All posts by Chad Beyler

Easter Eggs Year Round

The English author and cleric Robert Aris Willmott said, “Joy and grief are never far apart.” I’ve found that in my own personal grief situations, I do have to work at the joy part. Looking for joy is like flexing a muscle, and every day I seek to strengthen my awareness of joy all around me.

I recently lost a friend, co-worker and mentor to cancer. To say she fought her battle in the most beautiful, joyful way sounds strange, but that was Merv. She was a beauty both inside and out. I was angry that she didn’t get what she was joyfully certain she would achieve, which was victory over her disease. She simply saw no other alternative and because of her, we didn’t either. Merv died on a Sunday, the day after another dear friend, co-worker and mentor would have celebrated her 78th birthday. Her name was Margo and she appears in my sub-conscience every now and then with one of her little words of wisdom, or to whisper calm down Lora Sue, or to simply give me the inspiration to sparkle something up in my life. I know this makes no sense to anyone but me, but I’m certain Margo and Merv are sharing a bottle of wine in the afterlife. They’ll hit it off. They both had a deep certainty that there was good everywhere. This to me is joy in the face of grief.

Are you familiar with the movie and television industry’s little trick called Easter eggs? It’s something that certain writers like to do. They hide a secret little image or message in the background of their programs and call them Easter eggs. Alfred Hitchcock and Stan Lee were both famous for doing this. Both would insert themselves somewhere in the background of a scene. It’s really kind of genius if you think about it. Hunting for an Easter egg makes you pay more attention to the movie. Some other fun Easter eggs in movies includes hidden hieroglyphs of C-3PO and R2-D2 in Raiders of the Lost Ark or Sid’s reappearance in Toy Story 3. 

While I’m writing this, people have to stay at home for Easter egg hunts thanks to a rotten egg called COVID 19. The grief caused by this virus is all around us – the loss of friends or loved ones, the loss of important family events like weddings and graduations, and the loss of businesses and jobs. Loss, loneliness and anxiety cause us to grieve. It’s OK, even healthy, to grieve and we need to recognize that when it happens to us. But try and look for some joy too. Have an Easter egg hunt and look for joy. Doing so won’t minimize or eliminate the grief, but it might add more dimension and meaning as we heal.

Because we write these articles months in advance sometimes, we may be a long way from Easter when this goes to print. This seems OK to me though, because I think we’re all going to need some time to recover from the grief handed out in the spring of 2020. So I say to you, keep your Easter baskets out and collect those eggs year round. Joy isn’t going anywhere.

Dedicated in loving memory of Mervet Adams, long time Health Alliance Community Liaison and great friend.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Allianceä.  She’s the mother of two terrific boys, a world traveler and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan. Like this article? Feel free to respond to Longview@HealthAlliance.org. Thanks for reading!

Testicular Cancer and Young Men

Attention Men: Take Action to Promote Your Health

Taking control of your health means getting educated and taking proactive steps to live your best life. In the latest episode of our podcast, Dr. Charles C. Liang of Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana discusses five big topics relating to men’s health.

1) Cancer

Prostate Cancer

Thousands of American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. If you catch the cancer early, there’s a better chance of successful treatment. Dr. Liang suggests men talk with their doctor about prostate cancer screening. If you have average risk, your doctor may recommend screening beginning at age 50. But if you have higher risk, screening might be recommended at age 40. A family history of prostate cancer is often a sign of higher risk.

Colon Cancer

“Colon cancer is one of the few cancers we can actually prevent by screening,” notes Dr. Liang. What exactly does he mean? Specifically that screening can not only find colon cancer if it’s there, but it can also discover early warning signs before cancer even has the chance to develop. “Colon cancer usually begins as a polyp inside the colon and we can see those on the colonoscopy,” Dr. Liang explains. “If you snip that polyp off and take it away, it prevents it from becoming cancer.”

Screenings typically begin at age 50, but – as with prostate cancer tests – they should begin earlier for those at higher risk.

2) Heart Health

Blood Pressure

“Blood pressure screening is also important, and that’s because hypertension leads to so many problems like heart disease, stroke and kidney problems,” Dr. Liang warns. He recommends starting annual blood pressure screenings in your 20s. While you may not have symptoms, knowing your numbers makes it easier to implement preventive measures before suffering a cardiac event.

Cholesterol

Outside of knowing your blood pressure and working to keep it in order, you should also have a cholesterol screening. If you don’t know your cardiac health, consider getting a low dose CT scan of the coronary arteries to check for plaque or calcium buildup. You don’t necessarily need a stress test unless you have chest pain or problems with shortness of breath.

3) Sleep Apnea

“Sleep apnea is more common in men and it becomes more significant as we get older,” informs Dr. Liang. “Sleep apnea is where you actually stop breathing for a few moments. It sets you up for heart disease. It can set you up for atrial fibrillation.” If your partner notices you snoring loudly or gasping for breath overnight, ask your doctor for a recommendation for a sleep study.

4) Fitness

For many men, fitness is a big deal. Dr. Liang stresses the importance of listening to your body. For most people, there are many exercises you can do without requiring clearance from your doctor. These include walking 30 to 45 minutes a day at least five days a week, or even light jogging. If you want to take up something that really elevates your heart rate, you should first talk with your doctor about whether you’re healthy enough for that type of physical activity.

5) Mental Health

If you’re dealing with mental health issues, Dr. Liang suggests talking with your primary care provider. You may benefit from counseling services in lieu of visits to a psychologist. Your doctor can help you determine what is right for your needs. Most importantly, know that mental health issues are common and that they’re never something to feel embarrassed about.

Interested in learning more about men’s health, including additional tips and guidance? To listen to the full interview with Dr. Liang on our new Allied and Well podcast, click here.

  • Check out these health tips for men, from our partners at Virginia Mason Health System.
  • Read this article from our friends at OSF HealthCare to learn why it’s “macho” to take care of your health.
  • Many men only seek healthcare services in “crises” – find out why this can be harmful in this blog piece from Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System.
  • Listen to Riverside Healthcare’s podcast to learn more about the signs and symptoms of heart attacks.
  • Dealing with lasting feelings of depression, pessimism or gloominess? Find advice and tips in this article by Memorial Health System.

Dr. Charles C. Liang, Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

Hard Work Pays Off

Jim Davis, no relation to the Garfield cartoonist, was born in Sacramento, CA in January of 1940. Jim lived in Sacramento until he was 18 years old. During that time, Jim quit high school when he was 16. I asked him why he chose this and he stated that, “I thought I knew everything and I did.” When Jim turned 18, he decided to join the Navy. He thought it would  be interesting, so he did.

Jim spent four years in the Navy as an Engineman, Second Class. During this time, Jim remarked that he learned quite a bit and that his time in the Navy was spent with all kinds of people, visiting all kinds of places. Jim also got to visit a few foreign countries. He’s been to Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong. Out of all the places he’s been, he’s the fondest of the Philippines. He likes this country because it was so different from what he knew. They had a lot of different foods and his most favorite came from a small store on the side of the road. It wasn’t much, but it cooked up the tastiest dish of noodles, rice, veggies and shrimp.

Jim got out of the Navy in 1962 and decided to work in Panama for a couple of years as a mechanic foreman. Jim then moved to work for various different companies in California. Lots of our conversation was around where he had worked and where work had taken him. Jim seemed to be no stranger to hard work that required a strong work ethic.

After a while, Jim decided to go back in and become a Seabee in the Construction Battalion. This consisted of going to foreign countries and helping them rebuild/repair things like roads, schools and villages. This venture took Jim to Vietnam for two different deployments for a total of two years. Unfortunately, he found out years later he’d come in contact with Agent Orange there. This led to various health issues for him later in life.

After his enlistment was eventually up after those two years in Vietnam, Jim decided to go back to California. With all his accumulated experience and knowledge, he went to work for the city of Alameda as the equipment supervisor of all road equipment. He held this position for two years before going to Bridge Port, CA as the equipment supervisor of the county. Jim had this position for an additional two years before finally moving to Des Moines, WA, where he found a position teaching diesel mechanics at Seattle Community College for 23 years. During this time at SSCC, he took classes in order to improve his wage. So when Jim retired, he was the highest-paid senior professor there. Well done Jim!

Breck Obermeyer is a community liaison with Health Alliance Northwestä, serving Yakima County. She’s a small town girl from Naches, has a great husband who can fix anything and has two kids who are her world.

Like this article? Feel free to respond to VantagePoint@HealthAlliance.org. Thanks for reading!

Avoiding Eye Strain

Who Do I See for What?

Vision services are important to your overall health and well-being, but it’s hard to remember who does what when it comes to eye care. As I thought more on this, I suspected some of our Reid Health Allianceä members might struggle with this, too.

It can be confusing to know which type of vision professional to go to for what. Let’s clear things up.  

Opticians are specially-trained technicians who can fill your eye doctor’s prescription for glasses or contact lenses. They don’t diagnose eye problems. Their skill is in fixing your vision with glasses or contacts. They can also suggest which frame and lens look the best on you. They’ve seen thousands of patients try on glasses. I always listen to their advice. There are also many options available with contact lenses, and the optician can help order those.

Optometrists aren’t medical doctors but must have a degree as a doctor of optometry before they can treat patients. They can test your vision, screen you for some diseases and write prescriptions. They will, in some instances, fit you with your glasses or corrective lenses. (I find their waiting rooms often have the most up-to-date magazines, so I don’t usually mind the wait.)

Ophthalmologists treat a broad range of eye problems with exams and sometimes surgery. They have a medical degree and a lot of training. They often have a special focus (a natural pun), like treating patients with glaucoma or retina problems. In some cases, they also prescribe corrective lenses. (They must have very steady hands, and I’ve often wondered if that’s how they select their specialty. Just a theory, of course.)

Our members get a free vision exam each year as part of their benefits with one of our in-network providers. As always, your regular doctor’s office is a good place to start if you’re unsure where to go. He or she will know just the right type of eye professional for your needs.

Morgan Gunder is a community and broker liaison for Reid Health Alliance. Born in the South and raised in the Midwest, she’s a wife and mother with a passion for traveling, learning and technology.

Like this article? Feel free to respond to CoveredBridge@HealthAlliance.org. Thanks for reading!

Raise Alzheimer’s Awareness

Did you know that June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month? According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), more than 5.5 million older Americans likely have this disease. You are probably aware that Alzheimer’s impairs a person’s memory and thinking skills, but did you also know that it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States? This and other facts are available on the NIA’s website, including important details describing the signs and symptoms to watch for, information about treatment and much more. Also be sure to visit the website of the Alzheimer’s Association®, where you can learn more about the disease, discover how to take action and even share your own stories.

Read on for more information about Alzheimer’s and what you can do to raise awareness.

Many people think dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are one-and-the-same. Not exactly.

  • Dementia is the general term for any progressive (and serious) decline in mental ability. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but other conditions can cause dementia too. Learn more from our friends at OSF HealthCare.

Catching Alzheimer’s early can improve a person’s quality of life.

  • This article from Carle describes why annual screenings for dementia are important for older adults.

  • Want to learn more about the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and the steps to take if you start noticing them? Check out this video from Riverside Healthcare.

Research suggests that certain lifestyle choices – such as eating healthy and keeping active – can provide certain benefits to brain health.

  • Learn about strategies that might help defend your brain and central nervous system against dementia in this blog piece by Springfield Clinic.

Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s can be both physically and emotionally tiring.

  • The Alzheimer’s Association provides advice, help and resources for caregivers.

  • Our friends at Memorial Health System answer common questions family members have.

  • Caregivers need to learn the best ways of communicating with their loved ones who have dementia. This article from Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System offers guidance.

  • Just because your loved one has Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean he or she can’t live a physically and mentally rewarding life. Check out these tips from our friends at Reid Health about helping your loved one live a full life.

This month – and beyond – learn what you can about Alzheimer’s and become a resource for those around you. Together our communities can fight against this challenging disease.

5 Key Health Priorities for Women

From youth to adulthood and beyond, there are certain health priorities every woman should focus on. Dr. Carla Rafferty, an expert in women’s health and family medicine at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, shares her thoughts on five key areas of women’s health.

1) Important Screenings and Procedures

One of the first screenings women need to consider is a Pap test, which screens for cervical cancer—or even signs of early progression towards cervical cancer. Most women should have had their first Pap test by age 21.

Mammograms are another essential screening. “The guidelines have changed a bit,” notes Dr. Rafferty, “but for the most part, starting around age 40 is when a woman should be thinking about getting her first mammogram. Breast cancer is an important thing to detect early, as it is very treatable.”

The third recommended screening is a colonoscopy, or some other type of less-invasive screening like a stool assessment. Dr. Rafferty states that women should think about this screening around age 50, unless they have risk factors that necessitate screening earlier.

2) Pregnancy

Women who want to get pregnant, or are already pregnant, may not know everything they need to know to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Dr. Rafferty recommends asking your primary care provider for guidance and advice, or turning to trusted resources either online or within the community. Overall, women can ensure that both they and their unborn babies stay healthy by taking prenatal vitamins, quitting smoking and abstaining from alcohol and drugs.

3) Mental Health

Often tasked with being the “caregivers” of their families, many women may not realize how much the stresses of daily life can impact their mental health. It’s important to reach out for help when feeling overburdened. “Every one of our primary care offices has embedded social workers, and even the nurses you might talk with on the phone are a good place to start,” notes Dr. Rafferty. Keeping your mind healthy is just as important as a healthy body.

4) Menopause

The milestone often referred to as “the change of life” is not an easy time for many. Women may experience fatigue, hot flashes, decreased libido, difficulty losing weight, mental fog, mood swings and vaginal dryness. “All of these changes can weigh heavily—not only on a woman’s body, but also on her mental state,” cautions Dr. Rafferty.

Dr. Rafferty advises women try to maintain a regular exercise regimen, eat a healthy diet, quit smoking and get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. “Menopause also increases a woman’s risk of heart disease,” she adds, “so eating healthy and exercising are also ways to help prevent that risk.”

5) Age-Related Conditions

As women age, they become more at risk for certain conditions. Osteoporosis is one that tends to impact women more severely than men. Dr. Rafferty notes that this bone-weakening disease leads to further difficulties as well, but there are ways to combat it. Proper nutrition and physical activity, particularly doing weight-bearing exercises, will help strengthen bones. Women are often advised to get bone density screenings as they get older, and medications are available to address the disease.

Two additional age-related conditions are heart disease and dementia. Women can monitor the risk of both by maintaining regular visits with their primary care provider.

For women of all ages, Dr. Rafferty has one final piece of advice: don’t put off caring for your health. “If you think something isn’t right, it’s always better to get checked out than to delay.”

To listen to the full interview with Dr. Carla Rafferty on our new Allied and Well podcast, click here.

Dr. Carla Rafferty, Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana

OMG I’m Turning into My Father

In the 10 years we’ve been married, my wife says more and more frequently, “You’re just like your father.”  The truth is I think my father’s the greatest man I know. Here are a few examples of the things I’ve picked up from him.

I’ve started waking up early on the weekends. While I was growing up, my dad would get up every morning around 5 a.m. to start his day whether it be a weekday or weekend. I would always wonder why he was up that early and now that I’m in my 40’s, I understand. Getting up early on the weekend and starting my day, I have noticed that I can get most of my chores, errands and other stuff done before noon. We work all week to make it to the weekend, but being adults, we still have responsibilities even on the weekend. The great thing about getting everything done before noon is that I have the rest of the day to do what I want. My wife, on the other hand, will sleep in until noon or 1 p.m. on the weekends and lose most of her day. When I was in my 20’s, I would want to sleep in as long as I could on the weekends too, but my body is happier now rising and shining early to start my day.

My father and I had season tickets to the University of Illinois basketball games when I was still in my 20’s. We lived about an hour and a half away from Champaign. My younger self could not comprehend why we needed to leave at 9 a.m. for a 1 p.m. tip-off. Insanity! We’ll be four hours early! Now in my 40’s, I completely understand. One reason was that we never knew what kind of weather we’d be driving in. Illinois can experience all four seasons in one day. Fog between Springfield to Champaign was always possible. Secondly, the early bird avoids the long food lines. Neither my father nor I like standing in lines, especially when hungry.  Truth be told, I love being the one driving my wife nuts now with my very early departure times.

This last one I enjoy the most because it frustrates my wife the most. I do the majority of the shopping for the house. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this happens very early before she even wakes up. I like to pre-map out an efficient circle that I follow when running errands. By circle, I mean that before I even leave the house, I lay out a route where I start at my house and end at my house with no unnecessary deviations. It drives my wife crazy because I’m talking out loud to myself mentally laying out my route before leaving the house. She would rather just fly by the seat of her pants and see what happens. To me, she sounds like the crazy one. I try to explain that careful routing and planning means less meaningless wandering and more efficient use of our time. Thanks again dad.

Many of us declare in our youth that, “I will not be like my father.” But as time goes by, many of my dad’s little quirks start coming out in me drip by drip. I say don’t be mad or sad, embrace them! These quirks have probably been passed down for generations in your family. I have two kids and am trying to teach them the wise and wonderful traditions I’ve learned from my dad. They’lll appreciate this someday, but it might take a few decades. Happy Father’s Day to all of you quirky and wonderful fathers out there.

Derek Brawner is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. He’s a small town guy living in the big city of Springfield, married with two kids, huge Star Wars fan and griller extraordinaire. 

Like this article? Feel free to respond to Longview@HealthAlliance.org. Thanks for reading!