Get over the yuck factor: the life you save might be your own

  • Published
  • By Ms. Alethea Smock
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
The fastest way to get a room full of grown men and women to start snickering and shifting uncomfortably in their seats during a meeting is to bring up the subject of colonoscopy.

At a recent staff meeting we had a visit by a nurse who brought several props to talk about colonoscopy and that it’s “Colonoscopy Awareness Month.” She talked through the nervousness that people feel when dealing with such a private subject with good humor.

At the end of the day though, it’s about saving lives.

When I was 21 years old I visited a doctor at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center while stationed at Buckley Air National Guard Base, as it was known then. My tummy was just not acting normal and I wanted to see if it was a real issue or if it was too many cheeseburgers.

At the time, I didn’t think the doctor liked me much because after my second visit he ordered a colonoscopy. The procedure revealed that I had the beginning stages of what would be colon cancer if left to grow. At age 21 I was already harboring baby cancer cells just ready to grow into full-blown colon cancer.

When the doctor told me, “If we hadn’t found and removed those cells, you’d be in my office five years from now with colon cancer and we would be talking about treatment options to keep you alive.” I was really scared.

Colon cancer is no joke and is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, according to the visiting nurse. Had my doctor not been thorough I would most likely be one of those statistics because, let’s face it, colon cancer is stereotypically an old man’s disease, not a disease that strikes a young woman.

The fact is, it’s the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S., our visiting nurse reminded us.

Since that first colonoscopy, I’ve had many more to ensure I stay cancer –free, so far so good!

If you are at the right age to get a screening and are tagged to get one, do it. The procedure itself is fine. The prep leading up to the procedure the day before is the roughest part, especially if you like cheeseburgers.

The fasting and drinking the solution to ‘cleanse’ your system can be downright brutal. Once you show up at the clinic to have the procedure and they anesthetize you, all those hunger pangs go away and you wake up ready to eat again.

If you’re one of the many lucky ones, the doctor will come back and tell you everything is fine and send you on your merry way.

If you’re super lucky, the doctor will tell you they found and removed any potential cancer cells and you’re fine to go along your merry way, but they’ll see you again soon.

Get over the yuck factor, put aside the nervous giggles, forget what people say about how it’s just gross to have your colon scoped. Get over it so you don’t have to be one of those on the wrong side of a diagnosis.

I will be forever thankful to a simple procedure and a U.S. Army doctor took the time to save my life.