Ladies, we're juggling a lot: running households, developing careers, managing finances, nurturing relationships and finding time for ourselves. Fifty-nine percent of us are also behind the wheel of our family's health care, according to data by Kantar Health. We are navigating everything from selecting doctors to scheduling appointments with them to overseeing daily medicine intake to deciding what's for dinner.
Our husbands, boyfriends, sons, fathers, friends and so on often depend on us in these matters. "Six or seven out of every ten men I see in my general practice are there because of a woman's influence," says Berry Pierre, D.O., M.P.H., an internal medicine physician in Boyton Beach, Florida, and assistant professor at Florida State University. "Very rarely are men gung ho about monitoring their health or seeking out health care themselves."
Women also spearhead family campaigns for routine screenings and preventive procedures. "I see cancer in all stages," says Cedrek McFadden, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and a colorectal surgeon at the Greenville Health System in Greenville, South Carolina.
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"Quite often I'll find a man's colon polyp, or cancer in a very early stage [when it's operable], because a woman insisted that he see me. Just this week I had a 55-year-old man come in who told me his wife put her foot down and insisted that he have a colonoscopy. That intervention is important, because one of the best ways to prevent colon cancer is finding polyps early via that procedure."
Sadly not all men heed the advice of the women in their lives. "I've seen men diagnosed with colon cancer that could probably have been prevented, but it wasn't caught in [time]. And so often that person's wife tells me she had urged her husband to have a colonoscopy sooner, but he didn't listen to her."
Wives aren't the only ones leading the charge, either. McFadden says on average moms accompany their college-age or adult children to his office for exams and tests "a lot more frequently than dads." While all that prodding and keeping tabs can sometimes be time-consuming, the efforts pay off. See how women across the country are helping their men stay on track when it comes to their well-being.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND SPOUSE
In 2009 Bradley Antoine was working three jobs as he and his wife, Sophia, saved for a house. "If I had any time off, I'd pick up odd jobs to earn a few extra bucks," says the 39-year-old. Often putting in 13 hours or more a day, Bradley attributed his searing headaches to his limited sleep schedule. "Friends agreed the pain was probably because I was working crazy hours and not getting a lot of sleep, so I didn't look into it further," he adds.
In 2009 Bradley Antoine was working three jobs as he and his wife, Sophia, saved for a house. "If I had any time off, I'd pick up odd jobs to earn a few extra bucks," says the 39-year-old. Often putting in 13 hours or more a day, Bradley attributed his searing headaches to his limited sleep schedule. "Friends agreed the pain was probably because I was working crazy hours and not getting a lot of sleep, so I didn't look into it further," he adds. Buying into his self-diagnosis, Bradley kept the severity and frequency of his headaches from his wife. "I'd tell her I had one because I didn't sleep, but I didn't give details," he confesses.
One morning the pain was so severe, Bradley couldn't open his eyes. "I couldn't think," he says. "I just wanted to lock myself in a closet the headaches were so intense." After Sophia implored him to get his blood pressure checked at the ER, Bradley agreed to use a self-service machine at a local CVS instead. That reading indicated his systolic blood pressure was greater than 200. "I called the pharmacist over and he said I needed to go to the hospital immediately," Bradley recalls. "Sophia pleaded with me to take that advice, and feeling the sincerity in her voice, I agreed to go to the hospital."
There he was diagnosed with double kidney failure and told he needed lifesaving dialysis. "I panicked," he says. "I've seen family pass away on dialysis, so I was stubborn. I refused." The next few days were filled with Bradley's unwavering determination to remain working despite his continuing headaches and throwing up and passing out. "My wife was begging me to stop and have the dialysis," Bradley says. "She was in tears, and when she cries it hurts me." He finally gave in.
After nearly five years on dialysis, Bradley received a kidney transplant in 2015. "I credit my wife and God for me being here. She's my warrior and advocate, who tirelessly took care of me." Bradley says had it not been for Sophia's persistence, he might not have survived those headaches. "Not only did she push me to finally take care of myself, but she also researched my condition and found the right doctor for me."
USE FOOD AS FUEL
Raised as a vegetarian, Nehemiah J. Mabry, Ph.D., 31, an engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina, knew he had mastered the art of consuming the right foods: "I always thought I'd be the one in a relationship encouraging a partner to get her act together." But after he and Jennifer met in 2009, his diet regimen was flipped upside down. "When Jennifer and I got together, I saw what eating healthy really consists of," he says about his wife of a year.
A vegan, Jennifer wanted to up the couple's game and began looking for recipes that didn't include processed foods, artificial dyes or GMOs and other chemicals. "She got caught up in this movement, and I started saying, "Hold on; you're passing me in the healthy eating department,"" says Nehemiah. To help them both enjoy optimum health and weight, soon after they became engaged in 2014 Jennifer suggested the couple begin the New Year with a 40-day cleanse. "That was a trial of us eating vegan [together]," he says. "It started with juicing and then we slowly added in food."
Nehemiah was shocked by the results. "Not eating processed foods led to having better mental clarity," he says. That was important because he was in grad school at the time. He also slept better and saw a significant reduction in his chronic migraine headaches. "I've battled migraines my entire life," he adds. "Along with cutting out processed foods like microwavable dinners and snacks, I started drinking a lot more water. The proper hydration reduces my dry skin and migraine frequency."
Jennifer remains a vegan, and Nehemiah falls in between being a vegetarian and a vegan. But without his wife's influence, he says he wouldn't eat nearly as well as he does now. "She became the health advocate," he says.
PARTNER IN STAYING HEALTHY
"I have a wonderful husband who is pitiful when it comes to his health," says Carol Gee, 67, a retiree in Stone Mountain, Georgia, of her hubby, Ronnie, also 67. Technology helps her look after him. "I schedule his appointments and keep track of them in my smartphone," she says. That gives her peace of mind that her husband will be by her side for many years to come.
"Helping him is just one way I can demonstrate my love for him," adds Carol. "I go with him to all his doctors' appointments, as he does not always tell me the truth of what the doctor says about his various illnesses." By attending, Carol sees her husband's prescriptions and treatment plans and how she can help.
Neither husband nor wife resents the intervention. "If it weren't for my wife, I probably wouldn't be here," confesses Ronnie. "Guys always procrastinate, and I never would do what I'm supposed to be doing." But his wife of 43 years stays on top of his chronic health issues, including diabetes and heart disease. "She keeps me in check. I absolutely breathe a sigh of relief having her there," he adds.
This feature originally appeared in the ESSENCE February 2017 Issue