Say whaaat? If that's what happens, I'm not going. I'm not getting a colonoscopy.
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The letter arrived in the mail for my first Pap test a few years ago. It felt a bit scary to think that I was now eligible to be screened for cervical cancer in the U.K. as part of the national cervical cancer screening program.
I thought about asking Jill, a friend what it was like. Her response was not what I expected.
“That’s disgusting! Just don’t do it,” she replied.
Now, what to do. Should I get tested? What if it really was that bad? But somehow I knew I should go, and I did.
The first cervical cancer screening test
It as only a few years later working in healthcare that I understood how tactless my friend’s words were when I asked about Pap testing. Each year, many young women die of cervical cancer because it was not detected earlier. Women in those days were screened from the age of 25, and evidence from studies showed that if they went for their first test, they were more likely to turn up for regular screening. That can save lives. Today, younger women get an HPV vaccine with Pap tests later in their lives, but it is still essential. Instead of discouraging someone from a screening test, how about saying something supportive like, “I’ve heard it is not that bad,” or, “The nurses are really good at explaining everything.”
What to wear
So one day I had my appointment at the doctor’s office for a mammogram. That’s important to me, as Mom had breast cancer. I don’t enjoy it but know it’s a necessary test. Imagine my horror sat in the waiting room when the receptionist looked over and asked jokingly, “Have you got your best underwear on for this?” It was awful someone even asked, but it got me trying to remember what I had put on that morning — and by now it was too late anyway. And what if I didn’t have the money for good bras? How would I be judged? I was sure I had my greyest-looking bra on too.
The truth is that medical staff are not fazed by what you wear to an appointment. They are just pleased you turned up and want to help. Staff working in mammography and endoscopy suites have seen it all before and really aren’t fazed.
The joke that backfired
John, one of my friends, was invited to a colonoscopy appointment recently. The preparation for this is not a pleasant one, as it involves taking lots of laxatives beforehand to get a clean colon. He was terrified — and why? Because someone had told him he would be incontinent on the examination table. “You’ll be pooping on the table,” they laughed. Well, he was mortified, and who wouldn’t be? It is bad enough having to have the test. When I saw him, he was on the verge of not going at all. “If that’s what happens, I’m not going,” he said, “I just can’t face doing something like that.”
When someone has a colonoscopy, they do take laxatives to get a clean colon, but by the time they are at the hospital, there are no more feces to poop. This means they are unlikely to be incontinent during the procedure. And as for farting — this can happen, but as there are no feces, it does not smell. The staff in the colonoscopy units are not fazed by any of this and are there to help the patient. They know only too well what having late-onset bowel cancer means for someone and are on a mission to detect the disease early. But there are some things that you should not expect at a colonoscopy.
It is sometimes all about the attitude
The experiences I encountered through cervical cancer screening taught me a lot about attitudes to an important subject. While none of us looks forward to screening it is there for a reason and really important. If someone chooses to go for cancer screening, don’t put them off. Imagine if you had discouraged them and they went to on to have untreatable cancer. So be supportive if someone decides they are having screening. If you don’t want to go, that’s up to you, but don’t discourage others crass talk be the reason.