Posts Tagged ‘health’

Find YOUR doctor, not just A doctor.

July 21, 2010

Recently, I was talking with a friend who mentioned her doctor had recommended she needed to find a specialist pretty quickly. This was the second time her doctor had made that recommendation.  When I asked why she hadn’t done it, she said she didn’t even know where to begin.  For anyone who is suddenly diagnosed with a serious illness or the possibility of a serious illness, determining what steps to take next can be overwhelming.  Finding the right doctor, at a time when our mind is spinning, can seem truly beyond our ability. Often, our physician will refer us to a colleague or we might be expected to look at the list of doctors on our insurance plan and pick one.  Sounds like the easiest and best solution.  But, there is a catch to that solution.

When we are faced with a potential serious long term or life-threatening illness, it becomes critical that whatever doctors we choose to work with are doctors that we trust and like and feel really comfortable with.  While this is true for any doctor, we often settle for the most convenient or easiest get an appointment with. Since we usually see them infrequently for physicals and acute illnesses, we can forgive an abrupt bedside manner or the harried energy.  However, when we will be seeing a doctor frequently, when we have to rely on them for our lives, when we need to be able to comfortably talk about all of our symptoms with them, when we need their undivided attention, it becomes critical that we don’t settle but that we choose.

But choosing, taking the time to interview several doctors, researching who is covered by our insurance plan, getting recommendations, can all be overwhelming when all we can think about is the illness and what it means for us.  That is when it is critical to find an advocate–someone to help you sort out all the pieces, to listen with you at doctor’s appointments, to help you define the questions you need answered and to help those questions get asked.  An advocate can be anyone–a friend, a partner, a child or parent, or a professional who is trained to help.

Several months ago, one of my friends, who was finishing her chemotherapy, said she was glad she was done because now she could start looking for an oncologist she liked and felt good with.   I asked why now and she said because she didn’t feel like she could change doctors once the chemo started, but that she had never really felt comfortable with her oncologist.  She said when she was diagnosed and referred, she had just been in such shock, she had gone along with the referred doctor and then felt stuck. How much harder that makes our treatment and recovery!

It is our life and our health and we need to feel comfortable and informed to make the best decisions and choices. Finding an advocate who can be there with you and for you can make a huge difference.  It will allow you to take the time to find YOUR doctor, not just A doctor for your care. And that can make all the difference in your ability to recover and heal.

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Size doesn’t matter but density does

June 25, 2010

An article published recently in the Los Angeles Times, Breast Density Linked to Cancer Risk, reports that density of the breast tissue is a bigger indicator of breast cancer risk than family history.  And, this might be one of the best kept secrets.

The link between breast tissue density and breast cancer has been known since the 1970’s, but it has only been recently that researchers and cancer specialists have accepted the relationship as important. While the scientific community  admits is could help identify women of high risk, it isn’t yet a widely known nor measured clinically significantly marker. Part of the challenge is creating a universally accepted measurement of breast density.  While radiologists have traditionally measured the density of the breast, it was not to determine the cancer risk but as an indicator of how difficult the mammogram is to read.  So, even though the density has been recorded, it was not recognized as a useful reporting tool for screening until recently.

Last year, a law passed in Connecticut requires that breast density must be included in mammogram reports.  This allows a woman to track her density over time and take precautionary steps if she has dense breasts, such as more frequent clinical exams or MRI’s to supplement or replace mammograms.  Studies show that women’s breast density can change over time and so does the risk of breast cancer, so tracking an increase or decrease in density can change the precautions  and actions a woman chooses. For example, a woman with very dense breasts may choose to forgo taking hormone replace therapy during menopause as they may contribute to breast cancer risk as well.

There are several challenges to using the density of breast tissue to determine cancer risk.  The first is developing a workable rating system.  The system used by radiologists, while helpful, is subjective and very basic.  It a 4 level system, with 1 being predominately fat and 4 being very dense.  Finding an easily quantifiable and measurable tool that is universal will take some time to develop and ensure the usefulness of accuracy in assessment.  Secondly, educating women to the importance of knowing their breast density and utilizing that information to help decrease the risk is a long-term undertaking.

We can be pro-active.  Ask your doctor to request your density be included in the report at your next mammogram.

It Was All in My Head

June 8, 2010

In my continuing quest to take my life back and own my body, rather than being controlled by my body, I made a momentous decision.  I committed to training with a group of Cancer Survivors to participate in the Danskin Triathlon.  Little did I know how profound that decision would be.

At almost 90 pounds over my ideal weight, way into middle age (55 years old) and a body experiencing the difficulties that accumulate from life (back injury, surgery, broken bones, etc.), I got off my rather expansive butt and decided to do something different.

Like many overweight people, I was uncomfortable with the thought of working out with “athletes” and figured I would be “different”, perhaps even laughed at or, at best,  tolerated and I knew I would not be able to keep up with most, if not all, of the others in the group, but I put that aside and did it anyway.  What I discovered: all of that was in my own head.  No one laughed, no one tolerated, no one “put up” with the fat girl.  They were supportive and enthusiastic and willingly accommodating.  The coaches, the other participants, everyone just wanted to see everyone else succeed.  How incredible!

So, train I did.  For 12 weeks.  And then, the day of the Danskin arrived (I would say dawned, but the Danskin started long before dawn).  We arrived in the dark (5 am) to set up for the day. The triathlon included a 1/2 mile lake swim, a 12 mile bike ride (open road, hills, you name it) and a 3.1 mile walk/run on grass through fields and over dale.  Oh, yeah.  Did I mention I have asthma?

But, what I really want to share is that I DID IT.  Those people I was so afraid would laugh at me and be so much better than me–the ones that often, in my mind, kept me from making the choice to make a difference–those people didn’t laugh at me or abandon me.  Those people stayed with me and supported me and allowed me to support them, each in our own way.  And, we all finished.  It took 3 hours, 58 minutes and 43 seconds to finish the course and finish it we did. I did it while still almost 75 pounds overweight, 55 years old and with all the same problems, but I DID IT.

It brought home to me how ridiculous the self talk and embarrassment and all the reasons I gave myself to not do something are.  It was all in MY head.  Everyone has something they must overcome and everyone has the talk in their head.  The key is to step outside the internal chatter and just do it (do I sound like a Nike commercial here?).  I know, at least for me, it was easier said than done.  But then, I look at the wonderful people who journey with cancer and journey with obesity and journey with asthma and journey with back injuries (you get the idea), and still do it.

And, now, I, too, am one of those people.  And you can be too.

Come join me on the journey to just do it, to take control back over your life and your body and please, along the way, share your journey so we can experience your triumphs and support you and welcome you back to a place of controlling your own destiny.

P.S.  This post is dedicated to Capital of Texas Team Survivor.  You go, ladies! You are incredible.

Feeling frustrated? Foggy-headed? Try drinking some water.

June 3, 2010

Most of us have been told that we should drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to keep ourselves hydrated.  There are lots of reasons touted as to why this would be important–to keep our kidneys functioning correctly, to keep our skin looking vibrant and healthy, to prevent constipation, to give us more energy, to lose weight. Now we can add two new reasons for drinking water–to decrease crankiness and frustration and lift our mood and to improve our cognitive abilities.

In a study done by Kristen D’Anci of Tufts University and recently published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, young, healthy athletes participated in a study  of the cognitive and mood effects of mild dehydration (the equivalent to a busy office worker not drinking enough during the day).  The results showed that those allowed to achieve mild dehydration exhibited more anger and frustration as well as a “down” mood after the session than those that maintained their hydration.  Additionally, those who were slightly dehydrated performed much less well on the cognitive tests administered after the session than those that were well hydrated.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling a little foggy-headed or getting easily frustrated with a task, ask yourself when you last had a drink of water.  Getting a glass of water just might make you able to finish that task or project much easier.

Lack of core muscle flexibility could indicate blood pressure problems

May 16, 2010

The ability to stretch and touch our toes has long been an indicator of overall flexibility, but now it might also be a tool to determine the risk of blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

Blood pressure is a measure of how flexible and stretchable the arteries of the body are.  Arteries carry the blood containing oxygen and nutrients from the heart throughout the body.  The amount of stretchability and flexibility of the arteries determines how hard the heart must work to push the blood throughout the body.  Stiff arteries make the heart work much harder.  This leads to increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

Testing for arterial rigidity and stiffness usually requires special equipment available only in specialized doctor’s office, hospitals and labs.  But in a study by Kenta Yamamoto, Hiroshi Kawano, Yuko Gando, Mitsuru Higuchi, et. al, published in the American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology October 2009, research indicates that in middle and older age (40 + years), core muscle flexibility, as measured by the  “sit-and-reach” test, may be a simple method of determining arterial flexibility and risk for heart attack and stroke. (A summary of the study can be found at Medical News Today).

There are many theories why muscle flexibility and arterial flexibility are related, but a number of studies have indicated that decreasing flexibility in the muscles of the low back and core in middle age and older age  correlates to  decreased flexibility of the muscles of the vascular system, leading to increased blood pressure.  The relationship does not appear to apply to people younger than 40.

So, what does this mean?  The researchers suggest that incorporating stretching, such as yoga or Pilates, into daily routines could have a significant impact on heart and circulatory health, especially for those over 40. “These findings suggest a possibility that improving flexibility induced by the stretching exercise may be capable of modifying age-related arterial stiffening in middle-aged and older adults,” Dr. Yamamoto said. “We believe that flexibility exercise, such as stretching, yoga and Pilates, should be integrated as a new recommendation into the known cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise.”

There are many yoga and pilates classes designed for middle age and older adults that  help increase flexibility while accommodating injuries, etc.  Some are also available online to make it easy to do from home.  For some suggestions, check out Abby Lentz at HeartFelt Yoga or Kate Wodash at Mindful Body Center.

Good-bye Lynn Redgrave–Rest in Peace

May 5, 2010

Lynn Redgrave (for more about her, see blog in Ms. Magazine)  is gone after a 7 year journey with breast cancer.  How powerful and how sad, and how close to home that hits for so many of us.  Breast cancer is so sneaky and tenacious.  How brave are those who journey with this companion–who know so many who have travelled long with breast cancer as a companion, but also know many who have travelled but a short time.  It always brings our mortality home when someone who is journeying with cancer dies, but it is especially poignant for those who have experienced the journey themselves.

It is critical that we stay aware and focused on the steps necessary to prevent the journey with this disease–for all.  Ladies, get your mammograms, remember monthly self exams, get your pap smears, do whatever it takes to catch it early on the journey. And men, you are not exempt from self exams and tests.  Better yet, take action to prevent it in the first place–eat healthy foods, stop smoking or don’t start, check your vitamin D levels and supplement if necessary, know your family history and risk factors.

The journey with cancer is becoming way too common.  Please don’t join us on the journey.  As my friend Barbara, one of the founders of Capital of Texas Team Survivor said yesterday to a new member “We are glad you are here but sorry you qualify.”  Our wish would be that no one else need join this group and that we can get to know you without having to travel this journey with cancer together.

So, Lynn, may your journey shed light and hope and save lives.  Rest in peace.

NOTE: The photo is by her daughter Annabel Clark, August 2003, after surgery, chemo and radiation.

Side effects may include…and for me they do!

April 28, 2010

Have you ever listened to a drug commercial and after hearing the possible side effects wondered who would take the drug? The tone of the commercial or insert would lead you to believe that the side effects are rare.  I question how rare they can be.  After all, a side effect is like a weed.  It is only a side effect because it isn’t the reason you are taking the drug–just like a weed is a weed because it isn’t growing where you want it.

For a complete explanation, you can check out this Medterms website

Let’s use Aspirin as an example.   Aspirin does a lot of things in the body.  It makes the blood thinner and decreasing clotting, it relieves pain, it lowers fever, and it decreases inflammation.  If you are taking an aspirin a day for heart health, you are taking it to decrease clotting.  If you are taking if for head ache, you are taking it for pain.  However, the aspirin doesn’t know you only want it to relieve the pain, so if you are taking it for a headache, it still decreases your clotting and decreases inflammation.  Those are the side effects.

It turns out, I seem to notice and experience side effects of almost every medication I have to take.  But, you know, those side effects can be sneaky and subtle and can easily be confused for another problem.  It takes diligence to read the inserts and know how the medication’s side effects can be experienced.  Too often, the side effect is treated as a separate problem and a new medicine is prescribed to relieve the symptom, when really it only required a different medication in the first place.

This can be tricky, though, if a person is taking a number of medications, like I am.  As I was reviewing my recent symptoms (thank you to all my friends for pointing out that I have been complaining of them for a while and needed to do something about them), I have come to realize that the side effects of several of my medications are all the same.

All I can say, is Good Luck Docs, in figuring out which ones to change.

In the meantime, I am doing everything in my power to take my health back and do away with all these unhealthy chemicals called drugs.

The switch from “want to want to” to “want to”.

April 21, 2010

I don’t know what switch was turned on for me.  For years I have been overweight and frustrated by it, and complained about it, and threatened to so something about it, but it was more of a want to want to than an actual want to.  I knew it was unhealthy and I knew I “should” do something about it (I am really good at “shoulding” on myself).  Many of my friends were, and are,  very encouraging, but still I did nothing.

Then the cancer was diagnosed (a cancer that is fed and supported in its development by the excess estrogen produced in fat cells) and still I wanted to want to but did nothing.  I talked about doing something, I laid elaborate plans for things I would do that I didn’t do.  I even joined a gym and kind of went, but didn’t really push it much while I was there.

I got the operation report for my cancer surgery and read all about the problems encountered and actions taken as a result of my obesity, but still could only find the “want to want to” in myself.  I attended support groups, nutritional counseling and in-depth workshops.  They all supported my fantasy that I was doing something, but I was still not moving my body nor changing my eating.

Then, one day, I was.  I signed up to participate in training for a triathlon (the Danskin) and I knew I would probably be the heaviest and most out of shape person there (I still am) and it was scary and uncomfortable and yet, suddenly, I was willing to go.  I was suddenly willing to do what it takes to take control back over my life, my body, my health–everything.  I wish I could pinpoint what made the switch turn on.  If I could do that, I could make a fortune turning everyone elses “want to want to” to a “want to”.  But I can’t.  All I know is that finding a set goal and a set group of people who could provide the tools without judgment to get me there, who could see for me what I couldn’t see for and in myself, has been a huge part of it.  It would seem that in my endless planning and attempting that I actually put myself in the way of the answer for me.

So, I am training (not as hard as some of the others, but training none the less) 5 days a week.  And, while not a flattering picture of me in any way, here is proof that it doesn’t matter how big I am or how out of shape I am, I CAN DO IT if I just decide to. And so can you, when you decide.

I would love to hear about your journey from “want to want to” to “want to.”

Follow up to yesterday–eating out doesn’t mean eating unhealthy–but it can mean eating boring.

April 20, 2010

Don’t get me wrong. I love salads.  Salads can be full of wonderful textures and a variety of tastes and colors–and they can be incredibly healthy.  But, that is not the only option when you are not eating meat.  Except, when it is.  And that is just annoying and frustrating to me.

In a town that is health conscious, it seems to me people who are setting up luncheons in a restaurant, you could find some vegetarian option.  Not today.  The only option was to choose the salad and have them hold the meat.  But, good news for everyone else.  Meat is free!.  It must be, because I paid the same for my salad without meat as everyone else did for salmon or chicken.  And here I always thought the veggies were the least expensive part.  Apparently I was wrong. Or maybe the meat was already on the salad and they had to charge me the same to cover the cost of removing it?  I am not sure, but all in all a very frustrating lunch.

How hard can it be to think outside the narrow little box of lettuce?  And then, lettuce covered in some type of creamy, sweet dressing.  Healthy?  Doesn’t seem so to me.  I have been posting healthy, fun, easy and inexpensive vegetarian recipes for several weeks now without resorting to plain lettuce salad (my bad–it also had avocado and a few tortilla strips) and a creamy dressing to give it flavor.  I would think restaurants would be better able to come up with creative ideas than demonstrated today.

So, okay, I think I am done with the rant.

But I also know I won’t order food at that restaurant again.

Kale Salad–how to play with your food without getting into trouble!

April 16, 2010

I love salads and have no problems with lettuce, but there are so many other wonderful leafy vegetables to enjoy.  One of my favorites is Kale.  There are several varieties available, each with a slightly different taste.  My favorite is curly leave Kale.  However, it can sometimes have a bitterness to it’s taste if not cooked or treated correctly.  My favorite recipe for kale in a salad type dish comes from my friend Sylvia, who is an awesome raw-foods chef.

When my energy is low, or I am just feeling tired and fatigued, this recipe always perks me up.  It is easy to make and I love it because you really get to feel and play with your food while making this dish.  Don’t let the instructions scare you–you get to become a kid again, play with your food and not get in trouble:)

Click here for the recipe for Mediterranean Kale Salad.