(Spoiler Alert! I wrote this after I had my first colonoscopy two and half weeks ago. At the time, I knew the doctor was able to partially remove a polyp and it was likely pre-cancerous. I now have the results back confirming its pre-cancerous nature but did not contain any malignancy. The remainder of the polyp will be removed some time around my birthday – oh joy! So I am fine, but tinged by this to be more careful in terms of my health and quite thankful to Jean-Marie who insisted I get the colonoscopy in the first place)
Cancer has become a dark shadow that crosses all our paths in one way or another. I have lost my dear friend Dennis to lung cancer, there is my friend Ian who struggled indomitably and successfully through rectal cancer, my friend Jim who lived longer than the odds allowed with melanoma, my father who had prostate cancer that could not save him from the degradations of Alzheimer’s, my beloved brother-in-law Matt who survived Burkitt’s lymphoma, my mother-in-law who had several different types of cancer that wasted this dominant woman, and their are others. We all have our lists. It is a disease that holds no regard for anyone and respects no boundaries. Now is the time for my personal scare.
Just a few days ago, I underwent my door prize for turning fifty – a colonoscopy. I had no expectations going into the procedure; my digestive acumen and cast iron stomach were (at least to me) things of legend. The new anesthesia is miraculous, I was out one moment and alert the next, no time for groggy, no place for incoherence. In recovery my wife and I sat and were greeted by the a nurse who said words we all make fun of but are never thrilled to actually hear, “I have good news and bad news.” She said that the preliminary results were that the polyp (four times larger than the average) which was found and biopsied was likely pre-cancerous. Because it was a flat multi-lobed polyp they were only able to take half of it at this time without risk of compromising the bowel. The rest will be removed later.
Still while the phrase “pre” was absorbed readily, the term “cancer” hung like the big elephant piñata in the room, ungainly swaying back and forth, the sudden ugly and unwanted center of attention. Questions were asked and answered, the gist of which is that the biopsy results will be back in seven to ten business days, and the results will determine when I go back for another scope to remove the remainder of the polyp which is taking up too much room in my life right now. There is the slimmest possibility that surgery would be required but the chance is so remote and not worth my attention until the report is in.
The benefit of the prefix ‘pre’ is that there is far greater breathing room than afforded with it than without it. But the damage is done and the baggage has been placed at my feet. There will not be a doctor’s visit no matter the reason without the echo of that word in the primal recesses of my brain. I cannot remove it from my sweet, sweet wife’s thoughts and vocabulary.
In one instant of time I have become the pre-cancer man. An internal label given by me to a mental image of Dr. Jekyll hoping there will never be a Mr. Hyde, or a rising hominid hoping not to devolve into some destructive ancestor, but I have never done well at worrying about myself, I am much more wired to worry and care for others. It is difficult for me to see beyond the practical implications of the results I have been handed and will be handed. I will adjust my diet; I will drink less whiskey (and this is said with a truly heavy heart) and enjoy more water, I will take care of myself with this too close brush with fate, and that will be that. I cannot, however, not worry about the effect that word has or may have on my wife, family, and loved ones.
Cancer (even the insinuation of cancer) is a pebble that makes large unending waves once it is carelessly tossed into life’s pool. The concentric waves reflect and return to me from my wife and children, from my friends and siblings, setting up a silent and persistent echo in my head. So I present the warning and wake-up call I have received to all I know. I encourage you (as Katie Couric did a dozen years back – only without the video tape) to stay vigil, listen to doctors, and undergo whatever preventative screenings they recommend. It keeps the waves as small as possible.