At 50, Mary Closner faced her first colonoscopy, plus her annual mammogram.
Routine screenings are an important part of every adult’s health care, but sometimes they’re intimidating. “My doctor kept talking to me about a colonoscopy, but I put it off for two years because I was nervous. I’m a big chicken, just like everybody else,” she laughs. “Finally I just scheduled it.”
Mary wanted to get her screenings done before ankle surgery would have her off her feet for weeks. Turns out it wasn’t so bad. General surgeon Chris Nielsen, MD performed the procedure at Northfield Hospital’s Surgery Center. The at-home preparation was simpler than Mary expected, and the surgical team’s calm demeanor – and humor – put Mary at ease. Colonoscopy was first. “I was more afraid about the preparation,” she recalls. “I had built it up in my mind as this terrible, uncomfortable thing.”
“It was completely painless,” she says. “Afterwards, I was sluggish and took a nap the rest of the day. I don’t know what I was so terrified about. It wasn’t that big a deal. Now I say to everybody I see, ‘Have you had this done? You need to have this done.’”
Dr. Nielsen encouraged Mary to find out her family history, a risk factor that can prompt more frequent screening (every five years). At the next family event, Mary asked her five siblings about their health. “It’s stuff that you just wouldn’t normally talk about, but I purposely asked who has had a colonoscopy, or polyps,” she says. “It turned out to be an interesting conversation.”
Mary was less nervous about her mammogram, because she finds the Breast Cancer Center at Northfield Hospital & Clinics to be calm and welcoming. “Everything about it is soothing; it feels like you’re at a home,” she tells friends. “They’re the kindest people on the planet, and they have state of the art equipment, with these wonderful little foam pads they put on the machine so it’s not cold and daunting.”
Mary was surprised how many of her friends have avoided mammograms out of worry that the test will be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. “It’s so easy, and the technology is so modern. Breast cancer is such a common concern nowadays; this is a quick test that takes some worry off your mind,” she says.
Cost is another concern, as insurance deductibles rise. As a small business owner, Mary buys her own insurance, and watches costs without cutting corners. “I look at the screening tests as an investment in my health. Keeping up with my health helps maintain my quality of life. I don’t want to wait until there’s a problem,” Mary says. “You’re making an investment in your health. It’s a must.”
For many, it’s anxiety of the unknown that makes screening tests seem scary. Once you know what to expect, it’s easier to keep the screening schedule that your doctor recommends. (For adults 50 and older, that’s typically an annual mammogram, and colonoscopy every 10 years. Talk to your provider about your own history and risk factors.)
Just do it, already. Also, advocate for yourself; tell your care provider what puts you at ease – music, chatting during the exam, a step-by-step explanation of the procedure.
What helps? Conversation. Mary talks with her two older sisters about their experiences. She encourages friends to get their own screenings, too. “There’s a lot of strength in having support from someone in your same situation and same age group,” Mary says. “Which means that I’ve been talking about my colon to people who don’t even want to hear about it anymore,” she laughs. “There are plenty of things to worry about in the world . . . but you don’t need to worry about this.”
For more information about routine screenings, call the clinic nearest you.
Farmington Clinic - 651-460-2300
Lakeville Clinic - 952-469-0500
Lonsdale Clinic - 507-744-3245
Northfield Clinic - 507-646-1494