Parenting Guru: When Putting Our Needs Second is Dumb

So I'm sitting in my gastroenterologist's office last week, awaiting feedback on my recent colonoscopy procedure. [How's that for an opening?]

While we talked about a number of things, the phrase that most rang in my ears was when the doc said: "You dodged a couple of bullets."

  • Bullet 1: Had I waited 2-3 months longer to do this routine preventive screening, I would have required surgery to remove the largest of three polyps ("The largest I've ever done!" the doc added).
  • Bullet 2: The doc said the large polyp was "as close as it could get to being cancerous while still benign." He added: "You need to do this again in a year to make sure you're still cancer-free."

That night, I cried the quiet cry of relief that one has after hearing a doctor say "cancer" and "dodged a bullet" in the same sentence.

Now, here is my guilty confession.

Many medical groups start sending out colorectal home-screening kits to men and women who have turned 50. (Those with known risk factors are encouraged to test earlier). I'm a 53 year old who has been ignoring these kits in my mailbox for three years. Why?

Sure, I had heard the stories of the miserable quarts of swill you must drink to "clean it all out" while fasting the day before the procedure. (They offer flavor packets now. Try the lemon-lime; it's not that bad!)

And yes, I'll admit to having a few hang-ups about the procedure itself. (I'm so, so sorry for the view, doc. Hey, it's not my favorite either.)

But in truth, my procrastination narrative sounded more like this:

I'm a busy mom, and right now I don't have time because I have (fill in the blank): other doctor's appointments, kid's doctor's appointments, work, school demands, shopping, homework, cooking, holidays, car repairs, laundry, taxes, housecleaning…

Blah, blah, blah. Honest admission, but in the end (pun intended), it was faulty and irresponsible logic.

Now when it comes to my kid and her medical needs -- from common colds and fevers to well visits and emergencies -- I never miss a beat. I don't procrastinate. I don't say, "Maybe when we have more time I'll get her checked out." I make time. In fact, I insist on time for her health and well-being because they are obviously top priorities.

So why isn't my health and well-being a top priority as well?

To my credit, I have been working hard on other health issues, like diabetes. I've managed to make time for other appointments, from mammograms to dental checkups. But with other key tests, from colorectal screening to pap smears, I kept postponing, thinking "One thing at a time, I'll get to them." Instead, years slipped by.

Thankfully, I recently had this niggling voice inside me making me jumpy, asking, "What if there is something there to be worried about?" Turns out, the niggling voice spoke up just in time.

So here is my parental tip of the day (please take it, don't leave it):

Don't wait to hear your doctor say, "You dodged a couple of bullets" or, worse, that you didn't. Pick up the phone and schedule whatever tests you need to take. Because here is the real bottom line, no pun intended this time:

You're not putting their needs first when you put your needs last.

Do you have effective strategies for keeping your health a priority? What obstacles get in your way and how can you get around them?

When not bouncing from appointment to appointment, Diana Dull Akers is a mother, sociologist, and freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.