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September 29th, 2008
11:25 AM ET

Out of gas trauma

By Karen Denice
CNN Medical Senior Producer

I like to think of myself as a calm person. So when people began panicking in Atlanta about there not being any gasoline I didn't pay any attention. I kept driving my gas-efficient car and figuring the fuel situation would resolve itself by the time I needed to go to the pump. Wasn't I smart? Well that was until one morning when leaving my house, my gas light popped on and glared at me.

Arriving at work, I told my colleagues about the gas light. A guard we passed grunted with a sad smile, other co-workers told me of searching for gas days and nights in a row. I admit, the anxiety started to invade my psyche. Next thing I know, we were all grouped around my computer searching for any available gas in the Atlanta metro area. We found a station that was up and running close to work and I dashed out of the office with people yelling, "Call if you run out of gas.”

I arrived and was the upteenth car in line. I tried not to block the Burger King entrance as I waited on a busy street trying to get into the station.

                  Victory is near at the gas pump

Victory is near at the gas pump

Once I was almost in the lot, I took a photo – victory! But note the big bus in front of me. My mind was racing. What if he sucks up all the gas?!

When I finally made it to the pump, I hurriedly swiped my credit card, wanting to make sure I got gas before the woman on the other side of my pump. What was happening to me? So much for rational! Then, she started yelling that her pump wasn’t working. "Are you out of gas?” she asked. My heart lurched, and sure enough my pump was dry. Luckily, I switched to the most expensive option - "Ultimate" - and started pumping. I have never in my life put anything other than regular grade in my car, but at that moment it didn't matter.

I left the station with a full tank of "Ultimate,” my car purring and confused over this ultra-deluxe fuel flowing through its engine.

I returned to work triumphant and my fears in check, but boy what a lesson about how public anxiety can wreck anyone's calm in the right situation.

Have you become wrapped up in public panic or anxiety and if so, how did you stay calm?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 26th, 2008
02:05 PM ET

Ovarian cancer: the Treatment room

By Karen Bonsignore
Executive Producer, CNN Entertainment News

If it’s Tuesday it must be chemo! There are seven chairs in my oncologist’s treatment room and most of the time they’re all filled. There’s an instant camaraderie between patients as we’re all battling the same beast. We mostly know each other by our first names and the kind of cancer we have. “Hi I’m Karen. I had ovarian cancer. What are you being treated for?” Lung, colon, and liver cancers dot the room on any given day but breast cancer seems to always dominate.

The “old-timers,” those who are at or near the end of their treatments, try to reassure newcomers and give them an idea of what to expect. “The first one won’t be so bad.” “Your hair will fall out after the second or third week.” “Make sure you ask your doctor for good drugs to help fight nausea.” Most everyone has a “port” through which the chemotherapy is administered and with our IVs connected and our blue “napkins” tucked into our shirt collars we look like adults gathered around the children’s table waiting for dinner.

For me, each treatment has been filled with an assortment of side effects ranging from nausea and neuropathy to extreme fatigue. When I completed my third treatment, out of a total of six, my personal cheerleaders reminded me, “You’re halfway there!” or “It’s downhill from here!” While I acknowledged their encouragement, I could only think to myself that I wanted to quit after round two. How the heck am I going to make it through three more?

At this writing I’ve just completed my last treatment. After four months of chemo I am finally done.

The nurses gave me a mini-cupcake with a candle in it and sang “Happy Last Chemo” to me. I looked into the faces of my acquaintances as they left. We exchanged wishes for good luck on the way out the door and I wondered how long these new friends would live. I wondered about my own condition.

One of my doctors told me that it’s not uncommon for people who have completed chemotherapy to become depressed. While going through treatment it feels like we’re taking an active step to kill whatever cancer cells remain. When it’s done, all you can do is wait.

I can’t go back to a time before my cancer was diagnosed, and so my life will never be the same again. The threat of recurrence is real and its presence has changed my life forever. While I’m wary of this phantom, worrying each day that I’ll be marked for another marathon dance is paralyzing. I now totally and completely understand that I have only the moment I’m in.

Having cancer has taught me to be more compassionate, more patient with others and myself, and to live my life more fearlessly. It has allowed me time to be with myself and to truly embrace my feelings. It has given me a chance to say “thank you” hundreds of times. As I write I am filled with love and gratitude for all of the support given to me by my extraordinary family, friends and co-workers, for all of the wonderful doctors and nurses who have taken care of me, and for all the others who have simply cared enough to stop and ask how I was doing.

I leave this place now with a brave and open heart, and with a little rest I’ll be ready again to deal with whatever comes next.

Have you faced down a disease? What was the biggest thing it taught you?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 26th, 2008
10:47 AM ET

The importance of play

By Darell Hammond
CEO, KaBOOM!

If I were to list the names of all the individuals who’ve told me that I have the best job in the world, I could fill a book. What do I do, you ask? I build playgrounds.

In 1995, I founded KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that empowers communities across the nation to build great places to play. We work to provide play spaces for children because we understand the great impact that play can have on a child's life.

Play is on the decline in America. While this statement may not at first seem alarming, it reflects a very negative trend in childhood development. As recess continues to be removed from our nation’s schools and as more parents turn to indoor activities for their children’s pastimes, today’s children are not given the time nor the space that they need to learn and grow as independent, creative and thoughtful individuals. More often than not, they are restrained by structured indoor activities that keep them from developing the skills necessary to succeed as an adult. As our children’s lives become more hectic and overscheduled, they also become filled with stress and anxiety – leading to more serious conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, obesity, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

A recent study conducted by the Tulane University Prevention Research Center noted that the existence of play spaces – playgrounds, sports fields, skate parks – help to curb these negative trends. According to the study, the number of children observed outdoors and physically active on the playground and in the surrounding neighborhood was 84 percent higher than in a neighborhood with no play space. By giving children a safe and fun place to play, it seems we also give them increased access to healthy physical, emotional and intellectual development.

Do you remember those happy, heady days out on the playground or in the playing field with all of your friends? Do you remember the exhilaration and excitement that came from breaking boundaries that you never thought were possible? Do you remember how you felt as you swung higher and higher into the air, hoping that you might reach the sky?

Many of today’s children will never be able to build these memories because of lack of time and space to play.

By providing today’s children with great places to play, we hope to provide brighter, happier and stronger futures for generations of children to come.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 24th, 2008
11:35 AM ET

Keeping your drive alive

By Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Associate Producer

My 85-year-old grandfather is making a transition from a life of preparing taxes to a life less taxing. After living in the same New York apartment for 56 years, he's moving to Florida. Though diabetes has affected his vision, and he's struggling with a leg injury he suffered during World War II,* mostly he's as healthy as a horse. But because of his age, our family was naturally starting to worry about him living alone.

The move wouldn't be unusual except one of my grandfather's mottos in life has always been "If you stop, you die." And in a sense, he is stopping. After more than a half of century working as a self-employed tax preparer, remaining an active community leader and a regular attendee at a historic Baptist church in Harlem, he's giving it all up to, as he says, "twiddle his thumbs."

He's excited about relaxing, and will be in good hands with people who love him. But I can't help but wonder how the transition will affect his health. What if he starts to view himself as "old" – which is something he has never done? I turned to some experts for guidance.

According to Dr. James Lah, a neurologist at Emory University, my concern is legitimate. He says one of the biggest hazards after retirement, whether at age 55 or 85, is that people lose what has been for years a "routine of stimulating activities." The worst thing you can do when you retire, is to "retire." For the elderly, organized senior communities are great in the absence of extended family. But no matter where you go, Lah says, the most important thing is to set up a schedule – a daily routine – to help maintain mental activity and purpose.

This sentiment is shared by Dan Buettner, a longevity explorer and author of the book “The Blue Zone” (www.bluezones.com). He says many of the world's longest-living people share a concept known in Japan as an ikigai, or a sense of purpose. Buettner offers the examples of a 103 year-old Costa Rican man whose daily task is to prepare soup for the entire family, and a 104-year-old woman in Loma Linda, California, who makes it a priority to collect and recycle cans from her neighbors. It may sound obvious, but "feeling needed" can add extra years to your life.

Simply put, having a sense of purpose gives you something to live for. And as both Buettner and Lah agree, some of the residual effects of having that purpose are: remaining vigilant about general health, taking medications and eating well.

So, as my grandfather starts anew in the Sunshine State, I am comforted knowing the change doesn't mean the end. He won't really just "twiddle his thumbs." In fact he already has the next few months booked, and may be able to squeeze me in only around December. Unless, of course, he goes on that cruise he's planning.

Have you ever had a similar concern? What sense of purpose keeps you going?

*He suffered the leg injury on February 6, 1945, deactivating bombs during World War II. He served as a sergeant with the 113th Engineering Battalion. Did I mention – his memory is impeccable?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 22nd, 2008
12:54 PM ET

Your cheatin' heart will tell on you

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

I have a friend who cheats on his wife constantly. What's worse, all his buddies know about it. Even his wife knows. On the surface, he's a nice guy, charismatic, a caring father, and a hard worker. He just can't stay faithful. His loving spouse continues to forgive him even though they've gone through years of therapy. He swears he loves her. He insists he tries to stay away from other women, but still his eye keeps wandering.

I am sure psychiatrists will tell you this guy needs help, but scientists say his behavior could be caused by his genetic makeup. That's right: Some of us may or may not have what researchers call the monogamy gene, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By looking at different versions of the common field or vole mouse, researchers injected the non-monogamous meadow vole with the monogamy gene from its close cousin the prairie vole. After receiving the gene, scientists found a noticeable change in the meadow vole's behavior. Instead of mating and immediately moving on, (the ol' love and leave 'em tactic) the meadow vole showed more of an attachment to its mate.

So the big question is, could this keep wayward folks from cheating? Would wives or husbands be able to poke a syringe into a wandering spouse’s tush and regain marital bliss? Scientists say hardly. It seems the monogamy gene is broken down into three parts: lust, romance and attraction, and in many cases they don't work together. Which is why doctors say, someone can have a strong attachment to one person and be madly in love with someone else.

That’s unfortunate, because in today's world, where recent polls show many men and women cheat on their partners, and cases of HIV and STDs continue to rise, being monogamous might be a safer, healthier and happier way to live.

What do you think? Let us know how you feel about monogamous or non-monogamous relationships? We'd like to know.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 19th, 2008
09:33 AM ET

Ovarian cancer: positive thinking

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a disease that touches more than 20,000 women each year, including some of CNN’s own. Karen Bonsignore, executive producer of CNN Entertainment News, got her diagnosis in May. Every Friday this month, she’ll share parts of her personal journey.

By Karen Bonsignore
Executive Producer, CNN Entertainment News

When you have cancer, your well-meaning family and friends are likely to tell you that in order to keep the disease at bay you need to think positively. To help my mind from straying, I was given an assortment of life-affirming gifts: prayer beads blessed by the Dalai Lama, a St. Christopher medal, bracelets and necklaces with charms for good health, books and meditations. I even bought a few for myself.

While I was still in the hospital recovering from surgery I imagined that there was an intricate community that lived inside me. There were seamless, titanium walls that lined the inside of my body. I chose dozens of tiny people to live there including architects and engineers, chefs who specialized in preparing only the healthiest and most nutritious foods, physical trainers, Olympic weightlifters, and NFL linebackers who were responsible for ensuring that the walls held up. Together they promised not to let any rogue cancer cells in. Ever.

When I returned home from the hospital I put up a Post-It note on my bathroom mirror that read:

May 27, 2008
Today I am CANCER FREE

Beneath those words I counted each day post surgery. I thought that I would count to 365, at which time I would celebrate a year of being cancer free. I was vigilant about marking the days until one Thursday I simply forgot. By the time I realized that I’d stopped, I’d lost count altogether. I didn’t need to look back to see how far I’d come; I knew very well what I’d been through and I only wanted to face forward.

I’m a firm believer in the mind-body connection but I’m here to tell you that it’s nearly impossible to think positively when your bones hurt, your muscles ache, you’re nauseated and you’re so exhausted you can barely move. In fact, some people believe that if they don’t think positively all of the time, they will somehow cause their cancer to return. For me, dark thoughts are inevitable, and when they surface I allow them to enter, I feel them and acknowledge whatever fear comes to pass, and then I ask them to leave. On one particularly difficult day I asked my son, Cody, how I was supposed to remain positive when I felt so awful? He answered simply: I guess you just have to believe that tomorrow will be a better day. And so I do.

I believe that tomorrow will be a better day. I believe that I am strong. I believe that I’m meant to do more here on this Earth. I believe that I will be cured. I believe that I will live.

How has positive thinking affected you?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 18th, 2008
03:15 PM ET

Political attitudes predicted by physiological traits?

By Danielle Dellorto
CNN Medical Producer

The differences between Democrats and Republicans may form well before you’re able to vote. In fact, you may actually be born with your conservative and liberal views.

Political science researchers at Rice University in Texas studied 46 adults with strong political beliefs. They split them up in two groups, based on their leanings, and tested their physiological reactions to threatening and non-threatening images. How hard they blinked, their anxiety level, among other physical responses were charted as images of bloody faces and bunny rabbits came across the screen.

Perhaps not surprising, the groups’ reactions were divided. “The responses between the two groups were substantially different,” notes study author James Alford, a professor of political science at Rice. “There was very little overlap between them.”

The participants with traditional conservative views - supportive of the Iraq war, death penalty, immigration reform and The Patriot Act - had strong physical reactions to the threatening images of spiders and calm reactions to the non-threatening images of bunnies and happy children.

Those with more liberal views - low support of Iraq war and higher support of gay marriage, gun control and abortion rights - showed no differences in reaction when viewing the threatening and non-threatening images. They appeared to physically react to the same to an image of a bowl of fruit and one of an open war wound.

Fascinated by the clear differences in the results, Rice University researchers believe this study, while small, is proof that our political views, in part, are genetically instilled in us.

“We estimate your biological makeup has a 30 to 40 percent role in how you will vote,” says Alford. “The other portion is how and where you were raised as well as environmental factors”

But Alford notes that just because the reaction to threatening images may not be instant for some people, it doesn’t mean we all won’t come to the same conclusion eventually.

"This sheds a small window into part of what motivates political differences in humans are biological differences in humans,” he says. “Biological reasons don’t drive everything, but do deserve equal place at the table."

So what do you think? Do your genetics play a role in which way you vote?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 17th, 2008
10:17 AM ET

Making gravity work for you

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

This week, I did a series of pieces about how astronauts stay fit in space. Sure, it was fascinating to be strapped into a system of pulleys and harnesses that effectively simulate weightlessness. It was interesting to be pulled up to a vertical treadmill or eZLS – the enhanced zero gravity locomotion system. And, yes, I got to be an astronaut for a day, experiencing firsthand what it may feel like to exercise in space. (watch video)
 
I learned that exercise in space, especially for those long missions, is essential for astronauts, not something you might do occasionally. It has to be comfortable to do and it cannot interfere with the function of the spacecraft. (read more)  More than that, though, I learned how beneficial gravity is for us on Earth. Doctors call it axial load. You can think of it as a slight tension on our bodies, more importantly our ligaments, tendons and bones. Turns out, this slight pulling of gravity slows down the loss of bone mass, which in space accelerates 10 times faster than a post-menopausal woman.

The message for the rest of us is to embrace gravity. In addition to your aerobic exercise, which you should do most days of the week, add some axial load to your routine. And, this is a message for everyone, especially women in their 40s and 50s who will have to deal with menopause. Pick up some dumbbells, park yourself under a bench press or learn how to use a cable system. It’s good for your health and for your bones.

Are you doing something to make gravity benefit your body?  

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 16th, 2008
11:43 AM ET

Health lessons from space

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A few weeks ago, my producer Chris Gajilan and I got on the phone to talk about a series of stories we wanted to do on space medicine. I was really excited because since I was a kid, I have always been interested in space and had dreams one day of going there. Life, though, does sometimes take you in different directions, and I opted for the brain surgery job, instead of the rocket scientist…ba dum. I’ll be here all week…

Seriously, though, when I heard NASA scientists had come up with a model of weightlessness here on Earth, I jumped at the chance to investigate. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. In order to re-create the fluid shifts that are seen with prolonged space travel, scientists decided to put a group of patients at bed rest… for 3 months. Head down about 6 degrees, feet up, and absolutely no getting out of bed. As I learned, while extremely cumbersome, it is a pretty good model.

Over time, lots of things start to happen to your body, things that can be devastating. Turns out, as human beings, we like a little gravity. It keeps just enough pressure on our joints and bones to keep them strong. Without the usual gravitational force, our bones start to wither away. And, the calcium that starts seeping out of the bones finds its way into our bloodstream and can cause painful and sometimes dangerous kidney stones. Astronauts can develop advanced bone loss. As astronauts push farther into space on longer missions, the concern is that they will face debilitating osteoporosis so severe they can spontaneously break bones.

So, NASA scientists now had two challenges. One was to create the model. Two: figure out a way to prevent some of these serious health problems when astronauts are in space for prolonged periods. Tomorrow, I will tell you what the smartest minds in the world came up with; but today, I wanted to see what you thought. What do you think are some of the biggest health problems for astronauts in space and what do you think could be done about them?

If you want to cheat… take a look at this preview (watch video).

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


September 15th, 2008
12:16 PM ET

Sharing the bed with baby

By Shahreen Abedin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

On Sunday we were hanging out with friends when I heard my husband say something that immediately raised red flags for me. “Yeah, by November the baby should be out of our room and in his own crib.” Gulp! About a month ago, he had voiced his desire to have our then-8-month old sleep in his own crib all night, but my compromise was to install a bed rail guard on one side, so we would have the option of putting the munchkin on one side of us, instead of between us.

Yes, we are co-sleeping parents. And apparently there are many opinions about co-sleepers among “crib-sleeper” parents, as highlighted in the current issue of Parenting magazine. ( read Parenting article). According to its national survey, nearly half of all crib-sleepers feel that co-sleeper parents are “irresponsible” and that they are putting their baby’s health at risk. Almost 40 percent think we’re spoiling the baby by not fostering an independent sleeper.

It’s always seemed unnatural to me that we would banish our small child to sleep alone. It was also more efficient for me to have him right there when I was breastfeeding throughout the night. And when my baby wraps his arms around my neck and snuggles with me, it’s clear that he feels secure and slumbers much better. Four other couples we know also share their beds. I’m not sure whether it matters that three of them are also of South Asian descent (like me), and the other couple is from Spain. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, since many cultures find it unusual to NOT sleep with your baby.

I understand that SIDS concerns are associated with co-sleeping, and that’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend the practice. (read AAP recommendation) That’s a safer stance to take than risking parents rolling over onto their babies in bed, causing harm or even death.

We started sleeping with him in the bed only after he was a couple of months old. When he was teeny he slept in the bassinet pulled up right next to me. And when he sleeps in the crib, since we never put him in our bed without one of us with him, we are careful about all of the other SIDS risk factors (read about SIDS) including keeping blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals out of the way, placing him on his back, and avoiding overheating.

From a safety standpoint, we’re doing OK. No smushed babies here. One of the tenets of co-sleeping that I do think is critical is that it’s based upon agreement by all three parties: both parents and the baby. If any one of these people is uncomfortable with the arrangement, then it’s time to give it up and put “baby in the corner” (crib, that is).

So, now I need to learn how to transition to this new arrangement and I need help. For you co-sleepers out there, what helped you make that transition, and when did you do it? Was it emotionally harder for you than it was for the baby? For you crib-sleepers, do you think parents like me are putting their own needs above the baby’s? If SIDS wasn’t a concern, would you still have a problem with it?

<strong>Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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