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The key to one’s health is knowledge

After her diagnosis, Aga Szuścik turned to promoting prevention and public health knowledge. Her book is a bestseller, and thanks to numerous online actions, thousands of Polish women benefit from Aga’s knowledge and experience.

Conscious care for health

When asked about the message she wants to convey through her activities, Aga Szuścik refers to the story of her illness. 

“After being diagnosed with cervical cancer, I asked myself repeatedly how it happened that I got sick. I came to the answer that nothing convinced me enough to take preventive measures, to like and respect my body enough to take care of it. Nothing had convinced me to live a consciously healthy lifestyle either, even though I wasn’t living a particularly unhealthy one. I didn’t know my body well, and I didn’t know what exactly a cytology was or why it was necessary.”

After going through the disease she wanted to learn these things and then pass on her knowledge and experience to others.

She is the author of the book “GinekoLOGICZNIE”, a lecturer, TEDx speaker, and winner of the Ofeminin Influence Awards 2023 statuette. On her profile, on Instagram, she promotes science and awareness about prevention and health. And every last day of the month, she conducts breast self-examinations there. Dozens of women join the event, and thanks to Aga’s explanation of how exactly to perform the test, they take care of their health and prevention in an accessible and completely free way.

Aga Szuścik summarizes her endeavors:

“My message is to like yourself, understand how prevention works and take care of your health in a conscious way. In a way that is accessible and inexpensive, not in a way that is difficult and inaccessible. And the message of my work in the medical world is that both male and female patients, as well as male and female doctors, should treat each other better. And feel better about situations that we can’t avoid anyway.”

Hundreds of questions that finally lived to see answers

Last year, Aga’s book called “GinekoLOGICZNIE” premiered. The book is as long as 520 pages, which surprised everyone, the author herself included. She says that the book is primarily a guidebook on gynecological health. She stresses that it is aimed at everyone – regardless of the gender, age or health status of the reader. Even people who already have a lot of knowledge on the subject can learn something new from this comprehensive guide. Aga says that there are times when doctors tell her that thanks to her book they have discovered something new, for example, about the gynecological visits themselves and their approach to female patients.

“This is a guidebook that actually grew out of questions I often encounter on the Internet and those that get asked me and sometimes make me feel surprised,” says Aga Szuścik.

These questions, included in the book, are many – as much as 449. The author says that some of them are often asked quietly. And they cover all sorts of areas – anatomy, physiology, gynecological visits, diseases or infections, as well as treatments and myths that have grown up around these topics.

Aga says she wanted the book to be practical. In addition to answering numerous questions, there are tables and algorithms, as well as lists of what to bring to a surgery or doctor’s appointment. She stresses that the content in the book was checked by 21 experts. As a result, the knowledge is reliable and based on the experience of specialists.

Aga Szuścik | Fot. press data

Aga is currently writing a second book.

The most surprising question

The questions that surprised Aga Szuścik the most concerned the issue of treatments and products that supposedly work to cleanse or maintain gynecological health. Often these methods were not medically proven and harmful. The author stresses that it is not recommended to practice such methods.

Another issue often raised is the questions of daily wearing of sanitary pads. It was only during her work that Aga Szuścik learned how many healthy women wear such pads every day, without having incontinence or any other ailment at all. In an interview with Coopernicus, she talks about how it puts women in a closed loop of incontinence “they wear pads because they have a lot of discharge, and they have a lot of discharge because they wear pads nonstop.”

If she were to advise just one thing to someone who hasn’t read her book, it would be regarding the sanitary pads – let’s not wear them every day!

The issues of daily care and hygiene habits are covered in the chapter – “How to take care of your vulva and internal genitals so you don’t get in trouble.”

“It turns out that many people do it in ways that do not best support their health,” says Aga about women’s habits. 

At every turn, she also reminds of the annual gynecological visit. She says that all issues of prevention, treatment, diseases and ways to take care of ourselves converge precisely in a regular gynecological check-up. 

“Such an inspection, carried out in a good place, should solve many of our problems. And above all, it gives us a chance for a good and healthy life,” Aga Szuścik appeals. 

How does a doctorate in film arts connect to this?

Interestingly, by education Aga Szuścik is not a gynecologist. She graduated in photography from the Łódź Film School, and earned her doctorate there five years ago. She is also a graduate of Polish philology, with a specialization in social communication.

“I always say that I work in my profession. After all, I’m involved in writing, photography, filmmaking and marketing activities,” she says.

She adds that her education also has a significant impact on the reach she achieves online. She often gets questions about how she makes her reels look so professional, how she creates so much content.

“It’s not magic or innate talent, it’s just that I spent years studying and teaching film and photography to others,” she says. She is now a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (as well as the Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Academy in Krakow and the Medical University of Gdansk). Aga Szuścik adds that her education is combined with health-promoting activities in yet another interesting way.

“I am very interested in the aspect of art in medical spaces. I think that what hangs on the walls in our Polish health facilities, unfortunately, is almost always without an idea, without knowledge, unsupportive.”

She stresses that she does not expect medical facilities to turn into art galleries. Not everyone has to like art, either.

“On the other hand, what hangs in our medical facilities either scares us or drills us. And that has a huge impact. There are scientific studies that show how art affects our decisions and well-being,” Aga says. She illustrates this with the example of the color red. It activates the fight-or-flight center in the brain and makes it speed up the metabolism. The consequence is faster decision-making:

“And we’re talking about decisions on which our health and lives depend on,” Aga argues. 

A year ago, she was on an Open World professional exchange, where, among other things, she explored American hospitals precisely in terms of art. Now she is trying to bring these things to Poland.

Professional exchange in the States and Polish realities

Aga Szuścik also participated in a professional exchange, in the United States. As part of the Open World program, she expanded her knowledge in patient experience.

“In a way, it was a turning point combined with the culmination of my activities. I think I went there at the perfect time,” she says.

By then she was already lecturing, attending various congresses and conducting audits for doctors on how to furnish medical facilities. After an appointment from Rak’n’Roll, she traveled to the United States. During the exchange, she talked to many people, attended lectures and visited medical schools. There were also visits to hospitals and other medical centers. 

“Above all, it made me understand that we can change a lot with cheap and small gestures. Small ways to make us, the patients, live better, and to make doctors better at receiving and helping us,” Aga Szuścik sums up the exchange.

She admits that the implementation of such solutions in Poland is not going fast everywhere. She notes that there is often a belief “that the way of doing things is that you have to deal with those things that seem more important first, and only later deal with whether someone treats us well in the office or not. And whether we feel comfortable there and know what’s going on.”

Aga Szuścik also talks about a popular proverb in Poland:

“They say jerk, but a good doctor. Well, a jerk cannot be a good doctor. Because he is a jerk.”

She stresses that addressing, at least to some extent, also the patient experience and not only the treatment itself, increases the cure rate, which studies confirm. She adds:

“It also improves curability statistics, and increases confidence toward health care or reduces the queues we complain so much about.”

Aga also shares her thoughts:

“People on both sides of doctors’ desks, all over the world face similar problems. There are different ways to solve it, and it’s worth learning from each other.”

The Great List of Gynecologists

Aga Szuścik also co-creates, together with her husband, the Great List of Gynecologists (“Wielka Lista Ginekologów i Ginekolożek”, in Polish). The list has existed for many years and has now grown to a truly impressive size. It was created through Aga’s growing activity on the Internet. People began to contact her, looking for a good specialist. They were asking who to go to for an examination, about trusted doctors in a particular city. Aga says she often couldn’t recommend anyone or answer the questions she was getting. She only knew the doctors she herself had come across as a patient and worked with. So she started asking others herself on her Instagram – if they knew anyone from this city, or if they knew a good specialist for such a problem. It quickly became apparent that her followers and observers could help. She began creating a list on Instagram Stories, with saved tips from others.

The project began to grow, and Aga’s reach on Instagram became huge as well. Eventually, her husband said the list needed to be transferred to the website. He advised Aga to explain it in depth, add a form for submitting doctors’ names, add search filters and systematize the whole thing.

Currently, the list is updated quarterly.

“If I counted it right, every 8th gynecologist in Poland is on this list. I’m not striving to make this list even bigger. Such truly passionate doctors are probably just that many or a little more, that’s my estimate – but there will be more and more,” Aga says of the impressive size of the undertaking.

She herself adds that there are some drawbacks to the project. It is impossible to perfectly check how doctors really work and treat patients. She also tells about a situation that was a breakthrough for her – the name of a certain doctor was on the List. She received a message from one of her followers, who was very happy that the doctor was listed. She described how, when he relayed the bad news to her, he grabbed her hand. “It was so human,” the observer said. Aga says that literally a few days later, another follower wrote to her. She recounted an identical situation, with the same doctor. She had also received bad news, and the doctor had also grabbed her hand in the process. For the other follower, this was crossing her boundaries.

“This shows how greatly we differ. There are people who consider the best doctors to be those who talk a lot. And there are those who don’t like it. And one could list such qualities of doctors endlessly,” says Aga Szuścik.

It also happens that someone appears on this list who should not be there. Aga and her husband try to check this, but due to the massive size of the list, it is not always possible to carry out verification quickly or conclusively. There is also no sponsor or volunteers.

“The list is non-commercial, if there was a sponsor behind it it would lose its meaning. The list has to be absolutely free of all influence,” Aga Szuścik stresses.

Despite the fact that the list of such a large number of doctors has some drawbacks, Aga stresses that the list helps patients in a real way. She says that at least once or twice a week she gets a message from someone saying that she used the list and finally got a diagnosis or was treated like a human being.

“It makes me want to continue with this list forever,” Aga says.

Huge gratitude but also occasional hate

Aga Szuścik also mentions the reactions she encounters in response to her other activities. She says that they are mostly very good. Practically every day she gets messages that her content has convinced someone to go to a gynecological appointment, or that someone has dealt with their own diagnosis better. She also gets messages from doctors who talk about finding ways to treat patients better, thanks to Aga’s content.

“Now I dare say it – it’s a real change in health and a little bit of the world, too,” Aga Szuścik enthuses.

There is also the occasional hate. Aga says it’s often based on someone’s lack of understanding of what medicine is all about or resentment that their case refutes scientific research and is a proof of its inadequacies. There also happens to be “real-life” hate, regarding Aga’s appearance or manner of speaking.

“As a co-founder of the Hejt Out campaign, I learned to unscrupulously delete comments and block accounts. For many months or even years now, I haven’t let myself be tricked into thinking that this is some kind of weakness of mine,” Aga says of ways to deal with the various comments. She adds that it’s important for her “not to play by the rules of the person who’s the hater, not to have to explain myself as if I was called to answer next to a blackboard in school.”

She also adds that if someone points out a mistake to her without hating on her as a person, of course it looks different. She does not delete such comments, but points out that her content is often checked by doctors before publication. 

“Cancer has taught me to think about every minute of my life, to think whether this is how I want to spend it,” says Aga. She adds, “And very often, when there is a comment that I could answer even in one sentence and explain an issue, I write the first two words and delete my own answer. I then think to myself that I’d rather spend that minute differently. For example, write back to someone who writes to me because she or he has a serious health problem, try to advise what doctor she or he should go to. I’d rather help than argue pointlessly.”

Cover photography: press data

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