I don’t go to movies.
Well, that’s not quite true. I did see the last movie in the Harry Potter series.
My lack of movie going is not a political statement about Hollywood. As a kid we rarely went to movies — I can count the number of movies I saw in a theater as a youth on one hand — and that habit continued into adulthood.
So when I heard the news that Chadwick Boseman had passed away, I had to Google him to see who he was and what all the fuss was about.
He appears to have been a very skilled actor who gave some powerful performances that I never saw. Hopefully Netflix or Hulu can fix that.
But to lose anybody from colon cancer at such a young age is tragic.
Several years ago I wrote about my brush with a precancerous colon polyp discovered by a test performed by my doctor on a whim and my thoughts after missing a routine follow up colonoscopy.
I could have been Katie Couric’s husband, I mused.
Her first husband, Jay Monahan, passed away in 1998 from colon cancer at the age of 42. Monahan’s cancer grew quietly and without symptoms until it reached an advanced stage.
Now I have a choice, I could have been Katie Couric’s husband or Chadwick Boseman.
In 1999, when I was 42, during a routine physical exam, my doctor decided to do a simple new test called a fecal occult blood test. It looks for blood where you don’t want it to be.
It was quick, painless, and non-invasive. He did it right there in his office. It took less than a minute to get the results.
I remember his words as he asked me if I wanted him to do the test.
“Hey, we got this new test, it helps detect possible problems in the colon, including cancer,” he said. “We don’t usually worry about colon cancer until you are much older, but the test is covered by insurance, it’s cheap, and painless. Maybe we’ll find something, maybe we won’t. You have nothing to lose and if we catch something early, that’s good. What do you think?”
I told him to go ahead.
The test was positive for “occult” or hidden blood in my stool.
One sigmoidoscopy and one colonoscopy later, a big polyp was removed from my colon.
The biopsy determined that the polyp was pre-cancerous or carcinoma in situ.
So I was safe.
The gastroenterologist warned me that if I had waited a month or two longer, he probably would be discussing surgery with me because the polyp would have turned cancerous and cancer would have invaded the wall of my colon by then.
I had no idea that polyp was in me, and the usual age to start checking for this kind of cancer was another eight years out.
The cancer could have grown silently in me until it was too late.
I went back for a couple follow up colonoscopies, one a year later, and one more two years later.
When I was 45, my doctor told me I wouldn’t need another colonoscopy until I was 50, the age when most men were encouraged to have their first colonoscopy.
Those first colonoscopies weren’t fun.
I’ll spare you all the details. But I will say this much, I had to spend a day on a liquid diet and then stay up all night force feeding myself a gallon of a nasty tasting liquid that cleaned everything out of me.
Laxatives and enemas were involved.
My insurance at the time did not cover anything in Tooele, so after a night with more time spent on the toilet instead of in my bed, I had to ride into Salt Lake for the colonoscopy.
They gave me a painkiller, but if you imagine somebody sticking a garden hose up the end of you where the sun doesn’t shine, you can understand that I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed.
When I turned 50, I changed jobs, insurance providers, and doctors.
I missed the 50-year colon check-up.
At 53 my new doctor asked if I had ever had a colonoscopy.
I told him my story, and he referred me to a gastroenterologist in Tooele.
Two years later, my doctor again suggested that I needed a colonoscopy.
I was now five years overdue for my 50-year-old colon check.
Every pain I felt in my abdomen, and every crampy feeling I had, made me think that the polyp had grown back.
I was stupid. Why did I wait so long after having such a close call? I was sure I had colon cancer and it would be too late.
Fortunately it only took a week to get in to see the doctor for the pre-procedure consultation and then one more week before the procedure.
The science of colonoscopies has improved in 10 years.
Yes, I still had to go on a liquid diet. However, I no longer had to force feed myself a gallon of awful liquid at the rate of one glass every 15 minutes all through the night.
I downed a few bottles of a ginger-lemon laxative in the evening, and that took care of the preparation. That morning I went to Mountain West Medical Center in Tooele for the procedure.
I chose conscious sedation; to be out all the way required an anesthesiologist and a $125 charge not covered by my insurance.
I took the conscious sedation not only because I am cheap, but also because if you stay awake you get to watch the procedure and see your insides.
Being a former biology and health education major in college, I found the opportunity to see my own insides fascinating.
That’s what I did during my first colonoscopies. It was fun watching the camera’s eye view of my colon and talking to the doctor during the procedure.
This time, after they gave me the medication through an IV, I remember taking a few deep breaths of oxygen from the little tubes they put in your nose.
Then either the doctor or nurse commented that they remembered my story about local hamburgers. Somebody asked which one was my favorite. I told them that was a secret I could not reveal.
“We’ll ask you later, this drug is kind of like a truth serum,” was the reply I heard.
I focused on the monitor screen in front of me and the next thing I remember is the nurse touching me gently on my shoulder and saying, “Wake up, it’s over.”
I was disappointed. I slept through the whole thing.
I don’t know if in my sleep I revealed the secret about the best hamburger.
I felt cheated, I didn’t get to watch any of the procedure and I didn’t feel a thing. They found one small polyp and nothing that looked like cancer. My colon was healthy.
Five years later I scheduled my next colonoscopy on schedule.
This time I chose the anesthesia route. It was uneventful, my colon was clean. My gastroenterologist must have been tired of seeing this end of me. He told me I didn’t need to come back for 10 years this time.
The peace of mind is worth the little discomfort caused by the preparation. I love my family and I want to be around for them for as long as I can. I don’t want to be Katie Couric’s husband or Chadwick Boseman.