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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nine Tips to Help You Be An Active Participant in Your Health and Healthcare

Today, consumers are expected to be active participants in their health and healthcare. This is easy to say but very hard to do especially when you are sick, weak and scared. Also, most people have no or limited exposure to the healthcare system other than going to their primary care doctor for routine care, the emergency room or a walk-in clinic for a cold, a broken bone or other minor incidents. So when faced with a healthcare crisis and thrust into the healthcare system most are shocked at how complex, frustrating and difficult the system is to navigate.

As I have mentioned in past issues of Nurse Advocate, I had a major healthcare event in November 2014 when I was diagnosed with a central nervous system brain tumor. This experience rocked my world, physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally and financially. The experience taught me many lessons. The biggest lesson by far is how hard it is to be a to be a patient. This is mostly because healthcare is like no other service we encounter in our everyday lives and NO ONE is prepared for the experience.

As I learned, life can change on a dime. When it does you realize how important your family and friends are as they become your support systems. You also appreciate how important health care insurance is as this is the mechanism to pay the bills. You are grateful if you signed up for the short and long-term disability insurance plan your employer offered as part of your benefit plan as it provides income when you are not able to work. You also realize how important your faith is as it is what helps you get through the challenges of your illness. You also realize how expensive the cost of healthcare is and the pressures it puts on yourself and your family. 

To help you to be an active participant in your health and healthcare I decided to share some of the tips I learned as a nurse, a case manager and as a patient. I hope they help you to be better prepared to handle healthcare challenges that may arise.  

The last tip is specifically meant for each member of the healthcare team. I think I can speak for many patients and their caregivers and send this plea so they know how it important their help is in assisting consumers to navigate the complex world of healthcare. 

I want everyone to know that being a patient is a challenge, but with a caring team, clear communication, and adequate resources we can navigate the journey successfully. So let's get started! 

Tip One:  Take the time to find a primary care physician whom you like and trust. This might take a few tries, but it is worth the effort. Your primary care physician is the professional you will go to for your annual checkups, but also turn to when a problem arises. Their role is to help guide you through the healthcare system, make recommendations to specialists who can address problems when needed and ensure your care meets your goals and is coordinated. Having a primary care physician that you can discuss fears, challenges and healthcare issues is critical. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine provides an example of how one internist described his role as a primary care physician. Please take a minute to read: Instant Replay – A Quarterbacks View of Care Coordination

Tip Two: Read your member handbook as it explains your health insurance policy. Most of us get a member handbook when we first are enrolled or renewed in a health plan. I venture to say that not many of us have taken the time to read the handbook, learn the benefits the policy provides, how to use the insurance, or how to address questions as they arise.  

Most insurance companies have their member handbook online, so they are accessible to all members. Take the time review the member handbook so you are familiar with the rules. If you have questions after you review the material, call your insurance company. Most questions can be answered by the customer care team who answers the phone. If your question cannot be answered at this level, ask to talk to a supervisor or if your question is medical in nature, ask to speak with a nurse. Every insurance company has nurses on staff whose role it is to handle medical questions for members.

Reviewing the member handbook will help you understand what is covered and what is not covered in your policy. Keep in mind; health insurance is a legal contract that outlines what is covered by the policy. Many people do not realize this and are surprised to find that a service your doctor ordered may not be covered. It should be realized that many times a service or treatment may be denied. Usually the reason a denial is issued is that the information provided did not contain the information needed to justify the request. Providers know they need to provide this information but many times don't due to various reasons. Generally, once the rationale is provided, the request is approved. If not, there are steps to take to appeal the decision. 

The member handbook will spell out the process you and your doctor can use to appeal a decision and the time frame the insurance company has to handle the issue. There are regulatory statues that mandate the timelines the health plans have to follow so all stakeholders understand the rules. They are in place to protect the consumers, so knowing them will help your case. 

Another important tip to remember is if a service is denied to ask your doctor to call the medical director at the insurance company and have a peer to peer discussion. Many times this discussion can resolve an issue. 

Last, it is important to know that just because your insurance company does not cover something, you always have the option to pay for the service yourself. This is not always possible due to the high costs of healthcare services, but it is an option. 

Tip Three: Be proactive and have a financial plan. Many times when someone becomes sick, it is the first time they learn the details of their policy. They find out that they have a high deductible that has to be met before the insurance company pays any bills. In addition, they find there are out of pocket costs that have to be paid when you visit a doctor in addition to the insurance coverage. These costs can become a financial burden if you are not prepared. 
Today, due to the rising cost of health insurance, employers are cutting down on benefits and shifting much of the cost of the policy onto the consumer. As a result, many people are looking at starting a medical savings account or a flexible health savings account. These accounts allow you to use pre-tax dollars and put money away to pay for out of pocket costs and other expenses that may not be covered by your insurance policy. Talk to your human resource person about this benefit so you understand the rules of how the money can be used. 

In addition to health insurance and health savings accounts, you may be offered a short and long term disability policy which will replace your income in case you get sick and cannot work. There costs associated with these policies can be deducted from your paycheck so they are manageable. Many people find these plans helpful if they experience a health challenge that prevents them from working. If you are not offered disability insurance through your employer, you can buy a personal policy from a broker.

In addition to health insurance and disability insurance, it is important to have a personal budget and a financial plan that helps you and your family live within your means. It is also important to budget your income so you are prepared for an emergency (a natural disaster or healthcare crisis). You can determine the amount of money you may need by taking into account your family income and your expenses. Here is a link to an online calculator that might help you determine what you need in reserve. 

Many people are disciplined and can set up a savings plan for themselves, but many people need help. Consider engaging the services of a financial planner or a person who has expertise in financial management to help you set up a personal budget that allows you to prepare for the future and for unexpected emergencies that might arise. Keep in mind you do not have to be wealthy to set up a financial plan, in reality, everyone should have one to help prepare for your future and be prepared for life's unexpected twists and turns. Having financial goals and a plan to meet your goals is important for you and your family financial health so don’t delay in getting your plan into place.

Tip Four: Keep records. As the healthcare industry moves toward electronic health records, there will be at a time when all of your health information will be saved and accessible from one place with the click of a button, but we are not there yet. Do yourself a favor and get a binder to keep all your records in one place. The binder will be a life saver if you have a medical emergency as it will allow your doctor(s) to review your medical history in an organized manner. 

Every time you visit your doctor, see a specialist, have lab work or any diagnostic test, ask for a copy of the report and put into your binder. This will allow you to know your results and be more familiar with your health and your healthcare history. 

If you are on any medication, write down each pill you take (this includes supplements and vitamins). Write down the date you started taking the medication, why you are taking it, the dose and how often you each medication. When the drug is discontinued, write down the date. Keeping this information is important so you can share with your medical team.

Having your own health records can cut down on duplication and unneeded test which can be costly. Also, it is important to realize that you are the only constant member of your healthcare team as healthcare professionals come and go. Having a copy of your records allows you to provide new providers with the information they need to become familiar with your case.
Everyone should know it is your right to have access to your medical records so do not feel shy about asking for them. 

Tip Five: Ask questions. As they say, there are no ‘stupid’ questions, and this is especially true when it comes to your health and healthcare. Today, consumers are expected to be active participants in their own healthcare, yet there is no formal education to help the consumer. When you go to your doctor’s appointment, take the time to prepare for the visit by writing down any questions you might want to ask. 

If you have a medical condition and you have done some research into your condition, bring the information with you. Doctors are getting used to their patients bringing articles and recommendations for the them to consider. The doctor should take the time to review the material with you so you have a better understanding and answers to your questions. They may have a nurse who can do this, but in the end, it is their responsibility. If they do not have the time at your scheduled appointment, many times they will take the material, review it at a later time and get back to you. Another alternative is to make another appointment to discuss alternatives and the goals of your care so everyone is on the same page.

Many physician practices have patient portals where your medical records can be kept. These portals provide a way for you to send a note to your doctor or the staff if you have a question or want to clarify something in your plan of care. Take advantage of this technology as it will allow you to be better informed and save you and your treatment team time.

Tip Six: Bring a family member, a friend or hire a patient advocate to be with you for all medical appointments especially to the ones where treatment decisions are going to be presented or made.  

Listening to your doctor or other healthcare providers can be difficult when you are not feeling well, are scared or not yourself. Many times you do not hear what is being said because you are distracted or cannot concentrate, so having another person with you is important. 

When I met with the neurosurgeon about the next steps in my care when I was told I had a brain tumor, I had three people with me, my husband, and two friends who were healthcare professionals. We all were in the same room, and heard the same things, but after the doctor left and we talked about the conversation, we all came up with different pieces of the puzzle.
My husband was concerned about me, and what was going to happen to me and our life as a result of my diagnosis and impending treatment. 

My two colleagues were there to listen to the doctor, learn about the diagnosis, understand the plan of care and gain insight into my prognosis. My friends knew I did not want to have brain surgery in the small community hospital I was in, so they set out to investigate alternatives. As a result of their research, they recommended that I be moved to the Sylvester Cancer Center for treatment. Once we agreed, we talked to the doctor who was treating me at the small community hospital about going to Sylvester. He agreed and helped us make plans to be transferred. 

Once transferred, I was under the care of an expert neurosurgeon who performed the biopsy to determine the type of tumor I had. Once the results came back from the brain biopsy, he coordinated my care with an expert hematologist who agreed to take my case. Even though I was a nurse and a fairly savvy healthcare professional, I did not have the mindset to help myself so engaging my colleagues (one was a case manager and one was a patient advocate) allowed me to get the right care, at the right time, by the right treatment team at the right facility. I truly believe their recommendations saved my life.

Today, more and more consumers are hiring professionals known as patient or health advocates to help them when they are faced with complex medical decisions. 

Unfortunately, many people do not know why they need an advocate. Many think the healthcare system set up to help them?  To help people understand the role of an advocate, I often ask this question. Would you go into a court of law without an attorney? If not, why would you go into the healthcare system without a healthcare advocate? The healthcare system is confusing, unfriendly, and dangerous. An advocate is someone who can ensure you have a voice is what is happening, help to improve communication and break through the barriers that exist.

In many cases, a family member or friend can serve as your advocate and do a great job in taking notes, prompting you to ask questions or being there to share concerns with your doctor or another member of the health care team.  In addition, they can help you recall instructions and information that you might have missed. Yet when faced with a serious decision or a complex medical condition, hiring a professional patient or health advocate is a smart decision.

Tip Seven: Your opinion counts! Today, there is a huge focus on redesigning the healthcare system to be patient and family centered.  As a result, there is a great deal of work going in organizations to better understand how patients perceive the health care system and gain insight into their experience when they visit a physician, or another provider. Similar to buying a car or staying at a hotel, you will receive a survey after you visit a provider or are discharged from the hospital. Take time to complete these surveys and be honest with your answers. People are reading them and paying attention to the results. 

Improving the patient experience is so important that payers such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and many commercial insurance companies are basing reimbursement to hospitals, rehabilitation centers, doctors and others providers on quality measures and the results of patient experience surveys. In fact, many hospitals have hired Patient Experience Officers who are in place to help the organization improve quality and ensure each patient has a good experience during their stay. 

Because dollars are now tied to quality and the patient experience, organizations and the professionals who run these organizations are paying close attention to YOU. Patients and caregivers need to take advantage of this attention and share their experiences (good and bad) so that credit can be given when appropriate and improvements can be made when needed.

Tip Eight: Review your bills and question them when they do not look right. Recently there has been a major overhaul in healthcare billing with the adoption of an updated coding system to ICD-10. If you have ever had a medical procedure you undoubtedly received a bill for the service you received. If you are like most people trying to understand your bill was a challenge. That is because bills are made up of codes which correspond to the treatment, services, or equipment ordered. As WE (the consumer) do not have access or understand these codes it makes it impossible to review a healthcare bill. 

The fact that medical bills are hard to understand does not leave you off the hook in paying attention to them. So, it is up to you to ask questions. If you get a bill you do not understand, call the organization who sent you the bill, and ask them to send you an itemized bill. An itemized bill explains the services provided and the cost associated. Once you have this information, you can review the bill to see if there are mistakes. Do not be afraid to question providers as mistakes do happen and many times you can catch them.

Next, check with your insurance company to make sure they paid their portion of the bill and ask them what you are responsible to pay based on your health insurance policy.

If you have to pay a portion of the bill and cannot afford the payment, contact the organization who sent you the bill and explain that paying your portion is a hardship. You can ask them two things: First, you can ask them to accept what the insurance has paid and forgive your share as it is a hardship. If they will not do this, you can tell them you will pay a certain amount each month. Many will allow you to do this. 

I wrote a blog post on tackling medical bills that might be helpful. You can access the post by clicking here.

Tip Nine: This tip is for all healthcare professionals, CEOs, Patient Experience Officers, nurses, case managers and anyone who ‘touches’ a patient in the broad healthcare system. Please recognize that WE (patients and caregivers) need your help. Most of us are not health care professionals and even those who are, are not in that role now. We are sick, scared and in an environment, we are not familiar. 

Please take the time to explain things to us so we know why we are waiting, and provide us with updates as to what we can expect from our visit. Please try to help us understand what is wrong with us, what we can do to improve and what the resources are available to help us manage our conditions.

Please don’t be defensive when we ask you a question. We realize you have rules, regulations, and policies, but we also are sick or have a loved one who is sick, and we are trying to understand how the systems works. 

If we bring a patient advocate in with us, please embrace that person because I trust them and I want them to be involved.  We realize there are confidentiality requirements, but once you have our consent, please include this person in the conversation. It is not because we do not trust you that we have brought this person in, it is because we want another person to hear the plan of care and help us know what we are supposed to do. Their involvement will help me (the patient) be more informed and able to cooperate with the plan of care.  In the end, we will all win. 

Thank you for reading Nurse Advocate! 

Please take time to leave a comment in the comment box below. If you have a tip that helped you on your journey, please leave it in the comment box. If you are a healthcare professional and have a tip for consumers, please share below. 

See you next week! 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Empowering Nurses to WIN

On May 21, 2016, I had the honor to be part of a unique event titled; The Nurse Empowerment Summit. The program was the brainchild of Eva Francis, a nursing leader from South Florida who saw a need, put a plan together and with the help of a dynamic team produced a successful Summit, which came to fruition on May 21, 2016.

What was most exciting for me was that this conference was the result of discussions on Facebook. The planning committee did not know each other but formed a common bond to develop a program that would empower nurses, encourage those struggling to overcome obstacles in their careers and assist them in realizing the value of being a nurse in today’s challenging healthcare environment.  

As a team, we worked for months to plan the event, under the leadership of Eva Francis and her staff who did a great deal of the background work. Each member of the committee took on various roles such as assisting with marketing, contacting sponsors and organizations who had an interest in supporting nursing as vendors, sponsors or through donations of books and other resources that could be used as give a-ways. We also put an all-out effort to advertise the event in various ways to ensure we would have a good turnout. It worked as the event drew nurses from all over South Florida as well as from New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and far away as Jamaica.  

What impressed me the most in working with this group was that there were no egos involved. Everyone kept the end goal in mind and did what they could to support the project. We all used our skills and passion for nursing to come up with ideas, topics, and speakers that made the Summit a success.

It was refreshing to work on a project that had such a positive goal: Empowering Nurses to Win. Today with the disruption in our healthcare system, so many professionals are experiencing dissatisfaction and pressure to achieve outcomes that there is negativity in the workforce. It was refreshing to work on this project that focused around the positive message about empowering nurses. 

As a team, we agreed early on; we did not want a ‘traditional clinical event’, but one that was more focused on providing information, tools and examples to reinforce the important role each nurse plays in the large healthcare system.

Today it is recognized that the health of our nation is a significant tool in creating economic growth and development. The other undeniable fact is that knowledge of good healthcare is paramount to all of us, and we take pride in embracing the fact that patients are the most important part of the equation. Today's nurses are positioned to lead teams so that healthcare does not lose the focus on caring. Nurses have an opportunity to use their expertise, their passion, and their skills to serve others especially when they are most vulnerable.

If you have been involved in planning a conference yourself, you know that having a planning committee that can work together is critical. The Nurse Empowerment planning committee was made up of an amazing group of women. Here are some insights into this dynamic group;   

Eva Francis: RN, MSN, CRRN, President & CEO of Brilliant Healthcare Training and Consulting. Over the months we prepared for the event, Eva was confident, calm and encouraging. She kept us all going when we were nervous about attendance. She remained vigilant with the vision when we started to stray and remained confident that the event would be successful. Once the agenda was developed, we turned to the recruitment of attendees. As with any new endeavor, the message had to be repeated and tweaked. As a result, the message was reinforced, and the momentum grew.  

Elisha Lowe, RN, MBA, is a nurse consultant, entrepreneur, and inspirational speaker. Elisha and I were the first to arrive at the hotel on Friday and took the time to get to know each other. We learned that we were both from Philadelphia and learned we had a lot in common. Over drinks, we shared experiences that made us both laugh and developed a bond that I hope will continue to grow.

Dr. Shushanne Wynter-Minott, DNP, ARNP, FNP-BC, is an advanced practice nurse and Adjunct Professor at Barry University. Dr. Wynter-Minot volunteered to pick up the summit keynote speaker, Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado from the airport and bring her to the hotel.  Shushanne called us when she arrived so Elisha, and I moved to the hotel lobby to greet our guest. It was a great moment for me to meet Kelley as I had been the person who recommended her for the keynote speaker. I felt her story fit perfectly with the theme of the Summit, so we were honored that she was open and able to attend.

As we all talked, I learned about Shushanne. She is a lovely young woman who has had an incredible career. I loved hearing about her beginnings as a nurse and the funny stories she shared about her active life and her family. She is balancing many things; as an Advanced Practice Nurse, a wife, and mother. I was impressed with her vision, her ability to have a balanced life and her strong faith.

Other members of the planning committee joined us on Saturday as attendees started to arrive for the Summit. They were; Jennie Aumoithe, MSM, RN, CHM, Owner of Right at Home Care Agency. Gloria Francis, M. Ed, Lurline Francis, RN, MSN, Nursing Instructor and Chrysteannah William, a nursing student. Each person has a task to do, and we all went to work. 

As a member of the Planning Committee I found working with these women an eye-opening experience. Although I have produced numerous conference during my career, I found that working with this team was empowering for me personally and professionally. 

As I take the time to reflect on the Summit, I realized that what we did as a team met our goal and produced an event that would encourage nurses from all sectors of the healthcare system to recognize their potential and the important work they are called to do.

Nursing is the recognized as the backbone of the healthcare industry. As we move forward to find ways to improve quality and control costs, having a stable nursing workforce is an essential component to ensure we don’t compromise care in the process.

The Summit faculty were selected for the work they are doing in the South Florida community and as well as for being leaders in the healthcare field. Each speaker was inspiring in their presentations, but more importantly, took the time to share their personal experiences, ideas, and resources that attendees could use long after the Summit was over. If you would like to review the agenda and the speakers, click here to visit the website.

The keynote speaker, Kelley Johnson, also known as Miss Colorado, was excellent. She shared her personal story of how she got into the Miss America pageant and how she felt about the controversy that followed the event that thrust her into the spotlight. If you don't know Kelly, click here to watch her monologue at the Miss America Pageant. You can also click here to see the segment from the View TV show that ignited a fire storm from nurses across the country due to the comments made of Kelley's performance in the Miss America Pageant by the women of the View. 

Kelley said she was proud of how her story united nurses across the country and provided nurses with a teachable moment they could use to explain to the public the important work they do throughout the healthcare industry.

In addition to the great line-up of speakers, we had a unique collection of exhibitors who brought products and services that were appealing to the audience from a personal as well as a professional standpoint.  Click here to view the websites of the various exhibitors.

We had two outstanding MCs for the event who were excellent in keeping the event on schedule and engaging the audience in discussion following each presentation. What was interesting to me was how they pulled key nuggets from each presentation and engaged the audience in discussion about the presentation. The comments from the audience were on target and thoughtful, showing that what they heard was pertinent to them and touched them personally.

My role at the Summit was to moderate the Empowerment Panel. The Empowerment Panel was made up of nurse leaders who found their niche and have used their expertise to develop businesses and practices that have allowed them to WIN. Each provided a short overview of their backgrounds and how they were winning through various means in their careers such as through perseverance, education, fitness and wellness, social media and finance. The information provided was thoughtful and on target for the audience and empowered them to win in their careers. This distinguished panel was made up of the following professionals: 

Dr. Shushanne Whynter-Minot, DNP, ARNP, FNP, BC shared how she is winning in her career.

Ayesha Mujtaba, MBA-HCA, MSN-ED, RN shared how she was winning through education.

Caroline Porter-Thomas, RN, BSN shared how she was winning through social media.

Delayna Wakins, RN, BSN, CWS shared how she is winning through fitness and wellness.

Carron Bramwell, RN, MSN, ARNP-BC shared how nurses can win through successful financial management.

The audience was made up of nurses from across the care continuum. There were student nurses, new nurses and seasoned nurses. It was fun to talk to the attendees and learn what they were doing in their daily lives as nurses. I was impressed with the caliber of nurses in attendance and the diverse work they are doing. 

At the close of the Summit, we met as a team to celebrate our success and savor the moment. We all agreed the event was a success and a model we could build on going forward.

It was an exciting day and met the goal that was set out from the start; to deliver information and empower nurses to be winners in their profession as well as their personal lives. 

If you are on Facebook, take time to visit and 'like' the Nurse Empowerment Summit Page. There you can see photos from the event and keep up to date on future events.  

I am looking forward to being part of this group going forward!

Thanks for reading Nurse Advocate. See you next week! 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wellness is up to ME

May 1st kicks off National Mental Health Awareness Month. In recognition, I thought I would share my experience in the area of mental health to demystify some of the fears many have regarding getting help when you find yourself having trouble coping with life and the struggles that impact us all at one time or another. Today, all are realizing that medical and mental health are intertwined so learning how to balance both is important if we are going to be well.

First, we all need to know that we are not alone in our fears and feelings. Statistics show that about 42.5 million Americans (or 18.2 percent of the population (adults and children) suffers from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

In general, most of us function and get by in our day to day activities despite feeling blue, tired, afraid or worried. Usually, something good will happen, or a friend or family member will send us a card, and it helps us to get back on an ‘even keel’. These bouts are individual to each of us, so we need to be mindful of this and try not to compare ourselves to others.

Data compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), indicates that approximately 9.3 million adults, or about 4 percent of those Americans ages 18 and up, experience “serious mental illness”. That is, their condition impedes day-to-day activities, such as going to work or caring for their families.

The message I hope you take away from this post is that wherever you find yourself, know there is hope, and help is available. Seeking the help might not be easy to find, but it is out there!

Here is my story.

When I was going through my treatment for a central nervous system brain tumor last year, I was scared, worry and fatigued. The chemo kicked my butt and caused me to sleep too much, not eat right, made me dependent on my husband and forced me to quit my job that was an important part of my life. Many times I felt that I was not in control, and I was not sure what the future held.

When I was an inpatient at Sylvester Cancer Center for my inpatient treatments, the doctors always asked me how I was doing when they made rounds.  I usually gave them the expected answer and said that I was ok but one time, I told my doctor that I was worried and scared. I told him I was afraid the tumor would come back and scared that the life I had led up until them was going to change drastically and what would that mean to me, to my husband and our life. He did not sit down and talk to me but rather told someone on the team to order a psych consult. He told me that someone would come in and talk to me and left the room.  As a nurse, I knew this was how the scenario usually played out, but as a patient, I just wanted him to sit down on my bed, and talk to me, maybe hold my hand and tell me it was going to be ok. This did not happen – so I went back to sleep.

A few hours later, a doctor came into my room and introduced herself. She was a psychiatrist from the Courtelis Center for Psychosocial Oncology at Sylvester. I said hello and thanked her for coming to see me so soon. She said that she had a cancellation in her schedule, so she wanted to come up and see me as requested by my doctors. She asked if she could sit down and talk. My husband was in the room so she asked if I wanted to be alone or could my husband stay. I said yes, I wanted him to stay.

We started talking in a relaxed way that made me feel good. I felt instantly comfortable with her and found myself opening up to her about the things that were on my mind. My husband also shared his thoughts and fears. As we talked, the doctor listened and asked follow-up questions. Once we finished,  she said that she thought I was handling things as well as could be expected. She explained that what I was going through was difficult, but in my conversations with her, she saw that I had hopes and dreams. The fear and anxiety that I felt were ‘normal.' She said she did not think I needed any medication at this time but did want to see me again. She told me she was going to make an appointment for me to see her in a few weeks at the Courtelis Center. She gave us her card and said to call if we needed anything. I thanked her for coming and that I appreciated her insights. My husband said we would see her in a few weeks and would call if anything came up. After she had left, my husband and I talked about the visit and that we were grateful that we had the opportunity to meet this doctor and share our thoughts. We both agreed it helped. Shortly after, I was able to be discharged. I felt more in control of my emotions as I realized that the feelings I had were ok.

My next experience with a mental health professional occurred when I was in rehabilitation as a patient at Health South. In this case, I saw a psychologist as part of the treatment team caring for me. One day, a women stopped by my room, introduced herself and explained that she wanted to evaluate me. I said ok, and we proceeded to talk about my rehab, how I felt about things and my concerns. I shared I felt I was making progress in rehab and getting stronger, but was worried about the complications from the chemo and the fact that I was having trouble walking and did not have a clear understanding if this would resolve or become a lifelong disability. The doctor gave me some insights that made sense to me and helped me see things in a different light. She told me she would update the team in the next staffing and that she would see me again. She left her card so I could follow-up as needed.

Both experiences were positives steps in my treatment. Both sessions gave me confidence and hope for moving forward. I only saw each doctor a few times, but knowing they were there for me, gave me a secure feeling.

Today, I am one-year post chemotherapy and rehabilitation. As I have shared previously, my tumor remains in remission, and I am getting involved in more and more activities, but my life is not the same. I remain hopeful, but realistic as far as the nerve damage and chemo induced neuropathy and realize that these may be permanent.  I am adjusting to my life and trying to stay active in spite of my challenges. I try to focus on what I can do versus what I can't do.

I realize that as I am still adjusting and reaching out to a mental health professional is a good idea. I realize this as they are trained to listen and are objective. They can listen in a way many of the other professionals don't and share ideas and insights that can help you think in a more positive manner.

I realize more and more that maintaining my health and wellness are up to ME, and I have to be proactive in searching out members of the team who can assist me.  In addition to the visits with the psychologists, some of the other things I have found helpful is in improving wellness is to participate in a Water Aerobics class at ‘my happy place’ Central Park Pool.  I also walk with my friends at the Sawgrass Mills. We walk about 2 miles a day. I have found these things as a good way to share time with others while exercising. I know that these activities are helping me both physically and mentally.

I also try to get a good night sleep and eat better as I know it is important. Recently I have been introduced to a series of wellness classes at one of the Satellite centers of the University of Miami, Sylvester Cancer Center near my home. The programs are just starting, but they are very interesting and another way I can improve my health and well-being.

As I ease back to my ‘professional life’ I am looking for projects that are important to me and allow me to contribute in areas that are important to me. I try to minimize the stress in my life. I also try to avoid people who are negative as it is not healthy for me.  I have a good circle of family, friends, and colleagues that I keep in touch. Am I 100%, no, but I am working one day at a time at it.

In closing, if you are feeling low, overwhelmed, or depressed talk to a friend or family member you trust Also, please think about getting professional help. It is important, and you are worth it!

Here are some resources that have helped me on my journey. Take some time to explore them and share with others who might benefit. To access a website to learn more about the topic, place your cursor over the bolded text to get the URL.

A Proclamation from our President, Barak ObamaMental Health Awareness Month

National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Wellness Coaching: Margaret Moore. Margaret has been a leader and mentor in the area of wellness coaching. If you are interested in this growing field, check out this site.

Exercise, Yoga, and Relaxation Exercise: fun ways to achieve Well-being either in a group, with a friend or alone. Click here to access the site and learn about the wellness classes offered through the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center. See if you have something similar in your community.

The Heroines Choir: this is another group I have gotten involved with recently that has had a positive impact on my life since becoming a cancer patient. The Heroines Choir is a group of Breast Cancer Survivors who come together and sing at local community and sporting events. It is well researched that signing is very healing to the mind and body. The choir has been very welcoming to me. Click here to check out their website. If you would like to start a choir in your area email me for some ideas.

Lets Talk About Suicide: Language Matters  An interesting article from the Journal of Social Work on Suicide.

Social Media: Facebook and other social media sites provide a way to share your thoughts and information that you have found helpful. It reminds you we are all in this together!  

Jesus Calling by Sarah YoungAn inspirational book given to me by a good friend. I have found solace and comfort from reading the passages each day.

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Have a good week!