Every time I clink wine glasses with my 90-plus-year-old grandfather, he toasts to health because, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, a perfect time to vow to get checked for HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer. Did you know that high-risk HPV infections do not cause symptoms? In fact, cervical cancer often does not cause symptoms until it is at an advanced stage.
In honor of this important month, HealthyWomen, along with our friends at The Yellow Umbrella organization, is awarding four lucky women a Debra Macki mineral eye shadow palette and an inspirational CD of the music of Christine Baze, cervical cancer survivor and founder of The Yellow Umbrella organization. Learn more about The Yellow Umbrella organization and hear some of Christine’s amazing music by clicking here.
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So, to sum up your January to-do list:
1. Get tested for HPV and schedule other important health screenings.
2. Encourage your friends to get tested for HPV.
3. Enter to win our HPV/Cervical Cancer Awareness Giveaway! Click here.
4. Keep learning.
Our culture primes us for paranoia. With its 24 hour news networks and nonstop barrage of information from social media, our senses can easily get overloaded with tips and tricks and tidbits. This can be a great source for the betterment of our lives, but it can also allow a great deal of incorrect, bad, or flat out depressing “facts” to disrupt our lives.
It seems every time I check twitter, someone is posting the latest symptoms to be on the lookout for because they are precursors to [insert disease/sickness/cancer here]. Or there’s a bunch of buzz about some great, new superfood which is going to save your life. Or a new fitness program which, unlike all the other ones, is going to be the miracle workout program you’ve always been waiting for.
It can almost drive someone to the brink of insanity just trying to sort out the facts from the fiction. Or to determine which are legitimate reasons for concern versus the false alarms. Here’s a thought: don’t worry about fads. If something proves true and reliable, it’ll stick around. But fads tend to blow up in the media, and then just as quickly fade away.
A better approach might be to take where you are now and aim to make it better. Does that mean doing something extreme? Probably not (unless you’re in a health crisis and a medical professional has directed you). For most, even those who want major changes, it happens better as consistent baby steps over time. For some, a giant leap can be what your health or life demands — but even in dire circumstances, most have trouble implementing a drastic protocol.
Because of the nature of my work, I read a lot about symptoms for diseases (and foods which should be eaten or not eaten to prevent them). The list is endless. The fact is, no human is exempt from the chance of developing a disease or illness. But as someone who has spent too much time being hyper vigilant tracking my own body symptoms, I will tell you that this is not the best way. Don’t micromanage your health. Don’t succumb to paranoia or fear. Those are not the same as being in tune with your body or being wise about your health.
Here’s a guide to being proactive (which will, in turn, help to prevent hyper vigilance and paranoia):
1) Be wise with your body by getting regular physicals and bloodwork so that you know the status of your inner workings. Then you won’t have to worry about the unknown.
2) Eat responsibly so that your body will not be deficient in any specific nutrients. This will prevent certain chronic health problems that can happen after longterm deficiencies.
3) Exercise regularly and get your body sweating at least 3 times a week. This will lower stress levels, aid digestion, and promote weight loss.
Yes, you’ve heard all these things before, maybe a thousand times over. They’re so simple. That’s why it’s easy to overlook them and instead go for the next big fad. But that whole “keep it simple” adage: it’s true. Follow these 3 steps, and you don’t need to worry about the next great superfood (and whether or not you’re eating it) or what your chances are of getting some disease.
Worrying doesn’t have a great track record of producing positive results. But a happy, peaceful, unparanoid and unstressed mind will do wonders for your quality of life — and that includes your physical health.
As I wrote about here, too many patients hand the power of their health over to physicians who they believe will fix them, and then if the doctor fails to cure what ails them, they get frustrated and feel like helpless victims of bad luck or bad genes.
But studies show that being proactive about your health not only results in better health care; it also strengthens your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms and helps your body fend off illness.
Your body is your business! Even though most of us doctors went to school for over a decade, ostensibly so we’d know your body better than you do, nobody knows what’s best for your body, mind, and soul as much as you do. Your body is your business because you are the gatekeeper of your mind, and it’s your responsibility to protect your body from the poisonous effect toxic thoughts, beliefs, and feelings have on your body’s physiology.
There are many ways you can be an empowered patient, but here are a few tips for taking the power of your health back into your own hands.
1. Guard your mind and reject negative health beliefs.
Just because your doctor tells you there’s only a 10% chance you’ll get better doesn’t mean you have to think like a pessimist and look at the glass as 9/10 empty. Reframe the numbers and focus on the fact that 10% of people with your disease get well – and for the 10% who do, the other 90% don’t matter. Remember that those positive health outcomes aren’t just flukes. Those who get well against all odds share common proactive characteristics. (To learn 6 scientifically proven proactive things people with stage 4 cancer who experience spontaneous remission share, read Mind Over Medicine.)
2. Avoid toxic situations when possible.
If you feel like a victim- of an abusive childhood, a toxic marriage, a soul-sucking job, a demeaning boss, a bankruptcy, or whatever- find a way to reclaim your power. Dig deep within and call upon the strength you’ll need to make healthy changes in your life, even if it means financial loss, loss of status, disappointing others, or other undesired consequences that may accompany extricating yourself from mind-poisoning circumstances. If you can’t change your circumstance, you still have the power to change your attitude.
3. Don’t be afraid to question your doctor.
Remember, medicine is a service industry. If you didn’t feel like your car was in the very best hands possible, you’d find another auto mechanic. Proactive patients- the ones who have the best health outcomes- don’t hesitate to ask their doctors questions, get second opinions, and switch health care providers if the fit isn’t right.
For example, when your doctor makes a diagnosis, ask your doctor, “What else could it be?” Every doctor should have what’s called a “differential diagnosis,” and sometimes asking your doctor to expand the scope of what your diagnosis could be can leapfrog you to optimal health sooner.
4. Be the conscientious gatekeeper of your mind.
You may not be able to perform your own surgery or prescribe your own drugs, but your body is your business because you are the gatekeeper of your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. It’s your responsibility to make sure you cut back on stress responses in the body and activate relaxation responses so that instead of poisoning your body with the side effects of toxic thoughts, your mind is full of love, hope, optimism, passion, joy, pleasure, creativity, and a sense of purpose- all of which have been scientifically proven to heal the body.
5. Listen to your intuition.
You have within you the voice of what I call your “Inner Pilot Light”, and this voice serves as your own personal physician. When addressing issues that are affecting your life, especially those that may be harming your health, your inner doctor is on call 24/7 to help you make the right decisions that help you heal.
6. Do your homework.
Some doctors let their egos interfere with optimal patient care, and it’s possible that you actually know more about your disease than your doctor does. (This is especially true if your disease is rare or if you have been researching your illness personally.) The reality is that the more informed you are about the options for treatment of your health condition, the better care you’ll get.
7. Keep your own medical record.
Ask for copies of all lab tests, radiology reports, and doctor’s notes. Having all of your health information in your own hot little hands can help expedite communication between your health care providers so you’re not dependent on someone who takes a week to fax your records when you need them now.
8. Talk to other patients who share your diagnosis.
The internet has made it easier than ever to find others who are dealing with the same conditions you are. You just might meet someone on a forum who share with you treatment options that are just what the doctor ordered. But be cautious. The internet is also rife with misinformation. Gather information, but don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
9. Be the squeaky wheel.
If you’re leaving messages with your doctor and not getting your needs met, call back- respectfully but often. If your insurance company is denying your claim, appeal the decision! It shouldn’t be this way, but the old adage “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is definitely true when it comes to navigating our broken health care system.
10. Make a list.
If you have questions for your doctor or issues you want to be sure get addressed, make a list and let your doctor know you have a list of issues. Your doctor may ask you to choose only the top priorities on your list, if time is too limited, but if you don’t get all your issues addressed, make a second appointment so all your needs are met.
11. If you’re not sure what to do, ask for more time.
If you feel like your doctor is pressuring you to make a decision you’re not ready to make, ask for time. If you’re in the middle of having a heart attack or stroke, or if you’ve been in a car accident and need surgery, time may be of the essence. But for the majority of treatments, even when you’re dealing with something potentially lethal like cancer, it rarely hurts to wait a few days- or even a few weeks- until you’re comfortable you’re making the right decision- for YOU.
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