Fear has been simmering in me for the past few days.
I was not afraid of the preparation for the colonoscopy or the procedure itself. I knew that both would be uncomfortable and unpleasant. But I can usually handle those things when I know that the time I will be suffering is relatively short and finite.
Rather, this was the fear of standing on the edge of a precipice and not being sure in which direction my future might lay.
My father was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 44. He died four years later, having battled the cancer on four separate occasions. The first time it came back, the theory was that they had missed some part of the original tumor. But with the next two times, it became clear that this was encoded into his very core and that no matter how many times he fought it, it would come back.
His brother and father also had colon cancer. While, if one were to be very technical, they died of other causes, it was the cancer that ravaged their bodies and left them vulnerable to other problems. They both lived into their 60s, but had a rough few last years.
Most of the population is counseled to get their first colonoscopy at age 50. And then follow-ups every 5 years if things are reasonably normal.
I'm 34 and have heard for the past 5 years that this was my target age. 10 years before my father's diagnosis.
Colon cancer is clearly genetic. It has hit nearly all of the men of the previous generation in my father's family. One uncle has not yet had colon cancer, but there is the suspicion that it is only a matter of time, as he is much younger than his other siblings and has already had polyps removed yearly.
And so I went into this exam with the worry that if any polyps were found, it would only be a matter of time before I ended up with cancer. And although the pamphlet I picked up says that colon cancer is curable 70% of the time when caught early, I know that getting it once, even caught extremely early, would mean for me that I would never be rid of it. And that my countdown would start.
It is a great relief, therefore, that the gastroenterologist found no polyps. This does not mean that I need not worry at all, but at least this isn't all starting right now. I have long hoped for that the combination of being a female and having my mother's genes mixed in might mean that I have dodged this particular genetic bullet. The doctor also suggested that I look into genetic testing, as there are a number of mutations that they can look for now. For my sake and for my son's, I'll be looking into this.