Overcoming Isolation In Illness

young black man blowing nose(BlackDoctor.org) — During a recent trip back to the East Coast for Thanksgiving, my wife and I both became sick with the flu. Arriving home, we spent a week in bed, drinking gallons of hot tea and endless pots of soup. With both of us sick, conducting more normal lives became extremely difficult.

Getting sick can sometimes feel like entering a state of suspended animation. The outside world continues along its usual trajectory, but you’re frozen in time, ostensibly cut off from the rest of society, stuck in your world of self care, fatigue and illness.

The Initial Isolation of Illness

The isolation of illness is significant and life altering. In the event of cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, diabetes or other illnesses, the sick individual begins to experience loss from the very moment they receive their diagnosis. At the moment the doctor utters a few dreaded words (for example, “You have cancer”), life as it was known ceases to exist and a new life seems to be born.

An individual living with an illness like cancer is immediately isolated from others simply by virtue of the fact that the illness itself creates a gulf between those who have the disease and those who do not. No matter how deeply those without the illness may empathize with those struggling with the disease, there is no true understanding for those who have not experienced the reality, and this can be a lonely place for the sick individual.

Social Isolation

Being ill often brings significant changes to the social life. Travel can become challenging—if not impossible—and social gatherings can actually be dangerous, especially for those stricken with diseases that compromise the immune system.

When a person becomes ill, their lives often begin to revolve around doctor’s appointments, medication schedules and treatment, and while some friends and family may understand, others may not be so generous. Persons living with life-altering illnesses can often find themselves with a significantly shrunken “social atom”, with some friends simply disappearing altogether, and others finding it difficult to adapt to the ill person’s new schedule and way of life.

Overcoming Isolation

In the midst of serious illness, relationships, connection, honesty and communication are most crucial. While it’s true that many of us cannot comprehend the experience of the sick or dying, we can practice open-hearted listening, patience, empathy, and the ability to simply be with the sick person while accepting them at face value.

Often, when someone is sick, we can tend to withdraw out of a feeling of helplessness. Conversely, we can sometimes lean in too much, offering unwanted advice that the sick person is not ready or willing to hear. We often say “Let me know if you need anything,” but then fail to follow up on our offer, no matter how sincere it may have been.

What we can we? We can simply let the sick person know that we care about them, that we are available, and that we understand that they may feel isolated at a time when they need us the most. We can also communicate to the sick person exactly what we are available to do and when (ie: shopping on Wednesdays, housecleaning on weekends, and for phone calls in the evenings). Giving concrete examples of what we are willing and able to do gives the individual who is not well a clear indication of how we are able to be of service. This can be very helpful, though we may need to repeat our offer as time goes by.

In the end, it’s all about connection. We all want to be connected, and none of us want to be lonely and isolated. In sickness or in health, human interaction binds us together. When someone is living with illness, the power of honesty, empathy, and clear communication cannot be overestimated.

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5 (Lesser-Known) Ways To Lower Your Cancer Risks

green apple wrapped in a tape measure(BlackDoctor.org) – To reduce cancer risks, science has already clued us in to a few things we should avoid, such as smoking and overexposure to the sun. But today, thanks to new medical discoveries, there are even more steps we can take to help avoid it completely!

Risk 1: Obesity

Being overweight or obese is a known cancer cause. In fact, excess weight is linked to an increased risk for developing more than a dozen types of cancer, including breast and pancreatic cancers. The American Cancer Society stresses the need to keep your weight in check by, first, eating right:

• Eat a diet that’s limited in processed foods and red meat, five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day and whole grains.

• Limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day for women or two for men.

Risk 2: Lack of Exercise

Diet alone usually isn’t enough to maintain a healthy body and cut your cancer risk. So, pick an activity that suits your level of fitness and get moving.

• Adults should be physically active for at least 30 minutes on five or more days a week.
• Children should engage in physical play for at least 60 minutes five days per week.

Risk 3: Infection

Infections from viruses, bacteria, and parasites are a known cancer risk in up to 20 percent of all cancers. Several of those viruses are sexually transmitted, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

You can reduce your risk for getting these types of viruses by using condoms during sex. Women can reduce their risk of cancer from HPV by getting a vaccine. In fact, the American Cancer Society now recommends the HPV vaccine for girls who are nine and older.

Risk 4: Chemical Exposure

A variety of substances found in common products are known to be a cancer cause. Two of particular interest:

• Asbestos, a fibrous substance, is found in many older buildings where it was used as insulation and as a fire-retardant; inhaling it can cause cancer. So be sure to have your home checked for asbestos before beginning any sort of renovation. Carpenters and other skilled workers who deal with remodeling older homes should investigate proper safety precautions before working in buildings that contain asbestos.

• Tetrachloroethylene is a solvent used in dry cleaning. While wearing dry-cleaned clothes isn’t considered dangerous,
those who work in a dry cleaning business should change clothes after work, wash work clothes regularly, and keep their food out of the work area.

Risk 5: Consumer Products

Antiperspirants, talcum powder, hair dye, aspartame, and some cosmetics have all been reported as possible cancer causes, often incorrectly. The truth is that there is no conclusive evidence that any of these products cause cancer. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to monitor various studies and issues periodic updates.

In addition to steering clear of the above five potential cancer causers, be sure to stay away from two of the deadliest ones, smoking and sun exposure:

Smoking: Tobacco kills, and is one of the top causes of cancer. Smoking can damage almost every organ in your body and is a known cause of at least 15 different types of cancer. Remember that the risks for cancer aren’t limited to cigarettes – cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and the smokelesss tobacco called snuff are all linked to cancer. Secondhand smoke is, too.

Sun Overexposure: About one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States and most are sun related. Melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, can be fatal – while Blacks don’t get this as often, we still tend to die from it in much higher numbers when we do get it. Remember – just because our skin tends to be darker doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be protected. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, embrace the shade, wear protective clothing and protect your eyes with sunglasses that have 99 percent UV absorption – even on cloudy days.