Several years ago I was at my doctor’s office for a gynecological exam. We were almost done, and I realized that she hadn’t done a Pap smear. When I asked about it, she said that it was no longer recommended for women over 65. I asked if women over 65 got cervical or uterine cancer, and she said, “Oh, yes.” I asked if it was better to make an early diagnosis, and she said, emphatically, “Oh, yes.” And I asked, rhetorically, “Well, what group of male doctors and insurance executives made that decision?” I got a look, but I didn’t get an answer. I asked for a Pap smear, and she reluctantly did one.
Women Over 55: Stand Up For What You Want
You can imagine my anger when I read the following on Medscape on January 17, 2023:
“Approximately one fifth of cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in women aged 65 years and older, and most of the cases are late-stage disease associated with poor survival rates. The new finding calls into question yet again [emphasis added] the many national screening guidelines that advise physicians to halt cervical screening at age 65.”
We’ve all heard stories about the disparities in the quality of health care for older people, and particularly for older women, and more particularly for older women of color. This is yet another example of the comparatively lower value our health care system—indeed, our society in general—places on women, and in this case older women. But there’s no comparison between the impact of this disparity and, say, being ignored at a service counter. In this case we’re talking about life and death.
Trust Your Gut
I’m reminded again of my visit to a vascular surgeon three years ago. When I described the pain I felt in my calves when I walked, he told me to find a path with benches so I could sit down. I never went back to him and went to another doctor who in fact helped me. As it turned out, “sitting down” was exactly what I should not do!
I’ve often thought about that visit, and I’ve wondered what he would have said to me if I’d been in my thirties or forties instead of my seventies. I’ll never know, but I suspect he would have figured out how to help me so I could keep doing the kind of walking I wanted to do.
We can’t continue to put up with this sort of treatment. We need to stand up for ourselves, particularly when health decisions are being made. If you want a Pap smear, ask for one and demand that you get one. If you’re being prescribed more medication than you’re comfortable with, don’t stop asking questions and researching until you understand potential side effects and possible drug interactions.
Older people may have fewer years left to live, but that doesn’t make us less valuable or deserving of care than younger people. In all situations, health care and otherwise, be alert for the presence of ageism. It is rampant in our society and can have life-and-death implications. The more alert we become to all ageism, the better able we’ll be to take a stand when it is vitally important that we do so.
The Prime Spark Membership Community is designed for women 55 (or close) and older to support one another. We learn and grow together, and further the mission of Prime Spark. Membership currently is closed. If you’re interested in joining, please send an email to [email protected] and ask to be placed on the waitlist.
We will begin another Prime Spark Women’s Story Circle in April. If you’re interested in knowing more about that, please send an email to [email protected].
Sara Hart, PhD, is an author, speaker, and coach. She is leading the charge to change how older women are seen and treated in our society. She is the creator of Prime Spark, a movement to transform how women over 55 take responsibility for their futures. Sara is the author of three books. She also has over forty years of experience in leadership development, coaching, and building thinking environments. She was director of training and development for a Fortune 100 company. Sara was also an executive director of the Institute for Women and Technology. To learn more about claiming your power as a senior woman, visit Prime Spark today!