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Lynn Scurfield/The Globe and Mail

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Going to the dentist is worse than going for a colonoscopy. Having a tooth filled is worse.

My husband and I had colonoscopies at the age of 45 and at 50. Three years later, my husband was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, and he died eight months after that.

During a colonoscopy, the doctor looks up the colon with a tiny video camera at the end of a long tube, but when they're guiding it back down, they have to turn it around so they can make sure there are no colorectal polyps (growths that can become cancerous) at the very bottom of the colon. In my husband's case, the cancer was very low down and they did not catch it.

The first time I had it done, it was very uncomfortable. Just overall uncomfortable. You can choose to have an anesthetic to put you out, which I do ask for at the clinic I go to now. But I was not put to sleep.

For the preparation, you have to take copious amounts of this terrible liquid the evening before to clean out your system. It's an uber laxative you get from the pharmacy, and it's like nothing you've tasted before. It's not sweet or bitter. The only thing I can come up with is "yucky."

We used to have to drink a huge bottle of it. Now the amount you have to take is smaller and the taste is getting better, so it's not as onerous as it used to be. And then you've got to be close to the bathroom. The prep is really important because there's no point in having a colonoscopy if they can't see everything.

The next morning, I went in and they just put the scope up and moved it around. It was painful. Like terrible stomach cramps. The colon is really long and it winds, so a good doctor will carefully examine every corner and pocket in the colon to make sure there are no polyps. The doctor can also pump air through the tube to see it better. I think that's when it hurt, when they injected the air.

The discomfort doesn't last very long after it's all done. Maybe about 20 minutes. I know people who choose to stay awake for it and they say it doesn't bother them at all. But it's an assault on the system. That's why it's nice to be out for it. You wake up feeling like nothing has happened.

Many people are worried about somebody looking at their bum. But it actually is nothing. You just lie on your side. You're not exposed. You're warm. You're under a blanket. They maintain your dignity. They're highly respectful.

Diane McQuaig is a former nurse and a patient at the Kensington Screening Clinic in Toronto. She is also a supporter of the Balanse Bum Run, April 24, a race to increase participation in colorectal cancer screening.

As told to Wency Leung

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