“From Colonoscopy to Marriage”

Memoir by Sidney J. Winawer

“Have you ever had a colonoscopy?” I asked. It was our second date, sitting in a cafe after the ballet. “I don’t know your age, but you are in the right neighborhood.” Barbara was stunned! “No,” she answered, “should I?”

I was amazed, being a Memorial Sloan Kettering gastroenterologist and a strong advocate of colorectal cancer screening. This woman, who I had a strong interest in, never had been screened. I soon fixed that, with one of my colleagues.

Barbara and I each recently had lost our spouses through illnesses. We were reluctant to have blind dates but this time we connected immediately. Sitting in Divino, an Upper East Side neighborhood Italian restaurant, we sent the waiter away repeatedly as we drank more and more Chianti, engaged in deep conversation about our personal histories.

As we walked home I was taken by how attractive and bright Barbara was — and also so very geographically convenient, living only three blocks away.

When we passed my building I went up and got a copy of “Healing Lessons,” a memoir I wrote after my wife died. “Read this,” I said. “You’ll get the whole scoop on me.”

Arriving home I did something I had never done before. I found myself on my terrace holding a phone and calling Barbara. “I’m looking up at the sky and said thank God for sending you to me.”

Wow! Neither one of us could believe that. A spontaneous expression from the heart.

Two weeks later I invited Barbara to come with me to a medical meeting in Germany’s Black Forest. Her response was instantaneous. She pulled out a bag and started packing. We had no clue that this began a series of 35 international adventures together.

I was impressed — a busy professional woman accommodating to all of that and a hectic social/professional life plus my two sisters, kids, grandkids, friends, colleagues — and me. It was a big enchilada, but filled with fun and love. What a woman. One night early on Barbara whispered to me, “I want to bring joy into your life.” And she did. The sadness over my loss evaporated. Fast forward 13 years. I stunned Barbara again on the Hampton Jitney. “Let’s get married.” It took her only 13 seconds to respond.

We had driven out by car from Manhattan to East Hampton for years, fighting the L.I.E. traffic. In another life, with a house in the Amagansett Dunes, I even drove a carful — my wife , three kids, two cats, and a dog. More recently, Barbara and I had been leaving our car in the village parking area and letting the Jitney take us while we relaxed, read, snacked, napped, talked, and listened to music. What a joy!

Stepping out of the Jitney, the village seemed especially pretty that day. I had never noticed Tiffany before. “Let’s get rings.” We suddenly were in high gear.

Barbara saw a cream-colored pantsuit in the window of Mag, her favorite East Hampton store. “Perfect for our wedding.” Bought it in five minutes.

Over a celebratory lunch at Rowdy Hall, we chose our rabbi, planned the ceremony, organized dinner, and even emailed our kids. They were shocked. Done!

Four years since that memorable Jitney trip, Barbara and I shuttle most weekends between our Manhattan apartment and our Wainscott “magic cottage.” From time to time we glance at each other knowingly and remember that special day. Well, I better get more Jitney tickets — and schedule our next colonoscopies — together.


Dr. Sidney J. Winawer, a longtime East Hampton resident, holds the Paul Sherlock Chair in Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and is a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan. He chaired the national committee that introduced screening colonoscopy, based on his research showing that removing polyps prevents colon cancer.