About 15 years ago, a second cousin of mine lost her life to cancer. B was in her early 40s, highly educated, a bit eccentric, with no immediate family but for her mother. A couple of years prior to her diagnosis, she had experienced some minor symptoms and, prodded by her best friend, she reluctantly went to the doctor who reassured her but also prescribed her annual tests to monitor the situation.
B, more focussed on her academic life than practical pursuits, never went back, until severe symptoms showed up again and, again under the prodding of her best friend, sought medical advice: it was too late. The cancer had metastasized and, within six months, she was gone.
It’s easy to say that B’s life could have been saved – we have no way of knowing that but, very likely, caught early, her tumour could have been removed surgically or managed for a much longer period of time. Preventative medicine is still the best shot we have at diagnosing problems early and either resolving them or, at the very least, keeping them under control.
Trying to dissect the complexities of the American healthcare system is not a matter for this forum however, as lay patients in the Western world, sorting out the ever-changing contradictory information we are bombarded with is a task we cannot avoid. All of a sudden, eating butter is ok, as well as gulping down as much coffee as we feel like. Who knew?
The yearly physical we submitted to with such devotion has also been called into question: totally pointless if we feel healthy. As women of a certain age, used to grinning and bearing a mammogram every year, we are now told that, barring any problems, once every two years is the new norm. And I was surprised when, during my last routine exam, my ob-gyn told me I wouldn’t need another pap smear for five years: everything looked fine and all I required was a yearly check-up. As to the mammo, she suggested I stick to a yearly schedule. This is all very confusing.
I believe that having a primary physician we trust and who can help us navigate through the complexities of getting older, based on our individual history and needs, is key. Trying to do this alone, wading our way through doctors who are increasingly hurried, if well-intentioned, is too difficult.
When we found out about Oscar*, a health insurance start-up, promoting National Girlfriend’s day and how women can help each other stay healthy, we were a bit skeptical. Is there a National Girlfriend’s day? Is it on a par with National Doughnut Day? But we did give it some thought.
Women tend to be stoic: we are busy, we procrastinate because others take precedence, our pain tolerance tends to be fairly high and some of us are masters at putting doctor’s visits on the back burner. But what we all have in common is to make our girlfriends our first port of call when something is not right or when we need to vent. A comment, some encouragement, some prodding on the part of a girlfriend can convince us to take symptoms more seriously, can even reverse the course of our shape-shifting excuses.
The wellness guidelines Oscar sent us, broken down by decades, are just that: guidelines, meant to be discussed with our doctors. And, to find that one doctor we will feel comfortable with and who truly cares, is a matter where girlfriends can also help: more than yelp reviews, I look for recommendations from women I trust.
Sofagirl and I have known each other for a staggering 29 years. As the hypochondriac in this duo, I have often burdened her with many of my complaints and symptoms, real and imagined. We have made a pact to navigate old age in as best a shape as possible and, even with a couple of oceans and continents in between, I know I can always count on her sound advice. To keep me calm, to egg me on, to defuse my worries.
We are not in need of a National Girlfriend’s Day to remember what friendship means. I bet most, no, all of you, don’t need it either. We have a lifetime of experience watching over each other.
Campari and Sofa was not remunerated for this post nor is it meant to be an endorsement of Oscar. We thought their charts were handy-dandy.