What is One Day Compared to Your Whole Life?
Meggan’s Colonoscopy Experience
Even before the age of 17, Meggan Werkheiser, Olympus’ Content Marketing Manager, understood how critical it was to screen early for colon cancer.
“My dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer when he was 45, almost 46 years old,” she explained. “I was in 8th grade when we heard the devastating news, which was also the year he got his first of three surgeries. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t found early enough, and he passed away at 49.”
Meggan’s dad tried everything in his power to survive-- including several rounds of chemotherapy (even two different types at the same time), a 24-hour fusion of chemotherapy, and radiation of his liver, pancreas, and ducts once the cancer had spread. He also trialed Thalidomide, which only made him feel sick. Within that 3-year span, her father also experienced three surgeries; one to remove a tumor and 12 inches of the large intestine, another to remove tumors in the liver and pancreas, and a third to see if they could open some of the ducts, which unfortunately was not successful. They did insert a stent to open the digestive tract, but this only caused additional distress.
Meggan Werkheiser and her father, Keith Oates
“This doesn’t even touch the surface of how much pain he dealt with on a daily basis,” Meggan explained. “There were times, many times, he couldn’t hold down a meal. He went through so, so much. And when you watch your hero experience this kind of slow and painful death and you see how hard he is fighting to stay alive – that stays with you. I was a teenager when he was going through – I don’t know how many colonoscopies – and I look back now after having a colonoscopy myself, and really wish I could have been there for him more than I was. When someone is diagnosed with colon cancer, it affects the whole family, even if you aren’t the one physically going through it. So now, I think – if I can be healthy for myself, my children and my husband and proactively screen for colon cancer – then that’s exactly what I am going to do.”
According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has lowered the colon cancer screening age to 45. In Meggan’s situation, since her father was diagnosed at 45 and there was family history, his five children were advised to start the screening even earlier at 35 years old.
“I was definitely not looking forward to this experience, but I figured all of my siblings had gone through it so now it was my turn,” Meggan said. “We are all pretty supportive of one another as well, so once I hit 35, I was always reminded of my responsibility to schedule it. And with everything our dad went through with a late-stage diagnosis – it wasn’t a big ask for me to go get a colonoscopy.”
Meggan described the prep for the procedure as the worst part. She explained that it was basically a day dedicated to fasting and an evening of what essentially cleaned out the colon for the surgeon to get the best visual possible. Her plan was to keep busy while fasting to make the day go quicker, and her prep itself only lasted about three hours.
“When I think about my first colonoscopy and fast forward through the prep, the procedure itself was very seamless,” she stated. “For anyone worried about the procedure, as the patient, you are under anesthesia the whole time – you don’t feel anything, and then you wake up in the recovery room like you just took a nap.”
Meggan walked into the healthcare facility at 8 AM and was walking out by 10:20 AM.
“It was a quick, in and out, type of appointment,” she explained. “I could tell that it was a very routine procedure for the hospital staff, and afterwards, I was ready to eat!”
Meggan strongly urges people to, “Listen to your body and get the screening as soon as you are eligible – even if nothing feels off. My dad was told that even if he had come into the doctor’s office months earlier, it wouldn’t have made a significant difference. At the time, he was told by his doctor that it takes approximately 10 years to develop stage 3 colon cancer. That’s why the earlier the screening, the better. If he had gotten screened in his 30s, maybe he would have had a different story. Colon cancer is not just for a certain age or certain type of person – it’s for everyone. Fight for your right to get an early screening and don’t hesitate to call your physician.”
Beyond early screening, Meggan adds that now she thinks of a colonoscopy as just a day of prep and a short painless procedure that can save and change lives.
“What is one day compared to your whole life?” Meggan asked.
“Be present for yourself, your family and your friends. Sometimes the best way you can do that is by taking care of your own health and getting the recommended testing. Also, don’t just think a symptom will go away, because sometimes it doesn’t.”
Learn about the ways you can support your community with colon cancer awareness by visiting:
Prevention, Research, Patient Support | Colorectal Cancer Alliance
Colon Cancer Nonprofit | Colon Cancer Coalition