Self Caring

How Closely Do You Track Your OWN Symptoms?

Last updated: Oct 10, 2011

analyzing mirror self-recognition

It's a paradox of caregiving that we can know our loved ones more intimately than we know ourselves. By that I mean, we track and monitor the care receiver's every symptom and complaint, but this laser focus too often diverts our attention from our own bodies.

Which may be screaming at us.

That's what symptoms are -- your body's way of saying, "Psst! Red alert! Something's not quite right here!"

Cancer is the health concern uppermost on many minds in the wake of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' terribly untimely death in October 2011. (Not that Jobs did anything notably wrong about his health; pancreatic cancer is a particularly insidious killer.) Then a key government task force recommended against routine PSA blood test screenings for prostate cancer for healthy men without cancer symptoms.

Both headlines underscore the importance of senior editor Melanie Haiken's series for Caring on cancer symptoms. It includes 10 Early Signs of Prostate Cancer That Often Go Unnoticed and most recently -- and poignantly -- 10 Early Warning Signs of Pancreatic Cancer.

Many different ailments, besides cancer, are signaled through the aches and pains and weird little (or not so little) changes. Think a second:

  • How's your sleep?
  • How's your back?
  • How's your appetite?
  • How's your breathing?
  • How's your cholesterol level?
  • How's your vision?
  • How's your love of life itself?

You get the idea. It's so easy to backburner your own needs in the face of a loved one's crisis. And, truth be told, it can be hard to tell the sign of a real problem from a garden-variety ache or pain. The body is persistent, though. Ignore a problem too long and the symptom intensifies, or the body starts sending off multiple clues with multiple symptoms.

So please: Notice your own changes. Track them. Write them down. Look for patterns. Make simple adjustments to basic self care (diet, exercise, sleep) and see if anything improves. Mention odd changes or nagging concerns to your doctor. You wouldn't hesitate, I bet, to take your loved one for a checkup under similar circumstances -- show yourself the same compassion. The life you save may be your own.