First of all, a word of profound thanks to all my cyber-peeps on Facebook and elsewhere for your understanding and concern yesterday. If love and good will can prevent cancer, then after yesterday, I’m set for life. As I sniffled my way through a few meltdowns, all your comments, messages and emails touched my heart and filled me with gratitude. And knowing that most of you have lived through this nonsense yourselves means a great deal. No one knows how it feels to hear the news of a cancer diagnosis like another person who’s heard it herself.
Many of you have already read of my recent adventures in colonoscopy. To recap briefly, I had scheduled my first, recommended over-fifty colonoscopy in 2008. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I postponed it. Just over two years later, in January of 2011, I finally rescheduled it. And despite following the prep instructions faithfully, the prep didn’t work completely, so the colonoscopy was not completed.
I scheduled another for a year after that, which took place a week and a half ago, on January 6th. So, I rang in the New Year by avoiding fiber and red food for a week, drinking a few gallons of Gatorade and Miralax for a few days, and off I went. The colonoscopy was completed this time, several polyps were removed, and the doctor said they all looked normal. But I woke up during the procedure, to find myself with severe abdominal cramping, somehow managed to mumble that I was awake and in pain, and got no help for it. Afterwards, I stumbled home, once again disillusioned with the inattentiveness of healthcare clinicians, feeling like I’d been kicked by a horse. I spent the next several days recovering and researching clinical protocols for managing procedural pain.
Last week, I called to find out if the path results were back on all the polyps that were removed. I got a call back from a very nice nurse case manager. Yes, the report was back, but she was out of the office, so she didn’t have it in front of her. But she assured me that I would have been called by then if there was anything suspicious. I explained that I’d already been through the cancer adventure, and that, as such, I hated waiting for path results. She said very kindly that she would check the report and call me back if there was bad news. And she didn’t call. I did have an appointment with the nurse practitioner at the gastroenterologist’s office anyway. So, feeling confident that there would be nothing more onerous at this visit than my feedback about the inadequate prep instructions beforehand and the inadequate pain relief during, I visited her yesterday.
Bad News, Good News
And she told me that one of the seven polyps removed turned out to have a top-dressing of carcinoma in-situ, and was characterized overall as something called ‘tubular adenoma with high-grade dysplasia.’ If you were to Google this, which of course I have, you would find that this is the non-invasive version of colon cancer.
That was the bad news. The good news was that the entire polyp, with its treacherous cancer cap, was removed, along with the stem, and that they got it all. Which makes it sound like a cancer mushroom. [There's a fungus among us, as my father used to say.] And that no other treatment is needed at this time. Naturally, this means that I do not get to wait another ten years before my next colonoscopy. My next one will be scheduled one year from now.
So. Major gobsmack. It was an interesting sensation to experience a condensed version, as it were, of my previous cancer experience. Sort of like bad speed dating, or the Readers Digest Version of cancer. I felt all the shock & awe, panic, astonishment, relief, miserable awareness of implications, and grim acceptance of the need for lifelong vigilance, all in the space of several seconds. As one of my breast cancer pals succinctly put it, “YIKES!! And WHEW!” Quite a field day for my neurons and adrenal cortex, I must say. It’s amazing I could even speak at all after that.
But I did. And we talked about my maternal family’s cancer history. I brought it up. One of the things that drove me to persevere on this colonoscopy adventure, despite the almost fiendishly distracting circumstances of the last few years, was that my cousin died of colon cancer when she was in her fifties. There is some sort of suspected genetic relationship among breast cancer, ovarian cancer and colon cancer, all of which have appeared on my mother’s side of the family, along with melanoma, which killed my cousin’s dad. Thus, the NP and I visited the subject of genetic testing. It was a revisit for me. I saw a genetic counselor a year or so ago to investigate this, and since my rellies with the relevant cancers were all ‘secondary,’ i.e., first cousins and aunts, genetic testing was only a borderline recommendation. But I don’t have any ‘primary’ relatives who had cancer, no siblings, and my parents died of other things. So, it’s not clear that genetic testing would be beneficial. But the NP is going to look into it and get back to me.
I did somehow manage to articulate my feedback and suggestions. The next several minutes were almost more unpleasant than the preceding ones. But the long and short of it was that the NP, who is a very smart and compassionate woman by the way, could really offer no satisfactory explanation for why the doctor did not recommend that I be given more medication when I woke up. She did, however, assure me that in the future, there would be a separate anaesthesiologist in attendance who would mostly likely use a different moderate sedation cocktail and make sure my recent experience was not repeated.
“Kathi,” she said at the end, “I’m really glad you had this colonoscopy.”
“Me, too,” I admitted. What else could I possibly say? I’ll drink two gallons of Gatorade and Miralax every week if it keeps me from developing invasive colon cancer. And, as I said to one of my BFFs last night, I seem to have experienced every other miserable thing that could occur with a colonoscopy, so why not this, too? You know, just to round things out.
The Zero that isn’t.
So, I’ve had two types of cancer. And thus far survived. Yay me. It’s hard to describe what I feel.
I’ve had a few random thoughts about researching what other sorts of cancer can appear in non-invasive form, but I don’t have the heart for it right now. So far, I’ve had two kinds of high-grade, in-situ cancers that, if left unattended, would have had a good chance of worsening. To all those people out there in oncology-land who have been contemplating the idea of removing ‘carcinoma’ from the names of some of these in-situ tumors: don’t even go there. Because guess what? We’re not off the hook. Because any prudent discussion with your patients has to include the C word anyway. So, who do you think you’re kidding?
I wonder if there should be some sort of Stage Zero Cancer Club. Because I think I deserve honorary life-time membership now. And I think we should all get Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth to use during all our follow-up medical appointments. And we should probably consider a name change. “Stage Zero” just doesn’t quite cut it. Maybe “YIKES! WHEW!” would be more apt.
And I’d also like a pair of Wonder Woman’s Indestructible Bullet-Bashing Gauntlets while I’m at it. Because I’m not feeling very indestructible right now.
The “Wonder Woman” movie poster above was, of course, Photoshopped by moi. Please feel free to share your own “YIKES! WHEW!” experiences.