4 ways to Self-navigate for Health over the Holiday Season

It’s that special time of the year! I celebrate Christmas and enjoy family traditions with my husband and young children. In my family, we take kids for a picture with Santa, get together with neighbors, put up our Christmas decorations, assemble gifts for school teachers and others who have touched our lives, plan our Christmas day feast, and hope we’ve been good enough to get gifts from Santa! For many who are fortunate to have extended family close enough, it’s a time to meet up and spend time together. Some may have the opportunity to meet up with relatives that they might otherwise not see very often.

When I use the word ‘self-navigate’, I mean taking charge of your health, doing all you can to prevent or delay health problems and if they do occur, making sure you are getting the most out of your health journey.

Whether staying home or traveling, meeting up with friends or relatives, these 4 simple suggestions will help you self-navigate for health over the holidays.

1.Take health information along while traveling. If you are taking medications for a medical condition, you want to take a list along with you. If have been seeing a doctor recently and have had recent complications, you want to have a summary of what’s going on. For example, a breast cancer patient on chemotherapy wants to have information on what chemotherapy she is on, and the last day she received chemotherapy. An alternative may be to make sure that if you end up seeing a doctor while traveling, you ask them to call your local doctor to speak directly.

2. Remember that many things slow down over the holidays. You don’t want to run out of crucial medications as that might mean a trip to the ER if you can’t reach anyone at your doctor’s office. Some pharmacies might even be closed, or have reduced hours.  If you need to have a test done the day after Christmas for example, it is best to call by early December to get it scheduled. Your doctor may be away and have someone else covering for them.  Even though a covering physician will be able to review your chart and help with urgent problems, he/she will not be as familiar with your health issues so you want to keep this in mind.  Generally speaking, there is less medical staff available to tackle non-urgent issues over the holiday season.

3.Family talk may be important for your health. Did you know that primary prevention can begin at the dinner table? While meeting family members, you may learn of health issues that may matter to your own health. If information is volunteered, listen actively and seek clarification.  When you return home, ask your doctor if that information might be relevant for you. For example, learning of relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer, might be reason to ask for genetic (BRCA) testing.  Learning of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry is another reason one may consider BRCA testing.  Perhaps you get to learn of young cousins with sickle cell disease and that may be reason to check if you carry the sickle cell trait before planning a pregnancy.  Young family members with heart disease may be reason to ask your doctor for a risk assessment, even in your 40s, when you otherwise might not have asked. Remember that diseases can run in families, not only because of genetics, but also because of shared lifestyles and habits.

4. Enjoy, but don’t get carried away. Remember to take your insulin and avoid sugary foods if you are diabetic. Remember to take your chemotherapy pills for cancer treatment. Remember to get blood tests that your doctor recommended. Even as you spend time catching up with family and friends, remember your unique health situation. Endeavor to continue your treatment plan to avoid complications.  If you want to consider holding off on some treatments and tests over the holidays, check with your doctor first to make sure that it safe to do so.  While it’s ok to live a little, you certainly don’t want a totally avoidable health dilemma.

How else might you ‘self-navigate for health’ over the next few weeks? Feel free to leave a comment below. I wish you a pleasant holiday season and a prosperous New Year!

Written by 

Author of "Self navigate for health" available as eBook on Amazon and paperback on Lulu. Hematology-oncology physician writing about medical self-advocacy or "self-navigation", cancer, blood disorders, and books

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