Over the last one and a half years life basically came down to doing our best to deal with a horrifying situation. Healthcare maintenance seemed like the least of our worries. In the beginning it was because most of the facilities that didn’t offer critical care were shut down. Others had cut back to minimal hours. Getting an appointment was impossible. And the easily accessible weekend and after hour care offered pre-pandemic, was long gone. Even getting my dogs to the vet became a challenge.
When mass vaccinations became available, most offices had restarted in-person care, at least during the week. Taking off a mask for limited periods of time in the dentists office or for procedures was a reasonable option again. Using all the precautions, I ventured out again. And like everyone else it was a bit overwhelming, the to-do list seemed endless. But one by one, I began the process. After waiting later than usual to get them done I held my breath each time and waited for the results. I was thrilled when they each came back normal.
Until one didn’t.
Without a family or personal history for colon cancer or polyps I chose to test for concerns via a Cologuard kit. It was a reasonable option to avoid the hassle and time consuming process of the alternative- a colonoscopy. It actually turned out to be a little more time consuming than I had expected in that the sample had to be done in a very specific manner and sent out within a short period of time from when it was collected. The company was amazingly persistent. Just as I am with my patients, they kept calling and sending letters encouraging compliance. Each one reminded me my health was worth taking the time to follow through on.
Few tests make me nervous. I can deal with anything. But as with most patients, learning I might have cancer is especially daunting.
The test came back positive.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had a medical scare. And I’ve been there for countless patients as they struggled through their own concerns. No matter who’s waiting for the result – a patient, loved one, friend, you… It’s a heart stopping moment. Reminded it doesn’t mean “cancer” per se, just a finding that requires further testing doesn’t ease the fear. We all dread the unknown. That’s the worst part, not knowing the answer and conjuring up all sorts of horrifying and devastating consequences.
For over 30 years I’ve sat with patients and helped them traverse the steps necessary to maintain good heath. I encourage preventative care and explain how they pick up issues before they escalate. Many refuse because they feel fine. I have had patients swear up and down they know their bodies and they’d know if they were sick or in trouble. But that’s the thing. How we look and how we feel aren’t great indicators to underlying concerns like cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. It’s usually late in the game that our looks and how we feel start to deteriorate. That’s why preventative care is so important. It catches issues when they are small and easier to resolve.
I know the benefits. And even though I’d only occasionally bled from what I was sure were hemorrhoids, I knew it could be both- hemorrhoids and a cancer! Some, when faced with a result they don’t want to deal with go into denial, refusing to pursue answers. At least until the answers reveal themselves anyway. Others want to know as soon as possible. I was in the latter group.
Even though I knew the chances of having colon cancer were small, that didn’t stop me from fearing the worst. It wasn’t easy. Not knowing.
Thankfully it was a polyp. Not cancer. Cologuard did its job. It showed a concern that needed further attention. As a result, regular colonoscopies are in my future. But now I’m forewarned and armed with everything at my disposal to make sure I remain cancer free. Or in the event that’s not possible, I’ll pick it up small when it’s easy to treat.
Healthcare maintenance is a pain. I get it. Time consuming, sometimes expensive and often overwhelming. Patients often get frustrated when loaded up with all the recommendations.
But take it from a healthcare provider and patient. The cardiac, pulmonary, renal, gastrointestinal, lab abnormalities, osteoporosis, or life threatening issues, you might find are worth the effort.