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It's Your Body

By Janice Dineen Staff Reporter, The Toronto Star

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So don't be so quick to trust your doctor with it, maverick physician Carolyn DeMarco tells women. Listen to your body, educate yourself and explore alternative treatments, she advises

When Carolyn DeMarco was in medical school, she was taught that women's bodies are just naturally flawed.

Because men's bodies are properly constructed and women's aren't, she re members being told, women get bladder infections, and need episiotomies and hysterectomies.

"Some male doctors still believe that a woman's body is inherently faulty and wrong," says DeMarco, a physician herself for the past 20 years.

Personally, she takes the opposite view. '~Your body is perfectly constructed for your enjoyment and benefit, whether you decide to have children or not," she tells women in her self-published book Take Charge of Your Body.

DeMarco, 46, is a maverick among doctors. She often recommends home remedies or alternative treatments such as acupuncture. She teaches self-hypnosis. She doesn't even pretend to be a part of the medical establishment.

"I'm not pushing mainstream (medical) dogma," she states.

And she doesn't mince words about her opinion of a lot of that dogma Here are some of the things she says:

A woman is the expert on her own body, not some doctor. A woman should listen to her gut feelings about her own body. Trust yourself over the doctor.

It is not okay to have major surgery done without getting all the facts and a second opinion.

Episiotomy is an unnecessary procedure.

Anywhere between 30 and 50 per cent of hysterectomies are dearly unnecessary. Another 10 to 20 per cent could be avoided by using alternatives.

The truths about menopause have been obscured by myths and fallacies.

It may take years before the mainstream medical profession catches on to the serious problem of severe yeast infections, called candidiasis. The infection, a fungus growth, is a common vaginal infection but may multiply in other parts of the body under certain conditions.

DeMarco recommends that women use a blend of establishment medicine and alternative ideas and techniques, which she terms "complementary medicine."

It is important to make your own decisions about your own body, she stresses. She suggests women use all the resources they can to learn about their own bodies and health problems, and about natural and traditional medical treatments, then decide which combination would work best.

"Over the past 20 years of medical practice, I have seen many women suffer needlessly because their doctors did not really listen to them, or told them their complaints were all in their head, or treated normal stages in a woman's life as if they were diseases," DeMarco says.

"I have seen many women pay a heavy price for the careless prescription of tranquilizers, birth control pills, hormones and antibiotics.

"I have seen many women suffer because they do not understand how their body works, had not had their treatment options explained or did not understand the side effects of drugs."

She urges women to analyze the high-stress elements of their lives and look for ways to reduce stress to improve over-all health. DeMarco says this is especially a good idea for Metro-area residents.

"The work stress and the financial stress is enormous here," she maintains. "I call it the Toronto Disease. There's an absurd emphasis on work. The whole Toronto theme is overwork."

DeMarco was in general practice for 10 years in rural British Columbia. During that time she became involved in training lay midwives. The midwives taught her how to use herbs, an interest she continued to develop later on her own. She also learned a little homeopathy, she says.

She was involved with both home births and hospital births.

"The majority of the rural population we were serving were going to have home births, attended (by a doctor) or unattended," she recalls. "But most of the doctors were hostile to the whole idea of home births. I remember some pretty hair raising situations like transporting people to hospital in boats and arriving by snowmobile to attend at a birth."

After a 1982 trip around the world with her husband, a product designer, DeMarco set up practice in Nelson, B.C., where she started using acupuncture and hypnosis. She came to Toronto in 1986.

Although she maintains a small psychotherapy practice in which she is not accepting any new patients, much of DeMarco's time and energy has been absorbed by researching, writing and updating her book. It examines a wide range of women's health concerns, reviews the latest information on them in both traditional and natural medical research, and suggests specifics for further reading.

"The disease-oriented system just isn't working," she suggests. "There's a big interest today in women's health and in natural alternatives."

Dr. Carolyn DeMarco has this advice for women:

Educate yourself:

Use your doctor as a resource rather than as an authority. It is essential to knock the doctor or naturopath or chiropractor off his pedestal and establish an equal relationship. If your doctor doesn't listen or treats you in a patronizing manner, change doctors or at least get a second opinion.

Educate yourself about the problem. Read everything you can get your hands on, ask a lot of questions, find out, listen to tapes, go to courses, talk to as many women as you can, make use of local experts.

And your doctor:

Educate your doctor as well. Bring him or her appropriate reading materials, especially articles from the medical literature or newsletters from self-help organizations.

Seek out and create support for yourself. Solidify your network of family and friends. Women with health problems, chronic illness, pain or disability have to learn how to say no, to delegate tasks to family members, to know how to communicate their needs and how to ask for help. Most of all, women have to put their own health needs first. Join a self-kelp group or form your own branch Many groups have accumulated more research than most doctors will ever find time to read and offer the invaluable support of other women with the same problem.

Experiment with safer, cheaper and more sane methods of therapy.

When women turn to alternative therapies, they are using systems that stimulate the body's own natural healing abilities. They are working with a system that assumes normal biological milestones in a woman's life are a healthy and even enjoyable part of life. They learn to listen to and trust their bodies.

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