Image by ms.Tea via FlickrPLEASE NOTE: I devote my post today to my high school classmates Megan Garvey and Petra Gemmingen. I found out yesterday that my classmates both passed away from breast cancer during the month of June 2009. May they rest in peace.
You could argue that I take more than my fair share of medical care and you might be right. There are, however, several routine health appointments that I keep that are vital to my health. I'm talking about my preventive health care appointments.
As someone who lives with chronic illness and has dealt with cancer at age 22, I can tell you with certainty that having health problems is not fun. That's why I have faithfully kept my appointments for annual gynecological check-ups as well as an annual routine physical to check for things like blood pressure problems, high cholesterol and other health concerns. Since turning 40, I promptly added an annual mammogram to this list.
I used to think that since I already had cancer in 1988, I probably wasn't going to get it again. Since I got connected with the UCLA Livestrong Survivorship Center of Excellence in 2007, I've learned that I have risk factors from my cancer treatment for secondary cancers, heart problems and other health concerns. Through my participation in ACOR's Long Term Cancer Survivors List, I've met several long term cancer survivors like myself who have multiple health problems as I do.
This past April Linda Zame, the founder of the ACOR Long Term Cancer Survivors List group, died from cancer. Her cancer however was not related to her treatment for Hodgkin's Disease in the 1970s at age 21. You see, she skipped her routine colonscopy and by the time she started having symptoms her cancer was diagnosed at stage 4. Always turning misfortune into a teachable moment, she asked all of us in the group not to neglect getting our colonoscopies and encouraged participants to schedule the procedure as a birthday present to her. After talking to my doctor, I will add colonoscopy to the list at age 45.
The reason I will start my colon cancer screenings at 45 is because my mother died from colon cancer in 1999 at the age of 61. Like Linda, she skipped her routine colonoscopy at age 55 and was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at age 60. She survived for 11 months after her diagnosis.
I know that many people avoid routine preventive health care for a variety of reasons. What they don't realize when they put off their appointments or pass them up all together is that they are giving up a chance for early disease detection. Early detection is the key to successful treatment of many health problems. Starting to treat early is important not just in the case of cancer, but for conditions like diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and many others. The longer you live with an undiagnosed health problem, the greater the potential for that condition to do damage to your body and often when damage is done it is irreversible. Click on the image to the right to learn more about the preventative health care guidelines that apply to you and your children.
So join me in honoring my classmates Megan and Petra. If you are a women 40 and over, I challenge you in the next week to schedule your annual mammogram if you haven't already. If you know a women over 40, encourage her to do the same. And if you are a man, please make an appointment for an annual routine physical in the next week. Most of all, do it for yourself and your health.