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

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School Daze: Students & Chronic Illness

Recently, a friend shared photos of her high school reunion online. It was fun to look at those images, because I had attended this school for a few years. Once upon a time, these individuals were also my classmates. Time has a way of changing us. Age becomes the great equalizer, in life. And many of the things that we worried about, back in school, seem remarkably trivial. Perhaps, wisdom has finally taken control? Or, maybe, we’re just lacking the energy of our youth? Nowadays, most of us have Chronic illnesses to manage and discuss. It’s the new normal. But, 40+ years ago, it was a very different story. My diagnosis was an oddity that added difficulty to school and relationships. If your student is living with one, they know exactly what I mean.

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I was diagnosed with a Chronic illness, in 8th grade. In the blink of an eye, my life was drastically altered. I was hospitalized for six weeks, in one semester. My grades tumbled, across the board. No subject was spared. Perfectionist that I was (and still am to some extent), I went into full-panic mode. I was the student who tutored others. I had even tutored a couple of students who were a year ahead of me. Excellent grades had always been achieved, with modest effort. I had never been the student who had to work hard, or academically struggled. My Science teacher, crusty old gal that she was, refused to believe that I was even sick. Letters from my physicians had absolutely no influence on her. It made for an awkward classroom experience, to say the least. My other teachers, praise God, were understanding. They even brought school-work to my hospital-bed. But my life, like a line of falling dominoes, continued to collapse. My friendships became strained. Some disintegrated. Others totally disappeared. Then came the grand finale … the Headmaster announced that I had missed a few days over the limit that the state allowed (in a school-year). And I was held back, despite my passing grades and valiant effort. To say that it was heartbreaking would be an understatement. It was the most brutal thing that I had ever endured. Frustrating. Embarrassing. Even now, at 58, I really cannot describe how broken that year left me. Thankfully, I had a great support system — my family. With them, I was able to glean a valuable life-lesson from this unbearable time … perseverance!

Education has improved, in many areas. In others, it remains a mess. I have no desire to debate over-crowded classrooms, curriculum, weapons, etc., though all are worthy subjects. My focus, here, is on each and every student who lives with a Chronic illness.

We cannot control how society will react to the chronically ill, even if the patient is a child. We cannot force relationships to happen, or survive. And there are no guarantees that the adults involved won’t somehow disappoint us. We must realize that human nature plays a role. And perceptions can be skewed, by many things. Despite the law, diligent studying and the best of parenting, the odds are still that your student’s health issue will one day be an academic and/or social issue. So, be prepared.

Once a child is of school-age, he or she begins a journey through the academic and social pressures of growing-up. Parents are the navigators, for this journey — helping their child to avoid the hazards without becoming too overprotective or overbearing. When a child has a Chronic illness, there is an added degree of difficulty. Their needs/illness effects several, i.e. parents, siblings, teachers, etc. Sometimes, it is met with cooperation. And at other times, it’s a struggle. On the tough days, remember that you aren’t alone. Your child didn’t ask for a long-term medical condition. Nor did you ever want it, for them. Yet, here you are. And there are millions of families who can relate to what you are going through. They are going through it, too. 

Students with Chronic illness often feel left out, embarrassed, frustrated. They want to fit in and be normal. Yet, their health is anything but that. Less than 20% of all students live with a Chronic illness. So, prepare them. Friends, classmates or teammates may ask questions. It’s no big deal. Usually, a brief response will suffice. And, if an emergency should ever arise, it can be life-saving to have individuals who are in the know.

Some students may have academic difficulties, when fatigue and other symptoms plague their ability to study or attend class. Others do not. Some may resort to trying risky behaviors, i.e. skipping medication, underage drinking, binge drinking, smoking, drug abuse, unprotected sex, reckless driving, etc. But many learn to respect their medical condition and its needs, early on. They have no desire to take unnecessary risks. Unfortunately, when someone is different, they can be the target of physical and/or verbal bullying. This includes students who are living with a Chronic illness. If your child is experiencing peer victimization, it hurts. So, it is important to address the issue promptly. Stress has the nasty ability to worsen any chronic condition.

If you can foster a team atmosphere at home and at school, it will help tremendously. A good support system, no matter the patient’s age, is priceless. Think of this as a lesson that your student can utilize, throughout their life. It’s an inclusive approach that makes them feel less overwhelmed. Talk candidly with your child about ways that they can manage their disease and enjoy life to the fullest. Build their confidence. Talk about their goals and dreams, i.e. team sports, class trips, college. Discuss ways to attain these things. Many accomplished individuals, from U.S. presidents to celebrities and pro athletes, live with Chronic illness. It helps any student to have a role model that they can identify with. Last but not least, try to avoid mourning what you think (or know) your child cannot do. Although it may be a natural reaction for parents, it can leave your child feeling as though they have disappointed you. Instead, celebrate and encourage what they CAN do. We all have gifts. The key is discovering and utilizing them! 

 

Reference Links:

http://www.disabilityrights.org/appendix.htm

http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/chronic.htm

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness-child.aspx

http://www.bourgase.com/teaching/special-education/coaching-chronic-illness/

https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/42/3/245/2418166

http://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/1/3

https://www.webmd.com/balance/managing-chronic-disease-at-college#1

https://consumer.healthday.com/general-health-information-16/suicide-health-news-646/chronic-illness-can-plunge-young-adults-into-despair-725726.html

*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

A Splash Of Relief

Many of us have been in pain, at one time or another. Some have experienced severe pain. But if you are one of the millions who live with a Chronic illness, you may also be living with chronic pain. Harsh. Relentless. Overwhelming. It’s unlike any pain that you have ever experienced — consuming you. And managing it is a struggle all its own. If this is you, relief may be easier than you ever imagined. Are you ready to take the plunge?

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In the summertime, most of us think of a swimming pool as a great place to escape the heat. Relax. Unwind. All of which are true. But a swimming pool can also provide the perfect environment for Aquatic Therapy, or Water Therapy as it is also known. 

When your body is immersed in water, it allows you to relieve physical stresses. Even something as simple as flotation has its benefits. Pressure is taken away from your muscles and joints. Other water options include: lap swimming, water aerobics, water yoga, and aquajogging. Aside from offering wonderful, low-impact exercise, the pool also gives you the opportunity to reduce your pain, lower your blood-pressure and enjoy yourself. You might even lose some weight. But, there’s more. Aquatic Therapy can increase your mobility — alleviating that pesky stiffness. It can also reduce fatigue. And all are positives for the management of any Chronic illness, especially one with chronic pain. Results vary, but studies have shown that utilizing a pool does work. And that makes this therapy something to strongly consider. You can have a better quality of life. So, go for it!

As with any exercise program, you should first talk to your doctor. He or she may even make recommendations that will help you find the best option, for your specific health needs. Most Aquatic Therapy is done in an indoor pool, with warm water. But outdoor facilities can also be used. If you are interested in exploring Aquatic Therapy, you can find a program at your local YMCA, a Health Club, Athletic Club, or Spa.  

Life is meant to be enjoyed. That’s possible, even with a Chronic illness. It starts with good pain management … and a splash!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/health_benefits_water_exercise.html

https://www.healthcentral.com/article/study-finds-swimming-reduces-pain-associated-with-fibromyalgia

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/arthritis-friendly/lap-swimming.php

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/water-aerobics

https://www.painscience.com/articles/aquatic-therapy.php

* Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash