The most important lesson students will ever learn

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Self-care. Not just in learning how to relax when your schedule becomes stressful or how to keep a daily facial regimen that stops your t-zone from shining. The self-care I am talking about is more in-depth…the type that most college students do not really think about until they are forced to when they get older.

(Photo courtesy of Pink Pedal on Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Pink Pedal on Flickr Creative Commons)

I am talking about Cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so I began thinking about the impact that cancer, and organizations working to find a cure (like Susan G. Komen), have on our society. Specifically, what is their impact college students? In between staying afloat amid swamps of essays and exams, as well as attempting to keep our social lives from drowning, our health tends to become overshadowed.

However, the one thing students have the most control over is their health and lifestyle choices.

And according to the American Cancer Society, your early twenties are not too young to begin checking for cancer. Cervical cancer testing should begin at 21, and should be done every three years for females. Also, breast and colon cancer are not prejudiced to gender—both male and female students should be aware of their bodies and changes within it. So do not be afraid to ask your doctor questions if you feel abnormal changes within your body, because, no, you are not too young to get cancer.

Being aware of cancer is far more than just checking for lumps or going for a scan. All-around health is important for young students, especially in a society where we say “your body is your temple,” and then we treat them like shacks.

For example, tobacco products: not good for you. Abuse of alcohol and consuming drugs: not good for you either. A sedentary lifestyle mixed with processed foods: also not good for you. You know all of this, they are all common sense adages, so why do we allow ourselves to fall under their addictive spell?

(Photo courtesy Cancer.gov)
(Photo courtesy Cancer.gov)

It is easy for us to roll our eyes at these facts because we are young. Nothing can hurt us. But at the end of the day, life has a way of sneaking up on you and even the healthiest people can still be attacked by the slyness of disease and cancer. But why make yourself more susceptible to its reach?

Of course, not every college student lives this kind of lifestyle, but the vast majority likes to fall into the stereotype of a normal “college student.” For example, it is commonplace for students to pull all-nighters at the library, eat sodium-laden junk like Ramen and binge on alcohol and other…“remedies” after weeks of hard work. Being a college student does require these things of you. They are not rites of passage.

If you are constantly tired, maybe you should rethink spending the night at the library, and spend it in your bed. How could you possibly make that happen? Time management: getting your work done efficiently so you can actually sleep at regular hours. Going to bed early and regularly (when you can) does not make you any less of a hard worker.

If you are gaining weight, breaking out, feel sluggish and have cravings all the time—you know what might fix that? Eating lean proteins, fresh produce and most importantly, eating regularly. Stop “forgetting” to eat lunch, breakfast or dinner. It does not make you sound like a hard worker when you say, “I just don’t have time to eat”—make time. Stop filling your body with overly processed and chemical-laden crap when there are, and yes there really are, ways for college students to eat healthily on a budget. Quit thinking that alcohol does not have calories. It is not the only way to wind down with your friends after a stressful week. Are a few drinks bad? Of course they are not. But when you let alcohol consume your mind as a reward for hard work, it begins to control you and your health. (Also, you are not a dog—stop rewarding yourself for minor achievements and start loving yourself unconditionally all the time. Drugs on the other hand are still not good for you.)

(Photo courtesy of Dale DeVries on Flickr Creative Commons)
(Photo courtesy of Dale DeVries on Flickr Creative Commons)

Am I doctor? No. But I am a college student who has dealt with stress, fatigue, and cravings. I have gained weight and also lost weight. I have spent all-nighters and conditioned myself to work on a self-induced reward system. All of it is ridiculous. I know that every once in a while, a late-night run to the library is necessary when you have a last minute assignment due the next day. I know that when you are starving and have not had your favorite burger in weeks, indulging yourself is not bad at all. But if things are proven to be bad for you in overconsumption, why partake in them?

And yes, this all comes back to cancer. How? Not because any one definitive thing is linked to the cause of cancer, but it does go hand-in-hand with being aware of your body, loving it and nourishing it. I am not asking you to become some cow-hugging, vegan activist who would never touch a chemical with a 6-foot pole (although these people can be really cool if society would just give them a chance).

I am asking you to start treating yourself like the healthy human being you should (and can) be. If you know there is a problem, whether it is fatigue, stress, an abnormal lump or extreme weight-gain/loss, seek to help yourself. Get advice from your doctor, talk to family and get a friend who also wants to live a healthy lifestyle. Above all, and as cliché as it is to say this, love your body. You only get one.

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