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Kyle Koeppel Headshot

It's That Time of Year

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For most people, the new year is associated with the holiday season. While I have the same 'tis-the-season' feelings this time of year as most, I also always feel anxiety, stress and other strong emotions that accompany my annual cancer screening. I have Lynch syndrome, a genetic mutation that causes colon cancer, as well as many other kinds of cancer. As such, I am extremely proactive to ensure that any abnormality is detected early and treated before it advances to a life-threatening stage.

This year's screening has started early. What better way to celebrate Christmas than with a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy at noon on Christmas Eve! Having spent a lot of time discussing the merits of doing all my screening within one week at the Mayo Clinic (see previous posts), I am pulling a 180 and doing my screenings locally and over the course of a few weeks.

I decided to stay local for my screening this year because of recommendations that when I turn 30, certain screening should be done more than once a year. As I am turning 30 this coming September, it seems that despite the wonderful routine my mom and I have settled into at the Mayo Clinic, it would be illogical to travel to Minnesota multiple times a year when New York City has such incredible doctors. While this year's screening plan is different than the one I had at the Mayo Clinic, I found a doctor who will serve as the team captain, and each doctor I see will report to her. After all of my screening is completed, my team captain will digest the results and share them with me.

When I made the decision to schedule my first set of tests for next week, I did not think much of it. In fact, I almost found the process amusing, given that I've stressed the importance for me emotionally of doing everything together. I do not regret the decision I've made to separate my screenings a little, but I must say I was surprised by how emotional I got just going to meet my new gastroenterologist.

The nurse entered the room to ask me about my personal and family medical history, and I was totally calm and normal, until the dreaded question -- "Are your parents alive? Mom, Dad?" And there on the screen, unavoidable to my eyes, was the answer that punched me in the stomach -- "mother: deceased." It never gets old, and I tried hard to hold the tears back. (Mom here = Mommy).

Then the doctor came in and we discussed my past colonoscopies and upper endoscopies, my medical history, and what the upcoming procedures would involve. On top of his thorough outline for me personally, I was also impressed with his research efforts in the fields of Lynch syndrome and colon cancer detection. I do believe I made the right decision in switching my screening to local doctors.

However, I left feeling sad. I was truly shocked by my own emotions. Before I went to this appointment, my mom had asked me if I needed her to go with me -- I answered "no" without even thinking about. I could not have imagined the visit would be so hard on me. A few days after my consultation, a nurse called to review my chart. When she asked about my mommy being dead, I got cranky -- "Didn't I just go over this with your office in person? Do we really have to do this again?" The question made me sad, once again, and it just seemed unnecessary -- my mommy did not miraculously un-die since we last talked about it.

It is a great thing that I do not find myself sad like this very often. I always know that mother's day, my mommy's birthday, the anniversary of her death, and my week of screening will be times where this sadness is one of the emotions I experience. I did not expect to be emotional before/during/after a routine meeting with my doctor. I suppose I am sharing this short story as a reminder that it is okay to be sad, that dealing with my own health and thinking about losing my mommy brings up a lot emotionally. I also think that I somehow expected to be less emotional than normal because I was not actually having the colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, and that having written about my experiences on my blog, I would be stronger.

I am strong -- it is nice to remind myself that being emotional when confronting issues of loss, having a genetic mutation that causes cancer, and self-preservation through cancer screening does not make me weak, but rather it makes me human.

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