Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of medical procedures.
Self-advocacy is something I wasn’t comfortable with for a long time – in fact, I still feel uncomfortable stating what I need or what I think sometimes, both within professional and personal settings. I wanted to touch on medical settings today and the importance of self-advocating for yourself to doctors, nurses, and specialists.
Two years ago, I had to undergo a minor surgery to remove a mole that might have been cancerous. About two years prior to this moment, I had been to the GP about a mole that was raised, irregular and had a crust over it. These symptoms to me were suspicious, but knowing the doctor, a professional, had said it was fine, instantly soothed my anxiety. However, the following year, I noticed it had gotten bigger – both the mole and the lump that had formed in the middle so I went back. A new doctor examined it and said it was probably fine and to keep an eye on it. So I did.
Fast-forward a few months and this mole had become itchy and I knew something wasn’t right. A third doctor seemed to think it was okay and gave me a gel to apply. This gel burned when applied and it formed a gel-like layer for me to pull off after 24 hours. After a week, it was only causing more issues so I went back for the last time. The doctor told me to carry on with the gel, and that he would refer me to a specialist but he did not have high hopes of them removing it because he didn’t think it was serious. I had to advocate for myself four times in the form of returning and saying to them, “I don’t feel comfortable,” or “that this is right.”
When I had my appointment with the specialist, he checked over the mole and told me the doctor should not have given me the gel. In fact, its use was not for what it was prescribed to me and he did not know why I had it. He also said that he did not know how the doctors could diagnose it as okay because truthfully, he couldn’t. He did not feel comfortable telling me nothing was wrong, so he opted to remove the mole on the basis of it needing a biopsy.
Thankfully, after two surgeries to remove it all, it came back clear. He said the make-up of cells they found had a high potential to become cancerous so he felt good knowing it was out, even if it wasn’t cancerous at that very moment. I was thrilled it was gone and I was proud of myself for standing up for my needs. If I didn’t, who knows what the future would have held?
Self-advocacy is so important. We have to be able to say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work, let's try something different,’ or, ‘I’m not comfortable with this.’ In terms of my story, the background is medical but this is true for any aspect of life. In the first instance, I took my mum with me! She held me accountable – if I tried to minimise the issue - ‘oh it doesn’t hurt too bad when the gel is applied,’ - she would step in to keep the dialogue truthful. There was no space for me to minimise my issues and as a result, the doctor understood the bigger picture better. Sometimes, we need someone else to help along the way and that is okay.
What I learned from this is that the process of getting a diagnosis for anything is teamwork between a professional and the patient. You have to be open, flexible and truthful and, in turn, they should be as well in order to find the best solution. I am so glad I was able to put myself forward to a doctor I had a good relationship with and be open, even if it was scary. It potentially saved my life later down the road, and I feel much better mentally. Not only did they remove the mole, but my anxiety around it was reduced and I felt better in all aspects of my life. That is what self-advocacy lead me to.
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