Five years ago, just before Thanksgiving, I had a colonoscopy.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a colonoscopy is a medical test that examines your colon for abnormalities and disease, mainly cancer. For new patients, a physician might show a color diagram of the colon. Such visuals are like AAA roadmaps that appear to go everywhere. Mine looks like the Louisville Kennedy Interchange, an intersection of Interstates 64, 65 and 71. Anything passing out of that whizzes past Lexington and jams up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The physician will state that a long flexible tube (colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum and the video camera allows clinicians to view the inside of the entire colon. Often, digital photographs are taken, none of which should be shared at family get-togethers.

I was amazed at the precision by which this procedure gets completed. Like flights landing and taking off from your local airport, patients are moved through the various stages: pre-op, operation, post-op, recovery, doctor’s summary, exit.

What most hate is preparation. It begins during the previous night and involves chugging a gallon size concoction that tastes similar to a dishrag and cat saliva. If you’re lucky, one might get a hint of strawberry. Most times, one is not so fortunate. Instructions forewarn said participant that ‘loose, watery bowel movements may result.’ May result? For me, ‘loose watery bowel movement‘ resembled ‘Old Faithful,’ with timely eruptions occurring every 20 minutes.

I overheard two clinicians saying they know of patients putting a shot or two of alcohol in the prep.

Damn,” I thought. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?

Recovery resembles ‘America’s Got Talent.’ A group of clinicians gather around their scoreboard (x-rays and pictures), point, “Hmm” in unison and shake their heads. Awaiting my ‘Golden Buzzer’ or dreaded rejection, I overheard one patient-doctor conversation. The woman was given the sad news of a stage 3 tumor.

Hard to imagine: In less than a minute, someone went from Thanksgiving festivities to cancer patient.

In 2011, Vietnamese Buddhist monk William Tran went to the dentist for inflammation in his gums. Antibiotics did not help, and when the dentist saw him again, he was so concerned that he took Tran to the emergency room. There, Tran was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and told his disease might not be cured. Tran went from monk to a cancer patient.

Writing previously, my diagnosis never came via a patient-doctor visit. I read about it from the online patient portal.

“. . . tumor in neck measuring 4.1 x 2.3 in transaxial dimensions and 3.7 cm in height (1.6 inches x .9 inches x 1.4 inches), surrounding the spinal cord and C5-C6. Preliminary indication benign. Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site. Delicate neural structures will complicate treatment, resulting in nerve compression, spinal deformation and compromised bone strength.

I remember these stories as I learned of a friend who, in a matter of minutes, went from vibrant mother, wife, and business owner to cancer patient.

I am lucky. Years of work in the healthcare industry provided some tools to meet the requirements of my illness, its treatment, and when I could, the compassion to be patient with myself and others. In many ways, I revealed how I applied spirituality and or humor in many difficult situations. I always hope my experience would be of use to someone walking the same hallway.  As noted, I am not a spiritually mature person. As noted in my blog, I fail often but succeed as well.

My years in the healthcare industry has provided a general understanding of life and the body’s capability.

One such lesson: Spirituality, whether Buddhist, Christian or other, will neither prevent anything nor will it shield us from anything. Faith can soften the blow and open us to meet everything coming forth. A patient could spend the rest of their life thinking about treatment, without looking at the nature of their mortality and meaning in their life. Therefore, it is essential to have the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect. When people realize their life is almost over and look back, it is easy to see how many dreams go unfulfilled. Most have never honored even a quarter of their goals.

Remember to honor some dreams along the way. If not, from the very moment you lose that thing defined as ‘health,’ it’s too late. Health is a freedom seldom appreciated until no longer available.