Monday, July 13, 2015

A shiny pink colon

I know a thing or two about colons, both grammatically and physiologically, and I'm a big fan of each. In writing, a well-placed colon makes us stop and pay attention to what's coming. It's dramatic and sometimes even a bit sexy. Not so with the other colon. Although it can make us stop and pause (and run to the nearest toilet), it's rarely dramatic nor sexy. Let's face it: Our colons are poop pushers, and nobody really likes to talk about poop. (That is, unless they are any of the three males living in my house.*)

My mom died way too young because she was embarrassed to go to her doctor when she started having poop problems. I'm still so angry with her about that, 20 years later! Even more, she didn't just die, she really suffered. For years. First through painful surgeries, then the indignity of a colostomy bag, then countless rounds of chemotherapy that left her bald and weak. And let's not even talk about the pain she endured as cancer ravaged every one of her systems in her final months. These things were not her fault, I know, but my sadness and anger over her death only deepen when I think that it could have been prevented, either by her going to the doctor sooner or by the doctor asking the right questions about her damn poop.

Now I have a colonscopy every 5 years to make sure my own colon remains shiny and pink and healthy. In between those checks, I'm like a poopologist, paying meticulous attention to how many times I go to the bathroom in a day, size, shape, color -- you get the gist. I even ask my husband and children embarrassing questions about their poop, and I don't get at all upset when a kid calls me into the bathroom yelling "Mommy! You gotta see this one!" I eat as much fiber in a day as possible, sneaking oat bran into pancakes or beans into, well, everything. (And yes, I take Beano so as not to embarrass myself and all those around me.) And I drink water like it's my job because I hear colons really appreciate that.

Yet as today's colonoscopy -- my third -- edged closer, I found myself tensing. This creepy, hateful voice in the back of my head kept whispering "she was only 4 years older than you." I would push that voice away, punch it in its ugly face, but it sneaked up more than once in just-before-sleep thoughts or even a couple times in the middle of reading a manuscript or checking my emails. Like a mosquito buzzing viciously around my ear. Even yesterday as I was going through the "prep" (which is a polite way of saying super-intense laxative-induced toilet-hell), I found myself thinking, oh God, what if they find something? What if I have to have surgery or go through chemo? I can't be sick to my stomach like this for more than a few hours! Nobody in this house can take care of getting their own snacks or remember to scoop the litter box, for Chrissake, I CAN'T DIE! (Yes, I spiral like that -- from medically prescribed and controlled diarrhea to brutal, cancerous death in minutes.)

We all know our fragile little lives can change permanently and incomprehensibly in an instant. We read all the time about dramatic and horrible things like car crashes, running accidents, or random violence that cut young lives short. But what about occasional dizziness or difficulty pooping...things we totally don't think about in our ultra-busy days? It happened to my mom. In the last two months alone, two of my dearest friends have been diagnosed with brain tumors, seemingly out of thin air. How is that possible? One minute you're planning a birthday cruise to Alaska, the next you're on a surgical table with someone poking in your brain. What the hell? And let's not forget that I sat with Honey in the hospital just a month ago, mere hours after a glorious sunshiny hike along the Maine coast, wondering if this was the bout that would do him in.

In a blink, a snap, before you even know what hit you. It all happens too damn fast. And I'm all too aware of the genetics that I carry -- the cancer and the diabetes and the high blood pressure -- all of them game-changers. They're all sitting here with me now, in fact, hanging out on my shoulders and tickling the hairs on the back of my neck as they so often do, the jerks.

Yet here's the good news: On this day, at this moment, my colon is shiny and pink and happy. No abnormalities noted and a discharge paper that reads "See you in 5 years." I'm going to grab my kids and my husband into a gigantic, awkward family hug this evening, and we're going to pray in gratitude for my shiny, pink colon. We'll pray in gratitude for the "butt camera," as Zippy termed it, that has set my fears at ease for now. And we'll pray in gratitude for the endocrinologist and nutritionist who are helping Honey to battle his genetic trash, too. We'll also pray in gratitude for my friends with their fancy brains, because we know that they are resilient and strong and they will teach us how to be so, too. We'll pray in gratitude that my mom lived a brief yet gigantic life, that she touched so many others with her smarts and her generosity and her love -- and we'll be grateful that because of her fight, we now know how important our poop truly is.


* It should be noted that the three males in this house who love to talk about poop were completely horrified by the colon photos I showed them this evening. And you may thank them for talking me out of posting those photos here. Even though they are gloriously beautiful to me!


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