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I Didn’t Get a Colonoscopy Until I Was 61, but I Didn’t Need to Be So Scared

Horror stories about getting a colonoscopy and the dreaded prep made Diana put off her own until a physician helped her tap the courage to make the appointment.

One in every 23 men and every 25 women in the U.S. will develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. If detected early, the survival rate is 90%. But unfortunately, only four out of every 10 colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed before it spreads outside of the colon.

The best way to catch colorectal cancer and treat it early is to get a colonoscopy on a regular basis. If you’re in good overall health, you should get a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50. There are several risk factors that may affect when—and how often— you get one, which should be discussed with your doctor.

Diana Fleming said the thought of getting her first colonoscopy was so scary that she put it off for years, well past the recommended age.

“My primary care physician tried to convince me to have a colonoscopy around age 55, but I was apprehensive,” Diana explains. “All I hear from people is how bad the prep is, and thinking about the scope being inserted freaked me out.”

But Diana didn’t have any knowledge of her family history, which means she could have been at a greater risk for developing colorectal cancer than she was aware of. She shares, “I felt like I needed to get it done for my daughter. I want her to know what her family history is so that she can prevent any disease in the future.”

Diana decided it was time to take the leap, and got a recommendation for a gastroenterologist from a trusted colleague. She set up a phone call with Dr. Marianne Ritchie to discuss her next steps.

Dr. Ritchie Gordon Marianne

Dr. Marianne Ritchie

“I was very nervous, but Dr. Ritchie shared every detail and made me feel much better,” Diana says. “Once I set the appointment, I received a packet in the mail with instructions on how to prepare. This made me upset because it seemed like so many steps. I tried calling Dr. Ritchie to cancel my appointment and she assured me that it would be OK and gently convinced me to keep it.”

She remained nervous until a few days before the procedure, which was scheduled for the day before her 62nd birthday.

During prep for the colonoscopy, Diana had to start eating a low fiber diet that consisted of a lot of liquids. Dr. Ritchie guided her through this time by giving her tips like eating chicken broth to trick your brain into feeling full and avoiding certain colors of Jell-O so they wouldn’t interfere with the procedure results. Diana was afraid of feeling too hungry, getting cramps, or having to go to the bathroom a lot, but none of those fears were realized.

On the day of her procedure, Diana woke up, drank the powdered drink mix that she was prescribed and headed to the hospital.

Dr. Ritchie found eight benign polyps in Diana’s colon, which were all removed that day.

“I thought it was going to be much worse, but Dr. Ritchie said, ‘You’re going to get through this’ and I did,” Diana says. Now that it’s done, she’ll undergo another colonoscopy in five years. But this time she’s not worried. Colorectal cancer is easily preventable and she’s a prime example of that.

Diana has some advice for those who may be afraid of getting a colonoscopy: “I wish I didn’t listen to everyone who told me it was bad. I would tell others to not worry about it. Go at 50, because if you do, you’ll be more likely to catch something early. I was lucky that the polyps found in my colon were not cancerous. But they could have been, and if I had waited any longer it may have been a fatal mistake. Just get it done and be done with it. If not for yourself, do it for your family and your children. Now I have the history that I can pass along to my daughter, and I feel good about that.”

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Patient Perspectives