February Is Heart Disease Awareness Month, Are You Educated?

February is Heart Disease Awareness Month and, if you are unaware of the facts and statistics surrounding the disease, now is a good time to educate yourself.

Every year, heart disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined. That means if lung cancer, colon cancer, and all those other big, scary “C” words joined together and formed Voltron, it still wouldn’t be nearly as deadly as heart disease. And while heart disease has typically been considered a men’s disease, more women than man have died from heart disease since 1984.

As an African-American and as a woman, I should be particularly afraid of heart disease. Not only is it the number one cause of death among black, white, and Hispanic women, but in 2008, heart disease was prevalent among 47.3 percent of black women. Let that number sink in. 47. 3 percent. Nearly half of black women are suffering from heart disease. That’s scary.

Fortunately, heart disease is pretty preventable, and lifestyle changes can lower your risk. While some factors, such as age and heredity, can’t be controlled, cutting down on alcohol, changing your diet, and getting more exercise can help cut your risk.

Anyway, since I wrote about heart disease for Healthline last year, everything I learned in my research stuck with me, hence why I feel more motivated to recognize the disease and do my part to spread awareness. So, I signed up to place a badge for Luvvie’s Red Pump Project on my website, and you can see that badge in my sidebar. (Side note: If you are unfamiliar with AwesomelyLuvvie.com, you need to visit it right now and see what you’re missing. She is amazing and hilarious.) I also signed up to donate a tweet per day to the Red Pump Project, which you can learn more about here.

However, I feel like I could (and should) be doing more, so I’m thinking of ways I can further help spread awareness. Suggestions are more than welcome, and you can leave them in the comments below.

If you want to read more about heart disease, you can (shameless plug) read my articles for Healthline here. You can also check out heart.org or hearttruth.gov.

Together we are powerful. Let's unite and get to the heart of good health.

Reflections on the 2012 NABJ Health Conference


I knew attending the 2012 NABJ Conference on Health Inequities and Health Policy was going to blow my mind, but I had no idea just how much it was going to rock my world.

With 13 pages of notes and over four hours of audio on my digital recorder, I have so much information to sort through, not just for my independent study, but in general. Not only do I have a couple of story ideas, but I also have a bunch of amazing new role models in the fields of journalism and health. To be able to see and hear how passionate all of the panelists were made me want that for myself. As, I’m pretty sure, the youngest person at the conference, having the opportunity to learn from professionals on both sides was completely invaluable. I felt a lot like I did at the convention last year; I kept wanting to pinch myself because it didn’t feel real. Honestly, it still doesn’t. I feel so fortunate to be a member of this organization, and I hope to attend many more conferences in the years to come.

While there were several pieces of information that I took away from the conference, I think the most important is that it is up to us as patients, and as journalists, to advocate for ourselves and to write the stories that we not only want to hear, but need to hear as well. A couple of the panelists mentioned that there are stories that often go unreported or underreported because they are not “sexy.” For example, during the African-American Women’s Reproductive Health and the 2012 Elections, Dr. Vanessa Cullins mentioned that Viagra and vasectomies are covered by insurance, but no one is talking about that. Well why not? Is that not also an inequity, one based on sex? Indeed these inequities and disparities are based just as much on sex as they are race and socio-economic status. But if they are being spoken about, it is in hushed whispers, which makes it harder to incite any kind of change to the policies currently in place.

There is so much more I want to say, but because I will be writing about a couple of the panels for my independent study, I don’t want to write too much that will possibly conflict with what I am going to write later. But I know that I have a lot to think about, and a lot of work to do. I can’t wait to get started.

Questioning My Path Once Again

Copyright Harvey Robinson

How many times have I found myself here, caught in the middle of an internal tug of war, weighing the pros and cons of abandoning everything I’ve been working toward for the last four years in favor of something that may or may not be just a pipe dream?

As much as I love (well, really like) being a journalist, for a year and a half, maybe more, I’ve struggled with whether I could really do this for a living or not. Perhaps it’s not having any consistent work — a lot of my writing is done in little spurts weeks or even months apart — or maybe it’s a matter of not doing the type of writing that I really want to do. Maybe if I were writing on a regular basis, I wouldn’t struggle so much with this idea that maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. But if not journalism, what?

Well, I must have been a doctor or a some other type of healer in a past life, because I keep finding myself drawn to health professions, especially nutrition, CAM, and the like. I’ve already professed my interest in alternative medicine several times, so I won’t go there again. But if it weren’t the fact that I don’t have the money or brains for medical school, I could see myself as a doctor. I’ve always been a fixer — maybe I should consider becoming a handywoman instead — so naturally I’ve been drawn to medicine, and even psychology and psychiatry, for a while now. But I think it’s the logistics of the three that stops me from even considering them as possibilities.

Anyway, since I will likely never attain an M.D. or Ph.D., I am allowing myself to fantasize about opening up my own Reiki or holistic health center. Specifically, I’d like to cater it to minorities, and maybe even just minority women. I can’t for the life of me think of a single yoga studio or holistic health center in any of the minority neighborhoods in Boston, and I rarely leave the bubble that is Hofstra University to know if any exist in minority neighborhoods in New York.  But that speaks to a whole separate issue that I really should save for another post, which could mean revisiting a story I wrote for my feature writing class last spring. It probably could use an update now since it’s about a year old… but I digress.

I say I’ll allow myself to fantasize because I don’t know if I would ever be able to make this happen. I can’t even guarantee that I’ll still have this crazy idea in a couple of months. And if I do, what then? Do I give up on the career that I’ve spent thousands of dollars preparing for? Or do I do one part-time, or both full-time? There are so many questions I can’t even pretend to know the answer to right now, but all I know is that whenever I have doubts about my path and what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, I always return to wanting to teach and practice Reiki. And if that’s what  I find myself constantly thinking about, maybe that is what I should be doing. Who knows? I sure don’t.

Medical Monday – More Americans Want Alternative and Integrative Therapies

There was an article on the Washington Post’s website today about how more Americans are trying alternative/integrative medicine and how hospitals are trying to capitalize on that interest. According to the American Hospital Association and the Samueli Institute, 42 percent of 714 hospitals offered some form of complementary medicine in 2010. In 2005, it was only 27 percent.

I’ve long been a proponent of alternative medicine. As an Usui Reiki Master, I’ve experienced firsthand the amazing healing power of Reiki and other forms of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). I also wrote a lengthy article about alternative medicine for my feature writing class last year, for which I interviewed three Reiki practitioners about the increase in the number of Americans who had tried at least one form of CAM. Unfortunately, because most healthcare providers don’t cover CAM, anyone interested in trying integrative or alternative medicine will have to pay for it out of pocket. But surveys such as the one conducted by the AHA and Samueli Institute seem to hint that this will change in the not-too-distant future.

I think our current healthcare system is in need of a major overhaul. And I would love to see CAM offered in more hospitals, and covered by health insurance. I think that if taxpayers continue to show an interest in alternative therapies, the hospitals will have to respond to what the people want. Or maybe I’m being a little idealistic.

What do you guys think? Have you tried alternative or integrative medicine, or would you in the future?

Medical Monday – Mammograms, Mozart, and Marijuana

In trying to motivate myself to blog more, I’ve decided that it would be a good idea to do theme posts for each day of the week. Because alliteration is always fun, and because I want to get into health reporting after graduation, I’ve decided that my theme for Mondays would be medicine. Each week, I’ll briefly discuss health news for the day (and if it keeps with the alliteration, perfect!) So here is my first Medical Monday post!

Mammograms – October was breast cancer awareness month and, as was to be expected, there was a lot of talk about breast cancer screening and whether mammograms were actually effective at preventing breast cancer deaths. There seems to be a lot of confusion, but the common consensus still seems to be that most of the cancers found by mammograms are not fatal, so the necessity of the test is overestimated. Still other analyses say that they only occasionally save lives. So where does that leave women who are on the fence about getting the test? Unfortunately, it leaves them still straddling the line between what could be either a life-saving procedure or an unnecessary medical expense.

Mozart – In classical music news,  researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found that listening to Mozart could help doctors detect polyps when performing colonoscopies. This, of course, is very similar to the Mozart effect that was first studied in 1993, which said that listening to the composer’s music may lead to a short term improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning. So far, the study has only been conducted with two doctors who performed a few dozen surgeries each.

Marijuana – Proponents of the legalization of marijuana aren’t going to like this one. The White House has turned down a petition to legalize and regulate marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, cited research that said marijuana use is linked to addiction and cognitive impairment. Does this mean the fight to legalize marijuana is over? Probably not.

What do you all think? Should women still get mammograms even if they don’t save as many lives as we think? Does Mozart really help doctors perform better during surgery? And should marijuana be legalized? Sound off in the comments!

In Sickness and in Health – Dealing with Illnesses at Work

I am sadly coming up on my last week at WEGO Health before I head back to Hofstra. Today, in helping prepare for next month’s “Back to Work” theme, I started doing some research about how to balance work and health. Much of what I found boiled down to the same basic sentiment: Tell your boss about your condition/health problems only if it will affect your ability to do your job. If not, don’t bother.

As someone who has actually left a job for medical reasons, I find this line of thinking a little troubling. When I was a junior in high school, I was working at a gift shop in Copley Square. I happened to come into work at the same time we would be receiving shipments for the day, meaning that after a 7 or 8 hour school day, I had to go to work and start lifting boxes and putting away merchandise.  At first it wasn’t a problem, and I made it through the first couple of weeks just fine.

After a month or so, however, I started to notice that the physical nature of the job was starting to wear on me. The job came less than a year after I was diagnosed with anemia and orthostatic hypotension. I would often get dizzy as a result of changing positions too fast or exerting myself a little more than I should have. After a particularly hectic week in October, at the urging of my guidance counselor, I called my boss and told him that I wouldn’t be able to continue working there. I didn’t give any more details than I felt were necessary. To this day, that is the only job I have ever quit.

Had I discussed my condition with my boss, I might have been able to continue working there. Or he might have decided to let me go. Who knows what would have happened. The fact of the matter is that by deciding not to talk about my health, I let it affect my ability to do my job. It might not have had to end the way it did. But this was five years ago, and if I had known then what I know now, I might have chosen to have a discussion with my boss and try to work out a solution while still fulfilling my duties.

So if you have a health condition, be it mental or physical, yes, it is entirely your prerogative whether to inform your boss or not. But I highly suggest weighing the risks and benefits of doing so or not doing so. Even if you doubt that your condition will affect your ability to do your job, there is always the possibility that it will. Having that discussion with your employer is really a matter of preempting a potentially harmful situation. If I had the chance to relive my gift shop days, I would have talked to my boss about my diagnoses the first day I started working there.

I’m sure there are some people who have reasons not to discuss their health with their employer. To these people I say, if you are worried about discrimination or anything of the sort, please know that you have rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act exists for just such reasons, as well as the Family Medical Leave Act if something happens to a relative and you need to take a leave of absence. Don’t hide your illness out of fear, because you may end up making things worse for yourself in the end.