Like many, I took my health for granted. I was lucky to live for 60 years with no major healthcare issues. But my luck ran out on November 24, 2014, when I was diagnosed with a central nervous system brain tumor that turned my life upside down. If you have been reading Nurse Advocate you know the story.
Today, although tumor free, I am still processing my journey. I am a high risk for a reoccurrence of the tumor and continue to have complications as a result of the treatment that has impacted my activities of daily living. As a result, I continuously ask myself; what did I do to cause this? What can I do to prevent the tumor from reoccurring?
I realize I am not alone. Research shows that nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease. In addition, it is known that two-thirds of all deaths are caused by one or more of five chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes.
As a patient with a chronic disease (cancer), I know it is up to me to be the one to do what I can do to prevent a reoccurrence and to avoid other chronic diseases. So I am on a mission to learn what I can do to improve my health and wellbeing. Is it too late? NO, it is never too late to take steps to improve your health and wellbeing.
So I ask you: what are you doing to evaluate your health and wellbeing? Please take a minute to share how you have changed your lifestyle to better take care of your health and healthcare. Make a comment in the space below or email me at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you.
Here are some things that I am doing to improve my health and wellbeing.
Sign up with a Primary Care Doctor: I signed on with a primary care doctor that is connected with the Sylvester Cancer Center to try to streamline my care and records in one place. I see her for my annual checkup, if I am sick or if I have a question for her. I have access to a patient portal that allows me to send my primary a question. She can answer me or ask me to come to the office if she feels she has to see me. This tool helps me to be connected and communicate with my team more effectively.
Having a primary care doctor is important. But you need to get to know them and make sure they know who you, your goals and what is important to you. Most primary care practices have hundreds of patients, so it is up to you to get to know your doctor and help them get to know you so you get the care that is important to you.
A primary care doctor will help you maintain your health and also direct care if/when you need advanced care with specialists. To gain insight into how your primary care physician can be the quarterback of your health care team, read this article.
Get Annual Check Up: One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to get an annual checkup and get the required preventative tests and immunizations for your age group. Doing so will identify problems early and improve your chances of a good outcome. Today, many people are living well despite having a chronic condition.
Here is a link to preventative screening for women and for men. Take time to review the recommendations for your age group. Keep track of your results and alert your PCP if you see anything abnormal or see a change from previous tests.
Keep in mind these charts are guidelines. If you have a history of cancer or other chronic condition, talk to your primary care physician about screening test you should get due to your family history that might be outside of the recommended guideline(s).
CASE IN POINT: I recently talk to a friend whose daughter was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I asked her how they found cancer and if she had regular mammograms. She said she never had a mammogram as she was only 33, yet her grandmother died of metastatic breast cancer. With this family history, the primary care physician or her OB/GYN physician can write a prescription and ask for the test to be covered. Family history is one of the key indicators that one may come down with the same condition. It is too late now for this young women, but what if she (the mother of two young children) had a mammogram early on and it was able to catch her cancer earlier? Keep in mind that just because you don’t fit into a ‘guideline’, does not mean you do not need the test. It means that the test may not be covered by your insurance, but you can pay privately if you want to have the test. Many organizations that provide mammograms will work with you if the cost is prohibitive, so don’t let money be your deciding factor.
Keep in mind, you are the only constant on your healthcare team. So it is important to keep copies of your health records as it will help you be aware of the results and any trends that might indicate problems. Being proactive is important.
Get your weight under control. If you are overweight, take steps to get your weight under control. According to the American Cancer Society, being overweight can be a predisposing factor for cancer and other chronic conditions. Talk to your primary care doctor about your weight and ask for a plan to get your weight under control.
Evaluate your diet: Eating well is an important part of improving your health and reducing your risk of cancer and other chronic conditions. Take a good hard look at what you typically eat each day and see if you are predisposing yourself to chronic conditions. Minor changes can make a difference.
MOVE: Watching how much you eat will help you control your weight. The other key is to be more physically active. Being active helps reduce your risk of cancer and other conditions by helping with weight control. It can also help improve your hormone levels and the way your immune system works. Today, there are some good tools that will help you eat better, move and change your behaviors so you are reducing your risk factors. One such tool are Wearables.
Wearables: Wearable technology is helping people change behaviors. Wearables are devices we can wear that can alert to how many steps we take, track what we eat and PUSH us to do more. Today, one in six (15%) consumers in the United States currently uses wearable technology, including smartwatches or fitness bands. While 19 million fitness devices are likely to be sold this year that number is predicted to grow to 110 million in 2018. Wearables are helping people to be better engaged in their health and healthcare. Here is an article on wearable technologies and how they are facilitating behavioral changes to improve one’s health.
Remember that your health is not just about the medical conditions that can impact your life, but also includes dental or oral health and mental health. Each is important to your health and wellbeing. Let’s look at them both.
Oral Health: Good oral health can also be the difference between life and death. Your mouth is a hotbed of bacteria, which can be controlled with good oral hygiene. But neglect of your teeth and gums can lead to heart disease and other chronic medical conditions. Make an appointment to see your dentist and hygienist. You may need to go for cleanings if you are found to be at risk for gum disease. You may also be referred to a periodontist who specializes in treating gum disease. Most of us think that as long as we have no pain, our teeth are good. This is not the case as gum disease is a silent disease. Getting annual x rays are the only way to show if you have gum disease. Here is an article that dispels many of the myths that can impact our oral health.
Mental Health: Primary care doctors have known for years that psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, stress and mental confusion, play a significant role in many diseases and impair recovery if not treated adequately. Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals can contribute to the healing process through evaluations, counseling and sometimes medication to assist in the treatment of these psychological difficulties. With the use of the patient-centered medical home model, the psychological needs of the patient are more readily identified and addressed through better access to the providers and improved communication between the patient and doctors, which allows more prompt treatment of mental illness and related problems. Here is an article that might make this concept clearer.
Today there are a number of resources that can help improve your health and healthcare. I hope this article is a start and motivates you to take care of yourself!
Have a good week!