I’m embarrassed to admit there was once a five-year span where I put off having a physical. My kids were in elementary school and busy with extracurricular activities, and I worked two jobs and had a household to run on top of everything else. My health came last when in fact it should have come first – after all, where would my husband and daughters have been without me? I eventually made an appointment with my doctor and stuck to it. Thank goodness everything checked out fine and no illnesses had been brewing during those five years I ignored my health. I often wonder what dangers I might have exposed my body to during that time. Could I have been in the early stages of breast, cervical or uterine cancer? Did I have high cholesterol or anemia, or could I have been walking around with high blood pressure or the beginnings of osteoporosis? I realize now how important it is to have those yearly checkups. If anything, they put my mind at ease in case there is indeed a medical concern, and I can get a jump on treating it sooner.
The silent killer
Let’s face it, nobody really enjoys having a pap test, but it’s the best way doctors have of detecting cervical cancer, and if found early enough, treating it successfully. The Pap test looks for precancerous or abnormal cells scraped from the surface of the cervix. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common reason why malignant cells start to develop. While half of sexually active people contract HPV, thankfully few women will get cancer from it. The HPV vaccine that protects against gynaecological cancers like cervical, vaginal and vulvar is given in a series of three shots to females starting around the ages of 11 or 12. Women between the ages of 13 and 26 who missed the shots when they were younger can also still get vaccinated. In the last few years, the medical community has relaxed its insistence on yearly paps. If you get the all clear, your doctor might give you a pass on them for two or even three years.
Warning signs and symptoms
One of the most frightening things about cervical cancer is that it can have no symptoms whatsoever. And because it progresses slowly while undetected, by the time it’s in its more serious stages, only then will certain symptoms be noticeable. Pelvic cramps, abnormal bleeding and pain when urinating are three signs indicating cervical cancer might be the cause. Follow up with your doctor should you notice anything out of the ordinary and make sure not to skip any testing until cancer is ruled out.
Be breast vigilant
1 in 9 Canadian women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime and 1 in 30 will die from it. Though these statistics are staggering, they are better than they used to be, with breast cancer deaths decreasing 44% since 1986 thanks to early detection through mammograms. It’s frightening to know that 1 in 5 breast cancer cases will be diagnosed in women younger than 50 years of age. Still, the five year survival ratio for breast cancer is 88 percent. If you do regular self exams, pay attention to any changes in how your breasts look and feel and go for regular mammograms, then you’re doing what you should to stay preventative and healthy.
Warning signs and symptoms
Breast cancer symptoms are not the same for all women. It’s best to familiarize yourself will the red flags just in case you experience only one or more of the signs, which include:
– A lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
– A swelling, warmth, redness or darkening on an area of the breast
– A change in the size or shape of the breast
– A dimpling or puckering of the skin on the breast’s surface
– An itchy, scaly or sore rash on the nipple
– A “pulling in” of the nipple or other parts of the breast
– A sudden nipple discharge
– A new pain in one part of the breast that doesn’t go away
A growing epidemic Canada has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the world. Nearly 100,000 Canadians suffer from it, a 28% jump from the second highest country, Denmark and nine times higher than the global average. It’s sometimes referred to as the “Canadian Disease”. Women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. MS is categorized as an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system. It targets myelin, which is a protective covering of the nerves and causes inflammation and nerve damage. Degree of damage can range from slight to severe, and if especially bad, can disrupt nerve impulses, leaving the sufferer with symptoms like fatigue, lack of coordination, numbness, tingling, vision and bladder issues, cognitive impairment and mood swings.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
It sometimes takes years to get a proper MS diagnosis. As it develops slowly and can be confused with other diseases, a doctor will initially refer a patient to a neurologist who will conduct proper testing. Everyone’s MS presents itself differently at first and falls into three categories depending on the pattern of an individual’s disease.
Relapsing Remitting MS – flare ups or episodes that consist of defined MS symptoms. They can last for a few days or up to a few months and then fall into a remission or recovery period where symptoms mostly disappear. About 85% of sufferers are diagnosed with this type of MS.
Progressive MS – Some people with RRMS might eventually transition to a level where relapses and remissions no longer happen. Symptoms stay steady and tend to get worse. This is called secondary progressive MS. Those who start off with a steady decline in function right away are diagnosed with primary progressive MS.
Progressive Relapse MS – Some people start off with this category of MS, where their symptoms start rapidly worsening from the very start. They may experience relapses with or without recovery.
Fortunately, MS is not a fatal disease and most people who have it can expect a near-normal life span. Though it’s incurable, much can be done for suffers if caught in the early stages. Researchers believe they are closer than ever to a cure. We are daughters, wives, mothers and friends and our lives are valuable to so many who depend on us for guidance, support and love. It’s up to us to stay on top of our health for our own sake and for others in our lives. You matter, so if you feel that a doctor’s visit can wait, do yourself a favour and put your health at the top of your priority list. For peace of mind, you’ll be glad you did.