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

 

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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

When All Else Fails, Pray …

Often times, we wait until our situation is in dire straits before we pray. Why is that? Scripture doesn’t teach us to reserve prayer for such times. It encourages us to do just the opposite — continual prayer. So, why our hesitation? No doubt, the reasons are varied. Yet, prayer has proven time and again to be the answer. It’s even caught the eye of those in the medical community. In fact, research on the subject has nearly doubled in the last decade. And their results may surprise you!

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“Pray without ceasing.”      — 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJ21)

When a person engages in prayer, the body and mind change gears. Consider, for a moment, meditation (the Buddhist form of prayer). During meditation, the patient is in deep concentration. This triggers activity in the brain’s parietal lobe circuits — ones that control a person’s orientation of self and world. A relaxation envelopes the person. The limbic system is activated. This controls relaxation, the nervous system, heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, the person’s brain registers everything as emotionally significant. They are more relaxed. Strengthened. They feel better — inspired even. Prayer, no matter the religion, has similar effects on the body. Perhaps, it is our God-given ability to heal? And perhaps, it’s why Scripture encourages us to pray often?

Research tells us that traditional religious beliefs play a positive role in our health. Over 1,200 studies conducted on the effects of prayer, reveal that religious individuals lead healthier lives. These people are less likely to abuse alcohol, to smoke, etc. Other interesting study statistics include: 

  • The non-religious have an average hospital-stay that is three times longer than those who worship regularly.
  • Non-religious heart patients were 14 times more likely to die after surgery.
  • In Israel, the religious had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • People who are religious are less likely to suffer from depression. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.

Today, some in the medical community consider prayer a part of CAM (Contemporary and Alternative Medicine). This is a combination of natural products, mind and body practices, etc. In easier terms, think dietary supplements, herbal remedies, prayer, meditation, relaxation and art therapies, chiropractic, massage, etc. But many remain skeptics. Research is still in its infancy, on the subject of prayer and healing. We have a lot to learn.

In my life, I have prayed for my own health as well as the health of others. I’ve witnessed amazing results and those that seemed slow to come. And I have never been disappointed. I’ve asked, “Why?” Who hasn’t? Sometimes, the unknown is the most frustrating aspect to deal with. Still, I know the Lord has been very good to me. Along the way, prayer has taught me many things. I’ve embraced humility. I’ve learned patience and experienced a deeper relationship with the Almighty. All positive. All helpful. Once, following a critical health situation, I actually had a doctor tell me to “Thank the man upstairs”. Little did he know, I already had. And I continue to do so.

Prayer may not sound like the answer. But, in our most desperate times, do we really know what is? Or do we simply want to be heard? Healed? Relieved? To a few, it may sound downright silly. To believers, it makes perfect sense. When we struggle with our worst fears, I think we are like a lost lamb … scared … crying out … in need. And, thankfully, the Good Shepherd can hear us. He answers our call.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/alternative-medicine/art-20045267

https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2007/186/10/prayer-medicine-how-much-have-we-learned

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/6/e007345

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/07/power-of-prayer/70943182/

*Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

 

The Casualties Of Agent Orange

I’m a Baby-boomer. Born in 1960, I grew-up during the Vietnam conflict. Members of my family served in that undeclared war. I remember the tears shed for those who were leaving … and for those who were lost. And I remember the tension … the protests … the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers. I would use the term “turmoil”, but the era was more than that. It was also a time of rude awakening. One of the worst being the true impact of Agent Orange.

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For those who aren’t certain what Agent Orange actually is, I’ll add a little background on the subject. Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used by the United States military, in Vietnam. It contained significant amounts of a dioxin known as TCDD. We now know that it was the most dangerous of all dioxins used at the time. Approximately 20M gallons were sprayed over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in a decade (1961-1971). Many of those who came in contact with it suffered severe consequences, i.e. various forms of cancer, birth defects, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, damaged immune systems, neurological problems, etc. It became a health issue not only for veterans, but their children and even their grandchildren. Consider this fact: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., displays the names of over 58,000 U.S. servicemen and women who died in that war. What it doesn’t mention is the 2.8M veterans who served and later died from exposure to Agent Orange. They too are casualties.

There were no tests to confirm if a patient had been exposed to Agent Orange. So the Veterans Administration looked at where he or she served and when they served, to determine if the patient’s condition was the result of exposure. While the method may sound unconventional, it is the norm when dealing with a “presumptive disease”.

Since 1978, the Agent Orange Registry has been an ongoing program administered by the VA for veterans who qualify and are willing to participate. These veterans receive a free medical exam, lab tests and referrals if necessary. Disability compensation is also available to veterans with some types of cancer. To learn more about these benefits, you can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs by phone at 1-800-749-8387, or online at    https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/.

To borrow a line from a Billy Ray Cyrus tune, “… All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” And some are still paying the price, over four decades after they served this nation. May God bless them.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/dioxins/index.cfm

https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/agent-orange-1

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/agent-orange-and-cancer.html

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2018/05/28/the-shocking-health-effects-of-agent-orange-now-a-legacy-of-military-death/#7652311c21c6

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/agent-orange-american.html

https://www.google.com/search?q=lyrics+some+gave+all&rlz=1CAZBMY_enUS683US685&oq=lyrics+some+gave+all&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.6971j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

Anemia & Chronic Disease

Chronic illnesses often lead to complications and secondary conditions. It’s the nature of the beast. Anemia of Chronic disease, or ACD, is a prime example. When the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells, the result is a condition known as Anemia. Although there are many types of Anemia, ACD is one of the most common. This form of Anemia is prevalent in patients with Chronic illnesses that involve inflammation, malignancies, chronic infections and cardiovascular disorders, i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Lupus, Cancer, HIV/AIDs, Hepatitis, Diabetes, etc. 

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The exact cause of ACD can vary. Often times, it depends upon the patient’s underlying condition. Research has also discovered that individuals with ACD have an imbalance of iron in the body. Because of this, they cannot effectively use iron to create new blood cells. Researchers believe that the immune system, which is constantly active in Chronic diseases, produces substances that can influence the development, storage and transport of iron within the body. The lack of functioning iron hampers the development of hemoglobin. As a result, this creates a negative impact on the amount of oxygen delivered through the body. In easier terms, “a relentless cycle”. One that can take its toll on the patient. Especially, if it is left unchecked. 

Symptoms of Anemia include:

  • Headache
  • Cold hands and/or feet
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Irregular heartbeat

Although these symptoms may go unnoticed, at first, as the anemia worsens the symptoms will worsen. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above, it’s time to see your doctor. A simple blood test can confirm the diagnosis.

Living with a Chronic illness is an adventure, to say the least. And it may be impossible to prevent yourself from getting ACD. However, there are ways to help yourself through diet. Try to get enough iron, daily. This can be done by incorporating foods like lean beef, chicken, turkey, oysters, beans, leafy greens, baked potatoes, enriched whole-grain breads, fortified breakfast cereals, cashews, etc., into your meals. Folate and Vitamin B12 are also important. If you aren’t taking a good multi-vitamin, now is the time to start. Managing your condition will help you to feel better and live life to the fullest. So, please, don’t hesitate. Bottom-line, you’re worth it! 

 

Reference Links:

Anemia of Chronic Disease

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/anemia-of-chronic-disease

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000565.htm

https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/iron-deficiency

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/abr8922

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14477-anemia-of-chronic-disease/prevention

*Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

Motherhood & Chronic Illness

I once saw a t-shirt that read “Motherhood: It’s more than a job, it’s an adventure!” And I had to buy that shirt. If you’re a mother, you understand why. Sometimes, I think we don’t fully appreciate our mothers until we become one. There is nothing easy about the detail. Motherhood is fascinating and scary … fun and frustrating … rewarding and overwhelming. Yet, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world. Some of my most treasured memories in life involve my child. When I look at him, today, I beam with pride. I did a good job, despite my Chronic illness. Though, back in those early years, I often wondered if I was measuring-up. Or if, heaven forbid, he was getting short-changed. 

 

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Let’s be honest; shall we? Motherhood is demanding. Chronic illnesses are, too. And, sometimes, what we want to do conflicts with what our bodies will let us do. Try explaining that to a toddler.

As mothers, we take care of our children. That’s the job. And it’s a 24/7 duty. When we are sick, our responsibility as a mother doesn’t magically go away. It’s still there — packing a lot of guilt. You learn quickly to have a “Plan B”, because that beats doing nothing at all. Think of it as a negotiation, between your condition and motherhood. For example, it’s a snow day. The flakes are falling. And your little one is just dying to play in it. A part of you wants to go, too. Unfortunately, you are aching … stiff … or worse. Reserve such times, for snuggling under a warm blanket … reading a stack of books … or watching a favorite DVD. Maybe, you can even pop some popcorn or make some s’mores (fireplaces do come in handy)? This too is quality time. Sledding can be done with Dad, or cousins. In a day or two, you might even feel like joining in the frosty fun. Until then, be patient. Make the best of the situation. Enjoy every moment — even if it isn’t your “Plan A”.

If you manage your Chronic illness, it will provide you with the best results for living life to the fullest — including motherhood. So, please, keep your appointments with your doctor. Take your medications. Eat healthy. Exercise. Yes, changes in your routine and/or your child’s will take some getting used to. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. As strange as it may sound, our children learn from us even when we are sick. If we neglect our health, we send a negative message that tells them it’s okay to neglect theirs. When we take care of ourselves, we send a positive message. That’s a good thing.

Kids understand what “feeling bad” means. They understand terms like “hurt” and “tired”. And they will ask questions. When your child becomes inquisitive about your Chronic illness, be honest with them. Brief answers are usually best, for younger children. So, keep it simple. Teens are capable of understanding more. Then, of course, there is the internet where your child may read anything about your illness (factual or not). Prepare yourself for that, too. Help them find reputable resources online that can provide the best information. Talk openly. It’s good for them and you.

Last, but not least, stay positive. Optimism is key to managing any Chronic illness. It’s good for your health as well as your child’s. Kids aren’t as naive as we’d like to think they are. Our children pick-up on our emotions. If we show fear, they become afraid. If we are depressed, they too can show signs of depression. So, live fearlessly. Live strongly. Live fully. Chronic illness isn’t who we are. It’s just part of the package. We are women. We are mothers. And we are blessed. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/03/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-your-serious-illness/?utm_term=.f8f4df873208

https://www.fmcpaware.org/why-does-mommy-hurt.html

http://www.igliving.com/magazine/articles/IGL_2013-08_AR_Chronically-Ill-Parents-Helping-Children-Cope.pdf

http://www.copmi.net.au/parents/helping-my-child-and-family/talking-about-mental-illness

https://www.nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/talk_to_children.aspx

https://www.accu-chek.com/life/explaining-diabetes-to-your-children

http://talkaboutit.org/how-talk-your-kids-about-your-epilepsy-roger-cross-wendy-miller-phd-rn

https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/features/ra-explaining-pain#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

*Photo of the author & her son at an airshow, Myrtle Beach AFB, 1992.

 

 

Stay Hydrated

As the days grow warmer, we venture outside … enjoying outdoor sports, gardening, working, etc. Granted, the sun feels wonderful after a cold winter. But the higher temperatures also demand that we pay closer attention to our hydration level. If our bodies lose more fluid than they take in, we can develop a condition called dehydration. Severe dehydration can even be life-threatening. While dehydration can happen to anyone, it is especially dangerous for children, seniors and those living with Chronic conditions. In fact, there is increasing medical evidence that mild forms of dehydration can lead to a myriad of illnesses. Likewise, maintaining good hydration has a positive effect on many!

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Some medications can cause hydration issues, i.e. diuretics, laxatives and chemotherapy. Dehydration is often seen in cancer patients who are taking the latter. But, note, chemotherapy is used to treat other illnesses too, i.e. Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, etc. So, talk to your doctor and be vigilant. 

If you are taking any of these medications (many of us do), or suspect that you may be suffering from dehydration. Here are some of the symptoms to watch-out for:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Dark urine
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Dry skin
  • Low blood-pressure
  • Extreme thirst
  • Rapid heat-beat
  • Inability to sweat

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance.

We lose fluids every day, through our body’s functions. Still we can maintain hydration. Water is the best source. Most nutritionists recommend about six 8-ounce glasses per day. Your doctor can help you determine how much is best for you. But there are other options, too. Fruits like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches and oranges have naturally high water content. Vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce are also abundant. Soups are another source. An 8-ounce serving of plain yogurt is made up of more than 75% water. Cottage cheese has wonderful hydrating properties, too. So does Jello. Popsicles and frozen-fruit bars are also helpful. Even meats like hamburger and chicken breasts can help us to stay hydrated. And it’s pretty easy to incorporate these foods into our daily diet intake.

Spring is in full-swing and summer is just around the corner. Enjoy the weather. Have fun. Exercise. But, remember, to stay safe. Prevention is worth the effort. Whether you drink from a glass jar or not (it’s a bit of a Southern thing) … stay hydrated!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/symptoms-causes/syc-20354086

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17921462

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16028566

https://www.webmd.com/drug-medication/medicines-can-cause-dehydration

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/dehydration

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-hydrating-foods#section19

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/top-10-ways-to-stay-hydrated

*Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash