You may recall that I blogged about the Love Your Butt campaign, a project of the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation, in March, when I stumbled upon one of its eye-catching billboards in a DC Metro station. The campaign’s message about the importance of regular screening as a way of preventing colorectal cancer stuck with me. (Note to public-health message crafters: Humor works!) I had my first colonoscopy twelve years ago when I was only 42. The CDC recommends screening after 50, but my father died at 60 of colon cancer, so my siblings and I got to start loving our butts earlier in life. For years, I had put off going back for a second test, in part because I have a constitutional aversion to doctors and doctoring but also because colonoscopies are a lot less fun than you might think they’d be. (Sorry to go off-message, Chris4Life, but it’s true.) I figured that my fondness for fruits and vegetables, my avoidance of tobacco, and my commitment to regular exercise made me a CDC poster girl for colon cancer prevention. I didn’t need no stinkin’ test — and I do mean stinkin’!
Still, the Love Your Butt campaign pushed my, uh, buttons, and then the Woman Formerly Known as Goose turned 60 in May, which got me thinking about my dad’s early death and a promise I had made to him about colon cancer awareness. So, finally, after we got back from our summer travels and had bought a new car and cleaned most of what needed cleaning, I gave myself a good kick in the butt and got back in touch with my gastroenterologist. I signed up for the first available appointment, to give myself less time to think about it or squirm out of it. I also went public with my plan, announcing on Facebook that I needed to schedule a colonoscopy and then letting friends know when my appointment was. The response was both hilarious and illuminating, providing a small but significant example of social media serving both personal and public goods. The advice and encouragement I got from my friends bolstered my resolve and helped me endure the physical discomforts of a 24-hour fast. My hunger game involved fielding quips and suggestions from a far-flung network of pals that included a fellow queer studies prof with a family history of colon cancer whose own colonoscopy had occurred just six days before mine. I hailed her as my role model as I sought to distract myself from my growling stomach. She talked about watching the Food Network as she guzzled the prep solution. We started using the hashtag #queercolonoscopy on our increasingly goofy comments, most of which involved pointing out that vodka, gin, and champagne are, technically, clear liquids, which was all I was supposed to have during my fast. Hunger was making me giddy. My kind, quick-witted friends were entering into the spirit of my day and helping me get through it.
Going public about my colonoscopy was personally beneficial to me in that I felt supported in a good but challenging intention and cared for on a matter about which I felt some anxiety. For all of Facebook’s flaws and limitations, I stick with it because I value the ease with which one can set up or enter into such conversations, which are really circles or networks of care. I am also interested in thinking about such conversations as circles or networks of information and knowledge, in this instance as a modest and in some ways irreverent means of spreading information about a serious health issue. People are uncomfortable talking about colon cancer because the bowel is for some reason one of the less popular body parts and cancer is scary and colonoscopies are not fun, but for heaven’s sake, people, “If everybody aged 50 or older had regular screening tests, as many as 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.” Sixty percent! In light of that statistic, even our joke hashtag, #queercolonoscopy, might be seen as a tiny act of hashtag activism, an effort to break silence and raise awareness, to urge queers and non-queers to get up off their butts and tend to the matter of bowel health. Here’s one reason to be grateful for the complete lack of privacy on Facebook and other social networks. I think of the hundreds — actually, thousands — of people who might have stumbled across these conversations by being my friend or the friend of one of my friends. If even one person paused and thought, “Man, I really need to get in for a colonoscopy,” then the exercise was more than personally beneficial and the value wasn’t just in entertainment. Look, I know we’re all just throwing pebbles on the surface of the information pond, but isn’t it nice to think the pebbles are at least making a ripple — and a force-for-good kind of ripple at that?
Oh, and how did my test go? Fine, thanks. The nurse anesthesiologist who sent me happily off to Twilight-land declared me “abnormally healthy” when she saw my stats. Surprisingly, given all my discomfort during the preparation, I was cool as a cucumber as I settled in for the actual test. When the nurse hooked me up to the machine that monitors pulse and blood pressure, an alarm went off. “Did I just die?” I asked. “No,” she said. “You’re apparently just really relaxed.” My resting pulse was 41, which was low enough to trigger the alarm. (Yeah, I’m bragging, but my pulse and BP tend to be slow and low.) The anesthesiologist woke me up for the last part of the colonoscopy, which meant I got to see my innards live and in color. “Oh,” I squealed, “that’s a kernel of corn from dinner the other night!” The doctor removed one measly polyp and diagnosed me with diverticulosis, which basically means I am fifty-four years old and I have a colon. (Translation: Sometimes I fart. Sometimes I take Metamucil.) I’m supposed to get tested again in five years.
Maybe I’ll wait six years, not to procrastinate but because then I’ll be 60, too. I was always a Daddy’s girl. I think he would appreciate that symmetry and its painful irony.
And you? You should get up off your middle-aged butt and get tested, too, if you haven’t already. Tell ’em The Madwoman sent you.
In loving memory of Welman “Lindy” Lindemann, who died twenty-two years ago, on August 1, in Phoenix, eight months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. High in some silent sky / Love sings a silver song.