Cancer 8

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I have a profoundly embarassing cancer. Say it with me “rectal cancer”. “Rectal cancer”.

Why is it embarassing?

Poop!?! Maybe we are all still six, somewhere deep inside.

When Ryan Reynolds got a colonoscopy on camera, to raise awareness of colorectal cancer screening, part of the frisson of the whole thing was that yes, somehow having this procedure done is really embarassing.

So, watch the video, it’s really nothing but an ordinary medical procedure that could very well save your life. And Ryan Reynolds is charming.


Meanwhile, colo-rectal cancers remain tough to talk about, because frankly the colonoscopy is the least of it.

Not having control of your bowels is, well, really embarassing in our culture. What do people say about elderly presidential candidates they hate? They call them incontinent. They intimate that they wear adult diapers (gasp!).

Do you know who else gets to wear adult diapers? Colorectal cancer patients. We get our insides man-handled, irradiated and chopped up, and the results are not great for bowel control. It happens if you’re 55, it happens if you’re 35. It’s normal, it’s usually temporary, it’s what happens when you insult a GI tract badly enough.

Another rite of passage in treatment is the ostomy. Stage III rectal cancer treatment usually involves a temporary ostomy, after radio-chemotherapy during the resection of the part of the rectum that holds the tumor. Patients with a low (near the anus) tumor location will sometimes require a permanent ostomy, because the tumor cannot be removed without damaging the anus.

When I was diagnosed, I was initially terrified of the ostomy. “The bag.”

After researching the different treatments, I got a lot less terrified, since the side effects of some non-bag outcomes in terms of quality of life can be pretty terrible. Meanwhile folks with ostomies are out hiking, biking, and swimming.

If this talk is all a little uncomfortable, may I recommend a colonoscopy?

And after that, a big meal and some poooooping! Poop! Poop! Poop!

I’m in a pooping mood because my surgery (2 weeks ago now) has left me, not incontinent, but I guess “disordered” is a better word. You know how it feels to really need to take a dump? Imagine feeling that 12 hours a day, even when you don’t actually have anything to dump.

By most measures I think I am ahead of the median patient in recovery from LAR surgery, but unfortunately the recovery time for things like bowel regularity and “normalcy” (the “new normal” will always be somewhat worse than the “old normal”) is measured in months, not days, so I am a little impatient to improve more, and faster.

Talk to you again soon, inshalla.

Everyone Poops