Both of my parents died from colon cancer in their 60s. That puts me — statistically — on the bad side of susceptibility of getting colon cancer. I have been to my doctor many, many times since my parents passed away. Whether it was for a yearly check-up or a follow-up for one of several hospital visits, my doctor has always asked me — in his run-down of "the usual questions" — "Have you had a colonoscopy?" As I shifted uncomfortably upon the examination room table, rebuttoning my shirt, my answer has always been the same. And that answer is "No." His reaction is always the same. He frowns, tells me I should really have one, and then he hands me a many-times Xeroxed list of area doctors who will happily perform the procedure. I take the paper, fold it up and, when I get home, I toss it on the pile of other copies of the same information I have received on previous visits.
It's not like I am afraid of getting a coloscopy. I'm not. Not at all. My brother — four years my senior — has had about a thousand since he turned fifty (the ideal age at which the medical profession suggests that a regimen of coloscopies begin). A friend of mine encouraged me to get one, reporting that the drugs they give you to knock you out prior to the actual procedure are — and this is a direct quote — "fucking awesome." You would think that the promise of an experience usually associated with the side effects of a Grateful Dead concert would be enticement enough to get me to make an appointment, but.... I still didn't. The actual reason (excuse?) I have been lax in scheduling a colonoscopy is convenience... or in my case inconvenience. Yeah.... I know. LAME! That is that lamest excuse. But, taking a sick day off from my various jobs has been — for lack of a better word — a hassle. When I worked at a law firm, my boss would throw so much guilt on me when I scheduled a vacation, as though the most important person at a multi-office law firm was the graphic designer. My next three jobs didn't offer as many sick days and vacation days as I would have liked, so a day off was pretty precious and I didn't feel a preventive care procedure was worth a day off from work. (Stupid, right? Yeah, I know.)
In January, I was in the hospital for a few days and, as my discharge instructions recommended, I scheduled a follow-up visit with my family doctor. As usual, as my visit drew to a close, the subject of a colonoscopy breached the line of questioning. My doctor cocked his head at me, expecting my answer to be one he had heard before. Then, he asked if I would be willing to take a Cologuard home colon cancer detection test.. He offered this alternative as sort a a "secret weapon" to counter my usual "no" response. Once I agreed to the Cologuard test, he muttered "you seem to be afraid of a colonoscopy" and he trailed off. I agreed to the Cologuard, dammit! and I'm not afraid of a colonoscopy! I thought. Instead, I forced a grin and said nothing. A Cologuard test was ordered for me and I was told it would arrive at my house in a few days.
Because of the television programming I usually watch, I have seen a lot of commercials for the Cologuard home test, mixed in with those for other prescription drugs, incontinence remedies, retirement homes, Medicare supplements and reverse mortgages. The Cologuard commercials are clear in their purpose, but are somewhat vague on the actual procedure. To be honest, I didn't pay that close attention to them.
As promised, a few days after my doctor's visit, a plain white box arrived at my house. I actually ignored it for a couple of days. I also ignored the texts that the good folks at Exact Sciences (Cologuard's distributor) sent me on a twice-daily basis. Finally, I watched an instructional video that one of the texts contained.
I will not elaborate on the actual details of preparation, procedure, post-procedure and getting the completed test back to the company for analyzation. However, I am well aware of what everyone who has taken a Cologuard test at home has done. And, conversely, they are aware of what I did. I know what you were instructed to do and, if you followed the instructions, I know what you did. I will not say what we did. Now, we are like Freemasons. We are now part of a secret society with covert, unspoken rituals known only to those who have been let into the fold. We did these things behind closed doors. Alone... while hundreds or even thousands of other folks were doing the same thing at the same time. We don't wear a badge or any kind of insignia to identify ourselves to each other. We know that we are not the only ones who did what we did. In five years, over two million people did what we did. When we see someone at the UPS office holding that square white box, we know the sequence of events that transpired to bring you to this moment.
We just know.
My test came back negative. Let's just leave it at that.