I'm going in for a colonoscopy

My doctor says not to worry yet, but that doesn't help.


Cary Tennis
March 13, 2006 4:59PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Hello, I am a 40-year-old man with a question related to health issues that I suppose most or many men my age face. However, it is one that is currently causing me quite a bit of stress.

To be succinct, at my last physical I mentioned to my doctor that I had been finding some blood in my stool. The question I was asked was, is it bright red or a darker red? The answer was a bit of both. After a digital exam my doctor said there definitely is some bleeding going on from somewhere. He said it could be from a hemorrhoid or a polyp or something that I would rather not think about. My doctor did say, though, that it is not likely the thing I don't want to think about.

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So I am now on my way to my first-ever colonoscopy and am very scared not of the procedure but of what they will find. As I have been working over this in my mind I also realize that there are many other tests that I am going to have to endure, such as PSAs (prostate-specific antigen tests) and so on, as I get older.

Though I feel healthy and my doctor says there is no need to worry yet, I am really stressed out about it. How can I deal with that stress? Is this all normal? What is normal? Am I being a Woody Allen-like hypochondriac, or should I be worried?

Thanks,

J.

Dear J.,

As you know, I did not answer your letter immediately upon receipt, because you were already on your way to your appointment. The important thing, I thought then, was that you were having the exam. So I let your letter sit.

As I read through my backlog of mail yesterday, however, I saw your letter again and thought I would drop you a line.

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"Hi," I wrote, "I'm just getting back to you now, a month after you wrote, because while I thought your topic was important, and wanted to write something, you were on your way to the colonoscopy so there wasn't much I could say. I hope it turned out negative."

Your reply sobered me considerably. "Unfortunately my test did not go well," you wrote. "I have been diagnosed with rectal cancer."

I sat at my desk in silence for several minutes after I received your reply. I felt, along with my disappointment in the results, a personal regret, as though by not responding sooner I had missed an opportunity to intervene in some way. That irrational feeling that we ought to be able to do something about another's illness is common, I suppose. It was hard to shake. I went rapidly through a host of other strong feelings as well. All told, I was quite at a loss.

In my personal reply to you yesterday, I tried to simply offer my support. And I refrained from suggesting, Woody Allen style, that, on the bright side, at least you're not a hypochondriac.

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Anyway, as luck would have it, March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. So I am going to take this opportunity to spread the word about screening for colorectal cancer.

It is vital to learn all you can about colorectal cancer and, if appropriate, be examined for any signs of it. Here you can learn the facts and also see a short video of the Super Colon, a huge walk-through model colon that is currently on tour. Also read this very good column on overcoming the fear of being screened for this disease.

So listen, here's the thing: You don't want colorectal cancer. And you don't have to get it. There are ways to detect signs of it early and treat it. Polyps that might later become cancerous can be found early and removed, before the disease can start. And if it does start, the earlier it is detected the better. So when there's any sign that anything is wrong, don't delay. Go see your doctor. Get it checked out.

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While rates of colon cancer for men and women are about even, men seem to have a special reluctance to deal with the initial signs of it. I probably should not speculate about the psychosexual implications of this reluctance; suffice it to say that men may need a little extra help in taking the steps necessary to guard against this deadly disease.

So how's this for a public service announcement: Men! Think you're macho? If you were really macho, you'd get a colonoscopy!

Actually, I can tell you I did the sigmoidoscopy, and it wasn't that bad. The colonoscopy isn't bad either, so I have heard. It's way, way better than getting cancer.

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