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.

Curse you, John Green, for making me cry

The Fault in Our StarsI thought I was doing well, getting through The Fault In Our Stars without shedding a tear. And then I reached page 261 and I fell apart. I sobbed. I couldn’t help it. I’d even been warned and I thought I had prepared myself. I was wrong.

This novel found its way deep into my heart. The two main characters, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, are so real I felt as if I were in the same room with them. I fell in love with them.  They both made me laugh.  They both made me cry. They both made me long for what was and could never be again.  They both made me realize how fragile love is.

The descriptions were impeccable, the settings, perfect.  There was one scene where Hazel and Gus visit Anne Frank’s house and I felt as if I was there, following along behind them.  When I found out the author spent time in Amsterdam to write, I understood why the settings were so perfectly scripted.

I looked and looked for something to find fault with in this story and I couldn’t find anything, not even an editor’s mistake. The novel is riddled with lines worth quoting in every day conversations and I highlighted this wonderful bit of ‘author’ advice:

“…this childish idea that the author of a novel has some special insight into the characters of a novel…it’s ridiculous. That novel was composed of scratches on a page, dear. The characters inhabiting it have no life outside of those scratches. What happened to them? They all ceased to exist the moment the novel ended.”

What is The Fault In Our Stars about?  From the inside cover:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis.  But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

This novel is brilliant.  It is an electrifying example of how people inflicted with cancer learn to live with half of their hopes among the living and the other half in the grave.  It deals with every aspect of mortality, including very human realistic fears like Will I ever be loved, accepted, even when terminally ill or damaged physically?  Will people remember me when I’m gone?  Will I leave a mark on the world or will I fade away?  What makes it even more poignant is that the people asking the questions are 16 and 17 years old. I was invested in Hazel’s story from the opening line until the final sentence.

John Green took me on an incredible journey with Hazel and Augustus, one I am sure to travel again and again, if for nothing else than the humor and the prose.  If this story is not picked up and made into a film, curse Hollywood.

John Green, I salute you.  My rating for this novel?  10 stars out of 5.  It is a must read…must own.  It is now a permanent part of my collection.  You should really make sure it’s a part of yours.  You won’t regret it.