CBSN

Easing Colonoscopy Anxiety

Nurse Audrey Thompson, left, hugs Mary Humphrey, center, as Sandy Sawyer brings in a basket of goodies after Humphrey's colonoscopey in Plano, Texas, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2003. Thompson, a self-described health crusader, has organized several parties in the past year, and her real motivation is to fight colon cancer.
AP
When oncology nurse Audrey Thompson invites her friends to a party, she often dares them to bare their bottoms.

On a recent Saturday, a dozen or so of her co-workers took the challenge. They arrived at Medical Center of Plano as early as 6:30 a.m. to drop their pants — for a colonoscopy.

Thompson, a self-described health crusader, has organized several parties in the past year, partly for selfish reasons. And, no, it is not to see her friends in uncompromising positions.

"I hate to say this, but we have so much fun," said Thompson, an assistant nurse manager at Medical City of Plano. "We meet at the facility that morning and we're all there for each other."

But her real motivation is to fight colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In 2001, more than 57,000 people died of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Both men and women are equally affected by the disease, but blacks have the highest death rate of any ethnic group.

As part of colon cancer awareness month, the American Cancer Society is encouraging people to get early screenings. Doctors recommend regular screenings for anyone age 50 and over, and anyone between 40 and 50 with a family history of the disease.

The disease can be prevented if detected early through regular screenings, but only about one-third of eligible patients ever have one, the group says.

Colonoscopies allow doctors to see inside the colon and rectum to detect polyps by using a flexible hollow tube with a camera chip on the end. Patients must ingest a liquid laxative to clean the colon before the procedure. Patients are then given a mild sedative so they are not awake during the screening.

During the party, Thompson and a group of volunteers — attendees from previous parties — visit with the patients to ease last minute jitters.

The outpatient surgery room is decorated with blue and white ribbons and signs that read, "I'm proud to be a party pooper" and "Don't neglect early detect."

As patients are rolled to the surgery room, everyone cheers and claps.

"Yeah, go Cheryl," they shout as 45-year-old Cheryl Lawson a registered nurse makes her way to see Dr. Brian Cooley, the gastrointestinal specialist who performs the procedures for Thompson's parties.

Thompson snaps pictures and hands out silly awards, such as "the worst prep" and "the hardest to convince."

Kathryn Magnuson, 53, received a photo of the mushroom-shaped polyp removed from her colon. A pharmacist at the hospital, Magnuson must have a follow-up screening next year because test showed the polyp was precancerous, meaning it could develop into cancer.

She said she may not have had the screening without Thompson's urging.

"This is wonderful that she does this," Magnuson said. "It takes the fear away."

Patty Joslyn, a registration supervisor at the hospital, said she often dodged Thompson at work to avoid the colonoscopy pep talk. Then one day she called Thompson's floor, and guess who answered?

"I told her, `I've been avoiding you,"' recalled Joslyn, 56, as she lay in the hospital bed following her procedure. "I tried to put it off, but she said I needed to do it."

The party concept is what finally sold her.

"I probably wouldn't have done it individually," said Joslyn, whose colonoscopy was negative, meaning there were no polyps.

Thompson, who has yearly screenings, came up with the party idea after she and fellow nurse Anneli Fuller decided to have colonoscopies together. The pair made a day of it and after the procedure went shopping and had dinner.

"It worked so well for the two of us, I said, `Let's see if we can get other people,"' Thompson said. "I starting asking people at work and got 10 people who were interested."

So far, she has had three parties. Fifteen people attended a party in November and 30 people have already signed up for one in March.

"The goal is to screen as many people as possible," she said.

Early detection saved Thompson's mother, Judy Warner. Doctors discovered and removed several polyps, or small growths, in her colon during an initial screening 16 years ago. Tests later revealed the polyps were cancerous.

Today, Warner, 68, is cancer-free and enjoying her flower gardens at her lakeside home in Indiana. She continues to have screenings every year.

"She was very lucky," said Thompson, 48. "That's why it is important to get the message out there."