I just had my first colonoscopy. Here’s what it’s really like

Cancer

by Alan Wright, M.Div.

Jul 28, 2022

There were many excuses to put off my colonoscopy. I didn’t have symptoms. I’m only 53. I’m too busy. I wrote in my daily calendar probably 30 different times, “Call to make colonoscopy appointment.”

But I didn’t call.

What about the prep? What if the doctor finds something suspicious? I amazed myself with how many ways I could find to put off this appointment. I mean, who looks forward to a colonoscopy?

I had more reasons to call than I had excuses, nonetheless. One of my best friends who lives a healthier lifestyle than me and is a vegetarian was diagnosed with colon cancer at only 45. Thankfully, he survived and is doing well. I’m also an oncology chaplain, so I’ve heard too many stories of regret from patients who wished they would’ve made their colonoscopy appointment sooner.

However, since procrastination is my true gift, I put it off anyway. I waited three years past my primary care physician’s repeated suggestion to have my first colonoscopy.

I’m so much more at ease now that it’s done—fortunately, with good results. I think my biggest hurdle came from feelings of dread that were a result of the myths I was perpetuating in my mind. Let me debunk some myths so you won’t put off your colonoscopy like I did.

The colonoscopy “prep” isn’t so bad after all

People warned me that the colonoscopy prep would be awful, unbearable and disgusting. Not true at all. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve rather been on vacation on my day off, but the prep was not as terrible as so many had warned. We’ve come a long way.

The product you’re asked to take to clear your colon doesn’t have a taste. I mixed mine with a clear-colored sugar-free sparkling cranberry water. You can find other recipes on the internet. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding what you can mix with your prep product.

You won’t be that hungry

I was surprised that this wasn’t a big issue for me since eating, like procrastination, seems to be a talent of mine. It was more of a mental struggle than a physical one. The two rounds of 32 ounces of liquid I had to mix with the prep product kept me feeling like I was full.

To make it all worth it, I was able to experience delayed gratification after my colonoscopy and chow down on a massive pile of pancakes chased down with a tall cup of coffee.

Having a colonoscopy is not embarrassing

I thought the whole procedure would be humiliating, but my doctor and his team went to great lengths to protect my sense of modesty. I didn’t know I had modesty, but apparently, I do. I didn’t even ask that they take this into consideration—they just knew what to do.

It’s quick and easy

Most people don’t like being put under anesthesia, and neither do I. My anesthesiologist was wonderful. He told me exactly what to expect and the anesthesia was so light that I awoke immediately as the procedure was ending. I felt no grogginess afterward. It was the best 30-minute nap I’ve had in a long time. If you’re worried about being under anesthesia, talk to your doctor and make sure you know what to expect.

One colonoscopy might save your life

Of course, I can’t predict what your outcome will be except that you’ll be more knowledgeable about the state of your colon health. Like my friend who survived colon cancer, detection can be a lifesaver. For me, thankfully, I received good news and was told not to come back for another 10 years. Next time, I’ll call soon after my 63rd birthday.

It wasn’t patient stories, my good friend the cancer survivor or even the encouragement of my doctor that made me make that call. I convinced myself I was doing this for my family. I needed to be around so I could keep being a dad to my teenage daughter and a husband to my wife of 19 years.

If you’re over 45 years of age, call your doctor to see if it’s your time for a colonoscopy. If it is indeed that time, find out what motivates you and then get it on the calendar.

Next steps

About the Author

Alan Wright is a chaplain at Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center on the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas hospital campus.

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