A Simple Matter of Life and Death

A friend of mine passed away last summer. She was one of those people who could light up a room with her smile. She was funny, considerate, intelligent, a favorite Facebook friend, and now is dearly missed. She had contracted colon cancer. This is considered the second leading cause of death due to cancer, but is actually quite preventable with early detection.

Even so, I’ve been procrastinating on having this crucial procedure, called a colonoscopy, for just about 16 years. It’s recommended that you get your first colon cancer screening when you hit the half-century. When I turned 50, I kept thinking “maybe next year.” Suddenly I was 65 and still putting it off.

In February I went in for a “wellness exam,” and the doctor said his goal is to lose zero patients to colon cancer. I had to have a colonoscopy, or change doctors. So I made an appointment at Bellin Health in Green Bay, for March 6 at 9 am. I could have no solid food on the 5th, and was to drink an entire (huge) jug of nastiness (colon clearing cocktail) the evening before my appointment.

This is the part so many friends had warned me about. The idea is to remain relatively close to a toilet until the effects of the laxative wane. Thankfully, there is a limit, and you can get a good night’s sleep.

On the morning of March 6, with a certain amount of trepidation I approached the office of the gastroenterologist and presented my insurance cards. Then it was off to the prep room, where I got the entirely new experience of changing into one of those hospital gowns with the well-ventilated back.

The nurses were very helpful, explaining each step I’d be experiencing. I got my IV line and the doctor came in to ask whether I might have any questions. Then I was wheeled to the inner sanctum where the procedure was to be done.

This is where it got surreal. I was conversing with the nurse and started to feel a little lightheaded. She directed me to properly lay on the bed for the doctor. As we spoke, I closed my eyes momentarily and was about to answer her. I opened my eyes and noticed she was suddenly gone. Instead, my wife, Mary, was sitting on a chair. I asked when the procedure was to going to start. Amazingly it was already over, I was in the recovery room, and nearly an hour had passed. To my surprise, the colonoscopy was “a piece of cake.” This is what I’d been avoiding all these years?

Given the benefit of this procedure, as compared to the danger of not doing it, it’s a no brainer. The doctor examines the wall of the colon and if a polyp is found, simply removes it. The nurse explained that they had found a polyp (an abnormal growth) that appeared to be benign, but they would do a biopsy just to be sure. Trouble is, this is where colon cancer can start. There are no good kinds of cancer, but this is one you really don’t want.

Recovery is quick, and as I walked back to the car, I was struck by the lack of discomfort. It was as if nothing had happened. I was supposed to take it easy the rest of that day, but could resume normal activities, with the caveat that if I noticed any symptoms I was to call the doctor’s office immediately.

A nurse called and verified the polyp was benign. Now they want me to get another procedure in five years. Next time I won’t be such a chicken.

Do yourself a favor, and get this easy, painless cancer screening sooner than later.

Green Bay native Dale Goodner served as chief naturalist for Peoria Park District and retired as supervisor of Environmental Interpretive Services. He and his wife Mary now live in Algoma. They serve as volunteer tour guides for the Door County Land Trust, and serve on the board of Friends of Whitefish Dunes. He says he owes a debt of thanks to Roy Lukes, “tagging along with him at the Ridges back in the late ’60s turned out to be a darn good career boost.”