I chose this title for two reasons: one, it’s really funny, and two, I wanted to provide a disclaimer that if blood talk makes you queasy, or you think poop talk is uncouth, this is not the post for you. Also, this is intimate. So cuddle in and prepare yourself, and please speak nothing of this when you see me.
There have been several people who have asked me how this happened. Was it a regular checkup? Did I have symptoms? How, at thirty-seven, did I wind up in an open-back gown, lying on my left side with a team of women quite literally behind me? Yes, I do have an aunt currently succeeding through Stage IV colon cancer. She is brave and a champion if ever there was one and certainly a factor in my appointment, but there was a bit more.
To tell this fully, though, we need to briefly take a step back in time.
My bowels have never been a friend to me. My parents said this condition afflicted me even as a baby, and it never got easier, something my surgeon has now explained is likely caused by the extra amount of colon I have. (Who knew this was a thing, amiright?) When I was eight or nine I remember my parents telling me that if I pushed too hard I would break a blood vessel. I didn’t understand what that meant. Admittedly I should have asked more questions, but then again, I was eight or nine. So I went into the bathroom and stared into the mirror and wondered where these burst vessels would come from. Would there be blood? I wondered. I pressed into my toes and lifted up onto the countertop, crossed my legs over the sink and leaned in for a closer look. I looked at my cheeks and my lips, my neck and my forehead, and the only vessels I could see were in my eyes. That’s it, I decided. My eyes.
This is not my proudest moment. But I was young, and I didn’t understand that there were blood vessels located lower in my body which would be directly impacted by poop. In that moment, at that time, as far as I was concerned it had been fully explained: if you push too hard, your eyes will burst. There was nothing left to question. And thus was born my fear of poop. From that moment on, whenever I needed to use the bathroom I would sit myself down and glare into the mirror across from the toilet. And I would push. I would watch to see how red my cheeks would get, and when they turned maroon I would stop, too afraid of what might happen next. I did not poop outside the home.
This continued for years. I did eventually learn my eyes would not explode from the pressure of poop, but nevertheless, the struggle remained.
I have since tried every probiotic on the market that I could find. I have tried online companies and natural-health companies. I have used laxatives and stool softeners, all in an attempt to obtain some semblance of the normal bowel movement that I had always heard most people had, to no avail. By the time I wound up in the ER after my first hemorrhoid burst I realized I may be in for more than I had expected. A few years later, while giving birth to my son, the midwife said, in the sweetest way possible, that my hemorrhoids were the sort of thing she had only read about in medical books. In case you’re wondering, this is not the prize you want to win in childbirth.
Blood in my stool was a normal thing, but it wasn’t a consistent thing and it certainly wasn’t a significant amount. I wouldn’t even consider it regular. Then I started a new probiotic around January this year. I will say that this product is what I consider to be the best on the market. I felt reset and human. My body became predictable and, most importantly, operational. But with regular use came regular agitation, and I had to be gentle with myself. I bought all the ointments available from the digestive section at the store and charged forward. Then one night, I noticed pressure on my tailbone. It wasn’t painful; it was barely noticeable, but it was certainly present, whatever “it” was.
Then the blood began appearing every morning. Some mornings it was bright, spotty red. Other mornings the stool was interwoven with a darker burgundy, but there was still no pain. I hadn’t lost any weight. To be honest, this is a pandemic, and I’ve gained a few pandemic pounds. But I could feel it, and I knew that I hadn’t felt it before. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and so I made an appointment. My doctor and I had spoken about my GI issues before, and she gave me tips on managing constipation. She also gave me a list of GI doctors if I felt like checking it out, and I went on my way.
Two weeks later I met with the GI doctor. The exam went well. There was some inflammation, but nothing to be concerned about. I had already scheduled the colonoscopy before meeting with her, and she said we could move forward so that I could have peace of mind.
And that was it. A week and half later I had my diagnosis.
The pressure on my tailbone is the tumor, all two centimeters of it. Ultimately, those pesky hemorrhoids probably saved my life. I imagine they began crowding the tumor’s claimed real estate and forced me to pay attention to the things I had become accustomed to versus the things that were different enough.
Despite everything I still feel well. My mind is at peace as the plan develops. I have tucked the fear away in a dark corner of my mind that I try not to open too often. Despite the pricks and prods and the worsening bruise on my right arm after a faulty IV yesterday, I feel fine. The most unexpected and challenging part of this is knowing that as I sit here, feeling healthy, this thing sits inside of me feeding on my health.