooping on the Oriental rugs again, and the Visa bills roll in like carloads of relatives on Christmas Eve. We forget to count our blessings – until the next biopsy.
Exactly one week after my inaugural colonoscopy, I phoned Dr. Kadro’s office to ask for my pathology results.
Hands sweating and heart pounding, I held my breath while the receptionist put me on hold.
Finally, and happily, I heard the simple phrase I’d been hoping to hear all week: “It’s benign.”
I think I knew all along that everything would be OK. But I still felt the rare combination of joy and relief that’s akin to a religious epiphany. Suddenly, I was Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, waking up to discover that there’s still time left to celebrate; that life itself is a precious, fragile gift.
Cindy La Ferle is a Royal Oak resident and author of Writing Home. Copies are available locally at in Berkley. Proceeds from the holiday sales of her book will be donated to the Welcome Inn day shelter in Royal Oak.