Colorectal Cancer Screening Stories
Several people who had screening tests for colorectal cancer describe why they did it and what the experience was like for them. Please note that some of these people were discussing their experiences during a time when the recommended age to start getting screened was 50 years.
I want to share my story of how a screening colonoscopy saved my life.
For two years my doctor kept reminding me that I needed to have a screening colonoscopy. I was perfectly healthy and had no family history of colon cancer. I had many reasons to procrastinate, but basically, out of fear of the test, the prep, and a few dozen lame excuses, I chose to ignore my doctor. It wasn’t until my husband dared me in front of my doctor that I agreed to the test.
To make a long story short, at the age of 52, I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. My fear of colonoscopies was nothing compared to my fear of dying from colorectal cancer!
I was fortunate. My cancer was in the early stages, and surgery offered me a cure.
The prep for the colonoscopy was honestly not that bad. The colonoscopy was accompanied by sedation that made me wonder, “Is that all there is to it?”
The moral of my story is if I had waited until I had symptoms, it would have been too late.
In 1992, my husband and sister were diagnosed with colon cancer. They died within four months of each other. He had just turned 60 and my sister was 63. My husband had been in very good health, exercised religiously, ate a healthy diet, and got regular physicals by his internist. However, he did not get a colonoscopy. My sister was afraid of going to the doctor and did not want to get a colonoscopy. They both died unnecessarily.
I get a colonoscopy regularly. I’m 71 and have had at least four of them. The first two times, I had polyps which were painlessly removed during the procedure. Do I enjoy the prep? No way. But I see it as a small price to pay for enjoying the rest of my life. The procedure itself has always been painless, and afterwards I have gone out with friends to a film or a walk, or gone back to work. I am passionate about people getting a colonoscopy. I check with my friends regularly to see if they are up-to-date on their exams. I don’t want to lose anyone else needlessly.
I was vaguely aware of colonoscopies, but thought they were not related to me in any way because I was not interested and was too young. When I turned 50 and went to see my doctor, she came into the room with a smile and said, “Happy 50th birthday! Time for your colonoscopy!” Then she had the nerve to say, “My nurse is scheduling it right now!” I was horrified.
I realized that a big part of my tremendous fear was that I had been sexually abused as a child. This meant that trusting some stranger who was going to “invade me with a hose” brought up the memories of being invaded as a child. The idea of being semi-conscious during the procedure didn’t help.
However, when talking with a nurse prior to the colonoscopy, she offered some medication to help me feel relaxed the night before and the day of the procedure. I was able to hang on to this plan and it worked out perfectly! The doctor found three precancerous polyps that she removed. Having gone through this process once and finding out that it wasn’t so bad, I am no longer afraid. Since so many of us have been abused as children, I like to tell others about how I got through it, with the hope that they will find a way to get screened too.
My grandfather survived colon cancer twice and there is a history of cancer on both sides of my family. Both of my parents have been screened regularly because of our family history, so ever since I was young, I’ve been familiar with what is involved with the prep work and the importance of getting screened.
Last December, I experienced some symptoms that concerned me. When I told my doctor about my family history, we decided that I should get screened. “Better to be safe than sorry,” said my doctor. Drinking all the liquid needed for the prep was worse than the test itself! The good news is that everything checked out fine and I don’t need to get screened again for at least a few years. Even though the process itself may be uncomfortable, I would tell people who hesitate to get screened that knowing the results—whether good or bad—is worth it.
As a health educator working for a cancer program, I know all too well the guidelines for when one should get screened for various cancers. So, it was a no-brainer when I went to see my physician and let him know that I was having vague gastrointestinal issues and reminded him that my mother had colon cancer about 25 years ago. I told him I wanted a colonoscopy, even though it had been only five years since my initial one at age 50—the year one should get the baseline.
Just before my gastroenterologist sedated me, I told him my concerns. When I awoke from the procedure he said I could have one of three types of tumors on my small intestine.
Before I knew it, I was getting calls to schedule more diagnostic tests and surgeon visits. Several tests and two surgeon visits later, on February 22, 2011, I was on the operating table. Part of my small intestine and large intestine, my appendix, a one-centimeter carcinoid tumor, and 22 lymph nodes, two of which were cancerous, were removed from my body.
I am here today to tell you to talk to your doctor about when you should get screened for colon cancer and which method is best for you. In my case, the colonoscopy saved my life.
“I’ve been waiting 50 years for this!” I proclaimed with gusto to the bemusement of the hospital receptionists as I arrived for my colonoscopy. It actually wasn’t completely true; this would be my third colonoscopy since my mother had been diagnosed with colon cancer nearly a decade ago. But I did turn 50 this year, the typical age when people get their first colonoscopy.
As usual, the prep was the difficult part, but this time I did some research on tips for making the prep solution more palatable before starting. The key, for me at least, is lemonade—really good lemonade. By downing a glass of lemonade whenever the taste of the solution got to me, I was able to put it all away in record time.
The next day, after making my proclamation, the staff made me feel very comfortable and the nurse anesthetist made me feel even better. When I awoke, the procedure was done (beginning to end was only six minutes), and I had another clean bill of health and a monster appetite, which I sated with an enormous breakfast—my reward for yet another colonoscopy over and done with!
“Fortunately, because the cancer was found early enough, the surgery was successful. But I never would have found it early if I hadn’t been screened,” says Robert.