Tag Archives: health

sun city

My mom lives in a 55+ community. Built predominantly in the 1960’s, Sun City started as a concept-project that is now home to thousands of retirees. Visit there, and you walk into a living time capsule. This is an orderly community, with tidy ranch homes mostly unaltered since the day they were built. In this desert environment (which receives less than a foot of rain a year), green lawns are plentiful, and you can hear whirring sprinklers as the sun rises. Some homes without a grassy lawn have painted their rocky front yards green. Overly-tanned seniors fly down the wide, winding streets on golf carts. It is a world of painted wrought iron, driveways embellished with marquis designs on the concrete, “Welcome to the Paulsen’s'” signs and garden gnomes. At Christmas time, the plentiful saguaro and the palm are wrapped with twinkling white lights. This is where the “retire in the Sun Belt” movement started.This is a place to fall in love for a second (or third, or fourth) time, to learn a new hobby, to play golf all winter while your friends shiver in the North. This is where you come to live life, a new beginning after decades in the workplace.

This is also where you come to die.

There seems little evidence, in this town of vigorous senior citizens and blazing sunshine, of death looming close. But yes, this is the end of the road for many of its inhabitants, and if you look closer, you see the shadow side: Previously well-lit homes go dark. Signs on every block for estate sales or real estate listings.

In this town seemingly frozen in the late 1960’s, time still marches forward.

Mom came to Sun City for employment, and for the bright future promised once her working days ended. Most likely she will die there, and perhaps much earlier than any of us anticipated, before she was able to cash-in on the benefits of a long, happy, healthy retirement. But I’m happy that she is there, in a peaceful sunny place. Her doctors are excellent, her community of friends outstanding. The future we hoped for is far from guaranteed, but there is good in the present.

the best possible outcome

 (written September 6th)

I’m on my way home now, after 2.5 weeks with my family.  A lot has changed– in the interim, Mom had a week-long hospital stay, several procedural interventions, one round of chemotherapy, and oh yeah, we packed up their apartment and made it back home to Arizona.

I’ll be honest, on my way out to Houston, things sounded bleak, and when I landed and was able to asses the situation myself, I wasn’t reassured. I was scared of the possiblility, which was far from remote, that she would get rapidly and progressively sicker, and be unable to make it back home.  I was afraid her ticket to Houston was the one-way kind.

Today, she is at home in Arizona, and looking better than she has in weeks.  After a few days of settling her and Grandma back into their former lives, I am on my way back to my normal life too. 

There are still many unknowns– will her current chemotherapy regimen control the cancer?  For how long?–  but after a string of dissapointments in her response to various treatments, I feel a glimmer of hope. I believe that she got benefit from the chemo, because she really looks and feels ever so much better.  Of all the rapid changes we went through over these last few weeks, her turn around is the most wonderful by far.

We wanted the Houston chapter to end with a remission, a cure.  We didn’t get either.  But my mother recieved incredible care, and we did end our time there on a happy note.  My mom recovered from renal failure, left her hospital bed behind, floored her oncologist with how great she looked for the final outpatient visit, stuck her feet in the sand one last time in Galveston, and came home.

let’s go ride a bike!

I am not always motivated to do the right thing.  For example, I don’t wear my seatbelt consistently.  I guess the underwhelming feeling of freedom of movement trumps the extra assurance of  protection of life and limb in a car accident? It makes no sense. I’m ethically opposed to factory farming of animals and find processed meat abhorrent in terms of health, but I also really like and occasionally eat hot dogs.  Fundamentalism is not one of my strong suits.

Riding my bicycle is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day, and to make it even more rewarding, its also the “right thing” to do. In addition to giving the rider a tighter a$$ and improved cardiovascular function, biking is healthy for our society. Most of American driving destinations are less than 3 miles in length, a commute easily managed even by the less-than-perfectly-fit.   The environment benefits when we are not burning fossil fuels for transport, making the air cleaner for our community.  Bicycles require far fewer resources for road development and maintenance than automobiles; the space and money can be used elsewhere. Plus, if you are sticking to relatively short- distance bicycling, the kind usually done when running errand versus training for the century ride, you utilize what is in your immediate community and patronize local business. Americans sit way too much, and the diabetes and obesity epidemic that touches every corner of the US would be significantly mitigated if people moved more.

For all the benefits of bicycling, I probably wouldn’t do it nearly as often if it weren’t so pleasurable. When I’m on my bike, and not closed up in a car, I interact more with my surroundings.  I made eye contact with and greet my neighbors, notice details about the streets, trees and homes that make my part of the world unique. Plus, it feels wonderful– the fresh air, the sun on my arms.  Life is good on a bike.

I can even have my morning coffee on my bike commute!

needle magic

Talking about stress levels quickly causes me to feel whiny and self-absorbed.  As if I have a virtual latte in one hand, a Blackberry in another, sighing while rolling my eyes to some poor, distracted patron waiting in line at Starbucks-  “Ugh!  I’m so stressed out!”  Yuck.  I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of forest burning, children being abused, politico-husbands exposing themselves on Twitter and I’M complaining about being stressed?

So, forgive me, but yes, I’ve been stressed.  This year has been unbelievably challenging, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been experiencing significant stress for about five years now. Its been (more or less) one thing after another since 2006. Some good stuff, some downright awful, but lots of associated stress. I don’t seem that bad off, or pathetic– I come to work every day to a great job.  I maintain a healthy weight.  I’m usually pleasant and cheerful and acceptably groomed.  But things were shifting in subtle ways.  I have been struggling with more feelings of depression.  Historically a champion sleeper, I was starting to lie awake in the early morning hours.  I often felt stretched thin


My mother in law gave me 10 sessions of acupuncture for my birthday, and it really could not have come at a better time.  After only one session, I felt so much better! My mood lifted, I felt relaxed and easy. More like my old self. It was enlightening– I didn’t really realize how poorly I felt, until I started to feel better.

Its hard to take care of yourself when you are stressed out and busy, but of course, that’s the most important time to do it.  Acupuncture might not be the cure-all for everyone (although I’m telling all my patients to go!), but be it time with a friend, the overdue haircut, a massage or a walk– do it!  You’ll be glad you did.

a spoonful of sugar


Under more normal circumstances, I’m part of the Food Police. If not the commisioner, certainly an officer, maybe even a sargeant. While remaining open to the occasional donut, I’m very into vegetables, preferably locally grown and/or organic, eating very little meat, consuming lots of wholesome foods, rarely anything from a box, etc. Probably my only vice is exceeding, on a weekly basis, the daily recommended allowances for alcohol- but some of us don’t see that as a problem. My good eating habits help balance out the fact that I really like to eat– a lot. My philosophy is, if you are bad at portion control, you better fill that giant plate with veggies.

Well, it doesn’t help that I’m in one of the most obese cities in the world under stressful circumstances, but I tell ya– the sugar is flowing through my veins, and its not all-natural, nor from organically grown fruit sources.

I got my first taste of this phenomenom, to use a bad pun, in the waiting room for my mom’s first visit to the lymphoma clinic at MD Anderson. A volunteer came around with a beverage cart, and the choices were hot chocolate or decaf coffee. Distrustful of the decaf, which smelled a bit like a chemical dump, I went for the hot chocolate. And how soothing that was! It was a slice of childhood, when my friends and I would buy the watery, brown beverage, barely recognizable as hot chocolate, that squirted out of a machine at the local ice arena. One of those childhood slices that probably wasn’t all that wonderful at the time, yet irrationally provokes nostalgia. And here I am, in 2011. Yes, my mom has lymphoma, and sitting in that waiting room was certainly the manifestation of a terrible nightmare. But as I slurped up that reconstituted hot stuff, I felt a bit of peace.

I’m going to try to be patient with myself, and allow a certain amount of liberties (ice cream with Grandma!). But I also remember that I feel better when I eat better, and a belly ache after that big sugar binge is a gentle reminder that there are better ways to cope with stress. Like breathing deeply, taking walks, exercising, drinking extra water. I need to be loving to myself so I can be there for my mom.