My mum was one of the healthiest people I've known. Not the "all-gluten-is-evil" type of healthy, but perfectly balanced healthy. She was the type of person who would eat vegetables, fibers and fruits during the week, avoid sugar and alcohol and enjoy the occasional splurge on weekends. She jogged daily, did Pilates, tried swimming but it gave her split ends so she stopped. She wasn't stressed. She took all her pills for the first symptoms of osteoporosis and checked her skin for weird moles constantly as she'd had skin issues in the past -- she's to blame for my SPF 100+ obsession. She was a 'Perfect A' patient according to any practitioner's brochure. As the good student she'd been as a child, she followed her doctors' recommendations strictly, trusted them blindly.
But I guess life doesn't tend to stick to the brochures.
At the age of 65, what began as an annoying stomach ache during an overseas trip quickly turned into our family's worst nightmare: she was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer that had spread to her liver. In less than three months, she went from apparently completely healthy to helplessly sick.
The following year was the purest demonstration of strength, hope and love. She was fearless, relentless and sweet, as she'd always been. On one hand, she left us a life-changing example of the importance to enjoy life and to fight for it. On the other, a knot in the throat -- how can someone this healthy get this sick? It was unexpected, unfair and unsettling.
After she was gone, my sister and I kept going back to the irony, for lack of a better word, of her case. She did everything she knew she had to do for her health, but she didn't know it all. She didn't know that one you reach 50 it is recommended to do regular FOBT (faecal occult blood test), an easy, cheap and non-invasive test. At the age of 65, she had never been asked to do one.
There's no way to go back. No way to alert my 50-year-old mum to talk about the bowel test with her doctor, to understand the importance of it. No way to tell her she should do it so she won't miss her daughter's wedding, her twin granddaughters' births, and so many memories still to come. But we can tell other mums. Other people who might be neglecting a health check that could potentially save their lives.
Our health is our most precious asset and we should be informed, engaged and proactive about it. Start conversations with your doctor about preventative health checks, put them in your diary, and get them done.
I know it's hard to add yet another task to our endless to-do lists and to fit them into our already hectic lives, but it can really make all the difference. I hope I can pass out this message to many other "mums" so that fewer daughters have to regret not doing so.
Article Featured at The Huffington Post Australia: