The importance of yearly exams

I’m deviating from my normal posts about writing and reading to focus on a very important issue – yearly exams.  And yes men, this goes for you, too.

Over the past nine weeks, three friends of mine have received some horrible news.  One won’t tell me exactly what the news was, just that something was found during her yearly exam, and it wasn’t good.  Another was diagnosed with  breast cancer.  The third was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  The latter two caught their cancer in the beginning stages and the prognosis is very, very good.  My other friend has an incredible outlook and is coming to terms with the doctor’s diagnosis.   All three have the power of God on their side and their determination to not allow this disease to rule their lives is awe-inspiring.  I know if it were me, I’d be a basket case.

Over the past ten years, I’ve personally known five women who were diagnosed with and survived breast cancer.  Sadly, one of my friend’s mom succumbed to cervical cancer two years ago.  She was in her early 60s.  This beautiful, vibrant woman hadn’t had a pap smear in many years.  Why should she when the majority of cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), an STD?  She was single, not sexually active, so why get a Pap?

The thing is, HPV can linger in your body for years, laying dormant, waiting for conditions to become ripe and spread.  That’s why some older women end up with cervical cancer after they divorce or their spouses die.  Yearly Pap tests can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer.  If you develop any of the following symptoms, schedule an exam with your doctor:

  • Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, or a change in your periods that you can’t explain.
  • Bleeding when something comes in contact with your cervix, such as during sex or when you put in a diaphragm.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood.
Breast Cancer:

Often, there are no symptoms of breast cancer, but signs of breast cancer can include a breast lump or an abnormal mammogram. Breast cancer stages range from early, curable breast cancer to metastatic breast cancer, with a variety of breast cancer treatments. There are different types of breast cancer. In addition, breast cancer in men is not uncommon and male breast cancer must be taken seriously.  

Monthly breast self-exams are an option for all women beginning by age 20. Women who regularly examine their breasts become more aware of how their breasts normally feel. They are more likely to notice changes — including masses or lumps — that could be early signs of cancer. It’s best to check about a week after your period, when breasts are not swollen or tender. If you no longer have a period, examine yourself on the same day every month. If you see or feel a change in your breasts, see your doctor immediately. But remember, most of the time breast changes are not cancer. (information gathered from webmd).

If you notice any of the warning signs of breast cancer listed below, see your health care provider:

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away

You men out there are not immune to the big C.  You, too, should perform monthly self-examinations for breast and testicular lumps, as well as skin lesions or changes in moles or freckles.  Routine physical exams should be conducted every 3 – 5 years beginning at the age of 18.  Men between 40 – 49 should have an exam every 2 years. Men over 50 should have an annual exam.  These tests should include checks for testicular, prostate and colon cancer.  Recommended health screenings for men can be found here.

If you find yourself fighting cancer, become as educated as possible on all types of treatments.  Remember, changes in food and lifestyle have dramatic impacts on your health and your ability to combat and eradicate cancer.  Research, research, research.  More than anything, hold on tight to your faith, keep positive and don’t waste a minute of your life on things that are irrelevant, useless or hurtful.  Join support groups, surround yourself with friends and family and enjoy your life every second of the day.  Stand up to the C monster, look it in the eye and defy its hold on you.   A positive outlook is 3/4 of the battle.  The rest is up to God.