It’s Election Season. Not The End of the World.

It's an election

Election season is here. Americans have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in several races between now and November. Some of the elections will be hotly contested, some will be smooth sailing. Some will be the most scandalous races you’ve ever seen, whereas some will remain true to the democratic  process. Some will make progressive, life-changing history and some will reward the good-old-boy system. Some will be inclusive and promise to protect the rights of all citizens, and some will alienate their constiuents.

This year in particular, our country is grappling with the issue of race more than I have seen in my lifetime. We are also having a hard time recognizing how some Americans have been denied a basic resource that many of us have taken for granted – clean water. And African-American families, especially those  with boys  must have new conversations with their kids as it relates to law enforcement and their rights.

Even though we feel that the weight of the world is upon us, we must keep election season in perspective. This week on the Twilli Talks internet radio show, I interviewed Dr. Jameca Falconer about the stress of politics. As we talked, I learned how candidates and voting citizens could be affected by the stress of a campaign. Stress is a very real thing, that can lead to very real physical and psychological ailments. Dr. Falconer recommends that as citizens, we remember that election season is one aspect of our lives, and we maintain perspective on that. After that interview, I came home and logged on to Facebook, to only become more disgusted by what I saw.

It was at that point I wrote this for  with the tips we need to survive the political season without manifesting signs of post traumatic stress disorder in ourselves.

%22Even if we feel the weight of the world is upon us, we must keep election season in perspective.

  1. 1. Change the way you Facebook. There’s something about the political season that brings the political commentator out in all of us. Every election year since 2008, we’ve all seen it. You will have staunch conservatives who you are friends with on Facebook. You will have bleeding liberals who you are friends with on Facebook. You will have those who will make an announcement saying, “I’m sorry if you believe in this, I can’t be friends with you on Facebook.” Lastly, you will see this, “I am so shocked at the amount of people I’ve had to unfriend today, be glad you’re still here.” Y’all, it’s Facebook. It’s designed as a platform for people to say whatever they want. And trust me, they will do just that. Do yourself a favor and change the way you Facebook. One option is not to check your timeline so frequently.  Another option is to hide the updates from those whose views will cause you stress. And even still, another option is to not talk about politics on Facebook. If you think about it, did you ask the person working at the cash register at the gas station this morning how he or she felt about Donald Trump? I didn’t think so.
  2. Vote. I realize that as a Generation X-er, it feels like times have changed – for the worst. Even though the situation may look bleak, we still have a civic responsibility to vote. In this country alone, voting rights were denied for so long to so many people that it is against the very foundation of America for us not to vote. There are eight months between now and the general election in November. Just do it.
  3. Remember, these are people. With real feelings,  who put their pants on one leg at a time. Even the ones you don’t like. While it may appear they are invincible, they are living with stressors we can’t even comprehend. I know that this is the path they have chosen, but they are still human and in the end, they have to live with their actions and reactions. I think it’s still safe to say that if you loose sleep over an issue, that sleep deprivation is going to affect you and your family the next day. Not the politician.
  4. There is still a job to do. Namely yours. We all know how this country works. Ideally, we have a job, we do that job, we earn money for doing our job, and we buy goods and services with the money we earn. Everyone has a job. If you do yours, you won’t have time to be consumed with how I do mine. Don’t allow yourself to become so consumed with politics and the difference of political opinions at work that you can’t do your job.
  5. Use the teachable moments in your family. As I write this I can hear my the voices of my parents clearly. It is up to us to involve our children in the democratic procress in an age-appropriate way. Explain to them the issues, have a mock election at home, plan a trip to the next presidential inauguration. Whatever you do, teach children that they have a voice and let them know they are expected to use it when they become 18.
  6. Exercise the simple choices more than ever. You have a choice to remove certain social media notifications from your phone, you have a choice to turn off the TV, you have a choice not to look at YouTube, and you have a choice not to engage. Turn it all off and get some rest at night.
  7. Take celebrities with a grain of salt. Celebrities are going to endorse candidates. They can do that because, they are voters too. In this country, celebrities can also run for political office. Please remember that the celebrities who are endorsing are representing themselves, not the television show they work on. Translation: Olivia Pope is not voting for Hilary Clinton because Olivia Pope is a character on tv, not a person in real life. Kerri Washington is voting for Hilary Clinton because she believes in her platform. And again, she has that right to do so.
  8. Stop berating other members of your ethnicity for not feeling the same way you do. I get it. You want to see equality. You feel that certain ways of thinking and acting are demeaning to the history and the legacy of the culture, but stop berating others for feeling differently than you do. The world is not going to end because some people watched Chris Rock’s monologue during the Academy Awards. See number 4 above, that was his job.
  9. Read the story , not the comments. As a blogger, this one is hard to write, but it is true. Newspapers and television stations allow comments from their audiences at the end of a story. Bloggers do it too and believe me when I say this, it’s a big deal. People write comments on posts that are rude, prejudice, and unfair. They can be just downright mean. During this season, and especially when reading politically-charged posts, do yourself a favor and read the blog post, not the comments.

Our country is important. Our issues are important. But really, our health is of the utmost importance.  Let’s  learn to take a moment to enjoy the civil liberties we do have, instead of allowing them to ruin our lives in the coming months.

Three Years Later, Cancer Still Sucks

CANCER

How do doctors do it? I’ve always wondered if there’s a class in medical school that advises them on what to say when they have deliver a questionable or bad diagnosis? How are nurses and other medical professionals able to keep doing their jobs with kindness and grace when they see the chart and they know you’ve just been hit by a blow. A blow that in many cases, you had no ideas was coming your way?

January 2013 was life-changing for me. A routine trip to the chiropractor led to some concerns. Those concerns led to some tests. The inconclusive results of those tests led to more specialized tests. And the specialized test results led me to the office of a surgical oncologist.

All of this occurred in about 10 days. It was a whirlwind. After that initial diagnosis, I then had to undergo therapies  and treatments while waiting for a surgery that would happen six months later.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer between 1998 and 2012.  About 64,000 of those diagnoses were for thyroid cancer, with women outnumbering men in having the disease at overwhelming statistics. The survival rates for thyroid cancer in particular are 97 percent. But the numbers are not that optimistic for other cancers. An NBC News report noted that the 10 most deadliest cancers are 1. Lung and Bronchial Cancer, 2. Colon and Rectal Cancer, 3. Breast Cancer, 4. Pancreatic Cancer, 5. Prostate Cancer, 6. Leukemia, 7. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, 8. Liver Cancer, 9. Ovarian Cancer, and 10. Esophageal Cancer.

One of my college classmates who is now a doctor recently updated his Facebook status to remind us that there is a lot each and every one of us can do to protect the precious lives that we have been given. And this advice y’all, he says is pertinent to anyone older than 35. Anyone. Ouch.

  1. Sitting is the new smoking. We should not be sitting still more than 3 hours a day. We should be going for more walks, choosing to take the stairs, parking in one of the last spaces in the parking lot and walking. All of this is in addition to our daily exercise of zumba, cross fit, or whatever our cardio hearts desire.
  2. Only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary, and most definitely only when prescribed by a doctor.  According to the website for the Mayo Clinic, antibiotics have been proven to impede the natural work of our digestive tracts. If you’ve taken antibiotics, you undoubtedly know that diarrhea is a side effect. This happens because antibacterial medications tend to upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Only take them when needed.
  3. Physical Exercise is a must. Regularly. Like every day. As much as possible.
  4. We take care of our bodies by what we put in it. Stop eating crap. Period.
  5. Cognitive Training is a plus. As we age, we should exercising our brains. The official term is neuroplasticity or something like that, but here’s the bottom line.  Start up a new game of Words With Friends, keep playing Candy Crush Saga, and host occasional game nights with family and friends. It’s all good!

In other words, as adults our charge is two-fold. Now is the time for us to be doing the things that we should have been doing all along. And as parents, it is critical for our children to learn how to take care of themselves properly. And what’s really interesting is that when I had cancer, I felt much better when I ate the right foods.

I know I am not a medical professional, I am an avid reader. I’m sharing this information from credible sources and my own opinion based on my medical diagnosis. This should not in any way replace the advice of your own doctor.

While I don’t do anything to officially commemorate the month of January as my cancer diagnosis month, (I prefer all commemoration happen in June, the month I was actually deemed cancer free) I do use the month to reflect on how that diagnosis three years ago has changed my life.

  1. I have finally realized that to my parents, I am and will always be their baby. My parents did a fine job of raising me to be a very independent person. I am an only child and even though I am in my 40s, I have found that no matter where I go, or what I do, I am always their baby. And for the record, my kids are a very thin extension of that. All four of us are their babies.
  2. Nutrition and exercise are critical to good health. I know I wrote that above, but it’s amazing when you come to the revelation on your own.
  3. Be a family that talks about things. Talk about family medical history, talk about how you are feeling, talk about it all. Talking about things regularly before a crisis occurs sets the foundation for how you and your family will cope when the going gets rough.
  4. Life after cancer does not return to normal, life after cancer is the new normal. The sooner I could accept that, the better off I was. My cancer-free life consists of bi-monthly doctor visits, medicine every day for the rest of my life and sometime painful side effects of not having a thyroid.
  5. It’s sometimes the smallest things that have the biggest impact in our bodies. I’m still amazed at how a small glad that is shaped like a butterfly has such a profound impact on the body.
  6. Second opinions are okay. They are more than okay, they are necessary. Get as much information as you need and take the amount of time that you need so you can make the decision that best for you.
  7. Every day, do something you absolutely love. A happy heart is a healthy heart. When your mind, body, and spirit are aligned, your chances for illness are lessened greatly. Doing more of what you love equals less stress. Less stress equals lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and no more obscure aches and pains.

And if someone you know and love is diagnosed with cancer, this is what you can do:

  1. Offer to go to doctor’s appointments with them and take notes.
  2. Coordinate a Meal Train for them from diagnosis to recovery.
  3. Say a special prayer for them each morning and each night.
  4. Give them the time they need to process what’s happening to them. Don’t bombard them with questions, and don’t get mad if it takes them some time to open up to you.
981051_10151679280840731_1329784538_o

As a patient. I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

And finally, if you ever have to deliver the news to friends and loved one about your own health diagnosis, these are the lessons I learned from my experience.

  1. Start talking about the affected area.  For example, here’s how a conversation went with a coworker after I was only able to work part-time once I was diagnosed. “Toni I haven’t seen you in a while, how have you been?” “You know, I’ve been off because my thyroid has been acting crazy and giving me a lot a problems.”

This is good because it sets the stage. The listener can decide if they can handle more specific news, or if they are done. Let’s continue, shall we?

“Really, Toni? What’s it doing?” “Well, it bounces back from hyperactive to hypoactive and I have a goiter. It appears that the goiter has an underlying malignancy, which means I have thyroid cancer.”
2. Give them a moment to respond in the way they are comfortable. I usually end up saying something like, “See I told you it was crazy.” Telling someone you have cancer is 10 percent about you, but 90 percent about them. They will instantly remember their uncle, or cousin or friend who has had the disease and no matter what your prognosis is, their mind will travel.
3. Relate the news to a celebrity. I am very thankful that Brooke Burke-Charvet announced her thyroid cancer when she did. Once I announce my condition, I follow up with, “Did you see the lady from Dancing With the Stars on television? You know she just had thyroid cancer too?”
This helps because our society loves celebrities, and we tend to think they are invincible. But in reality, they get cancer too.
4. Tell them how you will keep them informed. Once people get over the initial shock, they need to know how they will keep up with your progress. Tell them they’ll see you at work until surgery, they can read your blog on Caring Bridge, or that a certain family member will keep them updated. If you don’t have a plan to keep them informed, they will stalk you and pressure you and make your life more miserable than cancer already is.
5. Let people see you “live” with the disease. I know that with any medical condition, you have good days and you have bad days. Some days, I remember wishing I could say, “I have cancer so I’m staying in bed all day.” But I couldn’t. My kids were in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at the time of my diagnosis. There were tonsils that had to be removed, middle school hormones, and a Presidential Inauguration that we had to attend. Continuing to “live” is just as important for me as it for everyone around me.

FullSizeRender

During my cancer experience, I made sure that others (especially my children) would see me actually living with the disease. Our trip to the Presidential Inauguration was an example of that.

 

While my diagnosis was scary and I was fortunate enough to have a great prognosis and an ever greater outcome, that cancer event led me to be even more appreciative of the life I have instead of trying unsuccessfully to force the life I thought I should have.

Is it Time to Quit Your Job?

YOUR JOB

Ummm yeah.

So before we begin I think we need to establish some ground rules here. As you are thinking about quitting your full-time job to do whatever you want to do,  it is a must that you communicate your thoughts, feelings, and desires with your significant other — especially if you are married. Please remember that as a single mom 1. I am not married and 2. I do not have a significant other who shares child rearing and budget responsibilities in my household. I made the decision I made because I am the only one here who is accountable. If that is not your situation make sure you talk about your ideas with your significant other.

As a thyroid cancer survivor, I still go and have my blood levels checked every 6-8 weeks to see if my medicine needs to be adjusted. I have to take thyroid medicine every day for the rest of my life. That’s a given. Since my total thyroidectomy two years ago, I have also had some other issues with Vitamin D deficiency,  acid reflux, and anemia. So to be on the safe side, my doctor runs a full complete blood count every month. If I have 3 runs with really good numbers, I have gone 3-4 months between visits, but that has only happened once.

At the end of July I was  scheduled for my usual doctor’s visit. For the past year, all of my numbers had been getting progressively worse, which meant my dosage of medicine had to consistently increase. We watched the numbers for a couple of visits, and finally in May, he suggested that I come in July for actual visit, not just the blood work.

The July doctor’s visit occurred as I was in the throes of a reorganization at work. Things were changing rather swiftly at the job that I had loved for the past five and a half years. My job, which had been pretty secure, started to seem shaky. I was having migraines daily, stomach issues, and   the insomnia was the absolute worst!

There is no surprise that the numbers from my blood work were worse than they were when I had cancer.

I left that doctor’s appointment with seven prescriptions and parting advice about reducing the amount of stress in my life. For the next four weeks, I rested and took a lot of medicine and tried to keep my stress levels low.

At my follow up visit, my doctor asked me one quick question. “What changed in your life to make your numbers this great?” The answer was simple. I was not working that month.

  1. It is time to quit your job if your physical health is suffering from job stress.

After the first month off, without a true exit plan. I knew it was time to go. Because August is a critical month in education, I had to make a decision pretty fast and figure out the source for next month’s groceries. Because this was the absolute right decision for me to make, it worked out. I was able to get paid at my full-month’s salary for the first month, and then I had built up another month’s worth of vacation that I got paid for. While I didn’t have an exact exit plan, I did have some money coming in from my previous employer for two months. In the very beginning, the plan was to use the first month to figure out what I was going to do beyond the two months’ income I already had.

In my full-time life, I worked on several part-time projects over the years. Often, those projects were in addition to my full-time job, When I was out on the initial sick leave I maintained a good relationship with those departments and I was scheduled to work part-time this fall. When I decided to quit my job, I talked to the other department and made arrangements to continue my part-time relationship with them through December. Not only does this part-time job cover my basic monthly expenses, it is my favorite part of working in education. If there had been a way for me to do the part-time job on a full-time basis, we would have been having a different conversation right now.

2. I no longer had passion for the actual job I was doing and it was not a good use of my strengths.

All summer, I was asked to do tasks that were 1. a waste of time, and 2. for lack of a better word — silly. I did them because it was my job, but it the wake of all the other workplace drama, they ended up being what took me over the edge with my stress levels.

3. My job duties and work hours did not align with my family’s priorities.

My kids are 12, 14, and 15 years old. Over the years, I have found that the most critical time for our family conversations is in the car after school. In the past, I’ve been able to have some flexibility and adjust my work hours and lunch breaks so I can be there at pick up. I didn’t chose that after school time for us, I probably would have preferred the dinner hour, but this is what naturally fit for us. I knew that in September, I would not have been able to pick my kids up from school and have that vital hour with them.

Since I have been able to pick them up each day, I am so glad that I based my decision on the after school thing. We have addressed issues from mean girls to public displays of affection to the value of a college education to the divorce (seven years later, it still comes up.) I honestly don’t  believe I would have been privy to their lives if we had other after school arrangements.

While these were the three things that guided my decision, I understand that you may have other things. The important thing is that quitting your job is a big deal, and it is not a decision to be based on emotional reaction. Identifying those three points allowed me to make the decision, be able to communicate the decision, and be at peace  with the decision.

And peace, my friend, is what surpasses all.

Did you miss any of these posts? Click on the image to read it!

Click here to learn about our experience with the Tacky Box!

A 10-year-old gives her mom a new look!

One mom takes a hint from life and shuts it down.

When the Doctor Says Sit Down…

one mom's mandated medical leave was for the bestBecause of my previous thyroid issues, every 6-8 weeks I have to do routine blood work. I’m used to both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes my doctor will send me a quick email that says, “The numbers look great, see you in three months!” (In the two years since my thyroidectomy, i’ve only had that happen once. Most of the time, the email reads, “Your numbers were a little low (or high) so we’ve changed your prescription.”

About three weeks ago, I needed to get a refill but the doctor recommended that I come in for an appointment first. This past spring, I had a super crazy sinus infection that somehow affected my eyesight for about a week. I was seeing double, y’all.So he wanted to follow up with me on my sinus issues and talk about my low vitamin d levels, which have been a problem for the past 6 months or so also.

So in a very happy-go-lucky routine trip to the doctor,  I was ready to skip away with my new prescription, a discussion about sinus infections and seasonal allergies, and a quick update on the kids and how they’ve grown. He’s our family doctor, and has been so for 10 years, so a question about the kids is normal.

But that’s not quite how it went.

When the nurse took my blood pressure, she said, “Hmmm….I think I need to take it again.” I took a deep breath but was still not too concerned. I always tend to be on the upper limit of the normal range.

She took it again and said, “Hmmm….a little bit better. Let’s see what he says.”

Uh oh. This didn’t sound good. Especially since her next sentence was, “Oh, he’s got a lot to talk to you about.”

“A lot? How are my thyroid levels?” After all, that was the main reason I was there.

“He’s probably going to change your medicine, but your blood tests show you have some other things going on too.”

“Other things?”

“Yes, many other things,”

And from there, my happy little appointment with my family doctor who I love went downhill.

So, without me turning this into a crazy medical post about all the things wrong with my body, I’ll share the highlights of that visit.

I left with seven new prescriptions, a strict vitamin regimen, and very clear instructions regarding my eating habits. I am also taking some time of work indefinitely and no longer drinking caffeine.

Dumbfounded did not even begin to explain how I felt. Especially since the last two things he said to me as the appointment ended were, “You’ve got to eliminate some stress from your life and you’ve got to do it now.”

“Ummm, hello family doctor who I used to love so much…I am a divorced mom of three. How am I supposed to eliminate stress?”

“Well lovely patient who I still love so much…you can’t eliminate the kids, but you can eliminate some other things. And maybe this time off work will help you figure out what needs to go and what needs to stay. And by the way, you’ve been a mom for 14 years and divorced for 7 years, your numbers have not been like this before.”

So, like any good (and scared) patient would do, I got the prescriptions filled and start googling blood levels and medicines and interactions. Y’all, I discovered something.

Some of this is a result of my thyroid disease. But the dreadful truth is that most of this could have been prevented. The stress plays a part, nutrition plays a part, sunlight plays a part. And the fact that it all snuck up on me in two months is even scarier.

And I’m now doing what I should have been doing all along — sitting down — at the house. For those of you who know me well or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that August is probably one of the busiest months of the year at my full-time job. And I feel bad, because I have co-workers who I love and miss.


But the reality is, my body needed this. I’m also taking this time to rest (the meds make me sleepy), create fun end-of-summer memories with my kids, catching up with old friends over more than text messages, and reading. Which I’ve found in the past three weeks, is what really matters when it’s all said and done.

Thank you family doctor who I still love so much. You helped me see what really matters. Even if it is disguised in a low-carb lifestyle with no caffeine.

Has the doctor ever told you to sit down? Did you?