Forty Before Forty Item #3 and #4: Take Care of Yourself

I know it's a cliche, but most women really do seem to have the wires crossed in their brains when it comes to putting themselves first. Women take care of their kids, their husbands, their parents. They champion their local schools, the environment, hungry kids in Africa. So often, it's at the expense of their own well-being and sanity. I'm up there with the worst of them, and with all the blogging I do, it's easier than ever to put Health at the bottom of my to-do list. I have to admit, it's not all martyrdom that makes me procrastinate when it comes to making dentists' appointments, or getting a wax at the salon, or scheduling some time with friends -- laziness is a huge part of it. But whatever the cause, I need to get better at taking care of myself.

This pearl of wisdom really hit home when I finally got around to making an appointment with my gynecologist for a checkup (Item #3 on my Forty Before Forty list) and mammogram (Item #4). I knew I should have done this long ago, but I was shocked to find out that it had been almost 3 years since my last visit. Yikes! Where did the time go?

And then my doctor found a lump. Two, actually, one on each breast.

My first reaction: WTF? Where? What? I can't even feel it!

My second reaction: My family's cancer genes have finally caught up with me. My grandmother, my aunt, my great-aunts, my grandfather, my dad... it was just a matter of time.

My third reaction: The karma gods are punishing me. For being lackadaisical in my breast self-examinations. For skipping 3 years of doctor's visits. For idly thinking that if I ever did get cancer, at least I'd lose weight.

My fourth reaction: This is what happened to Elizabeth Edwards. She delayed getting that lump in her breast checked until after the 2004 presidential campaign, and as a result they discovered her breast cancer at a more advanced stage.

My fifth reaction: OH. MY. GOD.

Those two weeks between the discovery of the lumps and my mammogram were the longest two weeks of my life. I knew the odds were in my favor (9 out of 10 lumps turn out to be fine, and my doctor was not overly worried because they were in both breasts), but I was still a nervous wreck.

I wept with relief when the radiologist told me my mammogram was normal.

Then I exhaled, and went back to living my life.

With a few small changes. My Main Takeaway, my Life Lesson, my Pearl of Wisdom from this experience was really that I need to be more proactive when it comes to taking care of my health. I've set up reminders for monthly breast self-exams and annual doctors' visits so I can't use forgetfulness as an excuse. I'm seeing my endocrinologist next week. I'm getting tested for the breast cancer gene. And I'm more inspired than ever to improve my eating habits, sleeping habits and exercise habits.

These past 3 or 4 years, I set about to re-stimulate my intellect, restore my self confidence and renew my sense of self worth. I took care of my mind. Now I have to take care of my body as well.


Anonymous said...

that is really scary. i know someone who had been vigilant and got mammogram before the mandatory 40 years old criterion. good thing she did bec she was found to have breast ca on the early onset so she was able to battle it. she didn't even feel any lump at all, it was too small. she's on her 3rd or 4th year of whatchamacallit cancer free years.


April said...

Oh my gosh, I know exactly how you feel. This spring, I had my first mammogram, I turned 40 in February. Like you, I should have gone in sooner for a check up. They called me and said they found something and I needed another mammogram at the hospital. SCARED me to death! I am a single mom and the kids have no relationship with their dad. I knew I was scared, but I didn't realize how bad until the lady said I was okay. Then, I got really emotional. She walked out with me to tell my mom who was in the waiting room because she knew if my mom saw me she would have thought it was bad. I have friends who haven't been as lucky and when I left, I couldn't help but look at the ladies I had made small talk with while we were nervously waiting our turn. I am glad you were okay too.