The Mask Trend

I fly a lot. I mean, A LOOOOOOT.

Every week, I’m on a plane to travel for work. Every. Single. Week.

Planes are really just expensive busses with wings. Passengers are herded everywhere like cattle. I’m constantly surrounded by stressed out people in a rush, many of whom don’t know the ‘rules’ of traveling or how to make traveling easier on themselves.

Traveling for work is not nearly as glamorous as many people make it out to be. Remember that pic of Louis Linton getting off of a government plane all decked out in high fashion?

Credit to TMZ

Yup. DEFINITELY not traveling for work in real life.

Instead, imagine masses of stressed-out people forced to endure small spaces at exorbitant prices.

So much for glamour.

And now enter flu season, stage left.

JOY.

I know this flu season is especially tough. I feel like every week, there are more reports of healthy people dying of the virus. People are on high alert, and rightfully so.

But have we taken it too far?? How DO you prevent yourself from catching the flu on a plane?

Well…lots of people are creating their own prevention methods. Just last week, I flew from Burlington, VT to Florida. There were three people on the flight with surgical masks. The flight was a small one – maybe 50 people on board – so this was an UNUSUALLY high number of masked faces.

My seat neighbor was one of these masked travelers. She also wiped down the surface of the tray table and arm rests as soon as she sat down, clearly trying to sanitize her area to prevent infection. (Side note – she did not seem to be sick or going through any kind of cancer treatment. She may very well have been, so I’m not knocking her for this!)

Her area was very well sanitized – she couldn’t POSSIBLY get the flu with all this sanitization, could she?

Absolutely.

Masks aren’t proven to filter the air like many people think. According to the FDA, “While a facemask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a facemask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes or certain medical procedures.”

https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/GeneralHospitalDevicesandSupplies/PersonalProtectiveEquipment/ucm055977.htm

This is largely due to the fact that no mask (accept for a gas mask) creates an air-tight seal. Masks droop and have gaps around the sides of the face and nose. They are very good at preventing direct splashes to the face, but not very great at filtering the air that you breathe.

Filter much? I don’t think so!

Putting on a mask ultimately helps protect the OTHER people you’re around rather than yourself. If you cough or sneeze, the mask prevents those disease-carrying droplets from spraying everywhere like an invisible fire hose of sickness.

Also, strangely enough, she never used hand sanitizer. Washing your hands is the #1 way to prevent the spread of disease. She covered her face with a mask, sanitized everything around her, but never ‘washed’ her hands.

So, ultimately, as she’s wiping everything down, she’s also spreading whatever is on her hands BACK onto the very things she just cleaned.

See the irony there?

If you want to travel but also don’t want to get sick, please wash your hands. I highly doubt that the airport and the airplanes get a deep clean every day, so everything you touch has been touched by thousands of other people. My hand sanitizer travels with me everywhere.

And my number one FAVORITE way to prevent getting sick? It has nothing to do with what’s around you. Instead, focus on what you already have going on INSIDE you.

Did you guess it yet? Give up?

It’s to boost your own immune system! What better way to prevent getting sick than let your body do the disease fighting for you?! This is the entire reason a vaccine was created for the flu. (PS – GET YOUR FLU SHOT!)

Giving your body a fighting chance is always the best policy. I try and boost my intake of probiotics, kombucha, and vitamins this time of year for this very reason. Emergen-C travel packs also have a spot in my travel bags.

Also, you can easily get more immune-boosting power from certain foods. Foods in the citrus and cabbage family, leafy greens, and garlic are all good things to include when you’re trying to boost your immune system. You can find a list of immune system boosting foods here.

So the next time you go to reach for your handy airplane mask, please realize it won’t help you as much as you think it will. IF you have a weakened immune system, then by all means, rock that mask! But for you healthy folks out there…leave the mask at home and grab some hand sanitizer and a probiotic instead.

 

 

 

Two Easy Tips to Eating Healthy

Life is hectic. Like many of you, I’m always on the go. I travel for work and some days in the operating room, I don’t get a break for 12 hours. After 12 hours I could literally eat anything…I mean anything…and trying to eat healthy is a battle.

But one thing I found during my cancer battle is that we truly are what we eat. Food is fuel. If you fill your gas tank with shit, your car is going to run like shit. Our bodies work the same way.

You may not notice this immediately. If you eat a Big Mac, your body isn’t going to instantly fail or melt or anything. But over time, you’ll notice that you’re not your best self.

Maybe you start to feel tired or sluggish every day. Or your immune system weakens and you get sick more often. Maybe your memory gets foggy and you aren’t putting your best foot forward at work or failing to meet deadlines.

I my case, my immune system failed to fight off cancer and it had begun to spread. While I was going through treatment, I was determined to improve the odds and help my immune system fight. One of the best ways to do this is through a healthy diet.

I started juicing. Vegetables were my main source of food. I went all organic and grass fed, and I cut out wheat and sugar.

I’m not going to lie – it was REALLY difficult. There were nights when I would make 2 dinners – one for my husband and one for me. I was constantly in the kitchen trying new things and a lot of the things I made tasted AWFUL.

But I kept at it and kept trying new recipes until I found meals that I liked.

And you know what? I felt great. After I was through with treatment, I had a ton of energy.

Now, a year and a half later and back to work, I struggle to keep my diet as healthy as it once was. Juicing and staying wheat-free are practically impossible on the road. Being militant about food is not how I want to live the rest of my life.

So I allow myself much more wiggle room to eat what I want – within reason. I always try to abide by these two simple rules to make sure I don’t totally fall off the wagon.

1 – Always have a fruit or a vegetable at EVERY meal

My golden rule. ALWAYS have a fruit or a veg with a meal.

Here are a few examples:

Breakfast is the hardest meal for me to make this change, but with a little thought and creativity, it’s now the norm. For example, I’ll add in spinach or mushrooms to my scrambled eggs. I add fruit (blueberries or strawberries) to my cottage cheese. I’ll often add spinach or salsa to my avocado toast (because I’m a little obsessed with avocado toast).

For lunch, I substitute carrots instead of chips. Or I have a side of coleslaw instead of pasta salad. (Cabbage is a GREAT cancer fighter BTW!) I LOVE having salad for lunch because it’s fast, easy, and it doesn’t give me the 3 o’clock sleepy feel.

For dinner, adding in veggies is easy. I always try to have 2 different veggies instead of a veg and a starch. We occasionally do rice or corn but I try to avoid potatoes. Its such a simple swap, and I never to go bed feeling heavy.

Avocado toast – one of my favs!

This rule not only helps me eat healthier, but it makes me think about what I’m going to put in my body. It helps me stay mindful that my everyday decisions make a difference.

It also helps me to separate food from emotion – something that my Italian family instilled in me and I’m still trying to break that cycle. Since I was young, food was a sign of love and emotion. This food journey has taught me that the meaning of food is what you make it to be, but the outcome is still the same.

What the heck does that mean?? I mean our mealtime decisions are largely based on our emotions. If we’re sad we have emotional food choices that are different than if we were happy.

For example, eating a bag of Doritos is emotional eating. But what if I switched that bag to a bowl of fruit? If I do this enough times, my emotional connection to that bag of Doritos changes and I start to reach for the bowl of fruit instead. I still get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of calming my mental state but without the nutritional turmoil.

This has slowly helped me to re-frame mealtime emotions and the meaning of food. Food is now fuel rather than my emotional state at the time.

Do I slip up and break the fruit/veg rule some days? Absolutely.

But I always try and get back on the wagon at the next opportunity.  Which brings me to rule #2.

2 – the 80/20 rule

We’re all human. We all mess up. When I’m traveling, I’m oftentimes surrounded by not-so-healthy choices.

Or maybe I really am just CRAVING that burger and fries. (I AM human, you know 🙂 )

So have the burger and fries!! Gosh, I’m by no means a super zealot when it comes to downright hardcore cravings.

I allow myself the leeway to break rule #1 with rule #2. I eat healthy 80% of the time and allow myself to cheat 20% of the time.

So why do I even make this a rule? Because it’s so easy to fall off the wagon and stay there. As I mentioned earlier, food is a very emotional thing for us humans. If we fall victim to our cravings, we’ll often pass the buck to the next meal. And then the next meal. And before you know it, we have a steady diet of junk and we feel helpless.

It happens all the time. For example, let’s say someone starts a new diet for a week or so. Everything is going great until they forget to grab their pre-made breakfast to eat on their drive to work. When they get to the office, they grab a Snickers bar because they’re in a rush and hungry. Then at lunchtime they think, well heck, my whole day is shot now because of that candy bar – I might as well have pizza for lunch.

And so the spiral begins.

Don’t KILL yourself if you slip up (hahaha I couldn’t resist!)

But this is all emotion. When a kid falls off their bike, do they immediately say “I’m a failure and I’m never going to ride my bike again”? If you do a crappy job parallel parking your car, do you say to yourself “I’m never going to drive again”? If you burn dinner, do you think to yourself “I’m never going to cook again?”

NO, NO and NO. But food is such an emotional thing to us that we immediately label the day as a failure if we don’t adhere to the rules.

So I worked this fail-safe into the system. Cheating is actually ADHERING to my rules. I never feel bad about having that meal where I eat junk, because I’m actually following rule #2. No guilt and no emotional whipping involved.

And I know that the next meal I will be back to rule #1.

 

I find that these two tips help me to eat healthy. What do YOU do to stay on track? Let me know in the comments below!

Finances vs Health

Cancer is a beast. It comes at you from all angles. It’s like the Muhammad Ali of illnesses. There’s lots of dancing (aka doctor’s visits, blood tests, scans, infusions) and then WHAM. You get the insurance bills.

And ‘lights out’ to your finances.

Muhammad Ali drops Sonny Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on 25 May, 1965, their second bout. Photograph: John Rooney/Associated Press

Cancer hits you where and when you least expect it. I was 31 when I was diagnosed with cancer, and I had literally JUST moved to Florida for a new job. We used up most of our immediate savings on the move and I didn’t have the best insurance. Then after researching oncologists, we decided we needed to move back home…BACK cross country…to New England for treatment.

That decision was really tough. When I decided to quit my new job, ultimately ending a career that I had worked so hard for, I bawled. So much time, energy, and money had just gone down the toilet. I felt so guilty for upending our life TWICE in one year.

You can’t plan for something you can’t see coming. And our finances got stung big time.

I HATED that feeling. That feeling of squeaking by on one paycheck. Every bill was another stab wound to my heart and my wallet. I vowed that when I went back to work, we’d do things differently. I wasn’t going to leave my husband with a huge medical bill and no savings a second time around.

So while I was on the couch during my many months of treatment, I read everything I could on finances. I read Dave Ramsey. I read Tony Robbins. I read Ramit Sethi. I read Suze Orman. I read up on real estate, 401(k)s, IRAs, index funds, bonds, I read it all.

I became a sponge for finances.

At the same time, I changed my thinking about what’s important. I no longer needed ‘things’ as much as I once did. I stopped caring about shoes and purses and STUFF. Now I care about health, food, and retirement.

Yes…I’m 33 and I care about retirement. My husband is quite a bit older than I am. The one thing I want more than anything is to be able to join him in living life without work in the way.

We never know when we will leave this world. I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. But I love my husband too much to leave him in financial ruin.

So what did we do? We took a little advice from every source. We cut back on spending. Saved a couple months of a safety net. Paid off the cars and we’re working on paying off the house and my grad school loans.

We’re also maxing out my husband’s 401(k). Our latest adventure in finances includes buying a multifamily rental property and (eeeek) we’re looking at buying another!

Our humble rental property

Why why WHY did we decide to invest in real estate? Based on my calculations, we will get over 15% return on investment in cash. Every year. Forever. PLUS the tenants are paying off the mortgage, so we get to add that value to our wallets.

The best thing of all, though, is that we get to provide housing for some seriously hardworking locals. Our local area has a shortage of apartment rentals and many of the ones available are run by the kind of people who give landlords a bad name.

TRUST me – real estate is not for everyone. My husband and I agree, though, that it’s something that benefits both of us. We can see it, touch it, smell it (not that I suggest doing that 😉 ) and if something happens to either one of us, the other can handle the challenge.

Cancer taught me many things and I’m still using it as a learning opportunity. My health was the most expensive thing I’ve ever unwillingly purchased – and you can’t put a price tag on it. I hope to be prepared financially if melanoma ever rears its ugly head again. I gotta make the ‘return on investment’ worth every penny!

How has your health changed your mind on finances? Tell me in the comments!

Anesthetist on a Plane!

If you’ve been following me via my blog, you know that I travel quite a bit. As in, I’m on a plane every week. Traveling as a healthcare professional has its difficulties, but the amazing people I meet on my travels always surprise me.

And this week was a surprise indeed.

On my flight from Chicago to Boston, there was a sudden announcement over the speakers asking for anyone in the medical field to please press the attendant’s button. Someone on the plane needed medical assistance.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

I waited a second to hear if anyone else was pressing the button as I was going through my CPR training in my head. After a few seconds went by, I quickly reached up and pressed the button. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a code, but dog gone it, here we go.

I was escorted back to a wonderful older married couple and was explained the situation. She had a seizure that lasted a few seconds, followed by another shorter seizure. I was relieved and concerned at the same time. No CPR today, but a seizure can be a very serious sign of something wrong.

What is a seizure? Find out here: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/what-seizure

 

First and foremost, I needed a little background. Any history of seizures? Any history of recent falls? Any funny feelings or nausea? When did you last eat? She was answering all my questions and seemed very mentally aware. Nothing was out of place.

Diagnosing what caused the seizure was way above my pay grade. The next best thing I could do was keep her comfortable and safe.

I explained to them that a seizure can be a sign of something serious and that they should get it checked out pronto. (As in head to the ER as soon as we land.) I told them about the possible tests – an MRI and an EEG.

After the medical talk, I eased up. Cracked a few jokes. I told them I’d like to sit with them for the rest of the flight to keep an eye on her and they agreed. I really wanted to be there in case she had another seizure – keeping things cool and calm became the name of the game.

So we chatted for a bit about her grandkids and where they lived. It’s amazing how human we all become when you just talk with a person. I could tell she was a wonderful lady and by the end of our conversation, I felt like adopting her as a second mother. (She gives great hugs and I’m sure she’s an awesome cook! I got a vibe of love-filled casseroles from her 🙂 )

I gave them a list of don’ts and directions shortly before landing – she should take a wheelchair out of the airport, she shouldn’t drive, and she shouldn’t be hauling any luggage. No need to put herself in harm’s way.

Traveling leads to journeys big and small

Once we landed, I helped them off the plane and to baggage claim. I had given them my name and number in case they needed anything, and I truly hope they reach out.

Medical emergencies can be scary, especially when you’re trapped on a plane. I could only hope that someone is willing to help if the same situation happens to myself or my family.

So for all travelers out there, love your neighbors. Everyone has their own bubbles and travel tends to challenge those bubbles. But please remember that outside of that bubble is a person sitting beside you. A person with a family and grandkids and problems just like you and me.

Be kind to your neighbor and pay it forward. You may need their help one day.

My Recent Battle with Back Pain

The universe acts in mysterious ways, they say. Sometimes we need just a little sprinkle of life to realize we’re only human.

So the universe sprinkled a little bit of a challenge into my life. About a month ago, I herniated a disc in my lower back. I actually became a potential back surgery candidate.

That’s the irony of the situation. I work with surgeons and patients during spinal surgery and suddenly the tables had turned. Instead of helping patients, now I am suddenly the patient in the surgeon’s office!

I have no idea when exactly I herniated the disc. There was no instant pain. One day I just woke up with numbness in my foot and excruciating pain when I bent over.

My 10 years of experience in spine surgeries told me that this was serious. The likelihood of a herniated disc in someone so young was rare, but completely possible.

But there was another voice in my head that was nagging me. That was the dreaded cancer voice. The feelings of anxiety and fear crept into me once again. I was overwhelmed with the possibility that the cancer had returned from the depths to take over my body.

I called my oncologist and he sent me for an MRI. There were only a few days between the beginning of my symptoms and my MRI, but it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. (Not even a hot mess – just a flat out mess!!)

The MRI results were very clear that I had herniated a disc, which was pushing against one of my lumbar nerves. I was relieved that I ONLY had a herniated disc. Isn’t it funny how a little perspective changes things? I’d take a herniated disc any day of the week over my melanoma returning.

My herniated disc!

This one incident opened my whole view of the life I’m living. For one, it made me relive my fears and realize that I’m not out of the woods. Melanoma may still come back to get me. I firmly believe that we beat cancer when we overcome the fear of cancer. I clearly still have some work to do in that ‘fear’ category.

It also opened my eyes to what my patients are going through. The pain of that herniated disc was unbelievable. At points, all I could do was try to catch my breath and let the tears roll. It was pain with a capital “P”. I would do ANYTHING – and I mean A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G – to get a little relief.

I can now see how people get hooked on pain medication due to back pain. For a period, I was afraid to miss a dose because the pain would hit me like a freight train. I was watching the clock and as soon as I felt the tiniest twitch of pain, I’d be hunting down that little orange bottle.

But I forced myself to start weaning off the pain meds as soon as I could. I know the harm they can cause and how addictive they can be. According to some data, opioids can be addictive within just FIVE days. Not even a week and you can be hooked. It’s scary!

Even with all my knowledge on the subject, it took some serious willpower to ween off the pain meds. It’s not fun. But I made sure to ask my healthcare team for other nerve pain medications that weren’t opioids and I set daily goals for myself.

Pain medications can be HIGHLY addictive

It all comes down to being in control of your own health. It’s a priority for me, and I had to make sure I was doing the right thing for my body in the long run. I refuse to be a victim of circumstance – I’d rather make lemonade out of these darn lemons. And I PLEAD with you all to discuss pain medication with your doctor before taking them. The more you know, the better.

So as of now, the plan is lots of physical therapy to regain the strength in my right leg. If I have progress over the next month, then I get to avoid surgery. I’ve seen surgery (hundreds of them, actually) and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid it.

To all those who are battling cancer or battling back problems, I’m there with you. In mind, body, and soul…I’m there with you.