Now over two weeks into 2015, those well intended resolutions, often centered around taking better care of one’s self, are no doubt already beginning to be forgotten. Gym attendance is likely already on the slide. Diets are being forgotten. Tobacco revenue is recovering. All as accepting return to the status quo proves easier than determined vigilance for many.
Most of us can take better care of ourselves and should keep tabs on the state of our health. As I’ve learned the hard way, having that screening colonoscopy, especially after age 50, in spite of a family history, is one diagnostic test not to be avoided.
Not being one to worry or “run to meet trouble”, as an old friend used to say, for the 13 years that it has been available at no cost to me, I’ve avoided and made excuses for getting this most important procedure. In spite of reminders and urging from my wife, as well as the fact that my mother had polyps removed, I took the position that only a small percent of those who don’t bother to get checked, will actually develop colon cancer. While this assumption is true, I’m now facing what should have been caught in its earliest stages, likely as a precancerous polyp, years ago.
The trouble with colorectal cancer is that it can grow without pain or notice until it becomes very serious, causing a bowel blockage or spreading to other organs. Nor do tumors always bleed. Fortunately mine did. A couple months ago, when I noticed blood in my stool, I knew something was amiss. I went to a primary care physician for only the second time in my adult life for a head to toe checkup.
Of course when I described the symptom that motivated my visit, a diagnostic colonoscopy was arranged a week later, on Christmas eve. An “ulcerated mass”, confirmed as cancerous by pathology inspection, was discovered along with a polyp showing cancerous attributes. A surgical resection of part of my colon was suggested.
Three days later I had a lower abdominal CT scan and chest x-ray that fortunately showed no obvious spread of my cancer to other organs. Although that’s great news, if the cancer is found in surrounding lymph nodes that will be harvested and inspected during my surgery, I’ll certainly be facing chemotherapy follow up to try to attain a cure, often considered 5 year cancer free survival. My odds of achieving that outcome are about 65%.
So, yes, my negligence to have regular medical exams, and a screening colonoscopy in particular, may yet prove a fatal choice. I can’t begin to explain the feeling of personal complicity and stupidity that comes with my situation, nor the impact this has on friends and loved ones. My hope, in writing this, revealing the details of my medical condition, is to spare others. Don’t be me! Resolve to get that screening colonoscopy! Don’t make excuses!
Even for those without insurance coverage there are options. Healthcare Bluebook is a great resource to find fair prices in your area, that can be used to negotiate with providers. In the Harrisburg, PA area where I live, the fair price for a screening colonoscopy, that amount normally accepted as insurance payment by network physicians, is listed as $1609. This is broken down as $676 facility fee, $413 physician fee, and $520 anesthesia fee. Also, colonoscopies can be, and sometimes are, done without anesthesia.
Another option is MediBid, a medical brokerage service started by a Canadian immigrant, Ralph Weber, to connect patients and physicians for specific procedures nationwide. As one notable example, KATU, Channel 2, Portland, reported in September, 2013, the story of a Chicago man without insurance, looking for a colonoscopy. Through Medibid he found a physician in McMinnville, OR. His cost for the procedure, including airfare, lodging, and a rental car was less than half the average $3500 best price he could find in the Chicago area.
Three days from now I’ll be in surgery, beginning the process of trying to stop what could still prove fatal, and likely could have been prevented. Again, don’t be me! Resolve to get that screening colonoscopy! NO excuses!