Never dumpster-dive for plastic containers. (Warning: Immature language.)

Getting older is not for whiners. Since my late 40s, midlife health concerns have included thyroid imbalance, elevated blood pressure and creeping weight gain. A couple of mammograms looked iffy but turned out to be OK. The asthma could be better.

Mostly I’ve handled these issues with equanimity. But that was before the doctor ordered me to spread my own poo on a chemically treated card.

For three days in a row. Oh, and I wasn’t allowed to ingest citrus, red meat or ibuprofen beforehand.

It’s called a fecal occult blood test, and it detects traces of blood that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Vessels around large polyps or cancers sometimes leak, but usually not a noticeable amount.

The test is no joke, yet I’m having considerable fun at its expense. How could I not laugh? I was painting with my own feces!

One of two tests

The American Cancer Society suggests a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50. Because my mom’s side of the family has a serious history of colon cancer, I had my first colonoscopy at age 48.

Polyps were found, so I repeated the procedure a couple of years later. I passed (ahem) that test, so the doc said, “OK, every five years from now on.”

Incidentally, the test itself was a piece of cake. I was zonked out on Versed before they turned on the camera. No, it was the pre-test purge that tied me in knots. The taste and salinity of the clean-out liquid could not be disguised by the white grape juice with which I mixed it. I kept it down through sheer force of will, i.e., “If you throw this up you’ll have to drink another bottle.”

So yahoo! A five-year break was mine.

Well, except for the poo on a stick.

Yes, they give you little sticks to use, along with some tissue paper. But not the kind you’re thinking about. This paper was more like one of those seat covers found in your classier public restrooms. According to the instructions, it should be allowed to float on the surface of the water, with the edges sticking to the sides of the toilet bowl.

Yet it went on to say that the sample should be obtained “before it touches the water.” Um, you just told me the paper could float on the water. Make up your mind!

The instructions also noted that samples could also be collected in “any clean, dry container.” Which brings me to the reason you should never scavenge plastic containers from the trash: You have no way of knowing what they once held.

You don’t know where it’s been

The container in question may say that it formerly held “buttery” spread. But now? Let’s just say that the word “buttery” is four-sevenths correct. Also that taking that container from the trash would give dumpster diving a whole new and entirely unpleasant meaning.

Yes, I’d put it in a bag and tied it shut. But I’ve seen people rummaging around in the trash and opening bags.

I’ve long been in the habit of keeping old butter, cream-cheese and sour-cream containers. Usually I use them for leftovers or to send homemade jam home with my sister or a friend. I was mighty glad to see the end of this one. So to speak.

When the final sample had been taken I ate an orange, to celebrate. Later in the day I walked to Arby’s and had an Angus Cool Deli sandwich – not just because it had red meat in it, but because it had red meat and I had a coupon. I may take some ibuprofen, too, just because I can.

Tomorrow I get to mail my poo. Yes, in the regular mail with a single first-class stamp. I can’t put it in the mailbox tonight because the instructions told me it had to “air-dry” first. Eeewww.

Take charge of your health

This post is full of terrible puns but its subject is absolutely serious. Get yourself checked out.

So what if it means having a camera sent north from your south end? You won’t feel a thing. Colon cancer hurts a lot.

Don’t have insurance? Community health centers operate on a sliding scale basis, as do county or state public health departments. To find a community health center or public health clinic in your region, click here.

If you’re over 50, man up/woman up and ask your doctor about an annual fecal occult test, too. Give up the oranges and Advil for a few days and deal with the ick factor. It’s nowhere near as gross as changing a diaper. Besides, you can wear gloves if you want.

It’s a minor inconvenience that yields major peace of mind. Hope everything comes out all right.

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  1. I’d rather do the occult test than the colonoscopy. That’s just a bit too invasive for me. Did have a sigmoidoscopy in which they found nothing, but have resisted pleas for more aggressive shoving of a camera up the tuchus.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Funny About Money: Seriously, you don’t feel anything. I remember them starting the little IV in my hand, and then the gurney started to move. “Are we going in?” I asked. “No, we’re done,” was the reply. Versed is our friend.

  2. Harry Martin

    LOVED this post, and so on the money. I, too, have the colon cancer gene. Doctor asked me about it, and I said, “Other than my Mother, no history at all.” Thanks for at least telling me what everything entails. I always feel better, knowing what to expect.



    • Donna Freedman

      @Harry: The test was a little awkward, but if you keep your sense of humor — and I know you have one — you’ll do fine.

  3. *tee hee*


    OK, you made me laugh, so I’ll do it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Mary: Good. I’m trying to raise awareness here. Feel free to forward the link to friends who are old enough to need this kind of test. Just tell them you’re behind them all the way. 😉

  4. An excellent post, as always, Donna. You brought out the seriousness of colon cancer in a way that a pedantic post filled with information and threats could never have. Thank you.

    The best part will be to see you come through alright. And hopefully, that will be the case always.

    Thanks again and keep going, lovely lady !


    • Donna Freedman

      @Sumant: Thank you for your kind words. I hope that people will get a smile out of it but will also start to take their health care seriously.

  5. Groooan. I have two tests on the same day. One goes north and the other goes down my throat, south. I dread it. But, I am going to do it. Drinking all that stuff is the part that I really don’t want to do. I feel gaggy just thinking about it. The drink is saline? That makes it twice as bad.

  6. Reminds me of that long road of infertility and POAS…

  7. There are, to my knowledge, 3 different colonoscopy preps that can be performed. One is tablets, like 2 pills every 30 min or an hour with 8oz of liquid, the second is small amounts of a liquid laxative, I think phosphosoda and the third is the dreaded GoLytely (which makes you go frequently and forcefully) and there is about a gallon of it. Which prep you get depends on your doctors choice.

    • Donna Freedman

      @CandiO: Mine was a mix of pills and liquid but the salinity of the liquid made me very, very queasy no matter how much grape juice diluted it. When I mentioned the nausea, I was sent a couple of anti-emetic tablets along with the kit. They helped.
      My dad’s advice as to the final prep: “Don’t wear any pants that day.” 🙂
      At least I was spared the cramps and chills of which the literature spoke. I just, um, got a lot of reading done that day.

  8. jestjack

    Thanks for the “insightful” article. DM has been having health issues and recently had the procedure you described and nothing was found in the colon. Thankfully you have explained what her doctor would not…”why the follow up fecal test?”. She’s a fiesty 70 something and vividly described the “collection process” (TMI!!!) to me. Haven’t got her results back yet…. I hope your results come back OK…For the record not a fan of the procedure but if you have a family history…do it….saved my neighbor’s life….

  9. What about the people who are on the receiving end of that card? Yup, that would be me. You wouldn’t believe the types containers I have received patient specimens in.
    But great article.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Beth: I was thinking about the specialists who have to read the results. Imagining them thinking, “I was a biology major at the top of my class. Now I’m reading stool samples.”
      But we appreciate your willingness to help us be screened for such a deadly disease. Sa-lute!

  10. Important information with a witty twist!

  11. You’re the first one who’s ever described colonoscopy and FOBT with some humor. I’ve talked to various people who’ve told me colonoscopy horror stories, enough to get me anxious enough to avoid it if the doctor were to recommend it to me. Doesn’t sound so bad now. Funny article, with a serious point.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bernie: Thanks. And even if the colonoscopy did hurt a little (not my experience — I was utterly zoned out), don’t you think colon cancer would hurt a lot more, for a lot longer?
      I’m not nuts about mammograms, either, but they only hurt for a couple of minutes. Breast cancer surgery? Now that’s something I’d love to avoid.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. spiralingsnails

    Hilarious! Some things are too important to ignore but too awkward to be taken completely seriously. For a while our shows on Hulu had a commercial by an anti-cancer group suggesting that you show your spouse/parents you care about them by scheduling a colonoscopy for them. Yes getting screened is an important message, but they had lousy timing: it was aired during the month of December. All we could think of was “Merry Christmas – up yours!” or that it would create a new contender for “Worst Christmas present ever”.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Spiralingsnails: Or how about, “Here’s a gift we can all get behind”? Or, “We bent over backward to come up with the most thoughtful gift”?

  13. Versed rocks! DH had to do the colonoscopy this year – refused to take the drugs (sometimes I think he’s not right), I said to hell with that, when it’s my turn I’ll ask for his dose as well.

  14. I have had 2 colonoscopys. YUK! The first was routine at 50. Even though I had maximum drugs, it hurt and I guess I complained too much so they stopped about 1/2 way up. At a physical, doc gave the poo strips. Yes, very gross. Well there was blood. So another colonoscopy, 3 years after the first one. This one sailed. No pain. I really believe that the doc’s technique matters. Normal. Thank God. I did worry about it though with the blood on the poo test. I hated the prep worse than the procedure. I could only gag down 1/2 of the jug, even with lemon Crystal Lite in it. But I guess it was enough. It’s all gross and awful, but necessary. I was good for 10 after that. As I was having the procedure, the thought I kept having was of the doc at a dinner party and the usual conversations about what one does for a living. Well “I look at a–holes.” Interesting.

  15. Mix that horrid prep stuff with ice cold 7 up and drink it thru a straw -with the straw as far back on your tongue as you can get it.
    It helps to keep the awful taste to a minimum.

  16. valleycat1

    Late hit due to a reference I saw today on liz weston’s site. I’ve had 2 colonoscopies. I fully agree on the nasty prep stuff & will keep Mee’s straw suggestion in mind for the next one. Both times, the px itself was easier than many other procedures I’ve undergone. The first time, though I was out enough to not be aware of any, um, sensations, I was awake enough a few times to see the screen & dopy enough to be wowed by it. I think I’d rather keep having the doctor deal with this instead of having to catch poo & air dry it somewhere that the cat wouldn’t get into it.


  1. Links with kinks « Grumpy rumblings of the untenured - [...] Donna Freedman reminds everybody over the age of 50 to get a colonoscopy. [...]
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