The 411 on Women’s Health: Friends improve quality of life | SierraSun.com

The 411 on Women’s Health: Friends improve quality of life

Dr. Kelly Shanahan
Special to the Bonanza

February means Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day is always associated with romantic love, but did you know there are health benefits associated with not only the love of a spouse or partner, but also with friendship?

Having recently been diagnosed with a recurrence of my breast cancer, I have been doing a lot of research on what I can do to optimize the chances of getting my cancer under control — and keeping it there. One thing I felt immediately, as soon as people began to hear of my situation, was an outpouring of support, not only from my family and close friends, but also from my patients and our community at large. Even before I started chemotherapy, right here in South Lake Tahoe through Dr. Jorge Perez and his Sierra Nevada Cancer Center, I started having less pain associated with some of the bone metastases that riddle my body. I attribute that to all the support I have received.

A study of more than 2,000 Kaiser breast cancer patients and another of 3,000 nurses, also with breast cancer, showed that women who had no friends were four times more likely to die of their disease than women who had 10 or more friends. In one of those studies, neither proximity to the friends nor the amount of contact factored in — merely having friends who support you and care for you and are there to listen to you, even if by e-mail or Facebook, decreased the chance of dying. Another Kaiser study published recently revealed that breast cancer patients with more friends felt better not only emotionally, but physically as well. Friends improve quality of life.

And it’s not just cancer where the health benefits of friendship shine. A Swedish study of elderly people showed that friendships decreased the risk of dementia. In Australia, again in an older population, having more friends meant a longer life — and the association between longevity and the number of close friends was stronger than having close family relationships. In February, a month where heart shaped cut outs reign, a very pertinent study is one done on women with cardiovascular disease: women with a strong support system were more likely to be alive 2 years later than women who did not have such support. And, these women also had lower incidences of high blood pressure and diabetes.

So, as Valentine’s Day approaches, think not only of your spouse, your lover, your partner, but also of your friends. To all those people who are rooting for me, who are sending me messages of encouragement, who are praying or sending positive thoughts my way, who drive me around or bring meals, to all my friends, Happy Valentine’s Day; because of you, because of your support I am healthier and stronger and more likely to keep my cancer under control, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

— Dr. Kelly Shanahan is the owner of Emerald Bay Center for Women’s Health in South Lake Tahoe. She can be reached at 530-542-4961.