When I was in high school, I first saw David’s painting The Death of Marat with the murdered revolutionary in a bathtub. I recall reading that Marat spent so much time in the bath because of a skin condition. In the painting, Marat is holding a letter and a pen and alongside his tub is a makeshift writing desk.
We’d been studying the French Revolution and had seen far gorier art – I guess that’s my excuse for focusing not on the poor dead man but instead on the fact that he’d been writing in the bathtub. I instantly coveted his tub desk and when I got home from school that day, I went hunting for the Amazon.com of the 80’s – our Sears & Roebuck catalogue. I’d certainly spent more time than my family appreciated reading books in the bathtub, but now I could write? Heck ya.
Before I could find where the catalogue had gone to rest after the five of us kids had abused it circling our desired Christmas presents (using different-colored markers, of course), I realized I could just drag one of the kitchen stools into the bathroom and have a little tubside desk, not unlike the unfortunate Marat. Few and far between were the times I could claim the bathroom to myself long enough to enjoy reading — and writing — in the bathtub. Somehow this is STILL far too rare!
That painting of Marat was the first thing to mind as I grabbed the laptop, a few books, my journal, and a TV tray and dragged them into the bathroom along with Gu Roctane electrolyte mix (Strawberry lemonade! nothing red, blue, or purple!) AND, dun dun dun, the GaviLyte prep for tomorrow’s colonoscopy. Ahh, yes, the title, the references… all coming together. As I come apart! Just when I started to worry the stuff wouldn’t work, my tummy made a rumble. Don’t worry. It works.
Why am I writing about colonoscopy prep? Because getting screened for cancer is important and we should normalize it. Yes, a colonoscopy involves something going up your butt. Yes, the prep involves systemic diarrhea. For hours. And? Prostate exams involve penis-handling, mammograms involve boob-smashing, none of this is particularly fun. You know what’s less fun? Yeah, you do.
A few years ago, my insurance company reduced the age at which they pay for screening colonoscopies from 50 to 45. I’m 48 and thought, why wait to get in on the fun? I’m kidding. Both my primary doc and my OBGYN recommended I have one and both said if it were up to them, everyone would start at 45.
I think in years past, the process was quite a bit more unpleasant. (Because this is not a big deal, what I’m – umm, experiencing right now? It’s just like peeing. Except from the butt. And without any warning. Not a good time to go anywhere at all. Channeling Marat.)
I’ve never been particularly nervous about it. For one, I’ve heard Bill Engvall’s comedy bit about his first colonoscopy and if you haven’t? DO. It’s very funny. More important –more influential — is my friend C* who has been getting them since she was younger due to family history. She was very frank and shared all the details that she was awake to report. She said she considers it like “a spa day,” because it’s recommended you just go home afterwards and rest. Her husband waits on her the afternoon / evening after she has hers and she does the same for him when he has his. Probably not something they put on the family holiday card, but still…. awwww.
I’m going to take a moment to assure you that the hands typing on the laptop have not been anywhere near the toilet, other than an occasional mercy flush, followed by a quick shot of hand sanitizer. I will stop typing before I start any cleanup process. Which is probably pointless to begin anytime soon. I just really needed to say that because um… gross.
The CaringBridge blog was always candid and I hope I always write that way, especially about medical stuff, but also about feelings stuff. Yes, you got “peeing from the butt,” and you also get **YAY BONUS NERVES ** because it’s that time of year – irregular mammogram anniversary. End of June through the first 10 days of July is the time frame around a doctor’s appointment for what ended up being a heart murmur diagnosis. That appointment ended with a nurse noting my file that showed it had been 3 years since my last mammogram, so “Let’s get that scheduled, shall we?”
I have been back to that doctor and the nurse on duty helped me figure out which nurse it was. She was there that day and I got to say thank you. THERE WERE TEARS.
From that mammogram was another, then an ultrasound, then a needle biopsy, and on 7/7 I think, lucky 7, the cancer diagnosis. So in my head it’s this time of year these things get diagnosed (I know, that’s stupid) and breast cancer is one thing but colon cancer is totally different. Not so many success stories. A few years ago, colon cancer took my dear colleague Nancy Rase at 35, and a healthier, more vibrant, more lovely person you’d be hard-pressed to find.
Because there wasn’t cancer in my family, I never worried about screenings before. A mammogram was just a boob-smash. Now I am the cancer in my family. I’m a box everyone close to me has to check on every medical form, forever. And even though having one kind of cancer doesn’t mean I’m more likely to get any other kind of cancer, well, I don’t know, it feels that way anyway. Having something inside you that wants to kill you is scary. That it might be there without you knowing it… terrifying.
So that’s why we screen, to know. It’s a privilege, to have insurance that pays for this procedure, for this knowledge. This chance for me to say, at least once every 5 years, that I am totally, truly, not full of shit.
XO go schedule yours.