Category Archives: health

Neither a Quitter nor a Joiner Be

after 18 months of enjoying the same zumba class i am suddenly out on the street. the business has been shut down.

when i first began my newest fitness habit, i started by hiring a personal trainer. that’s not because i’m some kind of snob but because i was a gym neophyte and i was tired of feeling like an uninformed idiot when i walked into a gym. maybe i didn’t want to use the equipment, but at least i would know how to use the equipment and what i was supposed to be accomplishing while using the equipment.

but personal trainers are expensive so as soon as my time with him was up, i joined the la fitness near me. there i continued what the trainer had taught me and pretty much just did my own thing. i would watch the group classes but i just didn’t feel comfortable enough to join in. the fact that the classes are offered in a room surrounded by mirror on two sides and glass windows where all the gym can ogle probably had something to do with it.

after discovering our town’s new recreation center, i quit la fitness with all of its lunks, filth and social nonsense and worked out at the rec center with c. working out at the rec center gym was fine, but there’s only so much time on an elliptical i can stand.

when i was in college i was a dancer as part of my theatre curriculum and i loved every minute of it. but in case you haven’t noticed, there are very few dance classes offered for adults and if they are offered, they’re usually very late in the evening after all the kid classes are over. i don’t mind going to a dance class at 8pm when the weather is nice but when it drops to 30 degrees it’s out of the question.

so when the rec center offered zumba i thought i’d give it a try. the first time i was self-conscious and kind of shy and hung toward the back of the room, but all that dance training and years of aerobic classes came together and made zumba a fun fit. i kept up with the classes until those too got shut down for lack of participation.

sans zumba, i took some late night dance classes, which were a lot of fun, but it got to the point where there were just too many people packed in a room. then too, the classes got moved to an even later hour and i don’t know about you, but if i don’t work out as close to when i get home from work, i’m just not going to.

finally, i found a zumba class that was nearby and which started at a reasonable hour. there were no windows in the room and the classes were usually small and most of all the times were convenient so i stuck with it for a year and a half. and now that’s gone too.

ugh. i am, and c will confirm this, a creature of habit and not a person who transitions well. i can go back to the gym at the rec center, which is small and very nice, but i can’t find a zumba or aerobic activity class that’s interesting and convenient.

so i’m thinking about joining the new ymca that was built in our town. it’s a very large facility with a big gym and two pools and lots of group classes or smaller classes if you’re willing to pay a little more. i’ve resisted joining the y because the place is huge and it’s expensive though less expensive if c and i join together as a family. but, i’m not much of a joiner and i’m not terribly fond of social interaction while i’m working out.

in spite of all that, c and i toured the y and i asked to attend a zumba class before we committed to joining. i enjoyed the class, but it was pretty big – about 60 women – though there were all age groups so that made it better.

so now, i’m still struggling with the whole hugeness of the facility and coming to grips with the fact that i’m just not a joiner and i’m not big on crowds. on the plus side, since there are a lot of classes offered at the y at all hours and including sundays, i could deliberately schedule workouts at less crowded times. maybe it’s not as convenient, but it will mostly likely be more enjoyable.

i know, first world problems…

but at least i know what i’ve learned about myself in the realm of attempting to maintain fitness: that i can only rely on my own self-discipline for so long and paying for access to a facility makes me feel guilty and beholding so i am more likely to go. and that, having outlasted three sets of zumba classes, i’m not quitter.

now i guess i just have to work on being a joiner.

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Filed under Fitness, health

Perseverence and Pride

“god grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” serenity prayer

three simple thoughts. how many of us beat our heads against a wall trying to change things that aren’t going to change or wallow in feelings of helplessness when there are steps we can take to make a change. ah, so it’s the wisdom to know the difference that makes the difference. words are easy, life is hard.

a year and a half ago c and i began a new way of life. and we’ve continued it to this day, which has allowed us to enjoy a healthier and happier life together. as somewhat of a culmination or perhaps continuation of his healthy life, c rode in a 65 mile bike ride to benefit the american cancer society this past weekend.

in spite of spending months training for the ride – which c completed with impressive dedication – he was nervous. he said he was nervous about making a fool of himself by falling or failing in some way. i suspect that he wasn’t nervous about completing the ride because he was certainly ready to ride 65 miles, but about completing the ride to his own satisfaction. and because he was a rider as a younger man and by his own admission just “loves to go fast”, he wanted to complete the ride in the same way completes his weekly rides — tour de france-type riding.

he not only finished the ride, but he finished the ride an hour earlier than anticipated and with the first 40 out of a total of 3,000 riders. here’s the spectacular part: this is the same person who had difficulty walking ¼ track in january of 2013. now, 110 (or more) pounds lighter, he rode 65 miles at a pace of 20 – 30 miles per hour and wasn’t even exhausted.

he’s now training for a 150 mile ride in october and i’m sure he’ll also finish that in spectacular style.

courage to change the things i can.

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Filed under courage, family, Fitness, health, Heroes, Love, marriage, weight loss

Healthcare is Making Me Sick

if you had a 7pm dinner reservation and the restaurant kept you waiting until 8:30 to be seated, you’d have plenty to say, right? maybe you wouldn’t even stick around until 8:30 because there are always plenty of other restaurants who will seat you right away and serve you good food. you’d probably post something on social media to warn others and you’d most certainly tell people about your lousy experience.

so why do we put up with the nonsense from our doctors and the healthcare system?

my blood pressure is still elevated after trying to play catch up with doctor’s appointments over the past couple of weeks. i’m not ill, i just wanted to change my primary care doctor and i needed some prescriptions refilled and got a recommendation to see an ear, nose and throat specialist regarding the tinnitus in my right ear.

changing primary care doctors was far more work and aggravation than necessary. it occurs to me that i should be in primary control of my personal health records with my doctor as a co-guardian so that they go where i go and i don’t have to beg and cajole and pay to get them moved.

after i finally got everything moved and had my appointment and my bloodwork done, i asked for the one thing i needed all along – prescription refills. guess what was the one thing the doctor didn’t do even after i reminded her.

next was the ear, nose and throat specialist. the ent specialist’s office was very nice when i called to make the appointment and told me to download the new patient forms and fill them out before the appointment. being the dutiful patient that i am, i do just that. after searching for the building that houses the ent doctor, since there is no address number on the building, i arrive at the office with papers in hand.

i hand over my new patient paperwork only to be greeted with a disgusted harrumph by the front office person who hands me a clipboard with new patient paperwork and a snarl that the paperwork i have is not correct. when i sit down to fill out the new patient paperwork, i discover that what i had downloaded was actually the updated version of the paperwork i was handed. rather than argue with the rude staff, i filled out the second set of paperwork, which would have gone a lot faster if i had had the old paperwork to copy from.

paperwork done, i waited to be taken back for my 3pm appointment. by 4:05 i was still sitting the waiting room. i wasted an entire hour listening to the office staff complain about everything under the sun, as well as work as inefficiently as possible due to their obvious lack of computer knowledge. by 4:15, i was thinking about leaving because the time on my parking meter was about to run out and i was just thoroughly disgusted by the wait time, not to mention the staff’s attitude. problem was, they took my insurance card and clipped it to my file so i’d have to confront the staff to get it back.

just as i was contemplating my escape, i heard the rude office staffer say to another staffer, “take this lady back before anyone else”, at which point i look up to see a dramatic roll of the eyes. i wait to see whether i’m the one taken back next, which would make me the “lady”. sure enough. i’m put in an exam room where i wait another 20 minutes before the doctor shows up.

the doctor was pleasant and knowledgeable but rushed. i waited 90 minutes for her but she can’t spend more than 10 with me.

i have a quick exam and some audiology tests then meet with the doctor again who tells me about as much as i already knew from reading about tinnitus on the internet. she tells me to get an mri to rule out something that she doesn’t even think is the case and basically tells me to get a white noise machine to “retrain” my brain. there is no cure for tinnitus, what you have to do is feed yourself constant low level noise to try to condition your brain to get used to it so you will notice the tinnitus less. um, okay.

just attempting to talk about scheduling the mri with the office staff was an exercise in aggravation and i exited the office without scheduling anything. from the research that i’ve done, the audiology test and examination were enough information to rule out something major that an mri might find. i’m not willing to waste more of my time and spend more on copays so that a doctor can play cya. what i wanted was to get my money’s worth from the ent doctor in the first place.

after witnessing L’s intense healthcare experience during her bone marrow transplant, i understand now that if you have a disease that requires intensive interplay between doctors and treatments, you will likely get the most efficient version of healthcare in america – that’s not to say it’s easy, just that the providers have a better chance of being clustered together for better access and information sharing.

but if you are trying to move through the patchwork mess of a healthcare system for care that is important but not critical or life threatening, you’d better be prepared to put in a lot of work on your own and know when you should allow a provider to spend your money and when it’s time to pin them down and get service from them and not get passed off.

the part of the equation that the healthcare system doesn’t get is that their patients are paying customers. do you frequent businesses whose hours are inconvenient for you? you do with doctors. you probably wouldn’t burn through pto to go to the cleaners, but you have no choice with doctors because doctors only work 9 – 4 and not on saturdays. the cleaners are open on saturday.

if you were charged for an expensive test on your car “just because” you’d have plenty to say about that. if someone messed up your take-out order, you’d give them an earful, yet we are forced to put up with the lousy service, high cost and perfunctory care offered by our healthcare system.

this is not the fault of “obamacare”, this is a problem with a system that makes it so difficult to take your business elsewhere that you’re stuck with the same bad service. maybe our insurance companies should give us the option to consider our copay as a tip for service. better yet, you know how doctors and staff spend a great deal of their time applying codes so they can get paid for your visit? how about insurance companies create a payment code list for service, satisfaction and health concern treatment/resolution that the patient fills out?

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Filed under death, health, Illness, medical

You Already Are What You’re Looking For

being judgmental is just so easy. it’s that air of superiority, the dismissal of someone else as though they are a lesser being, a refusal to understand that all of us have warts or sins or failings or simple lapses of clear thinking.

i know when the news of philip seymour hoffman’s death first came out, i thought it was tragic. then the news followed that he had died of a drug overdose and i changed my mind. you know what i was thinking: that his death was no longer tragic, but stupid or self-indulgent or… and then i took a pause.

he was an addict, but his death was still tragic.

no child grows up thinking, “i’m going to be an addict when i grow up.” maybe it’s a momentary choice – that first choice to try something addictive – but not long after that (as c says) you’re just a passenger on that train.

abusing a substance rewires your brain. putting the wiring back again isn’t as easy as just saying you want to, or even going through the steps to fix it. your brain works against you. your body works against you. not just in terms of withdrawal, in the scheme of things that’s the easy part, but in terms of your brain’s new normal. that’s not even mentioning the rest of your life habits, friends, family, etc. that are part of the addiction cycle.

i’m not an addict now, but i was addicted to cigarettes for about 10 years and i would say that for about 8 of those years i really didn’t want to be a smoker. yet, i still smoked. and almost every day i woke up and said “i’m not going to smoke today” and then a few hours later i was smoking again. i contemplated an actual strategy for quitting months before i actually quit “cold turkey”. that final time it stuck and i never picked up a cigarette again, and in spite of being really bothered by cigarette smoke, i can say that there are still times that i think about having a cigarette. it’s 33 years later, but my brain still maintains a memory of the pleasurable aspects of smoking.

i can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to give up the pleasurable feeling someone gets from narcotics or alcohol.

over the years as our children have grown, i’ve been so saddened to hear about the number of kids ours grew up with who have had addiction problems, some whose problems persist and some who are now dead from an overdose. we know of entire families who were wiped out financially by their own kids either from thievery or the cost of repeated stints in rehab. i can only imagine the pain. my thoughts and prayers go out to them, but the words are unsaid. it’s very difficult to know whether the parent of an addict will accept your concern with gratitude or feel insulted.

i remember those kids when they were just little, their innocence, their joy, their spunk. i don’t know them enough to figure out why their journey into drugs began, but i know that they would never have followed that path if they had known the outcome.

so, yeah, most of us don’t dabble in addictive substances that take hold of our lives and turn us into something we never wanted to be. but we all have our vices, our failings and our humanity so rather than judge maybe we can put our resources together to solve.


Filed under addiction, advice, courage, health, Illness

The Jonas Salk(s) of our Day?

if you have not looked at the latest issue of philadelphia magazine, you have to grab one asap either on newsstands or on-line. and not why you think. i know, i know, the cover story is the best of philly, the most popular issue of the year and as if that weren’t enough, the cover picture is of a pile of doughnuts (very good doughnuts from what i hear). but that’s the not the reason to see the issue.

read the article titled, “has carl june found the key to fighting cancer?” you will hardly find better summer (or anytime) reading. kudos to writer jason fagone for the masterful way in which he tells this story and bigger kudos to carl june, david porter, bruce levine, and michael kalos who are the stars of the story.

dr. porter, one of the physicians whose work is profiled in the piece, is L’s oncologist at penn’s abramson cancer center and he, together with carl june, an expert in immunotherapy, bruce levine in vaccine production and michael kalos professor of pathology may just have found a cure for cancer.

pause and consider that.

they would never say they’ve found a cure, in fact, i’m considered unscientific for saying that. but the work is so exciting and the results of their trials even more exciting that i’m going to say it anyway.

in short, what they have done is figured out how to extract a person’s t-cells (a type of white blood cell that play a central role in cell-mediated immunity), essentially hop them up, multiply them, infuse them back into the patient and wait for the patient’s own cells to attack the cancer. which they do in a big way. so big, that the team almost lost a couple of patients when their body’s immune system went into overdrive.

it’s a simple yet elegant solution to fighting cancer and, oh by the way, brilliant. this team is not the only team of researchers working along these lines. every major cancer center has clinical trials in this type of gene-therapy as a cancer treatment.


ucsd (my alma mater)

md anderson

make no mistake, these trials are revolutionary. i would call them miraculous but that discounts the brilliant thinking and hard work of these professionals. chances are these therapies will be fast-tracked by the fda and become standard therapies in the next decade or so.

i try not to think too much about how L may have been able to skip the tough road of a bone marrow transplant if she had been diagnosed when this gene therapy was standard treatment.

instead, i’m imagining the number of lives that will be saved, the children who will live to be adults. i’m imagining the patients who will no longer have to endure the rigorous road of chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant. i’m imagining what it will be like for legions of patients to hear a diagnosis of cancer and not think that it’s a death sentence.

i’ve said it before and i continue to repeat it: it’s a bright new world.


Filed under health, medical, science

Journey of Genetic Defiance Part II

oddly enough, at the age of 57 and the same height i’ve been since the age of 16 but weighing more, i’m wearing the same size i wore 35 years ago.

something ain’t right.

when i was a kid, stores that carried downscale women’s clothing only went up as high as a size 12 or 14. upscale women’s clothing stopped at size 10 or even smaller. clothing from paris was made to fit adult women who were the size and shape of 10 year old boys. clothing today is made to be put on models who look as much like hangers as they can. someone should invent robotic runway models so no one has to be pressured to eat tissues to become one.

i don’t know what size the kids clothes stopped at when i was a kid because i never got to shop in those regular stores. my only shopping option as a young teenager was lane bryant where they carried only half-sizes. while is sound like a size accommodation – “oh, i’m between a 10 and a 12… i’m a 10 ½”, that’s not what half sizing meant. it meant that you wore fat sizes. kind of like husky in the boys’ department or what “women’s” sizing is now. (for you men out there, women’s clothing refers to all clothing for women, but women’s sizing refers to clothing sizes that are much bigger than regular women’s sizes. regular sized women’s clothing is carried in the “missy” department or the department sometimes labeled as “women”. got it?)

much as i would like to believe that i am the same size i was when i was 22, i know that it’s not true.

it’s called vanity sizing and the stores where you shop are all doing it. over the past 40 years, the actual measurements of women’s clothing have increased by an average of 4 inches, which means that most women’s clothing sizes are a size or two bigger than they used to be. funny, kind of snarky take on this here.

while the clothing measurements are keeping up with us as we get bigger, the labels are scaling down to make us feel better. and to keep us buying. maybe that explains the wall mart photos we all see on line.

there is no standardization in sizing in women’s clothing and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. on the surface it seems to make sense that a size 10 should be a size 10 should be a size 10, but labels sell their customer on an identity and a macy’s size 10 customer is simply not a j. crew size 10 customer.

now, in all fairness, this increase in size is not just about being overweight or obesity, since women are taller too and their bone structure is bigger. some of this larger sizing is due to better nutrition, less smoking, less restrictive corseting and breast implants. yep, implants. i’m guessing a lot of people are not complaining about that one.

you’ve probably all heard the recent flap over abercrombie and fitch’s ceo mike jeffries, who spouted off that a&f only wants to sell to “cool, good looking people”, which begs the question: “why are they selling to mike jeffries?” people expanded jeffries’ cool remark into protesting that a&f doesn’t carry larger sizes for girls (not so sure a lot of grown women shop in a&f). well, they do carry larger sizes, they just vanity label them more aggressively than most other stores and you can tell that because they carry xsmall and xxsmall and double zero. my guess is you can pick up a lot of that tiny a&f merchandise in places like tjmaxx and marshall’s, ‘cuz not a lot of girls are buying it. By the way, if you are seeing a lot of only small sizes on the racks when you go into a store, it’s because the larger sizes are all sold out. And the department buyer is stupid.

you will be witnessing the end of a&f because they are business idiots. when 67% of the apparel purchasing population falls into what’s being called the plus size category, cutting them out of your business model (not to mention insulting them along the way) is just plain stupid. you gotta sell a lot of $150 ripped jeans and $50 t-shirts to make up for those pr mistakes.

every women will tell you that she’s got at least three, maybe four sizes in her closet and if she doesn’t she’s either got a lot of money for custom clothes or she’s lying. and by the way, any woman who insists on sharing her size with you is a jerk.

i have to admit to being hesitant to support the “let’s all be fine with huge sizes” thing, just because we all know that it’s not healthy. it’s just not and you can’t vanity your way out of it. conversely, thin or skinny people are no better humans than anyone else. let’s just get rid of that nonsense too.

you know that you should be fit and healthy and take care of your body. you also know when you feel good physically and have the best idea of what shape your body is. no amount of fashion dictation is going to change that you got your mother’s thighs or your father’s paunch and no amount of reading nonsense in fashion magazines should influence what you know to be the best for yourself.

buy what looks and feels good on you or make your own clothes or get them tailored to fit you properly, cut out the size tags when you get home and forget the rest. look and feel fabulous.

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Filed under Fitness, Food, health, weight loss, women

Journey of Genetic Defiance Part I

back in january c and i embarked on a weight loss journey together.  ooops, sorry.  i’m supposed to say a journey toward getting healthy so i don’t make anyone feel badly about themselves or discriminated against.  but here’s the thing: to successfully lose weight you have to tell yourself the truth and the truth was that c and i needed to lose weight.  i could tell you that both c and i have a genetic history of obesity and that it makes it hard to lose weight and keep it off.  i could tell you that, and i could also admit that it’s an excuse.  yes, genetics play a role in weight, but just like inheriting crooked teeth or lousy vision, there are ways to fix things. staying within your ideal weight range is no different. some of us have to pay more attention to fixing weight things than others.

for the past five months c and i worked at losing weight together and so far the two of us combined have lost the equivalent of a runway model.  not a vogue model mind you, but a regular runway model that weights in the three-digit numbers.

i like to lose weight in the winter and i’m always more successful at it if i start during the winter months.  by the time summer rolls around, i’m too lazy to think that much and intentionally sweating in the heat feels icky.  but it’s easy to keep weight off in the summer because it’s too hot to eat and i drink a lot of liquids that fill me up.

c’s transformation is so dramatic that people who haven’t seen him in awhile stop him and ask how he did it.  he tells them the truth and they don’t like the answer.  everyone wants a quick fix and trust me, i do too, but after spending an entire lifetime gaining and losing weight, i know that getting weight off is concentrated work.  the upside is that the longer you follow the plan, the easier it gets and absolutely the more fun exercise becomes.

the last time i lost weight, i hired a personal trainer to teach me how to work out and to some extent how to eat.  and i kept the weight off for a couple of years until our daughter needed a bone marrow transplant and i kept my worry in check with wine.  i thought about medication and maybe that would have been a better option, but i went with the wine and along with it came the weight.  of course, that was my excuse for one year, but then another year went by, our daughter recovered beautifully and i kept enjoying my wine, not to mention discovering a liking for botanical gin and small batch whiskies.

(lest you think i settled into being an alcoholic, know that along with the lovely alcoholic beverages came wonderful charcuterie spreads with crusty bread, all of which combined led to a larger version of me.)

by the time january of 2013 rolled around i was in such pain in my knees from the extra weight and lazy lifestyle that i thought i might need knee replacement surgery.  instead, c and i started walking.  it hurt, i’m not going to sugar coat it, walking hurt my already hurting knees.  but then a funny thing happened: my knees felt better the day after walking.  and the more i walked, the better they felt.

at the same time, i discovered an app called lose it! which is basically a calorie counting app for your phone.  you dial in your weight, your goal and the number of pounds a week you want to lose (up to 2) and it returns the number of calories you should be eating a day to achieve that goal.  you can enter in your exercise type and time and it adds those calories back into your available calories.  as you lose weight, you enter your weight loss and it subtract calories from your available count to help you keep going.


well, only if you tell the truth and if you’re diligent about entering your food every day.  results don’t lie.  and what i quickly learned was that i had to earn more calories or more weight loss by exercising.  so i added zumba class.  and elliptical.  and weight training.

all of it worked.  what worked the best was (is) having c as a partner.

experts have always said that it’s easier to lose weight with a buddy and c and i found out how true that is.  but it has to be a specific kind of buddy – one you can trust, one who doesn’t sabotage you and one who doesn’t compete with you.  basically, a buddy who acts as your cheerleader and who is just as willing as you are to coax their buddy into a workout or convince your buddy out of a bad decision.

next time: journey of genetic defiance part II


Filed under Fitness, Food, health, weight loss, women