Here's to your Health

Here's to your Health

Here's To Your Health by Caryl  Frawley,

              We do not, by any stretch of the imagination, purport to be "experts" in the field of health. We 
              did, however, consult "expert" resource material to prepare the following: How do you feel? 
              Where we have been, where we are now, and where we hope to go!

              In all fields of human endeavor, exciting progress has occurred during the 20th 
              century. Few advances have been more dramatic than those reflected in the area of 
              women's health issues. Specifically, in the last four decades, the momentum has 
              accelerated at a faster and faster pace with each passing year. To realize how far 
              we have come, we need only to consider the fact that in the beginning of this era, 
              women's bodies were viewed as mysterious and beyond comprehension. It was 
              quite common for doctors, all of whom were men, to treat their female patients with little more 
              than a so-called "tonic" which was essentially different types of syrups, heavily laced with 
              alcohol. If a "lady" claimed (and women's concerns tended to be viewed in that context) to be 
              "ailing," good, old "Dr. Magic" would simply prescribe whatever "elixir" happened to be the 
              popular potion at the time.

              As amazing as it may seem, in light of a vast array of current breakthroughs, it wasn't until 
              1960 that the FDA approved the birth control pill. And, it took another ten years before that 
              particular form of contraception became commonly accepted. It wasn't until 1973 that abortion 
              became legal in the United States with the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade. 
              The controversy around that issue has only intensified since then.

              The first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, published in 1973 by the Boston Women's Health 
              Collective, set off another firestorm of debate. It also heralded the movement of women's health 
              matters into the mainstream of public dialogue. For the first time, women began discussing 
              their physical health and well being in the glare of society's spotlight. We also began talking to 
              one another in private about subjects previously viewed as "unlady like" or impolite to speak of 
              with anyone. Until the late 60's and early 70's, it was quite common for a young woman to 
              simply "tough it out" on her own. Often, even our mother's, who had grown up in that period of 
              the "don't ask, don't tell" approach to women's bodily functions were uncomfortable with the 

              The medical establishment, long dominated by male researchers and practitioners was behind 
              the curve in addressing the most pressing and personal needs women had to deal with in the 
              area of health. It wasn't until the 1980's that outdated phrases such as "the curse" and "the 
              change" gave way to candid and significant discussions on the topics of menstruation and 
              menopause. Of course, by the end of that decade, we also found ourselves watching television 
              commercials about over the counter treatments for vaginal yeast infections and other such 
              female hygiene products.

              To what do we owe this amazing development? There is no one simple answer. Women 
              actively involved in the "feminist movement," which began in the early 60's, undeniably raised 
              the level of awareness and the volume of the debate. Perhaps, more than anything else, it was 
              the fact that women were becoming involved in politics, careers, every facet of society in 
              general. We had finally begun to assert our intention to be a viable, visible, and outspoken part 
              of American life and that undeniably contributed to the long overdue advances in medical 
              research and practice. One startling statistic gives evidence to that fact. By 1978 23.7 percent 
              of U.S. medical students were women, an increase of 87 percent over 1973, and those 
              numbers have continued to climb.

               Another irrefutable influence on the subject of women's health has been the 
               sheer numbers of women who no longer accept the idea that they should seek 
               medical advice from "experts" and never doubt the prudence of prescribed 
               treatments. By the middle of the 1960's there were over 70 million baby 
               boomers out of a total U.S. population of 197,000,000 and some 40 million of 
               them were females. Unlike their mothers, who were often discouraged from 
              even thinking about college, women of the baby boomer's generation, are for the most part, 
              much better educated. They tend to be better informed (after all, we live in the information age) 
              and frequently, are less hesitant to question authority and are inclined to exercise more control 
              over their lives than women were previously able to do.

              There are prominent female physicians today who are routinely leading the way in the 
              pursuit of better and more knowledge in the field of women's health. In the 1990's, Dr. Susan 
              Love has published books on hormones and breast care, including treatment alternatives for 
              breast cancer. Dr. Christine Northrup published Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom and it is 
              currently one of the Oprah Winfrey's Book Club "must reads."

              As a commercial has proclaimed, "you've come a long way baby." And, we definitely have, 
              considering where we were in 1960. But, there remain questions and issues too important to 
              ignore. Only in the last five years has the scientific and medical research community 
              acknowledged that previously all major studies on such important topics as heart disease and 
              stroke have been conducted on men. There was a recent revelation that studies now show 
              alcohol consumption affects women's bodies in a very different way than men's. Women 
              metabolize certain medications differently. Women have heart attacks in a different way than 
              men do. For example, treadmill tests that have worked so well for men do not work as well for 
              women. These tests, as so many others, were designed for men. The fact that women have 
              breasts was just never factored in. When the test was developed, it was conducted on 
              breastless people. People tend to forget that mental health is also a significant element in a 
              person's overall well being. Treatments for such conditions as chronic depression have not 
              always factored in the affect of women's hormones and certain medications.

              Unfortunately, we still have much further to go when we look at the fact that only 16 percent 
              of the National Institute for Health's funding goes to medical research on women. There are 
              illnesses, which have only gained attention of late, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, 
              fibromyalgia and lupus, that affect a far greater percentage of women than men. Very little 
              current research is in the area of finding the cause of and treatment for those potentially very 
              debilitating conditions.

              We must look to one another for the future strides in this all-important subject of our 
              health. Dianne Hales, has authored such worthwhile books as New Hope for Problem 
              Pregnancies, Caring for the Mind: The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health, and 
              the most recent, Just Like a Woman. Ms. Hales has set her sites now on 
              collaboration with Marianne Legato, the doctor who pioneered gender medicine. Dr. 
              Legato believes that someday there will be gender-specific medical centers, where 
              they'll have different screening methods and different treatments for men and for 
              women. Now that is something to look forward to!

              In the meantime, however, we all have a responsibility to ourselves. We must be our own 
              case managers in dealing with physical/medical matters. The best way to achieve that is by 
              looking upon all practitioners as partners in our health plan. We need to ask questions, pay 
              attention to what our own bodies tell us, and never be satisfied with less than first rate care. It 
              is becoming more common for women to request copies of all their records, seek second 
              opinions, and do research on their own. It is far more complex within the context of "managed 
              care," but the responsibility ultimately rests with us. Women before us have worked hard, 
              struggled against all odds, and always persevered in pursing our rights to assert the 
              importance of our health.

              Let this be our mantra—we owe it to ourselves to take good care of ourselves. 
              "Health is not simply the absence of sickness." Hannah Green 
              "Health is not a condition of matter, but of Mind." Mary Baker Eddy 
              "As I see it, every day you do one of two things; build health or produce disease in yourself." 
              Adelle Davis 

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