By Craig Meddin, as told to Kyra Meister | April 20, 2022
If someone had told me a hurricane and a global pandemic would get in the way of me getting a colonoscopy, I wouldn’t have believed them. From learning I was lactose intolerant as a middle schooler to cutting gluten and other foods out of my diet throughout my 30s, I had been chasing gastrointestinal issues for years. My doctor recommended I get a colonoscopy, but I chalked up my symptoms to stomach troubles. I never thought it could be cancer.
At the time of my first scheduled colonoscopy, I was only 40 and thinking, “Do I really need this?” But in the middle of my prep, a hurricane was headed to Raleigh, North Carolina, our home. Things were getting cancelled left and right, so I stopped the prep and didn’t pursue getting a colonoscopy until a couple of years later when pandemic restrictions were lifting, my doctor retired, and it came time to find a new one prior to a routine physical.
During my procedure, several polyps were removed, and the largest, which was discolored and cancerous in appearance according to my gastroenterologist—and one-third the width of my colon—would require a colon resection surgery (and quickly). A week later, my doctor confirmed what my family and I had been told to prepare for: a colorectal cancer diagnosis.
It was clear that had I waited any longer for my colonoscopy, my prognosis could have been much worse. Despite the two-year delay, they found my cancer early—imagine if I had continued to dismiss my symptoms and waited until I turned 45? (Forty-five is the recommended age to begin screening for colorectal cancer by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.)
Although you personally might receive a cancer diagnosis, it’s bigger than just you. My cancer diagnosis affected my entire family, and it’s important there is supportive discussion for both your immediate family, and your caregiver too. I’ll never forget my surgeon asking if I had siblings. I answered yes, to which he replied, “You need to call your siblings, your family history has now changed.” You think of family history as what your parents tell you about themselves or your grandparents. I never thought I’d be “the changer of the history.”
After my colon resection surgery, it was confirmed the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes—not the diagnosis we were wanting. It was already Stage IIIB. Once I began chemotherapy, I debated for weeks whether to make a post on social media to share my diagnosis with others, not for pity, but for first-degree awareness. Within a couple of days of sharing, at least a dozen people messaged me to say my story had encouraged them to schedule the colonoscopy they had been putting off. A colonoscopy can help you learn so many things about your body. Despite bloodwork and CT scans, at the end of the day, the only thing that caught my cancer was a colonoscopy. If I kept postponing, I might have never known about my diagnosis until it was too late.
You never want to assume the worst, but you’ve got to take action. Looking back at the symptoms I had been experiencing for the better part of a decade, I know now that they were symptoms of colorectal cancer. Even so, I feel incredibly lucky it was found sooner than later. Early detection saves lives, so listen to your symptoms, don’t be afraid to talk about them, and know that you are your own best advocate when it comes to your personal health.
Did a delayed doctor’s appointment help you discover a diagnosis? We want to hear about how getting your appointment Back on the Books helped you take charge of your health! Share your story with us.