By Steve Graham
From industrial strength laxative to high-tech ‘Stargate’ turned giant donut, from a 50th birthday to tattoos where the sun don’t shine... this is the second part of Steve Graham's Colon Diaries.
So they had to find out and I was sent for a CAT Scan. Now I’m assuming we’ve all seen the movie ‘Stargate’ (well for those of you who haven’t, it’s a big circular high-tech gateway to another time or dimension, where people step through into a land that time forgot or to another world altogether). This is how I imagined the CAT Scan machine, except that’s how I would have imagined it if they hadn’t sent me four massive sachets of ‘Clean Prep’. What’s ‘Clean Pre’? I hear you say, well it’s basically industrial strength laxative. I can just see them at the manufacturing meeting saying, “Come on boys we’ve produced this wonder powder capable of reaming a man dry and we’ve got to come up with a name, and we’re not using ‘Bowel Blaster’ or ‘Shite Shifter!” So they settled on ‘Clean Prep’. I spent the day before my scan necking four litres of warm water and the magic powder, to spend the next four hours watching the world fall out of my arse. So by the time I got to the CAT Scan I was starving. When I go in, suddenly it wasn’t the high-tech ‘Stargate’ I’d imagined, suddenly it was a giant donut and I was Homer Simpson gliding through, “MMM donut…”
Then I had the week from hell, waiting, waiting to find out how far it had gone, waiting to find out if the cancer had spread. I was grumpy bastard, like a bear with sore head and my poor girlfriend was at her wits end. Finally the waiting was over and me and my long-suffering girlfriend were called in for a meeting with the Head Surgeon to discuss my case.
The surgeon was a big man, very authoritive yet sensitive. He spoke very carefully and very concisely. He spoke a lot, but the main words I remember were; “You’re very lucky, were able to take the curative route, your cancer is very localized and there is no sign of any spreading”. My girlfriend and I turned to each other and the tears ran. It’s hard to believe you can be so happy just to have localized cancer, but that was the best news I could have ever had.
Then we discussed the operation, it all sounded simple, open me up, cut the dodgy bit of manky colon out, join the two good bits back together, Bob’s your uncle! But they wanted to operate quickly, I was two weeks of my 50th birthday, and I gingerly asked if they could do the operation after that. And the date was set, two days after my birthday I was going in.
There was the whole should I tell people, or should I not, I’d obviously told my family, but friends, other people? Now I’m an intensely private person and initially I chose not to tell anyone of my six-week ordeal or my diagnosis and I had to think long and hard to myself why? And if you want to know the truth? (as that’s what writing this thing is all about) I didn’t want to appear vulnerable, spent, over the hill. My 50th birthday was on the horizon, that was enough of great leveler as it was, but, ‘happy 50th you’ve got cancer’, was just too much. I felt like that limping Stagg now marginalized to the edge of the herd. They say pride goes before a fall; well I was at the bottom of the staircase on my arse. But the day before my birthday, out drinking with a close bunch of male friends, I just blurted it out! And for those of you who were there, (you know who you are) I’m sorry, but the overwhelming, and genuine wave of positive emotion I received back from them, completely blew me away. It was totally unexpected, but, I guess whatever I was feeling about my own vulnerability, was present in each and every one of them and that’s when I realized I wasn’t alone.
So came the morning of my admission, and they had one last invasive indignity left in store for me, a little pre-cursor to the main event. I received a phone call from the hospital saying they had forgotten to tattoo the inside of my colon, just like that. Now, you can forget your gloves, your sandwiches, your bloody keys for God sake, but who forgets to tattoo the inside of a colon?
So back in for another colonoscopy but this time I was having a ship’s anchor and my girlfriend’s name emblazoned up my back passage. Well actually, the whole point of the exercise is, a tattoo is done next to the tumor and is visible from the outside of the colon and allows the surgeon to easily identify the correct spot to make his incision, but I still liked the idea of the ships anchor. When I say I liked the idea, I don’t know how many people out there have had tattoos, (this was my first) and I know people say it hurts, but believe you me, you haven’t felt pain until your have the old indoor tattoo. I think I can safely top most tattoo stories now, “Have you got a tattoo?”
“Oh yes, on my shoulder, bloody painful, how about you?” That’s when I can confidently reply, “I’ve got a tattoo where the sun don’t shine and you don’t know the meaning of pain.”