At my last physical my doctor told me I needed to schedule my first routine colonoscopy. My immediate reaction was that at 45, I am way too young to have a colonoscopy. I was surprised to learn that the American Cancer Society has changed the recommended age to start screening for colorectal cancer from age 50 to age 45.
I had never given a lot of thought to colonoscopies but I knew that they are done to screen for any abnormalities and check for colon cancer. I wasn’t nervous as I had no symptoms and assumed this would just be another routine screening to make sure my body is healthy.
I was not at all excited about having a camera snaked into a place in my body that doesn’t welcome visitors, but I knew how important it would be for me to schedule the appointment. Watching my husband prep for his colonoscopy let me know that it is no party. It’s essentially two days of being hangry, drinking copious amounts of a foul-tasting medicated beverage, and pooping hot lava. Speaking of hot lava, my husband recommends baby wipes for your colonoscopy prep needs. This is solid advice.
I admit that I delayed a few weeks in scheduling my appointment and would likely have waited for the school year to start before scheduling if the gastroenterology office hadn’t called me more than once to follow up on the referral. And guess what?
I have colon cancer.
They found colon cancer during my very first colonoscopy. It was a routine screening. I had no symptoms or risk factors. And I have real cancer, not just a precancerous polyp. I have been diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma in the sigmoid colon.
According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. The lifetime risk for developing colon cancer in women is about 1 in 25. This information shocked me.
The thing is, I can’t have cancer. I have two young kids, a small farm, I just landed my dream job, and my husband and I just celebrated our second anniversary. This is the first non-abusive relationship I’ve had in my whole adult life. I’m only 45 and I have so much to do. I’m a mom. I do not have time for cancer right now. Unfortunately, cancer does not wait.
My cancer journey has started and I don’t yet know where I will end up. I’ve had bloodwork, met with a surgeon, had two sigmoidoscopies, and they have even tattooed my colon (how many people can say that??) My next steps are cat scans to see if I have any metastasis to other parts of my body and scheduling surgery as soon as possible to remove part of my colon. At that point, chemotherapy and radiation are both possible. Will I need additional surgeries if the cancer has spread?
I am a mom and as I wonder what my future holds, I am also trying to get my girls prepared to go back to school by shopping for new school clothes, planning after-school care, and negotiating a delay to my older daughter’s 12th birthday party, which she wants to be Titanic-themed. I do not want to disappoint her.
The bottom line is that I didn’t have any signs or symptoms of this colon cancer prior to my screening.
Many people do have symptoms, but not all. The earlier you catch colon cancer, the better your prognosis can be. If you have symptoms, they could include:
- Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of the stool)
- Feeling as though you need to have a bowel movement which is not relieved by having one
- Red blood seen in stool
- Dark brown or back-colored stool
- Abdominal pain, weakness, and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss.
If you are at or over 45 years old, make your appointment. Reach out to your primary care provider and find out if you have any particular risks for colon cancer. Sacrificing a few days of not-so-fun prep is worth your life. It was worth mine. Just ask my kids.
Guest Author: Abbey Dattilio
Abbey is a native Vermonter with two daughters and three step-kids. She is a full-time study manager and loves vintage pyrex, restoring furniture, and all of her animals. She has a contagious sense of humor and a determination to greet each day with gratitude, joy, and humor.
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