Being proactive best in medical matters

By Clyde Davis: local columnist

Anniversaries are important, and not just the kind that involve a marriage. The calendar helps us to mark the journey of our lives, and if we move through this unaware, it can still sneak up on us.

For example, some folks feel an unexplained sense of sadness at a particular time of the year, never really catching on to the fact that that was the time span in which they lost a parent or some significant relationship.

I will soon be celebrating the fifth year of my esophageal cancer surgery, and thus five years, to my knowledge, clear of the disease. It prompts me to write in a serious manner, something I don’t often do, and reiterate some hard lessons learned, which readers may benefit from. If it does not apply to you, it may well apply to someone you love.

n Pay attention to your body. I was still teaching at Three Way High in May 2001, and we were playing some after-school baseball. I went between games to eat a steak sandwich, and the steak stuck in my throat. Should have been warning sign number one. I do grant that it may have saved my life, the fact that I’d just been to Relay for Life and read a pamphlet on various kinds of cancer. But my first thought was “Not me” because …

n Look for hidden risk factors. I would have judged myself low risk, but think about heredity, where you grew up and what it exposed you to, whether or not you saw combat in what may be a chemical environment, and so on. In other words, look beyond the obvious. For example, if you are 6 feet tall, weigh 180, and exercise regularly, it should remove you from the heart disease charts, unless you have a family history.

n Take prompt action. We discovered that you must take charge of your medical care, not necessarily accepting the first thing you hear. For example, we frequently heard that it would take two weeks for results.
Why? What happens if I want them sooner? Remember, you are the customer.

n Seek second opinions. Our fine general practitioner sent us first to a local surgeon whose reputation and self-perception doubtless exceed his capability. Had he done the procedure he planned, I wouldn’t be scuba diving, biking or writing this column. I’d be a memory.

n Switch doctors if yours won’t communicate with others. This particular surgeon wouldn’t, and that was a big warning sign. Dr. Allan Haynes, a respected urologist, told me for a previous column to remind readers that you are entitled to seek the best health care, ask each and every question you have, and be assertive with your medical team. If your team doesn’t like it, get a new team. Also consider using the Internet and other modern sources.

n Don’t underestimate the value of emotional support.

The love of my life is an incredible woman. I owe her keeping me sane and focussed — and reminding me to iron my clothes when chemo made me too tired to care, because she knows how much I’d hate to be seen as a slob. I am surrounded by incredible friends and colleagues.
No joke, the healing power of love is real. Your circle may be large or small, but it is there for you. Risk being vulnerable.

We could go on, but it sums up as proactive health care. Sorry to deprive my regular readers of their usual Sunday humor, but look at it this way — a life may be saved because you read this column.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: