Traditions: Which Ones To Keep & How?

Most of us, no matter our religious preferences, were raised with some traditions. This especially holds true, at the holidays. As adults, we often cling to these traditions (even the ones we weren’t too crazy about in our youth). We watch as they are passed from one generation to the next. We smile. We laugh. We share. These traditions become, in an odd sort of way, comfort food for our heart and soul. But when a Chronic illness enters your life, it can change a lot of things — even traditions. 

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Personally, I have wonderful childhood memories of cookie baking … my grandmother, mother, aunt and cousins were all included. It was marathon baking, at its finest. Batch after batch. The kitchen was filled with warmth … laughter … sweet, aromatic smells … and cookies. Of course, we had to nibble a few. Taste-testing was (and still is) required. Then, the cookies were carefully tucked away in air-tight tins … only to reappear on Christmas Eve. It was pure magic. And this tradition still continues. Despite the loss of family members and the miles that separate us, my cousins and I still bake cookies. We text. We talk. We laugh. We share recipes. And we bake. Chronic illness has found all of us, but it hasn’t changed everything in our life. Moderation, in part, is how this tradition and others endure. We bake, but not all in one day. Once upon a time, I baked 8 different cookie recipes. Now, I bake 4 or 5. And my husband (no typo there) helps me with the Royal Icing. Times have changed, folks. Cooking shows have actually made it cool for guys to have fun in the kitchen. So, don’t be afraid to recruit a little help. You might be surprised at who wants to assist!

Some Chronic illnesses require dietary changes, i.e. diabetes. If you have hypertension, you need to avoid certain foods, i.e. salt, alcohol, saturated fats. Yet, there are many nice and healthy options for your holiday menu, i.e. lamb chops, pheasant, wild duck, turkey, cuts of lean beef, or salmon. If you take a moment to visit a few healthy-eating websites, you might be surprised to find that your culinary family traditions aren’t even effected by your disease. But if they are, again, moderation could be the answer. If not, choose wisely — choose healthy.

Mobility is often impacted by Chronic illness. Dexterity can be another issue. And both can make some traditions difficult (if not impossible) to enjoy. When this occurs, it’s time to find a new tradition that everyone can share. Or you can maintain your old tradition by delegating your duties to another? There is no sin in passing the torch. So, focus on what you have and can do. Share. Love. Laugh.  

Unfortunately, some treatments and medications can impact traditions, i.e. chemotherapy, radiation, etc. If this is your new normal, there’s nothing normal about it. Fatigue, nausea, etc., can quickly take the joy out of you. Do what you can, when you can. Communicate your needs. Focus on the positive, at all times. You might even create a new tradition — one that is easier for you to take part in. 

Last, but not least, be good to yourself. Keep realistic expectations. Make changes if necessary. Manage your disease. As wonderful as traditions can be, they can never replace you or your loved one. It’s people who are the heart of every celebration, dinner, festival, outing, etc. Without them, our traditions would have less meaning. They might not have any meaning at all.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.onlinemswprograms.com/resources/social-issues/resources-family-support-chronic-illness/

https://psychcentral.com/lib/holiday-traditions/

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/coping-strategies_for-chronic-illness#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2018/breaking-holiday-traditions.html

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=346

https://www.allinahealth.org/health-conditions-and-treatments/health-library/patient-education/helping-your-heart/healthy-living/nutrition/foods-low-in-saturated-fat-and-trans-fat

*Photo by Rebecca Wiggins on Unsplash

 

 

Do You Shop Till You Drop?

It’s Friday. Black Friday. And the question seems fitting: Do you shop till you drop? Because, if you do, you need to know that it isn’t healthy. The holidays bring added stress. That’s a given. But if you try to do too much at once … it’s a disaster just waiting to happen. Stress has a negative impact on our health. Those with a Chronic illness are even more vulnerable to its affects. So this year, treat yourself. It’s time to re-think how you handle the holiday rush …

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There are ways to reduce this stress and make the holidays more enjoyable and healthier for everyone. Here are some easy tips:

  • Make a to-do list. And, please, be reasonable when you do. No one person can do it all. Embrace that reality, now. Be willing to delegate tasks and errands to others.
  • Stick to your budget. Nothing adds stress like excessive spending.
  • Take breaks. Just a few minutes can make a big difference in how you feel and keep your stress levels in-check. 
  • Enjoy some exercise. A quiet walk around the block, or through a park, does wonders. It only takes a few minutes to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi (my personal favorite), yoga, Pilates, etc. And you’ll feel better for doing it.
  • Eat healthy. Skipping meals, or getting by on junk-food, isn’t helping you at all. 
  • Use moderation. Excessive food and/or alcohol consumption never ends well.
  • Pace yourself. It isn’t necessary to do marathon shopping. You CAN go to the mall, without going in every store. It’s literally enjoyable. Sales started before Black Friday and will go all the way till December 25th. And remember, Cyber Monday is a gift — be open to it! 
  • Learn to say “no”. You’re only human. We all are. And we have our limits. Saying “yes” to everything will eventually lead to no joy, no time, no peace, no sanity, no strength, etc.
  • Listen to your body. If you begin to feel bad, you need a break. You may even need to call your doctor. Don’t ignore symptoms — treat them!

Last, but not least, be good to yourself … mentally, emotionally and physically. We cannot put a price on ourselves, or those we love. We cannot deny the impact that each of us has on the lives of others. An old holiday movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, explored that idea decades ago. The vintage classic A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, did too. Perhaps, in the midst of the holiday rush, you’ll watch one of them on television or DVD?  Or maybe, read it instead? You can sit back in your jammies, nibble some nuts or air-popped popcorn, and soak up the lesson. Rest. Rejuvenate. The true meaning of this special season cannot be bought. It must be felt — deeply.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smart-habits-highly-successful-people/200912/7-tips-relieve-holiday-stress

* Photo by Heidi Sandstrom on Unsplash

 

Abundance & Thankfulness …

Sometimes, when you live with a Chronic illness, it’s easy to overlook the abundance in your life. A few may even tell you that they have nothing to be thankful for. Yet, their perception couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have all had the difficult years. Those that are riddled with flares and setbacks. We have all experienced bad news … followed by worse news. It’s hard to bear. It hurts, in numerous ways. Still, we know that we have been blessed with abundance. And, in our heart of hearts, we are (or should be) thankful … hopeful … even joyful.

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                    “Give and it will be given to you …”   — Luke 6:38

Scripture holds many verses on the subject. All are meant to teach and inspire. In Deuteronomy 24:19-21, we are instructed to remember and provide for, “… the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.” Our abundance exists, whether in our fields or on our tables. With that in mind, I want to expand upon the idea. There are countless ways that we all can share our abundance. And there is no better time than the present to do it.  This holds true for those who live with Chronic illness and those who don’t.

Nothing helps you to understand need better than to give of yourself, your time and your abundance. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, or a food bank. Take a warm meal to a neighbor who is struggling with mobility issues. Give of your abilities to those who can use your help … rake leaves, clean gutters, have a chat, run an errand, invite the lonely, etc. It’s a small gesture, in the grand scheme of things. But to the person in need, what you do is priceless.

Personally, I have always found that giving of myself helps me to keep a better perspective of my own life. Living with multiple Chronic illnesses can be frustrating. I can’t deny that. But when I am helping others, I see beyond myself. Suddenly my flare doesn’t seem as bad, or as overwhelming as it once did. The additional tests and/or medication isn’t as much of an inconvenience. During these moments, I’ve realized that I’m doing pretty good — I’m managing my illnesses. It isn’t the other way around. I’m contributing to the world around me. I’m doing so many things that I enjoy doing. Other times, I have been inspired by people who are physically less fortunate than me.  And I have become even more tenacious … to try harder, eat healthier, etc. My father, a WWII veteran, used to say, “It can always be worse.” This is so true.

So as Thanksgiving approaches, look around you. Embrace your abundance. Be thankful for every good day — for all that you have. Be realistic in your own expectations. Be hopeful. And reach out to those in need. Together, we are in this journey called life. Dare to care!

 

 

Reference Links:

* Photo by Christopher Ryan on Unsplash

 

Holiday Eating & Celiac Disease

The holidays are quickly approaching and many of us are getting excited about those special foods that we associate with this time of year. We can’t wait to indulge ourselves. A nibble here … a plate there … and a lot of — OMG! I have to try some of that! But for those with Celiac Disease, the holidays pose an even greater challenge — celebrating without causing a flare (worsening) of their symptoms!

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But what exactly is Celiac Disease? Well, it is a Chronic illness — specifically Autoimmune. It occurs in genetically predisposed people. In other words, it is hereditary. And it’s estimated to effect 1 in 100 people, worldwide. Some patients are diagnosed as children. Others develop the disease in adulthood. And doctors are still unsure of why this happens. Yet, we do know that the cause is the same — gluten. This is a protein found in Wheat, Barley and Rye. When a Celiac patient ingests gluten, their body launches a massive immune response — attacking their small intestine. For this reason, dietary precautions must be taken to avoid painful and frustrating symptoms.

Many processed foods, unless labeled “Gluten-Free“, contain gluten:

  • Beer, Ale, Stout
  • Breads
  • Cakes & Pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Communion wafers
  • Cookies, Crackers & Croutons
  • French Fries
  • Gravies
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Hot Dogs & Lunch-meats
  • Salad Dressings
  • Seasoned Snack-foods & Potato Chips
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soups, Bouillon & Soup Mixes
  • Vegetables cooked in sauce 

Now, for a moment, imagine trying to navigate your way through a holiday dinner or party with Celiac Disease. Obviously, it isn’t easy. But it is possible.

If you are hosting a holiday dinner or party and you know that a guest (possibly more than one) has Celiac, consider incorporating a few gluten-free options into your menu-plans. There are many recipes available. You may even find that others like the idea of having a “healthier” choice available!

Fresh fruit is a great option. Grapefruit, oranges, pears, cranberries, etc., are just waiting to grace your table. Nuts like cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias and pecans offer a nice snack, but avoid salting and/or baking them in oil. Veggie trays are another. Think Bacon and Pimento-cheese dip — absolutely yummy! Wine is another gluten-free option. Shrimp also gets a thumbs-up. So do cuts of beef, lamb, rabbit and fish. It’s just not that difficult. More importantly, it gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy themselves! And your Celiac friend or loved-one will certainly thank you for it!

 

Reference Links: 

https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/

https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/

https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/dermatitis-herpetiformis/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530

https://celiac.org/eat-gluten-free/recipes/

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/eating-diet-nutrition

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/celiac-disease/dietary-changes-for-celiac-disease

*Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Pumpkin: It’s Not Just Seasonal, It’s Healthy!

Well, it’s that time of year again … colorful, frosty Fall. Or should I say pumpkin season? Nowadays, you can find the flavors of “Pumpkin” and “Pumpkin-Spice” everywhere. But did you know that pumpkin is more than a seasonal flavor on the menu? In fact, it’s literally a healthy culinary choice. Something that is both good to eat and good for you. Imagine that!

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Pumpkins are considered a “Superfood“. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “superfood” is a food that offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value.

Now, let’s focus on exactly what pumpkin can do for you:

  • Pumpkins are rich in fiber. This slows digestion and allows you to feel full for a longer length of time. A cup of pumpkin gives you more grams of fiber than 2 slices of whole-grain bread! And it is a low-calorie choice, with less than 50 calories per serving!
  • Pumpkins promote good eye health. That beautiful, deep-orange color means there is an abundance of beta-carotene inside. This converts to vitamin A in the body. A single cup of pumpkin contains over 200% of the recommended daily intake needed for most people. It also contains two antioxidants (lutein & zeaxanthin) that are believed to help prevent cataracts and even slow the development of macular degeneration!
  • Gives your immune system a boost. All that vitamin A helps your body to fight infections, viruses and infectious diseases. Pumpkin oil even helps to fight bacterial and fungal infections. And there’s also vitamin C inside. That may help you to recover from colds more quickly.
  • Younger, healthier skin awaits. Not only does the beta-carotene protect us from harmful UV rays that age our skin and cause wrinkles, but pumpkin pulp actually makes a great all-natural facial that exfoliates and soothes your skin.
  • Lower Your Cancer risk. As if pumpkins aren’t providing enough healthy benefits, research shows us that beta-carotene rich diets may lower the risks of some cancers, i.e. prostate, lung.
  • Helps Manage Diabetes. Pumpkin has been proven to lower blood glucose levels, in scientific tests. It can also improve your glucose tolerance and increase the amount of insulin that your body produces. More research is being done. But if you are diabetic, this is a smart choice.
  • Pumpkin seeds are the ideal snack. So, don’t toss them into the trash-can. Toast some and taste how delicious healthy eating can be. These seeds are packed with healthful oils, magnesium, potassium and calcium. They are also a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. All this goodness can help bones, muscles, heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, even aid insomnia. Wow!

 

So, don’t reserve pumpkin for the holidays. Reap its benefits, as often as you can. It is after all a “superfood”. There are also many easy recipes that will help you incorporate pumpkin into your meals and tempt your taste-buds. And while you’re enjoying them, you have that added satisfaction of knowing that pumpkin is more than delicious. It’s actually good for you. Any way you choose to carve it, cook it, or toast it … that’s a win-win!

 

 

Reference Links:

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

Superfoods or Superhype?

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/303864.php#benefits

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/19315/ingredients/vegetables/pumpkin/

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

*Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

 

Do I Look Like A Guinea Pig?

When you live with a Chronic illness, you get used to periodically taking tests. Blood-work is probably the most common, but there are others too. It’s part of managing your disease. And you get used to taking medications. But have you ever wondered: How much is too much? Have you ever felt like a guinea pig instead of a patient? Unfortunately, millions of people have. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment is becoming a serious healthcare problem.

For example, in a 2014 analysis report, researchers noted that about 40% of adults worldwide have Hypertension. And more than half of them have mild cases of the disease (meaning they’re at low risk and don’t have existing cardiovascular disease). Yet, half of the patients with mild cases were being given blood pressure-lowering drugs (even though there is no research on whether this reduces cardiovascular-related disease and death). Let that sink in, for a moment. Researchers argue that this “overtreatment” is unnecessary. And it costs over $32B a year, in the U.S. alone! 

 

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You may be thinking that it’s better to err on the side of caution. But can we actually call overdiagnosis a cautionary move? Personally, I don’t think so. According to the NCBI, overdiagnosis is “the diagnosis of a medical condition that would never have caused any symptoms or problems”. Aside from unnecessary treatment, this type of diagnosis can also lead to harmful issues of stress and anxiety.

For the record, overdiagnosis is not a misdiagnosis. Misdiagnosis is when a doctor says cancer, but what the patient actually has is a benign cyst. Overdiagnosis is the correct diagnosis. But it is diagnosing illnesses that may never actually make you sick. Most screening tests can lead to overdiagnosis. This is not to say that you should avoid having tests. They can and have proved to be vital to our health. But if you are starting to feel like a guinea pig, it could be time to seek a second opinion. If you question a diagnosis, then listen to that little inner-voice that’s eating at you — get a second opinion. Your health may be better for doing so.

According to the Harvard Health Letter, there are 5 things you should know about seeking a second opinion:

  • They’re less common than you think.
  • Your doctor won’t be mad.
  • You may need to make your priorities known.
  • The first opinion may affect the second.
  • You may need to bridge a communications breakdown.

It may feel awkward to ask for one, but this is your health. Your life. Your right. 

If you are sick and actually experiencing symptoms, you need treatment. That’s a given. But, today, we are seeing growing numbers of overtreatment. This encompasses a wide range of healthcare, from routine tests to surgeries. A study published in September of 2017, estimated that 21% of medical care is unnecessary. This leads to more medical expenses, higher insurance costs, more medications, stress, anxiety, possibly even financial hardship for many patients. And none of us needs that.

So before you nod your head and go along with whatever is being said, remember … you aren’t a guinea pig! Speak up. Ask questions. Seek a second opinion.  It’s your body and your health. You deserve good, quality care — not bad medicine!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/how-unnecessary-tests-scans-procedures-and-surgeries-are-affecting-your-patients

https://time.com/3379349/overdiagnosis-and-overtreatment/

https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5432

https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/five-things-you-may-not-know-about-second-opinions

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430655/

https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2014/07/23/a-patients-guide-to-second-opinions

*Photo by Katherine McAdoo on Unsplash

A Little Rest …

 

Sometimes, I am amazed by the amount of energy that I have. Other times, it amazes me how tired I can get. Totally drained. At age 59, with three Chronic illnesses, fatigue happens. I could blame my age, or my health. From the rational standpoint, it’s probably a combination of both. But, unfortunately, I’m not alone. Approximately 150M Americans live with at least one Chronic illness. Millions, like me, live with multiples. And fatigue is a very real … very stubborn … part of most Chronic illnesses. Do you fight yours? Or do you listen to your body and rest? 

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When you have fatigue from a Chronic illness, it changes a lot of things about your life — even the way you see yourself. You remember the person you were, before diagnosis, i.e. running 5-10 miles each day, whitewater rafting, chaperoning field-trips, maintaining a hectic schedule at work and at home, playing tennis, no pain, no limited mobility, etc. And then you look in the mirror at the person you are, today. Better, in some ways. Worse, in others. It’s frustrating.

Now, when you have energy, you savor it like a fine wine. Because, unlike your old self, you can’t take such things for granted. You know that these energy bursts, come and go. You even prioritize what you will use your energy on. Because, we all know that there are limits. If that isn’t frustrating enough, your fatigue also changes how you relate with others.

You find yourself accepting fewer invitations and not returning phone calls. Instead of posting your selfie enjoying a night out with friends, you look at the ones posted by others. You struggle to keep up with home … work … the kids … friends … everything. You look for a way to manage it all. Then, when things get difficult, you beat yourself up about that. It’s a vicious circle.

First and foremost, let go of the person you once were. Or should I say the person you thought you were? Let’s be honest, here … even before diagnosis … you had other problems. We all did. None of us are, or ever were, super beings. It’s time to focus and to love the person that you are, right now. 

Next, you really need to learn how to say “no” and even delegate. It’s better to do a few things well, than to do several mediocre. No company pays anyone enough to be a one-person act. Work, like home, is a team-effort. Co-workers need to do their part. Personal days are just that — personal. Use them, wisely. Kids can actually do laundry and clean the house. Spouses can cook dinner, run errands, etc. This holds true for husbands or wives. The new you has more time and flexibility. So, if it takes longer to get ready, you have that time. The new you isn’t volunteering on every committee, at every fund-raiser, etc. Hence, there is actually time for a nap on Saturday afternoon. And there’s no sin in taking one!

A very wise man (I’m talking about you Dr. Steve) once told me that if my body didn’t need rest, then I wouldn’t be tired. Though I was skeptical at first, I’ve found he was right. Yes, you can have drowsiness from medications. But that’s not the same thing. When fatigue sets in, it’s like your cellphone trying to function with its last smidgen of power. Nothing works too well; does it? And a nap is to your body like a re-charged battery is to your cellphone — vitally important! 

Some chronically ill patients even have trouble sleeping. If this is you, please consult your doctor. Pain can interfere with your sleep. Depression can, too. Usually, once you gain adequate control of your pain, you can rest. If sleep is still a problem, there are many non-medicinal approaches to help you, i.e. relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, etc. Exercise is another way to ultimately relax and get your needed rest. Most chronically ill patients need and can do low-impact exercises, i.e. walking, swimming, Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, etc. Believe it or not, even Ballroom Dancing qualifies. You could actually combine time with your better half and exercise, into something special for the two of you to share. Healthy and sexy? That’s a win-win. If sleep still eludes you, a prescription may be needed. But realize that you have options. Explore them.

Last, but not least, never underestimate the power of a good recliner. It doesn’t have to be an expensive model. No home make-over is required. What most people do not realize is that a recliner (when reclined) relieves pressure and pain to the body much like a hospital-bed. And that alone may provide the rest you are desperately needing. So, c’mon. Stop making excuses. It’s time to be good to yourself. Find a quiet spot … relax … feel the stress fade away … and rest. You need it. We all do.

Now, shhhh … close your eyes. Heal.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/chronically-me/201804/chronic-illness-fatigue

https://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/coping-strategies_for-chronic-illness#1

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-disorders-sleep-and-chronic-illness

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/low-impact-exercises_n_1434616

*Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash