Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Becoming Our Biggest Advocates

As I mentioned last week, I've been traveling a lot lately. I'm exhausted and backed up with work, but my awkwardly-timed flights and layovers gave me a chance to catch up on reading.

I recently finished the book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s by Kairol Rosenthal, which highlights the lives of twenty- and thirty-somethings diagnosed with cancer and provides resources for them and their loved ones about everything from finding the right doctor to having sex as a cancer patient. I found myself becoming emotionally invested in these people who could very well be my friends, and I started to think about one of the major themes in the book: empowering young adults to take their health seriously.

We have a unique set of problems when it comes to health care. Part of it is that so many of us live with the attitude that nothing bad can happen -- we're young and have our whole lives ahead of us! There's also the issue of health insurance. I can attest to living through that awkward period when we're no longer covered by our parents' insurance, but haven't started a real job with benefits. But possibly the worst thing pointed out in Rosenthal's book is that once we get to a doctor, they might ignore the symptoms because you're "too young" to have cancer. Many patients she interviewed were not diagnosed until they were near death and admitted to the E.R.

Reading this made me very aware of the way my friends and I view our health. Most of us only do routine check-ups (if we have insurance), but don't go much deeper. We don't perform self-administered tests at home, keep track of moles or lumps, or question our doctors when they tell us something is stress-related.

It's time to read what's out there for people our age and start advocating for ourselves. If something feels wrong, we need to trust ourselves and make others take us seriously before it's too late.

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