Image © Julie Wilkinson
It's the morning of Thanksgiving and all through the house...you can hear a shout of frustration as I realize my bird is still frozen solid. Handling, thawing and cooking your poultry safely is very important -- unless you want to give Uncle Ralph diarrhea or make Aunt Bee nauseous from a foodborne illness.
Bacteria such as campylobacter, E. coli and salmonella can grow on raw poultry. These bacteria can and will make you very sick unless you thaw, cook and handle your turkey safely. If you or someone in your family is undergoing treatment for colon cancer, is it especially important to keep any bacteria out of your holiday meal. If the immune system is already fighting cancer and dealing with treatments such as chemotherapy, the addition of a foodborne illness can make you very sick.
Bacteria begins to multiply rapidly if you do not thaw your bird correctly. Never thaw turkey (or any meat) at room air temperature. Your turkey can be safely thawed in the fridge or by a cold water soak. I've also heard it can be done in the microwave, but personally never tried that method and won't be starting this year. If you choose the cold water soaking method be sure to keep the bird in its wrapper and completely submerge it with cold water. Change the water every 1/2 hour while it soaks, or as directed by your turkey brand label.
Turkeys are juicy birds. Every year I'm surprised at the amount of blood and drippings that cover my counter after getting a turkey ready for the roasting pan. Make sure to clean all surfaces that the bird or any raw juices have touched -- including your hands -- before beginning to prepare any other foods in the same area. A simple wipe-down with a dishcloth won't cut it; use an antibacterial cleanser and paper towels.
Cooking the Right Way
Depending on how you plan to cook your turkey (pan roasting, oven bag, grill, smoker...the possibilities are endless) make sure that it is thoroughly cooked before serving it to your family. Cooked poultry should reach 165 degrees on your food thermometer and if you stuffed your bird, the stuffing should also reach 165 degrees.
No Picking at Countertop Leftovers
It's tempting to leave the dishes on the counter and pick away at the bird while watching the ball game. However, cooked foods grow bacteria pretty rapidly. Make sure all leftovers are put in sealed containers and in the refrigerator within two hours of pulling them from the oven.
Could I Have Food Poisoning?
Most of us will be eating all kinds of rich, delightful foods tomorrow including things that we probably do not enjoy the remainder of the year (sweet potato casserole, anyone?). Gorging on these delights is sure to cause some bloating and sleepiness from being satiated. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest contacting your doctor right away if you suspect a foodborne illness and have:
- A high fever
- Vomiting that does not stop
- Diarrhea for more than three days or are becoming dehydrated
Be safe and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
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I recently came across a study published by the National Coalition on Health Care. Frighteningly, the poll states as many as 15% to 28% of people are misdiagnosed in identifying their cancer. Based on 400 cancer specialists' opinions in a poll, the types of cancer most commonly associated with misdiagnosis include lymphoma, breast, and sarcomas. Colon cancer is on the list as well, but ranks pretty far down.
Ugly statistics aside, the poll was aimed at finding the root cause of this problem and obtaining suggestions to improve the occurrence of misinterpretation and misdiagnosis of cancer. Believe it or not, you are a part of this process. Participating in your health care decisions and treatment means that you actively advocate for yourself. If you don't believe what you've been told, there's no harm in obtaining a second opinion to back up these findings.
If you are looking to find a new doctor or a second opinion, About.com's Patient Advocate Expert Trisha Torrey provides some excellent guidance that can be found in the following articles:
- Choosing the Right Doctor for Your Medical Care
- How to Research a Doctor's Credentials
- How to Find a Doctor Online
I didn't write this to frighten you. I did write it to remind you that you are the leader of your healthcare team. If you are not receiving answers to your questions or getting the care you deserve it is within your rights to look elsewhere.
Image © Julie Wilkinson
If caught and treated early, colon cancer survival rates are excellent. However in life there is an exception to everything. I recently lost a good friend to the disease and she had done everything "right". She got routine screening exams, kept all of her wellness appointments, exercised daily and didn't eat or drink to excess. It's very easy in a scenario such as hers to feel sadness, anger, and a desire to yell the question, "Why her?"
Although it is a very sad story to lose someone in the prime of their life, I learned an invaluable lesson from this extraordinary lady. She did something that I've rarely seen -- she died with grace. She knew her death was unavoidable and so she starting planning. After her memorial services I learned that the song choices, scripture, her dress, and even her casket were all hand picked by her, therefore lessening the burden on her family in making so many choices following the death of a loved one.
My dear friend gave her family and loved ones another exceptional gift: She took time to say her goodbyes, offered forgiveness where needed, and was transparent about her lack of treatment success and impending decline. Along with her family's support, she decided to forgo any further treatment for her colon cancer. This sounds like the opposite of what some people might do in the name of "protecting their loved ones from the disease", but in actuality it helped them start grieving.
She told me countless times that she "fought a good fight" and was ready to go "meet the Maker". Sure, she had moments of tears and self-pity, but she also had a few wonderful months on hospice care at home with her loved ones. I hope that when my time comes I can display this strength, dignity and grace, and give these final gifts to my family as well.
Image © Julie Wilkinson
What do Dr. Oz and President Barrack Obama have in common? They both underwent colonoscopies -- the screening exam for colon cancer. I could add hundreds of famous people to this list -- but there's a chance it still wouldn't convince some people to make that appointment.
Most frequently I hear three recurring reasons why people avoid this simple screening exam:
- "I don't have health insurance and cannot afford it."
- "I don't have any symptoms -- there's nothing wrong with me."
- "No way am I doing that bowel prep. I've heard it's horrible!"
Since I am a huge fan of dissecting things, let's look at the first excuse. Actually, many people who are uninsured or underinsured can still obtain low cost or completely free screening and wellness exams. This is an important part of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
Second excuse is a popular one for many people in their early fifties. The purpose of the colonoscopy is to catch polyps or cancer before they get so large that it starts to cause symptoms. Rectal bleeding, weight loss and fatigue are usually late -- as in the cancer's been there for awhile -- signs.
The third -- and probably the silliest (oops yes I did say that) -- excuse for avoiding a colonoscopy is for fear of cleaning out the bowels, which is known as the dreaded bowel prep. Sure, you'll spend a lot of time on the toilet. Yes, you have to take pills or drink fluids to flush out your colon. However, the effects are not permanent and the prep usually only takes a day or two.
It might be a matter of opinion, but if I know that this test might just save my life, you can bet I'll be signing up for it -- bowel prep or not.
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It's pretty embarrassing to sit in a meeting and have your digestive tract play a symphony for your co-workers. No doubt, digestion is one of your noisiest processes, but there is a reason for all the burbles and gurgles.
A combination of gastric juices and muscle movement (peristalsis) are responsible for the noises. It happens to all of us, but some tummies seem to be louder than others. Your belly will probably be at its noisiest when you are preparing to eat food or digesting what you've eaten. While you're sitting there thinking about what's for dinner tonight your stomach may let out a loud growl or noise. Three things happen simultaneously: Your brain realizes you're hungry; chemical messengers get sent to your stomach to prepare it for the coming food; your stomach begins to produce acid, squeeze, and churn in anticipation of supper.
If your loudest time is during the digestion phase of things, this is most likely the normal sounds of digestive fluids mixed with food and gases. Your digestive tract is equipped with special muscles that slowly push everything forward through the entire length of your small intestine and colon, all the way to your rectum where it will be expelled as a bowel movement. Quite a journey!
If you have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohns, you may notice that your intestinal noises can be quite loud. Regardless of the cause, there are a few ways to try and mitigate the embarrassment from your intestinal orchestra:
- Avoid gas-producing vegetables and foods, which usually include the cruciferous vegetables and legumes
- Stay away from carbonated beverages
- Sit and eat slowly, chewing your food thoroughly
- Eat a light snack or meal prior to meetings or quiet events to calm stomach noises
If persistently loud intestinal noises are ruining your day, consider making an appointment with your doctor. He or she may be able to offer some prescription or over the counter ideas to help control your digestive medley and ease your embarrassment.
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Trying to make an educated decision about what type of cancer treatment to choose can be completely overwhelming. Although you have your oncologist and medical team to guide you, this choice can be life altering. As you take your first steps toward getting cancer free consider these tips.
Get a Hold of Your Emotions
Before you do anything, make sure that you are calm and thinking clearly. Making a life-altering decision on a whim does not make sound sense. Talk to your doctor and ask if you have time to wait and ponder this decision. Gone are the days when you go into the hospital for a biopsy and leave missing organs - aside from saving your life if needed, your doctor will not perform any procedure on you unless you have consented.
Explore Your Options
If your doctor gives you the okay to take a little time with your decision (some cancers are more aggressive and should be treated immediately - your doctor can tell you what kind you have) it is time to start exploring treatment options. Ranging from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, your treatment options for colon cancer give you a lot to think about. Most likely, your doctor has suggested a plan of attack, but you still have options including where and when you would like to receive the treatment. Some people prefer to get treatment on an outpatient basis so they can continue to work, whereas other people enjoy the all-in-one benefit of a cancer treatment center. Do some research to find out what is best for you.
Keep Moving Forward
Remember that you are the boss. If you made a treatment decision and are not happy with the outcome, talk to your doctor. Try not to second-guess your decisions; guilt and remorse can be counterproductive and will not help you get better.
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I frequently advocate to stop self-diagnosis. There are certain times when it is practical to self diagnose, but most often it is a dangerous practice. For instance, if you have a headache, take an over the counter pain killer and the headache goes away, you probably just had a headache. However, there are times when we rationalize colon cancer symptoms away, and that has the potential to delay proper treatment. Colon cancer is most easily treated in its early stages -- so waiting it out is not beneficial. Here are some other valid reasons why you should leave the diagnosing to the doctor:
- Even if you hold a medical degree, it's probably safer, and more ethical, to let your personal physician decipher what the symptoms mean.
- Information found on the web can be taken out of proper context -- and therefore frightening -- or even worse, the comments can help you talk yourself out of seeing your doctor and rationalize what you're feeling.
- Sometimes information on the web can be outright misleading, when written by someone from opinion, not medical fact.
- Everyone has medical advice to offer, whether or not they practice medicine. Your next door neighbor can regale you with stories about how her gas and bloating came from rich food and that you should just "Take something for your digestion."
- The time you spend researching and trying to decipher what your symptoms mean could be better spent at your doctor's office.
This list could go on and on, but the intention is clear: Don't ignore symptoms and don't waste hours of research on the web trying to figure out what is wrong with you. Do take two minutes to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your bloody stools might just mean you have hemorrhoids, but this is also a sign of colon cancer. Only your doctor has the knowledge and tools at hand to diagnose what is going on in your body. If you're already on a web search trying to find out what your symptoms mean, chances are they are concerning you.
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I wrote this blog specifically for you if any of the following statements ring a bell:
- "I keep forgetting to make a doctor's appointment."
- "I don't have time for screening and what's the point? I'm not sick."
- "I've got too much going on at work...I'll do it next week."
It's human nature to procrastinate - especially when you are putting off something that might be physically or emotionally uncomfortable. The excuses are literally innumerable, but each can delay something that could impact your health. You are your very own health expert: If you think something is not right in your body, don't delay getting to the doctor. Work, social engagements, and even chores can definitely wait.
Many people mistakenly think that doctors appointments are only for the sick. Not true! There are many simple screening exams that are meant to find problems before they turn into something worse. Polyps, for instance, can be found with a colonoscopy before they have the opportunity to turn into colon cancer. Of course, not all polyps turn into cancer, but they should be watched regardless.
Intentionally avoiding making your health appointments - perhaps because you don't want to know if anything is wrong - is counterproductive. Most diseases, including colon cancer, are easiest to treat in the early stages. Cancer will not go away on its own and it does not get better with time. If ignored, the cancerous cells can actually leave your colon and metastasize (spread) to other parts of your body.
Make your doctor work for his or her paycheck. Get informed and learn about preventive screening so that you can advocate for yourself.
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Many Americans are wondering if the government shut down is going to affect their health care delivery. It's difficult to know exactly, since no one can predict how long the shut down will last or how far-reaching the implications of a long-term shut down would become. If you've recently checked any government-funded health-related website, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Cancer Institute, you've probably already seen the message flashing across the screen that the site may not be maintained during this time and all inquiries are to be put on hold effective immediately.
There are a few government-funded health related services that have already ceased, including new clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health and various research projects to fight life-threatening diseases, including colon cancer. If you are currently enrolled and participating in a clinical trial you should not be affected. If you were hoping to sign up for one, you might have to wait until the government is back up and running properly. If you already have a point of contact for the clinical trial you considered, call to be sure.
If you have applied for free or reduced cost colon cancer screening, contact the agency to see if there has been any interruption of services.
Active duty and retired military families should still have access to their Military Treatment Facility (MTF) for health care as scheduled, but call your MTF because the hours of operation might have changed due to the furlough.
There is a potential for delays in filing with Medicare or Medicaid, which have historically impacted the newly retired during shut downs.
Just remember, this is not our first rodeo. Contingency plans are in effect to keep Americans cared for and safe, but we may have to suffer some inconveniences in the meantime.
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Never underestimate the power of a list. I once used a rather long one to decide which doctor I wanted as my primary care provider (if they shuddered upon sighting the list or minimized its purpose they were out of the running). Starting a conversation with your doctor might go more smoothly if you jot down a few things to discuss during your visit. I can't tell you how many times I've left a doctor's office and completely forgotten to discuss something of importance during the appointment. To jump start your thoughts, here are 10 simple things you can discuss with your doctor about colon cancer:
- Ensure your doctor has your complete history and a thorough family medical history.
- At what age should I start screening tests for colon cancer?
- I have a family history of cancer. How should I use this information to stay well?
- How do I decrease my risk of developing polyps?
- Are my children (or siblings) at risk for developing colon cancer?
- How can I decrease my personal risk?
- Is my weight within the normal limits for my gender, height, and age?
- Ensure that your doctor has a complete list of all medications you take, including over-the-counter and any herbal preparations you might use frequently.
- What kind of screening exam is recommended? Does my insurance cover that exam?
- Inquire about ways to improve your personal health and decrease your risk of developing colon cancer.
I encourage you to tailor these questions to meet your needs, but still write down some general questions and concerns to stimulate conversation. You might find it helpful to use your smart phone or tablet, if you have one, to create a list and jot down the doctor's suggestions following the visit. This way, when your loved ones inquire about your visit, you'll have all the answers.