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Week 6: Prevent illness by maintaining healthy habits

| Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

EDITOR'S NOTE: Week 6 of Daily Courier reporter Judy Kroeger's 10-week Highlands Health Challenge.

Illness can strike unexpectedly. I just faced a scare, and the health challenge helped.

After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes nearly 20 years ago, I lost weight, ate better, exercised some, but fell into old slothful habits and took my body for granted. People have said that joining the health challenge was a brave thing, but I don't feel brave. I feel selfish. I'm doing this publicly to feel better.

My teammates on the Lollapaloozerz and other teams have been more helpful than they know, as have emails as far away as Iowa and greetings from folks around town.

I've always been solitary. Even as a kid, I'd say, "I can do it myself," and hated to ask for help. These past five weeks have been a call for help, and I've received many answers.

Late last month, something suspicious appeared on my routine mammogram. I needed more tests. Fear choked me. My blood sugar soared with stress.

Breast cancer does not run in my family. A friend conquered it recently. I felt bitter irony that I was getting healthy but might face an illness that one in seven women contract in their lifetime.

Because of the challenge, I changed my modus operandi and reached out beyond my husband Bryan. My friend Amy Klink gave me just what I needed.

I told her I felt helpless and wasn't used to that. She gave me hugs and empathy. On Tuesday, the night before the magnification mammogram and sonogram, Klink said, "I know it's hard, sweetie, and you're scared. I'd probably be, too. But I am having faith in this tomorrow and in you. You are strong and will beat it. I'm off tomorrow so you better let me know as soon as you find out."

When I went to Highlands on Wednesday morning to get weighed, I met Patti Vomish, the hospital employee health nurse and a sister Lollapaloozerz. Since this week's topic is preventing sickness, I arranged to call her later.

As our interview ended, I confessed I'd be back to the hospital for tests and felt scared. She asked the time. "You only have two more hours to worry. I'll meet you at registration." She was there, hugged me and saw me to the door of radiology. The radiologist ordered a sonogram after the mammogram, so I had a few more minutes of anxiety before he entered with a diagnosis: "It's not cancer, God be thanked. It's benign calcium deposits." I also thanked everyone I'd told.

This scare taught me: "You have to go through this." That's what Klink said when I told her waiting was torture and I'd like to sleep until the tests ended. More importantly, I learned to ask for help. If I have trouble, people want to help. I just have to ask.

I kept with the challenge despite worrying: nothing fried, no processed sugar, vegetables, whole grains, homemade soups, fruit, plain nonfat yogurt, water and unsweetened tea. No alcohol. I used my floor pedals at work daily and our stationary bike at home.

Despite anxiety, I lost 1.2 pounds this week, to 184.8. I weighed 195 on Jan. 18.

Maintaining healthy habits and establishing new ones can prevent illness.

"Hand washing is most important against any disease," Vomish said, "especially in cold and flu season."

Twenty seconds with warm water and soap will do it. "Sing 'Happy Birthday,' or say one 'Hail Mary' or one 'Our Father' to yourself. That's 20 seconds. Take your fingers between each finger and wash them and wash between your thumb and index finger. A lot of people miss that spot," Vomish said.

An alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol also works. "Use a nickel to quarter-size amount and rub in until dry," she said. "I've got sanitizer in my car and wipes in my purse for shopping buggies. The handles can be contaminated and you put food in them."

"The flu season has just started," Vomish said. "It's later than usual this year, but the vaccine works and there's plenty of it. We have it at Highlands. Everyone 6 months and older, especially the elderly and people with chronic conditions, should have one. The shot takes two weeks to become effective."

She said the immunization does not cause the flu. "The flu vaccine used to be a live virus. Now it's a killed virus. If you get sick after a shot, it's coincidence, or you were exposed before your body built its immunity. How many people do you know who have died of a flu shot• The flu kills 35,000 Americans a year."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu arrives suddenly with fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body and headaches and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Stay home for 24 hours until the fever disappears or cover mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, wash hands often and avoid close contact with others. Those with chronic conditions may develop bronchitis or pneumonia and should see a doctor.

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