3 Ways to De-Stress this Holiday Season

I have a million things on my to-do list. Work is absolutely bonkers with Q4 deadlines. I’m still dealing with my herniated disc and trying to find time to do physical therapy. Holiday parties and social obligations are peppered all over my calendar, and to top everything off, one of our tenants moved out and my husband and I are renovating the apartment.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I KNOW I’m not the only one in this pickle. The holidays bring out the best and the worst in us. Everyday stressors pile on top of holiday celebrations and it becomes chaos. Rather than living in the spirit of giving, it becomes survival of the fittest.

So how do you survive and actually ENJOY the holidays? Prevent the stress from building up with these three tips:

Just say ‘NO’

Remember the ‘Just Say No’ drug campaign from the 80s and 90s? The idea was that you don’t have to give an explanation for why you don’t want drugs. Just say no and move on.

Our obligations to friends, family, and coworkers often peak around this time of year. We worry about office gift-giving, holiday parties, baking picture-perfect cookies, and coordinating our presents with Santa’s always-perfect timing.

It’s so easy to say ‘yes’ to all the holiday festivities. Who wants to decline a party?! Food, drinks, merrymaking, who can possibly say NO? It’s like saying you don’t want to enjoy the holidays if you say no!

But the day comes and you forgot the present and the cookies burned and you have to make frantic runs to the store to get everything. In the process, you spend more money and time doing things that stress you out rather than just politely declining in the first place.

If you feel stretched out…if you feel burned out…if you feel too stressed, just say no. This particular party will NOT be the only gathering this year. Use the other 11 months of the year to get together with family and friends – on YOUR timeline – and make some great memories.

 

Keep Mindfulness in Mind

If you absolutely, positively CANNOT get out of participating in festivities that stress you out, use mindfulness to your advantage.

One way I do this in stressful environments is I change my inner dialogue. Instead of telling myself I HAVE to go to this party, I change one simple thing. I change the word ‘HAVE’ with the word ‘GET’ and it changes everything.

I GET to go to this gathering. I GET to spend time with friends and family (and that one person who is always annoying). I GET to go shopping with the crowds at the mall. I GET to bring my awesome cookies to the bake sale.

Because you know what? We are ALL lucky to be here. And I’m REDICULOUSLY lucky to be here. My doctors gave me a pretty poor prognosis with my cancer, but here I am 2 years later and I’m kicking butt.

We never know when we will leave this world. It may be tomorrow. This may be your last office Christmas party. So enjoy every last second you are standing here on this earth.

Drink in the gratitude with a small change in your inner dialogue. It will help you get through the stressful times and actually enjoy them.

A cup of tea, a couch, and some belly rubs with this guy help me to de-stress

Enjoy a Warm Beverage

When all else fails, have a cup of tea.

There’s something about a warm beverage that helps me calm down. Soak in the warmth. Let go of the stress. It shuts down my brain, warms my heart, and releases my stress.

It’s like holding that mug opens my pores and lets out the angst or something. After a long, stressful day, a cup of tea and a soft blanket on the couch helps me to let it all go.

And by all means, it doesn’t have to be a cup of tea. Try some hot cocoa. Or a warm spiced (or spiked) cider. Whatever warm beverage floats your boat. Take that 5 minutes of your day and truly enjoy something as simple as a warm beverage. Add in a fuzzy friend and it all melts away!

 

What do YOU do to de-stess during the holidays? Let me know in the comments below!  

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.

Ethiopia’s Attitude of Gratitude

I just arrived back from an amazing experience in Ethiopia. I mean…AH-MAZ-ING. There are only a few things you really remember vividly your whole life, and this will be one for me.

The people, the culture, the love and gratitude were all shockingly more than I had expected. Ethiopians are a beautiful people, and the whole group that went on the mission acted like one cohesive team right from the start.

Experiences like this always make me look at my own life through a different lens. We complain about our healthcare, but some of the families we worked with walked for days to see a doctor about their spine deformity. YES – you read that right – they WALK for DAYS. Not miles. Days.

He gave me a thumbs up for the lollipops!

Could you imagine your family walking for that long just to see a doctor? Once at the hospital, these patients will be taken in – no questions asked. The care and determination help make their hospital system an amazing thing to see.

I’m not saying that any healthcare system is perfect. The US has lots of room for improvement, too. But in striving for the biggest and best in healthcare, we forget the basics. We shoot for super precise scans rather than a better primary care system. We demand individualized cancer treatment, rather than focusing our efforts on prevention.

The best healthcare systems have BOTH great technology AND a great basic standards of care. A great standard of care that every person – every patient – has access to sets the foundation of better health for everyone. The best care shouldn’t be limited to those with the biggest wallet or the best employer-based insurance.

The CUTEST little girl who we got to visit

Honestly, traveling to Ethiopia made me realize how gosh darn spoiled we are in America. All the little things that many of us take for granted were HUGE for these kiddos. Handing out candies, for example, made these kids light up like Christmas morning. Their gratitude for all the little things is something we should all remember in our daily lives.

Their attitude of gratitude is forever memorable.

I’m ever so grateful for this amazing trip across the world to help these remarkable people. They will always remain in my heart.

 

A day in the life of an anesthetist

Ahhhh, the operating room. The OR. Where I work. It’s a mysterious place that brings mixed emotions to the general population. Many people think the OR is either really cool or really scary. I am personally immune to thinking either, but I CAN promise you that the operating room is NOT like anything you see on TV.

The operating room is kind of like Vegas – what happens in the OR stays in the OR. Since people undergo anesthesia for their operations, no one REALLY knows what goes on in those bright white rooms unless you work there.

But millions of people enter these rooms every year to have surgery. MILLIONS. Meaning, more than likely, you will have surgery in your lifetime. Perhaps it’s to fix a joint or a broken bone. Or maybe you need your appendix out. I personally had all my lymph nodes in my left groin removed as my cancer progressed, so I know how scary surgery can be when you’re the one in need.

Whatever the reason you need surgery, you will need to rely on one very specific person/team to keep you alive.

No, not the surgical team. The anesthesia team.

The anesthesia team is your BFF in surgery. We keep you safe and sound throughout your procedure. We are like an internist/pharmacist/pulmonologist/cardiologist all wrapped up into one.

So what the heck does THAT mean?? What is involved in anesthesia?

We have lots of fancy equipment to look at the most important systems in your body. We keep your blood pressure and heart rate in a normal range and your blood going to your organs. We use a ventilator to help you breathe. We look at your history to know what systems we need to focus on (such as your kidneys/liver/blood sugar) to keep them within normal limits. We have every possible drug we need to keep you alive.

All this takes a LOT of knowledge. Every drug we give has side effects. Every tweak has an effect. Some days are a tightrope walk to keep everything in balance. Anesthesia is what makes surgery safe.

But even more than keeping your body functioning, we keep you asleep and without pain throughout your procedure. Surgeons can do amazing things, but they cannot do their jobs while you are awake.

This is also the most terrifying part of anesthesia. Many people ask me “will I wake up” or “will I feel any pain?” The odds of waking up during surgery are between 0.1 – 1%, depending on the situation. You are more likely to be born with 6 fingers or get a hole in one than wake up during your surgery.

Undergoing surgery is similar to getting on a plane. The fear of undergoing anesthesia is mostly due to a fear of letting go – we do not like the complete lack of control. Someone else is in the driver’s seat with our bodies.

And that’s scary. Don’t let this fear rule your decisions. Surgery is safer now than ever before, thanks to improvements in surgical and anesthetic techniques.

So before your next surgery, make friends with your anesthesia team. Even while you are asleep, they will be your guardian angel.

Hiking with Heart

This past weekend, my husband and I went on a hike. We live in the mountains, so we try to do this often.

But this hike was different. This hike was with hundreds of our friends.

JEEZ, does this girl REALLY have hundreds of friends?? Well, in a way, yes! We hiked with an amazing organization called Jen’s Friends and it was an all-out community effort.

One of the many inspiring signs along the hike

I was first introduced to Jen’s Friends when I was going through cancer treatment. I had heard of the group, but I had never really taken notice until I was going into the local hospital for hydration therapy during treatment. The nurses practically shoved the paperwork into my bag to sign up as a patient.

Of course I didn’t really want to be labeled as a cancer patient (although I certainly looked the part after losing 20 pounds). I reluctantly signed up thinking I might need the support in the future.

I quickly found out that this group does it all! They help local people with ALL things related to cancer treatment. Groceries, gas, transportation, bills, EVERYTHING! They ought to be a part of the “Miracle Network”, because they are truly a life saver for many people in the area with cancer.

The organization was first started to help a girl named Jen with her cancer treatment. It grew to be a completely non-profit volunteer organization with 100% of the proceeds going to help people with cancer throughout all stages of treatment and healing. They provide monetary and emotional support in ways I wish ALL communities would provide.

So last weekend, my husband and I climbed a mountain. It was a tough climb, but the few hours we spent huffing and puffing were nothing compared to the climb we had through cancer treatment. If we could hike this mountain last weekend, we could hike any mountain, big or small.

And we did it with hundreds of our friends.

To find out more about Jen’s Friends, please visit their web page at http://jensfriends.org/wordpress/