I Did It! A Colonoscopy

LGBT people have lower colorectal cancer screening rates, especially transgender people and people of color. All our usual barriers to care (stigma, lack of health insurance, etc.) make it difficult. In the interest of getting more of us to do this, why don't you follow me through the process?
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As the founder and executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, I know full well how important it is to keep up with my own cancer screenings. Early detection saves lives. Yet, like many other LGBT people, I resist and postpone it.

Getting regular checkups and colon cancer screening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer. Finding and removing colon polyps helps prevent colon cancer, and if they're found early, a cure is far more likely. Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years, beginning at age 50, or sooner if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.

Most studies show that LGBT people have significantly lower colorectal cancer screening rates, especially transgender people and people of color. All our usual barriers to care (stigma, lack of health insurance, etc.) make it difficult, but really, who ever wants a camera up their butt? In the interest of getting more of us to do this, why don't you follow me through the process?

Two months before the procedure: It wasn't hard to get an appointment, but it took me two months to gather my resolve to call and set it up. I have had two colonoscopies in the past, both decent experiences with two perfectly nice gastroenterologists, so I don't fully know what my barrier was this time around, but after my best friend recommended her doctor, I finally got myself to call. The point is: Do whatever it takes to get over the resistance.

One week before the procedure: I can't believe how much time I am spending thinking about this, preoccupied with "preparation" day, a Sunday, during which I may eat absolutely nothing, drink only clear (not red or purple) liquids and take two rounds of laxatives, guaranteeing an evening seated on the toilet.

Several days in advance, I load up on all the interesting clear liquids I can find in my local market, sparing no expense. I buy fancy artisanal juices I usually scoff at. Variety also seems essential, and I purchase three boxes of blue Jell-O, which I plan to cube and eat with a fork, and a broth that means I can use a spoon. I decide to save the broth for "dinner."

I make no plans for Sunday, even turning down an afternoon party invitation, as though being hungry is going to be a very time-consuming activity. (Did I just say "consuming"?) Yes, I am obsessing about food all week, interspersing it with anticipatory self-pity for my promised hunger.

Preparation day:

7:30 AM: With total defiance, I put 2 teaspoons of milk in my morning coffee. No, coffee was not on the "approved" list, but neither did I find it on the "forbidden" list, and I was not going to suffer a caffeine-withdrawal headache in addition to my starvation. I shower and weigh myself for a later post-fasting comparison.

9:17 AM: I make a huge bottle of herbal tea. I am feeling triumphantly not hungry, although my entire consciousness is on my stomach. I can beat this!

9:51 AM: I'm hungry! Uh, oh.

Noon: How can this be? I am simultaneously incredibly full (of tea) and still hungry. My body clearly knows the difference between liquids and solids, and it is not fooled. I must crave nutrients. I have downed 32 ounces of tea and one bottle of fancy lemonade while waiting for the Jell-O to solidify. I invent some errands and leave the house. I need some distance from the refrigerator.

1:00 PM: The blue Jell-O is gross yet oddly satisfying. I devour it, shoving my spoon directly in the large bowl, forgoing the civilized plan of cubing and forking. Within half an hour, I am myself again, sated, living a typical Sunday afternoon where I happen to not be eating anything. I read The New York Times.

6:00 PM: Having taking the first dose of laxatives (and having no dinner to prepare), I distract myself by binge-watching Scandal, waiting for the urge to purge. I take my second dose at 8 PM, never leaving my seat at the TV. This is a breeze!

9:30 PM: I begin my trips to the bathroom, pausing the show when I go. Unlike when I've had a stomach flu or food poisoning, there are no cramps. Easy and painless.

Midnight: I go to bed. Triumphant. Empty.

Procedure day:

7:30 AM: No coffee today; not even a sip of water permitted. I feel a bit weak and definitely thirsty. I shower and weigh myself. I lost only 2 pounds since yesterday. Only now do I begin to worry about what the colonoscopy might find. I hope I'm OK.

11:30 AM: It's done! The sweet gastroenterologist (this field attracts the nicest clinicians!) introduced himself by apologizing for my hard night. In all, I tell him, it wasn't even that bad. They wrapped me in blankets to keep me warm, and the anesthesiologist sent me into a lovely sleep before anyone laid a hand on my butt. By the way, their forms never asked about marital status but simply asked the name of anyone I designated to receive medical information about me.

12:30 PM: A friend met me (escorts are required), and we went to the closest diner for a huge omelet. I am perfectly healthy and can put off a repeat performance for another 10 years. Today I don't even dread it.

For information on where you can find LGBT-welcoming free or low-cost cancer screening facilities near you, check out the directory of the National LGBT Cancer Network.

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