In March many Irish Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the toast, "Slainte," but advocates of colon cancer awareness month will celebrate screenings with a cup full of cleansing solution and the toast, "Bottoms Up."
Easton Mayor Sal Panto just entered their club. He had his first colonoscopy after delaying the procedure for 13 years.
"My wife has been nagging me since I turned 50, the age it's recommended you start," he says. "But I've procrastinated."
What prevented him for over a decade?
"I have never been admitted to a hospital except as a visitor," Panto says. "And I've had a fear of going under anesthesia."
But in the fall, Mayor Panto had carpal tunnel surgery that required anesthesia. "The folks at Easton Hospital did such a good job with my surgery," he says. "It was time I visited what I call 'the resort on 21st Street' again and have my colonoscopy."
Preparing for the procedure is often the hardest part. Mayor Panto had to begin adjusting his diet two days beforehand.
"He is such a big sissy," says his wife Pam. "He kept calling our family meal on Sunday night his 'Last Supper.'"
Pam knew what was ahead of him - she's had three colonoscopies and has tried a few different preparation options.
Mayor Panto was on a clear diet the day before his procedure. He enjoyed some orange juice and applesauce at breakfast while dinner consisted of Jell-O and broth.
The real fun began at 4 p.m. when he combined a six-ounce bottle of cleansing solution with a 10-ounce glass of water. He followed that with two more 16-ounce glasses of water.
He repeated the same process at 9 p.m. as well.
"The solution tasted like the cherry cough syrup I had when I was a kid," he says. "It was so sweet that my 'Bottoms Up' was more like 'Sippy sippy.'"
Still it was better than what he imagined. "It wasn't a piece of cake, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be."
He worked from home that afternoon, sending emails and taking phone calls.
He wasn't supposed to work on the day of his procedure, but it's hard to keep him still. He had a council meeting that evening that he planned to attend.
"The doctor only told me not to drive or sign anything important," Panto says. "He didn't say I couldn't sit at City Council… or go the Lafayette Basketball game."
The procedure itself is fairly short- 20-40 minutes. Gastroenterologits Lin Van der Veer, MD, who performed the Mayor's procedure, says a soft, flexible colonscope passes up the rectum and large intestine. The colonscope projects an image onto a TV screen so the doctor can look for, biopsy and remove any polyps.
"Screening is crucial," Van der Veer says. "Colon cancer is the third most common and second most lethal cancer, but it's preventable if screened."
The Mayor woke from his screening feeling like he'd had a perfect nap. "I feel pretty confident that my fear of anesthesia is gone," he says.
When he got home, he enjoyed a chicken sandwich and a half pint of Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream. "It tasted so good after all those liquids," he says.
He spent the afternoon completing more work emails from home before heading off to the council meeting. "This is part of my job," he says. "I have to manage the city, keep it clean and safe, and create a strong and stable job base."
"But I also have to serve as an example for the residents," he says. "That's why a colon cancer screening is important and Easton Hospital did a fantastic job."
Will he procrastinate again?
His wife says, "He tells people I've nagged him about this, but I see it as caring."
He knows she means well.
"I'm not excited about the thought of drinking the solution again," he says. "But I've done it once, so bottoms up!"
250 South 21st Street
Easton, PA 18042-3892