Testing my patience

“Just go get tested – for your own peace of mind.” Those were my husband’s words last week, the morning after I had developed a sniffly, runny nose. I was debating whether or not to get tested for COVID-19. I had a few other minor symptoms but didn’t really feel ill. I hated the thought of “wasting” a test on a healthy person. However, after filling out the screening questions on the “Check My Symptoms” website, I received a text message indicating that I should “consider getting tested” to help slow the spread of the disease in the community. I think the fact that I work in a health center tipped the scales in my favor.

I called my primary care physician’s office first. They were not testing but I was transferred to the triage nurse/screening hotline. After talking with the nurse, she agreed that I should get tested. She made me an appointment later that day at an urgent care affiliated with their office. The test was quick and easy (just a quick swab in the nostril versus the kind that invades your upper nasal cavity). I was happy to hear this test had a 24-hour turnaround. The PA did a quick exam of my ears, nose, and throat and listened to my heart and lungs. She also seemed to doubt I was positive but we both agreed it was best to err on the side of caution given the number of asymptomatic positive cases.

I of course went straight home to self-quarantine until I received my results. I tried to keep my distance from my family, but honestly, we all figured if I was positive, they had already been exposed so it seemed somewhat futile. Knowing that a positive test would mean a call from a contact tracer, I decided to start making a list of all the places I had been and all the people I had been around in the last 14 days. This was no easy task, but with the help of my calendar and credit card receipts, I started putting together the pieces of the puzzle. We were (are) still staying home for the most part, other than me going to work and the grocery store. However, we had ventured out to see my father-in-law and his wife over Father’s Day weekend and more recently, had been to a small, family-only gathering for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday – which included some extended family members from out of town. Ugh. I was already dreading the calls I would have to make if I tested positive.

Fortunately, I did not have to make those calls. Early the next morning, I received an email that I had new test results waiting in the portal. My stomach was in knots as I logged into my account and then seconds later, a huge sense of relief when I read the word “negative.” My husband and I both let out a celebratory “yippee” and went to tell my daughter who was still sleeping. She was just relieved that she would not need to get tested! In hindsight, I think the runny nose was allergies, triggered by a quick trip to the pet store without first taking my medication. I felt fine through the rest of the day and the holiday weekend, during which I celebrated the freedom of not having to quarantine for two weeks.

But I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I had a client who was sick in bed with COVID-19 for almost 3 weeks. She said it was one of the worst illnesses she ever had. And I was absolutely gutted this week upon learning that Broadway actor (and husband and father to a one-year old little boy) Nick Cordero had died from complications of the virus after three months of battling for his life. He was 41 – six years younger than me. Healthy and strong, prior to contracting the virus. His case is just one example of how surreal this whole pandemic is, which brings me to the real point of this post:

Every positive case and every COVID-related death we hear about in the daily updates represents a human being. Someone’s parent, child, sibling, friend or other loved one. Which is why I get so frustrated and angry with the “covidiots” – the individuals who believe the virus is all a hoax. The ones who refuse to wear a mask out in public because it’s “inconvenient,” “uncomfortable” or worse, “an attempt to restrict my freedom and civil liberties.” [Insert eye roll here.] The young people standing shoulder to shoulder – sans masks – congregating in restaurants on weekends, with an “Oh well, if I get it, I’ll probably be fine” attitude. News flash! It’s not just about you. It’s about all of us, making simple sacrifices to protect those who are most vulnerable.

I know you’re tired of this pandemic and the safety precautions and restrictions that come along with it. I am too. I miss seeing my parents and other family members in person. I want to hug my friends. I long to go to the movies, eat at my favorite restaurants and my gosh, do I need to get away to the mountains for some R & R. But I don’t and I won’t for the foreseeable future because I know that doing so will just drag this whole thing out even longer. No one wants that, but it will be our fate if we all don’t work together and follow the recommendations to help slow the spread of the virus until there is a vaccine or a cure.

As of today, there are over 3 million cases of COVID-19 and over 130,000 deaths in the United States – many of which were probably preventable if the CDC safety guidelines had been followed. It’s really not that hard. Stay home unless you have to go to work, shop for essentials or want to get some exercise outside. When you do go out, please practice the three Ws:

  • Wear a cloth covering or mask over your nose and mouth.
  • Wait 6 feet apart. Avoid close contact when out in public.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.

Do it for me. Do it for you. Do it for all of us. But please, just DO it.

Does DNA = destiny? Part 2

Some of you may recall a previous post related to my experience with genetic composition testing designed to “optimize your daily nutrition and exercise routine to help meet your fitness and health goals.” I learned some interesting things and honestly, I just find genetics a fascinating subject in general. So, it didn’t take much to convince me to dive in again when I received a discount for 23andme’s Ancestry and Health test kit. They were having a buy one, get one half off sale so my husband decided to do it as well. (He’s adopted and has little information about his birth family’s ethnicity or health history, so he thought this could provide some answers in that arena).

This decision once again brought up debate and discussion about how much one really wants to know about their genetic composition, and how it might influence one’s behaviors and actions. I am firmly in the “all in” camp as I believe the knowledge gained would positively influence my life. For example, one of the tests is for predisposition to late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. If I discovered I had the genetic variant that indicated I was at high risk, it would prompt me to get going on my “bucket list” and do things NOW that I might otherwise put off until retirement. My husband was not quite as sure how he would respond to such information, so he let me go first and made his decision after I got my results.

The process and test was easy (for this one you have to provide a spit sample in a tube), and I received my results in less time than the company indicated it would take. The results are provided online through your password-protected account. You also have the ability to connect with other relatives via the 23andme website. I discovered a few (known) cousins who’ve done the test and also other “genetic” relatives in the local area (people whom I don’t know but apparently we share some common DNA. Who knew?).

Here are some highlights from my results:

Ancestry

All my life, I have always stated that I am 50% Italian (as my father’s parents/grandparents emigrated from Italy), 25% German (through my maternal grandfather) and 25% Irish (through my maternal grandmother). Turns out, that’s close but not exact. Genetically, I am about 31% Italian, 22% British and Irish, 8% German and then a smattering of other parts of Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. I’m more of a melting pot than I thought! My parents are going to do the test as well, so I will be curious to see how their results compare to mine.

Health and Traits

I have to say that the health information is quite comprehensive, and the company does give you a choice upfront about which results you do and do not want to receive. I opted into it all. I should note that you also fill out a health history form and other optional survey questions when you register for the test, which I think ties into the “traits” section of the results. If I understand the algorithm correctly, I believe some of the traits are based both on genetics as well as people’s preferences as determined by the survey questions. For example, one of the questions you are asked is your preference for vanilla versus chocolate ice cream. I think they take the answer to that question across all participants and then compare it to the genetic info to determine that people with this gene tend to prefer chocolate (or vice versa).

Health Predisposition

The four major health conditions in this section that you have to opt in or out of include:

  • Breast Cancer (BRCA1/BRCA2 – selected variants)
  • MUTYH-Associated Polyposis (colorectal cancer)
  • Late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease

There are some other interesting conditions such as Celiac Disease, Age-related Macular Degeneration and Type 2 Diabetes. My test indicated that “variant(s) not detected” for all of the tests except Hereditary Thrombophilia and Type 2 Diabetes. It indicated I have a “slightly increased risk” for developing blood clots as I have one of the two genetic variants they test for. I have “typical likelihood” of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Based on the 23andme database of participants, people of European descent with genetics like mine have about a 30% chance of developing diabetes between my current age and 80. Diabetes does run in my family on both sides and I have been acutely aware of how my eating habits, especially my sweet tooth, may impact my risk. I have done well in the last decade or so with reducing my sugar intake. I also try to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, so hopefully that will reduce my risk further.

I should note that there are disclaimers all over the website, both when you register and when you receive your results, emphasizing that these tests do not diagnose any health conditions. They also remind you about other factors, such as lifestyle, environment, and family history, that affect your chances of developing these conditions. I appreciated the fact that they provide suggestions about what to do with the data, such as share it with your personal physician to discuss the risks. They also discuss the potential need for genetic counseling if the results indicate you have the genetic variant(s) tested.

Carrier Status

This section indicates whether you have genetic variants that could affect your children’s health. The list of conditions included Cystic Fibrosis as well as Sickle Cell Anemia along with a host of others I have never heard of. My results indicated “variant not detected” for all of them, which is good news for my daughter (my husband had the same results, so she seems to be in the clear).

Wellness and Traits

The other two sections focused on how your DNA might affect your body’s response to diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as the genetics behind your appearance and senses. The Wellness section was similar to the testing I had done two years ago, and I found similar results regarding weight (predisposed to weigh above average) and muscle composition (I have one genetic variant commonly found in elite power athletes such as sprinters.) I still laugh at that latter result as I hate sprinting.

In my opinion, the Traits section has more lighthearted, “nice to know” vs. “need to know” characteristics such as the ability to detect the odor in your urine after you eat asparagus (I am “likely to smell”) and earlobe type (“likely detached earlobes” which is correct). I disagreed with some of the results in this section. For example, it indicated that I was more likely to prefer salty vs. sweet – nope, I tend to reach for sugary snacks when I have a choice. It also indicated I was likely to not have dimples. Wrong again – some people say they are one of my best facial features.

So, what’s the verdict?

Bottom line, I am glad that I did the test. The ancestry part is fascinating and has sparked an interest in exploring genealogy further. The health predisposition results were reassuring, although I absolutely acknowledge that these results do not mean I won’t develop any of those diseases. I do plan to talk to my physician about the blood clot predisposition as there is some family history with this problem and I want to determine if there is anything I can do to minimize my risk. Overall, I believe there is value in this information and that it could help many people change their behaviors to optimize their health and well-being.  

The Truth About the World

This isn’t a post about how I’ve figured out the meaning of life or why any of us were put on this earth. Rather, it is about a song, and more specifically, about the power of music – to lift us up, to carry us through, to help us heal in times of need.

I was recently introduced to the song “The Truth About the World” by Andrea Marie during a Saturday morning Zoom session with some local Nia sisters. To be honest, I couldn’t hear the song that well through Zoom but fortunately, I tagged it through the Shazam app. Later, I found the song through Apple Music and had a chance to listen more closely. And I was blown away.

The song starts with a simple blend of acoustic guitar and keyboard, with some soft, non-lyric vocals. Then comes the first verse:

Have you grown tired
of feeling alone
Numb to the earth
and numb to the soul

Whoa. My first thought was how these words struck a chord given that so many of us have been staying at home, social distancing since the pandemic started, leading to a sense of isolation – and a need for connection with loved ones, near and far. Then I learned that the song is from an album she released in 2016…and it made me think about how many people may have been feeling this way before the words “corona virus” became a part of the lexicon.

Over the next two verses, a variety of percussion instruments join in as well as some strings. A simple drum beat, echoing a heartbeat, growing louder as the song continues…and then we reach the repeating chorus:

Everyone is hurting
Everyone is searching
Everyone is looking
for the truth about love
For the truth about a god
For the truth about the world

On the fourth and final chorus, the instruments begin to drop out until it is just vocals and the drum beat. A simple end, mirroring the simple beginning to a song that is anything but simple in meaning. And so, so powerful. I have had this song on daily rotation for the last week – sometimes it makes me cry, other times it brings a sense of hope and healing. I was not surprised to learn that the artist is also a member of a contemporary worship band called United Pursuit. I don’t typically listen to “religious” music but there are times when music transcends faith.

Click here to listen to a live performance or search for the song on your favorite music streaming app.

Breathe in, breathe out

One of the self-care strategies that has helped me manage much of the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is a daily meditation practice. For almost four years now, I have started my day with Insight Timer, listening to either a guided meditation or meditative music. As anyone who practices mindfulness meditation knows, a mainstay of the practice is focusing on your breath as a way to stay anchored in the present moment. Perhaps now more than ever, I have come to appreciate the calming power of deep breathing.

In thinking about the breath, I had the idea about a month ago to create a playlist of songs that have to do with the breath or breathing. A few favorite songs came to mind and I also did a quick search in my music library. I started with the following songs, but plan to add to the list as I come across others that fit the theme – and contribute to my peace of mind, particularly on those days when I am feeling rattled by the state of the world. Lately, I have been listening to this playlist on Monday mornings, as a way to start off the week on a positive note.

“Breathe” playlist
I’m Alive (with Dave Matthews) – Kenny Chesney
Breathe (feat. Colbie Caillat) – Taylor Swift
breathin – Ariana Grande
Breathe – Michelle Branch
Catch My Breath – Kelly Clarkson

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to use music as a way to manage the roller coaster of emotions you may experience as this pandemic continues to unfold and evolve, with no clear end in sight. Find songs that will make you smile when you are feeling down, as well as those that will help you relax when you’re wound a little too tight. You can even throw in the ones that make you want to get up and move. Create your #pandemicplaylists and tap into the healing power of music.