Updated: Apr 5
I really love my job, and especially all of the wonderful people I get to work with every day. When I’m asked about who my patients are, one thing that stands out is that you come in prepared for your appointments – you’ve done research, have questions, want to understand your lab results, and are ready to take action. I really appreciate and encourage this attitude where I am more of a consultant than authority on your health. You know your body best, and if your medical care is not addressing what is most important to you, it is important to advocate for your own health.
In this article, I would like to show you why this attitude of taking charge of your health is important, and further steps you can take.
Why is taking charge of your health important?
Some of the most compelling evidence in the value of taking control of your own health, is found in psychosocial research with cancer patients. In these cases, it is strongly linked with survival. If taking charge of your health makes such a difference in cancer survival, it most definitely makes a difference in your overall health. Here are some clinical findings:
Kelly Turner, Ph.D is a researcher and lecturer in integrative oncology. She wrote a book called “Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds” based on her own research about what cancer survivors did differently. One of the nine factors she describes in her book is that they took control of their health. Dr. Turner says that these survivors are proactive participants with their medical team (even annoying at times) and tend to research new information they actively share with their medical team (1).
In a 1987 study of cancer survivors, the common thread was that they “assumed responsibility for all aspects of their lives, including recovery. Thus, medical personnel were often used as consultants (2).”
Another researcher, Mosche Frenkel, MD from Integrative Oncology Consultants has also studied exceptional cancer survivors, and found that personal activism was a recurrent theme. This involved taking charge and getting involved in the process of diagnosis and treatment, as well as becoming more altruistic in their relationships with others (3).
What are other steps you can take?
In most cases, just be your curious self. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your own research. Here are some important ways to take charge of your health:
Keep track of all of your lab results. Ask for copies, and store them all together. This will allow you to quickly find information when needed, and also notice trends of patterns in your lab values. For example, has your cholesterol level been steadily climbing? Is a polyp in the gallbladder growing? Are thyroid nodules changing?
Trust your gut if something is not right. You know your body better than anyone else.
Do your own research, come prepared for your appointment with questions. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Know your family history, and what you should be targeting for prevention. We get lost in the acute complaints, and sometimes lose track to the big picture. For example, I can think of a patient with difficult to control asthma, who has seen many specialists in the past 2 years, but basic testing like cholesterol panels and blood sugar have been forgotten.
To understand your own health better, create a health timeline – are there times when your health took a sudden turn? (read more about a health timeline here)
Use me, and your other healthcare practitioners as consultants. If I’m doing my job right, it is to teach you how to take care of your own health optimally.
Use our healthcare system optimally to stay on top of screening. This is another form of preventative medicine: PAP tests, ultrasounds, basic bloodwork, a physical exam, bone density testing, colonoscopies and mammograms. Remember that with most conditions, early detection is key.
One big caution, to those of you who have anxiety about your health. You may not be someone who can research online especially in a way that promotes your health. Be aware about how you feel – are you taking charge and feeling strong, or are you stirring up fears. Use your team of health consultants to your advantage in this case, to both validate your concerns and also quell your fears.
I very much look forward to your questions!
Turner, Kelly. 2014. Radical Remission: surviving cancer against all odds. Harper Collins.
Roud PC “Psychosocial variables associated with the exceptional survival of patients with advanced malignant disease. J. Natl Med Assoc. 1987 Jan; 79(1):97-102.
Frenkel M, Shachar LA, Engebretson J, et al. Activism among exceptional patients with cancer. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2011 Aug; 19(8):1125-1132.