January 29, 2012

Sometimes You're the Pooper Scooper, Sometimes You're Just the Poop

Forget the dog, I know a few people I'd like to train to clean up after themselves...
Image found here.
I apologize in advance but sometimes you just gotta tell it like it is, and sometimes it's shit, and a little "s" with a bunch of symbols after just won't do!

We all want to be needed.  We want to be important, valued, and respected.  We want people to seek our advice, ask our opinions, and describe us as reliable.

But being needed has its drawbacks.  Sometimes it's enough to try to keep our own lives on track without having other people bring us their problems to fix.  When we're staggering under our own loads, it can be difficult to care about someone else's seemingly trivial woes.  Other times, we may want to help but simply don't know how.  And yet, if we've established ourselves as responsible people we're going to be the ones held responsible for fixing things.

That's right, the other side to the warm fuzzy of "being needed" is catching shit.  Scooping the poop your friends, family, and colleagues drop as they pass through life.

Wanna know the truth?  I actually don't hate being the pooper scooper.  At least, most of the time.  I like being the problem solver, and especially if the other party is engaged in what the solution is so they can handle it themselves the next time, it can be quite rewarding.  True, there are times the glamour fades, but on the whole it's really not so bad.  Lately I've more often been in positions to catch shit at work, scooping the poop for my client or team, but that's as it should be.  Moving into my new(ish) role means dealing with that but also a lot of authority & opportunity, and if I scoop well I get a pat on the back at least.  So, suffice it to say I generally don't mind being the quicker picker upper in my world, though every once in a while I can get a little wearisome.

Then, there are the days the whole game flips.  For me recently, these days are the ones where my ass is dragging as I try to fight through my day until it finally dawns on me that I've changes roles from the scooper to the poop itself.

If the urge to be needed is common to the human experience, the dread of being life's poop is common to the chronic patient experience.  We try to avoid it, but know deep down there will be those days where it will happen; when we will be described by the same adjectives used for poop: icky, gross, waste[d], even smelly.

When that happens to me, I've decided that means it's my turn to be the poop and someone else can be the scooper.  The best way I can try to help other on those days is doing what I can to help myself so they don't have to cater to me as much.  Shawn knows what I mean - on a 'scooper' day, I might run some errand, decide what to do about dinner, or deal with the dog when she barks at nothing.  On 'poop' days, he'll have to do all that so if I can at least settle myself on the sofa with my usual accouterments (tissues, liquid, something to nibble on) he won't have to cater to me as much.

This gives me a new idea for a new way to track my general health over time - I think I need a calendar, on which I can put a sticker corresponding to how I feel: a strong, shiny pooper scooper or a steaming, heaping pile of dung.

Did you realize that poop is a noun referring to excrement, but also a verb synonymous to exhaust?  A coincidence...I think not!

Happy scooping, fellow Sickies!!

January 25, 2012

5 (Even Simpler) Steps to a Family History

In September 2009, in my blog's wee, formative days, I posted what I considered to be a basic 5-step plan for learning your family's medical history.  For once, I'm happy to report I think I've gotten a bit more succinct over the years, and the time has come to present to you an even simpler 5-Step Plan!  Learning, examining, and sharing your family's medical history is an extremely undervalued tool.  In the hands of the right doctor - or a diligent, educated patient - it can mean the difference between early intervention and late-game diagnosis.

Image found here.

What and Why?
What exactly is a family medical history?  And moreover, why should I care enough to invest the time into learning mine?  It's not going to change anything, afterall...

Particularly in the mysterious world of chronic illnesses, genetics seem to play a role in the likelihood of an individual turning up with one or more such illnesses.  Sometimes these connections are not well understood - for example, some people link the chances of getting pregnant with twins to a family history of twins, but no one understands why or how this link may work.  Other times, the links are more direct and are passed on in the same ways as hair color, height, and body shape.  Either way, knowing, analyzing, and interpreting your family history can be immensely helpful in early detection of disease and illness.  It will take a bit of time and (if done right) may raise some questions, but remember to look at it with rose-colored lenses: by taking the time now to find the concerns and questions, you give yourself (and others) the chance to plan for them before reaching a crisis! 

Step 1: Research your family history
Develop a list of conditions that appear in your bloodline.  There are a few ways to organize this information.  - I think a good way is to list each condition that occured, who had it, and as many details as you can get (age at diagnosis, symptoms, progression of the illness).  You are likely to find that a number of people in the family had the same or similar conditions, so keep track of each person it in whom it appeared.  In particular, doctors want to know if a blood sibling, parent, or grandparent had a condition, but if you see a trend elsewhere (say, aunts and uncles), make note of that too.  Remember to examine all parts of your family, both mother and father's sides and each of their siblings and parents.  One way to make sure you don't miss someone is to sketch out a family tree and list information by each person's name.  This will also help you remember who's a blood relative and who was related only by marriage.  Additionally, some families have a person who seems to know everything about everyone.  My mother is one of those people.  She can tell me who had what condition, when they were diagnosed, when and how they died (if relevant), what their symptoms were...I think she even knows what color socks they wore.  If you have a person like this in your family, congrats, this step will be a snap!

Step 2: Organize the information
Once you have your family's history in front of you, it can seem confusing and overwhelming.  If you don't organize it properly, you won't remember the important items when you need to (such as filling out a form for a doctor).  Assuming you worked from a family tree or list of family members and now have information listed next to each person, I recommend reorganizing the information by condition.  Read through the list of conditions or illnesses in your family, and make a new list of each one the first time it appears.  Then, go back through the raw data and record the details, especially how the person was related to you.  For example:
  • Asthma - Dad, dad's brother Joe, grandfather (dad)
  • Diabetes (type 2) - mom's sister Mary, grandfather (mom), and grandfather (dad)
  • Breast cancer - mom's sister Ally (45), grandmother (dad) (58)
Here, I identified each person by which side they were related on (i.e., instead of 'Uncle Joe', say 'dad's brother Joe').  Doctors usually want to know information in this format.  You may also want to list the age at diagnosis, which is useful in some conditions.  This is also a good chance to organize conditions into groups of related illnesses.  For example, put diabetes and hypothyroidism next to each other, or list all cancers next to each other.  This is usually how conditions are listed on a questionaire for a doctor, and will help you remember the information AND identify patterns (see Step 3).

Or, if you think like an accountant, this is a great opportunity to exercise those Excel spreadsheet skills...just sayin'....

Step 3:  Interpret the information
Once you have the data organized, you may be able to get even a little more information from it.  As I said some conditions have a clear link...if you see someone in your family had colon cancer, you know you should get screenings early and often, or if a lot of people had heart disease you should be careful to keep your blood pressure in healthy limits.  On the other hand, the presence of some conditions may not directly mean you are at a higher risk for them, but can show a "genetic predisposition".  For example, many conditions in the autoimmune world are related. No one else in my family had Sjogren's (that we know of), but they did have other autoimmune conditions that would have indicated my increased likelihood for developing one.

Step 4: Effectively use and share your information
Now that you did all this work, at the very least you should take a copy with you to your doctor appointments.  It will be invaluable when filling out those tedious new-patient forms, and may be of interest even to your current caregivers.  If your family history is extensive or you have a complex health situation, consider giving a copy of your information to your doctor to keep in your record.  If you have "mystery symptoms" you haven't been able to piece together, use your family history as a starting point to discuss with your doctor to reveal a new direction you should explore.  Even if you are unencumbered by medical problems now, take the chance on a routine check-up to review your family history and make sure you are taking all precautions to keep yourself in good health. 

Update the record whenever you find out new information.  For example, if your mother develops osteoporosis, you'll want to add that to the lists.  Again, Excel is a great option for this - and it makes sharing the information easy, as you can email the file to family.

A nice idea is to share the information with your family.  If you uncovered any noteworthy health trends or important items, you should share that part of the information with other blood relatives.  In doing so, be sure to include your own health history.  And of COURSE, be sure to share the information with your own children, and encourage (maybe help) them compile a history of their other parent's side of the family!

Step 5: Your health history and family planning
Your family history is part of your own health history in a way.  It helps explain why you are the way you are (health-wise) and may project what you should look out for.  It is also important to keep a record of your own health history...it seems it should be easy to remember everything that's happened to you, but that can quickly become a challenge.  At the least, you should have a list of all diagnoses, surgeries and the year(s) they were performed, and recurring illnesses (such as bronchitis or infections).  If you saw a question about something on one doctor's forms, you're likely to see that question again so make a note of your answer.

Your family medical history may have implications as you plan a family (if applicable).  I know I've asked myself and my husband if it's fair to have a child, knowing what's running around in our genetic pool.  Of course, for most people the issues aren't that dramatic; you probably don't need to question having a baby altogether (and for the record, I am planning to have babies, I just thought it through).  But, you may want to see if you are at risk for things like gestational diabetes or trouble conceiving.  The family history will be important to an OB-gyn who will know what could be related to birth defects (for example, two antibodies I have with my conditions can increase the risk I could have a child with fetal heart block), and what steps can be taken to minimize the risk (be optimistic, many vitamins and even medications can help...for me, folic acid will help minimize this risk!).  The information in your family history can also help long after the conception/pregnancy/birth stage.  To use myself as an example again, I know I'm going to be really careful about my children's sun exposure (it was my trigger), and be especially attuned to any complaints they have about joints, eyes, dry mouth, or other mystery symptoms.

Have hope, you've done a good thing!
After all that work, you'll basically have a list of "WCGW" (what could go wrongs) - don't dispair!  The point of this whole process is 'proactive hope'.  I call myself a "pragmatic optimist"...rather than idly wish for the best, I want to do whatever I can to make the best happen!  THAT'S the point of a family history.  With this information at your disposal, you can take real steps toward better health and care for yourself, your family, and your children.  Even if you uncover upsetting items in your family history, you've taken a step toward making something better in the future.  Feel good, you've done well!

January 18, 2012

What Hypocrites

This is my two cents - you don't have to agree but please be respectful: I don't know Paula Deen's medical or family history, diet, or exercise regime.  If any of you are privy to that information, I'm impressed.  In my opinion, the way she cooks on TV may or may NOT have anything to do with her diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes.  Furthermore, her decision to keep that diagnosis private for a while is a right we all expect and to which she is entitled.  While I think it would be prudent (though not obligatory) to make more mention on her show of the fact that her recipes are treats & special-occasion meals and not representative of a healthy diet, I not only support but greatly respect her if she continues to make the same artery-clogging, diabetes-aggravating, waistline-destroying food on TV. 
Image found here.
We say we are not our diseases and rightfully demand that the world look beyond these labels we must carry if we are to receive treatment and see us for the individuals we are – do we not owe Paula the same respect?  The woman made a living and a reputation out of her decadent meals, but suddenly because of the label "diabetes" we chastise her for that over which we formerly drooled?  Did we not already know eating the food she cooks on a regular basis would be hazardous to our health?  Is it not our responsibility to make decisions about our diets for ourselves?  And, if it actually were so horrific for her to cook these foods, why didn't we shun her from the start, and only now raise indignant voices after learning of her diagnosis?
I've heard the jokes for years about Paula Deen's recipes…snarky comments about owning stock in Land O'Lakes, quips about heavy chefs, and even remarks about the potential for related medical problems (aha, so we DID see that coming!).  But we've always teased her because we love what she makes and wish at least one of her creations would magically transport through the TV and onto our plates.  How convenient that we forget this forbidden love now.
Paula may or may not have eaten over-the-top foods on a regular basis.  I don't go through her kitchen scraps; I don't know.  She may have a family history like mine, with several diabetics – some of each Type 1 and Type 2.  She may have cooked extravagantly on TV then gone home and eaten a raw veggie platter…or half a cake, I have no idea.  But even if she did eat these foods, and more frequently than is wise, that doesn't completely mean she "brought this all on herself" and that she is any less deserving of our compassion.  No one knows why some people eat a certain way and have no effects while others develop life-threatening conditions.  I'm sure we all personally know of at least one person who was seemingly in perfect health only to develop something horrific, as well as someone who lives life daring disease to take them but hasn't had so much as a sniffle in years.  Why do some people smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day and live to be 90 with nothing worse than a smelly car, but someone who lived in their house is undergoing chemo for lung cancer from second-hand smoke?  I would hope Paula knew a judicial diet would be healthful and that she tried to keep one, but whether she did or didn't I don't think it's my place to assume or judge.
Paula, you've always presented yourself as a strong-willed, self-reliant, independent thinker.  This isn't the first time you've been criticized for your food, probably by people whose opinions mean a whole lot more to you than we random TV-watchers and web-surfers.  I strongly suspect you don't need to hear this at all, but I'll say it anyway for those who need to hear it: keep on keepin' on.  You love what you do, and I love you for that.  If you choose to create new paths based on your relationship with diabetes, incorporate this "news" into what you've been doing, or separate it entirely from what you do on TV, I support you.  You have the chance to exercise the right we all fight for – to be and do exactly what you want based on your qualifications and not your diagnosis.  Live it up!

January 3, 2012

Jenny's 2012 UII & Me Resolutions

Image found here, and it reminds me a lot of my favorite fellow Sjoggie blogger and her motley muttly crew...;)

This worked out quite well last year (which was the first time I ever seriously contemplated resolutions) so I'll give it another go.  My resolutions - personal, professional, and otherwise - are rooted in things that have challenged me in the past year.  This way, my focus is really on overcoming challenges, and that's what it should be about!  And so, I humbly present...

Jenny's 2012 UII & Me Resolutions

1. Maintain blogging frequency.

Last year, I resolved to post more, at least 2-3 times per month.  In the end, I had exceeded my goal, posting over 50 posts for an average rate of nearly 5 posts per month!  For me, this is a big accomplishment because of other constraints on my time.  For as much of a talker as I am, I don't take posting lightly and want each one to be a quality message with usable or at least interesting information which takes me some time to put together.  I was very proud of my rate last year but that's not to say it wasn't challenging, so I believe it belongs on my list again.  So, for 2012 I resolve to post 4-5 times per month on average, but not less than 3 times in any given month (such as especially busy months).

2. See certain projects through with AIM.

KPMG's AIM - Abilities in Motion network (formerly the Disability Network) has grown nationally and locally in Philadelphia in 2011.  I have been both proud and honored to have a front row seat.  But now we start transitioning into the next critical stage of maintaining momentum and continuing growth.  To this end, I have some specific goals for our local chapter.  The first will be the fruition of a new network idea for a caregiver's night out (most likely a bowling event) to get everyone out, networking, and relaxed without self-identifying.  Second will be making sure solid gains to date (i.e., the Disability Mentoring Day) aren't blips on the radar.  We received both immense praise and realistic suggestions for improving the first DMD, and we MUST follow through in making this a tradition.  Third, I would like to see a measurable increase in participation - my target will be to double present numbers.  Now, to be clear (because it can be very hard to measure this), I will count "participants" as people who participate in a special office event (such as the mentoring day, a learning project, etc) and/or who actively communicate with us throughout the year (such as replying to emails, giving ideas, etc even if they can't participate).

3. Grow UII's forces.

Over the past year, we had two or three people become more heavily involved with UII...not just turning to us, but working with us (such as presenting).  Through this growth, as well as our expanding foray into IRL events and programs, it is obvious to me UII are ready for more people to use their voices.  I hope to welcome a few more people into the UII family of representatives as speakers, maybe writers to help drum up publicity/media interest, etc.  I know deep in my gut that this will be the key to making alliances with people and organizations who will help UII rise to the next level of creating awareness & providing support.

4. Take UII where it belongs.

UII is ready to be a 501(c)(3) organization (the IRS tax code regulation for a non-profit able to collect tax-deductible donations).  I figured this out last year, and had a secret personal goal to make it happen but wasn't able to pull it together.  Perhaps that's because I kept the goal secret.  I was afraid if I announced it and didn't make it work, I'd be embarrassed and possibly lose support.  However that probably backfired, so this time I'm saying it loud and proud: in 2012 I will try to get UII registered as a 501(c)(3) organization.  I pray I don't embarrass myself.

5. Knock out the CPA exam.

I've passed one of the four parts of the CPA exam.  Now, I'm in an 18 month window to complete the rest before losing & having to retake the first part.  It's ambitious, especially since I'm not in a position to take a sabbatical or other extended absence to focus on studying - but that's not likely to work for me anyway.  My preference will be to pass the other three parts this summer (according to a schedule to be finalized with some advice from my mentors), but in the interest of being realistic if I pass two more I'd have to say I wasn't a failure.  If I don't get it done this year, I have only a few months early in 2013 to finish it within that window, and that'll be hell so let's pull for this summer.  Prayers requested, appreciated, and very much needed, both for me to pass and my husband to survive me studying!

6. Reassert my control of my health.

I didn't do the best job last year on my health-related resolution "not to lose my health in my activism".  As I discussed in my last post, I didn't fail really because I didn't have some dramatic relapse, but I certainly didn't make headway.  So, this year I'll try the approach I used above again and get more specific.  In 2012, I will work toward some specific health goals including: losing some - any - weight (I won't define a number, that will only set me up for failure) and keep it off.  This is obviously something I would love for body image purposes, but has a serious health implication that is a more powerful driver anyway.  My joints & tendons would do much better with less weight, and tendinitis has been a big problem for me this year.  Also, I'm inching ever closer to starting a family (not too close, but it's going to take a long time to get my body set) and I want to be in the best shape I can to give us the best prospects!  Besides weight, I want to find out what's causing my latest hair loss problems (an issue that has come and gone over the years for several reasons, but this latest bout has been on the worse side again) and tackle it.  Lastly, I want to improve my stamina.  I'm not so much talking about for exercise specifically, but for getting through the day.  I feel fatigued after cooking, after sorting, heck even after planning these days.  It may be a rough patch I'm going through at the moment, but I want to nip this bud before it takes root, and try to make my body more resistant to it.

7. Go on vacation and feel good at the end.

Shawn and I got an awesome deal for this really cool destination I've wanted to go to for a few years - the Southern Cross Ranch in Georgia.  We were able to purchase a voucher at a discount, which we can use throughout 2012.  Obviously there are several factors that will affect when exactly we go, but I want to plan & execute it in a way that leaves me feeling invigorated and satisfied at the end, not rushed, let down, or short changed.  This means everything from allowing enough time at the front and back ends of the trip (for packing, unpacking, recovering, etc) to making use of the things that come with our package (all inclusive meals and horseback riding time).  Silly as this sounds, to make this goal a reality will require me to make a plan and feel good when I stick to it.  I'm a planner, but then often either stray from my plan or wish I had.  It's hard for me to say "I did what I set out to do and it was great", but I'll do it this time!

8. Fix my relationship with my church.

We've had a little rough patch, my church & me.  I had to terminate the youth ministry program I ran; due to shortages in certain roles I haven't gotten to lector in a while as I've needed to fill in more often to do Holy Communion (I love lectoring); and on the whole I've lost a lot of specific connections to the real life of the parish.  It's the sort of thing that happens as we go through phases in our lives - I've needed to dedicate extra time to some things at KPMG and with UII and those are good reasons for re-prioritizing.  But I love my parish, and value being a real member participating in life there.  In 2012, I will somehow find a way to re-anchor myself a little more into this community, and also work on rediscovering some spiritual aspects that have slipped as well.

So, ladies and gents, I have again committed my goals to writing.  Goals based on struggles I've had in the past year, with specific parameters when possible and generally measurable goals.    Once again, I'm a little scared I'll fall dramatically short when we look back after a trip around the sun.  But I'll be brave if you are!

Are you the goal-setting type?  Do you find it helpful to make stated resolutions/goals, or do you do better with general concepts?  Is there something you've tried that just does not work?  Did you write up a post on this topic yourself?  Share with me & UII!  Bonne annee et bon sante, mes amis!