Four And A Half Decades
Just recently I turned 45 and while I don't feel my age their are certain things that I've had to accept whether I like it or not.
Indulge me for a second as I turn the clock back 5 years to when I hit the big 4-0.
Up until that point I'd never had a full medical check up apart from going to the doctor if the man-flu got too much and I needed some drugs to stop my wife from wanting to throttle me.
Considering my job is to help clients maintain and improve their health, you could say I'm a little hypocritical when I don't practice what I preach.
When I did tick over into my 4th decade on this planet I decided to bite the bullet and get a full medical check-up.
The male ego is a stupid thing at times, it can make you do some amazing things but it has the potential to be a roadblock to doing more important stuff like looking after your health.
I must admit that I felt some trepidation as the appointment day began to loom larger and larger.
Rather than being anxious about the actual examination I think it was more to do with the unknown. Was there something wrong that I've been ignorant of or that I didn't know about?
Without any arrogance I can say that I'm pretty healthy, I lift weights regularly and walk over 10,000 steps nearly everyday and I'm a non-smoker and an infrequent drinker.
I've chosen activities that give me the most bang for my buck to stay healthy.
You won't find me running because I don't like it and as I get older my joints don't need any more stress placed on them.
My number 1 priority is to stay strong and keep my muscle levels up. After the age of 30, as a man testosterone levels naturally start to decline. The thing is though with intervention this can be reversed.
The evidence is strong when suggesting that we should be doing some kind of resistance training at all ages.
Muscle is important for balance, movement, and being able to maintain an active and healthy life as well as assisting in controlling body weight and body fat levels.
I knew that this was an area that was under control but who knows what a doctor could discover when you have your health checked.
So the day rolled around and I found myself in the waiting room looking at some old glossy mags that seem accumulate in these places.
It is rare event at a doctor's surgery that you ever get in on time and it was no different on this day.
Dr Harris was a slightly built older man with a friendly demeanour (he was not my family doctor but one recommended by a friend) and we exchanged the formalities involved in meeting someone for the first time.
His office was like you'd expect to see with any medical professional, plaques with various qualifications from universities on the wall behind him and a bookcase full of various tomes with anatomical titles and medical subjects.
There is always some kind of spinal and knee joint model that can be used to demonstrate how an injury occurs or where the pain in your back is coming from. Thankfully there was no need for either of these items.
After the preliminaries it was time to get down to business and over the next hour I was poked and prodded and had blood removed. My blood pressure was near on perfect, which I already knew (this is another benefit of having strong healthy muscles your blood pressure will improve).
The Elusive Sun Tan
Both my mother and father have had brushes with skin cancer, my mother had a cancerous melanoma removed from her leg which left her with a rather large depression in one calf. Unfortunately the odds are greater of me getting this kind of skin cancer with a direct relative having had one.
I inherited fair skin and slightly ginger hair from my Irish heritage so I knew this was going to be an area that Dr Harris would be very interested in. Australia may be a beautiful country but it is the centre of the skin cancer universe.
As a child I spent many a summer at the beach getting roasted to a crisp. With my fair complexion I mostly went very red and then the damages skin peeled off over the next couple of weeks. Those years of skin damage can come back to haunt you as you get older.
The final part of my examination was to strip down to my underwear an undergo a head to toe skin check. He was particularly interested in a spot on one side of my face, the base of my neck and my forearm.
These spots had been there for a little while and they weren't getting bigger but neither were they going away.
The Next Phase
After getting dressed Dr. Harris discussed with me the next stage of the process.
He was concerned about three areas that he strongly believed were BCC's (basal cell carcinoma). These are non-malignant skin cancers that if left unchecked can become nasty ulcers, they will never heal because the skin cells are unable to repair properly.
I was referred to the skin cancer clinic at a city hospital to have the areas assessed by a skin cancer specialist and then more than likely would require minor surgery to have them removed.
My head was spinning a little with the outcome, on one hand all my physical markers were good, weight, blood pressure, reflexes, balance, etc, because I had direct control over them.
But the skin cancer situation was a by-product of my younger life when things like sun exposure were of little concern.
The Alfred Hospital
Little did I know at the time but this place was to become a constant in my life every 3-6 months.
The Dermatology Clinic was an interesting experience because this is a public hospital which means it's over burdened with patients.
I mentioned earlier that you inevitably never get in to an appointment on time with a doctor, well waiting in a public hospital is certainly a test of your patience.
The waiting area is colour coded depending on the service you require and it was full. There were people in various states of health and as I looked around I didn't feel like I needed to be here. Hospitals are for sick people not someone that has a couple of skin spots.
For all intents and purposes I looked and felt healthy but that attitude was why I'd not got my skin seen to earlier.
Waiting, waiting, waiting....
After over a 2 hour wait (which I would learn in subsequent visits is pretty standard) I saw a skin cancer specialist.
Just as I did when seeing Dr. Harris I had to strip down to underwear and be examined from head to toe. At the conclusion I had three areas circled in pen marked for further inspection (as highlighted by Dr. Harris-face, neck and forearm).
Before any further action is taken all highlighted spots were further examined by a senior doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Using a fancy magnifying glass I was again the subject of intense investigation.
The final wash up was that they were indeed skin cancers that had to be removed.
Embrace The Process
From the first screening through to having the three lesions removed was about 3 months.
Since that time almost 5 years ago I've had 10 other skin cancers removed mostly on areas that were exposed to the sun.
Luckily I don't have to rely on striking good looks to make a living because the majority of surgery has been around my face and neck.
I've been lucky enough to have had some great plastic surgeons that have performed procedures under my left eye and on my cheek and jaw and not left me looking like it was done with a chainsaw.
Every 6 months I have to return and have my skin checked for any new spots.
When it comes to skin cancer you have to be ever vigilant so potential issues can be caught early.
This kind off thinking applies to any health related area.
Just do something, get started regardless of what it is.
It's Never Too Late
Even though I was slack in being proactive when it came to getting a health check-up it's never too late.
If you're wanting to take control of your health there is never a better time than now to start.
Go and make an appointment with a health professional and get a full picture of where you're starting from. At least then you can make informed decisions on what action to take and head off any problems that may arise.
Don't be like me and wait till a birthday rolls around before you do something.
Take Action, Any Action Will Do!