by CATHERINE NGUYEN
What is Self-Care?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), self-care is “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”. It is ultimately the individual person who acts (or does not act) to preserve health or respond to symptoms.
The Cancer Council estimates that at least one in three cancer cases could be prevented and the number of cancer deaths could be reduced significantly. With proper self-care, you may be able to reduce your risk of getting cancer or detect it early enough so that it can be successfully treated.
The University of Minnesota recommends following the three Ps to take an active role in your healthcare:
- Practising preventive care
- Paying attention to your physical wellbeing and addressing symptoms
- Partnering with your healthcare provider
There are a number of preventative measures that you can take as part of your self-care program:
- Healthy lifestyle choices include eating healthily, being physically active, and getting quality sleep.
- Being safe (i.e. taking steps to avoid or reduce risk) include avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, using sunscreen and wearing a hat, and findings ways to manage your stress.
- Regular healthcare check-ups and screenings are critical measures that should not be ignored even if you are well. Screening programs are available in Australia to detect breast cancer, bowel cancer and cervical cancer. Regular check-ups and screenings can help to monitor your health over time and identify potential issues before symptoms appear.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Paying attention to your body and mind can help you notice when something is not right. Being more aware can also help you to make better and wiser decisions regarding your health.
It may help to note the symptoms and timing so that you can monitor your condition and communicate more effectively with your healthcare provider if required.
Partner with Your Healthcare Provider
A critical aspect of self-care is partnering with your healthcare providers in managing your health. While you may rely on your healthcare providers to advise you, it is up to you to:
- seek help at the appropriate time
- provide them with accurate information regarding your condition
- understand the available options
- weigh up the risks and benefits in choosing a treatment option
- understand what you need to do
- complete your course of care
It is also up to you to seek a second opinion.
You are the one who has the most influence on your own health and can care for yourself better than anyone else. With good self-care, you can reduce your risk of developing cancer and other diseases while increasing your chances of living healthier and longer.
A Personal Note
My husband developed symptoms in January 2015. He sought help but was misdiagnosed as potentially developing lactose intolerance or food allergies. It was not until we sought a second opinion later in the year, and he underwent a colonoscopy that he was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in November 2015.
Given that around 90% of bowel cancer cases are cured if detected early, I still wonder to this day what difference those months would have made and wish that we had been more proactive earlier.
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She lost both her father and her husband to cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.