The Hunch That Saved My Health—and My Life

Photo: Olivia BarrPhoto: Olivia BarrAs told to Lisa Kogan

I was 46 years old, I had three terrific kids, a happy marriage, and a painting studio where I spent hours every day. Not only was nothing wrong in my life, plenty was incredibly right. But then I had the dream.

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I was standing at a barbed-wire fence across from five or six terribly frail people with huge dark eyes and ghostly pale skin. They were trying to tell me something in a language I didn't understand. It was intense and disturbing, and it left me rattled.

A week later I had the dream again, only this time there were a dozen people trying to get me to grasp what they were saying.

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The following week the dream returned, but now there were 20 people, and they looked desperate. I woke up crying. I started feeling afraid to go to sleep.

Even though my husband thought I was overreacting, I called my doctor to schedule a physical. I didn't know what else to do. The receptionist pointed out that I'd just had a physical six months earlier; the most I could talk her into was some new blood work. At the appointment, I told the doctor I felt that something wasn't right. He smiled. "You eat well, you exercise, you're healthy. Quit worrying." Two days later, his nurse called to say my blood work was fine. I relaxed and figured I could put my fears behind me.

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A week later, the dream was back. There must have been 100 people-wailing, screaming, pleading with me. I kept saying, "I don't know what you want from me! Please, please tell me what I'm supposed to do."

A few days later, the fifth and final dream: Back at the fence, only this time nobody is there. I fall to my knees, sobbing, "Come back. I need you to help me." And suddenly I hear one voice. And that voice says two words-in perfect English: "Look deeper."

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I called my doctor the minute his office opened. "What's the deepest place in the human body?" He said, "I suppose it's the colon." And I said, "Then I want a colonoscopy." He explained that I had no family history of colon cancer, no symptoms, that insurance would never cover it. I persisted.

I told the gastroenterologist I wanted to be awake for the procedure. I watched the camera twisting and turning and following the curves through my colon, and then I heard the doctor draw a breath and say, "Oh my." There, on the screen, was a black mass. And the doctor promptly put me to sleep.

It was cancer-aggressive and fast moving. She later told me that if I'd waited even two months, my prognosis would have been...grim.

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