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Dodging Deductibles

Now is the time to schedule appointments to maximize 2019 benefits.

The end of the year can be a busy time. Work, school and community activities, along with holiday preparations, can make people’s lives a whirlwind. It’s no surprise then that maximizing health care benefits doesn’t top the mind when heartwarming television specials start airing and the aroma of pumpkin pie fills the house.

However, you could be leaving money on the table if you don’t pay attention and schedule your much-needed medical appointments, warn the staff at Akumin, an outpatient imaging center that specializes in x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, mammograms, CTs and DEXA scans.

“We want our patients to come in before the year ends so they can take advantage of having met their deductibles and be able to use the money in their health savings accounts or flexible spending accounts,” says Janice Sklar, an Akumin account executive.

At Akumin, the staff wants to help their patients get the most of their insurance, so they make an effort to accommodate everyone who needs imaging services any time of year. They’re open on Saturdays and offer extended hours, with morning and evening appointments during the week to accommodate those who work. For some exams, walk-in service is also available.

Most people with health insurance have a deductible. That’s the amount people must pay for covered services before their insurance plan starts to pay. The deductible is generally assessed at the beginning of each plan year, often in January. To make the most of their insurance benefits, people try to have their routine health services completed by the end of their plan year.

“Usually by the second half of the year, most patients have hit that deductible, so they have a short period of time to get in for any other testing before January 1,” Janice explains. “Come January 1, their deductibles start all over again. We want them to get their exams while insurance is paying.”

It makes good financial sense for people to get all of their health needs addressed before a new deductible is assessed. However, Janice encourages people to schedule their appointments throughout the year instead of waiting until the last few months.

“There can be problems when everybody waits to get their services at the end of the year,” she notes. “Schedules get busy, physicians get busy, and patients are competing with others for appointment times. Sometimes, because they waited, patients have trouble getting appointments and get kicked into the new year and a new deductible.

“Getting things done when people want to do them can be difficult; I know how life is. Family, work and other factors get in the way. But patients need to make plans for themselves and their families. They need to take the time to get the services done that they’ve been postponing before the end of the year.”

Tax-Free Savings

Tax-advantaged plans such as flexible spending accounts, or FSAs, and some health savings accounts, or HSAs, also need to be spent before the ball drops in Times Square.

FSAs are accounts offered by employers that let workers deduct a certain amount of money from their paychecks each year. This money is not taxed and may be used to cover certain health care expenses allowed by law. In most cases, money left unspent by year’s end is forfeited.

“If a patient doesn’t use it, they lose it,” Janice warns.

The same can be true of HSAs, depending on the employer. While some allow workers to roll over money from year to year, others have to be exhausted within a calendar year.

In both accounts, patients typically save their receipts or explanations of benefits (EOBs) and file claims, although some plans also provide debit cards.

Choosing an outpatient imaging center is less expensive for patients than going to a hospital emergency room, Janice explains, as hospitals are allowed to bill at higher rates.

Unlike large hospitals and hospital systems, which offer outpatient imaging as an ancillary service, Akumin is dedicated solely to outpatient imaging. They don’t offer any other health care services. As a result, they can devote all their resources to continually improving the quality of their services as well as their care to patients and referring physicians.

Amid his own battle with the disease, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek participates in pancreatic cancer PSA.

November 11th, 2019

Game show host Alex Trebek, who has battled pancreatic cancer since March, has teamed up with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition to star in a public service announcement aimed at raising awareness and donations for research.

“In nearly every country, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate in the single digits,” Trebek said in the clip, filmed on the set of Jeopardy!, which he has hosted for 36 seasons. “Now, in order to help patients fight and survive this disease, more attention and awareness are needed. And that’s why I’ve joined forces with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, to help raise global awareness of the risk and symptoms of pancreatic cancer.”

The PSA came out on Nov. 1, which marked the start of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Pancreatic cancer accounts for 3 percent of all the cancers in the United States and 7 percent of all cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society projects that about 56,770 people (29,940 men and 26,830 women) will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the end of this year. About 45,750 people (23,800 men and 21,950 women) are expected to die from the disease this year.

The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not well understood, though risk factors include age and family history. The disease is slightly more prevalent in men than in women. African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews also report more pancreatic cancer cases. Lifestyle choices such as a diet high in red and processed meat consumption, heavy drinking or smoking also may play a role. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may lower risk.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2009. Soon after, surgeons removed her pancreas and spleen. Actors John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon all died from pancreatic cancer. Other notables who lost their lives include Sally Ride, the first female astronaut in space, legendary Oakland Raider Gene Upshaw, Benjamin Orr, co-founder of the 1980s band, The Cars, and Charlotte Rae, the wise boarding school house mom in the hit TV show “The Facts of Life.” Apple founder Steve Jobs and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin each died after being diagnosed with pancreatic tumors, though not cancer.

No screenings for pancreatic cancer exist, which is why it’s important to get checked out if you have any of the symptoms. Often, the disease is diagnosed in its late stages, which makes treatment more challenging. Trebek’s cancer had already reached stage four when doctors diagnosed him.

“I wish I had known sooner that the persistent stomach pain I experienced prior to my diagnosis was a symptom of pancreatic cancer,” Trebek said during the clip.

Other common symptoms can include mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, new onset diabetes, stool changes and the yellowing of the skin or eyes.

To help determine if you have pancreatic cancer, your doctor will ask you about your family history, perform an exam that includes looking at your body, skin and eyes and pressing on your abdomen to check for changes around the pancreas, liver and gallbladder, and possibly order blood, urine and stool tests. Your doctor also will order an imaging study such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and get a tissue sample called a biopsy.

Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these. You may also have opportunities to participate in clinical trials.

For more information about pancreatic cancer and to see Trebek’s PSA, visit the Pancreatic Action Network.



National Diabetes Awarness Month:

November 6th, 2019

Time to turn sugar highs into sugar lows.

It’s fitting that the day after the sugar high of Halloween marks the start of National Diabetes Month.

No doubt the folks who came up with the idea for a low-sugar awareness month figured this to be a good time to start keeping it real before the pumpkin pie, chocolate peppermint brownies and sugar cookies start to derail our diets. And well they should.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. One in 10 Americans have diabetes — that’s more than 30 million people. And another 84 million adults in the United States are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In Florida, it is estimated that more than 2.4 million people have diabetes and more than 5.8 million have prediabetes. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The numbers are expected to get worse as the population continues to age, with 54.9 million Americans diagnosed in 2030, according to a study by the Institute for Alternative Futures, analyzed by PsyD  Programs. That’s an increase of 38 percent from current rates.

The study estimates that 5,393,800 Floridians will have diabetes in 11 years. That’s 19.8 percent of the state’s population and puts Florida as the second-highest state in the nation for diabetes cases. The top state is expected to be West Virginia, with 20.5 percent. The three states with the lowest percentages are Utah, Alaska and Colorado, each with slightly more than 10 percent.

When broken down by metro area, Miami leads the nation with 18.8 percent of the population projected to be diabetic in 2030. The lowest metro is Minneapolis, with 11.7 percent.

“Diabetes is a very serious disease affecting millions of Americans, but it can be managed with a healthy lifestyle,” says Florida Surgeon General and Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip. “This year, I encourage you to know your risk factors for diabetes and act as a support system for those in your life who may be affected by the disease.”

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant). Women with diabetes have more difficulty conceiving and may have poor pregnancy outcomes, so it is especially important for women to be aware of their risk factors for developing diabetes, including having a family history of diabetes as well as age, weight, and physical activity level.

The good news, especially for those with prediabetes, is that it can be prevented. A healthy diet, regular exercise and medical monitoring can go a long way toward ensuring that diabetes never gains a foothold.

Some feel smoothies are filled with sugar. It’s true for many store-bought options, but at home you’re in total control.

That’s important because adults with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.

This year, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases is emphasizing that tie-in to cardiovascular health.  Here are their tips to take control of your health:

  • Stop smoking or using other tobacco products.
  • Manage your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
  • Develop or maintain healthy lifestyle habits – be more physically active and learn ways to manage stress.
  • Take medicines as prescribed by your doctor.

Yes, that also includes throwing out that bag of candy corn you bought on clearance.  For more information about diabetes and what you can do to prevent, control it or support a loved one, click here.


Retinal Detachment

Early diagnosis key to avoiding surgery.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Heather (left) had a great experience with
Dr. Kumar and the staff at Florida Retina Institute.

Heather Thompson is a busy, stay-at-home mom to three daughters, ages 14, 13 and 9. She volunteers at their schools and enjoys being active with them, whether it’s paddle boarding, bicycling, swimming or just hanging out at the beach.

“We decided that when we had kids that I was going to stay home and take care of them and focus on them,” the 43-year-old Port Orange native says. “I also love to work out. Any kind of physical activity is fun for me. But I get my downtime, too.”

Heather’s busy schedule gives her a lot to keep up with. It also gives her a lot to keep an eye on. Unfortunately, vision problems have been an issue for Heather since before she started going to school.

“My mom noticed when I was little that I would squint when I would look to grab my cup of water or something off the table, so she took me to the eye doctor, and I’ve been wearing eyeglasses ever since I was about three,’’ Heather relates.

Later, while in elementary school, Heather had to wear a patch on her left eye to correct lazy eye. That condition was eventually corrected, but she wore glasses for reading all through junior high and high school.

Heather’s vision remained steady while she was in college, but several years later, in January 2018, she started to suffer from eye strain, blurred vision and floaters. She went to her eye doctor and got new glasses, thinking that would solve the problem.

It didn’t. Six months later, during another visit to her eye doctor, a cataract was discovered in Heather’s right eye. A specialist later confirmed the diagnosis but suspected a retinal problem behind the cataract.

A retinal specialist confirmed the retinal problem, which was diagnosed as a chronic detached retina. He wanted to do surgery the next day, but that seemed like a drastic move to Heather, who wanted to get a second opinion before going under the knife.

Her research led her to Florida Retina Institute and Jaya Kumar, MD.

Like Peeling Wallpaper

After an exam and tests, Dr. Kumar confirmed the detached retina diagnosis, which was near the center of the retina. That area, called the macula, enables people to see  images directly in front of them.

“You can think of the retina like film in a traditional camera,” Dr. Kumar explains. “It’s the lining on the back of the eye. It plays a very important role in transferring light images, and it processes that information and sends it to the brain so that we can actually see an image.

“Whenever there’s a disruption in the retina, it interupts our ability to see. And with a retinal detachment, you have a tear in the retina that causes fluid to go underneath the retina.

“I describe it to my patients as wallpaper coming off the wall. It’s almost like it’s peeling off, so our job with a retinal detachment is to flatten out the retina, put that wallpaper back on the wall so those images can be processed, and you can see again.

“The most common symptoms we see with detached retinas are flashing lights or what some people describe as sparkling lights in their vision, and floaters, where you may start seeing a couple of what one patient described as champagne bubbles.

“I’ve had some patients describe floaters as just seeing cobwebs in their vision. A third symptom would be a ‘curtain’ coming over their vision, so suddenly, it looks like one part of their visual field is missing.”

“I had a good experience with Florida Retina Institute from the time I walked in to the time I walked out. Dr. Kumar is extremely warm and compassionate. That’s what I love about her.” – Heather

Dr. Kumar says the condition often happens spontaneously as the vitreous, a naturally occurring gel in the eye, starts to separate from the retina. This often happens as people age, but trauma, eye inflammation, diabetes and nearsightedness elevate the risk.

Small focal tears can be sealed in the doctor’s office with a freezing probe or medical laser. Larger or multiple tears require surgery in an operating room.

“We remove the gel from the back of the eye, flatten the retina, and apply a laser barricade around the tears,” Dr. Kumar says.

“Then we usually put a gas bubble or silicone oil inside the eye that will help keep the retina flat. Another component is adding a scleral buckle, which is a silicone band that is placed on the exterior part of the eye to further support the retina.”

Because the eye naturally produces its own fluid, removing the gel does not cause an issue. The gas bubble dissolves in two to eight weeks, although the oil requires an additional surgery three to six months later to have it removed. Recovery time from surgery can take several weeks. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the easier it is to correct, Dr. Kumar stresses.

“Retinal detachment is not uncommon,” she notes. “And it’s important that if you do have symptoms, you have them evaluated to make sure you don’t have a tear or detachment. The sooner you come in, the better the chances are we can fix it, if it’s small, in the clinic, and you can avoid surgery.”

While fairly common and easily fixed, a detached retina is serious, Dr. Kumar warns. Failure to treat the condition could result in permanent vision loss.

“A Good Experience”

Because Heather’s case was chronic, it did require surgery, which was performed after her cataract was removed. During the surgery, Dr. Kumar removed the gel in Heather’s right eye and inserted the gas bubble to keep the retina flat. She also added the scleral buckle to further support the retina.

“It took about four to six weeks for recovery,” Heather says.

A follow-up visit a month after the surgery showed no issues.

“It had healed properly, and things were looking good for the retina,” Heather says. “It’s healthy and attached.”

Heather, who has experienced eye problems off and on during her lifetime, still has to wear glasses to see clearly and is now seeing a cornea specialist for additional treatment unrelated to her retinal issue.

She also sees Dr. Kumar every six months to ensure her retinas remain healthy. Her retinal surgery, meanwhile, has allowed Heather to resume her busy lifestyle of keeping up with three girls.

“I had a good experience with Florida Retina Institute from the time I walked in to the time I walked out,” Heather says. “Dr. Kumar is extremely warm and compassionate. That’s what I love about her.

Sleep Tight

Mouth appliance brings sweet dreams to those with sleep apnea.

For Tom*, life was an endless latte.

He drank coffee after he woke up each morning; he drank coffee while he worked; and he drank coffee while he dabbled in his art. Tom drank coffee so much that he even had a fancy coffee machine to make sure the caffeine never stopped flowing.

“I used to drink coffee all day long to keep going,” says Tom, an IT specialist and artist. “I had a very expensive coffee machine like the ones that do espresso.”

A busy husband and father of two daughters, Tom had good reason to always keep a cup of joe within reach. He had headaches every morning and felt sluggish much of the day, symptoms that eventually led to him being referred to a sleep medicine specialist.

Tests performed by the specialist showed Tom’s symptoms were the result of moderate obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when a person’s throat muscles relax during sleep, allowing the soft tissue to collapse and block their airway.

As a result of the blockage, sleepers can stop breathing hundreds of times a night for anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or more. Symptoms include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory problems, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, even acid reflux.

If left untreated, sleep apnea can also be life-threatening. It can increase the risk for serious health problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and impotence.

Tom, who was experiencing several sleep apnea symptoms, was taking medicine for his acid reflux, but his snoring was so loud, it prompted his wife to wear earplugs. When their daughter was away at school, Tom’s wife would often move to the daughter’s bedroom so she could sleep undisturbed.

A few years ago, the sleep specialist recommended Tom use a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine. Designed to keep the airways from collapsing, the CPAP device puts out a constant stream of air through a hose and mask that the person wears while they sleep. But Tom wanted no part of that.

“I couldn’t see myself wearing a mask while I was sleeping,” he says

One day, while performing some IT work at Blossom Dental and Facial Aesthetics, Tom heard the practice’s founder, Huda Aljonaidy, DDS, talking about sleep apnea. Tom told the dentist he had been diagnosed with the condition.

“Dr. Aljonaidy then told me that there is a device that would stop the sleep apnea and snoring,” Tom says. “It was when I heard her say stop snoring that it stuck with me because I know I snore very loud. So I said, Why not try it?

A Better Solution

At Blossom Dental and Facial Aesthetics, Dr. Aljonaidy offers comprehensive services that range from routine cleanings and fillings to crowns, veneers and dentures, teeth whitening, surgery, orthodontics, extractions and BOTOX® Cosmetic.

She also offers solutions for sleep apnea and says that Tom, like a lot of patients with the condition, did not fully understand the dangers of untreated sleep apnea until she explained them to him.

She further explained that a CPAP machine is the first line of treatment for sleep apnea and is very effective. But many patients simply can’t tolerate wearing a mask, cleaning the attachments or lugging the machine around while traveling, Dr. Aljonaidy says.

“It’s a killer for intimacy because the patient literally feels like they’re sleeping in a hospital bed every night,” says the dentist, who notes that 50 percent of all CPAP patients stop using the machine, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Fortunately, for patients who have mild to moderate sleep apnea but don’t want to use a CPAP machine, another option is available. Known as the SomnoDent® oral appliance, it can position the lower jaw and keep the airway open during sleep.

“If the case has been diagnosed to be mild to moderate, the oral appliance is exactly as effective as the CPAP,” Dr. Aljonaidy explains. “It’s comfortable, easy to wear and quiet. It’s a clinically proven alternative to CPAP, and it’s convenient for portability when you travel.”

Dr. Aljonaidy already had done some work to help Tom with his breathing. She used Invisalign® clear braces to properly align his bite and widen his arches. What remained was the management of the soft tissues such as the tongue, tonsils and the roof of the mouth.

“All of that sags when patients sleep,” notes Dr. Aljonaidy, who began that phase of the project by creating a digital impression of Tom’s mouth. Using that virtual model, an FDA-approved lab manufactured Tom’s sleep device. Dr. Aljonaidy then adjusted it to fit Tom’s jaw properly.

“It has to be as accurate as one-tenth of a millimeter,” Dr. Aljonaidy informs. “We bring the jaw to a certain position where he will breathe better, and the appliance’s job is simply to hold it in that position the entire night,” she says.

A New Believer

Dr. Aljonaidy worked closely with Dr. Dany Obeid, a pulmonologist specializing in Sleep Medicine at Advanced Sleep and Respiratory Institute. Tom experienced great results after getting his appliance.

“It really changed my life,” he says. It also changed his wife’s life.

“When I first started using the device, my wife had to check on me a couple of times to see if something was wrong because she didn’t hear me snoring,” he says. “She wanted to make sure I was okay.”

Tom is more than okay. His headaches are now a thing of the past, as is the tooth grinding that once wore holes in the retainer he began to wear after completing the Invisalign program. He no longer suffers from acid reflux either.

Because his sleep quality improved, Tom has more energy during the day to get things done. A phone app shows improved oxygenation. Tom is now alert all day, allowing him to work at his IT job and pursue his painting. His coffee machine sits idle.

“I don’t use it anymore because I think that’s a waste,” he says.

Tom says he is grateful for Dr. Aljonaidy and all she has done for him and his family. He would recommend her to anyone in the area who needs her services. She even inspired his daughter to go to dental school.

“Dr. Aljonaidy is very polite,” he says. “She’s very nice. She listens to me and my problems. She listens and works on getting things done


Hope for a Healthier Life

Treatment helps restaurant owner manage chronic neck issues.

Photo by Nerissa Johnson.

Physical therapy is helping Nathaniel manage his restaurant, D.B. Pickles.

Nathaniel James was living the dream. Literally. One minute, he lay dreaming in bed, playing the hero and diving to save his wife, Clora, from peril. The next, he lay face down on the floor, unable to move.

“I was having a dream that I was saving my wife, and I dived out of bed and came down on the hardwood floor and broke my neck,” says the retired New Jersey banker and co-owner of D.B. Pickles restaurant in Ormond Beach.

Life for Nathaniel became a nightmare after that incident in 2010. He was left 90 percent paralyzed by the fall from bed and for years was confined to a wheelchair. In time, a variety of treatments and Nathaniel’s own grit and determination helped him graduate from the wheelchair to a walker, then a cane and finally to unassisted walking.

Along the way, Nathaniel also underwent cervical spinal fusion surgery to stabilize his neck. The surgery was deemed a success, but it limited the mobility in Nathaniel’s neck, which eventually affected several aspects of his life, including his ability to drive safely.

“You have to be able to turn your head to drive,” he says.

Finally, Hope

After visiting a number of physical therapy practices but gaining no relief, Nathaniel found Barr & Associates Physical Therapy in 2015. The practice helps anyone with acute conditions, but Jacob Barr, PT, DPT and his staff also work with patients such as Nathaniel, who have chronic conditions.

“When Nathaniel fell out of bed back in 2010, he injured his neck to such a degree that it was unstable,” Dr. Barr says. “When he had the fusion surgery, the joints were fused. As a result, he was left with limited motion in his neck. Over time, the muscles respond to that limited motion by getting tight.”

“When I went in, the first thing Dr. Barr did was measure how far I could turn my head,” Nathaniel says. “It was a step-by-step process to get me to where I needed to be.”

After examining Nathaniel, Dr. Barr recommended a treatment regimen that included soft tissue massage, manual stretching of the neck and shoulder area and mobility and strengthening exercises.

“There are also some things machine-wise that we did with him that he could not do at home,’’ Dr. Barr relates. “There’s an upper body bike and some tubing and band exercises that we do with some attachments on the wall here for him.

“And then there are some things that we show him to do on his own. Some of those are exercises that he can do at home, but we also showed him some things that he can try to do at the gym to keep up with things.”

Nathaniel’s treatment regimen calls for him to visit Barr & Associates twice a week for up to eight weeks, with each visit lasting about an hour. Nathaniel says the treatment regimen now has him doing things he thought he might never do again.

“With the assistance of Dr. Barr’s therapy and the exercise program that he gave me, I have more mobility in my neck,” Nathaniel says. “I have the mobility to turn my neck and also look up farther than what I could prior to visiting Barr and Associates. I’m even working out three to four days a week at the YMCA, and I’ve lost thirty pounds. My blood pressure is down, too.”

Dr. Barr says that even though Nathaniel is physically active and takes control of his health, flareups are inevitable. As a result, Nathaniel has been encouraged to return to Barr & Associates whenever he feels his neck starting to get tight again.

“Just given the situation of his surgery and the chronicity of it, it could be just about anything that sparks that flare-up,” Dr. Barr explains. “It could be the way that he sleeps; it could be just due to mobility if he’s straining his neck too much.

“Because he does have limited mobility, just turning his head while driving is difficult for him at times. Over-straining his neck can lead to an exacerbation. But we have remedies for that.

“And sometimes, when people have chronic conditions, they feel like there’s nothing that can be done. While they are always going to have some symptoms, there are treatments where we can get things calmed down and manageable on a day-to-day basis.”

Epitome of Professionalism

Nathaniel is benefitting greatly from those treatments. He says his relationship with Barr & Associates and the therapy provided to him have significantly improved his quality of life. He knows the stiffness will never disappear, but regular therapy keeps things under control and allows him to perform daily activities.

“They are the epitome of professionalism,” he says. “And the equipment they have there is very up to date. Every time I go in there, I see something different. And I like that they respect your time. If your appointment is at nine o’clock, by nine-o-two, they’re taking you in.”

Nathaniel adds that he appreciates that Dr. Barr also asks the right questions to assess his needs and help him get the most out of his sessions.

“A lot of times, you go to the doctor and they ask you how you are,’’ Nathaniel says. “The first thing you say is, I’m okay. But if you’re okay, why are you there? Dr. Barr wasn’t like that. He asked the right questions.

“Like I said, they handle their clients with the epitome of professionalism.”


Bad News, Good News Regard Breast Cancer

October 27th, 2019
Bad news: More Florida women getting breast cancer.
Good news: Death rate now among nation’s lowest.

When I scanned the first sentence of her Facebook post, I thought at first that it was just another attempt to raise awareness for a worthy cause that would eventually ask me to do my part in the fight by sharing the post with others.

If only it had been.

“I have breast cancer,” it said.

In the paragraphs that followed, my friend explained how she had known for a week that the two-centimeter lump she found last month was malignant. She then talked about the uncertainty, the fear and the battle ahead, and how she planned to kick cancer’s, um, rear end.

It’s an all too familiar post. In the past few months, my pastor’s wife made a similar announcement on Facebook.  Last week, a former colleague who survived breast cancer 12 years ago told me she is having another biopsy.

It’s no wonder we are seeing more of these posts. According to statewide figures from the Florida Department of Health, the breast cancer incident rate increased from 137.6 to 161.7 per 100,000 women between 2006 and 2016.

In 2016 alone, doctors diagnosed 16,721 new cases of breast cancer among women.  Last year, 2,955 women died from breast cancer. That translates to a death rate of 18.5 per 100,000 women.

In 2018, Glades County topped the list with a death rate of 41.9 per 100,000 people, though deaths totaled five. Other counties with high rates included Holmes, Walton, Franklin, Wakulla, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Marion, Citrus, Pasco, Nassau, Brevard, Okeechobee and Hendry. Counties reporting the lowest rates were Calhoun, Liberty and Washington, all of which reported no deaths.

Nationally, the good news is that Florida is among the states with the lowest death rates. After peaking in 1999 and 2000 at 24.4 deaths per 100,000, the rate has decreased, with 19.7 in 2016, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville say a vaccine could be available in eight years, the best ways to prevent breast cancer right now is to adopt a healthy lifestyle and get regular screenings to ensure early detection.

So, we’ll continue to wear our pink, participate in three-day walks, and support our friends who make those heartbreaking social media announcements as much as we possibly can.

We’ll also perform regular self exams and screening mammograms as soon as they’re due. No procrastination. Taking care of ourselves is critical, especially if we are taking care of others. Thankfully, we have help in that endeavor.

To make sure every woman is able to get a screening, the Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides free or low-cost mammograms to women who are residents of Florida, 50-64 with no insurance and low income. To see if you qualify, call your county Health Department.


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