January Is Thyroid Awareness Month

This time of year is famous for bringing sore throats, aches, hoarseness, fatigue, etc. That’s why most us buy an over-the-counter medication, a few cough drops and keep going. If it gets worse, we may even opt for our granny’s chicken soup and a warm blanket. But we seldom think of these symptoms as being something more … like a Chronic illness.  Let’s change that …

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An estimated 20M Americans have some form of thyroid disease. And as many as 60% of them are unaware that they are sick. That’s a little scary, but statistically accurate. The thyroid gland is located in the middle of the lower neck. Although the gland is rather small, it’s reach is a big one. Why? Because the thyroid produces a hormone that influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body!

Most patients are female. In fact, women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems than men. Which in no way gets all of you guys off-the-hook, so pay attention. This can strike at any age. Even infants have been diagnosed with the condition. And symptoms of thyroid disease vary depending on what form the patient has.

For Hypothyroidism, the symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Development of a goiter

For Hyperthyroidism, the symptoms are:

  • Weight loss, despite an increased appetite
  • Increased heart rate, palpitations, higher blood pressure, nervousness 
  • More frequent bowel movements, diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness, trembling hands
  • Development of a goiter

For Thyroid Cancer, the symptoms are:

  • A lump that can be felt through the skin of the neck
  • Changes in voice, hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in the neck and throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

If you have had a prolonged period of experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s time to see a doctor. So, please, make an appointment. You may need to be referred to an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat doctor) or an Endocrinologist for treatment. The good news is that thyroid disease is manageable. Thyroid cancer, though rare in the U.S., is also very treatable with a high success rate.

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. The more that we know, the healthier that we become. So, help spread the word. 

 

Reference Links:

General Information/Press Room

https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/thyroid-disease-symptoms-and-treatment

https://www.webmd.com/women/understanding-thyroid-problems-symptoms

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/thyroid-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20354161

https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/understanding-thyroid-problems-basics#2

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroid-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html

*Photo by Karissa Seeger on Unsplash

In 2020 … More Optimism!

Well, here we are … starting a new year … and wallowing in a mixture of emotions. Excitement. Curiosity. Frustration. Determination. Perhaps, even dread? A few tell-tale signs from the holidays are still lingering … cards, decorations, perhaps a return or two. Often times, people feel the need to start fresh as a way to welcome January. So, they make a resolution. Many would even call it a tradition to do so. If you are one of these folks, please, consider making yours “optimism”!

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Optimism, or Positive thinking, is a powerful thing that can have tremendous results. If you’re laughing, or just silently skeptical, visit the reference links below. Pessimists give up more easily. They are depressed more often. And they tend to have more health issues. Optimists, on the other hand, do better in school, at work, even in extracurricular activities. They have better overall health and they may even live longer. Is there a greater gift to give yourself in 2020? To me, there isn’t!

To put it simply, optimism equates to being healthier. There are five decades of medical research, from around the world, to support this. Being healthier means you are going to feel better, look better and enjoy life more. Optimistic people have better cardiovascular health, stronger immune function, lower stress levels and lower pain levels. When an optimistic person encounters an adverse health event, i.e. orthopedic surgery, they recover more quickly. And, if they are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, they can manage their disease better. Their survival rates are higher. Wow!

The best part is that optimism can be learned! So, if you are a born pessimist, you can change your outlook. Your glass doesn’t have to be perpetually half-empty. You too can reap the rewards of optimism. Are you ready? Here, are some helpful tips:

  • Change how you think. Instead of dwelling on a problem, focus on the solution.
  • Mentally, coach yourself. We all need a cheering section. Remember to be yours.
  • Practice positive self-talk. In other words, DON’T say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
  • Be open to humor. Smile. Laugh. Both release stress.
  • Identify areas of your life that you want to improve. Take some time, each day, to visualize that success. 
  • Exercise. Even a little can help a lot, i.e. walk around the block, a 10-minute session of Tai Chi, etc. It will positively effect your mood and reduce stress levels.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Supportive people can offer helpful advice and feedback. Negative ones cannot.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments. Even the small ones count and add up. So, pat yourself on the back and keep moving forward!

A new year is like standing before a blank canvas. We are the artists. And our palettes are waiting. Optimism — like the paint, pencils, brushes, palette knives, etc. — is within our reach. Here’s hoping that each of us creates a beautiful masterpiece!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201208/the-mind-and-body-benefits-optimism-0

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201607/4-reasons-why-optimistic-outlook-is-good-your-health

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/optimism-and-your-health

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

https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/train-yourself-to-be-an-optimist-4-steps.html

*Photo by Izabelle Acheson on Unsplash

All I Want …

Around this time of year, we often hear the dreamy wishes of young and old alike. Usually, these involve gifts (some more expensive than others) … travel … parties, etc. Hints are dropped … in texts … in emails … on Post-it notes, etc. To say, there are plenty of grand expectations is an understatement. But how important are these wishes? I wonder. People tend to take a lot for granted. Yet, now is the time we should all consider what we truly want — what we need. Life’s simple pleasures are far more priceless than they are given credit for being. Because these are the things that add true meaning to our lives. 

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Consider, for a moment, the popularity of a certain Christmas song. After 25 years, Mariah Carey has hit No. 1 on Billboard with “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. What resonates with fans? Is it an old favorite that stirs sentimental feelings? Or is it the simplicity of the message? Love.

As December and 2019 slips by, do some serious soul-searching. What are the things that are most important to you? For me, it’s my guys (husband, son & fur-baby). It’s their love that sustains me and encourages me. My faith, praise God, which has always lifted me. It’s good health, for me and my family. The ability to manage my Chronic illnesses. The joy of good friends, at the holidays and all year long. The quiet of our home, in the evening. The calm of flickering candles. Holding hands (even in church). Sharing a hug. Stealing a kiss under the mistletoe. The sheer peace of knowing, no matter what comes along, they have my back. And I have theirs. Some things cannot be bought. They must be felt. In this modern-age when our society seems all too willing to put a price on anything and everything, the simplest of pleasures are still the best. May each of you embrace yours.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/chart-beat/8546418/mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-you-number-one

*Photo by Tom Mossholder 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

Your Privacy, Your Chronic Illness & Your Job

Don’t let anyone fool you. When you live with a Chronic illness, you do a lot of thinking. You make a lot of decisions. Cool tee shirt aside, life really is filled with tough choices. And if you haven’t juggled many in your past, a Chronic illness will change that quickly. Which doctor do you trust? Which treatment do you choose? Which medication/s will work best? And aside from these obvious questions, you also wonder about your privacy. Yes, HIPAA is a great thing. And there are similar protections in place abroad, i.e. PIPEDA, Directive on Data Protection. But, outside of medical community, who do you share your illness with? Who do you entrust with that personal information? How much is, well, too much?

Let’s start with your family and close friends. They are usually part of your support system. And, yes, they need to know about your diagnosis. Especially, those who are closest to you. A strong support system will help you to manage your condition more effectively. Providing them with additional information is also helpful, i.e. the name of your doctor, your medications, etc. Next, is your workplace. And that’s an entirely different animal!

Legally, you are not required to disclose a Chronic illness to your employer. An employer hires you to do a job. If you are capable of doing that job, you are fulfilling your end of the deal. This also holds true, if you are seeking employment. On the other hand, some say the added stress of trying to conceal their condition was/is frustrating and difficult. There is no wrong answer, here. It really depends on what you are comfortable with. You may choose to discuss your illness with HR, but not your co-workers. That too is okay. Nobody wants to be gossip fodder for the break-room. This is about your health and your privacy.

Many patients learn what their group health plans offer, after they have been diagnosed. Better late than never, I guess. When you are living with good health, you are truly experiencing a blessing. But knowing your health coverage is also the peace of mind that will help you to sleep at night. Take a few minutes to actually get those facts. And if you have never taken the time to acquaint yourself with Labor Law, here are two key pieces of legislation to start with: The Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Living with a Chronic illness, you may need to use one or both at some point. Understanding them is crucial. Sadly, disability discrimination still exists in our society. And many Chronic illnesses can lead to a disability. If you ever feel your employer is harassing you, or is discriminating against you, due to your Chronic illness … you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. Know your rights. They exist to protect you.

Last, but not least, go out and LIVE! Don’t allow your disease to define you. It isn’t what you are, it is just a part of who you are. So, make plans. Work. Travel. Finish Grad School. Buy a home. Start a family. Set goals. Dare to dream. The choices are waiting and they’re all yours!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/security/laws-regulations/index.html

https://www.atlantic.net/hipaa-compliant-hosting/beyond-hipaa-international-health-data-protection-europe-canada/

https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/

https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm

https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm

*Photo by Jose Llamas on Unsplash

 

 

The Garden of Optimism: What is this place?

Did you ever find yourself wondering how life managed to lead, or drag, you down a certain path? Well, such is my case. When we find ourselves in such a predicament, we usually know how we got there. But sometimes we aren’t too eager to admit it. Still, there are times when life leads us into the middle of uncharted territory. Our reaction depends upon the circumstances, our perception of them and our willingness to take on the challenge. For me, personally, I am humbled and flabbergasted.

Throughout my entire life, I have always felt a strong sense of service — volunteering with various organizations, my church and within the community. But no one would have predicted that I’d become a blogger — including me. I’m not the most tech savvy person on Earth. I freely admit that. Still, God did provide me with a gift for words. One that I’m abundantly grateful for. And He molded me with a very tenacious spirit. So, why now? Why bother?

In all honesty, I have felt a calling. Divine, as from the Lord, but not in the pastoral sense. Persistent. Urging me. Whispering to my conscience. Telling me, of all people, that I need to reach out and do this (Matthew 5:16 NIV). I need to serve (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) others. I need to help them — to become their voice. So, here I am — a Patient Advocate.

I’m not a medical professional, though I’ve seen more than my share of them. I hold no degree in Divinity. My credentials are from personal experience. And, unfortunately, this is subject-matter that I know all too well. I have lived it, for decades.

By now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering where all of this is going. Patience, Sweet pea. I’m a Southern gal. We sometimes ramble like ivy on an arbor, but we eventually get to the point …

Mine is that our lives are like gardens. For a moment, consider the similarities. There are beautiful, bountiful years. And there are meager harvests. All of the usual things can make growing difficult. The rocks. The lousy soil. Even the daily grind. Too much heat, or stress, is harsh on a garden. And it’s harsh on us, too. The rain, whether in drops or tears, can wash away our plants … our plans … our dreams … even our deepest desires. Then, there are the things that we least suspect. The ones that we never wanted. The ones that, we so often told ourselves, only happened to other people. And our gardens are never the same …

This blog is a place of refuge and support. It is devoted to those who are living with chronic illnesses and their loved ones. I understand what you are feeling. Your garden and mine share common ground. This is about accepting that no garden is perfect, but all have beauty and purpose. It’s about realizing the potential of your garden — finding it. This is about living, each and every day to the fullest in His light (1 John 1:5 NIV). It’s about enjoying the sun on our face and the blooms that we find. It’s about allowing our bodies and souls to dance. Yes, dance — even in the rain. Come … sit a spell (as we say down South) … browse the pages of this site (there’s more than one). Let’s talk. You aren’t alone.

 

Blessings,

Julia

 

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* Photo by Kaeyla McGee on Unsplash