A few years ago, my husband’s grandfather passed away. I’m blessed to have all my grandparents with me today, and for me, it was my first experience with Parkinsons, cancer, and nursing homes. I didn’t know Grandpa Melvin all that well or all that long because he lived out of state, but he made my wedding ring, and I got to spend a good amount of time with him towards the end of his days.
It’s fascinating to speak with someone at the end of a long, full life. He asked all about his grandsons’ daily lives, school, and jobs, offering occasional encouragement or advice. He didn’t speak about himself as much. He and his grandsons aren’t terribly touchy-feely types. My husband is definitely the “sappiest” of the bunch. But Grandpa Melvin did offer a few moments of earnest heart to heart, with perhaps even a tear or two sneaking in there.
Grandpa Melvin was very sick, not only with Parkinsons but also cancer. We asked how he was doing health wise each day and he always told us in the regular way folks talk to each other – how he felt, if eating and sleeping were going well or poorly, how well he was getting around, etc. That is to say, not in medical terms. So I can’t really tell you specifics on his medical condition. But I will tell you what he told us.
One of his final wishes to my husband was “get checked out.” I’ll paraphrase, but here’s the gist of what he said. “Go to the doctor. Get checkups. Do the embarrassing stuff. It’s one of those things people know they should do but they don’t always. Staying healthy is important. I’m not worried about myself, but when you’re old, you’re sad for your kids and your grandkids. You should do it for them.”
That was one of the last pieces of advice this man left for his grandson, but I wanted to share it because it’s good advice for all men. I have endometriosis and PCOS – this blog talks a lot about women’s health. But statistically, women are 24% more likely to see a doctor regularly. We go to the “lady doctor,” there’s tons of press on screening for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and women are constantly proven more likely to seek medical care for illness than men.
Well, today I’m going to do my part and use my health blog to not only broadcast one man’s advice, but give you guys some idea of what kind of routine care you need.
1.) The “Embarrassing Stuff.”
Screening for prostate cancer and colon cancer – aka letting a doctor check out your butt. Look, it doesn’t sound fun I admit, but again, ladies’ regular visits to the “lady doctor” are way more invasive and way less stigmatized. What is up with that? I think a lot of it is due to those pink ribbons and awareness months dedicated to breast and cervical cancer. But guys are dying of cancer too! Lucky for them, they have just as much screening available. Go get checked. Survival rates are high when cancers like this are caught early. Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the US today. And to anyone who says to skip it because of false positives – I say risking a false positive doesn’t outweigh missing the cancer.
Starting at age 40, prostate exams are recommended regularly (once a year, calm down). Colon cancer screenings are usually done starting at age 50. If you’re under 40, keeping up with yearly physical checkups and seeing a doctor for any illness or abnormality is the best thing you can do. Your primary care doctor will be able to recommend a cancer screening on a case by case basis if you need one.
2.) The “Boring Stuff.”
Blood pressure and cholesterol levels – aka a chore. Most men report that the reason they don’t get a yearly checkup is that “they don’t have time.” I can’t fault you there – going to the doctor, having them squeeze your arm, and hearing “your blood pressure’s good” is basically white noise. It is to me too. Even when I’m in the ER I pretty much never care what their puffy air sleeve has to say. And having blood drawn and receiving a postcard in the mail a few weeks later that says “normal” is less than thrilling. It doesn’t feel like you’re really doing anything for your health. There’s been once or twice that my cholesterol levels have been high. I got a postcard with a stamp on it that said “eat healthy” with a smiley face.
Oh boy, glad I took the time to get that gem of advice!
But in all seriousness, monitoring these things long term is invaluable data if anything ever goes wrong, and a great general measure of overall health. A general physical exam complete with hitting your knee with a tiny hammer may seem awfully quick and like there’s no way any useful info could come from it, but look at it with optimism. It’s quick and easy and non-invasive- staying healthy is SO EASY GUYS! So a yearly checkup is kind of a chore? So what? It’s a ONCE A YEAR chore. It’s easier than cleaning the gutters. And you do it for your family. So just go.
Yearly checkups are reccomended for ages 2 – 200. So yeah, JUST GO.
3.) Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
This one is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest of all. The easy part is keeping an eye on yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror each day. Was that freckle always there? Did that mole get bigger? Here’s the hard part – GO TO THE DOCTOR WHEN SOMETHING’S UP. You know yourself better than anyone. Are you more tired than you should be? Are you moodier than usual? Yeah, if you’re having trouble keeping your temper or getting up in the morning, you might mention it to someone. If there’s a “weird thing” on your skin, go show a doctor. Don’t be the guy who gets asked “hey, what’s that spot on your arm?” and answers “yeah I dunno, I saw it last month and since then it’s gotten twice as big but I dunno.”
Sometimes, you may not be the best judge of yourself. If you’re not sure you should see a doctor, ask friends and family. Do I seem overtired lately? Have I been myself lately? If there’s a spot on your skin that you’re honestly not sure is new, ask your significant other. Don’t have one? Ask your parents. No, get out of here with your “gross that’s embarrassing,” your parents wiped your butt. I have a son now. He’s reached into his diaper and rubbed poop all over himself and me. I have gotten in the shower with him while we were both fully clothed and peeled poopy clothes off layer by layer until we were two slippery poopy naked people crying in the shower together. I’m not going to make fun of him if he has a weird spot on his lower back when he’s 27. Your parents have seen your lower back, they’ll know if something’s new.
Parents: They Already Know You’re Gross
And here’s some good advice for all genders. Do you live with someone? I don’t care what their relationship is to you. Every now and then look at them while they’re reading or cooking or catching pokemon. Look at their shoulders and back – places they don’t see well. Glance over them every few days. If you see a new freckle pop up, let them know. Why not? If it’s kind of weird but saves their life, good on you!
This section’s getting long but it’s gonna get longer because I know two men who almost died and didn’t because they had a doctor look at the weird thing on their skin. One of my friends is a tennis player and photographer – he spends a lot of time outside. He got a new freckle on his back. He got it tested. It was skin cancer. Now there’s a chunk missing from his back and he’s cancer free – but if he saw it and thought “eh, people get freckles from the sun right?” and went on with life, he might not be here today. This boy is younger than me. I don’t like burying people younger than me.
Exhibit B: my dad. He got a weird blood blister on his palm. We joked that he had a stigmata. He got a weird cold and fever that wouldn’t go away. He could have gone “oh, it’s a cold, who cares. I’d rather rest at home than spend a day at a clinic.” He could have thought “huh this blood blister’s weird” like I think most people would. But he went to the clinic. They weren’t helpful at all. He could have gone “I’m not wasting my time with doctors anymore, it’s just a cold. And a weird blister.” But he went to his primary care doctor. They never did figure out what was up. I guess it was just a bad cold. And a weird blood blister. But while they were running tests, they discovered his aorta was enlarged and ripping. The doctor preformed what he described as “a rare surgery” on him – because this is a condition that is usually discovered in a dead person. A few more days of thinking he’d “wait it out and see if this cold goes away” and he literally would have died.
Even if you don’t get answers or it turns out to be nothing, a trip to the doctor is not a waste of time.
So this is me saying to ALL of you, but men in particular because you seem to need to hear it: go to the doctor. Let it be a boring chore and be thankful each time you go home feeling like it was a boring chore. Families like saying “well thank god he went to a doctor!” a lot more than getting diagnoses from an autopsy.
Yup, it just got dramatic all up in here. But the title did promise deathbed wishes. Sometimes you’ve got to get serious about serious business. So send this to someone you love and who needs a loving smack upside the head.
To my sweet dear husband who as of yesterday I’ve been married to for six years: let’s call and schedule you a checkup.
Works Cited and Further Reading:
Six Routine Screenings for Men’s Health – Everyday Health
Health Care Access and Utilization in Young Adults – The CDC
Check Ups and Screening Guidelines for Men – Men’s Health Network
Men: Stay Healthy at Any Age – Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality