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Dare to care …

This is the post excerpt.

                        Oak Allee at Brookgreen Gardens, Pawleys Island, SC

 

Did you know that 133M Americans live with a Chronic illness? By 2020, that number will exceed 150M. This isn’t my opinion. This is fact. They are our spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, neighbors and co-workers. They are young and old. No race or social-class is immune. This is America’s health crisis! One that needs far more attention than it is getting. Awareness of this issue is important. Support for those afflicted is an even greater priority. We are in this journey called life, together. Dare to care!

Finding That Silver Lining …

Believe it or not, there are silver linings that come with having a Chronic illness. You may not readily spot them, upon onset of your disease. It may take a while. But, rest assured, they are there. For me, personally, it came through enduring five years and eight months of chemotherapy. Even now, just typing the sentence gives me pause. Five years and eight months? Yes, I freaking did that!

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The old me, or pre-chemo me, was a driven perfectionist. I had to be the best, at literally everything, i.e. writer, mother, wife, daughter, neighbor, etc. I had to do better. I pushed myself physically, emotionally and professionally. Each morning began at 4 a.m., even on vacation. I would cycle 5-10 miles. Next, I made breakfast & got the rest of the house going. With them out the door on time, I took a shower and sat down in my home office. There was research to do … rough drafts … final drafts … queries … phone calls, etc. And heaven forbid, if I suffered a little writer’s block. If that wasn’t demanding enough, I had to volunteer. I had to cook and bake like a master chef. I had to have the perfect garden bursting with blooms. Looking back, I wonder how my poor husband maintained his sanity. It had to, occasionally, drive him a little crazy. Yet, he never complained. He was as laid-back and relaxed as I was tightly wired. But change was coming.

Two days after my 50th birthday, I was smacked with reality. Or should I say my diagnosis? While still sitting in the exam room, trying to grasp the situation, my doctor began to talk about immediately starting chemo. It was surreal — like a bad dream. Yet, it was happening. My life, health, everything was turned upside down, in that moment. For those who have experienced it, you know what I mean.

Chemotherapy, no matter what you are being treated for, is a brutal journey. The drugs used can do harm as well as good. And the side-effects — OMG! For me, the nausea and vomiting was intense. At times, it took my husband and son to hold me up. Then, the fatigue would hit — days of it. By the time this subsided, it was time for another treatment. I lived in my pajamas and rarely left the house. My hair became thin and half of my eyebrows fell out. My body became sensitive to hot weather and cold. I began sleeping with a heating-pad, even in the summer. I couldn’t do research, or write. I didn’t even have the strength to sit at my desk, let alone be productive. Every ounce of me was fighting something bigger and stronger. And survival became my sole focus. I lived one day at a time. There were no lofty ambitions, no grand dreams, or fanciful plans. 

Yet, in that painful and mundane existence, I found my silver lining … a new perspective. One that is kinder and gentler. Dare I say it? More reasonable. One that makes living more worthwhile.

The new, or post-chemo, me is motivated by joy. I don’t sweat the small stuff, anymore. It’s a waste of time and energy. The new me is content to simply do her best, whether it’s perfect or not. I now realize what is most important is my happiness. I have become even more trusting of my faith. I am more compassionate and more understanding. I’m a blogger and speaker, because it allows me to write about and support issues that truly interest me. Those that can be helpful to others. The kind that stir passion. Perhaps, inspire? I even returned to the business-sector where I work part-time, for an international company. A change in scenery and/or pace never hurts. It can be pretty interesting … even exciting … without a corner-office. The ability to work is gratifying in itself. I don’t need to climb the ladder of success to be content. I end most days, with the zen of Tai Chi. I volunteer, if and when I can. If I can’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. Believe it or not, saying, “No” can be very therapeutic. The result is a more fulfilling life with less demands and less stress. More family time. More me-time. More smiles and laughter. I love myself and who I am.

In our deepest adversities, we actually grow — mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize this. Eventually, it dawns on you. We discover things about ourselves that we never knew. We conquer problems that we never imagined possible. We manage our illnesses and we live. And, in the midst of it all, we find a silver lining. I know that I have.

God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chemotherapy/about/pac-20385033

*Photo by Jason Kocheran on Unsplash

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Heat, Meds & Chronic Illness … Oh, my!

Being diagnosed with a Chronic illness isn’t the end of the world. But it does change your world rather quickly. Most patients will tell you that finding the right doctor and medication/s were difficult. And adjusting to those medications? Honey, that’s a completely different story. Still, it’s a must-do. So, instead of wallowing in denial, play it safe. Ask questions. Read labels. Use commonsense. And avoid those medical setbacks. You don’t need the hassle.

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In the summer, we can get very hot weather. It’s the nature of the season. Even the flowers in my garden are praying for a little relief! How that heat can negatively effect you is important. Hot weather puts added stress on your body.

If you have a Chronic illness, you’ve probably been instructed to do some form of exercise. And kudos to you, if you are! If your exercise can be done indoors, i.e. Pilates, Tai Chi, yoga, swimming, etc., heat is not a concern. You are utilizing a climate-controlled environment. Just don’t overdo it. Always respect your body’s limits. For those who are exercising outdoors:

  • Monitor the weather. Exercise in the coolest times of the day & avoid that mid-day sun.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight clothing helps sweat evaporate & keeps you cooler.
  • Wear Sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat-related illnesses.
  • Have a Plan B. When the weather is flirting with triple digits (or the heat index is already there), find an indoor alternative. It will come in handy, in the worst of winter too!

Next, you must respect your medical condition & medications. Many can increase your risk of a heat-related issue, i.e. Heart disease, Obesity, Lupus, Graves disease, Lung disease, Kidney disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, Hypertension, Diabetes, etc. Medications usually have warnings right on the label. So, by all means, read yours. If in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Yes, you have a Chronic illness. Approximately, 133M Americans do. But you still have a life; remember? Your illness shouldn’t define you. It’s just a part of who you are. So, learn to work with it. Manage it. Enjoy life. Because you still have a lot of living to do. And because it’s summer … glorious, fun-filled summer … with longer days … vacations … explorations … weddings … cook-outs … weekend plans … beautiful, sunny mornings … and romantic starry nights. Don’t miss a thing!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/medical.html

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325232.php

https://www.goodrx.com/blog/avoid-the-sun-if-you-take-these-drugs/

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/heat-exhaustion#2

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sun-sensitizing-drugs#1

*Photo by Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Where Is Freedom?

Or, perhaps, I should ask what is it? Often times, we associate freedom with politics. But, for a moment, let’s consider another form. Many Chronic illnesses infringe upon the patient’s freedom or mobility. They feel chained to oxygen, wheel-chairs, catheters, insulin, etc. They feel a loss of freedom. I understand how they feel and their frustration. I have been there. Occasionally, I allow myself to ponder the subject even now. But it’s nothing like the torment that it once was. Today, it’s more of a reflection. Cathartic. Dare I say it? A celebration of my ability and perseverance. How? My faith. The Spirit of the Lord is truly freedom. Nothing accentuates that fact like doing battle with Chronic illness.

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  — 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

There are skeptics, I’m sure. To them, I can only add that spirituality or faith has shown medical results. Consider those findings. I’m certainly not here to debate His divine existence with you. Faith is a freedom in itself — a personal journey. I know my experience. I’m more than happy to share it. But I can’t make such decisions for someone else.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a Chronic illness (and millions are), take a moment to reflect upon your battle. Consider turning to your faith, for strength and solace. Or, perhaps, finding it? Take a breath. And embrace the fact that God doesn’t create junk. He creates beauty, intelligence, strength, etc. He created you and I — just as we are — for a reason. There are no perfect human beings.

Your illness is only as enslaving as you allow it to be. That may sound too good to be true, but our mental health effects our overall well-being. Things like stress, anxiety and depression only complicate things. They don’t help. But a strengthened mind can lead to a strengthened body. When you think beyond your condition, you can break the chains that are holding you back. You can find ways to regain that precious freedom. You can discover new talents, hobbies, even careers. And you can live … fully … happily. You can even thrive! 

May God Bless!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/pdfs/issue-brief-no-2-mental-health-and-chronic-disease.pdf

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/fulltext#cesec230

https://spiritualityandhealth.duke.edu/index.php/the-link-between-religion-and-health

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Eight Lessons on “Compassion in Health Care”

*Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

Watermelon Goodness

Summer is here, in all its glory. And many of us are taking advantage of the warm weather to enjoy cook-outs and picnics. If you are one of the many planning an event, take a look at your menu ideas. Is there something for everyone? Are there healthy options? If not, it’s never to late to add a sure-to-please favorite … watermelon!  

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Enjoyed by all ages, watermelon is a healthy choice. And for many, that’s important, i.e. dieters, diabetics, cancer patients, those with autoimmune illnesses, etc. Beneath that inviting deep-red color, watermelon offers more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is a nutrient and antioxidant. Studies have shown that it helps minimize the risk of some chronic illnesses. The seedless variety actually has more lycopene than melons with seeds. But watermelon is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, folate, etc.  And let’s not forget the “water” involved. In the summer heat, watermelon provides a tasty way to stay hydrated. If that’s not enough to convince you, then consider that a mere cup of diced watermelon has less than 50 calories. So, pick a bright red one and share the goodness!

Even if your plans involve a more refined gathering, there are ways to implement watermelon. The recipes are endless, from a Watermelon Salad with fresh mint and feta cheese to a frozen Watermelon and White Wine Granita. Your guests will be both impressed and refreshed!

It’s summer. It’s hot. And planning your celebrations shouldn’t make you sweat. It doesn’t have to be that hard, or expensive. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity. Aside from all the healthful benefits, nothing seems to bring back our memories of childhood like cutting open a watermelon. Think of it as our summer comfort-food … inviting us to walk down memory-lane … conjuring up stories of summers long past … with every sweet, delicious bite … igniting laughter … lots of laughter. And that may just be the healthiest benefit of all. Enjoy it, again!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-of-watermelon

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266886.php

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=31

https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/watermelon-salad-feta-and-mint

A Frozen Watermelon-White Wine Dessert

https://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/recipes/recipe-collections/watermelon-recipes-14712

*Photo by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash

 

 

Friendship, Health & Healing

Friendships can be a mysterious thing. I’m not talking about those on social media. I’m talking about real friendships that involve shared life experiences. Some can, well … not be the best of choices. We’ve all had at least one of those. And they should be tossed like bad fruit from the fridge. But most friendships are wonderful, enriching relationships. So much so, that they are literally beneficial to our health and well-being!

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               “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”                                   — Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

Friendships have a way of lifting us up, inspiring us and keeping us sane. That’s not my opinion. That’s medical fact. Friends provide social support, during difficult times. Talking with a friend is a way of coping, though we may not see it as such. That alone makes us more self-sufficient, resilient, etc. We are more hopeful — happier. Less lonely. Less stressed by whatever drama is unfolding in our lives. And that leads to less anxiety, less depression. We have better feelings of self-worth, purpose, etc. Overall, better mental health.

Friends can encourage us to live healthier. Friends share things like exercise, hobbies, even diets with us. Friends know our weaknesses. They understand our strengths. We understand theirs. We all benefit from a healthier lifestyle, i.e. weight loss, lower blood-pressure, more energy, better mobility, etc. If your Chronic illness is effected by one of these (and many are), imagine how much better you’ll feel. Friendships have this ability. The Journal of Oncology even published a study of women with breast cancer. Those who had 10 or more close friends were four times more likely to survive their illness than those who did not. Wow!

As we age, friendships become even more vital. Research tells us that seniors with an abundant social life are more likely to live longer. Being socially connected even protects the brain from developing dementia. That translates to a better quality of life — a healthier one.

So, stay in-touch. Re-connect with old friends. Get out and meet new ones. The effort is well worth it. And remember … quality friendships are more valuable than quantity. This isn’t a sports competition. If your “meeting skills” are a bit rusty, try these options:

  • Look for groups/clubs that have an interest or hobby you share. These groups are often listed in the newspaper or on community bulletin boards.
  • Volunteer at your place of worship, museums, community centers, charities, or other organizations. We can build strong connections when working with people who share our interests.
  • Invite a friend/acquaintance to have coffee, or go to lunch. They will usually return the favor. Accept invitations to social functions.
  • Start a new hobby, exercise, take a college class, etc. It’s a great way to meet people.
  • Go for a walk. Take your pet to a dog park. It allows you to interact with others and make new friends.

It’s never too late in life for friendships. In fact, their fun and rewarding. And, as we now know, they’re also downright healthy. So, go for it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nourish/201003/the-healing-power-friendship

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12905/why-friendship-is-great-for-your-brain-a-neuroscientist-explains.html

https://www.anxiety.org/friendship-can-improve-mental-health

https://www.integrativenutrition.com/blog/2019/02/friendships-can-improve-your-health

https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/social-ties-16/rm-quiz-health-benefits-friendship

*Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

 

Sun Exposure & Chronic Illness

Nothing says summer like a day at the beach … or several. The warmth of the sun and the sand beneath our toes is intoxicating. Add the right music … a good friend or two … and it becomes a real treat. So much so, that many of us became “sun worshipers”. And that’s when the problems really started!

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The sun is an excellent source of vitamin D and that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t take a tan, or excessive time in the sun, to reap that benefit. For a fair-skinned person, it could take as little as 15 minutes. For darker skin, it takes about 2 hours. 

Often times, we think that tanned skin looks healthy. In reality, when we over-expose our skin to the sun … we do damage. The sun’s ultraviolet light, or UV,  damages the fibers in our skin called elastin. As these fibers break down, our skin begins to sag, stretch, etc. It also bruises more easily and takes longer to heal. A sunburn does even more harm. Research has shown that if you have had five or more blistering sunburns in your life, you have more than doubled your risk of melanoma. In fact, most skin cancers are the result of chronic sun exposure.

When we spend excessive amounts of time in the sun, through work … sports … or tanning … we age our skin. This primarily happens by causing destruction to the collagen. As a result, our damaged skin changes, i.e. wrinkles, leathery and/or rough texture, mottled pigmentation, lentigines or freckle-like spots, sallowness, etc. There’s nothing healthy, sexy, or glamorous about it.

Chronic conditions (think auto-immune) react badly to sun exposure. That’s because they create Photosensitivity, or an allergic reaction to sunlight. Patients with diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and Scleroderma are at risk when temperatures spike with intense sun.  For others, i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis patients, medications carry warnings about sunlight.  

So before you go to the ballpark, or head to the beach, please take the precautions necessary to protect yourself. One sunburn is one too many. And, as we now know, the effects go far beyond the initial pain. Anyone over six months of age should use a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher). Even those who work outside should use one, daily. Your health depends upon it. But sunscreen alone cannot eliminate your risks. There are additional ways to protect yourself:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Avoid sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.

Exercising prevention steps now can prevent a Chronic illness, i.e. skin cancer, in the future. You and your loved ones are worth it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8881669

https://www.skincancer.asn.au/page/2215/sunburn

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377605

https://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun-exposure-skin-cancer#1

https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/blog/post/getting-outside-summer-autoimmune-diseases

https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/chronic-and-acute-effects-of-sun-exposure-on-the-skin

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2475007

https://www.nras.org.uk/photosensitivity

https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/reactions-to-sunlight/chronic-effects-of-sunlight

*Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

 

Are You Packing?

OMG! It’s June! How did that happen? Time can really fly when you’re busy. And before you know it, vacation is upon you. Most people enjoy traveling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend get-away, or a longer excursion, we are all-in. Eager. Ecstatic. Ready to go. Or are we? If you live with a Chronic illness, a vacation can offer a lot of healthy benefits. But it can also be stressful. To avoid the latter, requires planning. After all, you want to enjoy your vacation!

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By now, you have probably selected a location, i.e. beach, mountains, cruise, etc. No doubt, you have booked your reservations. And if you need to obtain a passport, you’ve most likely taken those steps. So, for a moment, let’s focus on that last month before your departure. If you are traveling abroad, this is a good time to talk to your doctor. You should also discuss your destination, in case specific vaccines and/or medications are needed. Check with your health insurance. Some plans do not cover you abroad. If yours doesn’t, now is the time to buy additional coverage. If you are traveling with oxygen or a CPAP machine, notify the airlines in advance. Some may ask for a letter from your doctor. The TSA can provide more information on their helpline (toll-free at 855-787-2227). They can also give you the details on the screening process, regarding specific disabilities or medical conditions. 

As the days pass, don’t wait until the last minute and stress yourself out. Make a list of things you need to do and check them off, one by one. Are you boarding your pet/s? Confirm that. Confirm your own reservations, i.e. hotel, flight, cruise-line, etc. Think about what you pack. The bikini isn’t your priority item. A Travel Kit is. This kit should include things like over-the-counter meds, prescription meds, your health insurance card, etc. Be sure to pack your kit in carry-on luggage. Nobody needs the hassle of losing their clothes and medications. Your medicines should always be in their actual pill bottles. And if you can, carry copies of your original prescriptions. Pack enough for your trip, plus a couple of days more (just in case there’s a delay). If you don’t regularly wear a Medical Alert bracelet, please add a card that details your medical condition to your kit. In the event of an emergency, it’s a godsend.

Remember the little extras that make managing your condition possible. Do you sometimes need a heating-pad? A neck-pillow? Compression socks? A sweater (even in warm weather)? Make sure to pack these things. You are on vacation. Your chronic illness isn’t. 

Only one week to go. You are almost ready. Stop your mail, if you haven’t already done so. Notify your bank and/or credit card companies that you are traveling. Be sure to make a family-member or friend aware of your itinerary, especially if you are traveling alone.

Finally, it’s time to leave. YEA!!! Vacation has arrived. Enjoy each and every moment. Take your medications as prescribed. Don’t pack too much activity into any single day. Continue to pace yourself. And, by all means, have a safe trip! 

 

Reference Links: 

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/chronic-illnesses

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/traveling-with-chronic-conditions

https://www.americanmedical-id.com/extra/all-medical-id-bracelets.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgpWv793S4gIVzJ6zCh2gwQPPEAAYAiAAEgIfUPD_BwE

Rare Parenting: Traveling with Chronic Illness and Children

*Photo by Deanna Ritchie on Unsplash