I lay on the table the next morning, feeling the effects of the mild anesthesia enter my arm and fog my senses as the nurse gently narrated what was happening. I was determined to try to stay awake—for the sake of the show—and could grasp some of what Dr. Jon LaPook, gastroenterologist and CBS Evening News correspondent, was saying as he began the exam. Then, suddenly and surreally, I recall him saying, "Mehmet, you have a polyp." I lay there in a daze knowing something wasn't right. The drugs beat back the fear, but as they wore off over the course of the day, the reality set in that something unexpected had happened.
That afternoon, I spoke on the phone with Mindy Borman, the executive producer of our show. The tone in her voice was something I was hearing for the first time. When an executive producer tells you that she is keeping the situation top secret, you know it's serious.
I met my television crew at Jon LaPook's office on Monday morning to learn my diagnosis. He had found an adenomatous polyp, the kind that develops into colon cancer. He told me what I already knew as a physician—that if I had not had the colonoscopy and the polyp was not discovered and removed, there was a chance I would have developed metastatic colon cancer. It's amazing how many thoughts race through your mind in those moments. For the first time, I was on the other side of the desk. I was the patient that was feeling the wrench of a harsh reality.
Like most people who learn troubling news about their health, my initial reaction was this was somehow unfair—I had kept my end of the bargain. I had done everything right. I had exercised my entire life, studied what foods to eat and carefully selected every item of my diet. I got enough sleep. I meditated. I did everything in my power to maintain good health, and I devoted my life to teaching and healing others. But through reflection emerged an epiphany—the act of getting a colonoscopy was in itself an act of prevention. I went at 50. I did what I was told. And as Jon LaPook so beautifully provided the analogy, the sound I heard was a bullet whizzing by—a bullet I had dodged.
We cannot control the cards we are dealt, but we can control how we play them. While these reminders are never pleasant, they are almost always gifts if we choose to treat them as such. Otherwise, they will become progressively heavier baggage that we need to cart around. In my case, I could choose to wish this away, or I could attach to it a deeper meaning and have it serve a higher purpose. I could teach my audience the crucial need for preventive colonoscopies. I could show them that the most common warning signs of a precancerous polyp are no symptoms and excellent health. I could share with the world the emotional roller coaster I was riding in the hopes that those watching or listening would stop procrastinating, get their own colonoscopies and save their own lives. I could share with the world my transition from arrogance to humility and reveal that at the end of the day I was just another person who was playing his best hand in the game of genetic poker with fate as the dealer.
A new lease on life and a reignited passion for proactive patients
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