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Take Charge of Your Health Before Someone Else Does

Nobody can protect you like you can protect yourself—and nobody ever will. How's that for an Ultimate Reminder? Unless you keep this reminder close to your heart, you risk losing touch with it when it matters most—just ask me. Here's your chance to learn a few lessons on my dime.

What started in September as a routine follow-up quickly turned into a recommendation for surgery. Huh? And not just a tiny incision (spoiler alert: I'm fine and healthy as a horse). What the doctor was recommending would have made the scalp thing from last summer look like nursery rhymes.

At first I bought in dutifully to everything I was being told. Why wouldn't I? This doctor was a specialist and she spoke with absolute certainty. "If you were my sister, this is what I would recommend ..."

Yeah, well not everyone likes their sister.

I didn't say this, of course. And I'm not suggesting being a smart aleck for its own sake. But when it comes to your health, a little sass can be a lifesaver.

As the doctor laid out her reasons, I asked a lot of questions. But the truth is, I wasn't at all prepared for this discussion—nor familiar with what she was recommending. So I barely knew which questions to ask.

She handed me a couple of pamphlets with scary words in the titles. Words that didn't apply to me. I don't mean that euphemistically, I mean it literally. But this insight, obvious as it was, wouldn't come until much later.

As the doctor and I were wrapping up, I asked, "Is it okay if I run this by my primary-care doctor?" I was pretty sure they knew each other, so I used his real name. She said yes. Why did I ask permission? Stop that.

We agreed I would take October to think about it. Such a luxury to have that option. Assuming we went forward, I would probably get the thing done in February. No way was I starting January in a hospital gown—not if I could help it.

Cue "Someone Saved My Life Tonight." Because when I did share this discussion with the main doctor, he asked a few good questions. Nope, I tell him. I have no pain and no real symptoms. But Dr. So-and-So was pretty unequivocal.

Here's a tip: When you want someone's opinion, don't plant preconceived notions in their head. Or as my publicist would say, "Don't negotiate against yourself."

Primary-care doctor recommended I go through with surgery—and he sang the praises of the specialist I had just seen. Right then a light bulb went on, and that's where the Elton John song comes in. I recalled the lesson I had learned last spring:

Pick your own doctors and draw your own conclusions.

I don't care how much you like your doctor—you might not like at all the doctor(s) he recommends. The more glowing the praise, the more this lesson applies.

Light bulb #2: Beware the person who gives advice but doesn't live with the consequences.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, these light bulbs are just the fuel I need to dig deep and do my own homework. The more I research, reflect, pray, and talk to people close to me—and the more they pray—the more I realize how crude and unnecessary is this doctor's plan for my life. How it felt like someone had grossly oversold the benefits and undersold the risks. Lifetime risks. There had been no mention of these.

And before long, I'm furious. Some things should set us off.

Some things should set us off.

Gina DeLapa

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But out of all this madness comes an affirmation that anchors me: "The God who formed me in my mother's womb is healing me completely." I write this in a place where I'll see it throughout the day. And without much forethought, I put the word "completely" in all caps.

Meanwhile I do my Girl Scout best to move this miracle along. For example, I put on a CD of guided visualization. Now I know visualization is highly regarded, but for me the whole thing felt so vague and so passive—like doing bicep curls with no weights and wondering why you're not getting stronger. I needed something with more oomph.

Explore all your treatment options. But don't feel as though you have to latch on to all of them. Just discern which ones make the most sense.

This is so not like me. But for one of the few times in my life, I start letting the Good Lord meet me where I am, limitations and all. It helps.

I also continue to find out all I can—starting with another specialist much more experienced than the first (and in a different medical group). This move alone buys me six months of wait-and-see.

But I want more than that. I want to be able to put this whole thing to rest.

So I look up an acupuncturist/herbalist I had met eight years ago. We were class partners in a marketing course. Turns out she's living in New Zealand. Two weeks and a long questionnaire later, we Skype for two hours. Worth every penny. She listens, she doesn't judge, and her knowledge and insights add tools to my lifetime arsenal. That's what you need.

You can learn a lot from the practitioner whose belief system is different from yours, especially if there's mutual intelligence, trust and respect.

As far-fetched as it might sound to put faith in God and the goods of the world (e.g., herbs, supplements, nutrition, exercise, and affirmative words), for me it beats everything that was lurking behind Door #1—from hospital gowns to prescription pain meds to permanent scars.

By the way, I love what Dave Barry said about hospital gowns: how they make you feel more naked than if you were actually naked. I'll stick with yoga pants.

What about that earlier affirmation? I'm still repeating it. Yet up until about a week ago, I kept digging into the Internet, almost compulsively. It took me a few weeks to realize these two elements—faith and research, even compulsive research—were not in conflict.

When you find yourself preoccupied, don't fight it too much. It means something. Unless the preoccupation is causing harm, simply follow where it leads.

For me, this is where the miracle kicked in. Because one night before bed—a few days before the Skype consult I mentioned—I dug deep into Google and holy smokes, there it was: a much more sophisticated, non-invasive way to deal with the issue. Bingo. Talk about an answered prayer. The treatment is FDA-approved but still not widely known. But by the grace of God, it's available one ZIP code over from where I live. Score one for southern California. Or as my friend Carol would say, "Hot dang."

By noon the next day, I had a consultation on the calendar with a physician trained in this technique. Counting the days till this meeting takes place. Meanwhile, I shake my head at how no other doctor had even mentioned this option.

To paraphrase an old saying, "Those who are skilled with a hammer tend to view everything as a nail."

Yes, including your body. Guard it carefully. As Jim Rohn says, "It's the only place you've got to live currently."

Here's the other big reminder: Having solutions within reach doesn't mean we're done dealing with everything emotionally. We are, after all, a fearful people. We like to be in complete control—when we realize we are not, we unconsciously rebel.

Last Saturday, for example, I mentioned to the priest on the other side of the screen that I'd been swearing more than usual. To my surprise, he laughed with gusto and gave me some of the best spiritual advice I had heard all month: "Lighten up." Doing my best, Padre. Doing my best. As the two of us parted, he reached around and handed me a prayer. I thought he was going to give me a fist-bump.

Where are you being called to lighten up? Where are you being called to take bold action? Maybe with your health? Your job? Your relationships? Your time?

I know this much: It's a lot easier to lighten up when you've claimed the control that is rightfully yours. Don't ever let anyone take that right away.

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Gina DeLapa is America's Ultimate Reminders® Coach, a sought-after speaker, and the proud creator of the Ultimate Reminders® book series. Her wise and witty reminders ("Beware the organization whose response to a burning building is to form a committee") will make you laugh, stir your soul, and inspire your best. If you're not already getting her free Monday-Morning Pep Talk, be sure to sign up now at