Because of its subject matter, I’m a little stunned that this newspaper allowed this column to be published.
OK, if you’ve read this far, the editors have allowed some, or all, of what I have to say.
Here goes. Early Wednesday morning, my wife drove me to a local medical facility to have my second colonoscopy in 10 years. Those of you who know what that is can stop laughing.
A colonoscopy allows a doctor to look inside the entire colon and rectum for polyps, which could be early signs of cancer. Polyps are small growths that over time can become cancerous.
The doctor uses a colonoscope, a thin, flexible, hollow, lighted tube that has a tiny video camera on the end. The colonoscope is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a TV screen.
I take this seriously because African-Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States. And, African-American men have the highest mortality rate.
The exam takes about 30 minutes. Patients are usually given medicine to help them sleep while it’s done.
This is not a procedure for the meek. It is invasive and kind of off-putting. By off-putting, I mean you put it off for as long as you can. But in doing so, you are risking your life.
While I sat in the waiting room with my wife, I asked her to look around the room at the faces of the other patients.
“Everybody in here looks miserable because they know what is about to happen to them, don’t they?” I said to her. She broke into quiet laughter. She looked again and laughed even harder.
I was finally taken to the back. As I waited for someone to transport me to the place where the deed would be done, an engaging janitor walked up and described in great detail the potency of the drug that was going to “knock you out.” He assured me that I would not feel a thing.
Minutes later, I was pushed into THE ROOM. I wondered how many people like me they had seen that morning, that week, this month, this year. Yikes!
There was no small talk and smiles. People fixed their gloves just right. I wanted to say something clever to lighten the atmosphere, but they were having none of it. The shot put me out in seconds.
It’s this part that nudges some African-American men away from the procedure, said Dr. Fola May, assistant professor of medicine at UCLA and a researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“Men in our focus group study and men in other studies have said, ‘I do not want any sort of procedure where I have to have any sort of instrument that’s placed into my behind,’ ” May said.
For a variety of reasons, including poor dietary habits and fewer avenues to health care, African-Americans are more likely to get colon cancer, more likely to have an advanced stage of disease when they’re diagnosed, more likely to die from colon cancer and more likely to have shorter survival after diagnosis of colon cancer.
Look folks, and especially my African-American brothers, get your act together. Man up. We all know someone who died of colon cancer who probably would have survived if he had gotten an early diagnosis. Health experts routinely recommend that people get colonoscopies starting at age 50. But the American College of Gastroenterology recommends African-Americans get a colonoscopy starting at age 45.
Colon cancer is usually a treatable cancer when it is detected early enough. Proper screening is the best way to detect cancer before it takes hold. I know how the whole idea makes you skittish.
But you’ve got to do it.
By the way, my test came back clear.
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached at email@example.com.