Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Undergoing that most dreaded of screening tests October 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Two of six photos of my colon given to me after the procedure.

Two of six photos of my colon given to me after the procedure.

SHE CALLED ME a Colon Virgin.

And, at eight years past fifty, I was and shouldn’t have been.

I had my first colonoscopy on Friday.

That title bestowed upon me by the nurse taking my health history prior to the colon cancer screening made me laugh. That was her intention along with praise for the young family doctor who made sure I didn’t leave the clinic after my annual physical in July without scheduling a colonoscopy. Smart doctor.

So there I was, 3 ½ months later, lying on my back in a hospital gown, thin sheet covering me, answering health questions and dreading the procedure that would begin within the hour.

I was assured that I would not be aware nor would I remember anything while under conscious sedation. I thought to myself, they don’t know me.

The two nurses continued prepping me– inserting an IV, wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my left arm, snapping a heart rate monitor on a right finger and then clipping tubes into my nose because “sometimes you forget to breathe.” Probably not the best thing to say to me.

I could feel my rapid heart rate, the tenseness that held my body. I didn’t want to be here. But, I reminded myself, I’d just endured a challenging cleansing process and I’d been through much worse than this medically. Why would I back out now?

So I tried to relax, told the two healthcare workers that I needed something to distract me. “That’s why we have music,” said the nurse with the sense of humor. For the first time, I heard the music as the two headed out the door to find the doctor.

I laid there for a really long time, or so it seemed, listening to the music, wishing it was the uplifting and prayerful Christian music I listen to daily on Twin Cities radio station KTIS. I willed my body and mind to relax and chuckled to myself when a singer crooned something about waking up when it’s done. Quite appropriate.

At the exact appointed time of 8:30, the surgeon entered the room. “I’m really cold,” I complained and was promptly layered in a heated blanket. Yes, I should have been more welcoming to this man who delivered my first daughter nearly 29 years ago by emergency Caesarean section. But at that moment on that morning, I was not particularly happy to see him again.

I told him I was nervous, made him promise that I wouldn’t remember anything. He reassured me. Last thing I remember was his request that I roll onto my left side and my wondering aloud where to comfortably place my blood pressure cuff wrapped left arm.

And that was it until I saw changing images of my colon on the computer screen.

Remember that part about not being aware or remembering? Despite my alertness, I was not anxious. The “happy juice” was still working its magic.

In the end, I made it through just fine. I survived the cleansing of my bowels, semi-fasting (liquid diet), lack of sleep and a resulting headache and lower back (kidney) pain and then the actual procedure.

The good doctor removed two non-cancerous polyps. And even though I remembered part of the colonoscopy, I wasn’t traumatized. In five years, I’ll be back because, you know, dealing with colon cancer would be a lot worse than having another colonoscopy.

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COLONOSCOPIES HAVE BEEN IN THE NEWS this week as Cologuard, a new non-invasive procedure to screen for colon cancer, is now on the market. The screening involves submitting a stool sample, which is then analyzed using “advanced stool DNA technology to find DNA from abnormal cells and hemoglobin from red blood cells” according to information on the Cologuard website. The lining of the colon naturally sheds cells.

Early reviews on this screening method are mixed. That’s to be expected.

You can learn more about Cologuard by clicking here.

Whatever you decide, if you’re age 50 or older and/or have a family history of colon cancer, don’t just do nothing. Doing nothing could cost you your life. Take that from a former Colon Virgin.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling