How I prep physically, mentally & emotionally for a colonoscopy

At 58, I’ve had six colonoscopies already.

I had my first routine colonoscopy at 50. Only a benign polyp was found and that was that. The doctor recommended I undergo another colonoscopy in 10 years – that would put me at 60.

I’m a big proponent of colonoscopies as they can save lives. After undergoing six myself, I’ve mastered the art of the prep.
Before my second colonoscopy that saved me from colon cancer. 2018

Well, at 54 I had some pretty uncomfortable IG symptoms that landed me at the ER at one point. I had to push to get a second colonoscopy and well, whaddya know, as I woke up from the procedure, the doctor said: “thank goodness we did this.” 

Apparently I had diverticulosis (pockets that form in the digestive tract) and an extremely large dysplastic (precancerous) polyp in the colon, which was only partly removed, since it was rooted in the colon wall.

If they hadn’t caught it then, and waited until I was 60 for my next colonoscopy, I’d most likely have been discussing treatments for colon cancer, according to the doctor.

I was supposed to have a colon resection – my first really big surgery ever – and fortunately I decided to visit a specialist, Dr. Wexner, at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida, instead of the local general surgeon the doctor had suggested.

Thanks to that, the rest of the polyp was removed via colonoscopy too, so I entirely avoided surgery. This was thanks to Dr. Erim Tolga, also at the Cleveland Clinic. 

A family history of polyps and/or colon cancer warrants a screening colonoscopy

This past year, my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer at 82, after profuse rectal bleeding. He did get the colon resection and a temporary colostomy bag. He wasn’t a candidate for chemo since he underwent a quadruple coronary bypass a few years ago and chemo is hard on the heart. He wouldn’t have accepted the chemo anyway.

Well, now I KNOW that I have a family history of polyps and colon cancer, so I recently underwent my sixth colonoscopy right before turning 58. Thankfully it came out clear, although I did have more benign polyps, and apparently I’m good for another 3 years.

That said, I would not mind it if I had to have one sooner. My dad has undergone five colonoscopies just this year, but he never had his original screening one, because back then they did not provide anesthesia.

Of course I wish he’d had a regular screening at 50: I’m confident he would not have reached the colon cancer stage later on with regular screenings. 

With anesthesia (propofol being the one used in the U.S., where I live), the procedure is quite honestly nothing to be scared of.

I’m a big proponent of colonoscopies as they can save lives. After undergoing six myself, I’ve mastered the art of the prep.
My stories on Instagram, while taking my prep at a hotel in Weston, FL. Feb. 2020.

Since I uploaded my first video on Youtube about what a colonoscopy is like, and a more recent one about my six colonoscopies, so far, several commenters have let me know that in England, for example, anesthesia is not a given, so the procedure could be pretty uncomfortable.

If you can get your colonoscopy with anesthesia, no matter where you live, the only part that could be hard is the prep. That’s what most people complain about. Now again, I’ve done this prep six times, and although it’s not something I would do just for the heck of it, I can think of much worse things to go through.

In my YouTube videos, I describe how I prepare myself mentally and physically for the prep. I’ve had all the different kinds of preps: the pills you take with water, the one you mix with a gallon of water and have to drink a glass or two of every 15 minutes, and the latest was a more convenient prep where I drank a glass of a syrupy-like substance and chased it with water.

I approach the colonoscopy prep as a physical, emotional and mental cleanse

What I do to make this process more palatable is that I take it as a cleanse: a physical, mental and even spiritual cleanse. Granted, the fact that I am a yoga teacher and practitioner helps a lot with that now, but I wasn’t practicing yoga every day at 50, and I still handled it pretty well then.

Before you start your prep, make sure you read the instructions carefully (they are all a little different) but most of all, listen to the nurse practitioner and follow your particular instructions, since the timing is going to depend on when your colonoscopy is scheduled the day after.

I arm myself with clear broth, clear liquids, lemon or lime popsicles, etc. which I consume during the time I cannot eat solids or drink colored liquids. Do check with your doctor for this.

I’m a big proponent of colonoscopies as they can save lives. After undergoing six myself, I’ve mastered the art of the prep.
My IG stories in March 2020 as I finished my prep.

I use meditation apps like Insight timer and Headspace to keep myself calm and in a positive state of mind during the cleanse. When the prep starts kicking in and I have to go to the bathroom, I concentrate on my breathing so that I am not swayed by the sheer number of times I end up sitting on the toilet.

I watch uplifting movies or documentaries, I read inspirational books and basically curl up in my bed and amp up the self-care. I don’t sit with the family for dinner, and ask the fam to please not come into my room eating something I can’t.

When I can, before going to the clinic or hospital, I take a shower (making sure someone is near, since I am lightheaded from lack of food) and wear comfy clothes and take an extra shawl, since waiting rooms are usually cold. I always take my own cozy socks, although at some hospitals they prefer you to wear theirs.

I’m a big proponent of colonoscopies as they can save lives. After undergoing six myself, I’ve mastered the art of the prep.
Right before leaving the house for my latest colonoscopy. April 2021

Keep in mind that you will need someone to take you and pick you up from the procedure (you cannot drive or leave by yourself usually since you are still under the effects of anesthesia). 

The anesthesia – to me – is a pleasant experience. I have not personally experienced adverse effects during or after the procedure. But please check with your doctor regarding this. I personally clear my schedule the day of the procedure but also the day after, since sometimes the grogginess or sleepiness lasts longer for me.

Other than that, I am extremely grateful that I can undergo this procedure that saves lives. I have lost several friends, one of them my best friend, too soon to cancer and if I can undergo a screening that helps early detection, so be it.

 I’m a big proponent of colonoscopies as they can save lives. After undergoing six myself, I’ve mastered the art of the prep.

Lorraine C. Ladish

Bilingual and bicultural Spanish-American editor, writer, speaker, influencer, yoga teacher (RYT500) wife and mom. Founder of Viva Fifty! Published author of 18 books. Her most recent book Your Best Age was released by HarperCollins in September of 2017.

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