Thursday, February 18, 2010


Here's your word of the month: dépistage. It's the noun form of the verb dépister, which means "to detect." It's what I'm going to be undergoing in two weeks' time. Since I've turned fifty, I'm eligible for free colon cancer testing by the French National Health Service.

They sent me a letter on my birthday with a pretty brochure about early detection. They use the hemoccult (fecal occult blood) test for most people these days. I was instructed to see my doctor and get the required prescription for the test kit. But for me it's not that easy. I recently learned that my grandfather died from colon cancer when I was very young. I remember that he died, but never really knew why -- I grew up thinking it was from lung cancer. But my family confirmed it for me in November after I mentioned that it was time for "the test."

At this news my doctor said that I should skip the hemoccult and proceed directly to coloscopie (colonoscopy). People with family histories of colon cancer should get the full visual inspection. That way, polyps can be detected earlier than they might be with the less "invasive" test. So he wrote me a referral to a gastro-entérologue and I saw him on Monday. Our consultation was brief; he asked me some questions about my general health and history, what medications I took, and he did some feeling around of my abdomen (looking for tumors I suppose). Then he described the procedure and scheduled it.

Next, I had to make an appointment with an anesthésiste since the procedure is done under general anesthetic. I'll be going up to Blois next Tuesday for that. She (I think it's a she) will talk to me about the anesthesia and get any information she needs to have prior to the actual colonoscopy. Also, I have to have a blood test. I guess they need to know what my blood type is and what the clotting rate is and other things like that.

The gastro is going to be sending a packet of materials for me to read along with prescriptions for the blood test and the stuff I'll need to prepare my insides for inspection: the dreaded liquid purging drinks!

The actual coloscopie is scheduled for the afternoon of March 4. Since I'll be under anesthesia during the test, I will not be tempted to live-blog it. You are relieved, I can tell.

Except for my co-pay for the doctors' fees and the blood test and the prep materials, which is minimal, the actual procedure is covered 100% by the national health service. They believe that early detection and treatment is not only good from a humane standpoint, but also much more cost-effective than treating people after they have become seriously ill. I'm all for that.

If this weren't such a serious thing, and not just a little bit scary, it would be an adventure. After all, I'm having to do all of this in French. I'm learning all kinds of new vocabulary.

Above you can see the cover of the brochure the health service sent about early detection of colon cancer. The words on the cover are in the form of a little poem. It even rhymes. It says:

In most cases,
Detected early,
Colon cancer
Is not a pain in the ass!

Okay, I made the last part up. Méchant means "dangerous" in this case, but I couldn't resist.


  1. If it's any consolation, I'm 36 and have already had 2 colonoscopies, one in the US and one in France, because I also have a very strong family history of colon cancer and polyps. I actually thought the process overall was easier in France. If you're interested, I blogged about it here. I'll be thinking about you! :)

  2. The worst part about the test is the preparation. If they give you a CD with pics of your insides, please don't be tempted to post them. Ewww!

  3. I haven't been on line in a while....
    I hope you are doing well. Colonoscopies are considered rather hohum procedures nowadays. HOwever, the first is a bit giddy. Good luck to you.

  4. I'll be thinking of you on the 4th and since I'm going to call Ken the next day, he will be giving me the latest news. Good luck.

  5. I'll be interested in what sort of prep you will be doing. As you can probably guess, I've had lots of preps and some are easier than others.

    BTW I learned that since my Mom had colon cancer I should have followed up my first colonoscopy (at age 50) with another five years later. This would have saved me the troubles I had requiring chemo and a couple of major surgeries.

    Live and learn and live...

    Bon courage for the prep, the procedure itself is nothing and the colon itself photographs nicely.

  6. I am surprised that you have to have a general anesthetic. Here we have the option - hubby had the general and since I wanted to see what was happening on the monitor, I was given a local in my case. Like you said, it 's the prep that's PITA :-)

  7. Oh boy! It's all fun and games now! Whee....
    My 50th will be here in two years (actually two years from tomorrow, to be exact). I'll be having my first one shortly thereafter. I can't wait.

  8. WCS - I'm wishing you the very best. And, I like your version of the poem.

    If my partner and I retire to France (or Belgium, which we have discussed) are we eligible for healthcare as US citizens? That would be a blessing.

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  10. I've had my three without anesthesia so I could watch the monitor. Also, I was in and out in under an hour. The actual colonoscopy was under 15 minutes the first two times and about 25 minutes the last—new doctor.

    On my latest one, I did the prep in the AM and the visit at about 1pm. It was all over by mid-afternoon.

  11. Walt, 'Courage' as they say in French!

    Diogenes, You won't benefit the Belgian health insurance system unless you've worked here for several years and have paid 'social security' premiums. These represent about 20% of our gros monthly wages during min. 30 years of active professional life! So unless you buy a pricely private health insurance, ...

  12. The worst part of my first colonoscopy is that the anesthesiologist revealed the results of the World Cup opener, which ruined the surprise--we'd taped so I could have a treat afterwards.

    Four years later I saw the same guy again. I will never schedule another colonoscopy in a World Cup year. You're okay at this point, though. Good luck, Walt.

  13. I hope it manages to skip your generation. I read a scientific journal a few months ago in which it was reported that colon cancer is actually a virus. But as usual nothing has been done to investigate further or research for a cure beside an appointment with a surgeon.

  14. I am not looking forward to have it done but I guess I will one day.
    I heard the preparation is the worse part.
    Tout se passera bien Walt!

  15. As a number of people have said, the prep is a lot worse than the procedure. I had mine under general. One minute the assistant was asking if I could roll toward him and the next minute, I was back in my little cubicle. Aside from some residual giddiness and a certain tenderness as a result of the prep, I was fine. Whatever you do, skip the jello during the liquid diet phase. You don't want to know why either. Just trust me on this one.


  16. I just went through my second one and it was a breeze. Yes, I was knocked out for the procedure. The afternoon and evening before weren't exactly a lot of fun -- I stayed within 20 feet of plumbing at all times, but the stuff I had to drink was nowhere near as bad as the first time I went through it all.

    Best of luck with it, Walt!

  17. Susie, as far as I know they don't have jello in France. And I would say, good for them! LOL So I think Walt is safe.

  18. It will be my turn next year and I'm already thinking about it, butt it must be done!

  19. Walt,
    I was concerned with my little story but here it goes.
    I had a doctor with a very good sense of humour. At the time I was painting the house, infact the front hallway which I had mentioned to my Doctor, at which he exclaimed, "Well you can look after your front passage, and I'll take care of your back passage".
    True story Walt.
    Hope your results are all fine.

  20. vivi, thanks! I really enjoyed reading that!

    larry, don't worry.

    michael, giddy? hmmmmmm...

    chm, merci.

    evelyn, my prep is different from what Ken did two years ago. I'm getting different "stuff" to drink, and there's less of it. But a lot of liquids, anyway.

    beaver, I've heard that in North America they keep you awake. I don't think that would bother me at all.

    alewis, happy birthday!

    diogenes, in France, once your regularized (with proper residency papers) you are eligible to join the national health system. You pay in based on your income.

    peter, in and out in under an hour! That about sums it up! ;)

    martine, merci!

    carolyn, well, that's just not fair!

    starman, me too!

    nadege, that's what everyone says!

    susan, no jello here. Lots of juice without pulp.

    will, I'm sure it won't be a problem. But I'll be glad when it's done.

    mark, hehehehe...

    leon, funny!

  21. Good luck Walt! I'm sure you'll be fine!


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