Schedule your health screenings

Health Forward Communications Officer Jennifer Sykes with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Maggie, after finishing treatment for breast cancer.

Jennifer with her son, Jack, after finishing treatment.

For going on 20 years, I’ve worked as a communicator in the health industry. I’ve written countless letters to the editor, newsletter articles, blogs, social media posts on whatever national “week” or “month” it is.

This week is no different. Mother’s Day kicked off National Women’s Health Week. Our blog administrator asked that I write a blog to commemorate the occasion. It should be easy for me, right? I’ve done it many times before.

You start off by talking about taking control of your health. About the importance of well-woman visits, preventive screenings, eating healthy, being active, avoiding unhealthy behaviors, and paying attention to your mental health.

But this year this blog has taken on a new meaning to me. It’s more than words on a paper. It’s the words that saved my life.

You see late last year I went in for my yearly mammogram. Since my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 22 years ago, I’ve known I was at a higher risk for breast cancer. So I’ve been getting them once, sometimes twice a year for almost 10 years now.

After the mammogram was complete, I got the dreaded call back – “We see something of concern and need to do additional imaging.” It’s not the first time I’ve received that call. In fact, I have become accustomed to ultrasounds and diagnostic mammograms. But like most women, it never resulted in anything other than fatty tissues.

Until now. This time was different. This time it was cancer.

After spending the past six months navigating my way through a cancer diagnosis to now being a cancer survivor, here is my one and only piece of advice:

Get your screenings.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. It means losing control. It means depending on other people. It takes over your life in ways that you can never imagine.

But I was fortunate. I was fortunate that I knew and appreciated the importance of mammograms — a screening that allowed my medical team to catch my cancer at an early stage.

I was fortunate to have an amazing job that provided me excellent health insurance and the flexibility to take control of my health – to get my screenings and work through my treatment.

I’m fortunate to have access to amazing health care providers and a navigator that helped me navigate the system from screenings to testing to surgery to radiation to medication management.

This year, the organizers of National Women’s Health Week presented a #WhatIWishIdKnown challenge. They are asking women to share what they wish they’d known about being healthy at different ages and stages in their lives.

After spending the past six months navigating my way through a cancer diagnosis to now being a cancer survivor, here is my one and only piece of advice:

Get your screenings.

Far too many of my friends told me after my diagnosis that they haven’t received their mammograms. “Why,” I asked? Some were afraid of the discomfort or pain. Some just didn’t have the time. Others just didn’t want to know.

I know how hard it is to be a working mom with school-aged kids involved in far too many activities. I know that we, as women, often worry about helping others and put ourselves last on the to do list.

I also understand that we are scared of the unknown. It feels easier to just not know of something until it becomes a problem.

Look, I’m here to tell you a few minutes of minor discomfort is worth it. Catching breast cancer early will save your life. That mammogram took me 20 minutes. That 20 minutes is now allowing me to watch my kids grow into adults. To continue to do the job I love. And to continue being the best wife, daughter, mom, sister, co-worker, and friend I can be.

So get those screenings. Early, often and without fail.

National Women’s Health Week is an excellent time to take control of your health and schedule an appointment with your doctor.

And when you are done, celebrate making your health a priority. Tell your sister, your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend to do the same. But remember, not everyone in our community has the access, the flexibility, the resources, and the support needed to take control of their health. Whether cancer or another chronic disease, we must continue to be advocates to ensure that all women have the resources to be healthy.

But first we must be healthy ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Schedule your health screenings

    What a wonderful personal reminder of why screenings are offered in the first place! Those of us in the health care arena often neglect to take an active role in assuring our own health, even while being proactive in advocating for wellness screenings for others. Your experience is the ‘why’ we know that these preventative screenings need to be made available to all for healthier communities. Jennifer, thank you for being a wonderful role model, active advocate, and an inspiring author! All the best as you live well!

    Thank you for sharing your story! My experience was 17 years ago when I was 30. It caused me to really pay attention to and try to change the differences in healthcare access. Still a work in progress and thank goodness for Health Forward and the mission to address disparities!! Wish you all the best in your survivorship!

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