After I had my first baby, I just couldn’t find the time to get back to the dentist. Between child care drop off, a long commute, and a desire to spend all my extra time with my new daughter, I kept rescheduling. When I finally made my way back to the dentist chair, I sheepishly said to the hygienist, “I know I missed my last appointment.” She gently responded, “actually, it looks like you haven’t been here in over two years.” Years. Needless to say, the dental team had some work to do, and I vowed never to go that long without a teeth cleaning again.
I know my story is not uncommon, whether moms put off dental visits, exercise, cancer screenings or other forms of self-care. Once you become a mother, the focus moves to your child’s health and well-being instead of your own. Mothers often put themselves at the end of the care line, especially in new motherhood—or during a pandemic.
And since the pandemic began, going to the doctor’s office has felt extra uncomfortable. Many of us, I’m sure, wouldn’t miss an appointment for our children, yet we often forgo our own preventive treatment. In fact, a new survey from Prevent Cancer Foundation revealed that 90 percent of women engaged in normal activities, such as visiting friends, dining out, and shopping, when local pandemic restrictions were lifted, but only 48 percent visited their doctors’ offices.
Putting off doctor’s appointments should be concerning for all of us, as annual doctor visits can play a critical role in detecting serious health issues like cancer early before physical signs or symptoms appear. The earlier cancer is found, the better the odds for successful treatment. How many of us who have known someone with cancer have thought or uttered the words, “I hope they found it early enough?”
“These cancer screenings are some of the most important steps women can take to
take care of their health, including during the pandemic when other obligations may
have taken priority,” said Dr. Angela Jones, M.D., FACOG, a board-certified obstetrics
and gynecology expert, in a recent Prevent Cancer Foundation press release.
How many of us who have known someone with cancer have thought, ‘I hope they found it early enough?’
But it’s not only the pandemic that took a toll on women’s preventive health routines. The Prevent Cancer Foundation survey also found that nearly a quarter of women ages 40 to 60 say it’s been more than three years since their last appointment with their OB-GYN or primary care provider. It seems we have a hard time caring for our health in the same way we care for everyone else around us—which is why it’s more important than ever for women to get their appointments and screening back on the books.
We Can Help Remind Each Other Why It Matters
Do you remember sleepovers from middle school? Maybe you played M.A.S.H., watched scary movies, or choreographed dance routines. I remember the conversation amongst girlfriends always turned from boys to bras and periods. We would listen attentively to each other and ask questions about what was normal with our bodies. This bonding continues into adulthood. How many of us have asked a female friend or family member about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or, even still as an adult, about weird things going on with our periods?
At 36, I found myself braless in a hospital gown in a waiting room full of other women (pre-COVID) to get a mammogram. I was the first of my friends to get one and was younger than most of the women there. I’d found a small lump in my breast thanks to an unusually intimate familiarity with my boobs while breastfeeding. Although apprehensive, I couldn’t help but feel connected to the 20-or-so other (braless) women sitting near me, knowing we were having another shared experience with these female bodies of ours. And, of course, I told my girlfriends all about it afterward.
My issue turned out fine, but I swear as I approached age 40, more and more people I knew began to have cancer profoundly affect their lives. Parents, sisters, daughters, and partners were diagnosed. Then cancer entered my own friend circle.
“Everyone, please, for me, get your mammogram and do self examinations. I love you all and… when we finally get together, I am going to hug you tight!” is how a dear friend ended an email sharing her breast cancer diagnosis with our group of girlfriends earlier this year.
A plea to take care of your own health hits differently when it comes from someone you know with cancer—you know her baby, her parents, and her husband. Her plea is personal, and you listen. She also said, “I am so grateful for each and every one of you in my life. We go way back, and especially in times like these, all that really matters is your family and friends.”
A plea to take care of your own health hits differently when it comes from someone you know with cancer—you know her baby, her parents, and her husband. Her plea is personal, and you listen.
We can all do the same for our own circles. Encourage the women in our lives to not put off caring for themselves. I understand that none of us have the time to squeeze in extra appointments, and doctor’s office restrictions may have made it tough in 2020. Plus, with or without insurance, preventive care may seem cost-prohibitive or indulgent, especially if you feel fine. But it’s so important to get back on the books this year.
Make Your Appointments Today (Seriously, Today)
So let’s all make the call or go online to book our doctor’s appointments and routine cancer screenings. Let’s tuck our underwear neatly away at the OB-GYN before we hoist our naked selves up into the stirrups. Let’s ask the uncomfortable “is this normal?” questions to our doctors. And for those of us 40 and over, let us sit braless among strangers (socially distanced, of course) as we wait for our mammograms.
Yes, some of it may be uncomfortable short term, but putting ourselves first—especially when it comes to our health—is the greatest long-term gift we can give to ourselves and those we love.
This post was in partnership with Prevent Cancer Foundation but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.