I realized as I handed the book over to shy Dr. Shim and responded to his meek “for me?” with a resounding “Of course~ You’re part of the story you know”, that though he is in fact a part of the story, he’s not actually written into the book. Partly because it made sense to start with the infamous moment when I discovered I was stage IV, and in other part because he was the messenger and I wanted to shoot the messenger. So, let me touch an equally important subject to facing cancer, which is recognizing the signs and not waiting until it gets to stage IV before you cry for help. In other words, do as I say, not as I do (fer fkssake).
So, what are the signs and symptoms of colon cancer? I’m sure it can be different for some, but here’s my story: for about a year, I had some signs of trouble. I had cramps when I wasn’t expecting them, I was beyond tired, sometimes to the point where caffeine or one of those energy drinks had little or no effect. I’d be trying not to nod off in the middle of conversation at work. That, and I thought my poo looked a little reddish. Not that I go around looking at my poo all the time, but let’s face it, sometimes you look. Especially when you feel like you’re passing a gallstone, you want to make sure some alien creature didn’t drop down into the bowl (think Steven King). So, I went in for a physical again (I’d been in a couple times before for exhaustion thinking my thyroid prescription needed adjusting) and this time she ran other tests. The blood work was normal by the way. IMPORTANT NOTE: Just because the blood work is normal doesn’t mean you don’t have a tumor/cancer.
She’d already had a chest x-ray done (thinking it was my constant smoking that was getting me down), so the next step was a colonoscopy. I went in for the consult, but the doctor was rather cavalier about it all saying I was a bit young for it (only by a few years) and that the signs I was exhibiting often were related to the effects of years of bad eating habits over the years and poor exercise. The blood can be explained away by hemorrhoids which are common among the aging and an aftereffect of pregnancy and cramping could be due to a weaker system unable to handle the digestion of wheat and other foods tough to digest. Though I was slightly offended by the implication that I needed to face I was aging, I still preferred his response to my instincts and since it was a $300 co-pay for the colonoscopy, I decided he was right, I was just avoiding the reality that I am getting old and canceled the test. I remember now that the woman I spoke to from that clinic had such a serious tone to her voice nearly pleading with me not to cancel and that they have payment options and I shouldn’t take it lightly, but I was pretty immature in my view of the whole colonoscopy thing and was glad for the escape hatch.
I started eating lighter, exercising more, doubled my caffeine intake and that seemed to improve matters over the next few months except my face kept breaking out. From a couple around the face to some serious pubescent welts. I went in for a facial every few days in a desperate attempt to resolve it, until one woman who was working on me said that breakouts around the cheeks are a strong indicator of intestinal issues…ahaaaa. So, I went back to my general doc and asked for that colonoscopy consult only this time I’d choose the doc. I went to their website and looked at the faces of each of my options and immediately decided on Dr. Shim. He had an honest face and seemed the type to be focused on the task at hand and not chiding me for being lazy or denying my so-called abusive lifestyle.
When I called them to make the appointment I told them which doctor I wanted to see and the woman on the phone informed me (with an almost parental tone) she’d need to ask the first doctor if that was alright with him. I told her she could ask all she wanted, but I’d be choosing which doctor performs an invasive procedure on my body. I’m making a point here. Sometimes you need to be really assertive. Just because someone works in healthcare doesn’t mean they are empathetic or are fully knowledgeable of the situation or your needs. Some people are just plain snot boxes, taking their jobs and the power it yields them to a level incomprehensibly out of balance with their station in life. I’m just saying…
The point of this story is that my body was showing me all the signs of trouble. It was my head that wouldn’t listen to it and I chose to listen to a bunch of strangers instead because they were willing to tell me something I’d rather hear. If your body is showing signs that something is wrong then go get every test possible done and keep track of all the symptoms. I have a tendency to forget (even before chemo brain) and so it goes to show that it’s difficult enough for a doctor to diagnose you based on a short conversation and some blood work results, especially so if they don’t have all the facts. I think it’s been our history to put it all on the healthcare providers and well, just think of how much healthier everyone would be if we pitched in and took an active part?
So, let em call you a hypochondriac-pain in the ass. It’s your body, your life. Just be sure that while you’re paying attention and being all assertive about covering all ground to get to the source of what’s troubling your body that you are not forgetting to enjoy life despite it all and that you are doing your part to keep your body in good working order. You don’t have to go all granola or vegan (unless it’s your desire to), just let things like the supersizing of the fries be the exception and not the norm. That’s an excellent place to start.
One change I made as soon as my brain did the “ahaaa” linking the face breakout with the (what I was sure was a) tumor in my guts, I asked the doc for Wellbutrin and I used it to break my 20-something year habit of smoking. I didn’t want to. I loved smoking. To this day if someone said it was now safe to (and not so stinky) I’d do it in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t go on crying wolf while poking a stick at it now could I. The other change I’ve made is that instead of 3-4 double lattes a day, I switched to mostly green or earl gray tea (both considered excellent natural detoxers) throughout the week and A latte a couple times a week. Mmmmm coffeeeee…I think that’s my cue to walk to the cafe down the street. See, look at me little miss two birds with one stone. They say move the body 30 minutes a day and there you go.
Next, I’ll re-live the colonoscopy experience for your education and entertainment. I’ve just been told it’s now considered preventive and covered by most insurances at 100% so whoohoo, hop on colo-train peeps~