It’s About More than Mammograms

Women take charge

467318153Franciscan Health women’s healthcare specialist Dr. Karen Nelson says in addition to disease prevention and early detection (e.g. testing for breast cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.), reserving time each day for personal care is imperative to leading a happy, healthy life.

And women, in particular, are notorious for giving all their time and energy away to others — and often at their personal expense.

Nelson says reserving as little as 15 to 30 minutes a day for yourself can make a big difference in your health. “I see so many women who are up early in the morning and keep going until late at night. They never stop and take a deep breath,” she says. Nelson says self care takes on many different forms. It doesn’t have to be a vigorous sweat session at the gym — although it can be if you want it to. “Self care doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something that’s not fixing someone’s meal or meeting a deadline.” Self care can look like water aerobics, taking the dog for a walk, decompressing on the couch with a good book or even getting a pedicure.

Although, when making time for self care, don’t forget to schedule an annual visit to your primary health care provider, who can recommend and facilitate scheduling of mammograms, Pap smears, colonoscopies and other important early detection tests and screenings.

In addition to daily self care and annual visits to your primary healthcare provider, there are also several other simple practices you can integrate into your daily life that will help promote good health. Of course, Nelson says, these are all the same health practices you’ve probably heard since childhood (most likely from your mother): regular exercise, healthy eating habits and so on.

However, one thing you may not typically consider is something that Nelson says she considers integral to happy, healthy lifestyles: a strong sense of community. “I see a lot of folks, and the people who have a connection outside of themselves are healthier people,” she explains. Nelson says having a sense of community can include spending quality time with friends and family, getting involved in church or volunteering with an organization you are passionate about.

While there are many specific activities you can incorporate into your daily routine that will improve your quality of life, there also are several things you can cut out that will improve your health. While we all know that junk food, excessive drinking and smoking are bad for you, Nelson explains that sometimes bad habits like these are used to modify an overarching problem: stress. By replacing stress modifiers that have negative health implications with healthful activities like yoga or meditation, people are able to better manage their stress, while improving their overall health.

“If we do everything in moderation, our lives would probably be a little better,” says Nelson.

While each woman must take charge and be responsible for her own health and wellbeing first and foremost, Nelson says there have been many medical and technological advancements in recent years that are having a positive impact
on women’s healthcare.


Dr. Karen Nelson

From IUDs (intrauterine devices) to robotics, health care professionals are able to provide more solutions to female-specific conditions than ever. Nelson says that more than just a form of birth control, IUDs like Mirena, an estrogen-free, medical-grade polyethylene plastic intrauterine device, help combat issues relating to abnormal bleeding without the hormonal side effects associated with the Pill. Similarly, robotics have changed women’s healthcare, providing minimally invasive approaches to correcting conditions like endometriosis, resulting in less hospital time and a faster recovery for more patients.

But the technological advancements don’t stop there. In this digital age of smartphones and tablets, the web is right at your fingertips. Nelson says there are great health-focused virtual resources available to women (and men). One website and mobile app that she likes as a resource for medical information is UpToDate. Used by healthcare professionals and patients alike, UpToDate is a reliable medical resource with a user-friendly interface providing information in a comprehensive and accessible format.

There are even fun brain training games you can download on your phone or tablet, like Lumosity, which Nelson says may help, “keep the gray cells sharp and maybe — who knows — ward off dementia.”

With so many resources available to women, healthy living is well within reach. In fact, Nelson says that despite busier, more stressful lifestyles, more women are making strides toward better health. “I don’t know if it’s because of better awareness, but more and more of my patients are careful about what they’re eating, and they’re exercising more. It seems like we’re on an upswing,” she says.

With resources, awareness and technology to help women achieve healthier lifestyles, getting started on a path to a happy, healthy life is as simple as making a few basic changes.

For additional women’s healthcare resources and information, visit the Franciscan Health website, or make an appointment to meet with Nelson or another women’s healthcare specialist at a Franciscan Health location in Tacoma or Gig Harbor.

is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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