October 20, 2010
It’s election season. Candidates across the country have been under a microscope, having every detail of their lives examined. Just a few short months ago, my husband – Congressman Jim McGovern – and I were being probed in a different way: by a colonoscope. More about that in a minute; first, let’s travel back in time a bit further….
Last year, both Jim and I turned fifty (yes, the big 5-0). Also, we celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. HUGE milestones. So the question became, how do we properly mark such major life events? We toyed with the idea of a trip or a party, celebrating with close friends and family. But for me, one idea kept resurfacing: dueling colonoscopies.
As executive director of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program, I spend a lot of time raising awareness about steps to prevent cancer, including following screening guidelines. I knew that at age 50, and it was time for us to be screened for colon cancer. When I raised this subject with our families, I learned from Jim’s sister that their grandfather had colon cancer, so Jim was actually a little late in getting this done. People with a family history should be screened earlier than 50. Maybe because Jim’s grandfather was treated long ago and died from something else, no one really talked about his colon cancer. Or perhaps, like in other families, it was considered embarrassing or unseemly to discuss.
But back to our dueling colonoscopies: the first obstacle was to find time. We settled on early August – Congress was in recess, the kids were away at camp, the bathrooms were free and private. All systems were go!
You’ve probably heard that the worst part is the prep. It can be true (check with your gastroenterologist for the best prep method for you). I had to drink the unpleasant tasting liquid (like salty water) until I was uncomfortably bloated. The worst part is that you have to keep drinking the stuff, basically, till your stools run clear and you are finally cleaned out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
But from there it’s a breeze. You go to the hospital, they put you out, you get awakened after a nice little nap and they show you pictures of your colon. Someone has to drive you home, but that’s because of the anesthesia.
Our thrilling conclusions: My colonoscopy was clean and I’m good to go for another 10 years. Jim’s doctor found and removed 2 polyps – one was an adenomatous polyp which, if undetected, could have become cancerous down the road. Given his family history, we are so grateful! He will need to repeat the procedure in five years, but we both agree it’s a small price to pay to prevent colon cancer.