What It Really Feels Like to Have a Colonoscopy

(Photo: Exact Sciences)

You probably did not wake up this morning thinking you would be reading about colonoscopies -- we know, not a great subject matter to approach before your morning coffee.

What to expect, how is it going to feel -- do I need to be near a bathroom? There are so many questions and potentially awkward moments, but there is nothing awkward about a procedure that can save your life. Colorectal cancer is growing at an alarming rate among young adults, ages of 20 to 34, and 35 to 49.

Our Womanista founder, Cassie Kelley, knows first hand about the importance of the importance of colonoscopies, "I lost my father to colorectal cancer in December 2013. He was diagnosed Stage 4 in September 2009 and from that point on cancer was part of my life. One of the hardest things for me to accept about my dad's illness is that he canceled his routine colonoscopy - twice. That minor procedure could have detected a very treatable cancer early and possibly saved his life." 

Symptoms

It’s never easy to talk to your doctor about your functions in the bathroom, we hear ya! But according to Dr. Bilchik, every study has shown that having a colonoscopy and removing polyps is the best way to prevent colon cancer. What you want to look out for is dark, maroon stools that don’t go away. Bright red, sporadic bleeding is likely a sign of another uncomfortable condition: hemorrhoids. If you aren’t sure, talk to your doctor, especially if you have a family history of colon cancer. Cassie urges, "if you have a history of colorectal cancer or are over 50 years old, please, please don't hesitate to have a colonoscopy. Schedule it now (like, now...we'll wait)."

The Prep

Like Cassie, Molly from New York was just 27 when she was advised to get a colonoscopy because of her family history. Like many people, she’d heard horror stories about the prep. “The day before the procedure you are only allowed to consume clear liquids—teas, water, Gatorade, broths, no solid food of any kind, no dairy…basically nothing you can’t see through.”  

The night before a colonoscopy, you will take a combination of tasteless, over-the-counter drugs to “cleanse the system.” Cassie  explains, "the prep is a little meh (just stay close to your toilet for the evening, but no biggie)" and Molly agreed, “to be honest, I had prepared myself for the worst, but I didn’t experience any pain or discomfort and was able to pass everything I needed to. Overnight I did have to get up a few times to hit the bathroom and was a tad groggy in the morning, but it wasn’t a big deal. For reference, I didn’t feel even close to as bad as I do when I have a typical hangover.” 

The Procedure

The next morning, Molly thought she’d be starving, but says she felt okay heading into her procedure, despite her doctor running late. Then it was go time. “I got my hospital gown on, was prepped by a nice nurse, and then was visited by both the anesthesiologist and the attending fellow who would be assisting with the procedure. [I was] happy to see that they were all women.”

Molly admits the procedure room was a little cold, and things moved fast, but her nurses did their best to reassure, and keep her comfortable. “I remember them telling me they were putting the anesthesia in the IV and that I would feel some warmth, but I was out before I felt it.” The next thing she knew, it was over. 

The Results

In Molly and Cassie's case, they didn’t find anything. Most patients who are given a clean bill of health, are advised to repeat the procedure in 5 to 10 years. If your doctor finds a polyp and it’s biopsied, your results should be available in about 5 days.

The Recovery

Molly expected to eat a huge meal when she got home, but didn’t feel well enough to down the burger, onion rings and milkshake as she’d planned. “That night and the day after, I had some sensitivity in my gut, back, and bottom, but no pain—just a little reminder of the events of the previous day. I was bloated from the air they use to clear the way for the camera, but no uncontrollable gas, running to the bathroom, or anything like that.” Beyond that, the procedure is such a small step in fighting a larger battle that Molly and Cassie both agree is essential.

Cassie goes on to say, "I can assure you, that one little procedure that takes less than an hour is a lot more pleasant than walking through chemotherapy yourself or with a loved one (trust me, I've done both - I would take a billion procedures over walking through chemo with a loved one, every single time)." We have the ability to fight this, Womanistas, and the statistics with colon cancer are simple - early detection is the greatest tool we have to fight this disease.  

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