I never would’ve expected that getting sick would save my life. But it very possibly did.
Five years ago, during my first semester in a new grad program, I got sick. I couldn’t eat anything without getting horribly sick to my stomach. After frustratingly normal test results and a month of surviving on applesauce (and losing nearly ten pounds), a gastroenterologist finally prescribed an antibiotic as a shot in the dark. Thank God it worked.
It took months to regain my strength. But even once I felt better, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still wrong. I still felt a bit queasy after I ate. Because I was impressed with the gastroenterologist who finally saved me, I went back to her and was scheduled for a colonoscopy and then an endoscopy.
The endoscopy identified a simple problem—my stomach was overproducing acid, possibly as a reaction to my month of being unable to eat. I took drugs for a few months and then was fine.
But what may have saved my life happened before that.
It was the colonoscopy.
While it didn’t identify the cause of my symptoms, it did find some silent killers—several polyps, one of which was considered “precancerous.”
I was 25 at the time.
You want to know the risk factors for colon polyps? Being overweight, lack of exercise, eating a poor diet, smoking, heavy alcohol use, being over 50, having other gastroenterological conditions, a family history of colon cancer, being African-American, and having diabetes.
You want to know how many of those apply to me?
I’m a colon polyp unicorn. Apparently my body is trying to have cancer.
I don’t plan to let that happen.
Let me clarify—precancerous doesn’t mean it would have turned into cancer, just that it could have. And in those 25 years between then and when most people have colonoscopies, who knows what it could’ve become.
Every medical professional I tell gets a bit wide-eyed.
“No family history of colon cancer?” they ask, incredulous.
“Not that I know of,” I tell them.
“Wow.” They shake their heads. “You’re lucky they found the polyps when they did.”
I am lucky. Especially since it wasn’t a singular occurrence. I had a follow-up colonoscopy three years later–more polyps. Then two years after that, just this week in fact–more polyps. I’ll probably need to be screened every two years for the rest of my life.
It’s funny to think about what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gotten sick in the first place. Would I have developed cancer? Possibly. Maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure.
Being sick was awful. It felt terrible. But I’m absolutely certain having cancer is worse. I never would’ve guessed that I’d be grateful for an illness or for colonoscopies, but I am. I thank God I got sick and for the technology that keeps fighting cancer for me.
You never know what may come of something horribly. Maybe all that happens is that you learn how to be strong, to push through something awful.
Or it may end up saving your life.