It can happen to you

By: Alison Dunn Apr 06, 2010
  Editorial

My heart stopped when I listened to the message on my answering machine.

"Hi Alison, it's Ashley calling from the doctor's office. We have your test results back and the doctor would like to see you."

I'd be lying if I said that panic didn't set in a bit. I'd just had a complete physical done – and it was one I'd been delaying for a while. You know how it is. You get busy with work, kids' activities, socializing and all those other things, and you put off making an appointment for your physical. Suddenly, you realize you're about a year overdue, so off you trek to the doctor for that belated checkup.

That's exactly what I did. I'd convinced myself I was young and fit; I didn't really need to see the doctor with any urgency. I ate well and exercised regularly. There wouldn't be a problem.

But now this phone call. Was there a problem? I called back, and they scheduled me into an appointment the next day. The urgency worried me and I spent a sleepless night running through scenarios in my head.

Thankfully, it really wasn't anything at all. (My iron levels were a bit low – nothing to really worry about.) After all, I'm (relatively) young, right? Cancer, heart disease, sickness… these are reserved for people past middle age. Aren't they?

They're not. Here's a case in point: a few years ago, I got in touch with an old friend from high school on Facebook. "K" and I were in the same homeroom all throughout high school, and I was thrilled to hear from her again. We chatted back and forth about how our lives had changed (she moved to B.C. and was married with a young daughter) and it was nice catching up.

Then I found out that K had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was tough trying to work, raise a family and undergo chemotherapy, but K's attitude was upbeat and positive. She was young and fit… she could beat this, right?

Sadly, K passed away last fall after a very brave fight. She was 35.

If getting a call from my doctor's office wasn't a wakeup call, surely this was. Yes, I'm healthy, but that doesn't mean I can get complacent.

It seems I'm not alone in putting off my health. In our special report this week, "Oh no, Canada," we report on the state of Canadians' health. It's not great – obesity is on the rise, and with it comes the rising risk of a number of health-related problems. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer. These are all scary words, and even scarier diseases. If we stand a chance of preventing them, why aren't we doing it?

My friend's death put a lot of things into perspective for me. Just because I'm 35, that doesn't mean I won't get cancer. I can – and early detection is key. I need to make sure I get to the doctor for that checkup every year ON TIME. On top of that, I need to listen to my body – if something doesn't feel right, get it checked right away. If a cold or flu is lingering too long, get it checked. Finally, I need to continue eating right and stay active.

Of course, there are no guarantees in life. Even if you do stay on top of your health, like K did, you may still end up facing the worst. You can do everything you can to reduce the risk and it can still happen to you.

However, I truly believe that if you take care of yourself, it will help you face up to whatever life has in store. Certainly K continued to stay brave and positive right up until the end. Her family and friends will miss her forever, but they know she did everything she possibly could to fight the good fight.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.