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POV: Youth and the Myth of Lasting Health

The importance of taking care of your body while you’re young

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“POV,” a new addition to BU Today, is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu

As a 20-something, it’s hard to think about losing my health. My generation lives life the way we want. We skip the gym in favor of sleeping in, we drink beer, we have a cigarette now and then, and we go to the beach without sunscreen—we don’t worry too much. Somewhere down the line when we become “adults,” we’ll start being responsible for our health. Disease and cancer are something far, far down the timeline of our lives and most of us have the mentality that we’ll deal with it when it happens.

In fact, cancer rates among the 15-to-40 age group have not improved in 40 years. Each year 77,000 people in that group are diagnosed with cancer. It’s a topic hardly anyone discusses: how does cancer affect a person who doesn’t have cancer? As a young adult, I shouldn’t have to think about cancer yet, should I?

My answer changed after I started working with the 15-40 Connection, an organization dedicated to early cancer detection and awareness in young adults ages 15 to 40. My friends ask if it’s morbid or scary discussing cancer all the time. I can truthfully answer that it’s not—I’ve learned, as I believe everyone should, how to disassociate cancer from fear. I’ve learned the signs and symptoms of cancer and that the chances of beating cancer are immensely improved by early detection. I am empowered by this information and inspired to pass it on to my peers. Here’s some real advice I encourage you to take to heart.

It’s important to have an annual physical; it sets a benchmark for your “normal” at your doctor’s office. Eat healthily. While this is much easier said than done, strike a balance between eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with Sunset nachos, UBurger, and drinks at T’s. Your 50-year-old-self will be all the better for it. Exercise. It has numerous benefits, from increasing mental health to losing weight and sleeping better. Walk to class (the T is always late or overcrowded anyway) or wear your gym clothes to class to make it easier to get to the gym. Little changes can make a big difference in your future health.

Here are a few things we should all do. Stop smoking cigarettes. Whether we’re smoking casually while drinking or chain-smoking like a cowboy in the Wild West, we’ve got to stop. Lung cancer is (obviously) related to smoking and skin cancer is (obviously) related to tanning. We don’t need to be sun-kissed in January. You’re going to look pretty in your formal dress regardless of how tan you are (or opt for a spray tan; the technology has immensely improve—no more Oompa Loompa spray tans). Also, wrinkles and sunspots can prematurely age you as early as your 30s.

Last, we need to stop being embarrassed to talk about health problems in “awkward” areas. If your arm were bleeding, you’d see a doctor, right? So if your butt were bleeding, you’d see one too? Probably not. It’s embarrassing, awkward, and downright uncomfortable. However, the problem (if occurring longer than two weeks) is probably not going to clear up on its own. Go to a doctor—it is his/her job to help you. Doctors look at, touch, discuss, and research the body—all parts of the body. Empower yourself by making a doctor’s appointment, getting it checked out, and taking action. Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe it’s something.

Health can be a choice and it’s a choice I’m trying to make. It’s hard to change habits, but one choice at a time makes it easier. I’ve personally switched out soda (RIP, Diet Coke) for seltzer and have thrown away my tanning goggles, promising myself to stay out of the tanning bed.

Let’s choose to be healthy. Let’s choose to be smart. Let’s choose to see our grandkids grow up, run marathons at 60, be saucy in bed till we’re 70 (a là Blanche from the Golden Girls), and stay healthy into our 80s. We’re only young once, but we are only once. We need to take care of ourselves and one another while our health is still in our hands.

Find more information on young adult cancer awareness, early detection, or the 15-40 Connection here.

Laura Doyle, a College of Communication public relations major, can be reached at ldoyle@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on POV: Youth and the Myth of Lasting Health

  • Erin on 09.25.2013 at 8:59 am

    Laura,

    A beautifully written, powerful, and truthful message to your peers. I hope it reads as well with them as it did with me. Thank you!

  • Lisa on 09.25.2013 at 9:35 am

    Love this, Laura! Your writing is concise, and blunt in the best way. Smoking and tanning are seriously just not worth it. We don’t need to live life in fear of cancer – just do a couple simple things to reduce our risk and increase the chances of catching anything early.

    Also – nice Golden Girls reference. :)

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