Friday, March 27, 2009

Don't Be Complacent

If you have a medical concern, please get it checked out as soon as you can. This is a simple idea, but it is one of the hardest things we can ask of ourselves.

We may not follow up immediately on a medical concern because we are afraid our worst nightmares will come true. It's much easier to lull ourselves into a false sense of complacency -- that whatever we are worried about is a figment of our imagination, or that we are just hypochondriacs afraid to waste a doctor's time with false alarms.

The truth is, it is easy to choose complacency when we are afraid. This is our default reaction to potentially disturbing news.

I chose two weeks of complacency after I found a very subtle dimple on my right breast during one of my routine monthly breast exams. During these two weeks, I had no peace. I kept telling myself that I wasn't really seeing anything. Wasn't that dimple always there and I failed to notice it? Wasn't it just a mirage?

Then I would cry for hours, convinced it was cancer. Then I remembered that a recent mammogram was negative and my gynecologist had given me a clean bill of health months prior. He did the breast exam and found nothing, I reassured myself, so I was just fine.

Besides, a doctor told me I was too young for cancer. I was fit and had a healthy lifestyle. I was becoming jubilant over my self-imposed diagnosis of "healthy," when a fear overcame me.

What if it really is breast cancer?

My first instinct was to tell myself that ignorance is bliss. The idea of having cancer was too terrifying to imagine. But when it comes to a possibility of any life-threatening condition, the whole ignorance-is-bliss mantra is a lie.

I realized that I had no choice but to investigate it. If it weren't cancer, my mind games would stop and I'd be reassured. If it were cancer, it would kill me if I just ignored it. At least being proactive would give me a shot at living.

So I made an appointment to see the gynecologist, who, still unconcerned and who had trouble even finding the area in question, wrote me a prescription for a mammogram at my hospital's breast center, just to be on the safe side.

Turns out, it was cancer.

And that's when I first learned the power of self-advocacy. Despite the harsh treatments and future surgeries, I am alive now -- and blogging up a storm -- because I opted to be proactive.

Some people believe that "courage" is defined as "being fearless." I disagree. To me, courage means being afraid and acting anyway, even if that means facing the darkest of truths.

Through my breast cancer journey, I realized that I am very courageous, but I realized that this is a true quality of ordinary people like me -- to do extraordinary things that are often the unthinkable.

So if you or a loved one has a medical concern, call the shots and get it checked out. It may just save a life.

Beth L. Gainer is a professional writer and has published an essay on her breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. She teaches writing and literature at Robert Morris College in the Chicago area. She can be contacted at and She also blogs on the adventures of her cats, Hemi and Cosette, at


  1. Ah, I finally got off my butt and read this. Well, I'm still on my butt, but you know what I mean. Excellent post. So, so true too. I'm freaking terrified of the dentist. I know I need work done and I know not what 09 has reset the insurance and that there's $4,000 going into the medical account and Mr. Busypants is no longer in therapy that I need to act. But when I even THINK of calling just to make an appt for a routine cleaning, I get in touch with my inner PTSD and am paralized.

    So next time we talk, give me a little stalk. I gotta get on that phone, especially b/c if I let another year go by with all that med $$ and insurance coverage, my husband will kick my booty!!!!!!

    Luv ya! And to the other people out there: Beth rules! READ HER BLOG!!!!!

  2. THANK YOU so much!! I've been so comment-hungry, and now I feel happy. BTW, Jeannie is an awesome writer -- so please check her writing out, too!!

    Aw, such writer comraderie is so nice!!

    Now I'm going to kick it into gear. Here's your homework assignment: Next week, please make an appointment with the dentist. The longer you wait, the more scared you become.

    So act, and you will feel better.

  3. Thanks for your contribution to Take Charge of Your Health Care. It is easy to become paralyzed by fear be it medical or dental treatment. The best solution is just to take action which you did and saved your life. Thanks for inspiring my readers.

  4. Thank you, Helene!! I am honored that I've been published in your Take Charge of Your Health Care blog carnival.