Friday, November 16, 2007

I don't mean to start a ruckus, but...

I have my colonoscopy scheduled for Monday. Yesterday I was trying to remember the name of the stuff to buy for the prep so I could pick it up at the drugstore. I Googled "colonoscopy prep" and lots of helpful info came up. I found what I was looking for but I also found something else, mentioned on page after webpage that I feel I must address. Time after time I found the same piece of information being disseminated about colonoscopies and I have to say, I just don't agree.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I don't mean to be a troublemaker. "God save the queen", "if it doesn't fit you must acquit" and "mission accomplished" -- I agree 100% with all of that. I'm not looking to be an iconoclast nor do I want to cause any kind of upheaval in generally accepted groupthink, but I feel that I must correct what I see to be a major fallacy in the description of colonoscopies. I will also qualify this by saying that I have only ever has *one* colonoscopy, so it could be that I don't yet have enough experience with them to make this kind of blanket statement, but here goes anyway...

Almost all of the literature I have read about colonoscopies agrees on one fact -- the prep is the worst part of the procedure. Now, I will agree, the prep is *really* bad. You have to drink a chalky, vile liquid that induces what can only be likened to a bad case of food poisoning. But (and again I don't mean to start any kind of trouble here) I feel that the absolute worst part of colonoscopies is the part where they tell you that you have cancer. Now, before you dismiss my assertion out of hand, please finish listening to what I have to say. Firstly, the prep only lasts for one night and the treatment for the cancer lasts for about a year. Also, as a part of the treatment, you must do the prep *again* a few weeks later before the colectomy surgery. Secondly, within 24 hours after the prep, you look and feel the same as before: no scars, no hair loss, no pallid complexion. I *still* can't get that pesky 10 inch surgery scar to clear up. It's really annoying. And finally, while the prep is unpleasant, it can't kill you. You may feel like you want to die after spending 10 hours on the toilet, reading the same Sundance catalog for the 50th time, but you won't actually die. Cancer can, and indeed does, kill people.

So that's my stance. I am going to stick with it until someone can convince me otherwise. Since this is an interactive blog, I know some of you may feel compelled to write in and disagree. You are welcome to do so. This is America and, last time I checked, we are all allowed to have an opinion. But I stand firm -- the worst part of a colonoscopy is being told you have cancer.


Anonymous said...

Ummm... how'd it go?


Cousin Adam said...

So...seems to me that there are a number of ways to respond to this.

1) I don't know if 'iconoclast' really quite captures it, but surely you must realize the importance of trying to reassure frightened people that the part about getting the tube stuck up their butts isn't as horrible as their fears tell them it is.

2) To be precise, the part about being told you have cancer isn't really part of the colonoscopy. So nobody’s misleading anybody.

3) It seems kind of strange that you'd focus on the "it sucked to be told I had cancer" part of the experience and not the "thank god they saved my life" part of it. (Much more on that below.)

4) Saying to people "The prep is the worst part, except, of course, if you have a life-threatening disease. Then the prep is just a walk in the park" would undoubtedly result in fewer people getting colonoscopies, which would be tantamount to murder.

Megan, I'm sorry to have to say this, but there's something kind of pathological about how you speak about the experience that you've been through. Now, we're all entitled to our feelings, and we all need to express them. But it seems as though you've really allowed this to define your life in a way that may have been understandable for a few months, but that you should be moving out of by now. There's something that comes across here that's similar to the way that you still – at the age of 35 – old on to so much rage and sense of victimization towards your mother that you indulge in some pretty cruel behavior towards her (your mother isn't perfect. But I've known her for 10 years longer than you have, and while she can on occasion be a bit of a pain in the ass – as can we all, right? – she's nothing like the monster that you make her out to be).

I think it's time you bucked up a little bit. Life's difficult (as an aside, you should read The Road Less Traveled. Yes, it's a little corny, but there really is some useful stuff there). As you know, I grew up with two parents who hated each other so much -- and were so narcissistic about it -- that they lived on opposite coasts. I had the pleasure five years ago of going to the LA morgue and identifying my freshly-murdered sister -- who's death, BTW, was in no small part a result of the aforementioned narcissism. That's a lot rarer than colon cancer (no drugs, no accepted pathways of sympathy...people just turn away in embarrassment and discomfort. Can you blame 'em?). Even that didn't make me collapse in a puddle of self-pity.

Cancer sucks. My wife (your cousin by marriage, I guess) has to give women -- some as young as their late 20's -- the news that they'll have to have some or all of their breasts removed every day And when they're that young it's generally something like a death sentence, though of course no one really speaks to that. You got a pretty bad dose, and it obviously wasn’t fun to go through, nor is it nice to think about the possibility that it might shorten your life. Ick.

But what seems strange – and pretty unfortunate – to me is that you seem to really reach down into the depths of yourself to some up with flowery descriptions and well-turned phrases to describe your emotions. I can’t escape the feeling that you mine the misery as a means of self-actualization. I mean, it’s certainly understandable that you would have bad feelings. Fear. Resentment. Anger. More fear. But there’s a glorification there, a stubborn holding on to the bad feelings, that just shines through the words. And I’m sorry (again I’m apologizing!) but the heavy in that part of the story isn’t the cancer. It’s the glorification. Self-inflicted.

I’d like to suggest another way to look at things: You’re entitled to nothing in this life. Every breath is a gift. Every happiness a surprise, every interaction an opportunity to do something positive for yourself, your loved ones, a stranger, the planet. Nobody deserves anything, good or bad – things just come and go, without moral import, just another step in the vale of tears. Negative emotions – even when perfectly justifiable, understandable even rational – detract from one’s energy, one’s power, one’s potential, and are therefore to be avoided if at all possible. When it’s not possible, they’re to be digested & passed (no colon needed there!). Maybe even learned from.

You’re a beautiful, amazing, almost (but not quite) perfect expression of millions of years of evolution. You have consciousness, heart, grace, strength – even wisdom (though you may not know it) – in abundance. Each morning, several times a day, and every night when you go to bed you have the choice to process the information that comes to you through the 5 senses we know about – and the one or two others we don’t understand all that well – in a variety of ways. YOU have that power, and you alone – nobody else can really do all that much to influence that part of the system (that isn’t to say that others can’t teach you, but you’re the one that makes the choice).

And that’s what it’s all about: choice. Granted, you didn’t choose to have cancer (I don’t subscribe to those theories that say that we somehow bring disease upon ourselves. There may be something to that, but there’s just so little that we can know or do about it that it’s not worth burdening ourselves with the notion). But you have a HUGE range of choices you can make about how you deal with it. Maybe you need a little chemical intervention to give you a break from the anxiety so you can get your head above water. Nothing wrong with that (don’t let your father steer you wrong on that one. Analysis is all good and well, but it had nothing to offer my sister, and its’ got nothing on a little SSRI or even an amygdala-calmer to help you get a bit of perspective on things). But whatever the pathway, it’s all about remembering that the universe is grand, we’re small, and there really is no center…just a bunch of orbits that we occupy. The question is, always and evermore, which orbit do we decide we want to be in?

You were a beautiful baby, and a brilliant child (smarter than your sister, though she got more in the way of innate social aptitude, so it may have looked like she was the rock star and she may have taken up more space. But you were always the better thinker). I don’t know what happened to you – why you’ve chosen to define yourself as so threatened, so locked in the defensive, so unable to take the high road. But whatever it is, it’s neither final nor dispositive. As I said, it’s all about the choice. You’re the decider (sorry…can’t help re-using social memes. :-D).

You may well dismiss all of this as completely out of line and the ravings of your insane/screwed-up/pathological/asshole cousin. Hell – that might even be completely accurate. But if any of this triggers a spark or any sort, perhaps a hard look in the mirror or a moment of recognition, then it’s all good. You have a 70% (80%? 90%) probability of living to a ripe old age, and if you don’t start to learn to take a little more salubrious view of life’s little (and big…) imperfections and hurdles, you’re going to be a bitter old woman long before you have to be. And that would be a terrible, terrible shame.

With (tough) love,


Cousin Adam said...

One more thing: Upon re-reading I realize I was little quick to breeze through the comment about your mother. When I said "occasionally" I meant just that. 98% of the time she's a pretty cool lady -- empathetic, interested in the world, fun to talk to and a pretty good cook. 98% is a pretty good number as far as it goes -- something we should all aspire to.

I just didn't want the world to think that I somehow don't think the world of my aunt, because I do. She's been very good to me, and she's taken some hard knocks in this blog, so I didn't want to leave that out there. Whatever issues you may have with her, she's always been a hugely wonderful person to me, despite causing the occasional (perhaps 'extremely rare' would be a better choice of words) pain in the ass.

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