Posts Tagged ‘health’

Health results, past and present.

I remember when I first found out I had some sort of cyst or tumor, nearly four years ago now. At first, it was tangible — it showed up in X-rays and an ultrasound, and I could feel it when I touched my abdomen — but it wasn’t quite a real thing for me. I was determined. I was determined to be fine aside from that; I said to myself and everyone around me that I was otherwise healthy. I was finishing up a healing and empowerment program and I felt alive and powerful. While I did things to mitigate the occasion sharp pain and continued with the trajectory of making doctors’ appointments, I also pushed forward. I was determined that it was not going to interfere with the goals I had for myself.

I didn’t consider how much energy the mass took up inside me. Nor did I consider the power of denial. Which is not to say that the feeling of empowerment and hope and idealism was not very real for me — it was. But I didn’t even really think about the potential realities of a mass growing on my ovary. I continued as if it were not a factor.

Also, I had not had this experience before. I simply was lacking both experience and information. Phrases like complex cyst and borderline ovarian tumor did not yet have meaning for me, even if and when I heard them. It wasn’t really until after my surgery where those meanings hit me and I understood.

The present:

Saturday, I stared at the letter: my most recent pelvic ultrasound results. I get an ultrasound every six months or so to make sure that I am tumor-free. My results up to this point have been negative — nothing abnormal found. This time, there is a small cyst on my left ovary. The letter said to wait about three months and get another ultrasound and see if it resolves itself or if I need to take further action.

I froze, putting the letter down, motioning for my love to come over. He took the letter away from my shaking hands.

And I realized this weekend: While I am afraid, it’s important to not let my fear paralyze me. I can acknowledge the worst-case scenario while also acknowledging that that may never come to fruition. At the same time, it’s important not to bury myself in denial. I don’t have to present myself as a pillar of strength and push forward and try to make everything okay whether or not it is. I can be vulnerable and strong. I can be scared and concerned while still moving forward with creating my life here. I don’t have to push; I will take one step at a time.

This could be something. It could be insignificant or nothing. Many cysts resolve on their own. I’ve had one that did not. This one is small, just over one centimeter.. The one I had was nearly 13 cm. For now, I will do what I can. I will try natural and herbal remedies, ask for healing thoughts or prayers.

This weekend, I re-felt some of the trauma from that time, where I did not receive the support I needed from my community during my health scare and following crisis. I reminded myself that my support network now is strong: husband,  parents, parents-in-law, other family, friends. I allowed myself to feel the fear and the grief while also holding the reality of my current experience. In the past few years, I have created a safe space within myself to feel what I need to feel and also move through it. I have developed and strengthened relationships.  No matter what happens, I have a strong foundation.

My healthcare story and reflections on the American Health Care Act bill.

Okay, I’m going to get personal and political about healthcare coverage.

My story:

Over many years in infrequent doctor’s visits, I omitted the fact that my family has a history of depression. I did this partly in order to avoid receiving a diagnosis, to avoid the stigma of the label, and also to avoid having a “pre-existing condition.” My parents were both self-employed and had to buy private insurance, so any diagnosis (especially one I was not seeking conventional medical treatment for) might put that at risk.

After college, I generally had several jobs that included health insurance benefits. After I got laid off in 2011, I was able to apply for private insurance without much of a hassle. At the time, insurance carriers seemed to look for any reason not to cover people — or at least charge more for their care. I was relieved and grateful that I didn’t fall into this category.

But then something else came up: in the late summer of 2013, I discovered I had a tumor on my right ovary. This discovery, along with the subsequent open abdominal surgery, meant that I would have a pre-existing condition. With the beginning of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, I was able to easily get coverage. And with my recovery from the surgery, I also struggled to recover emotionally and fell into a deep depression. I decided to seek further treatment, which included hospitalization and taking medication and later an intensive therapy program.

When I moved back to New Mexico, I qualified for Centennial Care, their Medicaid Program, under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Under this program, I was able to get my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy program covered as well as occupational therapy for my sensory issues. It also covered my preventative care visits, pelvic ultrasounds, and follow-up appointments to make sure the tumor hadn’t returned. I felt so grateful to have these needs met.

These days, I am pretty healthy. I still take antidepressants, and have not had another major episode of depression. So far, my tumor has not returned.

Today, the House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. This bill includes changing the current guaranteed protections to pre-existing conditions.

A recent quote from an Alabama congressman: “My understanding is that (the new proposal) will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

I see quotes like this and I get frustrated. Honestly, I get frustrated anytime I hear or read something from any side of the political spectrum that implies that people have full control — as if merely being responsible will ensure their good health — whether they’re talking about potential healthcare law changes or holistic healing. In my perspective, yes, there are things I can do (and do do) to help keep myself healthy — but that doesn’t guarantee my continued good health.

Yes, there are people with pre-existing conditions who don’t take care of themselves. There are people out there who have pre-existing conditions because they didn’t take care of themselves. There are also people who can’t afford to take better care of themselves — they do what they can, but they may prioritizing caring for others, and/or need to work two jobs to provide for themselves and their families, etc. And there are people who take care of themselves and do everything “right” and still end up falling ill. And sometimes “pre-existing condition” just means that a person sought out treatment for something they needed medical help with, which resulted in a diagnosis. This can run the gamut of regular, human life experiences, including childbirth. In this so-called healthcare bill, the list of what qualifies as a pre-existing condition goes on. 

Hearing and reading about all these potential changes does scare me on a personal level — it would be a huge financial burden for my husband and me if our healthcare costs went up in order for me to at least get preventative coverage, and that’s not even looking at potential serious health issues in the future. We are currently both covered through his employer, and this bill would likely extend to these benefits as well.

However, I am young and currently healthy. I am concerned for others. There are others whose higher cost or loss of coverage could be the difference between life and death. There are children who are born with pre-existing conditions whose parents might have to make hard decisions. Many people will lose coverage.

The Senate is said to be considering creating another version of the American Health Care Act; in any case, the review of the bill in the Senate is likely to be a longer process. 

If you are concerned about the future of healthcare coverage in the United States, here are some things you can do:
Call, write, or e-mail your Senators.

Write thank-you notes to Congresspeople who voted against the bill.  If your representative voted for it and you disagree with them, let them know (for reference, these are the votes).

Share your story. Write in your social media channels, share in a blog post. Personal stories can make a huge impact.

Friday link roundup 10/14

In Arizona, drive-thru restaurant Salad and Go provides a quick and easy alternative to traditional fast food.

Ever heard someone say, “I’m being so OCD” or something along those lines? This article describes the real experiences of people living with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Women respond to men who told them to smile.

On October 13, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in literature. This page from The Guardian includes responses from various sources on this momentous occasion.

From Upworthy: A dad reflects on Donald Trump’s comments in a letter to his young sons, and makes powerful points about men and masculinity.

An obituary to the Great Barrier Reef has gone viral on social media channels. Scientists protest the article’s message and argue that while it is damaged and dying, it is not dead, and there could still be hope.

Friday link roundup 10/7

Moving, redecorating or rearranging? 8 ways to help make your your home feel like a sanctuary.

How often do you think of your feet? 4 Steps to Happy, Healthy Feet.

On the U.S. and maternity leave (and lack thereof).

In Poland, which already has strict restrictions on abortion, a proposal to ban all abortions (including in case of rape and incest) will be dismissed due to protests against the ban across the country.

The peace deal in Colombia was put to a vote, and despite the anticipation of it being passed, 50.2% of Colombians voted against it, resulting in a defeat.

Wednesday, October 5 was World Teacher’s Day. The United Nations estimates that the world needs 69 million new teachers by 2030.

On the psychology of victim-blaming.

Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti and other areas of the Caribbean and is approaching Florida. Live updates here.

Tracking daily steps.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been doing a “Step-Up” challenge – it’s a program through my health insurance that gives incentives and rewards for doing activities and appointments related to maintaining health. I was sent a basic pedometer that counts my steps. For the first week, the goal was 5,000 steps a day; for the second, 7,500, and for the third, 10,000. The goal is to do that number of steps roughly 6 out of 7 days a week. As a reward, I get points that I can put towards buying items in a catalog.

I’ve been doing some extra exercises and weightlifting (hand weights) in anticipation of my wedding. I figured that it might be a good opportunity to try this challenge to increase my level of overall fitness.

What I’ve found:

  • This particular pedometer isn’t the most sensitive to movement other than basic forward steps. This means that it was erratic when counting steps during a Nia class, where I step forward, back, to the side, etc. Maybe other step-counters and exercise monitors are more accurate. However, they also aren’t free.
  • This challenge gave me more reasons to spend time outside. Since Nia is my primary exercise form, sometimes I don’t get outside much, except for maybe a weekly hike. Also, since it’s summer, I tend to spend more time inside due to the heat. I would sometimes take walks around the neighborhood and in local parks in the cooler mornings or evenings. There are a lot of beautiful flowers around the neighborhood this time of year. When I see another walker, it’s almost like we share a kind of kinship, even if we’re still strangers.
  • I’ve had past experiences where people would say things like, “you need to step up!” when I was struggling. Doing something called a step-up challenge helped soften these past associations.
  • It was easier for me to do the 5,000-7,500 range. I had to be more creative during the week with the 10,000 steps/day goal. That meant some random pacing in the house in addition to other walks and forms of exercise. It was fairly easy to meet that goal on days where I would hike, but less on others.
  • I read here that 10,000 steps is more of an approximation, that at least 7,000 to 8,000 steps per day is the recommendation to receive increased health benefits.
  • The more I move, the more I want to move. I have been feeling a little more restless. I would say that my amount of exercise the past three weeks has increased my stamina and endurance overall. I also subbed three full Nia classes and it was easier to keep my energy up.
  • I would say that the benefits of the Step-Up Challenge outweighed the downsides, although I sometimes noticed myself concentrating more on how many steps I was taking than on the actual activity. I was consistently checking the pedometer. I sometimes had to bring myself back to being mindful and noticing the details of the world around me.

There’s an option to do a nine week challenge. For that one, I’d get to choose in the beginning between three options for my daily step goal. Based on my knowledge from the past weeks, I’d probably chose 7,500 . For now, I’m going to give myself some time without the pedometer. I haven’t worn it today and I keep feeling like I’m missing something. It’s also been a relief not to worry about how many steps I’ve taken today. It’s also gratifying to know that in the course of 3 weeks, I averaged around 8,200 steps per day and gained more strength and endurance.

Friday link roundup 4/8

The benefits of napping.

Self-Care Ideas for a Bad Day.

An artist created and installed small rooms in abandoned manhole covers in Milan to make an important statement.

Ever been told you are “too much” or “too sensitive”?  On embracing vulnerability and “muchness.”

April Love 2016:  Daily prompts for love letters for the month of April.  For more information, go here.  I’ll be posting some of my letters and art soon.

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A visit to the doctor

To read my full surgery story, go here and here.

Scene:  April 6, 2016, Doctor’s Office at a Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The office is pleasant in its own way, especially for a doctor’s office waiting room that’s located within a large hospital.  There is a table with coffee and tea.  There are magazines on tables between rows of chairs.

I take a deep breath, pushing away thoughts that I don’t need to be there.  I’m here for a followup, for a past issue.  I walk to the front.  The woman there apologizes to me and says that they are running behind, the doctor experienced complications during a surgery she performed earlier that day and now all appointments are running late.  I take the clipboard with the new patient forms, start filling out the front page.  She asks for my insurance cards and ID, and to take my picture.

Then I find a seat and fill out the rest of the forms.

I rarely count how many other people are in a room unless it’s immediately relevant to my experience.  The room isn’t full by any means, but there are enough people and there’s a steady trickle in and out while I’m there.  I hear an older woman talking to another woman.  Talking about grief, sadness edging her voice as she mentions her husband’s recent death.  “Does it get easier?” she asks.  She mentions her cancer is in remission.

With this exchange, I’m reminded of where I am:  an OB-GYN oncology office.  I feel out of place.  My ovarian tumor was borderline.  Somewhere in between.  Something that did not need chemo or radiation, but needed surgery and removal and regular followup.  I recognize the other women sitting in the waiting room may have very different stories.  An uncertain but hopeful prognosis definitely has a lighter tone than a potentially fatal one.

I wait, breathing in and out.  I grab a magazine with cover stories that catch my eye and then realize that it has those perfume samples that set me on edge.  I put the magazine down, looking messages on my phone. It might have been good to bring a book, but I don’t think I would have read much of it.  My attention is scattered.

Finally, minutes – almost an hour – pass, and they call me back.  More waiting, pauses in between a nurse taking my vitals and going to the wait in the doctor’s main office for a consultation.  Her office…looks like a regular office.  It could be the office of a CEO, or anyone of importance in an office-based environment.  It reminds me of offices in TV shows where people go when doctors deliver bad news about illnesses, in that there is an element of comfort about it:  photographs, artwork on the walls, a sense of homeyness. The environment puts me at ease, and I imagine that could be intentional. I look at the large mixed media art piece on the wall and find a place to focus on – my mindfulness skills come in handy in situations like this.  It has a quote from a Rumi poem written in pencil across the top.

mixed media piece in doctor's office

The doctor’s assistant, a young woman, comes in, asks me more questions.  When she asks me my marital status, I say partnered, engaged.  “That’s exciting,” she says, and her eyes find my ring.  “I like your ring,” she says, asking to see it up close.  “It’s aquamarine,” I say of the stone.  “That’s very unique,” she says, “There aren’t many rings out there like it.  I’ve seen about 10 people with my ring.  I can’t blame my husband, because I picked it out.”  She smiles, pauses, and then continues down the line of questions.  When she asks what I do, I say I’m an artist.  She looks back at the piece on the wall and says, “That’s cool.  Another one of her patient’s was as an artist.”
I’m struck by the word “was” here, realizing that could mean a number of things:  Someone who is no longer a patient.  Someone who is no longer an artist.  Or someone who is no longer alive.

The PA finishes her questions and leaves, saying the doctor will be there in a few minutes.  And she – the head of the practice – comes, wearing a dress and high heeled boots. Her demeanor is matter of fact, straight forward; generally kind but not too soft. She looks at my records, realizes that she doesn’t have my surgical records and will have to request them, putting call in to my primary care doctor.  She asks me how I’m feeling, and I answer that I’m doing well.  No bloating, no pain, my periods are regular.
She tells me that she’ll do a physical exam and answers my main question about the frequency of followups: I’ll need to get an ultrasound, bloodwork, and a followup appointment every six months for up to 5 years post surgery (I’m at about 2.5 years at this point), then once a year after that. I nod, saying I wasn’t sure – my main surgeon wasn’t an oncologist (although I did have oncologists participate in my surgery and the biopsy of the tumor) and had recommended annual followups.  She agrees that having more regular appointments is better:  “You’re young,” the doctor says, “And borderline tumors can come back.”  It’s better to be certain, cautious, safe.

The physical exam is fairly straightforward.  I’m generally amazed that this kind of exam has become almost routine for me:  I used to dread gynecologist visits and put off making the appointment.  I used to have to soothe myself for a few hours afterward – it felt invasive.  Now, I know that that was probably mostly sensory related, with perhaps some other trauma mixed in.  But after I first found out about the tumor, I learned to soothe my body and my mind, to tell myself that I needed to do this for my health, that it was uncomfortable but necessary.  And yes, I still dread making appointments.  I still experience some after effects…but it is more like a comma in my day as opposed to a period at the end of a sentence, energetically and personal space-wise.  After going to occupational therapy and doing my sensory diet on a regular basis, I find it easier now on a tactile level, too.  Not fun by any means, but easier.

It’s over.  I put my underwear and pants back on and make appointments for my next ultrasound and doctor’s appointment, which lands right before my wedding date in October.  I wait to make sure they’ve been able to located my surgical records, then walk out.  Once I am out of the elevator and step out into the springtime afternoon air, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s over.  I won’t have to do that for awhile.

I am continually grateful for my health, for my body, that I live in a time that I was and am able to get treatment.  That my insurance currently covers the medical bills. As much as I may wish that I didn’t have to go to the doctor as often, I also recognize that this is one way in which I take care of myself.