I Won’t Die From This.

Last week, I had a colonoscopy. It was my second in ten years. I have an excellent doctor, and she first requested the test for me when I was 38, knowing that the waiting list is long. She wanted me tested by the time I was 40. You see, my maternal grandmother died with colon cancer and I refuse to let it take my life, too.

I will have the screening done every 5 years for the rest of my life. Because I will not die from this disease. Something else will have to take me.

Today, I am going to share my experience because if you are over 40 and haven’t had one, I want you to talk to your doctor about your risk. The general rule is that for people with no family history, their first colonoscopy is at age 50. But there may be reasons for you to have one sooner, considering 80% of people with the disease have no family history.

Colon cancer is one of the slowest growing cancers and is 90% curable if caught early, and yet, on average, 72 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer every day and 25 Canadians will die of it.

EVERY DAY.

Every single day, people are dying because they don’t want to talk about their bowel issues or their poop or the way they are feeling “down there”. People are afraid of the procedure or of doctors and so they avoid going. And yet, the way I see it, if they were really afraid of doctors and surgeries and dying, then their best strategy would be to prevent getting sick in the first place.

For years, my grandmother would talk about feeling “full” and she’d give herself enemas to relieve the pressure, but I know now that she was experiencing the symptoms of this disease. I’m sure that as an older lady, she may have felt uncomfortable talking about her bowel habits, but our poop tells us so much about our health! In fact, it is such an important topic that in 1997, Dr. Stephen Lewis and Dr. Ken Heaton published The Bristol Stool Scale in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. According to the chart, there are seven types of stool, and each kind we pass leaves clues into our health. While there is no “normal” when it comes to poop, there are averages, and there is what is “normal” to each of us. If you only go once a day, that is normal for you. If you go 3 times a day, then that is your normal. Same with the colour of your poop. Everyone’s diet is different, and you will know what is typical for you. It’s when you start to notice changes that you will want to pay more attention.

 

You can also have goals for your poop! While #3 is perfectly acceptable, the holy grail of poops is #4 on the scale. You can improve what you see in the toilet by making positive changes to your health, like drinking enough water, eating a fibre-rich diet, exercising, and reducing processed foods.

Notice that #1 and #2 are the type that occur when we are constipated. If this is normal for you, you may be dehydrated or eating too many processed foods (including protein powders). Focus on drinking at least 8 glasses of fresh water per day and eating more fruits and vegetables, as they contain fiber. Remember, fiber is your colon's toothbrush! If your poop is softer or you regularly experience diarrhea, like #6 or #7, you may be sick with food poisoning or the flu or else you might have an illness that you will want to talk to your doctor about.

I'm sorry that my grandmother didn't push for a colonoscopy. I'm not sure why her doctor didn't recommend one, but nevertheless, my 81 year old grandmother had her life cut short because she didn't have this routine procedure done when she was younger.

You see, most colon cancer starts with "polyps", a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the colon. I learned at my appointment that these polyps can start as small as a grain of sand. They grow from there and most often, they are benign (non cancerous). But some of them turn into colon cancer. The goal of a colonoscopy is to look for polyps and to remove any of them before they even have the chance to become cancerous.

So in my continued effort to encourage you to live your healthiest, most vibrant life, I am urging you to talk to your doctor about a colonoscopy. Even if you don't have a family history of colorectal cancer, it might be prudent for you to have the test done. Especially if you are noticing bowel changes. You may recall Katie Couric having her colonoscopy done on the air to raise awareness, because her 42 year old husband, with no family history, died of the disease.

So, what can you expect when you book a colonoscopy?

I promise it's no big deal once you do it! Honestly, the hardest part of the whole test is going a day without eating, and that's really not so bad. In fact, the whole thing is kind of a nice "clean out", if you will. 🙂 So, I want to share the details so that you may feel less apprehensive about the test.

Here goes...

A colonoscopy is a test that allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine--your rectum and your colon. They use a thin, flexible tube called a "colonoscope" to look for polyps, tumors, ulcers and areas of inflammation or bleeding.

Some time before your colonoscopy, you will pick up a medication (mine was called Pico Salax, but your doctor may prescribe another brand) as well as a laxative. You can get these at any pharmacy.

Gotcha.

4 days before the colonoscopy, you stop eating berries and small seeds like poppy and flax as they can interfere with the test.

Ok, no biggie.

The day before your colonoscopy is "prep day". You can still plan to go to work, you'll just have to leave a little early. You start the day with a laxative, which simply softens your stool and makes going a breeze. So, don't worry about that. All day, you can have clear liquids, so I drank pedialyte, chicken broth, tea and water all day.

At 3 pm, you will want to be heading home to take the first of your two Pico Salax, which is sodium picosulfate, a stimulant laxative used as a treatment for constipation or to prepare the large bowel before a colonoscopy. It comes in a powder form that you drink with water. It tastes sweet and it makes you really, really have to go!

Ok, got it. Several bathroom visits.

At 5 p.m. you take another dose of the laxative.

No problemo.

For the rest of the evening, it's more clear fluids and then off to bed.

That wasn't so bad, now was it?

The next morning, four hours before your appointment time, you take the second and final dose of Pico Salax. You will basically be pooping water at this point, but you will be squeaky clean for your doctor to get a clear view of your colon!

And you're off.

Off to the doctor you go. With a driver. Once you arrive, you'll get undressed and lie down on a comfy bed (my nurse even gave me a blanket) and after the doctor comes in to discuss what is about to happen ("If I see any polyps, I will remove them as we go"), the sedative is administered intravenously. You are now drifting off to lala land. The next thing you'll remember, the nurses will be encouraging you to pass gas and you'll be taken to a recovery room where you will happily oblige. Once you've come right around, you will be free to go, accompanied by your driver.

And now, you get to go and eat something delicious and relax for the rest of the day.

How awesome is that?!

I promise you, it is nothing to be afraid of, and the alternative is much more scary. I don't want you to avoid a routine procedure because of a little embarrassment or discomfort.

It's not worth losing your life over.

A well-known Ottawa woman, named Lara Vaaré, died of colon cancer on December 26, 2012. She was taken way too soon because although she kept pushing for answers to her tummy troubles, her doctor felt she was "far too young" to possibly have colon cancer. She was 42 years old and an incredible entrepreneur, leader and humanitarian. We didn't know each other well--or for long--but her optimism and "joie de vivre" were palpable. The world is a little less colourful with her gone, and I am writing this piece as much for my grandmother as I am for her. I think she would want me to shed light on the fact that beautiful, young, strong and powerful women get colon cancer. And we need to push our doctors when we know something is wrong. If a second opinion is needed, we need to get it. Only we can know what we are feeling, and we can't rely on overworked doctors or our taxed health care system to always be able to save us.

We have to prioritize our own health.

Because we can't expect others to do it for us.

Because nothing else matters when we don't have our health.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. In case you were wondering, there were no polyps found again this time. I am good for another 5 years. And it feels good to know I am ok.

P.P.S. If you would like to make a change in your life and create a new relationship with food, The 6 Week Sugar Freedom eCourse might be for you. You will be surrounded by a group of like-minded people who will support you. I encourage you to join us here

P.P.S.S. Let’s be friends! I’d love you to connect with me on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. For joining, you get my personal meal plan, shopping list, and a week’s worth of easy, tasty recipes. http://sarahtalksfood.com/

 

 

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