Prep and Landing

February 2, 2014 in colonoscopy, Uncategorized by Ami McKay

"Diverticulosis" by Penny Oliver

“Diverticulosis” by Penny Oliver

Tomorrow I’ll make my way to the hospital for my thirteenth annual colonoscopy. Fingers and toes crossed, all will be well. Lucky thirteen!

Even though I’ve been through the procedure many times before, seeing the date for my appointment circled on the calendar still makes my belly lurch, still jangles my nerves, still pushes my “youngest child” buttons, leaving me wishing I could hide in a laundry hamper, cloaked in my mother’s bathrobe for a good long while. I understand these feelings come from fear -a very real, deep, justified, generations-old fear, nagging in the back of my brain. I also understand that I must not let my fear win.

Colonoscopies save lives.

That statement isn’t just some phrase gastroenterologists and colorectal cancer awareness advocates spout off for effect. It’s a proven fact. A pre-cancerous polyp found and removed during a colonoscopy can prevent cancer from ever occurring. A tumor found early via a routine scope can lead to life-saving surgery and treatment. (Just ask my brother. His CRC was caught very early during an annual colonoscopy. Now Mr. Semi-colon Smarty-Pants regularly trains for and competes in triathlons. Way to go, bro! )

I know...this caption ignores the place of tricorders in the Star Trek universe. Still, it's pretty funny.

I know…this caption ignores the place of tricorders in the Star Trek universe. Still, it’s pretty funny.

From the trenches

Although I may feel somewhat anxious about the prep and procedure, I know that showing up for my annual colonoscopy is one of the most important things I can do for myself and my family. No matter if your medical history requires it (as it does with Lynch Syndrome,) or if you’re having symptoms that need to be checked out, or if you’re of an age where it’s time for you to suck it up and commit to the purge; I promise you, if you stop and think about the bigger picture and what you stand to lose if you let things go, you won’t regret making and keeping your appointment.

To that end, (pun intended) here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that have made the prep and landing easier.

Colonoscopy Tips and Tricks a la Ami

(Disclaimer: the information in this post should NOT be considered a substitute for medical advice. Always follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to health care!)

 *Make a Game Plan (about a week or so before the big day.)

– Make sure you’ve made arrangements with and informed work, school, family and friends. (Do your best to get over the “ick” factor when talking to others about it. It’s important to own what’s going on. A colonoscopy is just as important and valid and normal as any other event in life that requires a day off!)

– Pick up your prep a few days before (especially if it’s new to you.) That way you can read through the instructions and still have time to call your doctor if you have any questions.

– Plan meals for THREE days (prep day, the day of your procedure and the day after) ahead of time. According to your doctor’s instructions you’ll be on a clear liquids diet for the prep, so you’ll want to pick up those foods and drinks and have them on hand. (Hello, Jello!) Also, if you’re the person in your household who plans and cooks most of the meals, then turn those duties over to someone else for those days if possible. You’ll need to concentrate on the prep, you’ll be a little weak from not eating, and you’ll want to ease back into your belly afterwards, so it’s nice to not spend time in the kitchen if you don’t have to.

-Arrange your ride to and from the hospital or doctor’s office. (Don’t forget – no driving or life-altering decisions for 24 hours, peeps.)

*Three days before

– Eliminate nuts, popcorn, seeds from your diet. (Some doctors say five or even seven days. Follow your doctor’s orders, please!)

– Meat eaters might want to refrain from red meat, or all meat if possible.

*Two days before

– Eliminate fruit skins (or fruits with skins/seeds, berries, etc.) and leafy roughage.

– Eliminate foods that are red, orange, purple.

– Meat eaters switch to fish or go meatless.

-Taper food intake during the day before the prep. (Make each meal smaller than the previous one.) I know the impulse might be to “load up” before prep day by eating favourite foods and perhaps more than usual, but when it’s go time you’ll regret it.

– Mix up your jello the night before your prep day so it’s already set in the fridge and ready to eat.

*Prep day! I was always a keener in school, so I take a fair bit of pride when my doctor praises me for having done a fabulous job when it comes to the colonoscopy prep.(I’m the Lisa Simpson of colonoscopies!) All joking aside, it’s incredibly important to put your best efforts into having the most effective prep possible. If your colon’s not clear, then you run the risk of the doctor missing a polyp or even having to turn you away because he/she couldn’t get a good enough view. (You know what they say…the only thing worse than a colonoscopy is TWO colonoscopies.)

– Don’t cheat. Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. Stick to the clear fluid diet. Drink ALL the prep at the right times. Drink plenty of fluids. Drink plenty of fluids. Drink plenty of fluids. (Gatorade, or something similar helps to keep your electrolytes in balance. Better than water alone)

– Pack what you need for the hospital/appointment. Medical and insurance cards, paperwork, comfortable clothes, reading materials, etc.

– Wear comfortable clothes during prep. Lose fitting pants are a must.

– If being hungry bothers you, avoid TV with commercials, women’s lifestyle/food magazines, food blogs, and Pinterest recipe boards. This year my prep is on Super Bowl Sunday…so, it’s novel reading and Netflix for me. (Sorry, Payton!)

– Keep baby wipes on hand in the bathroom, they’re much gentler than toilet paper on the tush.

– Keep extra reading materials in the bathroom. Maybe a radio or iPod, too.

– Curling up with a heating pad on your belly can help ease gassy cramps.

– Some people have special tricks to help the liquid prep go down easy such as refrigerating it, mixing it with various drink powders or sodas, etc. I live in Canada and have used Pico Salax for quite a while, so I don’t have many complaints when it comes to ingesting my prep. For those of you who do have difficulty, take it easy, try not to stress and keep your goal in mind. I know it can be quite a challenge! Don’t be afraid to let your doctor know if your prep medicine is causing you distress. She/he should be able to give you advice and/or adjust things to make it easier to ingest.

*Day of the Procedure

– Don’t be embarrassed to wear an adult diaper to your appointment. I live nearly an hour from the hospital, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.

– Ask the nurse for a pillow to place between your legs when you’re in recovery. (Pulling your knees up and putting the pillow between your legs can help you pass gas.)

– Ask the person picking you up to have a bottle of water and/or other liquid such as Gatorade on hand for the ride home. You’ll be thirsty and need the fluids!

– Ease back into eating. Try to resist the impulse to wolf down a big meal. This is your chance to be kind to your body and make a fresh start. Think pro-biotics, think easy on the digestive system. You’ll be back to normal soon enough.

Last but not least …

– Be proud of yourself for making this a priority.

– Thank your doctor and his/her team. (I have a torturous colon, so my doc. gets mad props from me!)

– Don’t forget to laugh!

NOTES:

The artwork featured at the top of this post is by the talented artist, Penny Oliver, who has created many paintings inspired by anatomy and medicine. You can see more of her work at Diagnosis Art.

If you’ve ever wondered about the finesse required to perform a colonoscopy, this article will give you a better idea of the challenges your gastroenterologist faces on a daily basis. Colonoscopy: Art or Science.

I sing the body electric

January 3, 2014 in colonoscopy, coping, medical history, Uncategorized by Ami McKay

grace

“grace” by Jason Thielke

Happy New Year.

There’s a blizzard raging outside my window right now, but I’ve got a fire roaring in the wood-stove and a hot cup of tea nearby, so this girl-in-a-snowglobe is doing all right. I hope you’re safe and warm and content for the start of 2014 and that you’ve got big beautiful plans for the year ahead.

In my usual New Year’s fashion, I’ve spent the last couple of days putting things in order and wishing on stars. Writing projects have shifted from dreams to outlines to full-on works in progress, and sticky note reminders of annual screenings have been converted into doctors’ appointments with dates and times scrawled on the calendar. (Dermatologist once over, end of January. Colonoscopy, the first week in February. Wheee!) There’s a lot to look after in my swirling TARDIS of a brain, and  I’m always searching for the best way to keep track of it all.

Rhythms and patterns and leitmotifs, oh my.

I learned to read music and the written word in tandem. It made for an interesting childhood, one where I was constantly searching for meaning in melodies, and for hidden patterns and rhythms within language. Even now it’s difficult for me to read through anything I’ve written and not obsess over the cadence of my work and the repetition of certain words and phrases. My journals are riddled with the words “hope,” “hopefully,” and the superstitious two word phrase nestled between asterisks, *touch wood.* (Strangely enough, I write that little charm far more than I speak it.)

As odd as it seems to obsess about such things, I’m thankful that my mind works this way. If it hadn’t been for my dedication to writing about my state of being (emotional and physical) on a daily basis, I’m certain I wouldn’t be as proactive as I am about my health.

Prophetess_Thielke

“Prophetess” by Jason Thielke

Tracking Wellness

From a practical standpoint, it’s easy to see why keeping a written account of one’s health is a good idea. Notes on diet, medications, physical activity, physical symptoms, sleep cycles, pain locations and levels, emotional well-being, doctor’s visits, (and, if you’re female, your monthly cycle) are a valuable source of information for you and your healthcare team. On a broader scale, being vigilant about recording these stats on a daily basis will help you to see the bigger picture when it comes to your health. In as little as a week, patterns begin to emerge- some that may address questions you’ve been struggling for years to answer.

I simply make written notes in my journal alongside the rest of my personal scribbling for the day. Other options are to keep a separate health journal (either written or on your computer,) or to use a health tracking app on your smart phone or tablet. (A couple of apps that have been recommended to me include:  ihealth log, and symple – symptom tracker and health diary.)

"entwined" - by Jason Thielke

“entwined” – by Jason Thielke

Soothing the Beast

Allow me to add a few more words in favour of the written word. Apps are convenient, it’s true, and click-clacking one’s thoughts on a computer’s keyboard is easy and fast, but something more happens when you put pen or pencil to paper and let your thoughts flow through your body on to the page. Writing about one’s health often carries a lot of emotional baggage along with it. Guilt, confusion, worry, fear, anger, frustration are all part of the language of my condition. For me, writing by hand, especially when it comes to Lynch Syndrome, is akin to meditation. Once my hopes and fears are set before me, I’m free to address them in brave new ways.

“When you are writing something down with pen and paper, you are stimulating a collection of cells at the base of the brain known as the reticular activating system. The RAS is the filter for all the information your brain needs to process and it gives more attention to what your are currently focusing on. The physical act of writing brings the information to the forefront and triggers your brain to pay close attention.” (from “How Does the Act of Writing Affect your Brain?”)

This is especially true when it comes to dispelling anxiety. A study published by the University of Chicago in 2011 showed that “students who were prone to test anxiety improved their high–stakes test scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear.” Senior researcher Sian Beilock also found  “that pressure–filled situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities. Working memory is a sort of mental scratch pad that allows people to retrieve and use information relevant to the task at hand. But it is a limited resource, and when worries creep up, the working memory people normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. That can sap the brain power necessary to excel.”

In other words, writing through our worries and concerns leads us to a better state of mind, and as a result, to better lives.

How do you keep track your health?

Notes: This post included ideas and art from the following places…

ihealth log app

Symple – symptom tracker and health diary

How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain? inforgraphic

Writing About Worries Eases Anxiety – University of Chicago

The gorgeous laser etched art of Jason Thielke

TWITs

November 26, 2013 in colonoscopy, family history, genetic research, medical history, Uncategorized by Ami McKay

This Week in Tweets

This Week in Tweets

Introducing…”This Week in Tweets.”

Occasionally I find a tweet (or two or three or more) in my Twitter stream that I feel merits a discussion that’s longer than 140 characters. From time to time I’ll round them up (along with my thoughts) and share them on Mutant Me. Welcome to the first edition of TWITs!

Ever find the statistics for CRC (and related cancer) risk in Lynchies to be overwhelming and difficult to understand? I discovered this excellent resource while exploring tweets from Kintalk.org. “Cancer Risks in Lynch Syndrome” lays everything out on the page in a tidy set of statistics organized by mutation, cancer type, gender (where applicable,) and age. AND, as an added bonus, they list the most common symptoms of colorectal, endometrial (uterine) and ovarian cancers at the end of the report. Vital information in a simple format. Thank you Kintalk! (Oh, and follow the link at the bottom of that page to “Managing Lynch Syndrome.” It’s not to be missed.)

Stop Colon Cancer Now has put together a helpful Myths vs. Facts list for colon cancer. A few of the myths were new (and surprising) to me… “colon cancer is a disease that only effects Caucasian males” and “all methods for colon cancer screening are equally effective,” while others were myths I’ve heard far too often, such as, “a polyp means cancer,” and “if I have colon cancer it means I’m dying.” There are eleven myths in all, and they’re disproved/addressed with straightforward answers. If you’re more of a visual learner, then here’s a nifty video presentation of the myths and facts. Five and a half minutes sums it all up, and it’s easily shareable too.

Those of you not in Canada may not be familiar with the CBC Radio show White Coat Black Art hosted by Dr. Brian Goldman. The weekly program covers a diverse range of topics and aims to “demystify medicine.” I’ve listened to it for years and was especially interested in the episode that aired November 15th, since it dealt with the ways in which celebrities approach illness when it comes to their very public lives. While the program didn’t deal with Lynch Syndrome, it did take a very human and discerning look at  the way celebrities talk about illness. Dr. Goldman interviewed Dr. Michele Berman and Dr. Mark Boguski, the husband and wife team behind “Celebrity Diagnosis” a web site that not only reports on celebrity illness in the news, but goes a step further to bring awareness and information about those illnesses to the general public.

Their work reminded me of earlier this year when Angelina Jolie published her now famous op-ed “My Medical Choice” in the New York Times in which she wrote about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy based on her discovery that she carried the BRCA1 mutation. That opinion piece and the public discussions that surrounded it, prompted me to go back and take a closer look at my own genetic testing results and my risk for endometrial cancer. (I’ll write more about what came of that re-evaluation in the days to come.)

In honor of the holiday spirit and the fostering of family ties, I’m posting the above tweet. I really appreciated Michelle Healy’s piece Talking Turkey about Health in USA Today encouraging people to take the advice of Surgeon General Boris Lushniak this holiday season. “Eat well, but do so in moderation. Take a brisk walk after dinner to burn off some extra calories. And before the day is over, spend time with your assembled family members and discuss the diseases and conditions that make up your family health history. Sharing that information can improve and possibly save lives.”

The article even includes a list of first steps to take in gathering and recording a family medical history, as well as links to forms that will help you organize your data. Awesome!If you’ve read my first blog post, Daughter of Family G, you’ll know that in my family’s case, keeping track of our medical histories has, without a doubt, saved and enriched many lives.

Happy Holidays to all!