Archive for the 'Health & Fitness' Category

Is fixing health care enough?

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The responses over on Crooked Timber to my recent post about Breast Cancer Awareness Month were interesting. One commenter suggested that instead of addressing specific issues or charities, it would be better to “focus our energy on political action for good national health insurance“. I’ve seen this argument made before, specifically about breast cancer awareness. While you certainly won’t get any arguments from me against better health insurance (I hate hate hate hate the system in the US and I’m among the privileged who at least has health insurance), I’m not convinced that that’s the only issue at hand when it comes to achieving adequate levels of awareness and preventive care.

First, should we give up on incremental action in other realms until the overall health care system gets figured out? Second, even if we do achieve major gains on that front, will that really take care of all associated concerns? Unlikely. One way to approach this is to see whether people in countries that have good universal health care are all educated about various illnesses and preventive measures. The answer is likely no, which suggests that there is room for awareness campaigns.

Perhaps people are sick of all the pink. To be sure, I get skeptical about some companies’ approaches. But bad marketing on behalf of some doesn’t mean that there aren’t real issues to consider. Nor is it simply a women’s issue as men have partners, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who’ll be affected. In fact, having watched some of these situations play out, the person fighting cancer is often stronger than those surrounding her so the emotional toll something like this can take on people is significant in and of itself.

Of course, it’s not enough to know that you should be getting a mammogram if you simply can’t afford it or if it’s too complicated to figure out where/how to get one. But there are charities that address those particular disparities as well. Should we ignore those efforts as we wait for universal health care to kick in? (And again, any guarantees that will address the necessary awareness associated with early detection?)

I was going to propose a trade. You donate some money or effort to the cause and I give you something in return. I started thinking about it too late though so I’ll table that for another time. Nonetheless, here are some pointers to charities that work to prevent and cure breast cancer. Alternatively, if you have no money to give or you don’t believe that’s a good use of resources, take some relevant action. Ask a loved one if she’s gotten a mammogram recently (assuming she’s of relevant age), read up on issues, encourage others to do so as well (including what it is that people need to look out for in terms of detection). A friend of mine was diagnosed when her partner noticed a change in her breasts so it’s important for men to be aware as well. Even among women who have adequate health insurance and are well aware that they should be getting regular testing, many don’t. Is it so bad to want to do something about that?

Pink

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

PinkI was talking to my Dad last week and he reminded me that it was seven years ago that day that my Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Until that recent phone conversation, I’d never made the connection between that event and the fact that October is breast cancer awareness month. As if there hadn’t been enough going on three weeks after 9/11, I now certainly had plenty to keep me up at night. Fast forward seven years and things are going well with my Mom. Although she’s never fully regained all of her energy since the treatments, overall she is back to being herself and has been for years now.

When all this came about, I was very grateful for having spent so many years in the US and how illness (or at least some types by now) is treated here versus many other countries, like Hungary, where my Mom’s diagnosis occurred. In too many cultures and communities, illness of all kinds remains a taboo. Not only is it not okay to tell people about it, often doctors won’t even tell patients their diagnosis. While awareness programs may seem superfluous to some*, it is important to remember that in many communities it is not only not the standard to talk and think about illnesses (and thus, for example, take preventive measures when possible), but it is a topic to be avoided outright due to associated embarrassment.

What struck me as I was talking to friends about my mother’s situation was how many among them had a close family member or friend who’d also had breast cancer. It was very helpful to hear about related experiences. But were it a taboo to discuss issues of this sort, I would have been left on my own to deal with the difficult news. Point being, there is value in talking about things of this sort at various levels: from contributing to prevention efforts to the emotional support that can come of it.

Recently, I received some notices about interesting pink-themed undertakings going on right now. One is a Pink group on the photo-sharing site Flickr that seems to be raising money for breast cancer awareness in various European countries. Another is an innovative idea by sociologist Dan Myers who has decided to wear pink every day for the month of October to raise awareness and collect donations. Support him if you can.

Of course, there are serious critical ways of looking at the pink ribbon campaign. For a couple of years now, I’ve had the book Pink Ribbons, Inc. on my book shelf, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Has anyone read it?

I’ve been thinking about a way to contribute to these efforts myself this year and I have an idea. I’m putting some finishing touches on it. I’ll post about it in a bit.

[*] A few months after my Mom’s diagnosis, I still remember that there was an article in The Daily Princetonian making fun of the ribbon campaign. Like I have done above, a response to that piece tried to explain why these do serve a purpose.

One of my favorite Web sites: WalkerTracker

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

WalkerTracker logoAs promised, in honor of One Web Day, I’m posting information about one of my favorite Web sites and I encourage you to do the same, here or on your own blog. I’m always on the lookout for sites that make a difference in people’s lives and one such site is WalkerTracker. It is no exaggeration that it has had a direct impact on my everyday life as I have become a serious walking enthusiast and thus get more regular exercise now than I had ever before.

Walker Tracker September stepsWalkerTracker helps keep track of one’s daily steps encouraging a healthy lifestyle by offering all sorts of neat statistics and graphs of one’s step measures. Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need a gadget (i.e., a pedometer) or a tool such as this site to go out on walks, but I have found it extremely inspiring and motivating to be able to keep track of my steps and see the progress I make over time. My daily goal is 10,000 steps (that’s about 4-5 miles) and on average I’ve managed to come close to this each month since I’ve started in April, 2007. I’m excited to be averaging almost 12K this month.

The site has several great features and new ones are added all the time, which is impressive since it seems to be a one-man operation. Your data are your data and you can download information you have added to the site very easily. There are also all sorts of options on the site for generating graphs and charts of progress. A user can maintain a step blog, can connect to other users, and can also create groups and competitions. There are also various widget options to showcase progress on one’s own site.

WalkerTracker was created, is maintained and is continually improved by Ben Parzybok, a novelist and Web developer who also seems to be involved in several other interesting projects. Ben is extremely responsive to requests adding features regularly. The community consists of nice folks who share a love of walking. Use of the site is free although I was happy when Ben added the option of a Pro account since this is a service that deserves support.

To get started, you’ll need a pedometer. WalkerTracker has a list of the most popular ones by its users. Like others, I rely on an Omron NJ-112 and have bought about half a dozen for friends and family.

Honey, lemon, garlic

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Honey, lemon, garlic To me, the idea of mixing these three ingredients together sounded pretty scary, but I was ready to try anything since I’m so sick of being sick. (I mean, c’mon, I had a bad cold just over a month ago! Nonetheless, when I saw that sick student in class the other day, I could just see that I wasn’t going to be able to escape this for long.)

Honey, lemon, garlic drinkSurprise, surprise, the resulting drink wasn’t bad at all. It tasted like tea with a bit of garlic (even though there was more than a bit of it in there). I guess this is not shocking given the ingredients, but it was still unexpectedly pleasant.

All I did was crushed one garlic clove, put it in a cup of boiling water, added honey and then fresh lemon juice. Straining at the end is recommended.

NeoCitranWhether it helped is a bit hard to tell. I certainly felt relatively okay afterwards, but that may have been thanks to my trusted friend NeoCitran. (That would be the version of TheraFlu that actually works. Not available in the US though. And it turns out not all European versions are the same either. The ones sold in Switzerland and Hungary I know work well.)

Running

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

I started a program to train to run a 5K. I posted a blog entry about the related pledge (password: running) on Crooked Timber, but since that was the time E-BLOG was misbehaving I hadn’t replicated it here. A dozen people from all over the world pledged to join me and so we’ve started down on the road to a healthier lifestyle. (Perhaps I should only speak for myself on that point. The running program is only a part of a larger agenda for me. I’ve given up on sodas for the most part and continue to look out for additional ways to change things for the better.)

We started last week. The first week was not easy, but it really motivates to know that other people out there are also undertaking the same training at the same time and you owe it to them in addition to yourself to stick it out. Now I’m into the second week and for now I’m happy to say it’s going better. It’s hard for me to imagine that three training sessions would make that big of a difference, but who knows. For now I am really enjoying the program, which helps.

I used to run quite a bit back in elementary school and was good at it. Since then I haven’t done that much. However, several of my close friends run regularly and I also have numerous friends who even run marathons. So I figured there must be something there if all these people I like are so into it. That’s partly what motivated me to try a program. I’ll report back on how it is going.