I guess it’s my turn. In my life I’ve watched as friends and family have battled cancer over the years. Many have won the challenge, and some have lost, as my dear brother Shep did four years ago when he died of bile-duct cancer. Now it’s my turn to fight the good fight.
Two months ago, my wife pushed once again for me to get a colonoscopy. She said, “You’re 67. You’ve never had one. It’s time.” I did the usual deflecting of “feeling great.” But she insisted. This time she was not taking “no,”for an answer, no matter what. I gave in and scheduled the procedure the following week, though I was not looking forward to the discomfort of having a 94-foot probe snaking along my nether regions. But I was wrong. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I was getting the best siesta of my life while the doctor took a tour of my colon. In fact, the worst thing about it was drinking the prep the night before called GoLYTELY, which is the most deceptive euphemistic name ever invented by a marketing team.
I reported for my colonoscopy. They put me to sleep. When I woke, the doctor said, “I have bad news and good news. The bad news is you have a tumor that is very likely cancerous, but doesn’t appear to have spread. We’ll run some tests to know for sure.”
I sat dumbfounded. There it was. The “C” word. That lethal little word, now thriving inside me. Did I have just a couple of years to live, 6 months, or was it curable with aggressive treatment? Many others have asked these same questions before me.
My wife said, “Let’s go to MD Anderson.” I said, “That’ll be a lot of trouble to arrange, being so far away and I have so much to do. Maybe we can do it here, locally.”
She said, “But you’ve always said to others that we have the finest cancer hospital in the world just a five hour drive away! Take your own advice. You have nothing to do now but focus on saving your life. You have a few stories left to tell. Let’s make sure you get to tell them. I’ll make the call.”
When I walked into MD Anderson a week later I felt like I had walked into the future, as if it were 2050 or so. And not only was the technology advanced, MD Anderson was organizationally advanced. From the security guards to the surgeons, the ethos of the place was saying, “We’ve got you.”
They ran their sophisticated tests and confirmed what my local internist had diagnosed. “Cancerous tumor with no spread to other organs.” Lymph nodes appeared undisturbed, but couldn’t know until surgery removed the tumor and inspected the nodes microscopically. My surgeon said that the tumor probably started 15 years earlier. Had I had a colonoscopy then or even five years later, it likely would have been a polyp and removed with a flick of the wrist. But I nurtured it, unintentionally, and raised it up to be an impressive tumor the size of a walnut. Interestingly, I had no symptoms.
Surgery followed six weeks later, which was a miracle of modern tech. My surgeon was about 18-years-old, or so he looked to me, because I’m old. He was impressively credentialed, of course. I reasoned that his youth put him closer to the newest knowledge. Also, he likely grew up mastering video games which would be a skill useful in laparoscopic surgery that employed robotic assist technology. He removed about ten inches of my colon – five inches on either side of the tumor – and plugged the new ends back together like fine-fitting PVC pipe, but connected with dozens of titanium staples rather than glue. Sounds rough, but it was so gentle a surgery that I was up and walking around 8 hours later. The next day, I walked a quarter of a mile and, within a week, I felt pretty much normal. All plumbing worked as expected.
Looks like I’m truly lucky. I was late to get my colonoscopy, but if I had waited just another year, my prospects would not be as rosy as they are now. I’ll probably have to do some chemo as a precaution and watch things carefully for five years, but I have a good chance of seeing a cure here. Fingers crossed.
Use my story as a cautionary tale. My oncologist at MD Anderson said that they are seeing colon cancers in younger and younger people. The current advice is to get a colonoscopy at 45 – younger if you have a family history of the disease. Most insurance, including Obamacare, covers it at 100 percent. If you have no evidence of disease, then get another one every five to 10 years depending on your risk and the type of test. But, if like me, you’ve been putting this off into your 6th or 7th decades, let’s get’er done now. It’s a win/win. You’ll get the peace of mind that all is well or likely catch any problem early enough to give you many more fine years of settin’ on the porch swapping stories with friends while enjoying your favorite beverage.
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Stories From Texas, UTRGV Digital Library, The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley. Accessed via https://scholarworks.utrgv.edu/storiesfromtexas/