Published on August 31, 2021

The View from my Seat

I had plenty of bad excuses to delay for years that dreaded colonoscopy

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I had been diagnosed with a rare spinal cord disorder that probably meant I would never walk again.

So, I wasn’t in the best of moods when the phone rang several days later.

It was a call from the office of a doctor, a doctor with no connection to my spinal cord disorder. My gastroenterologist was calling to remind me it was that time again, time for the dreaded colonoscopy.

I don’t recall the exact words I rudely shouted into the phone, but they went something like this:
“I have a bigger problem than that at the moment. I can’t walk. I will take care of my colon later.”
And hung up the phone.

That was back in 2012. I procrastinated for nine years before having that colonoscopy last month.
I am not sure why I dilly-dallied. In the past I had followed screening guidelines and had either a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy at regular intervals. I never had a problem … either with the preparation or the end (pardon me) result.

Part of my hesitation was being physically and emotionally worn out by my damaged spinal cord.
Plus, the thought of rushing around - in a wheelchair no less - during the “colon cleansing” was certainly off-putting.

Regardless, I was overdue. And the more overdue I became, the more I worried about colon cancer.

I would stress every time a Cologuard television commercial reminded me of my negligence. I would get anxious when hearing about someone I knew becoming one of the more than 50,000 people who die each year from one of our nation’s deadliest cancers.

I used stupid excuses to justify my reluctance to undergo the colonoscopy. Here are a few of them with explanations of why they are stupid.

EXCUSE #1: I was terrified the doctor would find something.

According to Dr. Heath Beckham, this is a common excuse. Beckham, who has performed more than 5,000 colonoscopies, argues that if something is there it needs to be found.

He stresses that a colonoscopy is not just a diagnostic procedure but a preventative one. By removing polyps (abnormal growths) before they turn into cancer, you are preventing future problems.

The good news is that colon cancer is treatable and curable when caught early.

As Dr. G.S. Ramesh of Digestive Health Associates says on the Memorial Herman website: “The truth is no one should die from the disease. It is the only cancer where doctors have 10 years to detect it from polyp to cancer. By removing polyps, we are removing the risk of cancer.”

EXCUSE #2: I was safe because my ancestors didn’t have colon cancer.

According to a Memorial Hermann website, 70 percent of colon cancers found today have no family history. The American Cancer Society recently updated its colon screening guidelines and recommends beginning screening at age 45, but those with a family history may need earlier screening.

EXCUSE #3: The preparation for the colonoscopy is awful.

There is little doubt that the “prep” for a colonoscopy is unpleasant. It is, however, unavoidable. Emptying the colon is a key requirement for a successful procedure. Polyps and lesions can be missed if the bowel preparation is not up to par. Dr. Ramesh says preparation methods have improved.

EXCUSE #4: My stools weren’t bloody.

Bleeding often is not evident. It is usually only large polyps that bleed, says Dr. Ramesh. By then, cancer may have spread beyond the intestinal wall and into lymph nodes or other organs.

Enough with the excuses. At some point, I decided the colonoscopy would be less stressful than worrying about it.

I also remembered advice from a doctor at TIRR Memorial Hermann when I completed therapy there nine years ago.

“Take care of yourself,” he said. “Remember, just because you had a bad break and became disabled doesn’t mean you are immune from other health problems.”

So, I had the colonoscopy. The doctor found and removed a pre-cancerous polyp.

I am glad I didn’t wait longer. I hope you don’t.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)