I have recently had some particularly horrible days at work over the holiday period – diagnosing a 43 year old mother of three with metastatic cervical cancer and telling a twenty two year old student that she needs surgery and chemotherapy for aggressive melanoma is the worst part of my job. I hate it. And perhaps what I hate most about it is that both of these situations could have had different outcomes if they had come to their GP sooner.
So I decided to compile a list. A list of resolutions I think all women should pay attention to this New Year. Don’t be that person that I have to break bad news to. Be the healthy person who gets to go home and tick off their resolution checklist with a smile on your face.
1. Get a pap smear. You’d be surprised how many women have never had one, or how many women put it off indefinitely despite getting reminder notices from their GP. If you are sexually active, you need a pap smear at least every 2 years (some people need them more often, depending on what the pap test results are). Sure it’s not fun and yes, it’s not particularly comfortable but neither is cervical cancer. Enough said.
2. Start doing a monthly breast exam. It’s not difficult and takes perhaps a minute to do. Formal breast screening is done free for women over 50 but breast cancer can, and does occur in younger women. A minute a month could save your life.
3. If you have a family history of blood pressure, cholesterol or type 2 diabetes issues, get these tested by your GP. The first involves a 10 second blood pressure reading and the second a simple blood test. The problem with all of the above issues is that most people don’t know they have them and can go undiagnosed for years because there are usually no symptoms. Keep in mind that simple lifestyle changes are usually the first line of treatment for most of the above conditions and that the earlier these conditions are diagnosed and treated, the less risk there is for long term complications.
4. Get a skin check. Melanoma, if diagnosed in the early stages, carries a survival rate of close to 98% (this is one cancer that we can treat and CURE if we can catch it early enough!)
5. Aim to do one positive healthy thing a day. It can be as simple as drinking your daily latte on skim milk. Or maybe walking to work on a sunny morning instead of driving your car. Small changes, every day, will make it easier to make that eventual big lifestyle change.
As you can see, none of the above points are difficult and nor should they be time consuming. They are achievable goals that each of us can tick off our new year’s resolution list. So spread the checklist around, tell all of your work mates and friends.
Let’s make 2012 the year of being proactive and healthy.
Rowena Lalji is a doctor based in Brisbane who fuels both her career in medicine and her passion for writing using the nectar of the gods – espresso coffee.