This Little Light Of Mine …

When I think back to my early childhood, I remember learning this song in Vacation Bible School. I was all of three or four years old. I still remember singing it in front of the congregation. Our teacher had instructed us to hold up our “pretend candles” aka one finger, as we sang. And at 59, I still find this simple little tune to be incredibly uplifting. I think most Christians can relate, which is why I chose it to discuss living with Chronic illness. Sometimes, we allow our diseases to distract us … hold us back … even consume us. If you live with one, you know what I mean. It happens all too often. But, for a moment, let’s focus on making the most of every day … every week … every year. Let’s consider living our lives to the fullest and letting our light really shine!

 

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  “In the same way, let your light shine before others …” — Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

First, accept that change is inevitable. It isn’t your fault that you’re sick. You didn’t ask for it to happen, or want it. But here you are. Your willingness to help yourself is your choice. Making changes to your lifestyle is also your choice. No one can do it for you. And, I know — it’s hard enough just living with your disease. The beauty here is that making changes allows you to feel a measure of control, in what often feels like an uncontrollable situation. And no matter what it specifically entails, change isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different. Healthier even. So, consider what you need to change in order to manage your disease. You might even want to make a list, or keep a journal. Then, take action. Perhaps, you are adding a form of therapy? Maybe, exercise? Or a diet? Your schedule may need some adjustments. You may need to ask for help. By all means, do so. That’s what support systems are for. Talk to your doctor. Stay realistic. Change won’t happen overnight. And patience is a necessity with any Chronic illness. But, slowly, make those changes at a pace that is comfortable for you. Think of it as laying the foundation for your future.

Second, don’t be afraid to set goals or dream. Yes, you have a Chronic illness. But you also have a life. It isn’t over. It’s changing; remember? Despite your diagnosis, you still have interests … pursuits of happiness. We all do. There are things that are gratifying like our careers. And others that we have longed to experience. Perhaps, you’d like to learn a new hobby? Enter a golf tournament? Get more involved in your community or an organization? Maybe, there’s a promotion that you’d like to accept? Or a destination calling your name? While the sky may not be the limit, there are a lot of options available. So, talk to your doctor. A well-managed Chronic illness will allow you to live life to the fullest. You’ll be happier, healthier, more productive, etc. Now, you’re building on that foundation.

Third, stay optimistic. I know it isn’t always easy. Some are naturally pessimistic. Thankfully, optimism can be learned. And, to be honest, it should be. This is one habit that we all can benefit from. Studies have proven, time and again, that optimism plays a positive role on our physical and mental health. Here are a few easy ways to be more optimistic:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way. We’re all unique.
  • Think positive thoughts.
  • Look for the good, even in difficult situations. Silver linings do exist.
  • Focus on positive outcomes. Don’t face a challenge expecting defeat.
  • Consider your own beliefs. What is your definition of purpose? Of life?
  • Strive to improve your health. When you feel better, you are more optimistic.
  • Challenge your mind every day, by learning something new. It helps to provide personal satisfaction.

Last but not least … I can attest that every change that I’ve made, either to my lifestyle or surroundings, has yielded positive results. This includes a couple of things that I was initially very skeptical about. While there are no guarantees in life, not mine or yours, there are options. Live fully and let your light shine!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201509/20-tips-living-well-chronic-pain-and-illness

Intensive lifestyle change: It works, and it’s more than diet and exercise

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ServicesAndSupport/managing-long-term-illness-and-chronic-conditions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/21st-century-aging/201212/keeping-positive-outlook-when-dealing-chronic-illness

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4511

*Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash

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Smile: It’s Good For You

Sometimes, we overthink things. This is often true with Chronic illness. We overlook the simple, yet effective ways to help us feel better. Why is that? Are we looking for more difficulty? More expense? More drama? Surely, not. I think, just maybe, we are skeptical of simplicity. In this modernized society, we have somehow conditioned ourselves to believe that we need all the latest gadgets, gizmos, treatments and meds. We tell ourselves that if it’s “new”, if it’s advertised, then it must be better. Yet, in reality, we actually benefit from very simple things … free things … easy, natural things. And the perfect example of this is a smile!

 

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When you smile, you activate neural messaging in your brain and chemicals are released, i.e. Dopamine, Endorphins and Serotonin. Your brain is basically having a party and your entire body is invited to join the fun!

Smiling wards off stress. It relaxes you, if only for a few seconds. It lifts your spirits. You are happier. You feel better. That smile also lowers your Blood-pressure and your heart-rate. It can even relieve pain. Imagine that!

Each time you smile at someone (even a stranger) and they smile back, you both have created a symbiotic relationship. And both of you reap the benefits. In that moment that you exchange smiles, each of your bodies releases those feel-good chemicals into your brain. In those few seconds, both of you feel happier … more attractive … even more confident. This actually increases the chances of living longer and leading happier lives, in both individuals. And it wasn’t difficult or time consuming. Heck, it didn’t even cost a dime!

If you can share a little laughter, the benefits are even greater. In the short-term, a smile that ripples into laughter releases more of those feel-good chemicals … fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air … stimulates your heart and your muscles … relieves stress … and just makes you feel good. But in the long-term, it can improve your immune system … relieve pain … boost your mood … and increase personal satisfaction. Remember that old cliche, “Laughter is the best medicine”? As it turns out, there’s medical proof to back it up.

Now, granted, there are times when it’s hard to smile or laugh with a Chronic illness. But did you know that even a fake smile can trick the brain into releasing these feel-good chemicals? That in turn can have the same positive results on the body and emotions. So smile, even on the bad days — reap the benefits. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

*Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

It’s That Time Of Year, Again …

It’s Spring aka Hay Fever season. And sufferers surely know it. But they also know it can strike in Summer as well as Fall. Despite its name, Hay Fever doesn’t require hay or cause a fever. It can be rather inclusive that way. Its symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores and numerous pollens. Allergic rhinitis, as it is medically known, is a significant Chronic disease that often effects the healthier population. In fact, in the past century, its prevalence has increased 10-fold. Some patients even experience symptoms the year-round, i.e. Perennial Allergic rhinitis.

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While Hay Fever symptoms vary, from patient to patient, the most common are:

  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Earaches
  • Fatigue
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Headaches  

If you or a loved one is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It might even be time to see an Allergist. Once you are properly diagnosed, you can work toward managing your Hay Fever. This is especially important, if you are already living with an illness that can be worsened by the symptoms of Hay Fever, i.e. Stress, Asthma, Lung Diseases and Heart Diseases.

Life does not stop, because you have Hay Fever. That’s a no-brainer. You have things to do, work to finish, plans to keep and dreams to chase. To get you started, here are a few simple tips for managing your illness:

  • Start medications before peak pollen times (1-2 weeks if possible).
  • Wear a hat and wrap around sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Use a nasal allergen barrier to protect your nose from pollen, i.e. Vaseline.
  • Monitor your local pollen count and stay indoors when levels are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Consider purchasing a humidifier for your home.   
  • Keep your appointments with your doctor, even when you are doing good.

There is no cure for Hay Fever, but there are ways to keep it from controlling your life. So, talk to your doctor. Take your medications as directed. Implement these easy tips. Make smart decisions. It’s Spring. Enjoy it! You don’t have to be in misery!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-sinus-headaches

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373045

https://acaai.org/allergies/types/hay-fever-rhinitis

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/is-stress-making-your-allergy-symptoms-worse

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-you-can-fight-hay-fever/

https://www.allergyuk.org/about/latest-news/648-top-tips-for-managing-your-hay-fever

https://medicinetoday.com.au/2015/october/feature-article/hay-fever-%E2%80%93-underappreciated-and-chronic-disease

*Photo by Jason Long on Unsplash

MS Awareness Month

It’s March! And most people are thinking of hoops, or St. Pat’s celebrations. They’re scribbling on brackets, or attending a parade. All are good, fun, even exhilarating. But, for a moment, let’s think of something much more serious — Multiple Sclerosis or MS. If you or a loved one is living with this disease, you know how important awareness is. So, let’s spread the word!

But what exactly is Multiple Sclerosis? MS is classified as an autoimmune illness.  In other words, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The cause of this disease is unknown. But there are risk factors that can play a role, i.e. age, sex, family history, some infections, race, climate, vitamin D in-deficiency, smoking, etc. It effects over 2M, worldwide.

MS destroys Myelin (the fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord. Think of it like the coating that protects an electrical wire. As the Myelin is exposed, messages that travel along that nerve are stymied or blocked all together. The nerve itself may become damaged. Complications can and usually do follow, as the disease progresses its way through periods of ebb and flow.

As with any Chronic illness, there is no cure. Its symptoms can get in the way of daily routine. But patients can still enjoy productive lives with the help of treatment as well as lifestyle changes (including setting limits). And that’s important. We all enjoy contributing our knowledge and talents, even those of us who live with a Chronic illness. A condition, no matter what it is, should not solely define a person. It’s just part of who we are.

March is MS Awareness Month. So, please, spread the word — get involved. Order an Awareness Kit. Take part in an upcoming event near you (some are planned beyond March). Volunteer. Donate. You’ll be glad that you did. The more that people know, the better informed we become as a society. Join the MS team and truly make a difference in the lives of others!

 

Reference Links:

https://mymsaa.org/about-msaa/ms-awareness-month-2019/

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269

https://www.abovems.com/en_us/home/life/around-home.html?cid=PPC-GOOGLE-AM.DTC.AboveMS_DTC_Unbranded_ConditionManagement_Exact.Exact-NA-28810&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-ZKN-cOB4QIVB56fCh1EbArwEAAYASAAEgJ01fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/10255/multiple-sclerosis

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Work-and-Home

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved.aspx

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved/MS-Awareness-Month/NMSEAM-Awareness-Kits

Holistic Approaches To Chronic Illness

Holistic Medicine is a different approach to healing … one that considers all facets of human nature – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Doctors, who embrace this approach, believe that the whole person is made up of interdependent parts and if one part is not working properly, the others will be negatively affected. In other words, the imbalance/s (physical, emotional, or spiritual) will impact their overall health. They believe the key to achieving one’s best health depends upon attaining a proper balance in life — not just focusing on symptoms and writing prescriptions. But can this approach work when treating Chronic illnesses?

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The simple answer is “Yes, it can!” Many Chronic illnesses can be effectively treated and managed with a Holistic approach. A few examples are:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Kidney Disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Auto-Immune
  • Parkinson’s Disease

According to the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA), there are 4 major factors that impact our health: Heredity, Environment, Medical Care and Lifestyle. Of these four, Lifestyle has the most influence — approximately 50%! And lifestyle can be changed! The success stories are endless!

If you or a loved one is interested in learning more about Holistic Medicine, you can visit the American Holistic Health Association’s website at https://ahha.org for additional information, referrals, etc. There is life with a Chronic illness. As a person who lives with more than one of them, I can assure you that the answer isn’t always in a prescription bottle. Sometimes, it comes from where you would least suspect. And optimism is always key to finding the right balance that works for you!

 

Reference Links: 

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/what-is-holistic-medicine#1

https://ahha.org/selfhelp-articles/principles-of-holistic-medicine/

http://icpa4kids.org/HPA-Articles/holistic-approach-to-chronic-illness.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5847356/

https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/10/health/secrets-pain-free-life/index.html

https://ahha.org/

*Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

The Greatest Of These Is Love …

We usually talk about Chronic illnesses and treatment, management, awareness, etc. But, for a moment, let’s talk about others effected by the disease — family and especially caregivers. 

No matter the patient’s age, or the specific illness involved, a Chronic condition effects more than one. Family members must also cope. Some may worry about genetic factors. Others may feel guilty, if they live far away. A few may have difficulty accepting the diagnosis at all. Caregivers, God bless them, are juggling everything — the needs of the patient, the family, doctor visits, medications, work, etc.

It isn’t unusual for a caregiver’s life to be drastically changed, by their new role. Some will put their careers on hold — hoping for a return to normalcy in a short time. Others literally see their professional careers end, as the role of caregiver consumes every minute of their day. Many allow their own health and well-being to go on the back-burner. This often creates additional health issues (for the caregiver). Weeks turn into months … then into years. It takes a toll. The caregiver finds himself or herself doing things they had never imagined doing, i.e. administering shots, buying diapers for a parent, protecting the patient’s rights, or watching a child suffer with pain. There is nothing easy about being a caregiver. It is a very mentally, physically and emotionally challenging role. And previous experience in no way means that you are adequately prepared for being a caregiver, again. Each patient, each illness, is different. 

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” —             1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Twice, in my life, I have had the privilege of being a caregiver. I use the word “privilege”, because in some ways it was rewarding, i.e. close-knit talks, deepened relationships, special moments, etc. It was also highly stressful and at times downright scary. My first experience as a caregiver was for my father, 1989-1990, as he battled cancer. The second for my mother, in 2008, when she battled cancer.

Despite the common denominator, they were two vastly different experiences. My father was terminally ill, upon diagnosis, with lung cancer. He ate anything that he wanted and pretty much did anything he wanted, until his death. No medications to administer (seriously). No use of oxygen (seriously). His radiation treatments also went well. He truly lived every moment of life to the fullest. We should all be so lucky. I realize that, now. But at the time, I lived in high anxiety of what might happen. My mother was just the opposite. With Mom, everything that could go wrong … did go wrong. I charted over 20 medications, daily. She had every unusual side-effect to chemotherapy that a patient could have. No nausea or hair-loss (seriously). In the end, she was beating the cancer but succumbed to the worst of these side-effects (a pulmonary embolism or blood-clot). It was frustrating and heart-wrenching. The last thing that she asked of me was to sing. So, I sang … and sang … as she drifted into an unconscious state … gasping for every breath. I would rest for a couple of hours and start singing again … tears streaming down my cheeks.  Then, I’d pause … pray hard … and sing some more. This went on for 10 days. And by the grace of God, I managed. I was with her, voice and all, till the end.

If you know a caregiver, then you know the love that he or she so unselfishly gives. You may know a few of the burdens that they are carrying, i.e. responsibilities to the patient, their family, their job, etc. You may even know some of their fears. So, please, let them know that you care. Offer to sit with the patient, for a couple of hours. Ask if there is an errand that you can do for them, i.e. pharmacy, supermarket, etc. Drop by with a warm casserole for dinner. It may sound silly, but you’ve just taken a task off of their “to-do” list. You have lightened their load and offered support. Many caregivers will never ask for any help. They have their reasons. And, often times, they will neglect themselves before they do. But you can give them the little boost that keeps them going. Because without that caregiver, rest assured, things would be much worse.  So, give them a break … a hug … show your appreciation … share some love. They need it, as much as the patient does!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/faqs/faq-blood-clots-cancer/

Consider His Footprints In Your Life …

Most Christians have heard of the prose “Footprints In The Sand”, written by Mary Stevenson in the 1930’s. They may own a copy. It has appeared on many plaques, mugs, t-shirts, etc., over the years. It’s authorship has even been debated. But, for a moment, let’s stick to the message of the poem — not marketing or legal wrangling. The poet reflecting upon her life, asks the Lord, why He wasn’t walking with her through the most difficult of times. And He responds, “The Times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

Wow! For any Christian, those words are profound. Scripture teaches us, in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” But have you ever stopped to reflect upon how this verse applies to your life? Have you stopped to consider the times, as the poem describes, where just one set of footprints can be seen? How many times has the Lord carried you through the sand of life?

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For many, it’s easier to forget the worst of times than to reflect upon them. They stick the bad and ugly, in a tightly locked box … somewhere in the back of their memory … safe and out-of-the-way. It’s not that they aren’t grateful. It is how they cope. But when you live with a Chronic illness, the struggle can be overwhelming … frustrating … even depressing … for long periods of time. Most of these patients don’t have the luxury of tucking the worst of moments away and forgetting. They live with the initial struggle, daily. Then, there are complications that add to that struggle. The setbacks can seem endless. Scary. Lonely. At such times, even the most devout of Christians may wonder if the Lord has abandoned them.

Does the latter describe how you or a loved one is feeling? If it does, I encourage you to read Mary’s poem. Imagine your life as footprints in the sand — the Lord’s footprints right beside your own. Imagine that long stretch of beach. Sometimes, the sand is warm and enjoyable. The kind that you want to wiggle your toes in. Other times, it feels cold and hard. Unpleasant. Perhaps, it’s even painful to walk on? And then, if you will, consider how many times there was just one set of footprints. His footprints.

The Lord was there, in the worst of times. He has carried both you and me. Not just once or twice. His presence wasn’t fleeting, in our lives. He’s been there for us, many times — taking us through our trials and tribulations … rejoicing in our triumphs. Even when our faith was shaken, the Lord has been there every step of the way. And He will continue to be there … taking this journey called life with us … and carrying us if need be. His strength has lifted us … guided us through our darkest moments. He has answered our prayers … calmed our fears. We weren’t alone. We can see His footprints in the sand. When we needed him, He was with us. And He is with us, now. If you are like me, that knowledge will give you the courage to keep going … to keep walking … to keep fighting every hardship. Warmer sand lies ahead. He will get us there. May God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

*Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash