Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Take a Break: Make It for the 4th

Since July 4th is just a few days away, today is a good time to make some things for the holiday as well as test out a new recipe or two.

Make a stand alone star as a center piece: It’s very easy and this web link has a template you can download. It’s basically cutting out to stars from card stock or another type of stiff paper-can always glue patriotic paper to card stock-and cut two stars. Make slits and interlock.

Create Your Own Fireworks” Here's your chance to create your very own fireworks with music – just like the exciting display that lights up the sky in Washington, D.C. Made possible by PBS.

Color a 4th of July Mandala: You can divide the mandala into fourths, and have four different people color a section. Put them together for an interesting design.

• Make Red, White and Blue Lemonade: There are a variety of ways to make this. The simplest is to make lemonade, not pink lemonade, and add strawberries (or raspberries) and blueberries.

• So did Betsy Ross make the first American flag? Are there more red or white stripes? Want answers to these questions; go to USA Flag Site and The Truth About Betsy Ross

For more ideas, go to last year’s post on activities for the 4th.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dealing with Pain: Comfort Care

This is the final post in the series on dealing with pain. The other two posts dealt with acute and chronic pain.

Depending on the individual, as well as diagnosis, treatment, side effects etc., people can experience a level of discomfort that can be very problematic. It can be pain, but issues such as shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, or difficulty with swallowing or sleeping, can compromise quality of life.

Both hospice and palliative care use the term “comfort care,” to manage pain and related symptoms that can accompany end of life, serious illness, and/or during the course of treatment. Note that this is different than a person under going surgery. The surgical and medical staff will manage this type of pain.

Both hospice and palliative care have the common goal of improving quality of life and both help the person and their family deal with end of life issues and bereavement. However, there are some key differences between the programs.

Hospice is provided when a person is expected to die within six months and the only treatment provided will be comfort care. Palliative care provides similar comfort and pain control measures but allows the patient to pursues active treatment for their condition. There is no time constraint with palliative care. Medical centers as well as home health/visiting nurses provide palliative services for a variety of conditions such as ALS, MS as well as cancer. While some hospitals do provide in-patient hospice, and there are free standing hospice facilities in various parts of the country, the majority of people receiving hospice are at home and receive care via home health/visiting nurses.

Because people respond differently to treatment, as well as their specific condition, comfort care is very individualized. For example, hospice provides a “comfort care pack” that is placed in the refrigerator to be used as needed. This pack will contain the basics for controlling pain and some of the more frequent side effects, such as constipation and nausea. Based on the diagnosis and the particular needs of a patient, there could be a variety of other treatment options, such as anti seizure medications for a patient with brain cancer.

Even though hospice care is highly regarded by patients, family and medical providers, for some the implications of being a hospice patient, recognizing that they are dying, is not something they are ready to accept. In such situations, palliative care is an excellent option, as pain and symptom control are key goals of both programs. Further, if the person is at home, a good working relationship can be established with the visiting nurses. Often times the staff for palliative care is the same one for hospice, so a smooth transition can occur if the person switches to hospice.

Regardless of diagnosis or life expectancy, pain and other symptoms can quickly destroy quality of life, thereby impacting not only daily living but also life expectancy/. A study of 151 patients with metastasis lung cancer were randomized to have monthly visits with palliative care and routine cancer treatment or just routine cancer treatment found that those receiving palliative care not only lived longer, but had much better pain control, fewer hospitalizations, less anxiety and depression. New England Journal of Medicine

Dealing with Pain: Acute

Dealing with Pain: Chronic

Get Palliative Care

Caring Connections

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Take a Break: Make Stars

For the past several days, I’ve been making stars for our Old Home Day sandwich poster boards. Old Home Day arrives just in time for the 4th of July. Hence, red, white and blue stars. Since we seem to be specializing in rain this summer, and I’m not the best painter, I needed to make them out of something that was weather resistant and would adhere to the sandwich board. And the solution? But of course, duct tape!

These are very simple to make. Take a piece of baking sheet paper-note, wax paper doesn’t work-and put down strips of overlapping red, white and blue duct tape. This type of paper is readily available where you buy lunch bags, saran wrap etc. If you are really good at cutting things out, cut out a star. I needed a bit of an assist and found a star cookie cutter to be the perfect size. You can also make a five-pointed star and use that as your template.

If you are going to trace a shape, trace it on the opposite side of the baking sheet paper from where you put the duct tape. Since I had strips of tape left over after cutting out my stars, I just peeled them off and re layered them to cut out another star. I liked the various colors and designs from layering.

With the 4th of July less than two weeks away, here are some suggestions for making more stars.

Star mobiles

3-D Stars

Make a star shaped cake using round cookie pans

Folded origami “puffed star” These are perfect for making star earrings.

And last but not least, don’t forget to “wish upon a star” tonight. If it’s cloudy, you can always enjoy Louie Armstrong singing and playing his trumpet to the Disney Classic. If Louie doesn’t do it for you, try one of the following:

Julie Andrews

Josh Groban

Michael Jackson

Billy Joel

Linda Ronstadt

Gene Simmons

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dealing with Pain: Acute

In the continuing series on pain, this week’s post is on dealing with acute pain.

Acute pain is usually described as occurring less than 30 days. It can be the result of an injury, surgery, an underlying health problem, dental work, medical treatment etc. The pain itself can be sharp and localized, a dull ache or pressure, or a burning, tingling sensation. It may be constant or come and go.

People with acute pain may worry and fear:
• Becoming addicted to drugs
• Developing a chronic pain problem
• Whether there is an effective way to control their pain.

If you are having/had surgery, or are being treated for cancer, know that pain can be managed. Talk to members of your care team before surgery or treatment. Put a plan in place sooner rather than later.

Understand the source of your pain. Different situations call for different treatment approaches. If you’re in pain but don’t know the reason, see you medical provider, or even go to the emergency room if you have chest pain, a severe headache and/or stiff neck and/or pain accompanied by weakness or numbness.

In trying to identify what the source of pain might be, think about changes you may have made in exercise, diet, shoes, clothing, or habits. Keeps in mind that not doing regular exercises or not eating the right diet can cause headaches, knee aches and more. In WebMD’s Slideshow on “Surprising Reasons You’re in Pain” the solutions are often obvious but easily overlooked.

In preparing for a medical appointment, you will want to make note of the following:
• Where the pain is located and what it feels like (stinging, sharp, dull, cramping, numb, throbbing, aching, shooting etc.)
• How often do you have it and if there are things that make it worse or better? For example, if you run for more than a mile your right knee hurts.
• How much does it hurt? You will be asked to describe pain intensity. On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being no pain and 10 the worst ever, how would rate the pain?
• Have you experienced something like this before? How was it treated?
• Discuss pain control methods that you have used. What’s worked, what hasn’t?
• Be sure to list all medications currently being taken. Interactions can happen, and some medications can lessen the effects of the pain treatment.

Once you pinned down the source of your pain, take action. This may include:
• Prevention measures such as controlling stress, not becoming overly tired, staying with your stretching or exercise regiment (I kinda stopped doing my hip exercises and now my knee is paying for it.) dietary restrictions etc.
• Taking medication as prescribed (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs-ibuprofen and aspirin, acetaminophen-Tylenol corticosteroids, narcotics-morphine, codeine, oxycodone.
• Treatments such as neural blocks, physical therapy, TENS units, local anesthetic
• Listening to your body-biofeedback
• RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) usually recommended for sprains, strains, muscle pulls or tears.
• Art, music, positive thinking and prayer

If you are on a pain medication:
• Take as prescribed. Don’t wait until pain becomes severe. Pain is easier to control when it is mild.
• If you are concerned about addiction, talk to your provider about what they are prescribing.
• If you are on pain medication for an extended period of time, your body may get use to it so you may need an adjustment to how much and when you take it.
• Know the side effects. You can control constipation by drinking lots of fluids (water, juice), eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising. Your provider may recommend or prescribe a stool softener or laxative. Nausea and vomiting can be controlled with additional medication or a switch in regiment. Sleepiness is common, so do not drive or operate machinery while on these medications. If you find your breathing becomes slower, talk to your provider.

Keep in mind the following about pain:
• It is individualized. You are the best judge of what you are experiencing.
• It can cloud your thinking. This is not the time to making major decisions if at all possible.
• It can wear you down.
• Treated promptly and properly, it not only makes you feel better and heal quicker, it can also help to keep it from becoming a chronic problem.

Dealing with Chronic Pain: This post includes a list of the pain organizations.

Pain Treatment Guidelines

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Take a Break: Plan a Staycation

When the budget doesn’t allow for a vacation, or you don’t want to spend hours looking for the best deals on airfares and hotels, consider the “staycation,”-vacationing at home.

For some people, the intensity of travel alone ruins various aspects of the vacation. The goal of time away is that you come back refreshed and not in need of additional time off to recover. While there are unique features to your get away spot, what are those things that you do on vacation that recharge you? Is it possible to incorporate them into a staycation? Ideas to consider include:

• Turn off the electronics. Set the automatic reply message to “away, will be back on ___.” No one needs to know you’re around. In fact, if people know your vacationing at home, they may not take you serious and call with work issues. Ideally, turn off the phone and cell phone. If you were on a sailing trip in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, shooting rapids on the Colorado, hiking in Yosemite, or swimming in the Atlantic, you wouldn’t be dealing with phone calls.

Since so many people can’t bear to be away from their computer or cell phone, try to minimize listening to messages or reading e-mail to once a day.

• Leave work at work. You’re on vacation.

• One of the joys of being away is food-trying new eateries and cuisines, cooking with family and friends, trying new recipes. All are possible in your own kitchen and community.

• Sleep in. Stay up late. Try sleeping in a different room or even pitch a tent outside.

• Read a good book, watch a movie, and sit for hours over the kitchen table talking with your family and/or friend(s), play board games

• Do what you want to do.

• Have a PJ day, where you don’t bother to get out of your pajamas.

• Throw a spontaneous cocktail or dinner party. Have a picnic.

• Fly a kite.

• Pretend you are a visitor in your own community. Visit such places as:
- local museum(s)
- farmer’s market, county fair
- historic sites
- amusement park
- someplace with water-beach, pond, lake or if all else fails, local swimming pool
- parks
- science center
- sports arena or stadium
- zoo

Check newspapers and on-line information about your town for more staycation ideas and to take advantage of “specials.”

• You can also do things like watch the birds, go for a self-guided walking tour of your town, take a drive, or bike ride

• Learn something new. Take a class in something that’s of interest, be it golf or a jewelry making course at a craft school. You can always check the weekly “take a break” features of this blog for something new to try.

Since you are saving money by not going away, don’t hesitate to treat yourself to some special treats, such as enjoying a spa day, arranging for someone to clean your house, dinner out, spending a night in a local luxury inn or resort, going to a sporting event etc.

Your staycation is not the time to clean out drawers, paint the house or do some other chore you are putting off, unless you find this a very relaxing activity.

Finally, since this is a blog for those with chronic conditions, whether it’s a staycation or vacation, taking a “drug holiday” isn’t recommended unless you’ve discussed it with your medical provider.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dealing with Pain: Chronic Pain

As pain is a major issue for many living with chronic disease, the next several posts will explore the different types of pain and what strategies are yielding results.

Today’s focus is on chronic pain, which can accompany an illness or injury, or it may be a disease unto itself. The National Institutes of Health, in their definition of chronic pain, states chronic pain persists. Pain signals keep firing in the nervous system for weeks, months, even years. There may have been an initial mishap -- sprained back, serious infection, or there may be an ongoing cause of pain -- arthritis, cancer, ear infection, but some people suffer chronic pain in the absence of any past injury or evidence of body damage. Many chronic pain conditions affect older adults. Common chronic pain complaints include headache, low back pain, cancer pain, arthritis pain, neurogenic pain (pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself), psychogenic pain (pain not due to past disease or injury or any visible sign of damage inside or outside the nervous system). A person may have two or more co-existing chronic pain conditions. Such conditions can include chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and vulvodynia. It is not known whether these disorders share a common cause.

One of the best descriptions of what chronic pain is, causes and treatments I’ve seen of late comes from Elliot Krane MD, the director of Pain Management Services at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. Recently he spoke at the TED Conference about “The Mystery of Chronic Pain.” He said Now most of the time, you think of pain as a symptom of a disease. And that's true most of the time. It's the symptom of a tumor or an infection or an inflammation or an operation. But about 10 percent of the time, after the patient has recovered from one of those events, pain persists. It persists for months and oftentimes for years. And when that happens, it is its own disease.

…. How can the nervous system misinterpret an innocent sensation like the touch of a hand and turn it into the malevolent sensation of the touch of the flame. Well you probably imagine that the nervous system in the body is hardwired like your house. In your house, wires run in the wall, from the light switch to a junction box in the ceiling and from the junction box to the light bulb. And when you turn the switch on, the light goes on. And when you turn the switch off, the light goes off. So people imagine the nervous system is just like that. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, these wires in your arm -- that, of course, we call nerves -- transmit the information into the junction box in the spinal cord where new wires, new nerves, take the information up to the brain where you become consciously aware that your thumb is now hurt.

But the situation, of course, in the human body is far more complicated than that. Instead of it being the case that that junction box in the spinal cord is just simple where one nerve connects with the next nerve by releasing these little brown packets of chemical information called neurotransmitters in a linear one-on-one fashion, in fact, what happens is the neurotransmitters spill out in three dimensions -- laterally, vertically, up and down in the spinal cord -- and they start interacting with other adjacent cells. These cells, called glial cells, were once thought to be unimportant structural elements of the spinal cord that did nothing more than hold all the important things together, like the nerves. But it turns out the glial cells have a vital role in the modulation, amplification and, in the case of pain, the distortion of sensory experiences. These glial cells become activated. Their DNA starts to synthesize new proteins, which spill out and interact with adjacent nerves. And they start releasing their neurotransmitters. And those neurotransmitters spill out and activate adjacent glial cells, and so on and so forth, until what we have is a positive feedback loop.

It's almost as if somebody came into your home and rewired your walls, so that the next time you turned on the light switch, the toilet flushed three doors down, or your dishwasher went on, or your computer monitor turned off. That's crazy, but that's, in fact, what happens with chronic pain. And that's why pain becomes its own disease. The nervous system has plasticity. It changes, and it morphs in response to stimuli.

Well, what do we do about that? …We treat these patients in a rather crude fashion at this point in time. We treat them with symptom-modifying drugs -- pain-killers -- which are, frankly, not very effective for this kind of pain. We take nerves that are noisy and active that should be quiet, and we put them to sleep with local anesthetics. And most importantly, what we do is we use a rigorous, and often uncomfortable, process of physical therapy and occupational therapy to retrain the nerves in the nervous system to respond normally to the activities and sensory experiences that are part of everyday life. And we support all of that with an intensive psychotherapy program to address the despondency, despair and depression that always accompanies severe, chronic pain.

The future holds the promise that new drugs will be developed that are not symptom-modifying drugs that simply mask the problem, as we have now, but that will be disease-modifying drugs that will actually go right to the root of the problem and attack those glial cells, or those pernicious proteins that the glial cells elaborate, that spill over and cause this central nervous system wind-up, or plasticity, that so is capable of distorting and amplifying the sensory experience that we call pain.

If you are living with chronic pain, the following steps can help put you on the path to relief. Keep in mind that everyone is different and it may take some trial and error to find the best approach for you.

Step 1: Assess whether you are dealing with a chronic pain problem. The Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehabilitation program provides a series of questions to ask yourself about whether the pain is sufficient for you to make a commitment to a pain rehabilitation program. These questions are a good way to also determine if in fact you are dealing with chronic pain. These questions include:
• Is my life focused on pain or other symptoms and what I am not able to do, rather than what I am able to do?
• Are my doctors telling me there is nothing further they can do to relieve the pain/symptoms? Do they tell me I need to get on with my life?
• Am I truly concerned about the long-term effects of taking pain medications?
• Is my family's well-being affected because of my impaired functioning?
• Is my recovery from injury or illness taking much longer than my doctors or I expected?
• Am I not able to commit to social events with family or friends because my pain/symptoms may be worse that day?
• Is my mood affected by pain/symptoms and activities I am not able to do?
• Has my attendance at school/work been affected?

Step 2: If you haven’t already done so, see a medical provider and determine if there is an underlying issue that might be contributing to your pain. Surgery or other treatment may effectively treat the problem. If there is no root issue that can be dealt with, most insurance companies will require a 3 to 6 month existence of chronic pain before they will pay for a pain program.

Step 3: If you have a pain issue relating to a condition, such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, vulvodynea, Lyme Disease, get in touch with the condition specific organization, e.g. the American Arthritis Association. These groups will have information on pain management. In addition, they can help direct you to support groups, in-person and on-line, where you can talk to others about what has worked for them.

Step 4. Enroll in a pain program/Pain rehabilitation. Many hospitals offer pain clinics and some will offer in patient rehabilitation programs. While there are differences, almost all will offer some form of the following:
- Medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Motrin or Aleve; non-aspirin pain relievers, such as Tylenol; corticosteroids; antidepressants) It is important to note that many pain programs take people off medications as they find the meds can be part of the problem. Further, if you have several other medical conditions, medication management can become problematic.
- Injections, nerve blocks, electrical stimulation
- Physical therapy
- Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): Acupuncture, massage, Reiki, relaxation and stress management techniques
- Psychology support and counseling
- Case management and social services

Because pain programs can differ, be sure to ask about their success rate in treating people with your specific issues.

Additional Resources
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, programs are now offered all over the world. The eight week course has been proven to significantly improve stress, pain and illness. Sessions are usually once a week for two and a half hour s per week and one all day session. The program usually lasts for eight weeks. Many pain clinics offer MBSR.

American Pain Foundation an online resource for people with pain, their families, friends, caregivers and the general public. This site is devoted to patient information and advocacy, and provides many links to additional resources.

American Pain Society a multidisciplinary community that brings together a diverse group of scientists, clinicians and other professionals to increase the knowledge of pain and transform public policy and clinical practice to reduce pain-related suffering.

National Pain Foundation Treatment Options, Personal Pain Inventory, Personal Pain Journal, Links, Education, Support, etc.

American Chronic Pain Association

American Chronic Pain Association’s Consumer Guide to Pain Medication and Treatments 2011

WebMD’s Pain Management Health Center

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Take a Break: Make a Piñata

It’s finally summer in Northern New England. Homemade salsa and chips are everywhere and it made me think of how much fun it is to make and break piñatas.

Interesting though, piñatas probably came from China. Marco Polo discovered the Chinese fashioning figures of cows, oxen or buffaloes, covered with colored paper and adorned with harnesses and trappings. Special colors traditionally greeted the New Year. When the mandarins knocked the figure hard with sticks of various colors, seeds spilled forth. After burning the remains, people gathered the ashes for good luck throughout the year. History of the Piñata from Mexoconnect

10 Easy Steps for Making a Piñata.

Step 1: Figure out what you’d like to use your piñata for. With the 4th of July just around the corner, a patriotic themed one would be fun. I’ve been having ideas of using various tube shapes from toilet paper, paper towels or even a Pringle can to make a chain of firecrackers. Of course, anything with a balloon shape-fish, star-is just fine.

Step 2: Once you know what you want to make, either make the shape from cardboard (cereal boxes work well for this) or blow up a balloon. If you’ve never done this before, start with a balloon project.

Step 3: Rip up lots of newspaper into strips.

Step 4: Make your paste. I use combine flour and water, stirring the water into the flour until it makes a good paste-runny is better than globby.

Step 5: Dip your strips of paper into your paste mixture and start laying them on your base shape. It’s best if you let dry between layers, but I admit that I’ll add several layers before letting it dry. Hair dryers work to speed up this process. Once you have two layers dried, take some wire or rope and wrap it around your model so that you will have a way to hang the piñata when it’s finished. Keep on layering your paper mache until you have sufficient layers. The more layers, particularly if you use a cardboard shape, the harder it is to break.

Step 6: Cut a slot so you can put candy or other items inside.

Step 7: Decorate. You can use paints, glue on strips of paper, streamers, gems or whatever appeals to you. Glue guns, tape, glue sticks and even Elmer’s all work well. One year my husband made a virus piñata by gluing ping pong balls all over an oddly shaped blob that started out with a balloon.

Step 8: Fill with candy or other goodies and seal up the hole you made in step 6. You don’t have to use candy. Think of different things, such as confetti, gift certificates, tiny but fun gadgets, party favors etc. I’d like to fill the 4th of July piñata I’ve been thinking about with lots of firework type of things so that as soon as it is broken it would start sizzling like a real firecracker. Since there children that will be present, I figure I’m safer with candy and red, white and blue confetti.

Step 9: Hang your piñata so that you can change the height depending on the age of the person welding the stick. You can use any sort of stick-broom handle, cane-just make sure it doesn’t have any splinters.

Step 10: Blindfold the person and spin them a time or two before steering them to the piñata. Wack! Enjoy the contents.

For more ideas on making piñatas, check out the following websites
How to Make a Piñata: Video -Good basic instructions

Making Piñatas: Celebration Mexican-Style in North Louisiana-This is step by step instructions on making a seven pointed star piñata.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Journal/News Watch 6/5/11

WHO Says Cell Phone Use “Possibly Carciongenic:” Using a mobile phone might increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumors and consumers should consider ways of reducing their exposure, World Health Organization (WHO) cancer experts said on Tuesday. A working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries meeting at the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said a review of all the available scientific evidence suggested cell phone use should be classified as "possibly carcinogenic." Reuters

Cancer Costs Highest for Individually Insured: One of every seven cancer patients spends more than 20 percent of his income on health care and insurance, according to a new study from federal researchers. Among these patients, those who buy private insurance on their own - instead of through an employer - pay the most out-of-pocket for their health care, compared to patients who have other forms of insurance or none at all. Journal of Clinical Oncology, online May 31, 2011

My Plate Replaces Food Pyramid: "My Plate" — a simple circle divided into quadrants that contain fruits, vegetables, protein and grains — will replace USDA's food pyramid, which has been around in various forms since 1992. The new symbol, unveiled Thursday at the department with first lady Michelle Obama in attendance, is simple and gives diners an idea of what should be on their plates when they sit down at the dinner table. Gone are any references to sugars, fats or oils, and what was once a category called "meat and beans" is now simply "proteins." Next to the plate is a blue circle for dairy, which could be a glass of milk or a food such as cheese or yogurt.

Cholesterol Drugs Tied to Lower Prostate Cancer Risk: Men taking cholesterol-lowering medication may be less likely to get prostate cancer than those not on the drugs, suggests a new study. They are also less likely to wind up with aggressive versions of the disease, researchers found. The Journal of Urology, online May 14, 2011.

Omega 3-fats Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk: People who get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in their diets may have lowered odds of developing type 2 diabetes, two new reports suggest. In one study, of more than 3,000 older U.S. adults, researchers found that those with the highest blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- two omega-3s found in fatty fish -- were about one-third less likely to develop diabetes over the next decade than their counterparts with the lowest levels. In the other, researchers found that among 43,000 Singapore adults, those who got the most alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in their diets had a decreased diabetes risk. ALA is an omega-3 fat found in certain plant foods, including flaxseed, canola oil and soy. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online May 18, 2011.

No Cancer Link with Blood Pressure pill: The Food and Drug Administration says there is no link between a popular group of blood pressure medications and cancer, despite a recent paper suggesting a slightly higher risk in patients taking the drugs. In an analysis of 60,000 patients published last summer, experts found a link between people taking medicines known as angiotensin-receptor blockers - Diovan, Micardis and Avapro- and cancer. The drugs are taken by millions of people worldwide for conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetic kidney disease. Associated Press

US Cancer Patients Face Barriers to Care: For newly diagnosed cancer patients, appointments with an oncologist are hard to come by -- even among those with private health insurance, according to U.S. researchers. The study found that in two-thirds of cases, research assistants posing as new cancer patients were unable to obtain an appointment with an oncologist for an initial exam. The findings, from a team at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, are slated for presentation on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

Meditation May Help Women Cope with Hot Flashes: An easy-to-learn meditation technique can help ease the hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia of menopause, a new study says. The University of Massachusetts research showed that mindfulness training, based on a Buddhist meditation concept, reduced the distress associated with hot flashes and improved physical, psychosocial and sexual functioning. Menopause June

HHS to Reduce Premiums, Make it Easier for Those with Pre Existing Conditions to Get Health Insurance: Premiums for the Federally-administered Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) will drop as much as 40 percent in 18 States, and eligibility standards will be eased in 23 States and the District of Columbia to ensure more Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to affordable health insurance. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was created under the Affordable Care Act and serves as a bridge to 2014 when insurers will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with any pre-existing condition, like cancer, diabetes, and asthma.

Yoga Helps Older Stroke Patients Improve Balance, Endurance: An Indiana University study that exposed older veterans with stroke to yoga produced promising results as researchers explore whether this popular mind-body practice can help stroke victims cope with their increased risk for painful and even deadly falls.

Significant Benefits of Yoga in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who practice yoga showed statistically significant improvements in disease activity, according to a small study presented at the EULAR 2011 Annual Congress.

Acupuncture of Benefit to Those with Unexplained Symptoms: A study of 80 adults, average age of 50, who had consulted their doctor at least eight times in the past year. Five element acupuncture had a significant and sustained benefit for those with unexplained symptoms. British Journal of General Practice
Many cancer survivors can’t shake pain, fatigue, insomnia, foggy brain: When people finish treatment for cancer, they want to bounce back to their former vital selves as quickly as possible. But a new Northwestern Medicine study -- one of the largest survivor studies ever conducted -- shows many survivors still suffer moderate to severe problems with pain, fatigue, sleep, memory and concentration three to five years after treatment has ended. ScienceDaily.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Get a Grip: Keeping Fear in Check

For the past two Saturdays, I posted about the Millerites and the recent “Rapture,” as well as what happens when things don’t work out as planned or expected. In the “take home points” of last week’s post, the first bullet was keep “fear in check,” as fear plays a significant role in why people make choices that may not work out so well for them.

Fear is a common enough occurrence that I’ve written about it four different times on this blog, each time with a bit of a different twist. I suspect I will continue to write about it from time to time, as it shows itself in new ways.

My goal with this post is to try and summarize previous articles, listed below, and to explore some ways you can help to keep it in check. I’ve included various approaches as “one size doesn’t fit all.” You know what’s best for you.

So what’s our biggest fear? Americans include public speaking, heights, insects (cockroaches, snakes), financial problems, deep water, sickness, death, flying, loneliness, and dogs. Now compare that to humans living 11,000 years ago and earlier where survival meant knowing how to read the winds and smells and understanding if the shadow in the bush was a tiger or just wind. Needless to say, times have changed but our brains haven’t quite caught up with the 21st century. Our reaction to a dog shouldn’t be the same as it was for our ancient ancestors who had a saber tooth tiger eyeing him. Yet, we do cycle our fears much as if the local beagle is a snarling tiger who’d eat your heart out just as soon as look at you. In short, our brain circuitry needs an upgrade, which we are capable of doing through tools like mindfulness.

If you look at the list of fears above, fear of death, be it from falling from great heights, being bitten by a snake, dog or insect, flying, and deep water, is really the root issue of many of our fears. Financial problems, loneliness and public speaking are variations on this theme of loss. As realistic as your fears may be, know that you are not alone in them. Support groups, on-line or in person, are excellent ways to discuss them with people who understand. Individual therapy can also be helpful.

The Wake Up Cloud website has 33 Powerful Ways of Overcoming Fear…Right Now. One of the strategies the author recommends is Byron Reid’s The Works. Reid was in a severe state of depression and came out of it by recognizing that her negative thoughts were causing her considerable harm. In a flash of insight, Katie saw that our attempt to find happiness was backward—instead of hopelessly trying to change the world to match our thoughts about how it “should” be, we can question these thoughts and, by meeting reality as it is, experience unimaginable freedom and joy ..Loving What Is

What I like about “The Works” website is that it does provide enough information and tools to help you implement this technique if you think it might be right for you.

If you are thinking that it isn’t so much fear as it is stress, realize that stress is a milder form of fear. Left unchecked, stress can compound medical problems and create havoc.

What about moments of extreme fear or stress? One friend told me that when she realizes she’s out of control, she covers one eye. That seems to slow things down and helps her gain perspective. Another person focuses on the immediate environment-there are five birds outside the window, the tea kettle is boiling, the furnace just kicked in, my office mate is wearing a new perfume etc. Create mindfulness reminders to help you remind yourself to be present and not lost in thoughts. Maybe one of the most helpful things is to remind yourself that thoughts are not facts.

Your child isn’t home from his friend’s house at the appointed hour. That’s a fact. Worrying that the child was kidnapped or run over by a truck is a thought. This is a false reality based on your thoughts. Chances are good that something else came up, like winning a new level on a video game, and they lost track of time.

Two weeks ago, many people were caught up in the idea that the end was near. Even thought it had no basis in reality, it caused considerable suffering for some people. Practicing mindfulness is a way to see the world as it really is, not one based on your thoughts and fears.

Additional posts on fear

Getting Perspective on Fear (understand why we are fearful and some strategies for coping).

Fear of Death

Fear in the Patient Provider Relationship

Fear How to Live with It

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Recycled Art from Old Magazines

While you may be well passed spring cleaning, for some of us that were still dealing with snow in early May, we’re just now getting around to hauling things to the transfer station, better known as “the dump.” Since our town doesn’t recycle paper, and I don’t always get to the town that does, they pile up. While I do try to drop them off at hospitals and waiting rooms, I still have a nice stack. So below are some various projects you can try.

Recycle magazines to those who might enjoy them: Besides medical and dental offices, consider dropping off magazines to any place that has a waiting room, as well as places like nursing homes, churches, prisons, senior center and even your local daycare center and school.

Magazine covers are great for punches. Usually made of “cover stock,” these are the perfect weight for punches. I turned an old Scientific American cover into a gorgeous collection of leaves.

Paper Garbage Bin: This is a very cool project and the directions on this video are easy to follow. They will also lay the foundation for the next project.

Magazine Bowls: These can be pretty pricey at a home goods store, but the technique is simple.

Paper Mache: Start by taking a bowl and covering it well with plastic wrap. Cut up magazines and newspaper into strips. Make a paste of flour and water. Dip the strips in the glue and place onto the bowl. For best results, let it dry before adding layers. Once it’s completely dry, unmold. You can then paint it or just decoupage it. A variation is to rip up magazine pages into very tiny pieces and soak in water until it becomes very mushy. You can hasten the process by using a blender and hot water. Prepping a bowl with plastic wrap, just dab on bits of the paper mulch.