Tuesday, September 8, 2020

A do-it-yourself colonoscopy? Sign me up

    The best way to treat cancer is to find it early. So when I turned 60 in June, I went for a check-up. COVID-19 might have kept me away. But I had made the appointment before the pandemic started, and by then the crisis had dialed back a notch. I didn’t want to cancel, so masked up and went in to get poked and prodded.
     Everything seemed shipshape: heart beating, lungs receiving air. My doctor scanned his laptop: 10 years since my last colonoscopy — a probe with a tiny camera, checking out the intestines for cancerous polyps. Time for another.
     I grimaced and echoed the classic toddler complaint, “Do I hafta?” thinking of guzzling a gallon of MiraLAX, used to clean out the plumbing the evening before the procedure. Not fun.
     No, the doctor said, now there is a home test ...
     Great, I said, hopping up, let’s do that. Never considering what a home test meant. Forgetting all about it, in fact, until a cube-shaped box showed up, a Cologuard kit from Exact Sciences Laboratories of Madison, Wisconsin.
     Here it is probably best not to go into too much graphic detail, though that is coming. You might want to set this aside until after breakfast.
     In the kit: is a plastic bracket to be placed over the toilet; a stout white jar, or “sample container,” that sits in the center of the bracket and is aimed for; and a little vial with a wand in it — rather like mascara — that is later dipped into the contents of the jar. The wand is there because Cologuard tests for two things: both DNA revealing early cancer, and the blood that can be a sign of late-stage cancers.
     Filling the jar is ... not a pleasant process. A certain blank determination is required — emptying your mind and following instructions. When I was at Step 5(f) “Turn the lid to tighten until it does not tighten anymore,” I had a thought, and that thought was, “Who opens the jar?”

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  1. This is a really great story. Love how you made the trip to Madison to visit the company. Exact Science, great name for a company. Is it as accurate as the real thing? Amazing new technology. And if you needed to mail something important to someone you could use the Cologuard box, can't see anyone stealing that.

  2. Life and death subject, yet silence from the crowd?

    1. Neil said pretty much everything that needs to be said. This is not a bathroom humor crowd.

    2. I'm so old that I can easily remember when a job paying 17 bucks an hour (about 35 grand a year) was big money. Not anymore. Crappy pay for a crappy job (two points for the bathroom humor crowd).

      When I was a kid, and I had to produce a "sample" for a test, the methods were far more crude and unpleasant. I don't remember how it was done, and I don't want to. But I do recall asking my father how the "technicians" dealt with the smell. He claimed that they sprayed the poop with some bacteria-killing chemical that neutralized the odor...and I bought it.

      But wouldn't that interfere with the testing and alter the results? I was hoping to find out once and for all--thanks to Mr. S.--so I could flush these thoughts away forevermore. My niece would know. She's an environmental biologist at UC Berkeley. They're currently testing sewage samples from the dorms, to try to predict possible Plague outbreaks before they happen. Ahh, the miracles of modern science. Making a big stink, and thereby preventing an even bigger stink.

    3. The cute little toon climbing the bannister in the ColoGuard commercial should compel people to be tested. Neil story fleshed out the realities of the test, a test less invasive than a colonoscopy. I have one every three years and I always have polyps, without these tests I would have fought a battle with colon cancer by now. Take either test, please, neither is more unpleasant than changing a colostomy bag.

  3. I guess I don't pay much attention to a lot of things. After reading this I asked my wife knew about this. She used this company a few years ago. I didn't remember. She asked me if I had seen the commercials. I don't pay attention to them either.


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