It was not how I’d imagined spending my Saturday morning. At a recent symposium there I was looking at diagrams of the female reproductive organs and graphs of survival rates. (Stay with me, this is important). While the audience was listening intently and asking polite questions, I wanted to jump up and shout, ‘How can you be so calm? They’re talking about you!’ Instead I stayed silent, listened and learnt five things every woman – with or without gynaecological cancer – should remember about her health.
- Exercise is a lifelong medicine
We know exercise has a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, yet we find a million excuses not to do it. If you think exercise is hard, then imagine trying to do it while having chemotherapy. ‘That’s crazy,’ I hear you say. Well, the ECHO research trial is proving that 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (yes, huff and puff stuff) helps get patients through chemo for ovarian cancer. Imagine what it can help you get through.
- Resilience is vital
Australian author and social commentator Rebecca Sparrow can talk with authority about resilience. She has it in spades. As she says, the reality is that life pitches a curve ball at everyone at some point. Knowing how to pick yourself and keep going is a skill vital to our health and wellbeing.
- We need to talk
Today there are many support services available for women’s health, yet often it’s our own networks that prove the most powerful. Sitting next to me was a woman who had vaginal cancer, which is not a common cancer. When she was first diagnosed she felt very alone. She felt a certain (undeserved) stigma and embarrassment about her condition. Her mother had confided in a friend and it turned out her friend’s daughter also had vaginal cancer. So they got their daughters talking.
- Prevention is still better than cure
In the past 20 years researchers have found new ways to detect and in some cases predict cancer (genetic predisposition) but not for all cancers. We tend to think if we have a regular pap smear we’re covered, right? Wrong. Pap smears can detect cervical cancer but not the raft of other cancers. In Australia every two hours of the day a woman is diagnosed with gynaecological cancer. Women, young and old, need to pay attention to any irregular symptoms and see a doctor.
- Medical research may help us all
Gynaecological cancer research is positively impacting healthcare for all women. Take, for example, the LACE clinical trial, which examines the treatment of endometrial cancer via a laparoscopic (key-hole) hysterectomy versus traditional, open-abdominal surgery. This trial has shown the keyhole approach results in less pain, fewer complications and an improved quality of life. This could also be used for benign hysterectomies, helping women without cancer as well.
It is only because women participate in such clinical trials that medical teams can improve the way that they do things. Hats off to everyone who has volunteered. You are potentially helping yourself and all womankind.
I was a guest at the Queensland Centre for Gynaecological Cancer’s annual research symposium. For more details see http://www.gyncan.org