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Archive for Sunday, April 27, 2003

Colon crawl dramatizes cancer threat

April 27, 2003


So there I was, on hands and knees, crawling through a 40-foot long, four-foot-high, human colon.

It wasn't a real colon, of course. No human has a colon that size, except maybe Marlon Brando, and I'm sure he has security people to prevent media access.

No, this was a replica. It's called the Colossal Colon, and I'm not making it up. It was conceived of by a 26-year-old cancer survivor named Molly McMaster as a way to get people to talk about their colons. This is a topic that most people don't even like to THINK about. I sure don't, and I bet you don't. But if you never talk to your doctor about your colon, you might never get screened for colon cancer -- the second leading cause of cancer death, though it's preventable -- and you could die, and THEN think how you'd feel.

That's the idea behind the Colossal Colon, which is currently traveling around the nation on a 20-city tour (to see what cities its visiting, check I caught up with the colon in South Beach, a part of Miami Beach known for sophistication and glamour. You can barely swing your arms there without striking an international supermodel, or a Rolling Stone, or, at the bare minimum, a Baldwin brother. I felt that the Colossal Colon fit right in.

The colon was set up inside an air-conditioned tent, along with displays of helpful information, including a list of "DOs" and "DON'Ts" for visitors. Among the DON'Ts were: "DON'T stop for long periods of time inside of the Colossal Colon" and "DON'T horseplay inside of the Colossal Colon." I thought the wisest advice was: "DON'T leave your children unattended."

If you're a parent, there are few experiences more embarrassing than when you report a missing child to the police, and the officer asks you where you last saw little Tiffany, and you have to answer: "She was entering a giant colon."

The Colossal Colon, shaped like a huge "C," is made from plywood and polyurethane foam. It has been sculpted and painted to look very realistic, so much so that I was frankly reluctant to crawl inside. I was worried about how far they carried the realism. I mean, what if you got deep inside there, and you suddenly were confronted, fun-house-style, by some guy wearing a costume depicting an educational colon-dwelling character, such as Tommy Tapeworm, or, God forbid, Fred Food?

Fortunately, this did not happen. But the journey through the Colossal Colon is no walk in the park. You start out at the end labeled "Healthy Colon," and for a short while it's a pleasant enough crawl. But pretty soon you start running into bad things: first Crohn's disease, then diverticulosis, then polyps, then precancerous polyps, then colon cancer, then advanced colon cancer, and finally -- just when you see the light at the end of the tunnel and start to think you're safe -- you find yourself face to face (so to speak) with one of mankind's worst nightmares: Hemorrhoids the size of regulation NFL footballs.

Shaken? You bet I was shaken. It was with weak knees that I emerged from the end of the colon (medical name: "The Geraldo"). There I was asked by a member of the Colossal Colon's entourage (yes, it has an entourage) to sign a pledge promising to consult with my doctor about my colon. I signed the pledge, although to be honest, I did not consult with my doctor. I consulted instead with my friend and longtime medical adviser, Gene Weingarten, who is widely acknowledged to be the foremost hypochondriac practicing in America today.

Gene told me that he'd been screened for colon cancer, and that the procedure was not nearly as bad as I imagined. This is good, because I imagined that it involved a large, cruel medical technician named "Horst" and 70,000 feet of chairlift cable. But Gene assured me that it's nothing like that and that they make you very comfortable (by which I mean "give you drugs"). Gene says they make you so comfortable that you'll be laughing and exchanging "high fives" with Horst (make sure he washes his hands first).

So I'm going to get the screening, darn it. I hope you do, too, assuming you actually get to see this column. I suspect some editors will decide not to print it, because it contains explicit words that some readers may find distasteful, such as "Geraldo." If you're one of those readers, I apologize if I offended you. But remember: I'm writing this because maybe -- just maybe -- it will save your life.

Ha ha! Not really. I'm writing this because I'm a humor columnist, and there was a giant colon in town.

But get yourself screened anyway.

-- Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

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