My Employer’s Benefit Plan Requirement Probably Saved My Life

There are three things I was taught you never talk about on LinkedIn – religion, politics, and colorectal screenings. Ok, maybe not the third. If you think about it, how many new business relationships begin with a drink over MiraLAX or comparing pictures from the procedure like it’s your child’s dance recital picture? Still, I feel compelled to share my story with my LinkedIn family because of what could have happened had my employer, McGohan Brabender, not required it as part of our benefit plan to receive lower insurance premiums.

Ironically, I work in the employee benefits field and have had dozens and dozens of conversations with employers over my career about the importance of preventive screenings.

“They are a critical component of every health management plan,” I would preach, and “asking/requiring them as a condition for receiving lower premiums is not being big brother-ish, but rather, a caring employer.” However, the reality is I was never at the front of the line when it came to preventive care, but instead, in the rear (no pun intended) of the pack. Anything I participated in regarding preventive care, I did so simply because I didn’t want to pay higher premiums.

It’s not that I was politically or ideologically opposed to preventive care, I was just too busy or used the excuse “I feel fine.” So, when I turned 50 this past year, I swore that things were going to change. I was going to step up and listen to my wife, doctor, employer, and Katie Couric. To put the timeline in context, my birthday is January 1. I promised myself that by March 1, I would complete my biometric screening, annual wellness screening, and colonoscopy – in search of a clean (again, no pun intended) bill of health.

March rolled by, and I set a new deadline of July 1. However, by then, I was traveling for baseball, out of town every week for tournaments, and baseball rolled straight into high school football season. I found myself at the football field 6 days a week, so there was no time for the prep day, let alone camping out on the “super bowl” (ok, perhaps that pun was intended). Before I knew it, November 1 came along. With it, a gentle reminder that time was running out to complete the plan requirements, so I sucked it up and scheduled the exam. When the day finally arrived, it was no big deal. Prep was a piece of cake, and the twilight drug they administered during the procedure left me with no recollection of the procedure.

Immediately following the colonoscopy, my wife and I met with the doctor for a debrief. You never want a doctor to begin a consult with the words “you really had us worried in there,” but that’s how he started the conversation. Immediately, they found a polyp that was larger than a golf ball, and that he hadn’t seen one that large in a long time. Then, they found a smaller one a couple minutes later. They were both sent to pathology. As far as a follow-up appointment, depending on the results, it would either be with him or a surgeon.

I pressed him hard on whether he thought it was cancerous, and he finally relented that if it wasn’t cancerous, he had no doubt that within 6-8 weeks, it would be.

For the next three days, I did nothing but beat myself up for putting off something that was essentially a “non-event” procedure. What if procrastination and a false sense of security carried a high price?

I received a call from him while at a holiday function with my family one evening later in the week.

“I have some good news for you,” he began, “the pathologist said it is benign.” He added, “the pathologist checked it three times because he was likewise surprised with the size and formation.” He shared how fortunate I was this time around, but based on what they found, I would need to have more frequent colonoscopies – every three years minimum. But (final pun), although the pathologist said the polyp had good margins, they want to check in three months to be 100 percent sure nothing was left inside of me. He said that during the procedure, they tattooed my colon so that moving forward, they will know exactly where to look. Just my luck, I had always wanted a tattoo, and when I finally get one, I can’t show it to anyone!

Here is when I get to the moral or lesson of my story. DON’T BE ME! 

Don’t think you are too busy to take care of yourself, you “feel fine,” or “that only happens to other people – not me.” Had my employer taken a softer approach, “it’s not in our culture to do things by happenstance,” my story could be a much different one right now. My employer requires preventive screenings because they care for their employees. Sometimes, we need that nudge to do what is difficult. In the end, my procrastination could have potentially turned into a substantial claim for both me – and my employer. In this case, we both won.

March is National Colorectal Screening Month. I know this because the night my doctor called with good news, I wondered what month Colorectal Screening Month was. How poetic. I want to share my experience, so somewhere a person who is too busy, scared, or unconcerned about having a colonoscopy, will give it a second thought.  And hopefully, the employer that is on the fence about including it as part of their health management program will feel more confident with their decision to include it.