Why every day is a good time to talk about breast cancer awareness

During the month of October, it’s difficult to ignore the stories, commercials, advertisements, pink T-shirts and other paraphernalia proclaiming Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For Excellus BlueCross BlueShield employee Maria Horton, however, every month and every day is a good time for breast cancer awareness.

Maria has learned that the hard way. She is a breast cancer survivor.

Maria Horton

 

An Otherwise perfectly normal mammogram

Due to a family history of breast cancer, Maria knew she was at high risk of also developing breast cancer. That’s why she started annual mammography screenings when she turned 40. Everything appeared normal for Maria up until three years ago.

It was just a few months after an otherwise perfectly normal mammogram that Maria noticed a change in one of her breasts. Not one to brush it off in ignorance in hopes that it will go away, she followed up with her doctor.

That led Maria to a ductogram and a core needle biopsy. When her doctor scheduled fine needle guided biopsies, the physician didn’t need to tell her she had breast cancer. “I already knew,” she said.

While her husband, three children and work family were aware of what was going on, Maria then had to break the news to her parents, siblings and in-laws. “This was very tough and very emotional,” she said. “I was numb.”

Once she shared the news, however, it was these same people who helped carry Maria through her 10½-hour bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. “Without the support of my loving family and the wonderful, caring people I work with, I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of my difficult days,” she said.

During her eight-week recovery, Maria’s family took care of her and helped with everything. Friends brought cards, food, flowers and her favorite Starbucks coffee.

“The support I had meant the world to me and still does,” she said.

 

Advice from a breast cancer survivor

Maria considers herself lucky in that she did not need follow-up chemotherapy or radiation. She does see her surgical and medical oncologists every three months and takes oral medication.

Her advice to all women is to know their personal risk factors for breast cancer, schedule their mammograms as recommended by their doctors and perform monthly breast self-checks.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women ages 50 to 74 be screened for breast cancer every two years, but an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report shows that nearly one in five upstate New York women still does not get a biennial mammogram.

“The evidence is clear that early detection saves lives,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., medical director, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Given the fact that most health insurers cover preventive breast cancer screenings in full every one to two years for women older than age 40, we would like to see even higher percentages of women being screened for breast cancer.”

 

3 reasons  women skip breast cancer screenings

A recent Excellus BlueCross BlueShield survey of members who hadn’t had a mammogram revealed three top reasons why women opt out of their recommended screening:

 

1. Concerned about pain

Women who haven’t gone through menopause can minimize the pain and discomfort of having their mammogram by scheduling their screening a week after having their period, when breasts are less tender. Avoiding caffeine the week before your mammogram may also help. Take it from Maria, who offered this sage advice, “Yes, having a mammogram is uncomfortable, but it beats the alternative of having breast cancer.”

 

2. Concerned about test results

Mammograms can detect lumps in your breast when they are small, even before you can feel them. Breast cancer found early is easier to treat and results in better clinical outcomes. Generally, you can get your mammogram results within a day or so by calling your doctor’s office. There may be times when you receive a call from your doctor’s office recommending further testing. This does not mean you have cancer, but it is very important that you follow up if asked to do so. For Maria, it’s simple. “Do it!” she said.

 

3. Concerned about radiation

According to the American Cancer Society, the benefits of the small amount of radiation to which we are exposed during mammography screening outweigh any possible harm from radiation exposure. The peace of mind you’ll receive from having completed your mammogram is immeasurable, added Maria. “This takes a few minutes, and it’s done.”

Breast cancer can affect women of any age or race. Dr. Massa noted that your risk for breast cancer increases with age and if you have a family history. A woman’s risk factors determine when she should begin getting screened.

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors and screenings by talking to your doctor, or by visiting the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website.

For more on the best ways to protect your health, read this Women’s Health Checklist from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A Daughter’s Story: My Dad’s Life After A Heart Attack

When your 58-year-old dad drops to the floor and dies of a heart attack in a hospital emergency room, you take notice.

The event that triggered this wake-up call for Meghan Dailey of Rochester occurred seven years ago. She talks about it as if it just happened yesterday. It’s that fresh and real in her memory.

The heart attack: the scariest hour and a half of my life

The day started out pretty ordinary as typical workdays go. Meghan was working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in downtown Rochester. It was mid-October. It was one of those early fall days, when you just start noticing that the weather is getting a little cold.

What interrupted this otherwise unremarkable day was a call from her mom. She said that her father was in the emergency room at Unity Hospital in Greece. He had suffered a heart attack and collapsed right there in the ER. His heart had stopped beating. Doctors were trying to resuscitate him with chest compressions and the jarring shocks of an automated external defibrillator.

Meghan and her two sisters rushed to the hospital in time to witness their father’s revival. He was immediately wheeled in for surgery. The doctors inserted two stents to open up the clogged arteries in his heart.

“It was awful,” recalled Meghan. “Probably the scariest hour and a half of my life.”

He didn’t think he was having a heart attack

They sat in the waiting room with another group that was expecting word on their loved one. Meghan and her family never stopped praying even as they waited anxiously.

A doctor came in to tell the other group that their loved one hadn’t made it. Dailey thought their family’s turn would be next.

“Thankfully, our Dad made it through the surgery,” she said. “He was in the intensive care unit for another week and then was able to go home to recuperate.”

Meghan Dailey with her dad.

What’s not so unusual about this story is that Mike Schuth, Meghan’s dad, didn’t think he was having a heart attack. He thought the five- or six-hour pain he’d had in his shoulder was indigestion. According to his daughter, Mike decided to go to the emergency room only because he thought that’s where his doctor would send him.

Ever since Meghan could remember, she knew that her dad had high blood pressure. “Heart disease runs in the family,” she said. “My grandpa died of a series of heart attacks.”

The chef finds healthier ways to eat

Acknowledging that her father knew he should be careful with his health, Meghan is quick to point out that her father works as a chef.

On the job at Salmon Creek Country Club in Spencerport, he never thought twice about adding a little extra butter, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese to his fettucini dishes, or some additional salt to flavor his house specialty – steak with mashed potatoes.

“His favorite foods used to be linguini with white clam sauce, fish fries and macaroni salads,” said Meghan. Following the heart attack, his talent as a chef helped him find ways to modify the recipes he uses for himself and his family.

He’s learned to make more heart-healthy dishes without unnecessarily sacrificing quality and flavor. Scroll down to see his recipe for a lighter version of Alfredo sauce. Please add your heart-healthy recipes in the comments section below.

After a heart attack: walking, medication and golf

He watches what he eats and favors more fresh vegetables over foods like French fries But Mike also adheres to the medication regimen prescribed by his physicians to control his high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

He also started walking more. During winters spent in Fort Myers, Florida, Mike walks every day and golfs three times a week. Back home in Brockport, Meghan’s dad maintains the same routine.

Mike’s efforts at watching what he eats have paid off in spades. He lost 40 pounds in twelve months.

Being around for his grandchildren

Over the last couple of years, Meghan’s dad has gained added incentives to remain healthy. His three daughters have given him five grandchildren between them.

“There’s no doubt that he wants to make sure he’ll be around for his grandchildren,” said Meghan. “The kids adore him, and he loves being around them.” Her own two children range in age from 15 months to 3 years.

Since their father’s heart attack, the family recognizes the prevalent role that heart disease plays for them and keeps extra vigilant. “My sisters and I try to teach our children that veggies are an integral part of every meal,” said Meghan.

“We also try to maintain an active lifestyle and incorporate activities in everything we do,” she added. That comes in the form encouraging her daughter to pursue gymnastics, or to go outside to get some fresh air and play.

American Heart Association Rochester Heart Walk

One activity that the whole family, including grandpa and grandma, is actively involved in is the American Heart Association’s Rochester Heart Walk.

Meghan served as co-chair with Marty Cranmer, IT project manager, of the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Rochester teams that participated in the walk. This year, the event was held in April at Frontier Field. Meghan and her family were there, supporting an event that raises money for what she feels is the best cause. With around 60 members on the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield team, the group raised close to $6,000 for the cause.

“I support the American Heart Association because my Dad and I are really close.” she said. “I’m so lucky that he’s still alive, and I feel blessed that he is.”

Heart-Healthy Recipe

Here is Mike Schuth’s recipe for heart-healthy Alfredo sauce.

Light Alfredo Sauce

¼ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups skim milk
1 package low-fat cream cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add cream cheese and garlic to butter, whisking until melted.

Add milk, a little at a time, while whisking to smooth out lumps.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and pepper until smooth.

 

Lori’s story: How I lost more than 250 pounds

Lori Dyer had struggled with her weight for as long as she could remember. She was 412 pounds and had tried every diet. However, she always gained the weight back.

She got sick a lot and struggled to walk down stairs. The extra weight contributed to health issues, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, back pain and knee pain.

“I didn’t know how not to be fat,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lori’s children said they “didn’t want to lose her” that Lori went through with a procedure that has so far has helped her lose more than 250 pounds.

(Click below to watch a video by Highland Hospital that highlights Lori’s story)

Gastric Bypass

Lori underwent gastric bypass surgery.

With the surgery, the doctor first makes the stomach smaller by stapling off a small pouch, which makes you feel full sooner. Next, the surgeon shortens your small intestine and attaches it to the small stomach pouch. This changes the direction of the food to bypass most of the small intestine so your body absorbs fewer calories.

When doctors look into bariatric surgery, they look at many options, including gastric sleeve surgery.

After gastric bypass surgery, patients need to rest and recover. After the operation, most people move from a liquid diet for a week, to a puree diet, to a soft diet where you can introduce other foods, to a balanced diet set out by a dietitian. These special diets run about two months before you are back to “normal” food.

Bariatric surgery is not a magic pill.

Lori said the surgery changed her life. But after undergoing such an intense procedure, Lori had to dramatically change a lot of things. She has to regularly take vitamins and supplements, eat healthy practically all the time, attend follow-up appointments, exercise and participate in support groups for the remainder of her life.

Lori says, “It is hard,” but her only regret is, “not having the procedure done sooner.”

Lori had at one point accepted where she was. She was 400 pounds and didn’t want to leave her house. Lori said her decision was hard to make.

“When I had thought about surgery in the past, I didn’t want to do it because I always figured I would be missing out on so much,” she said. “But then the light bulb finally went off and I thought ‘what am I missing out on by NOT having the surgery?'”

Lori realized that the answer was life. “When talking it over with my kids, my daughter said, ‘We really want you around as long as possible.’ So yes… absolutely. I was going for it.”

Considering Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a major procedure, and should be part of a comprehensive program that includes exercise and nutritional education as well as mental health and well-being, said says LouAnne Giangreco, M.D., a Chief Medical Officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

If you are considering bariatric surgery, make sure you understand the side effects like infection, diarrhea, blood clots and even death.

“This type of surgery is only recommended if you’re very obese, your health is suffering and if all other diet and exercise options are not successful,” she said.

“Regularly eating healthy and exercising can have a bigger impact on your health than you think,” she added. “But, make sure you get the social support you need; having friends and family that support you is just as important as going through with the procedure.”

You may be able to look to your employer for support. According to Pat Salzer, a registered dietitian at Excellus BCBS, many workplaces provide health education programs at the work site.

“I am no longer just existing…I am living”

Lori wants people to know that bariatric surgery is not “cheating or the easy way out.” She stresses that “this is one of the hardest things I have ever done.” Lori found Highland Hospital in Rochester, a Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery. Hospital staff took care of her, educating her about the procedure and providing care before, during and after the surgery. These Blue Distinction centers help patients like Lori get back on their feet usually with fewer complications and hospital readmissions.

Lori has done things she never thought possible and is comfortable trying new things. Lori even went on a dating site last year and “found the piece of me that was missing. I totally would have missed out on him because I would have never put myself out there.”

Lori and Fred Shaughnessy

“Be ready for your life to change dramatically.”

Now, Lori is living her life the way she always wanted to. She is kayaking, mountain climbing, running 5ks and walking out the door, ready to take on her next adventure.  Lori stresses that the procedure “has certainly made, a huge, huge difference. It will affect everything you do, but in a good way.”

Lori with her kids, Mitchell and Rebecca

Lori’s Three Year Journey:

5 Tips for Cutting Soda from Your Diet

You drink over 38 gallons of soda each year.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), that’s how much the average American drinks each year, which is equivalent to eight 12-ounce cans of soda each week. This statistic shocked me, too.

But it also opened my eyes to my own soda-drinking habit. I typically drink at least two Mountain Dews per day and sometimes it’s more than that. After reading this statistic, I did a little more research.

The reality of soda

The CSPI reports that a typical 12-ounce can of soda contains nearly 9 teaspoons of added sugars and a typical 20-ounce bottle contains 15.5 teaspoons of added sugar. While this may not seem like a lot of sugar, it is. To put it into perspective for you, the American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of 6 teaspoons20 of added sugars for women and 9 teaspoons for men. This means that an average 12-ounce can of soda puts you at or above the recommended maximum daily intake of added sugars.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of blew my mind.

I have been drinking Mountain Dew regularly since I was in middle school. It’s probably contributed to cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain. I have tried time and time again to stop drinking it, but soda has a way of holding your affections. Mountain Dew is no exception.

I decided to track down the best ways to get rid of this habit. After doing a lot of research, I have come up with five tips and tricks for cutting soda out of your diet.

1. Start slow

You don’t have to quit cold turkey. Start by drinking less each day. If you usually drink two sodas a day, start by drinking only one.  The next week, try one soda every other day. And so on.

2. Set yourself up for success

If you don’t want to drink a lot of soda, then don’t buy a lot of soda. It doesn’t help if you keep putting it in your refrigerator. Take away the temptation and only buy the amount you are planning to drink. Another tip was if you only like to drink cold soda, then only put one in the fridge for the next day.

3. Find alternatives

It helps to fill the space that you’d be drinking soda by drinking something else. Drink water. If water is too boring for you, try flavoring it with fruit. Swap in coffee or tea if you’d like some caffeine. Flavored seltzer water may also be a good option if you like something with fizz. For many people, beverages can account for almost 20 percent of total calorie intake,  so it’s important that you find healthier alternatives. Plus, if you don’t find something else to drink, it will be that much harder to resist the call of the vending machine in the break room.

4. Exercise

If you drink soda for the caffeine, then try working out or simply getting some exercise to gain more energy along with some other great benefits. It’s much healthier for your body and has zero added sugars! Here are some great tips to help you replace your soda habit with an exercise habit.

5. Track your calories

If you’re a numbers person, it might be a good idea to sit down and track how many calories you’re drinking every day. Calories can be found right on the Nutrition Facts label. If you pay attention to the amount of calories you’re drinking, then you’ll see how quickly they add up. You could also track how much exercise you need to work off all the calories you’re drinking. The numbers may just motivate you to work harder on quitting. The MyFitnessPal app can be a useful tool to help with tracking calories.

After trying out all of these tips, the most helpful to me was finding alternatives. While I’d normally drink a soda with dinner, I’ve started drinking a glass of milk. When I’m thirsty at work, I drink water. Have any of these tips been helpful for you?

Still thirsty? Check out Is Diet Soda Healthier than Regular Soda?

Myth-Busters: Common Misconceptions About Food Labels

Jamie Moore is the Director of Sourcing and Sustainability at Parkhurst Dining. Moore is passionate about teaching people about common misconceptions about the labels we find on our food. He shares his guidance and tips on what to know about food labels.

Fact vs. Fiction

Food labels are designed to help us better understand our food purchases. However, according to Moore, a government agency does not regulate all of the claims on a food label. Without regulation or strict standards, some of these labels can, therefore, be misleading, he said. Most consumers don’t know the true meaning behind many of these labels and may purchase food thinking that the label means more than it does. Here are five common food labels that may be misleading you.

1. Cage-Free

It is generally thought that “cage-free” eggs come from a hen who lived outside of a cage.  However, according to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, seeing a “cage-free” label on eggs does not guarantee that hens were raised outdoors or even in large open spaces. In reality, most “cage-free” egg-laying hens were raised in hen houses where each hen has a space of about 8 inches by 8 inches.

Similarly, when “cage-free” is on a meat label, it may be thought that these animals are not raised in cages, but that doesn’t mean the animals don’t live in close quarters. For example, many “cage-free” chickens are raised in large, open structures called “grow-out houses”. These houses typically hold tens of thousands of chickens, and each chicken is given less than a square foot of space (about 10.5 inches by 11 inches per chicken).

Variation exists in what “cage-free” means because the “cage-free” claim is only verified sometimes. For example, while this label on eggs is supposed to be regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  the farms are not always inspected to verify the type of “cage-free” environment that the hens have access to.

2. Pasture-raised

When you see the label “pasture-raised,” you may picture animals who spend all day living in an open field, grazing on grass. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, however, a “pasture-raised” label on meat, poultry, dairy or egg products only means that the animals were raised for at least some portion of their lives on a pasture or with some access to a pasture. For example, “pasture-raised” dairy cows are given some access to a pasture, but primarily housed indoors and raised on a diet of hay, corn, and soy, not grass.

When it comes to dairy and eggs, there is no common standard for what “pasture-raised” means. This means that producers can decide the size, quality and access standards to the pasture. When it comes to meat and poultry, producers are required to explain what “pasture-raised’ means for their products. However, the USDA allows the producers to make their own definition of what it means. Producers do not necessarily have to stick to the same standard.

3. Free-Range

Much like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” hens and chickens are generally thought to have free access to the outdoors. However,  Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices explains that there are no standard requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor area that these animals have “free-range” in. Therefore, products can be labeled “free-range” as long as birds are given some kind of access to the outdoor area. Producers don’t have to report how accessible the area is to the birds or how often they are given access.

On beef products, the “free-range” label means that the animals were given free access to the outdoors for at least 120 days each year.  Again, there are no requirements for the size of the outdoor space or the quality of its condition. Like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” also doesn’t mean that the animals only at the grass on a range.

These products are only verified sometimes by the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

4. Locally-Grown

“Locally-grown” is a label that is not legally regulated. That means there is not a standard definition for what “locally-grown” means.

For example, when you hear about “locally-grown” produce, you may think the produce is grown right down the road. In reality, the produce could be grown 40, 60, or even 100 miles away. Producers can define what is “locally-grown” based on their own mission and circumstances. When you see that something is “locally-grown”, ask about what is “local” to that producer or grocer to learn more about where it came from.

5. Natural

The USDA defines this label as a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, this label is not verified. This means that there are no consistent standards to ensure that the label means what it implies to consumers. “Natural” is a label that companies can define for themselves and the definitions vary. Government agencies do not regulate the use of the “natural” food label, they can only provide guidance.

Organic food, on the other hand, is held to very rigorous standards. To learn more about the difference between “organic” and “natural” food labels, check out our article, What’s the Difference Between “Organic” and “Natural”?

Learn Before You Trust the Label

Moore emphasizes that many food labels can be confusing when there is a lack of regulation or standards for what a label means. That’s why it is important to learn more about the meaning behind a food label. By doing a little research or talking to experts like Moore, you too can be a more informed consumer at the grocery store.

If you’re interested in buying a product that truly has verified claims for things like having access to a pasture or being grass-fed,  Consumer Reports suggests looking for additional labels on the product. Some food labels are strictly regulated and provide meaningful standards for things like free access to the outdoors. These labels include:

 

What You Need to Know About Appendicitis

Do you know what it feels like to have appendicitis? I didn’t either.

I was attending my first year of college, living alone in a studio apartment in the big city and taking a full load of classes while working two part-time jobs to pay rent and support my cat. While I was lying on the couch watching Netflix one night, a dull pain started in my stomach. I figured it was just stress or maybe menstrual cramps. As a woman, I’m used to stomach pains because they hit me every month for at least three days. A little stomach pain is nothing.

But the pain gradually got worse, which was a little different than the norm. It made it painful to move or breathe. I grimaced as the pain escalated. I thought about going to the emergency department, but I instantly doubted myself.

What if I get there and find out that it’s just gas? That would be so embarrassing, was just one of the many doubts going through my mind.

I was a nineteen-year-old who had grown up in a no-nonsense family that believed if you’re not dying then you’re probably fine. I had never been to the emergency department and I didn’t think I was qualified to make this decision. So I spoke to three different mothers (mine, my grandma, and my best friend’s) and finally decided to go.

Once I arrived, I went through four hours of waiting in the emergency department, four different tests and a lot of medications before they diagnosed me with appendicitis.

I almost didn’t go to the Emergency Department

As a female who gets menstrual cramps once a month and has had stomach aches pretty regularly my whole life, I just assumed it was normal stomach pain that would go away. I was used to stomach pain and doubted that it could actually be something like appendicitis.

That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between everyday stomach pains that don’t require a hospital visit and something like appendicitis, which can be very dangerous.

What even is appendicitis?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix. Untreated appendicitis can rupture, which can cause you to become very ill with a fever, nausea, severe tenderness in your abdomen, and vomiting.

Appendicitis can have more than one cause, and in many cases, the cause is not clear. Some possible causes are:

  • Blockage of the opening inside the appendix
  • Enlarged tissue in the wall of your appendix caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in your body
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, stool, parasites, or growths that can clog your appendiceal lumen
  • Trauma to your abdomen

So, how do you know when the pain in your stomach is appendicitis?

There are some classic signs and symptoms of appendicitis, but it is important to know that people can present very differently with this condition. When your appendix is inflamed, it can cause a pain in your abdomen that starts near your belly button and moves lower and to the right side. The pain can come on suddenly and can gradually get worse over several hours. Something that the doctor will do is push into the right lower side of your abdomen. This will cause a pain in the area.

If you’re still unsure, there are other symptoms of appendicitis that can follow the pain. Those symptoms can include:

  • Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A loss of appetite
  • A low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating

There are other medical conditions that can also lead to similar symptoms. Since appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose, call your medical provider to discuss any unusual abdominal pain that you are experiencing. Your medical provider can help you to determine the next best steps in diagnosing the source of your pain.

Get treatment, even when you’re unsure

Appendicitis is a medical condition that requires timely care. A doctor can help treat appendicitis and reduce symptoms and the chance of complications. It’s better to be safe and find out it’s just gas, than to have your appendix rupture and end up in a lot more pain than before. If you have appendicitis, it is vital that you are treated. If I had listened to my doubts that it was just cramps or gas, I would have ended up very ill and spending a lot more time in the hospital.

Know the difference between your usual stomach pains and a pain that feels unusual. Trust your instincts and seek the guidance of a medical provider in getting the care that you need.

Heat Illness: What to Watch Out For

As the year gears up for August, I’m plagued by memories of sweltering heat, affecting my focus, motivation, and workout schedule. This weekend, I tried to plan a day when I could run. But even in the early mornings, the humidity was soaking the air, making it hard to breathe. I almost went to the gym, but a treadmill sounded just as bad.

Are you like me and insist on exercising outdoors in the summer? If so, remember that exercising in the severe temperature can cause heat strokes, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, all of which can really hurt you.

Different Types of Heat Illness

There are three different types of heat illness.

Heat cramps are muscle pains and spasms that occur with strenuous activity. These cramps can occur during or after activity. Heat cramps can be treated with rest, moving to a cool place, cool cloths, giving a cool sports drink containing salt and sugar, and stretching.

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps. If you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, you may experience heavy sweating, paleness, fatigue, and even nausea. Anyone faced with heat exhaustion should drink fluids, take a cool shower, and be moved to an air-conditioned environment. If there is no improvement with these measures, the individual should go to an emergency department.

Heat stroke is the most severe type of heat illness. Heat stroke happens when a person’s body temperature reaches 103 degrees or higher. Symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, fainting, headaches, vomiting, and weakness. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or your local emergency medical service.

Risk Factors

Young, healthy people who exercise with a high intensity or long duration outside are susceptible to heat illnesses due to overexertion. Athletes, people working in hot environments and military should be especially careful.

Some athletes can adapt their body to warmer temperatures. It takes several weeks of exercise in the heat for our bodies to adapt and compensate for the higher temperatures. Our bodies will sweat more and start sweating earlier to help us better handle the heat. But make sure to pace activity to build up fitness, or you could get really sick.

Prevention

To prevent “exertional” heat illness, make sure to take frequent breaks, exercise in the morning or night when the temperatures are cooler, and drink plenty of fluids.

In almost all cases, young athletes should rehydrate with water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sports drinks are full of sugar and empty calories that can put you at risk for obesity and dental issues.

You should only consume sports drinks during “prolonged, vigorous sports participation or other intense physical activity,” according to the Academy. This is when you need to quickly replenish some of the carbohydrates and/or electrolytes you lose through intense sweating. Sports drinks are also appropriate to use with heat cramps.

Keep in mind, heat does not only affect athletes. Elderly people are also at risk of experiencing heat illness. Older individuals should stay hydrated and stay in air conditioning as much as possible, especially on very hot days. Looking for more tips for keeping older adults safe in the heat? Click here. 

Staying Active Indoors

When the heat rises, try to think of other ways to get in a workout. Swimming at the local gym, doing a spin class or yoga in an air-conditioned environment are great options that allow you to be inside and better control your body temperature.

How to Help Those with Depression or Suicidal Thoughts

I was saddened to hear of the two recent celebrity suicides. I was sad for their families and also for them.

But I was also anxious. I knew that I would soon be receiving texts and emails full of questions about, “why?”  I don’t know why these things happen. Each person’s story is unique. There may be certain risk factors and things that could be done to prevent suicide. But there is no simple formula to predict or prevent these types of things.

Many are also saddened to hear that suicide rates are climbing nationwide. In New York state, the suicide rate rose about 30 percent between 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Things That Can Help

For me, I deal with all of this by focusing on what we can do to help people battling depression and suicidal thoughts. Some of the top ways include:

  1. Effective mental health treatment. Evidence-based-treatments – including cognitive behavioral therapy – could help. This therapy revolves around helping you handle mood fluctuations and stressful situations. Talk to your physician for more information.
  2. Connection to the world around you. This includes your connection to family, pets, caregivers, therapists, and church or spiritual communities. These connections provide you with a purpose, support, and something to live for. In dark times, it helps to wake up with a purpose and wake up to someone to love and/or to be loved by.
  3. Try to stay sober during sad times. Substances like drugs or alcohol can make you feel isolated or make obstacles appear insurmountable.

Additional Resources

Remember: If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers additional suicide prevention information:

Skin Cancer: What to Watch Out For – A Personal Reflection

Skin is something people take for granted, until the worst happens. It is the largest living organ of the human body and the most exposed to the elements.

Too much exposure to UV rays from the sun can cause skin cancer.  According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with one in five Americans developing skin cancer by the time they turn 70. While skin cancer is more likely to occur in older adults, younger people can also get skin cancer.

There are many things we can do to safeguard our skin. A Healthier Upstate spoke to Tom Hoffman, a former construction professional living in Rochester, NY who survived a skin cancer diagnosis back in 2007. He shared lessons learned from his experience.

Tom Hoffman, diagnosed with melanoma in 2007.

How did you first find out you had skin cancer?

It was 2007 and there was some unusual crusting on my right hand. I was concerned it was a solar spot. I worked in construction at the time. I went to my physician to check it out. My wife came with me. I talked to the doctor about working outside in the sun as an adult and playing outside in the sun as a child. The doctor took a look at my right hand and told me the spot could be cancerous.

Tom originally went to his doctor worried about “crusting” on his hand.

He then examined the rest of my body. I thought everything else was fine, until my wife pointed to a spot on my body and said, “That doesn’t look right.” She pointed to a black-bluish spot a quarter-inch in diameter. The doctor agreed the spot was out of the ordinary and booked me for a biopsy. I got the biopsy and waited. One day when I was at work I got a phone call from the dermatologist.

They gave me the results of the biopsy. I had skin cancer. Melanoma. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer.  I was shocked.

What happened then?

I set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon since I had Stage 2 melanoma (it hadn’t spread, but it was on the edge of spreading).

The area of Tom’s abdomen that was affected by the melanoma.

The surgeon said he had to cut around the area. Unfortunately, that didn’t clear the cancer, so I had to go back for a second surgery, this time for a larger incision. Thankfully the final biopsy came back clear.

Did you do anything differently since getting cancer?

I was expected to survive five years.  It was an eye-opener! I did a lot of research and realized things I hadn’t realized before. I learned about precautionary steps, such as the correct use of sunscreen with enough SPF. I use sunscreen with an SPF of 50 and now wear a wide-brimmed hat. You’re still exposed to the sun’s harmful rays on cloudy days, so I make sure to put on sunscreen. I also learned you can get melanoma in the eyes, so it’s a good idea to wear shades. I passed the 5-year survival rate in 2012, and am grateful for each day given to me.

Tips for protecting yourself from the sun

This summer, enjoy the sunshine safely, with these tips from the CDC:

  1. Stay in the shade, especially when the sun is high
  2. Cover up your exposed skin, especially your arms and legs
  3. Wear sunglasses that protect from UVA and UVB rays
  4. Use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 and that offers broad-spectrum protection. Apply sunscreen before going outside. Reapply if you’re staying out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming or sweating. Damaging UV rays can impact all types of skin, so even people with darker skin need sunscreen.
  5. Avoid indoor tanning

If you notice any changes to your skin, make an appointment with your doctor to examine your skin.

Click HERE to download a free infographic, “The Scorching Truth About Skin Cancer” or learn more by watching this short animation:

Men’s health: How pride and stubbornness almost ruined my well-being

Fall of 2017 had just begun. Changes were coming — I could feel it in the air. And I don’t mean just the change in seasons from summer morphing into fall, of green leaves turning brilliant shades of orange and red, and warm days transitioning to cooler temperatures.

Having asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I find it easier to breathe in the fall. I was looking forward to breathing a little easier after the long, hot summer that featured lots of rain.

At work, I was gearing up for another open enrollment period. This is the time of year when companies choose the health insurance they are offering their employees. It always brings many new changes, challenges, and exhilaration for me and my colleagues in the Sales and Marketing department at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Letting pride and stubbornness get the best of me

As I sat home doing what I usually do on Sundays — watching football — I suddenly noticed that I was having difficulty breathing. Grabbing my inhaler, I took a few puffs, only to realize that my fast-acting Inhaler wasn’t acting fast. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t acting at all.

For a while, I kept telling myself that if I just relax on the couch, I would soon feel better. As time went on, though, I wasn’t feeling better — I was feeling worse. Pretty soon, I could barely breathe. It wasn’t long before I was sweating and hyperventilating.

Finally, I had to admit to myself that a trip to the emergency room was in my very near future. To do that, I needed to get dressed. I was NOT going in my skivvies.

When my wife noticed the challenge I was having getting dressed, she offered to call the ambulance. “Nooooo, don’t call the ambulance,” I wailed. “I can make it to the car.”

It was pride, or foolish pride and stubbornness, getting the best of me. I didn’t want the neighbors to see me being hauled off in the ambulance.

“911. What is your emergency?”

Ignoring my protest, my wife did call an ambulance, which prompted cries along the lines of, “Oh dear God! They’re coming to take me away.”

Thoroughly embarrassed, I arrived at the emergency room of my local hospital, where my diagnosis was so bad that it prompted a transfer to Crouse Hospital. I had a pneumothorax. In layman’s terms, I had suffered a collapsed lung due to an abnormal collection of air between the lung and the chest wall.

The treatment sounded simple enough. The medical practitioner informed me they would insert a chest tube to inflate the lung and remove fluid and air.

“Oh goodie,” I thought. “I’ll be home in no time and be able to catch the Sunday night game.” Well, I did catch the game, but it was from my bed at Crouse Hospital.

Patient versus Patience

Patience is a quality which shows that a man or woman is tolerant and has the capacity to endure pain or suffering. Patient is a word that is used for sick people.

Being a good patient requires patience. Neither one describes me. I am a horrible patient with little or no patience. After spending four days in the hospital, I was so ready to go home. My condition had improved, my lung was inflated again, and I was anxious to be discharged.

The day of my expected return home, I tried hard to be forbearing. But by 3 p.m., I still had not received my promised discharge papers. As I said, I am not a good patient and have little to no patience.

I ended up yanking out the intravenous cord attached to my arm and storming out of the hospital. I told the nurse to mail me my discharge papers. My wife was not amused.

Who says Friday the thirteenth is bad luck?

I did manage to recover enough of my strength to return to work a week later. A few days in, on Friday the thirteenth (which meant nothing to me, as I am not superstitious), I had scheduled a one-on-one with my manager.

Suddenly, I was not feeling right. Again I was having shortness of breath and starting to sweat. My fast-acting inhaler once again was not acting fast. I had seen this movie before.

I asked my manager if we could reschedule our meeting because I was not feeling well. I just wanted to get in my car, go home and lay down.

Thankfully for me, she would not let me go, insisted I did not look well and thought to call the Emergency Response Team. Again I howled, “Nooooo! Not that,” to no avail.

Dismissing my protests, the Emergency Response Team and my co-workers convinced me to stop being stubborn and get to the hospital. “Here we go again! I get to have another ambulance ride. Yeah me,” I thought wryly.

Taking corporate culture to a whole other level

Lying on the gurney in the ambulance, I had no choice but to accept my fate. Deep down, I knew that the trained and experienced people at Crouse could help me in spite of my stubbornness.

What I did not expect was my manager, Vaia Spasevski, to join me in the ambulance for the ride to the hospital. I was vaguely aware that she was standing outside the ambulance when I was getting loaded in. I thought I saw Todd Muscatello, our Corporate VP of Sales and Marketing, outside as well.

Pulling up to the hospital as if through in a fog, I finally arrived in the emergency room. The diagnosis was a collapsed lung again. I was not surprised.

What was surprising was seeing Todd and Vaia standing outside my examining room. I am still not sure how Todd got there so fast. I’m beginning to wonder if he was driving the ambulance. The two of them waited there until I went in for surgery and my wife arrived.

All’s well that ends well

The successful thoracic surgery I then underwent included a procedure to prevent air from getting between my lung and chest cavity. At this point, I no longer felt any sense of embarrassment, as it was only my wife there seeing me at my worst.

At least that feeling of relief lasted until Mark Muthumbi, Regional VP of Sales and Marketing at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, showed up. Could it be possible that the people I work with day in and day out are so concerned with my well-being?

It took some time, but I did come to realize that many of my co-workers cared about me and were concerned about me. That convinced me to be a better patient and have more patience. This time around, I allowed myself more time to convalesce and heeded the advice to take my time returning to work.

When a minor setback occurred a couple of weeks into my recovery, I didn’t stubbornly try to ride it out by convincing myself to just rest and give it some time. I used the opportunity to call our telemedicine provider, MDLive, which saved me the trouble of making a separate doctor’s office visit.

Today, I’m thankful to be back at work. I realize that the outcome could have been a lot worse if not for the actions of my wife and my co-workers. I thank them all for their concern and well wishes. They didn’t just do it any way; they did it the “Lifetime Way,” the cultural mantra that we live by at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

What have I learned from this cautionary tale?

Here are some things I’ve learned from my experience:

  • Be aware of what’s going on with your body. Pay attention to the smallest of signs that can point to something bigger going on.
  • Be more proactive when it comes to health issues. Don’t just dismiss them, thinking that another day of rest and recuperation will make things better.
  • Embarrassment, pride, and stubbornness will not help you in a medical emergency. You have to ditch all three of these and allow yourself to be put in a vulnerable position to get to the bottom of a health issue.
  • There are people outside of your immediate family who genuinely care about you.
  • Telemedicine is an awesome healthcare resource that can help in a myriad of situations.
  • Have more patience, especially if you’re a patient.