My apologies to Susan for not writing before this. I will write again soon.
I often write about things that affect me, like my allergies, complaining, mostly. I hate being sick; not like anyone wants to be sick, likes being sick, but I hate it. I am independent, and want people to be independent, to take care of themselves (which is why I did not become a nurse or a doctor). I’ve had several surgeries in my lifetime. I write about my great test results, because I’m over 60 and I feel blessed in having good health, and I want all people to have great health. I thank my ancestors for giving me the genes that carry good health.
Many of my first cousins have gone on due to alcohol-related accidents, alcohol-related illnesses, diabetes-related illnesses and cancers. Some preventable; others not. Many of my older relatives, both Pawnee and Cheyenne, are also gone due to the same medical issues. Many times, we’ve gone to dances, either at Pawnee, or in Cheyenne country, and there are few elders over 70. Few, if any, old singers with the knowledge of old songs at the drums. Few elders dancing at the powwows and war dances. That is very telling. And at powwows here and there, I notice young people whose weight may soon cause them problems.
Old story, as my grandma would tell my grandpa but I had bilateral total knee replacements, new knees, at the same time, in December 2010. I have not looked back. I was up the next day, walking, like a robot, but walking. The major pain was momentary, because had I not had them done, I would have been in constant arthritic pain. I worked through the post-surgical pain, doing whatever the physical therapists gave us to do at Healthsouth, an occupational and physical rehabilitation facility in Albuquerque. I knew what the alternative was. What I noticed at the facility was that there were many patients there whose limbs had been removed, a foot, a leg below the knee, or above the knee. And many of these were young people. Young people restarting life with one limb. Please follow your doctor’s orders relating to diet, exercise and medication. Be here for your children and grandchildren.
I have hiked many times since my surgery, and dance at powwows, and do many things, within reason. As many of you know, another “old story”, my third and final goal set in physical therapy was to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which I did in June 2015. I have hiked in the Rocky Mountains, at Chaco Canyon and in the Sangre de Cristos.
I know that a lot of folks don’t have insurance, or good insurance, and Indian Health Services only goes so far, given the number of people who need help. Sometimes, it’s too late. My mother kept trying to reschedule an appointment that had been cancelled by the doctor. She told me that she made another appointment that had to be rescheduled again, and that it took months to get her an appointment again. The appointment was in the early summer. She passed away a few months before. She had high blood pressure, which eventually caused an aneurysm in her brain. She died of a hemorrhagic stroke. Please follow your doctor’s orders relating to diet, exercise and take your blood pressure medication. Be here for your children and grandchildren.
My father died of colon cancer and diabetes-related illness. I have heard that colon cancer is hereditary, and I have also been told it is not. Either way, doctors and specialists tell you to have your first colonoscopy at age 50; but, if you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling, child) who has had colon cancer or a polyp before age 60, then you should get an exam starting at age 40. In either case, it is recommended that you repeat the exam every five years, as long as you are healthy.
Since my father had colon cancer, I was advised to have a colonoscopy done. It wasn’t at 40, as my father had not passed away at that time. Even then, in 1998, when he passed, I hadn’t yet informed any of my doctors about his having colon cancer. About 4 years ago, in a health history with a new primary care physician, I mentioned to my doctor about my dad. I had always brought up the grands and other relatives with diabetes-related and cancer-caused deaths. I am not diabetic, and for many years, have had great A1C. HDL/LDL/cholesterol and other test results. We eat healthy meals, not very much red meat at all, mostly chicken, pork, shrimp, salmon, sometimes tofu, beans, brown rice, rice cauliflower, lots of fresh vegetables, salads and then occasionally, pasta dishes, stews, and then sometimes corn soup, frybread, meatpies, Ndn tacos, Frito pies, enchiladas, and about four times a year, chicharones (fried pork fat). I used to love making big breakfasts with eggs, bacon, hash browns, corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, but we only do that now and again, pancakes, too. Did you know that an entire can of corned beef hash has nearly 500 mgs of fat-that’s a lot of calories!
My mom thought I was diabetic, and was always bringing me stuff from conferences she went to, stuff about diabetes, recipes, medication holders, etc, etc, etc. I appreciated those things, but more so, though, that she thought of me and my health. For someone who grew up around lead paint, traipsed through the grandparent’s gardens which had been dusted with Sevin, eating same veggies dusted with Sevin, and ran behind the mosquito-dusting truck in Pawnee, and later, worked in a research lab and was exposed to radioactive isotopes, I am thankful and grateful for my health.
So, a colonoscopy was scheduled. But I did not make it to that test. Another was scheduled. And I did not make that one. And again. The most recent appointment over the summer was rescheduled due to the exam being scheduled on the first day of summer classes. So three times I did not do the colonoscopy due to family-related issues (spouse fell twice, breaking each hip once, and that required many weeks of hospitalization, in-house and outpatient therapy), and one for school. Finally, this time, I scheduled it, and I made it.
I’d heard from people who’d had a colonoscopy before and they reported the icky-est stuff to deal with. Horrible, they said. There were things not to eat within five days (nuts), things not to drink (red, blue or purple kool-aid stuff), and only chicken broth, jello, or other lame stuff, like black coffee, popsicles, soda, and water. And of course, there were several feast days that occurred just before my exam, so knowing how red chile can stain a white shirt, I stayed home, because I cannot be trusted around red chile! Haha! No solid foods after 10 a.m. the morning before. I like to eat, and 24 hours without food, and watching my family eat a delicious, great-smelling meal was agony. But, I was going to get this done and out of the way. Facing my fear and anxiety, I got ready.
I picked up the solution from the pharmacy which I would drink the day before, and yes, it really and truly turned out to be the most vile-tasting stuff you’d never want to drink, I kid you not. I had a final meal, breakfast, and then, after a certain time, was directed to drink half of the gallon of fluid the first day, within two hours. That’s eight 8-ounce cups, or one cup every 15 minutes for two hours. Yucky, icky liquid stuff, disguised with a lemony-flavored packet. Oh, my word, it was awful. They said you could put Gatorade or Crystal Light in it, but no amount of either could disguise the flavor of that stuff. But the colon had to be clean, so I was game for it.
The morning of the procedure, we arrive early. The receptionist was Navajo. She was great, very professional. When we went into the procedure area, the staff in the room were very professional and precise. They were so organized. Things were run just like clockwork. I was given something to relax me. The doctor came in to get my history, and tell me what would occur. He told me that colon cancer is the third leading cause of death. Hello, right before my procedure you’re telling me this? Now, right before I go under? I was already kind of anxious beforehand, but thanks, Doc! That’s the last thing I want to hear, just in case something goes awry.
My daughter was there with me, and was there during the prep, as she was for my knee replacement surgery. Just for a moment, lying on that gurney, anticipating what I did not know, I was nearly overwhelmed by anxiety, mostly due to the unknown. And then I remembered what my grandpa told me: never worry about anything until you know what it is. So, I had those anxiety tears roll right back into my eyes. I have told myself that time and time again, in all sorts of instances and issues. I love my grandpa for giving me that piece of advice, among others, which I have shared with the kids. And so I recovered my wits, because my daughter was worried, too, and I did not want her to worry. Never worry about anything until you know what it is.
With Claire directed to the waiting room, the personnel wheeled me into the procedure room. They told me they were going to give me this drug, to which I replied, “The Michael Jackson drug?!” They said yes, it will put you under. So, they did, and no sooner had I said that, I was apparently out, because the next thing, I was waking up back in the room, and complained that my feet, which were hanging over the end of the gurney, were cold. They brought me a nice warm blankie for my feet. I was somewhat groggy, but got over it rather quickly, as I was surprisingly alert and talking.
Claire was brought back in, and the male nurse was telling me what they did. They found one polyp, 3 mm long, and had taken it for pathology. Other than that, my colon was clear of any additional polyps or abnormal things. I thought I recognized a bit of Cajun in the nurse’s voice. I asked if he was from Louisiana. Yes, but he was born in the Carolinas and raised north of New Orleans. We chatted it up about one of our favorite places, the food, music, Cafe du Monde beignets and cafe au lait, the NOLA area, the people. And then it was time to get dressed and go home. I had no bad side effects, took a nap, and that was that.
I received my report today, and it indicated that the polyp was hyperplastic or inflammatory, with no cancer potential or increased lifetime risk of cancer. “Colorectal cancer usually begins as a “polyp,” a nonspecific term to describe a growth on the inner surface of the colon. Polyps are often non-cancerous growths but some can develop into cancer (mayoclinic.org).” The other, adenomatous polyps, are pre-cancerous and have the potential for becoming cancer, if not removed.
At the bottom, I have given three links to the mayoclinic.org and webmd.com, two credible medical online resources. If I ever need to look something up, research a procedure or get medical information, these are the two sources I look at, either before or after doctor visits. I researched the heck out of knee replacement surgery at least a year before, and prior to that, did research about Synvisc injections that I did for two-three years before my surgery.
I wrote this today, because, again, I am thankful to Atius Tirawahut for the blessings I have. We do not know when we will leave this world. We should do our very best to stay healthy for our children, grandchildren, elders and community, and to live a full and active live, eating well, exercising and following our doctors orders. Some people have knowledge and stories about our tribes that need to be told to the next generations, and to do so, you need to be here. You need to be here for those grandkids, greatgrands, and your family. Take care of yourself.
Good wishes to everyone for a healthy life! If your doctor says you need a colonoscopy, by all means, get it done. It really was not that bad, other than the drink stuff. Something has to make it taste better. Do not be afraid of this test. It could save your life.
Links to information about colon cancer: