Still looking over my shoulder.
While this amazon may be accidental, it was no accident that I started this blog on New Year’s Day. The great thing about New Year’s is the symbolic relief of leaving the past behind. On January 1st, 2009, I was hoping to leave breast cancer behind. Silly me. I was only just beginning to perceive the grip that cancer and its treatment would continue to have on me. But I learned. And writing this blog — and getting feedback from all of you — helped me navigate the shoals, feel grateful for your validation, and discover this snark thing that I could press into service to lighten the load.
It’s been three years now, and I still haven’t been able to leave breast cancer behind. Because somewhere along the way, I realized there was too much to say and do so that we could all someday leave it behind, and we’re not there yet. I also learned, for about the zillionth time, that although we can only live in the present, the past profoundly contributes to who we are today. And life is what happens when we’re making other plans.Bye-bye, 2011.
Some truly lovely and utterly unsnarky things occurred this past year. The best among them was making new friends in the blogosphere, and meeting several cyber-friends in real life. But some friends died of cancer, or lost loved ones to cancer, or were newly diagnosed, or found out they had mets, or found out their mets had spread, or endured other losses and challenges. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine with me if 2011 goes right down the crapper.
I could try to put a good snarky spin on it all, but I’m feeling a little stymied. Suffice it to say that the long list of miseries and heartaches visited upon my friends in 2011 seems to have been of rather biblical proportions. The only pestilence I haven’t been able to confirm specifically is a plague of locusts.
Which brings me to the colonoscopy I have scheduled for the end (no pun intended) of this coming week. What was I thinking?? I really need to learn to plan better.
Starting the year with a clean, er, slate.
I suppose I would have to admit that I’d rather experience a colonoscopy than a plague of locusts, but it’s a near thing. So, why am I getting one?
In addition to receiving a flurry of invitations to join the AARP, turning fifty in the U.S. also means you are encouraged to get a colonoscopy. While I am tempted to join any club that includes people like Betty White, I’ve been steadfastly tossing the AARP envelopes in the dustbin for several years now. I have my reasons, denial being first and foremost. However, the year I was to turn fifty, I did try to talk myself into adding yet another cancer screening procedure to my annual physical. But not right away.
On the actual day of my fiftieth, I was suffering possibly the worst physical pain I’ve ever endured. A few months previously, I’d herniated a disk in my lumbar spine. I was not able, at the time, to exactly pinpoint the occasion during which this catastrophe occurred. But I believe it arose from the torrid romance I was then having with, remarkably enough, an electrical engineer who lived in a neighboring state. I know. Go figure. One wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find ‘torrid’ in the same sentence with ‘electrical engineer,’ but life is full of surprises. I’ll never know whether I busted my disk during one of our more energetic interludes, or during one or more of the several long, wintry, interstate drives involved in arranging our interludes. The onset of symptoms was gradual. But I do recall a particular moment at work, when I was, ironically enough, demonstrating a back stretch to a patient in the rehab gym, and I felt an extra little ping that I suspected I would pay for later. And I did. And crossed the pain Rubicon. And got myself an MRI, which told the ugly tale. I did indeed have a herniated disk. I’d had them before, and recovered nicely without too much fuss. But this one chose to squirt itself into the middle of my spinal canal, rather than sideways and outside of my backbone, where most self-respecting disk herniations go, and where there would have been a better than even chance that my body would, with a little anti-inflammatory assistance, have healed on its own.
However, such was not to be. Instead, the squirt camped out on my L4 nerve root, sending a truly Machiavellian assortment of pain, scrambled nerve sensations, and rapidly deteriorating muscle strength down my entire left leg. Sitting was a nightmare. And lying down (as in sleeping) was diabolically painful. My best position was standing, which was okay as far as it went, but I didn’t happen to have a handy standing sling that I could sleep in at night. It was perhaps the only time in my life that I wished I were a bat, and could fold up my wings, hang by my feet from a tree, and sleep upside down.
A little batty.
In any event, on my 50th birthday, I was unable to slug much champagne, owing to the dilaudid I had to take to keep from fainting in agony. I had diskectomy surgery scheduled for ten days hence. Two of my oldest friends came to see me and soothe my fevered brow. I was able to eat cake, and I did time my next dilaudid dose so I could at least sip a little Veuve Clicquot. But it was not an exuberant celebration. The surgery, on the other hand, was completely successful — miraculous in fact — although I was really too close to menopause to realistically offer, with profound gratitude, to bear my neurosurgeon’s child. It took several months before I could sit or drive comfortably for any length of time, which curtailed interstate travel. But the good thing about it was that it got me out of jury duty that year.
Needless to say, I postponed any and all thoughts of scheduling my baptismal colonoscopy. A few years later, when I could finally run up and down stairs, and hop around on my left leg (you’d be surprised at the things we physical therapists have to be able to demonstrate to our patients), I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and schedule the damn thing. So I scheduled it for a few weeks after my annual screening mammogram. Which turned out to be positive. Which is another whole story. Which eventually prompted me to launch this blog three years ago. Also needless to say, the charming adventure documented herein involved enough poking, prodding, slashing, burning, poisoning and squishing to last a lifetime, so I was in no state after all that to add a colonoscopy to this list of medical indignities.
However, the reasons for getting one hovered somewhat ominously in the background. In the first place, my cousin had died of colon cancer in her early fifties a few years previously. And one of my aunts had had (and survived) ovarian cancer. And there was another female relative, also on that side of the family, who’d had breast cancer. I talked to a genetic counselor somewhere in all this about the suspected genetic relationship among breast, ovarian and colon cancer. So, finally, I scheduled my first official colorectal cancer screening one year ago. And it could not be successfully completed, because, I am loathe to admit, I failed my prep.
Oh, well. One cannot succeed at every endeavor. Had my colonoscopy been scheduled later in the day, and had the prep directions been more specific, it would have been completed, and I wouldn’t be writing this. However, let’s just say that, at 6:30 a.m. on that fateful Friday morning, I was still too full of shit. Wasn’t the first time I’d been thus informed.
The long and winding road.
Earlier this year, I read with great hopefulness a few articles about a DNA blood test for colorectal cancer — you know, something you can do in the privacy of your own loo, with a little kit, and without the noisome prep required to clear out the several miles of your intestinal highway before a colonoscopy. But (or should I say ‘butt’), this home test is not the ‘gold standard’ in screening, and is not currently approved in the U.S. as a replacement for what is delicately described as “direct-visualization [...] screening modalities.”
So, here we are, a year later, and now, instead of participating in some glamorous New Year’s festivities, I am in the midst of whatever the opposite of girding my loins would be, in order to have another cancer test this coming Friday. Colon cancer is no laughing matter, but I do think it behooves one to find a way to laugh at the ‘direct-visualization screening modality’ involved. A friend suggested I read humorist Dave Barry’s description of the roto-rooter prep I am forced to engage in this week. I did, and I laughed, which is helpful. But I still have to do it.
Apart from having a heavenly Versed-induced nap a year ago, I was quite miffed about my prep failure. I’m very good at following directions, and I can state categorically that I followed the prep instructions to the letter. And the prep did work — just not in time for my crack-of-dawn appointment. So, I had a little chat with the nice nurse practitioner at the gastroenterologists’ office, and she added an extra step. But otherwise I received the same clear-as-mud instruction sheet as last year. So, I decided to do a little research to, shall we say, clarify things more thoroughly.
Where the instructions fail most egregiously, I’ve since learned, is in the section about what to eat in the week prior to the colonoscopy. My little blue sheet (with the GI logo at the top — a tasteful artistic rendering of a stomach with a suggestion of the plumbing leading therefrom) states that “high fiber products and seeds should be withheld 7 days before the procedure. No corn, popcorn, nuts, seeds or breads with seeds or nuts, vegetables with seeds such as tomatoes or cucumbers, etc.” It’s that final ‘etcetera’ that’s the sticking point, as it were.
According to the Colon Cancer Resource, it turns out that, in reality, ALL vegetables and fruits and most of the juices, sauces, soups and various condiments made with them, must be considered ‘high fiber,’ and must be avoided in the 4 to 7 days before a colonoscopy. Red comestibles must also be avoided, which includes red meat, red jello, red drinks of any sort, and anything with red food coloring in it. That leaves white food and drink, which excludes whole grain breads, rice and pasta. Cheese is okay, but butter isn’t. Milk and milk products, which are arguably white, should be avoided. Clear, unpulpy broths and liquids are okay right up until the night before, which happily includes white wine, vodka and gin, but most sites advise avoiding alcohol at least 24 hours in advance, which is unhappily the time during which one might most wish to wash down that enormous container of Miralax (aka PEG, or propylene glycol) with a little liquor.
Starving for the cure.
If you have ever been concerned that you may not be consuming enough fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, try adhering to the above instructions for a few days. There may not be much sacrifice in avoiding lima beans, say, but you might find yourself positively bereft about giving up salsa, marinara sauce, and French onion soup. Indeed, it’s been difficult these past few days for me not to feel utterly persecuted for loving almonds, caesar salads sprinkled with sunflower seeds, or the occasional peanut-butter sandwich on whole wheat sourdough bread. I yearn for my blueberry yogurt. I pine for my pomegranate juice. I crave my clementines and I miss my oatmeal. My bioflavonoids and antioxidants have abandoned me! I just want to eat like a normal, reasonably health-conscious person who’s had cancer! Is that so wrong??
Heaven help me. And I haven’t even gotten to the Gatorade-cum-Miralax stage. Oh, gawd, I’m having flashbacks from last year. I never much liked Gatorade before last year. Since then, I positively loathe it.
All right. I need to get a grip. What the hell can I eat and drink this week? Eggs. Cheese. White pasta. White bread and white crackers. Jello, as long as it’s not red. Potatoes, without the skin. Potato chips, as long as they’re not the fat-free kind cooked in Olestra. Fish, as long as it’s not too dark like swordfish. Chicken, without the skin. Chicken broth. Maybe a lean pork chop. White grape juice, strained lemonade and apple juice. Clear tea or coffee, without milk or cream. Non-red popsicles and Italian ice. And perhaps a nice pinot grigio to wash it all down, at least until Thursday.
And there is that delightful Versed nap to look forward to.
And, of course, there’s also that extra special je-ne-sais-quoi we folks-who’ve-had-cancer possess, that lovely test anxiety, that loss of innocence about ‘mere’ screening exams which we know all too well might in fact yield positive results. Oh, joy. Happy freakin’ New Year to me.
In the meantime, no one said I couldn’t eat chocolate. At least for a few more days.
Someone, anyone, please tell me you are doing something a lot more fun to ring in the New Year!