In a recent interview, Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said that women were generally more knowledgeable about health issues than men, but that they used that information more often to help others than themselves.
It’s news that Angel Shannon knows all too well.
The registered nurse and founder of One Dharma Yoga & Wellness, a holistic health planning and coaching service in Catonsville, Maryland, said that in nearly 18 years of nursing, she has seen women repeatedly put their health below that of others.
“Women make themselves second, third, last on the list,” Shannon told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “But it’s not just her life that’s affected, but her whole family and, ultimately, her community.”
This week is National Women’s Health Week, an observance coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) to encourage women to take some basic steps for a longer, healthier life, including:
• Getting at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both each week.
• Eating a nutritious diet.
• Visiting a health care professional to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings.
• Avoiding risky behaviors, such as smoking and not wearing a seatbelt.
• Paying attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress.
Shannon said she started her service because “one consistent thread I’ve seen has been the ways in which people get snagged in the health care system and don’t have ownership of their own health. They need to take ownership for information, for planning, for understanding. I want people to take ownership of their health beyond just handing over an insurance card and being users of the health care system.”
She said that in addition to having a healthy balance in life, people need the tools “to know what they don’t know, as well as knowing to ask questions and what it means to make the necessary lifestyle changes.”
Better preventive care is critical to staying healthy, despite the advances in medical science that can make surgeries less invasive and the broader array of medications that weren’t available even a decade ago to help manage chronic conditions.
Shannon said that last semester, she took a course that examined women’s health disparities and was stunned by the rates at which women of color – African-American women, particularly – suffered poor outcomes when illness was diagnosed.
With breast cancer, for example, Shannon said she learned that more than 60 percent of the time that black women’s breast cancers were detected in the late stages, sometimes so late that little could be done to help them, compared to white women, whose cancers were detected far earlier.
Shannon also lamented the rampant bad information that gets passed along to black women that discourages them from getting regular checkups, including such myths that menopausal women or women who have had hysterectomies no longer need pap tests.
“Just go for an annual physical,” Shannon said. “Go on your birthday or Mother’s Day. Pick one day that you can identify with as your day, when you recognize it’s your day and get an all-over systemwide check, basic screenings that take no more than a couple hours out of your day. If you can sit and get your nails done and your hair done for five or six hours, you can get a basic check-up.”