The Great Pumpkin …

When autumn brings cooler days and colder nights, we pull out our sweaters and hoodies. We huddle under blankets, at ballgames. We rake leaves. Then, we rake even more. We decorate our homes, inside and out, with festive decorations. Some of us tediously carve jack-o-lanterns into works of art. Summer has slipped away from us, like a ship leaving port in the night. Yet, we don’t seem to mind. The joys of Fall abound. From apple cider to corn-mazes, we immerse ourselves in the new season. We enjoy the harvest from our own gardens — canning, freezing, cooking, baking. And by October, our minds always focus on pumpkins. The two are synonymous with each other. So much so, that we cannot seem to experience Fall without buying one. But we seldom talk about the actual benefits involved. That, my friends, is about to change.

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Pumpkins are a super-food. In other words, a pumpkin is a nutrient-enriched food that is considered beneficial to our health and well-being. Canned, cooked, or raw, pumpkin is a must-do, for this time of year. And the seeds are actually part of the treasure. Just one ounce of pumpkin seeds provides us with so many essential minerals and nutrients. They’re also incredibly easy to roast and they taste great!

Pumpkins provide us with fiber, for digestion. They’re low-calorie. Pumpkins are also loaded with beta-carotene (that’s where that bright orange color comes from). Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. And that’s good for eye health. Two antioxidants (lutein and zeaxanthin), found in pumpkins, also guard against cataracts. They may even help to slow macular degeneration. But the benefits do not stop there. Pumpkins are loaded with vitamin C. That’s great news, for our immune systems. The potassium, found in them, can lower our blood pressure. And the other minerals, i.e. manganese, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper as well as calcium, can do even more. Many patients with Chronic illnesses can reap the rewards of this amazing fruit. Yes, according to botanists, pumpkins are a fruit! 

It’s Fall. Nature is exploding with color and bounty. So, let’s think beyond the lattes and scented candles. Let’s do something that’s really good for us and festive, too. Let’s take a moment to incorporate pumpkin into our meals and snacks. Let’s savor every new-found recipe. Or better still, let’s share them with others. Eating healthy has never been so easy, so inexpensive, or so good. Enjoy!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/6-surprising-health-benefits-of-pumpkin#1

https://www.health.com/family/fall-superfood-spotlight-pumpkin

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/279610.php

https://nutritionstripped.com/food-index/pumpkin-seeds/

https://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/pumpkins-fruit-vegetable-difference-two

*Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

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Do You Need That?

When you have a Chronic illness, you strive to manage it. The better your illness is managed, the better your health actually becomes. And better health equates to the best quality of life. Are you with me? Better. Better. Better. Best!

Inevitably, this management or maintenance leads to a lot of questions. Should we try this medicine? Perhaps, if we tried that supplement? Or maybe, we ought to consider a vaccine? We are literally bombarded with ads — marketing medications, vaccines, supplements, etc. They’re everywhere, i.e. television, the internet, magazines, newspapers, etc. But does that mean we actually need the product? Ask your doctor. You might be surprised by his or her answer!

Typically, if you have a Chronic illness, you are more vulnerable than an individual who is in excellent health. That doesn’t mean that you need anything and everything available. It means that your needs are based upon your age, health issues, etc. So, again, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Take the guess-work and anxiety, out of the equation.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last Fall, I was stricken with a case of shingles. It was horrendous — far worse than the chickenpox that I remember having in second grade. From the blisters to the nerve pain (that took nearly 3 months to subside), it was a brutal experience. Need I say, I became very focused on getting the vaccine. But, when I discussed it with my doctor, I was told to wait a year (at least). Having shingles allowed my body’s immune system to develop a memory of the exposure. In other words, it boosted my immunity against the virus. Obviously, this protection doesn’t last forever. And compromised immune systems are more vulnerable. Still, after talking to my doctor, I felt relieved to know that my body has a measure of protection against this virus. So, I’m planning on my annual flu shot instead. 

Supplements can be used effectively and abused. None of us need the latter. The American Medical Association recommends a multivitamin supplement for all adults. Are you taking one, daily? As for additional supplements, talk to your doctor. Some can be helpful, depending upon your medical history and health. Others can possibly do more harm than good. A study, published in The New England Medical Journal in 2015, found that adverse effects of supplements were responsible for over 22K emergency department or ED visits every year. And approximately 10% of these cases resulted in admission to the hospital!

Call me old fashioned, but … prescription medications just aren’t meant to marketed like shampoo to the general public. Anyone who is chronically ill is a sometimes desperate and vulnerable consumer. Yet, this is the reality that we now live in. If you feel that your current medication isn’t working well, discuss this with your doctor. Talk about your options. Please, don’t walk into his or her office with a specific ad or medication in mind. What may work for some, may be totally wrong for you. And, by all means, take your prescribed medication as it is directed. Many patients take unnecessary risks with medications. It is harmful — even deadly.

All of which brings us back to the initial question that entitles this piece: Do you need that? Let your doctor, not a marketing campaign or your BFF, decide!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/886087?src=par_cdc_stm_mscpedt&faf=1

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/news/20120605/risk-shingles-recurrence-is-low

http://www.mreassociates.org/pages/ama_speaks_out.html

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/harmful-effects-of-supplements-can-send-you-to-the-emergency-department-201510158434

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/how-can-prescription-drug-misuse-be-prevented

https://www.drugabuse.gov/nidamed/etools/managing-pain-patients-who-abuse-prescription-drugs

What Is Forest Medicine?

The healing properties of nature have long been recognized. Cedar trees were used by many Native American tribes for healing and protection against disease. John Muir, the great Scottish-born American naturalist and writer once said, “Come to the forest, for here is rest.” A century later, researchers around the world were taking medicinal and scientific interests in trees. The Japanese government was literally encouraging its citizens to get out — commune with the woods — for therapy. They called it “forest bathing”. From 2004-2012, Japan spent $4M studying hundreds of subjects. Their work became the foundation for the modern concept of “Forest Medicine”. But what exactly is it? 

 

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Forest Medicine is the science of using nature to heal you. And it has been accepted by many traditional medical practitioners. Why? Research has proven that trees having healing properties. The antimicrobial oils, or phytoncides, that protect them from germs can also help people. These oils reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress and anxiety. They also boost the immune system, improve sleep and increase energy. It’s even possible that they can help you fight cancer or depression. As a result of these and other benefits, Japan designated 62 therapeutic forests. These woodlands attract millions, every year. All in search of better health.

Researchers in North America have also taken notice of Forest Medicine. A study, conducted by doctors at the University of Illinois, noted that children with ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hypersensitivity Disorder) showed improved concentration after just a 20-minute walk in a green space, i.e. a park. Many spas and treatment centers throughout the U.S. and Canada now offer “Forest Therapy” or “Shinrin-Yoku”. It’s even been highlighted for tourists, i.e. The Travel Channel and the Fodors Travel Guide. Some locales may be closer than you think. Are you tempted? The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy actually offers free Forest Therapy Starter Kits, on their website.

For me, personally, I find rejuvenation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I prefer that simple, one-on-one approach. The sound of the water rushing over the rocks, in the mountain streams, soothe me. The smells of wood and earth fill my senses. And I feel stronger — better. I somehow have more energy. I don’t have to climb a high peak to experience the positive effects to my body. I don’t have to hike five miles. Nature opens its arms like a loving mother and it provides. And the peace is priceless.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://qz.com/1208959/japanese-forest-medicine-is-the-art-of-using-nature-to-heal-yourself-wherever-you-are/

http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/shinrin-yoku.html

https://hikingresearch.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/an-interview-with-forest-medicine-and-shinrin-yoku-researcher-dr-qing-li/

http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/

https://www.redbuttegarden.org/forest-medicine-north-america/

https://www.fodors.com/news/hotels/9-spas-where-you-can-try-forest-bathing

*Photo by Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash

                                               

 

Kindness Matters …

Our relationships are like the seasons — they change with time. Some grow warmer and others are colder. Some may be harsh. Others are soothing … understanding … and loving. How these relationships evolve, or change, in part depends on each of us. Why?We change, i.e. our health, our jobs, our priorities, etc. Often times, that change can effect our relationships — even strain them. Yet, our relationships are an important part of our lives. And that is all the more reason for us to be proactive.

As winter approaches, we pull out our winter clothes. We may even buy a new coat, boots, a scarf, or all of the above. We make an effort to prepare. We take the time to consider what is, or may be, needed. As summer approaches, we do the same. Our relationships need that same kind of attention. It doesn’t matter who your relationship is with, i.e. spouse, partner, significant other, caregiver, children, parents, co-workers, etc. All need and deserve consideration.

None of us are the person that we once were. But we can still be our best, despite age or Chronic illness. We can reach out — nurture ourselves as well as our relationships. And we can be all the better for it. But to do so, we need to embrace kindness.

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“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”   —   Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)

One the surface, kindness is the quality of being considerate … generous … friendly. But, often times, it requires courage and strength. Though it isn’t regularly seen as such, kindness is a skill. There are different ways that we can practice kindness. We can look at a person, or group, and identify what they need. When we do so, we strengthen the relationship between us and them. Simple gestures, i.e. a smile, a hug, offering a compliment, or running an errand are acts of kindness. A card, an email, or a phone call are also excellent ways to extend kindness. Sometimes, the most helpful acts of kindness are candid and direct. They show our concern as well as providing much needed honesty and insight.

Kindness is linked to happiness and contentment — ours and someone else’s. It has  psychological and spiritual levels. Kindness promotes our gratitude and our empathy. It can encourage the will to live and provide hope to those who feel life is hopeless. Kindness has the ability to connect us, one-on-one or as a group. Kindness can bond an entire community — strengthen it. And Kindness can be good for our own health.

If you, a loved one, or neighbor has a Chronic illness, kindness can be a godsend. Talk with them. Talk to their caregiver, or yours. Talk candidly. Tell them what you need. Ask what they need. There is no shame in asking for help. Nor does it take a great deal of effort to offer some. Little things can and do mean a lot. All of us, chronically ill or well, need help from time to time. Last, but not least, remember to be kind to yourself. Love yourself.

Self-kindness has the ability to promote better health, in patients who are chronically ill. Most Chronic diseases involve pain, fatigue and/or a decrease of functioning. Self-kindness will allow a patient to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. It enables all of us to better cope with stress, setbacks, etc. Self-compassion, or self-kindness, is even being considered for use in clinical settings. Like optimism, it’s a positive thing. And the rewards are worth reaping.

May God bless.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mdedge.com/jcomjournal/article/146122/role-self-compassion-chronic-illness-care

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-nourishment/201711/why-random-acts-kindness-matter-your-wellbeing

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/help-chronic.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201712/the-importance-kindness

*Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

Do You Need To Vent?

Recently, I stumbled upon an article that said venting can be healthy. Even cathartic. Insightful and inspiring. Another offered tips for healthy venting. Hmmm … Perhaps, we should give it a try?

Some of us are just wired hot, where temperament is concerned. Others bottle their frustrations, deep inside. When you live with a Chronic illness, there always seems to be something that goes awry. It’s the nature of the beast. And it’s a pain in the backside. So, learning to manage this stress can be a good thing for our health as well as our relationships. 

I don’t like to wallow in negativity, but I do believe that we can learn through our experiences — even the bad ones. So, let’s vent a little. Let’s open the windows of our souls and get rid of the things that are dragging us down. Let’s talk about what works and what does not. Let’s do so in a productive way. We’re friends. We share many of the same difficulties. Who knows? It may actually help a few of us, in the process! 

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Reference Links:

https://psychcentral.com/blog/benefits-of-venting-go-both-ways/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/design-your-path/201108/anger-management-the-five-ws-healthy-venting

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201404/6-virtues-and-6-vices-venting

*Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

After The Storm …

The storms of life effect us and teach us. Camille, back in 1969, is the first hurricane that I remember experiencing. I was nine years old. Even today, Camille remains the second-most intense hurricane to ever hit the United States. She was one of only three Category 5 storms to ever make landfall in this country. And her impact was devastating. As a young mother, my husband and I weathered Hurricane Hugo with family. My father was terminally ill, at the time. That in itself was a struggle. When the storm slammed into Sullivan’s Island, just north of Charleston, Hugo was a Category 4. We spent hours hunkered down and listening, as the winds howled … stripping away our roof. Despite the fact that we lived four hours inland, we had damage to our new home. You don’t have to live at the beach to suffer the consequences.

I have lived most of my 58 years between coastal states and the Midwest. Storms — whether a hurricane, tornado, or blizzard — are a fact of life. I have been through them all. They’re something you learn to respect rather quickly. Your survival depends upon it.

So, you monitor the reports. You dread the thought of being in its path. And you prepare, or you try to. It’s a very fluid situation, with a ticking clock. Sometimes, you have minutes. For others, you have a couple of days. Often times, with tropical systems, you evacuate. When this happens, you try your best to remember everything that you’ll need. You toss it all in the car and bug out. You wait. You worry. You pray. And, eventually, the storm does pass. Then, comes life … after the storm.

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Clean-up is a hazard in itself. Returning to your home may be an issue. Flooding can require that you boil water. Electricity can be out, for days. And you may find that you aren’t as prepared as you had initially thought you were. It happens to the best of us. When it does, life can be difficult, stressful and inconvenient. But if you have a Chronic illness, it can be life-threatening.

If your medications have been exposed to excessive heat, unsafe water, etc., they should be discarded. If your electricity has been out for a long time and your medication requires refrigeration, it too should be discarded. Wounds can be problematic for Diabetics. So, please, keep your feet protected. Wear shoes. Work-gloves, too. Stress worsens most Chronic illnesses. And the days — sometimes weeks, even months — that follow a massive storm are a highly stressful situation. But you aren’t alone.

Hospitals may be heavily damaged. Doctors offices are usually closed. Yet, help can be found. RXopen.org provides excellent information about the pharmacies that are open, or closed, in any natural disaster area. It also lists the locations of shelters as well as infusion centers. The American Red Cross responds to over 60K disasters, every year, with shelters, clean water, hot meals and health professionals. The Canadian Red Cross is equally active, in disaster responses, as are all the international branches. Directrelief.org provides assistance with medications and/or supplies, for low-income patients. Chain-pharmacies can usually fill a prescription, even if you have evacuated to another area. So, call yours for more details. If you are on Medicare, you can get help by calling 1-800-Medicare for assistance on medications, plan information, or dialysis. The National Cancer Institute  stands ready to assist Cancer patients at 1-800-4Cancer. And the Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers information for Diabetics and others, regarding natural disasters and severe weather. The latter is provided in numerous languages.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, over 50% of the patients who were seen in emergency care locations had a Chronic illness. Approximately 70% of the storm’s survivors had one. We saw similar numbers following Hurricane Maria, last year. As a nation, we sometimes learn lessons the hard way. The needs of the Chronically ill, in and after a natural disaster, is but one example. With each season and crisis, we become better prepared to handle these needs. And we become stronger in the process. Godspeed to all of you!

 

Reference links:

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/chronic.html

https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/preparedness.html

https://www.fda.gov/drugs/emergencypreparedness/ucm085200.htm

https://dhhr.wv.gov/hpcd/Pages/Disasters-and-Chronic-Disease.aspx

https://www.healthcareready.org/rxopen

https://www.directrelief.org/

https://www.cancer.gov/contact/emergency-preparedness

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753992/

https://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/disaster-relief.html

http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/emergencies-and-disasters-in-canada/for-home-and-family/after-an-emergency-or-disaster

http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/disaster-management/

https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-months-after-maria-puerto-ricos-health-system-struggles-to-meet-needs-1510960587

*Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

September Is …

My mother loved the autumn. It was her favorite time of year. From warm cider to the brightly-colored falling leaves, she thoroughly embraced the season. I always think of my mother, when September arrives. This year is no different. September, in all its glory, is a time for many things. But none are as important as its role in awareness. September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. That too reminds me of Mom … and others.

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Three members of my family have been diagnosed with a form of Blood Cancer. I lost my mother to a rare, Blood Cancer in 2008 (Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma primary to the bone). So, I take awareness for this form of Cancer personally. I know what it can do.

Blood Cancer affects children and adults. In fact, every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a Blood Cancer. Survival rates have improved greatly, in the last two decades. Yet, every nine minutes, a patient will succumb to the disease. Over 600K are expected to die from Cancer, in the U.S., this year. Nearly 10% of them will have a type of Blood Cancer.

Most of us know what Cancer is, or we have a pretty good idea. We associate the disease with terms like mass, tumor and malignant. But what exactly is a Blood Cancer? Blood Cancers affect the production and function of the body’s blood cells. Most of these cancers will start in the bone marrow, where blood is produced. There are three main types of Blood Cancer:

  • Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.
  • Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body’s immune system.
  • Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells.

To date, there are no effective screening tests for the early detection of Blood Cancers. But there are warning signs that we can share and make others aware of:

  • Unexplained fever.
  • Persistent fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath during normal activity.
  • Sweats, especially at night.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Persistent cough.
  • Abdominal pain, fullness and/or swelling.
  • Lymph node pain.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I encourage you to see your doctor immediately. 

If you have been diagnosed with a Blood Cancer, take a moment to just let the news sink in. Cancer treatment can be complex and often times overwhelming for the patient, caregiver and family. Tests and treatment approaches can vary. But there are many materials available that will help to explain each step, in terms that you can understand. There are support groups available, in many areas. Online chats and podcasts are offered on various cancer-support websites, i.e. the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, etc.

Your Treatment Team (usually comprised of primary care physicians, a medical oncologist, surgical oncologist and radiation oncologist), can not only answer questions, they can help connect you with the materials and support you need. Once you are in remission, or your disease is under control, good follow-up care is critical to your well-being. Some hospitals offer Survivorship Clinics that give cancer survivors comprehensive monitoring and support. Yearly exams are part of this clinical approach, as well as regular visits to your primary physician.

Since 1960, the five-year relative survival rate for Leukemia has more than quadrupled. Patients are fighting Blood Cancers, every day. Many are winning their battle. Medical breakthroughs continue to be made. And one day, God willing, there may be a cure.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. It was designated as such, by Congress, just two short years after my mother passed. If Mom were here today, I think she’d like the idea. No. Scratch that. I know she would like the idea. As someone who worked professionally in healthcare for over 40 years, she would be tirelessly involved. We can do more to fight Blood Cancer! We will do more! The lives of millions are depending on it! 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.nfcr.org/blog/7-facts-need-know-blood-cancers/

http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Cancers/

https://www.webmd.com/cancer/lymphoma/default.htm

http://www.lls.org/blood-cancer-awareness-month

https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/september-blood-cancer-awareness-month

*Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash