Is It Hope Or Optimism?

Is it hope or optimism? Ponder that, for a moment. The deeply devout seem to prefer the usage of the word hope. The religiously skittish seem to prefer the term optimism. Others, like myself, see no real difference between the two. It really boils down to one’s preference. Perhaps, hope resonates more than optimism for some? For others, it’s just the opposite. But, by definition, there is little difference. If you doubt me, pick up a dictionary. If the similarities still aren’t sinking in, then open a Thesaurus. For this, I turned to Merriam Webster’s online: “Words Related to optimism – brightness, cheerfulness, perkiness, sunniness, hope, hopefulness, rosiness, idealism, meliorism”. The words, hope and optimism, are like twins. To some, they appear identical. By definition, maybe, they are fraternal. But there isn’t a lot of differentiation, if there is any at all.

I have said all of this to point out that how we perceive things, bad or good, has an influence on our future and our health. Optimism or hope, whichever you prefer to use, plays a significant role in how you live your daily life. It plays an even greater role in how you manage your Chronic illness. I know it has played a significant one, in how I have managed mine. Optimism is healthy. It’s positive. Hope is, too. Both are like sunlight, piercing through the dreary clouds of life. They promise good things to every garden.

When many people are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, their reaction is denial. Deep down, they know that they aren’t feeling well. Something is wrong. But sick and chronically ill are two very different animals. Some patients, if not all, are overwhelmed by the diagnosis. I know that I was, every time. If you are juggling multiple Chronic illnesses, you know what I mean. A part of you is too numb to react. Another part is angry and screaming, whether the words are ever actually heard aloud or not. Again? Why me? And another part of you is crying — sobbing uncontrollably. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. Optimism is like that warm blanket that  makes you feel better. It comforts and encourages. It’s that loving hug that we can all use, every now and then. Sheer strength seems to come from it.

As I embraced being an advocate, accepting that call, I prayed a lot. And I thought about every little thing — including the title of this blog. Was it optimism or hope? Did it really matter? From the perception standpoint, it did. To be more inclusive, it seemed that I had to step back to avoid sounding preachy. Then, I stumbled upon this quote,

                               “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.”
                                                             — Helen Keller

That says it all; doesn’t it? Think of what Ms. Keller achieved, despite her physical impediments. Think of the era that she accomplished these things in. It was phenomenal, to say the least. All of us, no matter our afflictions, aspire to achieve a good life … a happy one … one that is as fulfilling as possible. We want to love and to share. We want to make the most of every day, manage our health issues and LIVE! If optimism allows us to do so, then optimism it is. And if faith is guiding that optimism, so be it. I have no problem with that. My faith has sustained me, for decades. But faith is also a very personal journey.


As we greet the New Year, let us all take a moment to assess our lives. Count our blessings. Consider the positive changes that we can make, in 2018. Let go of the negative things, in our lives. Let this advice from Romans 12:9 (NIV) guide you into a better, happier year ahead: “Cling to what is good.”  And to each of you … Happy New Year!

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May the greatest of gifts be with you always …

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

— Luke 2:11-14 (KJV)

Glad Tidings, Asthma & Winter Allergies …


Every December, my father used to lament about a dear friend of his. I grew-up hearing about this poor guy, even though I never had the pleasure of actually meeting him. Laurence suffered, as strange as it may sound, every December. Many years, in fact, he spent Christmas in the hospital. My father often said that the only time Laurence didn’t suffer through the holidays was when he was serving in Northern Africa (WWII) and after the invention of aluminum Christmas trees (circa 1955). Laurence had what is today known as Christmas Tree Syndrome. When he wasn’t exposed to a live tree indoors, he felt fine. Unfortunately, he spent over half of his life suffering before doctors zeroed in on the culprit. That’s pretty sad.

Most people equate Asthma and Allergies with specific seasons, i.e. Spring and Fall. Few think of Allergies, at this time of year. Still, they do exist. And their sufferers know it all too well. Their symptoms can vary, but most hit the respiratory system, i.e. congestion, difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, stuffy or runny nose, a feeling of tightness in the chest. Other symptoms may include a rash, itching, or even the rare Anaphylaxis (in severe reactions). Consider the Winter triggers that they battle: wood smoke, Christmas trees, artificial snow/flocking, dust mites, mold, pet dander, food allergies and stress.

Children are not immune, unfortunately. They too suffer with Winter Allergies and Asthma. Like adults, they are vulnerable to the same triggers. But, thankfully, there are ways to minimize the risks.

Frequent handwashing is an excellent start. Respiratory infections spread, at this time of year. These infections can cause additional problems for patients with Asthma and/or Allergies. Clean hands equate to the reduced chances of catching one. It’s also important to take your medications, as directed. Pace yourself. It will help to limit your stress. By all means, get the rest that your body needs — take a nap; get a massage; enjoy a leisurely stroll; read a book; sip a cup of hot cocoa. If you have a food allergy, don’t assume — ask about ingredients, i.e. shellfish, nuts, etc. Your Host/Hostess is not going to be offended. It’s better to be informed, before you take that first bite.

If you are planning to travel, give yourself plenty of time to do so. Remember to request/book a smoke-free hotel room. Some hotels offer hypoallergenic pillows/linens. Request them. Before leaving home, make certain that you have enough medications to cover the duration of your trip (adding a couple of days never hurts). Pack your insurance information, a list of medications, even contact numbers for your physicians (just in case). And if you are staying home for the holidays, check your medications for prudence sake. Many medical offices will close today and not reopen until January 2, 2018. If you need a prescription called into your pharmacy, now is the time to make that request.

Last, but not least, a safe and Merry Christmas to all!


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Alcohol, Age & A Season of Spirits

We are halfway through the month of December. The parties and merry-making are in full-swing. And many, if not most, involve bottled spirits. Usually, the bar is open with a vast assortment of alcohol to choose from. Like overeating, it is a temptation of enormous proportion. For those with AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder), including Alcoholism, it is a struggle.

If you have been diagnosed with AUD, you are aware of the balancing-act that is required to get through the season. If you are new to recovery, you will need to set limitations/boundaries for yourself. When you attend a party or special event, where alcohol is served, limit your time there. Go. Be seen. Then, wish everyone well, and leave. It’s better than making a scene and suffering a setback. If this sounds too difficult, avoid the event all together. There is no party more important than your health, well-being and sobriety. Those who have been in recovery for a while know this fact and embrace it.

Some of you may be concerned about a family member, friend, or co-worker. You watch their drinking and you wonder: How much is too much? Consider these signs of alcohol dependence:

  • He/She cannot stop or control how much they drink.
  • He/She needs more to be satisfied (or feel the same effect).
  • He/She shows signs of withdrawal symptoms, i.e. nausea, sweating, anxiety, etc.
  • He/She spends a lot of time drinking and recuperating (hung-over).
  • He/She withdraws from other activities to drink.
  • He/She keeps drinking even though it has damaged their relationships and/or health.

If you have observed any or all of these symptoms, an intervention is the best gift that you can give them. Show you care, this season. Take action. There are many resources that can help you plan an intervention, with step-by-step means for doing so. Perhaps, you’d prefer to talk to a doctor about it? Then, pick-up the phone. Counselors are another excellent option. There is no better time than the present to address alcohol dependency.

Last, but not least, I encourage a heads-up to all parents. The kids are about to get out of school. There are days of freedom, ahead of them. Christmas-Break, in all its glory, is awaiting. For many, it will include the opportunity to engage in underage drinking. While some parents may shrug and consider it a typical activity — if not a passage — of teens, it’s important to consider the ramifications. Studies have revealed that some children experiment with alcohol long before they become a teenager. But teens and alcohol are a well-known problem. If a child has a parent who abuses alcohol, they are statistically at a greater risk for doing so themselves. And the younger they are, the more serious the problem becomes — even when they reach adulthood. Alcohol abuse causes an increased risk for underperforming at school; participating in dangerous sexual activity; engaging in unprotected sex; driving drunk and having accidents. So, get the facts. Set clear rules. And talk to your kids, before someone else does. Teens especially, but children as a whole, are influenced by social groups. If their friends are drinking alcohol, they are probably going to try it. This should be a season for caring — not daring.

Lives are changed and sometimes lost, whenever alcohol is abused. If a friend, family-member, or co-worker has AUD, help them to stay sober this season. If someone you care about is abusing alcohol, help them. It is never to early to have the discussion, or too late to try. May God Bless …


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High Anxiety & The Holidays …

It starts, I think, on Thanksgiving week — that extra everything that hits us. Guests are coming, decorating, holiday cooking, shopping, the in-laws, etc. And with each passing day, the stress … the pressure … the sheer expectations build. We find ourselves worrying about all of the usual things as well as those that are holiday-related. Demands for our time, talent and presence seem to pop out of thin air. To say it can be overwhelming is an understatement. For those living with an Anxiety disorder, it can be so much worse — literally disabling.

There are seven main types of Anxiety disorders, i.e. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. Some need a stressor. Others do not. But all who suffer from these disorders struggle at this time of year.

I won’t pretend to have a magical cure, because I don’t. Holidays and anxiety appear to be meant for each other — like peanut butter and jelly. The question is: Do you want it to be that way? You do have a choice. We all do, whether we suffer from anxiety or not. Personally, I answered this question a long time ago. And I did so, at the brink of physical exhaustion, by focusing on my favorite Christmas song.

Whenever I hear Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, I melt. It doesn’t matter who is singing it. And if you listen to the lyrics, you realize that Christmas doesn’t have to be a larger-than-life fiasco. When Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine wrote that song, back in 1944, they were onto something more meaningful than a tune for a movie. They were, whether they realized it or not, suggesting an outlook. A perspective. An optimistic one, at that. Simple. Yet, meaningful. Sometimes, less is more. And the time spent is actually better.

Let’s be honest; shall we? Some people show their backsides, at this time of year. It happens as consistently, as the sun rises. Every family has one. And I would wager that every business, no matter its size, does too. You know who I’m talking about. Then, there are the demands that seem to grow, in December. The unforeseen surprises, or nightmares. We’ll chalk that up to Murphy’s Law. With all of this in mind, learn to say, “No. I can’t.” Politely, of course. But it’s a no-brainer. You aren’t Wonder Woman or Superman. It’s impossible to be all things, to all people, at all times. We have our limitations. Each of us. Accept that fact, instead of torturing yourself.

Make Christmas your own. Bottomline, the holidays can be as individual as each of us are. There is no carved-in-stone approach. I’m a pretty traditional gal, but I have come to embrace this fact. Yes, many families have special get-togethers. There are social invitations. Church festivities. And it’s all fine. So, be choosy. Consider, for once, quality and not quantity. If you prefer a casual Christmas in your pajamas, then have one. If you want the big event, then by all means, go for it. Forget the shaming that a couple took in a certain movie. If you want to get away, then take some time and go … escape to a cabin in the mountains … or aboard a cruise ship. Have yourself a merry, little Christmas.

If you reflect, for a moment, on that first Christmas … it was a pretty low-key affair. Yet, it was so special to everyone that was present. For some of us, that style is just right — a few family and friends, joy, gifts, celebration. It equates to less stress and more happiness. It provides a nice blend of excitement and a bit of fuss. No hospital-bed. No migraine, or panic attack. No messy rekindled family-feud.

This year, surround yourself with the things that bring you joy … your pet … your loved ones. Be good to yourself. Think of it as a personal gift. Relax with the people most dear to your heart. Laugh. Take a breath. Sit by the fireplace. Pop a bowl of popcorn and watch your favorite holiday movie. Pace yourself. The tree will get up, when it gets up. The Christmas cards, or letters, will get out, when they get out. Cookies will get baked and eaten. Guests may come and go. Just remember … the true meaning of Christmas cannot be bought. It must be appreciated. Felt. And that starts in our hearts.

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AIDS: From Killer to Chronic Disease

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. Founded back in 1988, it was the first world health day. A time of reflection and rededication to the fight against AIDS. And a time to support those who live with HIV/AIDS.

In my lifetime, two illnesses have stricken this nation with fear: Polio and AIDS. The first known outbreak of Poliomyelitis, a highly infectious viral disease, occurred in Vermont back in 1894. By the early 1950s, it was the most dreaded illness in America. Public panic was so heightened that Americans feared sitting too close to each other in auditoriums, churches, movie theatres, etc. Public swimming pools were closed. Tens of thousands of children were infected each year. Some were left paralyzed. Others died. And the numbers continued to mount. It was a crisis, of epic proportion. Then, in 1952, Dr. Jonas Salk discovered and developed the first successful vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh. By 1954, children were being vaccinated against Polio nationwide. And in 1979, the virus had been completely eliminated within the United States.

Robert Rayford, also known as Robert R., was a Missouri teen and believed to be the earliest case of HIV/AIDS in North America. He died in 1969, of complications with pneumonia. While his case no doubt baffled the physicians that had treated him, the focus in those days was the eradication of Polio. Even in the 1970s, the results of Rayford’s autopsy were still being examined and debated. No one had heard of HIV/AIDS, in those days. But by 1984, it seemed as though the entire world knew what Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was and they were scared. Just as with Polio, there was public panic — genuine fear. The medical unknowns of the time only fueled their reaction. Before HIV/AIDS, it seemed the worst that could result from one’s sex life was an unplanned pregnancy. We were naive, as a society, back then. As time passed, medical science would confirm other ways to contract HIV/AIDS, i.e. sharing needles, blood transfusions, breastfeeding, etc. But one thing was for certain, it was a killer. And its victims came from every facet of society.

Nearly three decades ago, Dr. Samuel Broder declared that HIV/AIDS was a Chronic illness. He was delivering a speech at the international AIDS meeting in Montreal, Canada. And, as absurd as it may have sounded to those in attendance, he suggested that treatment for HIV/AIDS be modeled after that given to Cancer patients. Broder, at the time, was the head of the National Cancer Institute. Let’s just call him a very intelligent, visionary. Because, at that moment, he was predicting what medical science would one day categorize AIDS as — a Chronic illness.

For those who may be confused by the specifics, the Western Journal of Medicine defines an Acute illness as, “characterized by a sudden onset, obvious signs and symptoms, and some limitation of normal function—even if only an annoying cough or low-grade fever. Treatment is either supportive or curative, and resolution to death or normal activity ensues. The duration consists of days or weeks. Acute illness follows a predictable course; if it does not, it is redefined as chronic.” And a Chronic illness, ” in contrast, may arise from an acute episode that does not resolve to full health—for example, a diabetic coma. The course of a chronic illness is uncertain and unlimited in time, usually characterized by alternating periods of acute crisis and remission. The disease may not produce visible symptoms, as with hypertension. Treatment is directed at relieving symptoms and slowing degeneration, not effecting cure.” How society views the two are also different. The first tends to bring panic. The second not so much.

Internationally, we see two forms of AIDS emerging. In the Western world, AIDS is now a Chronic illness. In less affluent nations, still struggling to develop, AIDS remains an Acute illness.

While this is a milestone for AIDS, it by no means promises an easy existence. All Chronic illnesses carry a stigma, within modern society. These illnesses are stigmatized in a variety of ways, i.e. by visible disabilities and/or abnormalities, limited independence and/or mobility, impairment of daily routine, etc. And stigmas lead to cruel jokes, even discrimination. None of which is fair, or considerate, to the patient. Still, we will take whatever progress we can get.

In 2015, the global HIV epidemic claimed fewer lives than at any time in the two previous decades. Think about that, for a moment. According to the World Health Organization, the new goal in the fight against AIDS is to literally eliminate it as a public health risk by 2030. A significant step toward that goal would be a vaccine, just as it was with the battle against Polio.

Last year, an NIH-supported clinical trial was launched to test a modified HIV vaccine. This medical trial, known as HVTN 702, is now being tested on adults to see if it can effectively prevent the spread of HIV.

Today, let’s all say a prayer for those lost to AIDS, those living with it and to the future. We may very well live to see AIDS, like Polio, eradicated in our lifetime. It would be a blessing.


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Protecting The Garden: Eating & The Holidays

Most of us can recall Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh. The animated feature was based on A.A. Milne’s series of Winnie-the-Pooh books. When Pooh climbed that tree in search of honey, he was a bear on a mission. As he so gleefully sang, “I’m so rumbly in my tumbly …”, he didn’t anticipate the problems his hunger would get him into.

At the holidays, most of us take that same approach to eating. We are bombarded with family get-togethers, holiday parties, church pot-luck dinners, cookie swaps and festive holiday meals. If the temptation isn’t bad enough, our willpower as well as our common sense seems to pack-up and take a vacation. Our lives are gardens; remember? And in our quest for holiday joy, we usually take our gardens on a journey of over-indulgence. We act as if more always equates to better or healthier. We make the usual excuses like “it only comes once a year”. We even resign ourselves to the fact that we will gain weight, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It somehow eases the guilt, when we step onto the scales. But for millions who live with a Chronic illness that is directly affected by diet, the holidays are like walking a tightrope. One one hand, they know what they should eat and avoid. On the other, they wrestle with temptation like everyone else. The real difficulty comes, when smart choices just aren’t available.

Over the years, I have known several people who suffer with such illnesses, i.e. Diverticulitis, Crohn’s Disease, Irritated Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Diabetes, etc. A few literally became anti-social, at the holidays. They didn’t want to worsen their health conditions. Nor did they want to be stuck in that awkward position of not eating and embarrassing their host/hostess. So, they repeatedly declined invitations. They faked emergencies, etc., to escape office parties and the spread of goodies that awaited. They even avoided festivities with their families, their churches, etc. As you can probably imagine, their actions lead to negative reactions … misguided remarks … innuendo … rumors. And that’s sad.

When you are planning your dinners and parties this season, try to think of everyone on your guest-list. Have healthy choices available. You might even consider posting the menu, for the office party, ahead of time. Or this year, consider being the one who takes the healthy dish to the pot-luck? Somebody there will be grateful, whether they say so or not. We all need more than sugar to exist. Desert is the end of the meal — not all of it! So, think beyond cakes … pies … cookies … and candy. It is safe to assume, whether you are certain or not, that a couple of your guests do live with diet restrictions. Imagine, for a moment, what this season must be like for them.

People are often uncomfortable discussing their health issues. But that doesn’t mean they want to quit living. Their lives, or gardens, simply require a little added attention. If you are aware of their specific illness, you can be mindful when planning your menu. There are numerous online sites that offer tasty and festive recipes, for individuals with diet restrictions. Take a few minutes to visit them. In this season of giving, that really isn’t a lot to ask. Let this be the year that you savor the time you share with each other … the memories will be worth the effort!


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