By Stephanie Graff, MD, FACP
I am every woman. I drive my kids to soccer, serve as housekeeper, personal shopper, family chef, and childhood conflict arbitrator. I am the queen of bedtime stories and the singer of bedtime songs. I am an event planner—coordinating dates with my husband and epic birthday parties. I am a travel agent, scheduling and planning all our vacations. I am the Chief Operating Officer of the Graff family scheduling home repairs and services, management of essential supplies, and coordinator of schedules. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. But I am also a physician, breast oncologist, principal investigator, leader, researcher, and scientist. #IAmBlackwell. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell—the first woman physician and the rallying cry of women physicians everywhere.
But here’s the complicated whole truth, the piece I do not always get right: Somewhere, in the middle of all that, I am supposed to take care of myself. I am every woman diagnosed with a locally advanced breast cancer in my clinic who looks me in the eye and says, “I was too busy for mammograms.” I am every woman who has some pounds to lose who looks me in the eye and says, “I don’t have time for meal prep and calorie counting and trips to the gym.” I am every woman who has confessed that a lot of their problems are that they are just too stressed and not managing it well—choosing junk food, a glass of wine, and cutting into precious hours of sleep to get it all done. And perhaps physicians are the worst offenders.
But then I had my wake-up call. After my third (and final) child was born, I told myself that after eight years of my body being used for growing and feeding children, I needed my body to serve me—so that I could serve everyone depending on me. I made little changes. I set goals. It started to add up. I am not a life coach. I am far from perfect. What works for me is never going to work for everyone. But I am going to share some of my secrets, and hope that somewhere in it, you find the inspiration to choose yourself. I hope that my fellow oncologists, my sisters in #IAmBlackwell, will chose to celebrate National Women’s Physicians Day by honoring themselves.
- I set my alarm for 5 AM. I have some exercise equipment in my basement and, before my house is awake and the “mommy, mommy, mommy” chorus of the day starts, I get 20 to 60 minutes of exercise in. It took a few weeks, but now that time is easy and sacred. I love the uninterrupted me time. And it is good for my body. Having that healthy start sets the tone for the day, energizes me, and makes me less likely to raid the office chocolate when my day breaks down.
- I started a bullet journal. You can google bullet journals and quickly get overwhelmed by color pens, washi tape, and fancy handwriting. Nope. Mine is a calendar, a list of goals, a to-do list, and a few running projects. All in one place. Easy to reference. Nothing fancy. And when I find those 15 free minutes of a no-show in clinic, I can scan that to-do list and sign a kid up for Cub Scout camp or text a babysitter. Check, check, check. Activation energy is so empowering!
- I scheduled an appointment with my primary care doctor, my gynecologist, a new dermatologist for a skin survey, and had a baseline mammogram. I know, right?! Health care for the female physician! Whoever could imagine? My primary care doctor was confused by a fellow health care provider having a well check. That shouldn’t be the reaction. We, fellow physicians, should be the exalted champions of self-care.
- I schedule dates with my husband. He is awesome. His list of job titles is just as exhausting as mine (King of the Dishwasher, Champion of the Laundry, physician), and I love having his partnership. But he is too often neglected amid career and children. So programming us into the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is our family calendar has been one of my greatest joys.
- I realized that yoga, meditation, writing, and reading are important ways I unwind and de-stress. I try to practice at least one each day, even if just for 10 minutes.
I hope you’ll comment below with something you do to prioritize yourself. I hope that you’ll comment below with a pledge for something that you are going to do. I hope you’ll schedule your cancer screening and meet your primary care physician somewhere other than the quarterly medical staff meeting. Because you deserve it. You are worth it. #YouAreBlackwell
PS. Non-physicians in the audience, this is for you, too. We are all stronger together. You are worth it. Chose you.
Dr. Graff is the director of the Breast Cancer Program at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health. Follow her on Twitter @DrSGraff.