I was trundling along back in March this year, in my usual nonchalant and happy go lucky way when life suddenly made me sit down with a thump. About ten days earlier I’d done one of those home screening tests for bowel cancer and now I’d received a letter telling me my result was positive! Shit! I felt very weak and watery for a few minutes, and then as many of us would do I Googled as much info as I could. For a start a positive test didn’t mean I had cancer, it only meant that blood cells were present, and these could be caused by a number of things. Besides, the statistics said that nine out of ten people who test positive don’t have bowel cancer. Hmmm … but what if I’m unlucky number ten! You can’t discount it completely can you.
I shot off to my doctor who said I needed an appointment with the Gastro consultant, and I’d have to have a colonoscopy, and they would do it under general anaesthetic. Hell! I’ve never had a general anaesthetic, and quite dreaded the thought. I told my Doc that I felt as fit as a flea and as healthy as a horse, and I didn’t have a single solitary symptom that was on Google’s ‘Symptoms of bowel cancer’ list. My Doc smiled at me and said ‘Don’t worry,’ as she gave me a letter for the Gastro man. You jest, don’t worry! How can I not? I could be unlucky Number 10!
I made the appointment with the consultant which I couldn’t get until May 9th. A two month wait. Two more months of wondering. At this point I had a stern talk with myself and said: ‘Jude, you can either go into meltdown with worry, or you can live each day and put this thing in the freezer of your mind.’ I chose to live each day as normal, which I have to say took a huge amount of mental strength and determination. I had to stop my mind going off down wild tracks with visualisations of chemo therapy and whether I’d wear a wig or a scarf when I had no hair. I even wondered if I should write some message to be read out at my funeral. How crazy is the mind when there is fear. I’ve been reading a wonderful ‘Mindfulness’ blog nearly every day for the last few years, it’s taught me to observe my thoughts, and analyse them, and live for the now. It’s helped me to stop them short when they take off to undesirable places.
There’s probably one thing worse than facing hospital tests and procedures, and that’s going through the process in French when your French is pretty awful. I can speak a fair bit, but find it extremely hard to understand when people speak to me. And even when I ask them to speak slowly, sometimes I still get lost. A friend with good French came to the appointment with me, although I did manage to answer all the questions which pleased me greatly. The consultant confirmed that I would have a colonoscopy and also an endoscopy (camera into the stomach). He said that it was important to check out the stomach because problems in the stomach could cause blood cells to be passed through to the colon and be picked up by the screening test. Crumbs! I was going to have two ‘oscopies! Next however I had to have an appointment with the anaesthetist, and after that my date for the procedure would be June 3rd.
It was just a week ago Friday that I had to go in. The procedure was preceded by a three-day low residue diet which wasn’t too bad. Then came the worst part of the entire event. On the evening before the day of the procedure at 7pm I had to drink a cup of something called Citrafleet (the ‘clean-you-out’ medicine’) which is number one on the list of the worlds most vile drinks. Pour a sachet of white powder into cup of cold water and watch it bubble, leave it five minutes, then come back and find the cup is now warm! Possibly radioactive I’m thinking – but it’s not glowing so maybe I’m all right. Drink the festering gloop as fast as you can whilst holding your nose and then let nothing else pass your lips for an hour. Then for the next two hours drink two litres of water. Me who can’t get through a whole can of coke! It was singularly the most awful experience I ever remember in my life. Bloating, freezing cold, stinking headache,walking round and round the room trying to get the water to seep through the system. A bit like trying to pour water down a blocked drain. The foul gloop did work eventually but no sleep was to be had that night due to regular ‘visitations’.
At 04.30am joy of joys, I had to take my second dose of the devil’s draught and then drink another litre of water in half an hour. I really was absolutely dreading it. I did down the medicine, and was working my way through the first half-litre bottle of water, with my entire system screaming ‘no more!’ I gallantly gave it my best shot but was only part way through the water when I suddenly got that nasty little signal … the one that tells you that without any shadow of a doubt you are about to be violently sick. The one that says RUN! And I did, and all my efforts went down the toilet. Well bugger! What now? The second medicine probably hadn’t even had time to work! I’d probably have to do the whole thing again. How wretched would that be. I lay around, feeling half dead, until 06.30, then showered and got ready to go. We had to leave for the hospital at 06.45. But I was still feeling sick and needing the toilet, and we had a good forty-five minute drive to the hospital. Nightmare! I shoved a toilet roll in my pocket and a washing-up bowl in the car and prayed.
Thankfully we made it to the hospital without me having to use the bowl or leap out of the car and dive into the bushes. At reception they said it was not unusual to have been sick. Thank heavens, the procedure could go ahead. I went through the system which was incredibly professional and well-organised, with very kind staff, and without a single second of discomfort. I was all done and dusted and back on the ward by 10.00am. No pains and no discomfort. I was then offered some food and drink. Drink!!! Aargh! I never want to see water, or any bloody liquid ever again I told my hubby, who promptly drank my coffee for me. I have got over my liquid-aversion since then.
The final good news came when my consultant came around about 12.30. I did not have cancer, in fact I had a perfect colon – I’m sure you wanted to know that second bit. What I did have was a bacterial infection in the stomach. They took a sample during the endoscopy and it would be tested to see which particular bacteria it was. The results would be sent to my Doc who would give me some appropriate antibiotics. Great news!
The greatest lesson that came out of this for me was the observing of my mind. Mindfulness. Live now, live this minute, don’t waste today worrying about tomorrow, worrying about what might be. I achieved a great deal more control over my thoughts during those three months. I enjoyed good company, sunshine, sitting by the river, and of course getting out on the bike. A little while ago I found a great quote by Virgil. It seemed to fit perfectly with a photo clipped from the video as I followed my hubby past our local dinosaur facsimile.
Death twitches my ear. Live, he says, I am coming!
If anyone else is about to go through this process in France and would like more info then please feel free to email me :)