Oliver: Don’t put off routine health screenings until that someday never comes

When I was younger, I didn’t get sick too often. Well, not sick enough to go to the doctor.

I was under an allergist’s care, and I’d see her on a monthly basis. If I did get sick, usually it was a sinus infection brought on by those same allergies for which I was being treated.

Sure, there was a knee surgery in my 20s, when I tore the meniscus in my right knee. I’d love to say it was because I was an elite athlete, but somehow I don’t think anyone who knows me would buy that.

When you’re younger, the guidance for when to get certain screenings seems like an eternity away. It’s easy to start thinking that none of those terrible things like breast cancer and colon cancer and heart disease will happen in your own case.

For instance, I knew that the recommended age to begin getting mammograms is around 40. The American Cancer Society says that women age 40 to 45 should have the choice to begin being screened for breast cancer. From 45 to 54, women should get a mammogram every year. Those 55 and older should switch to a mammogram every two years or yearly if they wish.

Did I get a mammogram when that time came? No. I’d get to it someday, I told myself.

When did I get my first mammogram? When I was 51 years old. By then, I had a 2-centimeter tumor.

Worse yet, I didn’t go for a mammogram because I was trying to be proactive. No, I had to have a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound because I had that lump.

Would it have been caught sooner had I gone sooner? More than likely.

Perhaps that would have saved me the multiple biopsies, double lumpectomy and a month of radiation treatments, followed by five years of being monitored while on two drugs to suppress the estrogen that might be behind my cancer.

Then there is the guidance when it comes to colon cancer screening. That’s supposed to start at age 45 for people at average risk for colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society says that there are options for those screenings: stool-based tests and the traditional colonoscopy route.

Again, I found myself too busy doing other things. My mother came to live with me when I was 46. She had far more doctor’s appointments than I did. I’d get to that colonoscopy … someday.

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opener for me. As a caregiver, it’s all too easy to put one’s own health on the back burner. However, it became abundantly clear that if I’m not healthy, the Olivers will be in real trouble.

For instance, if I can’t get out of bed because I’m not feeling well, who is going to give Tony his Alzheimer’s medication in the morning? Who is going to make sure he gets showered? Who is going to get him breakfast?

No, now is the time to make sure I’m in good working order. So those mammograms now get scheduled right on time.

And I finally got around to that colonoscopy … only eight years late.

Was it a logistical challenge to do all the prep around taking care of Tony? Yes. Was it challenging to make sure someone stayed with him when I was gone? Yes. Was it equally challenging to get a ride to and from the appointment that I foolishly scheduled far too early in the morning? Yes.

However, it was a good thing I got it done. If everything had gone perfectly, I wouldn’t have to repeat this adventure for 10 years. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to go back in five years because I had a polyp that was benign but is the type that could lead to cancer.

What would have happened if I had waited?

The good news is that I didn’t wait. Neither should you.

Don’t put off those screenings. If not for you, then because someone else needs you to be around.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.