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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Completing my quest for a birthday colonoscopy

By Staff | May 31, 2024

Photo supplied, Intermountain Health

The “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” display at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024.

For my 40th birthday, I gave myself the gift of peace of mind. It was a hard-fought gift that took stalking, begging, bartering and extreme bouts of patience wading through the health care system, but I eventually got my gift in the form of a 48-inch flexible tube with a camera on one end, a doctor on the other.

All I wanted was a colonoscopy. It started more than a decade ago when I interviewed Doug Miller’s daughter, Karen Miller Coleman, for a segment on KUTV’s “Check Your Health.” Doug was the host of the channel’s outdoor show, a staple of late-night TV in my house growing up in the ’90s. Then one day, he was gone, killed from aggressive colon cancer. Karen became an advocate for colonoscopies, even undergoing one herself when she was just 36 years old. It was then doctors found a malignant polyp. I was 27 when I shot that story and I’ve never forgotten how this simple procedure and her dad’s illness helped save Karen’s life.

Time and again I’ve always been the bridesmaid, never the bride, when it came to colonoscopies. My scorecard includes my mother, father (twice), husband and friend, wherein I waited as they crawled from the propofol-induced haze. It was my turn to clear my schedule and my system.

My colonoscopy coach, my husband, underwent the procedure three years ago, soon after he lost his dad to the disease. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in this country while being one of the few that’s easily treated if caught early. So many of our loved ones destroyed by this terrible disease fail to get screened for numerous reasons including fear, embarrassment, inconvenience, insurance and the day-to-day grind of living life. For my father-in-law, it was certainly the combination of fear, mental health issues and his battle with alcoholism. With such tall barriers before him, it was easy to forget something like a colonoscopy. We fail to recognize this one inconvenient act can save us from a tragic end. If hearing Karen’s story wasn’t enough for me to get my colonoscopy, watching my husband and his brother cope with the fallout from their dad’s diagnosis and treatment from colorectal cancer certainly pushed me over the edge. One thing was made clear from his death — no one should die like that.

Spurred on by my husband’s loss, I began calling my insurance seeking out a colonoscopy for him due to his family history. Insurance covered his screening, no questions asked; his doctor referred him, no questions asked; and he came through his procedure with a clean slate. It was as if he was put on this earth to drink polyethylene glycol. The process was not so cleansing for me.

Photo supplied

Meg Sanders

Despite the American Cancer Society reporting in 2024 that the rate of colorectal cancer diagnoses is rapidly rising in people between 20 to 40 years old, the physician’s assistant I had been seeing for years refused to refer me for a screening. I had already called my insurance, which assured me they would cover any screening at any age. Yet, this PA continued to deny me a referral. She insisted the procedure center would want a reason for the colonoscopy because I was only 40, even though insurance would pay. I called the procedure center, which also said they welcome my screening, they just needed the doctor’s referral. None came. She may have missed the American Cancer Society’s finding where colorectal surgeon Dr. James T. McCormick said, “We’ve been noticing an alarming rise in colorectal cancer in adults under the age of 50. In fact, people born in the 1990s are two times more likely than people born in the 1950s to develop colorectal cancer.”

Eventually, I tracked down a doctor with Intermountain Health who understood why it was important to me to get this colonoscopy. While my family history wasn’t a red flag, nor my diet or bowel movements, not getting a procedure that my insurance would cover that could potentially save my life was like passing on the free samples at Costco. If it’s going to be offered for free and it’s something that could fill me up, why say no?

I had my colonoscopy on Tuesday at Ridgeline Endoscopy where the staff was friendly, professional and quick. They’ve heard every pun in the book whether it be about “cracking up” or “light at the end of the tunnel.” After drinking my prep, fasting for a night, rising early, the “hole” process was done in less than 24 hours and ended with a really great nap.

Yes, it makes it easier to schedule that colonoscopy when you do it out of peace instead of fear, don’t feel embarrassment anyway, thrive in inconvenience, have insurance and make the procedure a top priority — because your life should be your top priority. That first step is the hardest, the one that is keeping you from peace of mind or early treatment. Steps two, three and four are easy, a natural process of clearing out your bowels where all it takes is water, a toilet and a TV show.

If you’re putting off that colonoscopy, waiting until a convenient moment, don’t. There is nothing more inconvenient than cancer. Since turning 40, I’ve been spoiling myself with gifts. Next month, I get my mammogram, a screening I learned does not even need a referral, just a phone call to my gynecologist. In September, I get my skin cancer screening — and maybe if I’m feeling like I need to treat myself, I’ll find somewhere to do a calcium scoring. Some of you probably think I should be shopping around for a psych evaluation.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 18 years.


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