Why, As Women, Do We Consistently Put Others' Needs Before Our Own?

15/03/2017 14:44 GMT | Updated 16/03/2018 09:12 GMT

This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and here at Ovarian Cancer Action we're always looking for ways to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms.

This year we did some research, in the hope of starting a conversation. So what did we find?

Looking after everyone else

When it comes to health, we found that a lot of women are much quicker to act on behalf of their parents; partners; children and even their pets, than they would for themselves.

Surprised? Probably not. I wasn't.

I don't have a partner or any children and I'm incredibly lucky to have young, healthy parents who don't yet depend on me. That said, I would undoubtedly prioritise the needs of my adopted family (read friends) before my own. I'd think nothing of badgering a friend to see a GP if they felt unwell, yet it recently took me more than a week to visit my GP with complaints of an ear infection (by which time the pain was unbearable.)

Why? What's going on?

A couple of things, I think. Firstly, I'm busy. I work hard, play hard and have a very active social life. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, the first thing to get dropped is gym time, followed closely by healthy eating. I'm quick to let self-care slide, but I'll do anything to avoid letting people down.

Secondly, when it comes to health issues, there's a sliding scale. If my ear was falling off, I'm sure I would've acted pretty pronto but because it was just a niggling pain, I put it off.

But herein lies the problem. Symptoms to some pretty sinister conditions are not always sinister in and of themselves. Take ovarian cancer, for example. The main symptoms are persistent tummy pain, persistent bloating, feeling full very quickly when eating and need to wee more often. They're not exactly alarming are they?

And as a 30 year old women I feel I've been conditioned to put up with these niggly complaints. My back often aches. "So what, join the club, suck it up", I tell myself.

And when I'm out and about, public loos are never far from my mind because I know I'll need to wee soon. "Annnnd? Who doesn't?"

I've learnt over the years that stuff just goes a bit wrong as you age and our 'stiff upper lip' culture urges me to just get on with it and go about my day.

It's time for a rethink

But knowing what I know now (symptoms of ovarian cancer, the deadliest gynaecological disease, are pretty nebulous) I think it's time to readjust our attitudes.

We all have that friend who's a massive hypochondriac. I was once with a friend who convinced herself she had pleurisy because her ankles swelled up (You know who you are and I love you very much!)

Ladies and gents, we were in 90 degree heat and had walked at least 20 miles - it wasn't that alarming. But, josh as I might, the old adage rings true - while it doesn't pay to panic over every minor ailment, it is undoubtedly better to be safe than sorry.

We need to take control of our own health. We shouldn't feel modest about putting our own needs first but too often do. So at the very least we need to consider how we can continue to care for those around us if we ourselves are not tip-top.

It's time to #OvaryAct

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we're asking people to #OvaryAct. When it comes to ovarian cancer, action means knowing the symptoms, knowing your body and seeking health and advice if you feel like something's 'off'.

The symptoms are:

• Persistent tummy pain

• Persistent bloating

• Not being able to eat much/feeling full very quickly

• Needing to wee more than usual

If you're experiencing these symptoms, keep a symptoms diary to take to your GP, this will help them rule out ovarian cancer.

Please share our symptoms film to help us spread the word by encouraging others to #OvaryAct too.