Colonoscopy or Cancer? An Easy Choice.

Note:  This is an article I wrote five years ago.  Despite the passage in time it still remains sadly relevant.  African-American men are 44 percent more likely to die from colon cancer than white men, and African-American women, 46 percent more likely to die than white women.  This is a cancer that can be treated, but you have to get tested and to get tested you have to get over the reluctance to.

When I turned 50 last year, I was stunned by the fact that I was now older than I had ever been.   However, despite my doctor telling me it was time to get a colonoscopy; it wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to doing. 

I knew I should have it done.  I also knew I didn’t want to have it done.  Like most men, I don’t think of my colon very often.  As long the internal plumbing seems to be working well, who thinks about …back there?

  Maybe it’s just the word “colon” that makes strong Black men freeze up.   “It’s an exit, not an entrance,” is just one of the cute, but dumb one-liners I hear rothers use as an excuse why they don’t want to get checked out. 

Being embarrassed is no reason to not know how healthy you are.  It sure isn’t a good reason to let a possible cancer go untreated.  Sometimes you just have to “man up” and put a leash on your imagination.  

Quoting from The American Cancer Society website, “African-American men and women are diagnosed with and die from colon cancer at higher rates than men and women of any other U.S. racial or ethnic group.” 

The news doesn’t get much better for Black folks. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for Black men and women and the third leading cause of cancer death among Black men and women.  

The mortality rate of African-Americans for colorectal cancer is higher than that of Whites and so too is the incidence rate.  The kicker is African-Americans are more likely to die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic population and colorectal cancer takes out Black folks than any other racial or ethnic group in America. 

How’s that sound?  We’re Number One!  Too bad we’re “winning” in a category where the only accomplishment is you lose your life. 

If you knew in exchange for a slightly embarrassing medical procedure you could spare yourself all the pain, problems and unnecessary drama of dealing with a treatable form of cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?  

Let me answer that for you:  Because a lot of us have a phobia about anything dealing with the colon.   Even more of us don’t want to go to the doctor because we don’t want to hear any bad news.  Of course, if you wait until things get so bad you have no choice but to drag yourself into a emergency room, you may have waited too long to do yourself any good. 

This wasn’t something I wanted to do.  This was something I had to do because in my rational and reasoned mind, I could not allow fear and uneasiness to prevent me from doing the smart thing.  Ignorance is not bliss.  Ignorance can make you sick and dead. 

The preparations for a colonoscopy are simple. You make the appointment and once you’re scheduled you prepare yourself a day before the test.  The doctor will issue a prescription for laxatives (either pills, liquids or both).  In some cases an enema may be needed to empty and clean the colon so the view isn’t obscured.  

The day before the colonoscopy procedure you have to mix up a gallon of the laxative. The solution will clean you out (so the camera gets a good, unimpeded view of the inner workings) and you’ll probably be spending a good portion of the day close to the toilet. 

The soul singer Teddy Pendergrass died from colon cancer.

No solid foods the day of the procedure and only very light dining the day before.  Not that orange Jell-o doesn’t make for a fine dining experience.  Yuck! 

The next day, you get up and have someone drive you to the doctor’s office for the procedure.  You need a designated driver because you’ll likely be under sedation and the doctor won’t want you to drive yourself home.  The procedure itself takes 15 to 30 minutes.  After I changed into a robe, a nurse inserted an IV drip and wheeled me into the procedure room.  

There was a CD player in one corner of the room where the sounds of James Taylor were serenading me into sleep.  The doctor came in, introduced himself and explained what he would be doing today.  The last thing recall was drifting off to the sounds of “You’ve Got a Friend.” 

Next thing I know I’m back in the recovery room looking up at the smiling face of my wife. 

The doctor reappeared and informed us that the procedure revealed no polyps and that I checked out completely well.  He told me I was good to go for the next ten years. 

I wouldn’t call the whole experience anything remotely resembling fun, but it didn’t hurt.  Not even a little bit.  I’ve had blood tests and fat-thumbed nurses fumbling for a vein that hurt a lot more than the colonoscopy did. 

Somebody might giggle at the idea of having a camera inserted where the sun don’t shine, but the way I look at is unless conditions change, I’ve checked out free from cancer for the next decade.  Knowing that is a lot more fun than making dumb jokes.