I don’t know if this is what is called a “trigger warning,” but this piece deals – quite literally – with bathroom humor.
Before we go there, know that I am not making light of a serious subject.
According to the National Cancer Institute, Colorectal Cancer kills approximately 52,000 people annually in the United States, the second most common cause of cancer death. It is even more alarming when one realizes that the over 150,000 cases each year make it the third most commonly diagnosed cancer (behind lung and breast cancers).
That said, in February, as part of my regular wellness check-up, I took a Cologuard test.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a less-invasive alternative to a colonoscopy. Instead of spending a day drowning in clear fluids and sports drinks, mountains of Jell-O, and enough industrial-strength laxatives to clean out a county’s entire sewer system; all while spending an entire day captive to the bathroom, the Cologuard test allows you to – um, how do I say this delicately – do your business in a box and mail it to a lab. Once received, they engage in some sort of quasi-chemical-medical magic and inform you of any symptoms that might be associated with Colorectal Cancer. Whereby there’s still a certain weirdness associated with sending “yesterday’s post-processed foods,” through the postal service, it’s less icky than a colonoscopy. (Of course, I can’t help thinking about the poor folks in the Cologuard receiving department; who could actually profess, “Same ‘stuff,’ different day.”)
Anyway, in the topsy-turvy world of medical terminology, a “negative” result is desirable, meaning all is clear; while “positive” indicates potential problems. As you might assume, yes, my test came back positive. Me – being me – went through an initial freak-out mode, running around the house with my hair on fire, expecting this to be the beginning of my unavoidable skid into my demise. Truth be told, I can come unglued over unexpected bruises, but that doesn’t take away from the fear.
My doctor said the next step would be a colonoscopy which was slated for three months hence. That was yesterday.
For the last 90 days – again, me being me – every time my stomach gurgled, cramped, or my regular “lavatory habits” were abnormal (no further detail need be provided; use – or don’t use – your imagination), I became frightened. I talked to my family, consulted with my minister, and reached out to a therapist. I even attended a seminar on end-of-life planning (which at my age is a good idea anyway). Since I have a knack that allows me to reveal the dark cloud behind any silver lining, I was positive it was my end-of-days.
Before I resume the narrative, let me save you some concerns if you ever have to take a Cologuard test. I learned that firstly, and most important, the test doesn’t scan specifically for cancer. Positive results indicate that blood was found in one’s stool; that’s all. Granted, no one is excited about that (I assume), but that can be due to all sorts of minor reasons including what one ate. As a result, over 90% of positive results are either what are termed “false positives” or due to polyps, small growths in one’s colon, which can be easily removed during a colonoscopy.