Opinion: Why getting a colonoscopy was one of the best things that could have happened to me

OPINION: Men, it's no secret that we often suck when it comes to taking our health seriously.

Call it fear, denial, or even the classic 'she'll be right' attitude, we can be plain obstinate when it comes to health scares or even a simple trip to the doctor.

But as a man now in my early 30s and coming out of my first (and hopefully only) global pandemic, I've started to take any sign of feeling unwell more seriously. 

So, when a rival Kiwi media company did an excellent job with their coverage of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month back in June, it was pretty terrifying to sit there and slowly tick off a lot of the symptoms that were outlined. 

Persistent pain in the abdomen? Yep. 

Change in regular bowel habits? That was there too. 

Tiredness? I've been knackered since 2008, but seeing it on a list like this, there was all the more reason to take it seriously. 

Bleeding from the rectum? That's a big enough red flag on its own, regardless of the others. 

With more than 1200 deaths and 3000 diagnoses per year, bowel cancer is one of the most prolific cancers in Aotearoa - and New Zealand has some of the worst numbers in the world. As a killer of Kiwis, only lung cancer has higher numbers than its bowel counterpart. 

But while any cancer is scary, bowel cancer is in fact incredibly treatable - if you can catch it early enough. 

After a few days of umming and ahhing over whether or not it was anything worth getting looked at, I turned to Doctor Google - probably ill-advised, but it was yet another push towards doing what was right. 

A quick conversation with a couple of senior figures in the newsroom - who had experienced the same thing - was the final straw, so I bit the bullet and talked to my GP. While many men are horrendous at going to the doctors at the best of times - regardless of how bad we feel - once I was in there, it couldn't have gone smoother. 

Much to my surprise, bleeding from my bum wasn't the biggest alarm bell. Any change from what you'd consider normal in terms of your daily habits is what doctors look for.  

My doctor, who I've known since I was a kid, told me very calmly: "Alex, you probably don't have bowel cancer, but we'll get it looked at anyway." 

'Looked at' was the phrase that made me the most uncomfortable. Yep, that meant putting a camera where the sun doesn't shine. 

In terms of getting booked in for a colonoscopy, where a camera is inserted into your bum to have a quick squiz at the colon and bowel, I was quite lucky with my work providing health insurance. 

Yes, that's a luxury some people don't have, and that's part of the wider problem of how we deal with cancer in this country. 

Genuinely, the worst thing about getting a colonoscopy is the preparation. The 48 hours leading up to it means you have to cut all high-fibre foods out of your diet. About 15 hours out from the procedure, food was off the menu altogether.  

The entirety of the night before was spent on the toilet, courtesy of a lovely drink called glycoprep - heavy on sarcasm, here. 

Once the appointment rolled around, however, it couldn't have been easier.  

Walking into a waiting room full of men with similar nervous expressions as mine was a little bit reassuring, as we one by one went off to our respective appointments. 

After a quick rundown and signing a couple of forms, the procedure was over as quickly as it started (for me anyway, after a slight sedation). Not to mention, the ham and cheese sandwich after waking up was genuinely one of the best things I've ever eaten.  

In the end, as my doctor very confidently asserted, I didn't have bowel cancer - but it did catch another issue that I can now actually manage and treat properly. If that hadn't been caught, it could have led to even more problems down the line. 

Aside from that, the peace of mind in knowing that everything was alright was such an unbelievable weight lifted off my shoulders - one I'd been carrying for weeks.  

If there's one bit of advice I could give: if you feel any reason to get something looked at, just do it.  

It's better to look a bit silly in front of a doctor who would have absolutely seen something more daft than you can even think of, than to leave it untreated until it's too late. Cancer scares are never fun, but it's better to look silly than be dead. 

That, and never Google your symptoms. 

Alex Powell is a Newshub sport digital producer