Today I have my 12th colonoscopy. A procedure most aren't recommended to have until they are 50 years old but one I've been having yearly since I was 24 (one year I had 3). With this day comes all sorts of feelings, mostly, I feel thankful.
I am someone who believes wholeheartedly in holistic health and living a preventative. I believe our bodies have the capacity to heal themselves if given the right tools to do so, however, I also believe in the incredible advancements of medical technology. If it wasn't for these, I, along with so many other people would be dead today.
I sit here this morning as I wait for the time to come when my husband will take me in for my procedure and I am also feeling reflective and I thought I'd share with you one of the most life changing days of my life almost 9 years ago.
December of 2004 was a month I will never forget. It was two days after Christmas when I, at the age of 24, went in for my very first colonoscopy. I went to my appointment, starving because I hadn't eaten since noon the previous day, and ready to 'just get it over with,' thinking nothing more then about what I was going to devour when I was done.
My mom and I sat in the waiting room, flipping through the magazines that rested on the table beside us. I couldn't focus enough to read any articles so I just looked at the pictures, making sure to avoid any pages that had food on it. I had no doubt in my mind that everything was fine and this was just a precaution because of my strong family history of cancer.
My brother was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 26 and about three years before that, my mom was diagnosed with endometrial cancer (uterine) and her doctor didn't think it was mere coincidence and recommended that my younger brother and I be screened as well.
So there I sat, waiting in the sterile room full of chairs and magazines and patients coming and going thinking about how ridiculous this was. My brother's cancer was a fluke! 'Old' people get colon cancer. Not twenty-something's.
"Amanda?" a nurse in green scrubs called out.
I politely waved and set my magazine down on the table beside me and bent over to give my mom a kiss on the check.
"See ya in a little bit!" I said as I turned to walk towards the nurse.
"Have a good nap!" my mom said with a slight laugh. I glanced back at her with a faint smile signaling that I definitely planned on it.
A that time, I was someone that had never had much of anything serious happen to me other than having my Adenoids removed when I was three.
The nurse led me back to a room full of beds separated by a curtain. I remember my brother telling me stories of how after the procedure they make you sit in a room with other people and wont let you leave till you pass gas. I was super 'excited' about that and quickly scanned the room to make sure they're were no attractive men around.
I was given a hospital gown and was instructed to take everything off and place my clothing in the bag provided and change into the gown and I did so. Standing next to the bed, draped in an over-sized white frock with blue dots I, for the first time, felt scared and alone. I wanted desperately for the nurse to go get my mom to wait with me but I knew what they would say if I asked. So I sat down on the bed, tucked my legs under the warm blanket they provided and tried to distract myself by thoughts of food instead.
I don't remember much when I came to other then it was really hard to keep my eyes open even after the nurse repeatedly told me that I needed to stay awake so I could get dressed. I lied there with my eyes closed, fighting with all my might to open them, even just long enough to get my velour jumpsuit back on. (This was right about the time they became trendy again. Thanks J-Lo!)
I managed to get the velour pants on and sat back down, the hospital gown falling off my shoulder. So this is what it feels like to do drugs I remember thinking. Glad I never took up that extracurricular activity. I willed everything inside of me to open my eyes, giving myself a little pep talk when I heard my doctor tell the nurse that she needed to go get my mom and bring her back to me so we could all talk and I remember thinking, "that can't be good."
And it wasn't.
We sat in a little office, the details of which I can't remember. I leaned up against my mom because I was still incredibly groggy from the sedation and I took in bits and pieces of the conversation. "Large polyp, biopsy, cancer, and surgery" were the words that stuck out most in my head while my mom took everything in so she could help me put the pieces of my fate together later that evening.
I remember the drive home, eyes closed. "What the hell just happened?"
Later that evening my family came over to my mom and step-dad's house and we filled them in on what happened. One of the things I love most about my family is the way we come together for each other and instead of crying and feeling sorry for ourselves, we simply embrace and find humor instead. We told lots of butt and fart jokes and laughed and I felt safe for the first time in hours.
About a week later my mom, dad and I went in for the results of my biopsy. I can confidently say that the week leading up to that was one of the most terrifying weeks of my life. We sat in another sterile room waiting for my doctor to share the results with us. I remember being extremely nervous and I remember what I was wearing but I can't recall anything else other then hearing that I would need to have surgery to remove a portion of my colon and a portion of my rectum and that I didn't 'officially' have cancer but it wasn't NOT cancer. It's the gray area that always gets ya.
From there we headed to meet the man who would preform my surgery. One of the best Colon and Rectal Surgeons in the greater Seattle area and right away I felt safe in his care. We discussed my options and he told me what he thought was the best way to proceed and then we asked a million questions. I placed all my trust in him and we scheduled my surgery for a week and a half later on January 14th.
When I said earlier that the week leading up to getting the results of my biopsy was the worst week of my life, I lied. This week and a half was. I tried to continue on as normal while taking care of the things that needed to be taken care of before I had major abdominal surgery and months of recuperation. I postponed started my second quarter of college till the spring, talked to my employer and got time off work and spent much needed time with family and friends but not much could keep my mind off the inevitable.
January 14th came slowly and on the day of my surgery I was overwhelmed by questions I never thought to ask and feeling uncertain and weary. What if something goes wrong? What if the anesthesia doesn't work and I'm 'asleep' but can feel EVERYTHING? What if he makes a mistake? What if, God-forbid, I don't wake up at all?
As we drove to the hospital I sat in the backseat of my parents car and pulled up my shirt to my belly button to expose my belly. This was going to be the last time my stomach would look 'normal.' After today I would have a long scar and everything would be different.
And it has been. My life has taken such a different turn over the last nine years. My health is one of my my number one priorities because of everything I've been through. From someone who use to abuse, neglect and put my body through hell I've learned, slowly, just how important it is to treat your body kindly and with love and respect.
I want to say this to you, especially if you are facing a challenging health (or life) situation of your own. You can get through anything. It may seem overwhelming and scary, confusing and so big right now you don't even know where to begin but you CAN get through it.
Our bodies can heal when they are giving the opportunity to do so.
We just have to make the choice to treat them with the love instead.