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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colon health is a bit like the big pink elephant in the room nobody likes to talk about. That is, unless you are an older adult. They typically have no worries about sharing their bowel movement for the day.
We all do it, but we don’t like to talk about it. Animals don’t care; they go whenever they need to. Most of us, on the other hand, have to find a quiet spot. I make sure I do the double flush so I am not stinking up the place too much.
After my colon issues a couple of years ago, I have become quite comfortable going whenever I need to! It’s not worth “holding it” when I am paying”for it later with colon cramps, constipation and/or irritable bowel syndrome etc.
The importance of colon health: In a nutshell, after food passes into the small intestines, the body absorbs all the nutrients. When the nutrients are extracted, the “leftovers” will pass into the large intestines. There, the body will extract the water and pass the rest on as feces into the toilet.
How can we maintain a good intestinal health?
• Maintain a balanced diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, fiber and foods low in fat
• Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
• Exercise regularly
• Manage stress
• Get the proper amount of sleep
How often should you have a bowel movement?
Trying to find out a concrete answer, I established that there is no “right” answer. But when you get off your normal pattern, you have to wonder why that is happening. Is it stress, dehydration or a lack of exercise? The shape, color, consistency and so much more can tell a specialist all kinds of things about ailments etc.
Colonoscopies: Part of maintaining colon health is to undergo a colonoscopy at the age of 50. What exactly is a colonoscopy? When physicians perform colonoscopies, they look at your lower bowel (large intestines). The gastroenterologist uses an endoscope, a long, flexible tube about the thickness of your index finger. It has a small camera and a light at the end which gives the doctor a clear view of the colon’s lining to see if there are any problems.
Typically if you have had a colonoscopy at 50 and it was clear, your next one is not due to you are 70. In my case, I had problems, so I had a colonoscopy at 45. They found two polyps, and one was pre-cancerous. As I told Dr Jagar, I am five years ahead of the game. So at 50 (in two years) I will have another colonoscopy. If I am clear then, typically people will go on a 10-year or longer plan.
Dr Jagar and his staff do an outstanding job. The hardest part for me with the colonoscopy was the liquid diet for one day and nothing after midnight. Boy I was clean but also grumpy from the lack of calories and hunger!
If you are 50+ and have not had a colonoscopy yet, schedule one now. People seem to fear that it will be an embarrassing or maybe painful event. Neither was the case with me. The staff was extremely friendly at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, and I didn’t feel any pain at all.
The scary thing is that, with colon and rectal cancer, the common symptoms are no symptoms at all. Needless to say, a colonoscopy is very important, as I found out for myself.
So, hydrate, eat well, exercise, sleep enough (eight hours per night) and manage your stress. And if you are 50 or older schedule your colonoscopy. This column is in honor and memory of my friend Bill Carlton, who lost his long and courageous fight with cancer which started in his colon.

Ester H. Marsh ACSM Cpt and Health and Fitness Director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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