When confronted with a life-altering illness we depend on our doctors to provide the best treatment for our condition. As you begin treatment the hope is that your doctor discusses both the positives and negatives of any treatment so you’re decision is based on informed consent. The pharmaceutical companies job is to bring new products to market to improve our health, but unfortunately many don’t know what the long term impact of their inventions will be.
If you have seen one of the many medication commercials on television you’ll notice that at some point in the commercial a voice will come on giving you the potential side effects. The difficult part is that this may only be a short list of the possible side effects. There are two parts to this dilemma, the lack of long term data and the lack of reporting by us the consumer.
Studies show that doctors and patients seldom report adverse reactions (side effects) to the drug manufacturer. As pilgrims on the journey to health it’s important that your voice be heard. Remember in school when the teacher would “ask your question because others have the same question”? The same is true with medication side effects, if you’re having them the odds are good someone else is having them. If we don’t come forth this doesn’t get documented and accurate and informed decisions about treatment options don’t get made.
Stepping out of the patients place of anonymity you do two things; you allow you doctor to help with the side effects either by altering the dose, changing the medication or in all likelihood giving you one prescription to handle the side effects. Second is that you are speaking for many people who are taking the same medication. You have the opportunity to become a partner with your physician and the pharmaceutical company in creating medications that retain their efficacy while diminishing side effects.
The other important factor is that when doctors or patients inform the pharmaceutical company about the side effect, they are required to include that information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This allows the FDA to make better decisions about the safety of a medication. Do your part, don’t stay quiet! If you have side effects, report them and become part of the solution.
I never really thought that there could be differences in treatment based on the characteristics of my doctor. My assumption and those of many people I speak with is that training gives doctors the tools to treat patients and that there are standards that doctors adhere to providing equal outcome opportunities for all patients.
It should be no surprise that I was shocked when I read an article today on www.msn.com that reports on a study by the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University. The study looked at 30,000 women 65 and older with breast cancer having breast conservation surgery between 1991-2002. The study found that there was a difference in the patients given radiation treatment following the surgery greatly reducing the risk of recurrence.
Could it really be that my doctors bias on treatment is based personal characteristics? This information puts creating a relationship with my doctor even more important. Maybe I need to ask questions to flush out the doctor’s biases. The study also looked at 4453 surgeons who operated on these women in the study. The study concluded that characteristics such as gender of the surgeon, whether the medical professional was and MD or DO or whether the doctor was trained in the US could be factors in the difference between radiation treatment and no radiation.
This study although from the cancer community is not cancer related. This study is medical training related. This study asks us as pilgrims walking the journey of life-altering illness to become more inquisitive of our medical providers. It’s not enough to know whether the doctor has any malpractice claims, now we’re questioning their judgment based on factors that I never would have considered to be part of the conversation. What new questions will you ask of your medical providers?
Each of us have a bottom line that once crossed either makes us mad or sets us in motion. It’s important to consider when it comes to your health where will you throw your weight, not literally. It’s important to know what you’ll take a stand for because the day may come when a doctor makes a suggestion or gives you news that you don’t want to hear. Take it one step further, you receive news that you think is defeatist and now it’s time to take a stand.
It’s important to take a stand because when we do we feel empowered. We all have that one issue that makes our blood boil and we want to change. Such is the case with a basketball coach in Indiana. Coach Ron Hunter didn’t understand how in the 21st century, children in Africa could be walking around without shoes. He decided to take a stand in honor of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His goal was to get 40,000 pairs of shoes donated that he could send to the children in Africa. He had a lot of help along the way, but he did something that surprised everyone. He decided to coach a basketball game without any shoes or socks. That made headlines and brought attention to his cause.
Not everyone needs to consider how to change the world, especially when the biggest challenge of all is creating a safe and healthy environment for you mind, body and soul. What will you do to take a stand for your health? How will you go above and beyond to prove that you’re serious about the changes that need to be made to increase your quality of life? Don’t wait another minute…do it now!
How readable are you? There is a continuum from the very stoic person to the person whose heart lives on their sleeve. Are either of these ideal? Well the truth is nothing in extreme form is usually good for us, so we need to come up with some level of balance to live harmoniously within our own bodies.
Emotional transparency for those facing a life-altering diagnosis becomes an important part of living honestly with the cards you’ve been dealt. No one has to put on a game face when tackling huge challenges. When we aren’t connected to our emotional state others will read what they want to read about you. Billy Crystal many years ago had a saying “It’s better to look good, than to feel good.” Although funny as a comedy line, it can be devastating to our daily functioning and harming our health. How many times has someone you know that’s ill heard, “But you don’t look sick”. I always wonder what that means. All I can picture is saying, that’s correct, I don’t carry a toilet around my neck like a horse has a feed sack.
When we are honest about how we’re feeling we’re more inclined to self-nurture. Others are more likely to provide help when help is needed. Your doctor will have a better chance of knowing how best to help you aside from the obvious medical treatment you’re receiving. Struggle does not have to be work like a badge of courage. Let your light shine through even when you have days that may be cloudy or hazy, others will learn to read you, they learn to read the weather don’t they?
When we walk this world as a pilgrim we are in search of answers. Sometimes the questions are those of an inner nature, emotional or spiritual. Other times the questions are very pragmatic, especially when facing a life-altering diagnosis. The questions that rise to the surface are related to research, treatment options and new frontiers.
It’s important to know about the researchers who are working on your particular health issue. Become familiar with their names and talk about them. It’s important to increase their name recognition because that brings attention to the work their doing and down the road can result in increased funding for research.
There are some great men like Dr. Judah Folkman who prefer to be quiet heroes. They don’t like to be in the spotlight and deflect the attention from individual attention to repositioning himself as part of a collaborative. His work in cancer research is heralded as ground breaking and the foundation upon which much of today’s research is based and yet his humanity always shined through.
In a recent Newsweek article, following Folkman’s recent death the article referred to his tenacity when facing scientific skepticism. They go on to share the fun other scientists had with his ideas, almost in a mocking fashion. But the tides would turn and researchers would come to understand not only the plausibility of his work, but the realization that his work could and would be the epicenter of treatment coming down the pike.
The article shares a great quote from Folkman about the asking questions to get ahead. He said, “You have to think ahead, Science goes where you imagine it.” So give the researchers working on your behalf the honor they’re due. You can always find out about the work by logging on to the associations and organizations that support your health issue. Become a pilgrim and find your own soap box. The result down the road can be great findings that can improve your health and the quality of your life.
The only opportunity we have to make a difference in our world is by acknowledging where you are today. As a therapist I’ve worked with clients for twenty years trying to heal and recapture the time lost due to horrible circumstances and part of that is truly a waste of time. How long will you hold on to something, weighing you down before you decide to take action?
Yesterday is old news. Think about the newspaper, what you read yesterday is lining the trash can today…how is it helping you? This isn’t a lecture on staying in the present, but holding up a mirror so you take a look and allow you to see if the reflection you see is current…in the moment current.
If what you see is a shadow of an old you then clap your hands, stomp your feet or do whatever it takes to snap you into the present. Ask yourself what will I do differently today, today being the key word. If you’re trying to change your eating habits and you blew it don’t dwell on what you didn’t accomplish yesterday, but wipe your slate clean and see what you can accomplish today.
What are you will to practice and what will be your practice? Do you have a spiritual practice because that’s a great place to begin because it grounds you in your body, the current state of your body. Take a couple of deep breaths and sit with yourself silently and listen to the sounds your body makes, watching the movements in your abdomen from your breath, notice the flutter of your eyelids and eye lashes, then go forth as see what you take notice of as your today begins.
Good news for our hearts, this week it was announced that death due to heart attack and stroke is down 26% since 1999. There are lots of factors that account for this change. We have new medications, we’re getting patients treatment faster, people have made lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. I believe there are other factors involved such as the awareness and self-love people experience and begin to express after being told they have cardiac issues.
When the doctor gives you the news about the condition of your health you stand at a crossroad. The decision at that moment is not about whether or not you’ll have a heart attack, but do you love yourself enough to change your lifestyle. Are you willing to stand still for a moment and ask yourself the hard questions about what are you meant to accomplish with your time on this earth. Often it takes these defining moments for people to surrender to the honest revelations they’ve been hiding for years.
Your heart becomes happy when your true nature is validated and honored. You build a healthy heart by developing the capacity to love and to give to others. I always think of the Christmas special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The Grinch had a redefining moment that changed his life forever. The same is possible for all of us. It’s obvious that individuals are asking themselves what factors play into the destruction of the heart and once you know, how can you ever go back to being oblivious.
The news about heart health is encouraging because it can be a precursor to what’s available to those with other illnesses. New research and medications are on the horizon. More of us are turning to alternative health practitioners to add an boost to our allopathic medical treatments. It’s viewing the body as a whole, not separate parts that brings the heart the support it needs to become stronger and that’s a lesson for all of us.
We all need to remember that even when we’re healthy we have a limited amount of energy. Each person needs to keep in mind those things that drain our energy. It’s important to look at people, jobs or situations that leave us feeling like a wet noodle. This becomes an even bigger issue for those of us facing life-altering health issues. Knowing your limits and staying within those limits is a key factor to maintaining your health.
We need to look at our energy as a precious commodity. That means when considering how to spend your enegy you give it great consideration and thought. You wouldn’t take a thousand dollars and just throw it away unless you have more money than you know what to do with…the same is true with your energy.
The other part about managing your energy is the need to replenish those resources. If we don’t think about how to rejuvenate our energy resources we’ll personally be in the same pickle that planet is in regarding fossil fuels. Without replenishment we will hit a bottom that many won’t be able to bounce back from.
Why put yourself in that position? Why not manage your energy the way a hedge-fund manager manages billions of dollars. More importantly why don’t we manage our energy like it’s a precious gift. Yes, when we’re feeling good energy expenditure is great because it has a return on investment in good feelings and great memories. It’s when we’re feeling bad and we expend needless energy that we are put in a danger zone.
Always consider your options and keep yourself energy efficient, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
One of the best books I’ve read is Jerome Groopman’s “How Doctor’s Think”. It’s great to get an insider’s view about the thought process of our healthcare providers. For years we’ve gone to doctors as the only definitive answer to answering our health questions. Doctors provided us with their “expert” opinion and followed their recommendations. For some it may be a big frightening to look behind the veil of certainty and see doctors and human beings.
What does that mean? It means that doctors deal with uncertainty. There are medical questions they can’t answer and sometimes their opinion is a guess. That part I don’t mind as long as the doctor presents the information in the context of “I think” or “this may be happening” as opposed to “this is definitive”.
My experience with doctors and other healthcare providers is that when they seem more human, meaning they aren’t so stoic and righteous, I’m able to accept and hear their opinion without judgment or skepticism. I can listen to the doctors thoughts and treatment plan and feel comfortable asking questions or even offering suggestions.
This is one of the changes in our modern day medical world, patients have become highly educated. Many people walk in to their medical appointment with folders of information they have poured over looking for the best treatments and the best outcomes. Some doctors are welcoming this newly informed patient with open arms and those are the medical personnel I want to partner with because feeling a part of my care provides buy-in on my part making more likely to be compliant and have a positive attitude about the outcome.
We all have an understanding of the type of medical professional we’ll work best with, so don’t disregard the all knowing physician if that’s what you need. I just don’t want you to be disappointed if they don’t hold every answer to every question with only positive results. Doctors can only make decisions based on their experience up to this moment, their involvement in continuing education and listening with an open heart to what their patients are sharing. This is a new model of medicine but I believe we’ll all be healthier because of it.
Ever hear the saying “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt”? When we are a tourist we go somewhere as an observer. We participate on the fringe. We look, often are told not to touch and at then end of the day we smile because we enjoyed ourselves. There is not attachment to the outcome because the only expectation is to have fun. Why do some people facing a life-altering diagnosis live their lives like tourists?
The easy answer is fear. If someone receives a life-altering illness and takes no action, without really giving it careful consideration it’s like being a witness to a horrible accident, only in this case they’re the victim. On the other hand, there are people who receive the diagnosis, go to the doctor, engage in treatment but are removed from the process. For them it’s like having an out of body experience (not sure how that happens when it’s their own body).
Those of us who walk this journey as pilgrims know that we have to get down in the trenches and sure enough we’re going to get dirty. There are times, like on the 500 mile pilgrimage in Spain, that you’re thinking the journey will never end and the suffering, pain and exhaustion are endless. In many cases, the challenge has defined margins but it’s hard to see the end when wind is blowing in your face (like all the media discussing longevity, research trials and the endless pharmaceutical commercials on television). What we need to remember is that having faith in our journey is the primary means of being a participant in your care.
The pilgrimage is long because you have to show commitment to your healing. The pilgrimage is long so you can have time to weed out of your life those things that don’t matter or get in the way of living a better, less burdened life. The pilgrimage is long because you need time to take back the control you lost when you received your diagnosis. It’s a time to regroup and re-attack.
We can’t afford to be tourists in life when facing a diagnosis. Remember, those who are well behaved rarely make history.