Old pal returned to UK in shock at our unhealthy outlook on life
PUBLISHED: 17:34 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 17:34 18 September 2019
Rachel Moore welcomed an old friend back to the UK who was amazed at how little we care about our health
My oldest friend rocked up for a flying visit from New Zealand last week en route to a conference in Germany.
We hadn't met for 13 years. She looked absolutely incredible. Glowing and barely older than our inseparable teenage years, and the same svelte size 10 when I waved her off 23 years ago to a new life of scientific research on the other side of the world.
At breakfast, she unloaded a clear bag full of capsules to have with her fresh fruit and yoghurt; turmeric, fatty acids, fish oils on to the table. "Supplements you don't get in your diet," she explained, popping a couple.
On our pilgrimage to rummage in TK Maxx, she bought a waterproof running jacket. Sport was never her thing at school. Now, she runs twice a week, sometimes with her 17-year-old twins, and practises pilates. She barely touches alcohol.
A former sunworshipper - I remember her wrapped in woollies in her Lowestoft garden at the first sign of spring sun desperate for a tanned face - she has kept out of the sun for years.
In New Zealand, women over 45 have mammograms every two years, but she insists on screening every year.
I should too, she said. Why wouldn't I? She was surprised that in the UK, women have to wait until they are 50 and are screened only every three years.
Her medical research is in breast cancer. So she should know what to do for the best chances of good health. Her presentation at the conference in Germany was her latest research on a protein that shrinks tumours.
Regular readers know how I've banged on about personal responsibility for our health, to do our small bit to keep ourselves as healthy as we can by diet, exercise and lifestyle to ease the burden on the NHS, and our own longevity and quality of life.
She was an embodiment of how taking hold of our health gives us a fighting chance.
We can't expect to abuse our bodies and then be rescued from its effects by a free magical cure. We have to meet our health halfway.
Practicing what we preach is hard - life would be so dull. Even my friend enjoys cake and the odd glass of wine.
But if we all worked harder to look after ourselves, we wouldn't need as much looking after by a health service buckling under the strain of a rising and ageing population with a plethora of (sometimes) self-inflicted conditions; a health service that could concentrate on those who really need it because they are unlucky to have real health problems rather than those who have, to some extent, brought it on themselves or made it worse.
My friend was surprised that I wasn't more informed, took no supplements under the (mis)apprehension that I absorbed all I needed by a healthy veg and fruit-rich diet and urged me to seek more regular screening for cancers than the NHS offers. If you don't ask, you don't get.
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When she left, research was released that only a third of older women in the UK take up all the cancer screenings they are offered.
A third of women over 60 playing Russian roulette with their health by ignoring free screening.
Women are literally risking their lives by negligence. Because they can't be bothered, are embarrassed or just think it's an unnecessary hassle.
But they will be quick to moan and blame the NHS if, later, cancer is detected later and the quick and efficient service and magic cure they believe they deserve from the NHS falls short of their expectation.
The nonchalance and cavalier attitude to our free NHS is staggering.
We all know that the sooner something is detected, the better the result, and the less expensive for a burdened overloaded system. But letters with appointments for screening lie ignored.
Records of more than 3,000 older women in England, found that just 35 per cent had kept up with all three screening programmes - cervical, breast and bowel. The others missed one or two, or all three.
Although almost all women over the age of 60 had been screened for one or more cancers, the research showed that most had failed to take up at least one invitation from the NHS, leaving them at greater risk of death.
Squeamishness or being a bit uncomfortable is a pathetic excuse to swerve the service.
Time and inconvenience are even worse.
Two minutes' discomfort could give you 20 years' more life.
To not bother verges on the criminal.
Evidence that burden on our NHS is making its wheels grind slowly came later last week when we flew to stay with friends in the French Pyrenees.
She suffers from a debilitating condition manageable by drugs but gave up waiting for help from the NHS.
Within the time our friend finally received a specialist appointment from a GP referral in the UK for a debilitating condition, she had been seen, diagnosed, treated and was on medication in the French system and feeling better, all for a 30 Euro fee.
She was happy to take the burden off the system she had paid tax into for decades, but the difference in delivery was stark and illuminates the issues for the rest of us relying on the system.