05.31.12 Wellness

Moving Ourselves Up the List

Moving Ourselves Up the List

BY Jennifer Wider, M.D.

We are women.

We are daughters; we are mothers, we are grandmothers, aunts and cousins. We are confidants; we are sounding boards and we are best friends. We are home-makers; we are decorators, fashion icons, and beauty queens. We are tax-payers; we are entrepreneurs and business owners. We are teachers; we are nurses and doctors and lawyers and athletes. We are photographers; we are policy makers, we are rock stars, actresses, legislators and astronauts.

And that just scratches the surface.

We are caretakers, we spend our lives caring for others: for our children, our spouses, our aging parents, our pets. Biologically, many of us have a predilection toward this role: we are nurturing and protective by nature. If we’re at home: we strive for perfection and we are so hard on ourselves if we come up short. If we’re in the workforce, we try to create a balance; we feel guilty, harried, torn in too many directions.

And we’re our harshest critics. We are bombarded with hundreds of images daily, telling us how we should look, what we should weigh, how neat our homes should be. And many of us feel that we don’t measure up. We’re also managers, we make appointments, remind our partners and if we have children, we rarely miss an appointment.

But we are not good at taking care of ourselves. When it comes to our own health and well-being– we all too often relegate ourselves to the bottom of the list? Why? Why is this? Is it because we do such a bang-up job for everyone else around us, that when it comes to ourselves, we are out of energy? We don’t have the time? Studies have consistently shown that when women make the time to take better care of themselves, the benefits trickle down to the entire family. So even from a selfless standpoint, there are arguments to be made.

As a women’s health doctor, I am continuously perplexed by friends who don’t “have” time for their yearly checkup, their screening mammography, the dermatologist, the foot doctor. I had one friend who raced around on a broken foot, carried her son’s soccer equipment in one arm, her toddler in the other and threw an incredible dinner party for 12, even as her toes were turning purple. It took my prodding and 3 phone calls to get her to go for an X-ray, seven days later.

Now, more than ever before, it is vital to be an empowered and educated advocate for your own health. No one knows your body and your personal and family history better than you.

With the guidelines changing all the time, it’s easy to get confused: so here’s a list of the top 5 lifesaving tests women need to have on their radar screens:

Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

If you polled a room full of women and asked what disease they fear the most, 8 of 10 would tell you breast cancer. While breast cancer screening is important, heart disease is the number one killer of women in this country. Yearly screening of blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease, is important in the prevention of heart disease.

Pap Test

Even though the guidelines have recently changes, Pap smears are still one of the most successful cancer screenings of all time. It is designed to find precancerous changes before they turn to cancer and the new recommendation is a Pap every three years, instead of annually, starting at age 21.

Mammography

The American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammography to screen for breast cancer in women 40 and older. Guidelines may vary depending on a woman’s personal or family history of breast cancer and other factors.

Colonoscopy

We can thank Katie Couric and other celebrities for putting this disease on the map for women because before her televised colonoscopy, colon cancer was largely viewed as a man’s disease. The recommendation is a colonoscopy every 10 years, starting at the age of 50.

Annual Skin Exam

The number of skin cancer cases has skyrocketed in the last several years. It is by far and away the most common cancer among men and women, and melanoma is the most common cancer among young women ages 25-29, partly because this demographic continues to tan in record numbers. An annual skin exam by a dermatologist is vital to detect and prevent skin cancer among women.

We are women. We are women who need to reprioritize ourselves, who need to move our own health and well-being up the list. We are caretakers who sometimes need to take better care of ourselves.

Featured image via Matt Benton

Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author and radio host. She is a medical advisor to Cosmopolitan magazine and hosts a weekly radio segment on Sirius Satellite/XM Radio called “Am I Normal?” for Cosmo Radio.
Dr. Wider is the author of three books, including The Savvy Woman Patient, The Doctor’s Complete College Girls’ Health Guide and The New Mom’s Survival Guide. Dr. Wider is a spokesperson for the Society for Women’s Health Research, and has served on the boards of Girls, Inc. and iVillage.com. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Cosmopolitan magazine, among many others. You can read more from Dr Wider on her website and Twitter.

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