Peek-a-boo! Where are you? Your gynecologist misses you! First, let me assure you that you are not alone. It’s no secret that many (maybe even most) women do not like going to the gynecologist. In fact, a quick Google search for the phrase “women hate the gynecologist” returns more than 1.5 million results.
So, what are your best excuses? Mine, use to be, that I’m was ‘too busy,’ which is probably the most common reason that we women skip many types of routine health examinations. In case you didn’t realize it, women tend to make most of the health care decisions in their families. As nurturers, we are so focused on making sure that everyone else gets the health care they need, that we naturally put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. There is nothing wrong – and maybe something admirable – about that. However, if you are neglecting your own wellness visits (unintentionally or intentionally), you should ask yourself, what would happen to those family members if you became seriously ill because of some preventable illness?
I have known some women who have reasons – such as a history of sexual abuse or having had uncomfortable exams – that make it difficult for them to feel comfortable with a gynecological exam. Other women who may be suffering from a condition like depression or who are victims of domestic violence may be fearful that, during the course of an examination, their physician will find out.
To those women, I say, “I truly understand.” And with that understanding, I want to encourage you to still make the appointment and go. When talking to your doctor, it’s okay to take your time when answering questions. If you need to hesitate and take a moment to gather your thoughts while speaking—no problem! Good doctors will always be patient and compassionate when difficult things are being expressed to them by their patient. As a gynecologist, I can say, that we simply appreciate that you are taking the right steps to stay healthy. And one of those steps is having a candid conversation with us, your doctors, about your concerns. If you find a gynecologist who seems disinterested in discussing your reservations with you, then it is time to find another physician. Yes, I said it!
Now let me say this—I know that not all women hate their gynecologists! However, I do know that although some will actually say they love their gynecologist, very few of you will ever feel that way about the actual examination (including myself). As a result, this comes back to the relationship you have with your doctor. If you feel encouraged to voice concerns as well as ask your gynecologist questions, then the exam itself will seem a lot more bearable.
If nothing else, remind yourself that a visit to the gynecologist can save your life. I have known individuals – both men and women – who avoid seeing a physician because they worry about getting “bad news.” For women, routine screenings for breast and cervical cancer, (called “the most preventable female cancer” by the CDC) can detect these diseases at the earliest, most treatable stage. For the vast majority of women, routine wellness screenings by a gynecologist will result in a reassurance that they are healthy. This is why I encourage you to go.
During gynecological visits with me, I take this time to show my patients how to perform a self-breast exam. Furthermore, we discuss ways to combat the effects of Coronary Artery Disease, which is the reason the rate of heart attacks and strokes are increasing in women. Additionally, we discuss necessary nutrition and exercise to increase longevity, as well as ordering routine lab work that can determine the need for supplementation or medication for specific conditions—like high cholesterol, diabetes, Vitamin D deficiency, or thyroid disease. Emotional health is also assessed during these visits, as I often discuss the ups and downs of womanhood. As a result, there are some visits that are full of joy and laughter, while others may be an expression of tears and sadness.
Finally, we always have time for girl talk.” You know, those intimate doctor-patient conversations regarding sexual concerns, body image, relationships, abuse, mental health. Honestly, it’s simply about helping women to learn more about their bodies. Think about it, outside of health 101 class, who really teaches us about our bodies?
Now you may be thinking that I only advocate for women to see their physician because I’m a doctor. Although that is true, I’m also a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and auntie. Trust me, I know how hard it is for women to put themselves first, and to have a “taking care of me” attitude. But remember, “taking care of me” isn’t selfish. “Taking care of me” means you are also setting a good example for your daughters and sisters. By taking care of your own health, you are making sure you will be there to take care of your family members when they need you. To take it a step further, I believe it’s important that you do it for yourself, first!
Stop playing peek-a-boo with your gynecologist! I see you, and for many, I understand where you are in your hesitation and/or avoidance. Make the step. You owe it to yourself, and to your loved ones. You were meant to live a long and prosperous life, don’t shorten it with something preventable! Peek-a-boo! I see you! Your gynecologist is waiting for you! Call and make your appointment. Your life depends on it!