Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash
By Kellie Mox
I’m forty-two years old, and I haven’t had a mammogram. This shocks some of my friends, especially because my mother had breast cancer. However, I’ve made the decision to delay testing only after careful consideration and consultation with doctors I trust.
I’ve been through a lot of medical testing in my life. Living with a mysterious, chronic illness seems to be an invitation for doctors to poke you, scan you, and attempt to measure the imperceptible workings of your inner landscape. Even after a diagnosis, the testing continues in an effort to assess treatment or the degree of cure.
Year after year, I found myself seated in those hard, plastic-coated chairs, nervously awaiting test results under the buzzing fluorescent lights. Year after year, I was initially told by well-meaning specialists that nothing was wrong with me, despite feeling ill. Then, after further testing, I was diagnosed with idiopathic diseases of one form or another and told they must be managed with pharmaceuticals for the rest of my life. When I finally received a positive result from a Lyme disease test, one clinician said that I didn’t have Lyme because I didn’t remember a tick bite – leaving me to decide what all these test results actually meant.
Testing, I learned, isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like to believe. If a doctor has ever told you that “It’s all in your head” when your tests appear normal and you feel anything but well, you may know what I mean. Medical testing, while necessary and beneficial at times, is not foolproof and ought not to be the only measure of our health.
My journey led me to take a new approach to testing, one that is grounded in my own research, mindfulness, and self-awareness, one that supports growth and healing. No lab test or resulting diagnosis can catalyze a cure or measure healing; we can only do that as we learn to listen to our bodies, nurture our wholeness, and trust our intuition. We must take the reins and decide how we want to heal.
A New Approach
Medical testing is something we all encounter in our lives. I’ve learned a lot through my personal experience and my public health education, and I believe we should enter into any test, even a routine one, with thoughtfulness and intention. That way we are prepared for all that comes with it, and we can take charge of our healing and advocate for ourselves and our families. Here are a few questions to ask in order to do that.
You may be considering a standard screening test or digging into the cause of a symptom. We often test to understand our risks so we can try to prevent disease, or we may be gathering information to assess treatment plans. Whatever your why, it impacts what you do with the result. I ask myself these questions: Is the test necessary? What do I want to get out of this test, and can it give me that? Will the information gleaned change my course of treatment? Will the results, positive or negative, prompt me to change my behavior?
You get a say in which tests you have done. It’s okay, and sometimes necessary, to ask questions, get second opinions, and do your own research, even about simple blood tests. You can think about it. You can explore non-conventional testing options. Once you have all the information you need, it’s a good time to practice honoring your intuition and trusting your gut.
When to Test?
One of my recent follow-up tests revealed what could have been perceived as a setback in my pancreatic function. But I had been fighting an infection when I did the test, and in the past, when my system has been under duress, my pancreas is one organ that feels the stress. It wasn’t until later that I understood how the timing of the test was relevant.
When we choose to test is important. Clearly, in life-threatening situations, the same rules may not apply. But for routine blood tests, for example, it’s worth taking into consideration the circumstances of our lives. You can delay a test if you need more time.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Every test deserves careful consideration. Screening versus diagnostic versus follow-up testing may require weighing different factors. Genetics, family history, personal risk factors, personal protective factors, cost, invasiveness, risks of having the test versus not having the test, and impact on the overall healthcare system may all affect your decision. There is much research on the topic of medical testing, and studies have shown that indiscriminate testing is harmful because of the billions of dollars in costs associated with it. Furthermore, we need to consider the stress and anxiety that can come from a false positive or transient result. And of course, some tests come with very real risks that may not outweigh the benefits.
What I’ve Learned About Testing as It Relates to Healing
We need to build trust in ourselves to make decisions about our own healthcare.
You have a powerful tool inside you. Whether you call it gut instinct or intuition, it’s yours and it’s there for you. When we make health-related decisions based on our intuition rather than on fear, our choices feel right and bring us closer to the answers we seek. Healthcare providers can give us information and guidance. What we do with it is ultimately up to us.
Tests don’t measure our wholeness.
Standard tests don’t assess where stress or trauma is stored in our bodies or how our thoughts and patterns impact the operation of this intricate system. The body is complex, with millions of processes happening on a cellular level at any given time. There is a mystery and art to the science of the body, which we can appreciate when we begin to understand how the body operates in connection with the mind, emotions, and spirit. When we recognize the complexity of the human system and nurture our wholeness, we can shift from being a victim of our illness to being a powerful creator of healing. This is what we miss when we rely only on tests to measure the state of our health.
Healing isn’t measurable.
Healing can’t be assessed by any one test or method. How you feel in your body, mind, and spirit is something you can only know in yourself. I’ve had tests tell me that all is well when I felt like I was dying. And I’ve had tests tell me that something isn’t working right when I’m feeling my best. No test has been able to tell me how much I’ve healed a past trauma or my relationship with myself, both of which have had the most impact on my physical health. Thankfully, more research is being done on the mind-body connection, and we can measure the powerful healing effects of things like meditation and mindfulness on the functioning of the immune system. Nevertheless, we should remember that true healing happens independent of positive or negative tests and that our subjective experience matters.
I re-evaluate my decision to delay the mammogram each year, taking into account the context of my current life circumstances. My situation is not yours, and I would not suggest that anyone else choose my path. Rather, I encourage you to approach testing with thoughtfulness, self-awareness, and intention. When we embrace this approach, we make a shift that gives power to our personal healing process and allows us to decide how we measure our health.
Kellie Mox catalyzes revolutionary healing for women through powerful conversations and whole-health mentoring. She is passionate about authentic, meaningful connections – to self, others, and the world – and believes that healing flourishes when we strengthen these connections and embrace our wholeness.
Kellie is a certified coach and a student of homeopathic medicine with a master’s in health behavior & health education. She works with women virtually and in-person from her home base in Ann Arbor, Michigan.