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Warrior Wednesday: From Fundraiser Extraodinaire to Colonoscopy Novice

We first came to know Toni Hudzina at the Twin Cities Get Your Rear in Gear last May when she was the top fundraiser at the event.  She lost her mom to colon cancer last year and has been a tireless supporter of Get Your Rear in Gear and colon cancer causes. Toni recently underwent her first colonoscopy and was happy to share her story.  Thanks Toni!

My First Colonoscopy, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Drank A Gallon of Laxative.

By Toni Hudzina

Screening colonoscopies are now a part of my life.  My mother died last year from advanced Stage IV colon cancer, and I found out during her illness that there is much GI disease on her side of the family.  It’s safe to say I wasn’t looking forward to this, but I knew it was necessary. One of the lovely requisites of being a 40-something adult – right up there with flushing the water heater or paying property taxes.

I admit I was nervous about my first colonoscopy this past August.  Not about the procedure itself, but about the results.  My mother’s cancer had been particularly silent and particularly aggressive.  Even though I didn’t have any symptoms, I was worried about what they would find.  Logically I knew the odds were low that I had cancer, but worry overtook logic.  And I felt I had waited long enough, almost a year after her death.

So I went off to my local GI for my initial checkup and procedure scheduling.  His staff was very thorough during this process, and gave me a to-do list for my colonoscopy.

Now it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me – I love a good checklist.  My favorite app on my smart-phone isn’t a game or social network, it’s  2Do.   So to be handed a checklist for my colonoscopy prep?  I wouldn’t say it made me blissfully happy, but it did make me feel like I could handle my first-ever colonoscopy. There was a checklist – how hard could this be?

Silly me.  I started calling it “The Checklist of Doom”.

It started with:

  • “One Week Before:  Pick up Laxative from Pharmacy.”

the_jugAdmit it:  you’ve heard about the laxative.  It may be one of the major reasons you don’t get a colonoscopy in the first place.  And these feelings are completely reinforced when you pick up the laxative prescription at the pharmacy.  Because you’re not given a little discreet vial of pills.  Oh no – you are handed an empty gallon-sized jug. Well, not completely empty: there’s a solid visible layer of powdered laxative at the bottom.

The pharmacist helpfully told me I had my choice of flavor packets to make it taste better.   And that refrigeration made it easier to swallow.  That all went in one ear and out the other, because I was staring at the “helpful” fill line, placed distractingly near the top of the jug.

I know my GI wanted to make sure I had the laxative in plenty of time for my prep day. But because I  had succumbed to the compulsive need to obey the checklist, now I had an entire week to contemplate this semi-clear plastic jug with its helpful fill line.  The included flavor packets stuck to the top didn’t help – while Lemon-Lime, Orange, Cherry and Pineapple are generally appealing, I was personally hoping for something along the lines of Chocolate-Kahlua Milk Shake.

So I did what any sane person would do: I propped up some cooking magazines on it for camouflage and tried to ignore the miniature white elephant in my kitchen for the next few days.

So the first item on my colonoscopy check list was now ticked off – I was feeling like such an awesome patient and on top of the situation.  Having made the check mark, I obviously felt the need to  look at Item #2:

  • “Three Days Out: Start a low-fiber diet.”

Most articles talk about the day-before prep, not anything three days out.  (The instructions on the Gallon Jug of Intestinal Distress said to stop eating only 4 hours before – nothing about multi-day dietary changes.) My husband had even had a colonoscopy performed a few years ago by the same GI, and he hadn’t gone through this.

But the nurse explained to me that they had changed their procedure since then to make the prep more effective – no high-fiber things in the system that would be difficult to expel.  Fair enough, but as that third-day-out approached, my pantry and refrigerator contents were mocking me.

Fresh berries from the Farmer’s Market.  Crudité.  Apples.  Kashi GoLean Cereal. Popcorn. Gherkins.  And olives.  Olives.  OLIVES.  I love olives – I could easily live on Kalamatas, goat cheese and Triscuits if you let me.  But for the next few days, these were alimenta non grata.  So I ended up bouncing around the grocery store like a pinball, referring to a low-fiber diet pulled up on my smart-phone, looking for the opposite of the high-fiber things currently inhabiting my kitchen.  Ultimately I just decided to get some ramen, macaroni and cheese, and my first-ever canned chicken breast and canned green beans.  Not terribly yummy, but definitively fit the over-cooked and low-fiber bill I was supposed to follow.

Shopping completed, I now had two days to ignore the checklist; even checklist-happy me was pleased about that.  But the dreaded “Day Before” rolled around, and so, the checklist was exhumed from its hiding place inside a La Cucina Italiana. Two items were required to start my day.

  • “Morning before: Start a clear-liquid diet.”
  • “Morning before: Mix laxative and chill.”

Getting the worst over with, I removed the jug from its Bon Appétit kitchen blind, poured in the orange flavor packet, added a gallon of water, “shook vigorously,” and deposited it in my refrigerator.  To try and keep my mind off the Gallon Jug of Short-Lived Water Weight Loss now staring me in the face, I made some cups of Lime Jell-O.  (Usually, I’m a Black Cherry kind of girl, but I had to avoid red and purple food coloring to avoid having the walls of my intestine possibly appear red, which would hide any bleeding.)

My one consolation was that at least I understood a clear-liquid diet – no more confusing low-fiber for me. I knew what I was allowed to consume. Ginger ale, water and tea are in my normal rotation.  Broth, clear juices and Gatorade, not so much, but these were better than nothing. (I did find myself muttering “Beef Broth – It’s What’s For Dinner.”)

Was I done with the prep-day checklist?  Not by a long-shot. Next item:

  •         “12 Noon: Take Dulcolax.”

Insult to injury for certain, but trying to maintain my awesome patient attitude (but mostly, not anxious to go through this process again anytime soon with an incomplete cleanse), I complied.  While swallowing the Dulcolax precisely at noon, the next item caught my eye:

  • “4 pm: Start drinking laxative.  Drink 8 ounces every 15 minutes until all laxative is gone or you have clear liquid stool.”

Even for a woman who drinks water out of 24-ounce glasses, this was daunting.  I decided to stop drinking after my lunch of chicken broth so my stomach wouldn’t get too upset with that much liquid.

At 3:45, I set myself up in the bedroom with a small checklist of my own.  Large cooler and ice packs to keep gallon jug cool?  Check.  A few cans of ginger ale to rinse out my mouth?  Check.  75 pound Bulldog locked downstairs so she couldn’t get in between me and the bathroom? Triple check.

At 4 pm (or as I called it, “The Point of No Return”), I poured my first glass.  Over the years I had heard people discuss how horrible the stuff tasted.  While I had a hopeful second or two where I could definitely smell the orange flavoring, I decided afterwards that was just a bizarre practical joke.  It wasn’t bad, per se, but it smelled like Orange Crush and tasted like flat salt water with only a drop or two of Orange Crush mixed in.  It was also a little foamy…and not in a gourmet root beer kind of way. But overall it actually wasn’t too bad. Especially since I rinsed my mouth out with ginger ale afterwards.  I could do this – what was the big deal?

As none of the expected laxative results actually occur for an hour or so, I decided to read a book to kill some time.  As it turns out, George R. R. Martin discusses food in vivid detail in “A Game of Thrones,” and reverting to a stand-by of Harry Potter left me wondering whether J.K. Rowling had a compulsive need to use the phrases “treacle tart,” “pumpkin pasty,” “cauldron cake,” and/or “chocolate frog” at least once a chapter.  All the magazines I’d brought up to the bedroom to read (i.e. – not my cooking ones) featured glossy ads with beautifully photographed food.  My bedroom TV was tuned to The Cooking Channel and the batteries for the satellite remote were dead.  Distraction obviously wasn’t on the menu.

Image is provided courtesy of Anne Taintor

Image is provided courtesy of Anne Taintor

I’ll spare you the biological details of the “cleansing”.  It takes a few hours, you will feel some “discomfort,” and you’ll still have to go for an hour or two after you’ve finished the laxative.  Also – even though the label recommends you drink each glass very quickly, don’t.  Unless you love nausea and want your own Exorcist Pea Soup Moment. Which means you get to extend the process.  My awesome patient attitude had now literally been flushed down the toilet.

After I was done, I had some more broth and ginger ale then went to bed, secure in my knowledge I was nearing the bottom of the checklist.   Surprisingly, I wasn’t really hungry – I think my body was too distracted by the abuse I’d just put it through and was just glad to be taking in something that wasn’t laxative solution.

The morning finally arrived and the last items on my checklist presented themselves:

  • “Morning of procedure: Do not drink anything 4 hours previous to procedure.”
  • “Show up 90 minutes before your scheduled procedure time.”

No problem on both of those.  I was up early out of nerves, and those same nerves meant I probably couldn’t have choked down a glass of water.  My husband (a.k.a. my “responsible driver”) and I arrived at the surgical facility nice and early.  Where they obviously had their own checklist.  I surrendered.

The staff was super-nice.  I was registered, weighed, poked and prodded, given a medical gown to wear (with a nifty heating vent, not really necessary in August) and set up with an IV in very short order.  My husband was fetched from the lobby, the privacy curtains closed around my bay, and we were then left alone for the next half hour or so.  As I wasn’t in the mood to talk, I let my husband fiddle with his smart-phone while I counted the squares on the curtain fabric surrounding my bed.  I decided that there’s a rule that states all hospital curtains must contain a shade of pink close to Pepto-Bismol.

As for the procedure?  I was rolled across the hall into the procedure room, my doctor made sure I didn’t have any last minute concerns, they asked me to roll on my left side, injected the anesthesia drugs into my IV, and the next thing I remember I was being rolled out of the procedure room into a recovery room.  I’m a bit hazy on that – my husband informs me I was talking non-stop, very rapidly, and free-association.  Hopefully I was being amusing and not embarrassing – like, say, going on about checklists.

After I had shaken off the anesthesia and signed a bunch of papers, I was free to go with my “responsible driver.” (My husband got a kick out of that – he thought that was a pretty big assumption.)  A plain turkey sandwich had never tasted so good.  And later that night I emptied out the olive jar.

As for the results: a single tiny polyp was removed and biopsied, and everything else looked good.  The polyp was an adenoma, the type that starts out benign but is considered to be pre-cancerous if left to its own devices.  I am actually happy with this result – while not a clean bill of health, I do know now that I am in an “at-risk” group, and I can get screened every 3 years instead of 5.  Which means I can hopefully stay ahead of any colon cancer trying to rear its ugly head – the point of this whole thing.

I’m sure in 3 years when I’m staring down the Gallon Jug of Official Olympic Sponsor of the Bathroom Sprint Team I won’t be quite so sunny about it, but deep down, I’ll know I’m doing the right thing.  And there will be that heavenly post-procedure turkey sandwich to look forward to.

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