Colonoscopies aren't fun, but necessary

"Consider the alternative."

By Salon Staff

Published June 12, 2000 7:21PM (EDT)

Journey to the center of my bottom BY HOWIE GORDON (06/08/00)

I would like to thank Howie Gordon for his completely accurate description of the preparation and colonoscopy procedure. It is an AWFUL thing. HOWEVER ... Consider the alternative. I have never actually had a colonoscopy. I wish I had. I was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer at age 31. I was "too young," according the doctors, for this type of screening even though I had symptoms which indicated a possibilty of colon cancer. Gordon has not been through "hell on earth" yet. Imagine being 31, a newlywed and mother to a seven-year-old girl. Then imagine being told that you have a terminal cancer. Then imagine going through chemotherapy after chemotherapy trying to find something that works. ANYTHING that will keep the cancer from growing. We aren't even looking for a cure at this point. We just want to keep it from growing. You may now be nearing "hell on earth." But you aren't there yet. Imagine running out of chemotherapy options. That's it. I have tried them all and nothing works. So here I am -- I go to work every day; I feel fine; to look at me, you would think I was just like you. But inside, I am decomposing. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. Now, Mr. Gordon, that is "hell on earth."

-- Julie Schiltz

Poor Howie. He's discovered what us colonoscopy veterans know -- the prep is the worst part. Fortunately, he's just taken the best step he can to save his own life. Each year, nearly 57,000 people will die from colorectal cancer. A huge percentage of these deaths could be prevented by screening and early detection of the precancerous polyps that grow into colon cancer. Unhappily, Howie didn't scream when he saw that huge jug of colon cleaner. There are easier, somewhat more palatable preps available that have been shown to be every bit as effective as the gallon that most cannot finish. Fleets Phospha Soda tastes like the dregs of the Atlantic Ocean, but only requires about four gulps. An oral prep is slooowwly moving through the FDA's approval system that should also improve the night before. Of course, diarrhea is diarrhea and whatever is in the pipeline needs to come out. Some preppies swear by lots of water prior to the prep and going on a liquid diet for two days. They say it helps. Actually, the big night is usually no worse than a battle with bad shellfish ... and a heck of a lot more useful.

-- Kate Murphy

Sorry to hear your experience was so negative. I had to go through the same thing at 36 -- just last week, in fact -- due to family medical history, and the only difficulty I noticed was the weakness during the preparation, due to lack of eating. My doctor had instructed me to eat very lightly (if at all) two days before the procedure, and nothing but clear liquids the day before. This little "fast" worked wonders to pre-clear my system so that the laxative (GoLytely) and the Electrolyte solution were able to do the job within a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the anesthetic I was given prior to the actual procedure put me right out before I got a chance to see anything on the monitor, so I missed out on that part. But the doctor says I can try again in five years!

-- Rob Meyer

Salon Staff

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