TERRE HAUTE —
Popular culture often portrays American mothers as busy models of efficiency — appointment coordinators for their families’ trips to the doctor, dentist and school-related events.
But while mom often becomes Dr. Mom when cold-season or the flu bug hits the family, studies have shown that many American women tend to neglect their own health.
The “It’s Your Time” theme of National Women’s Health Week, celebrated in these days following Mother’s Day, encourages women to make their own health a top priority.
“Women are the caregivers for their families, yet oftentimes they forget or are simply too busy to take care of themselves,” said Morgan E. McGill, director of the Office of Women’s Health at the Indiana State Department of Health.
Her statement probably rings true for many busy mothers. It certainly does for a certain Tribune-Star journalist, who found herself hospitalized for six days after a nagging medical concern turned into a debilitating gall bladder attack. Two surgeries later, this journalist received a thorough scolding from a physician appalled that my last physical occurred more than, let’s just say, five years ago.
Husband and friends exacted a promise to take better care of myself.
So, when Women’s Health Week came onto the newsroom radar, getting a mammogram this week at the Clara Fairbanks Center for Women became my first step in that transition from caregiver to care receiver.
The recommended age for a women to receive her first mammogram is age 40. I missed that milestone. Not that I was unfamiliar with the procedure. I have driven my own mother-in-law to her annual mammogram appointments many times. In fact, 15 years ago, a mammogram detected my mother-in-law’s first sign of breast cancer, and she credits her annual checkups with adding years to her life.
Having enjoyed generally good health most of my life, aside from a few sports-related injuries, it has seemed to me that submitting to annual health screenings would be an admission of potential weakness. And my family genes contain no medical tendencies other than diabetes after age 60, so why worry?
I don’t smoke, still play softball and occasionally shoot hoops with my kids, and I don’t consume alcohol near as often or as much as I think appropriate for my profession. So what health concerns could I possibly have?
Well, I won’t know until I get screened, will I?
A sign in the waiting area of the Clara Fairbanks Center notes that the center has diagnosed 565 breast cancers since 2005. Of those, 98 have been in women younger than 50. That got my attention, along with the admonishment that delayed or late diagnosis may lead to more drastic and expensive treatments, anxiety and harm.
But there was no anxiety associated with the process of getting the mammogram. Radiology technician Leslie Voils specializes in the testing.
“Breast exams are totally different than anything because we are looking at tissue, not bones,” Voils said. “It’s one of the hardest exams for radiologists to read.”
Every person’s breasts are different, she explained, so what may appear normal in one person’s test may not be the same in another person’s test.
A visual exam is conducted to mark any moles or scar tissues, because those spots can show up in the mammogram as a lump. And then, one side at a time, a digital image is made of the breast tissue from a couple of different angles.
Now, many times, I have heard complaints from women who have said that their mammogram felt like their body part was being smashed. I can’t say I agree. It was painless. A bit awkward maybe, but nothing to fuss about.
Leslie told me that the center’s radiologist specializes in reading mammograms, and should read the films within 72 hours. I will receive a letter about my report, and my family doctor will receive a detailed report to add to my medical record.
So with that milestone now behind me, I will move on to other general screenings and immunizations for women. But which one to do next?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a chart online that gives guidelines for women’s health testing based upon ages. You can access recommended screenings for women at www.womenshealth.gov/prevention/general.
McGill from the state’s Office of Women’s Health said state leaders are making a big effort to raise awareness of women’s health in the state. The top three cancers for women in Indiana are breast, lung and colon cancer, she said.
Looking at the screening chart, I shamelessly breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that colorectal health screening should begin at age 50. That is one test I will admit to dreading. But I’ve promised to be screened on time.
Among the steps McGill’s office recommends that women can take to improve their health are:
• Get at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both, each week.
• Eat a nutritious diet of foods, including vegetables and fruit.
• Visit a health-care professional for checkups and preventive screenings.
• Avoid risky behaviors such as smoking and not wearing a seatbelt.
• Pay attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress.
Eye doctor, you are next on my list.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or email@example.com.
Five important facts to know
The American Cancer Society lists five important facts to share with friends about breast cancer.
• All women can get breast cancer — even those who have no family history of the disease.
• The two most important risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older.
• Women diagnosed with breast cancer early, when the cancer is small and has not spread, have a high chance of surviving it. Getting a mammogram is the best thing you can do to help fight breast cancer early. If you notice any breast changes, tell your doctor without delay.
• You can help reduce your chances of having breast cancer by doing regular physical activity, keeping a healthy weight and limiting the amount of alcohol you drink.
• Through early detection and improved treatments, more women than ever are surviving breast cancer.