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Understanding the Seriousness of Teen Depression and Mental Illness
By Carol LeBeau
5/2/2012 2:22:13 PM

When I need a little emotional pick-me-up, a visit with my dear friend, Connie Kennemer always gets me back on track.  Connie’ sunny disposition, encouraging spirit and dry sense of humor can lift my spirits like no one else.

But don’t let Connie’s sweet smile fool you.  Look deeply into her eyes and you’ll get a glimpse of the pain she so courageously conceals.

I met Connie several years ago on beautiful Sunday morning at a fundraising walk in Balboa Park.  We were there to raise money and awareness for an organization called Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL). Standing on the corner of 6th and Laurel, Connie and I chatted while waiting for the event to begin.

Like many of us walking that weekend, Connie had survived the loss of a loved one to suicide.  In 2005, a week before Thanksgiving, Connie and her husband Rex got a phone call informing them their son, Todd, had taken his own life at the age of 25.

Todd, their only child, had been diagnosed years earlier with bi-polar disorder. They knew their son suffered bouts of depression but, says Connie, “We had no idea Todd was at high risk for suicide.”

Connie and Rex have spent the last seven years turning their grief into an opportunity to help others learn more about the dangers of untreated depression.  Todd’s tragic death became the springboard for a grassroots organization called Community Alliance for Healthy Minds (CAHM).

Based in Rancho Bernardo, CAHM focuses primarily on mental illness in young people – partnering with scores of other organizations and resources to “change the landscape of mental health in our communities.”

Fact is, the rate of suicide among teens and young people is skyrocketing.  May is Mental Illness Awareness month and I urge you to join Rex, Connie and all those involved in our local mental health organizations to learn more about teen depression.

Parents – teenage depression isn’t just bad moods and occasional melancholy.  Depression is a serious problem that affects every aspect of a teen’s life…and it manifests differently in young people than in adults.

The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:

  • Irritable or Angry Mood - Irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens.  A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated or prone to angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained Aches and Pains - Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches and stomachaches.  If a thorough physical exam doesn’t reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
  • Extreme Sensitivity to Criticism - Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure.  This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
  • Withdrawing from Some, but Not All People - While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships.  However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents or start hanging out with a different crowd.

If you know a teenager or young person dealing with the symptoms of depression…get informed and be ready to help.  There are so many resources locally including CAHM cahmsd.org.  I also recommend a wonderful online resource.

Reach out…before it’s too late.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

Improve your Health with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
By Carol LeBeau
4/1/2012 3:19:53 PM

For years, I embraced every new food fad… until it fizzled!  Remember the 90’s? And the joy of soy?  It seemed as though everything was fortified with the power-packed protein.  From the buzz over bran to the hype over goji berries…we love nutrition news.  It’s just too bad we don’t take it all with a grain of salt!

How about all the super supplement news that has us mega-dosing on an alphabet soup of vitamins – only to learn you can get too much of a good thing?  The latest studies suggest many popular supplements may just be a waste of money.

That said, there is one bit of nutrition advice I’ve stuck with for more than a decade. And I’m glad I did.  Health experts have long extolled the virtues of eating fish a couple of days a week in order to get omega-3 fatty acids and their important health benefits.   I’ve done my best, but have never been an avid fan of fish.  Thanks to my doctor’s prompting, I’ve been “supplementing” my occasional salmon fillet with a regular regimen of omega-rich fish oil capsules.

The buzz over fish oil doesn’t seem to be fading and for good reason.  While omega-3’s are most famous for heart health benefits, but they’re also linked to relieving depression, attention deficit disorder, arthritis pain, asthma and Crohn’s disease.  They may also reduce the risk of certain cancers, dementia and the sight-robbing macular degeneration.

What’s key is the oil’s ability to reduce inflammation, especially in the joints, blood vessels and brain.  Research continues, but experts say there’s enough evidence to recommend that most of us increase our daily intake.

How much?  Well, there are no federal guidelines, but the American Heart Association and Institute of Medicine recommend 1,100 milligrams for women and 1,600 milligrams for men daily.  They advise the combined fatty acids DHA and EPA.

Food sources include wild salmon, tuna, trout and sardines.  Walnuts and ground flaxseeds (I toss ‘em into cereal or a smoothie) are an excellent source of fatty acids –called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  You’ll also find ALA’s in certain leafy greens and legumes.

But if you want to be sure everything’s ok with your omegas, fish oil supplements are the way to go.  The feds don’t regulate supplements so look for known brands that are verified by independent labs such as UOP (united State Pharmacopeial Convention) for purity, potency and quality.  (Tom and I both use “LJI Omega Max” from the La Jolla Institute of Comprehensive Medicine.)

And take only what’s recommended.  More is not better.  In fact, taking too much omega fatty acid can lead to bleeding, especially if you’re on a blood thinner.

Algae and Krill oil supplements are becoming an increasingly popular source of omega-3’s for vegetarians.  To this point, research is lacking on their health benefits. The data just isn’t available – yet.

The bottom line?  You won’t find fatty acids on the food fad list any time soon.  From fish or convenient capsules, make sure you get your omega 3’s.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

Cold or Flu?
By Carol LeBeau
3/2/2012 3:16:50 PM

When my friend, Susan, called to cancel our lunch date, I could tell something was wrong.  Her voice sounded raspy and her energy was clearly low.  “I feel awful, “ she complained. “I don’t know whether I’ve got a cold or the flu.”

My friend’s not alone. How do you know whether your sore throat and fatigue may be signaling a cold?   Or could those sniffles and body aches the first signs of the flu?   I decided to find out what the experts have to say.  The good folks at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases have some pretty good guidelines regarding the difference between cold and flu symptoms.

They use the simple acronym, FACTS to make it easy to determine whether your symptoms mean a few uncomfortable days with a cold…or an indicator of more serious case of the flu.

F—The flu typically results in fever
A—Muscle aches are more common with the flu
C—Chills are more common with the flu
T—Real “I can’t get out of bed” tiredness is more associated with the flu.
S—A cold usually comes on gradually…a flu, suddenly.

According to Dr. Susan Rehm, Medical Director of the Foundation, it’s important to know whether you have a cold or the flu.  Rehm says, “About all we can offer for a cold is chicken soup and symptom relief medications.  However, there are effective anti-viral prescriptions to treat the flu.”  

Rehm says when it comes to the flu, medications will get you better…faster.  She recommends three approaches:

1. Know what you have to prevent it from spreading
2. Get vaccinated to prevent the spread
3. Use anti-viral medication

By the way, it’s not too late to be vaccinated for the current seasonal flu.  Although the flu traditionally peaks in February, it has peaked as late as April.  The vaccination…easy to find at many pharmacies…takes two weeks to become effective.

Preventive measures are just good sense.  Cover your mouth or nose when sneezing and stay home when you’re sick.  Even though we know better, Americans continue social interaction even when the have the flu. 

We can do better folks.  As it turns out, Susan did me (and everyone else at the restaurant we’d planned to meet for lunch!) a big favor.  Her symptoms escalated quickly.  Had she kept that lunch date, others could have become infected and she probably wouldn’t have gotten her diagnosis quickly enough to get on an anti-viral drug.

Susan followed her doctor’s advice and stayed out of circulation until a day after her fever broke.  She’s feeling fine and we’ve rescheduled our lunch date for next week. I wonder how many of us are flu-free today because of Susan’s actions?  Hmm.  Thanks Susan. Lunch is on me!

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

Chronic Pain...
By Carol LeBeau
2/15/2012 9:19:57 AM


Bill Walton is a pretty tough guy. His numerous NBA records rank him among the best in the history of professional basketball. But even a world-class athlete has his limits. 

Lying face down on his kitchen floor…the only position in which the basketball great could find relief from his excruciating pain…the affable Bill Walton admitted to an newspaper reporter his searing back pain was so severe, he’d thought about ending his life. That was several years ago. Fortunately, Walton eventually received treatment that alleviated his suffering. Today, his spirit renewed, Walton flashes his million-dollar smile all over town at the many community and charitable events he supports. 

If you’ve never experienced chronic pain, it may be difficult to understand Walton’s extreme reaction. But it probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know the agony of pain that never ends.  Fact is, an emotional reaction to ongoing pain is normal. Because our bodies and minds are inextricably linked, emotions and pain can also go hand in hand. 

Medical professionals…understandably…focus their attention and treatments on the medical factors that cause pain. However, this focus can miss emotional issues that can increase the amount of pain a person feels. 

What’s needed, according to Dr. Peter Sidlauskas with Palomar Health is recognition of these emotional factors in the evaluation of a person in pain.  Treatment can then be designed to treat these issues. “In doing so, says Dr. Sidlauskas, the vicious cycle of chronic pain can be recognized and broken. 

The most common emotional reactions to chronic pain include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Irritability

It is very common for these feelings to actually aggravate pain. It’s not your fault. It’s the miserable cycle of pain causing emotional reactions, which in turn, increases the pain.  

The good news? That “cycle” can be broken. The ActivCentre for Spine Care at Palomar Health offers comprehensive evaluation and treatment for chronic pain that’s brought relief to many, like Bill Walton, who had lost hope.  

It can happen to anyone.  I know. Complications from foot surgery several years ago left me in non-stop pain for months.  The knife-like nerve pain wouldn’t let up….robbing me of my motivation and joy.  Fortunately, I got help and today my foot pain is tolerable and life is good. Don’t let chronic pain take away your joy.  

Call the ActivCentre at Palomar Health for help or a referral at 858.613.6252.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

By Carol LeBeau
1/2/2012 3:14:11 PM


If your New Year’s resolution is to finally and forever lose weight, I’ve got some encouraging news for you.  You can do it.  There are many effective diet plans from which to choose, but I’d like to highlight one through the eyes of my sister, Denise.

I am so proud of my “little” sis.  Since last March, Denise has lost a whopping 63 pounds and she’s still losing!  Denise had a run of bad luck several years ago and my formerly tall, slender, beautiful sister found herself with a serious weight problem.

While recovering from multiple back surgeries, she became less active, more isolated and depressed.   She turned to food for comfort.  As she got bigger, she bought bigger clothes and told herself she was “hiding” her growing girth.

“I tried to lose the weight on my own, recalls Denise, “even ordering diet pills from those stupid TV commercials.”

One day, late last March, Denise responded to a not-so-stupid TV commercial featuring actress Jennifer Hudson talking about her weight loss success on Weight Watchers.  “When Jennifer stood proudly and proclaimed, ‘I believe,’” it was like a light bulb went off,” Denise told me.  “I’d decided I’d had it and then I prayed for God’s help.” 

Denise’s “help” came in the form of the Weight Watchers’ “Points Plus” plan.   It doesn’t make you eat foods you don’t like or ban the ones you love.  That was a game changer for Denise.  “The point system really works.  It’s awesome!  It all just ‘clicked.’”

Despite a few setbacks along the way, including another back surgery, Denise stuck with the plan and with help from Weight Watchers group meetings and on-line programs; she slowly and healthfully dropped one to two pounds a week.  After nine months, she looks and feels great and has made the Weight Watchers way a permanent part of her life.

“I don’t need huge portions anymore,” says Denise.  “My husband and I now split a steak and fill the rest of our plates with “zero points” fruits and vegetables.

My now svelte and sassy sister attributes her weight loss success to God, self-determination and the weekly Weight Watchers meetings.  “They kept me going,” she says, “And my Weight Watchers leader, Margaret, was a constant source of encouragement, motivation and fun!”

Determined and dug in, Denise insists she’s never going back.  “I’m a whole new person (er, less of a person!)  I feel so much better.  Heck, 9 months ago I was carrying around the equivalent of 12 five-pound bags of sugar!”

My sister’s story is one of many weight loss happy endings.  I share it to encourage anyone struggling with a weight problem to start planning now for your happy ending.  If your resolution for 2013 is to drop some weight for good…choose a healthy diet plan and get started.  You can do it!

A few weight loss tips from Denise:

  1. Remove “can’t” or won’t from your vocabulary.
  2. Be patient.  When weight is lost slowly, you tend to keep it off.
  3. Do this for you!  Be accountable only to yourself.
  4. Pay for your weight loss plan with your own money.  It made me more determined when money is coming from my own pocket.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

A Slimmer You in 2012
By Carol LeBeau
1/1/2012 3:21:54 PM

There’s still no magic bullet for losing weight! 

If you’re among the millions of Americans starting the New Year in your “fat” jeans, don’t despair.  It may not be as bad as you think. 

Despite reports to the contrary, most of us did not gain10 pounds over the holidays.  In fact, according to the American Medical Association, the average American gained just a tad over one pound between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  That’s the good news.  

Unfortunately, many of us never lose the accumulated weight. Over the years, those holiday pounds add up – resulting in expanding waistlines and an increased risk of medical problems.  So if you’ve resolved to lose weight and get fit in 2012, good for you. If you’re wondering how to do it, allow me to pass along a little advice from a doctor “friend” of mine, Dr. Dean Edell. 

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Edell, he was a popular syndicated radio talk show host for 30 years.  I was an avid listener of Dr. Edell’s call-in “ask-the-doctor” program back in the 80’s and 90’s. I loved the way he summarized complicated medical material in terms I could understand.  When it came to controversial medical topics, I always found Dr. Edell a refreshing voice of reason. 

I’ll never forget his response to a caller’s question regarding the best diet for losing weight. Listening on my car radio, I eagerly anticipated Dr. Edell’s response.  Would he point to one of the popular diet plans such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or Atkins?  Perhaps he knew of a secret diet regimen…a magic bullet that would guarantee immediate weight loss.   

So, what’s the best diet?  Amazingly, Dr. Edell said this,  “Any diet you’re on.” He went on to explain being “on” a diet means you’re aware of and control what you put in your mouth. Every diet includes calorie restriction.  If you take in fewer calories, you’ll lose weight.  It’s that simple. 

So don’t worry about diet plans. Just watch what you’re eating. Start by eliminating “mindless” eating.  Plan ahead what you’re going to eat and you’ll make better choices.  Lean meats, omega-rich fish, whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables…good, “real” food!  Come on, you know this!  Cookies, chips, sodas and other processed food items should be special occasion foods only – or what I call, “just a taste” goodies. 

Add these few, easy lifestyle “tweaks” to your game plan and you’ll jump-start your way to a leaner, healthier 2012: 

1. Eat breakfast.  Skipping breakfast can increase your risk for obesity four-fold!  Stoke your “furnace” first thing in the morning and those calories will begin to burn! 

2. Get More Sleep.  If you’re sleep-deprived your metabolism doesn’t function as efficiently.  A good night’s sleep also affects the hormones that control appetite.  (Plus, you just feel better with enough zzzz’s!) 

3. Hydrate. Dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger.  Try to drink two liters of liquid a day. 

4. Keep Moving. Doesn’t have to be anything grand.  Take a walk.  Take the steps.  Play with the kids.  Physical activity (30-60 minutes a day) is key to speeding up your metabolism and burning more calories. 

5. Don’t graze before bed.  People who eat at night gain three and a half more pounds a year, on average, than those who don’t.  

So, there you have it.  No magic wands.  No miracle pills.  For now, most weight control is still based on simple science and the wisdom of Dr. Dean Edell.  

Now, go have a great healthy New Year!

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

Don't Let the Holidays Get You Down
By Carol LeBeau
12/1/2011 3:00:09 PM


A newspaper advertisement recently caught my eye….an ad for a local shopping mall.  According to the tag line, that mall was a place “where all your holiday dreams come true.”   

Really?! Will the mall heal my sister’s chronic pain? Repair my friend’s broken marriage? Pay off the mortgage? Give me a trip to the Great Barrier Reef? (Never hurts to dream BIG!) Of course not! And that holiday ad is just one of countless examples of the unrealistic media messages and promises that can set us up for disappointment and pain during the holidays. 

It’s no wonder millions of Americans suffer from depression during the holiday season.  While the holidays can be a time full of joy, cheer, parties and family gatherings - for many of us, it’s a time of loneliness, family strife, reflection on past failures and anxiety about an uncertain future.  

Stress, fatigue, over-commercialization, financial constraints, inability to be with family and friends (or the dread of being with other family and friends!) are just some of the factors that turn holiday bliss into the holiday “blues.” 

The demands of shopping, parties, family events and house-guests can cause tension that results in headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating and difficulty sleeping.  It’s crazy-making!   

I used to love Christmas! Decorating the tree. Arranging the figures of Jesus, Mary and the shepherds in the crèche and finding just the right gifts for my family and close friends. It’s the rest of the holiday madness that wore me out and stole my holiday peace and joy. 

So I made some changes.  I make gift-giving simple…send Christmas cards every-other-year and buy my holiday turkey already cooked at Whole Foods! I no longer decorate every corner of my home. The tree, the crèche and a wreath on the front door are sufficient. I keep shopping, parties and bounteous buffets to a minimum -and make time for exercise, sleep, church events and volunteering. 

It’s still tough sometimes. I get overwhelmed by all the holiday hoopla. I long for the Hallmark card family that will never be. But I take control where I can. And so can you. 

If you’re bothered by the “blues” as the holidays approach, here’s a list of ways to cope from Mental Health America - one of the best resources I know when it comes to issues of mental health. Check it out. All your holiday dreams may not come true…but you may just be able to relax in reality and enjoy the reason for the season! 

Coping With Stress and Depression During the Holidays:

  • Keep expectations manageable. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving Day.) Remember it’s a “season,” and activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.
  • It’s ok to feel sad or lonely. You don’t have to ignore feelings just because it’s the holiday season.
  • Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future. Life brings changes. Don’t set yourself up by comparing today with the “good ole days.”
  • Do something for someone else. Try volunteering some of your time to help others.
  • Enjoy activities that are free.  Take a drive to look at holiday decorations, go window-shopping or make a snowman with children. (Try making an angel in the sand if you live near the beach!)
  • Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase feelings of depression.
  • Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people (avoid toxic family members and friends.)  Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you haven’t heard from in awhile.
  • Save time for yourself! Recharge your batteries (Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie.)
  • Let others share in the responsibility of planning activities.

Finally, if you need help, get it! I’ve been there. With the correct diagnosis and treatment, you CAN feel better. 

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

Is Sitting the New Smoking? It's Time to Take a Stand!
By Carol LeBeau
11/1/2011 2:53:02 PM


Have you heard? When it comes to your health, sitting may be the new smoking! While the analogy may seem far-fetched, many scientists and medical experts are convinced prolonged sitting is bad for your health.

Perhaps we should know this intuitively. After a long road trip or plane flight, doesn’t it feel good to get up and stretch? Now there’s solid science that proves it’s more than a feeling. A leading science and sports association recently released the results of a study that found time spent on our backsides is linked to higher rates of death and disease.

Think about it. Even if we carve out time for exercise and leisure time activities, we still sit for long stretches working at a desk, sitting in class, riding in a car, working at a computer, watching TV or playing video games. Sadly, all that fanny time may be killing us.

Long bouts on our bums can cause serious physiological responses related to chronic disease and a shortened life span. The University of Queensland found that people who stood up frequently had lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker for blood fat). They also had smaller waistlines. And, in a crucial finding, it was the frequency of standing, not the duration, that counted.

One study found that a woman’s risk of developing metabolic syndrome increased 26% for every extra hour of sitting. Long periods of sitting in an upright position can also strain your back, causing chronic pain. Blood clots are another risk of being inactive.

Standing more often throughout the day can improve circulation, muscle tone and vitality. It can also help keep blood flowing freely to your head, and that’s good for keeping your brain sharp.

Bottom line … too much bottom time is bad for your health. More and more studies are coming to the same conclusion: when you sit, your body pretty much stops working. So consider spending more of your day upright:

  • Take more short breaks to stand and stretch (or walk). How ‘bout setting a timer?
  • Hold meetings standing up. (You’ll save lots of time on this one!)
  • Stand up when talking on the phone. (This really works for me and studies show you’ll be perceived as having a better attitude to boot!).
  • Consider a standing desk, or just raise your old one.
  • Set up your office so things aren’t within arm’s reach.
  • Read standing up. Studies show you’ll actually remember more!

Want more motivation? Standing for just two hours during an average workday can burn an extra 280 calories.

Folks, we have to intentionally move. Our daily activities no longer require it. So, bottoms up! Let’s all get up off our duffs. (If you’ll please excuse me, I have to return a phone call. I think I’ll do it standing up!)

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

The Health Benefits of Walking
By Carol LeBeau
10/1/2011 3:15:49 PM


There’s an easy way to get and stay healthy. Almost anyone can do it. It fits into just about any schedule. And, best of all, it can be done alone or with a friend. It’s inexpensive, versatile and the health benefits are almost too numerous to count.

It’s walking.

Boring, right? That’s what I thought. Heck, for decades, I was a runner. I thought walking was for wimps! No more. Following a frustrating foot injury and a couple of surgeries, running was no longer an option. So I started walking – and I haven’t stopped! It’s a great workout, it’s fun, and I’m no longer on injured reserve!

Like millions of walkers (see my interview with San Diego Mayor and walking fan Jerry Sanders in the “BE” section of my blog), I’m singing the praises of this simple, yet effective way to better health and well-being. Whatever your level of fitness, there’s a way to walk that will work for you.

If you’re just getting started, walking is a gentle, low-impact exercise that can ease you into a higher level of fitness and health. If you’re ready for more, bump up your pace and throw in a few hills and you’ve got yourself a challenge.

Walking, like other exercise, can help you achieve a number of health goals:

• Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
• Raise high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
• Lower your blood pressure
• Reduce risk of or manage type 2 diabetes
• Manage weight
• Improve mood
• Stay strong and fit

Walking is aerobic exercise. It can help you take off weight and keep it off. Moderate walking burns nearly 270 calories an hour. Take it up a notch and you can burn an additional 100 calories an hour. Add music and you’ll be in the “zone” before you know it!

Plus, walking is fun! I never get bored ‘cause I change it up. Different distance. Different venue. The beach. The bay. The lake. The neighborhood. The possibilities are endless.

Even Oprah’s on board. “I’ve been through every diet under the sun,” says the talk show queen. “And I can tell you that getting up, getting out and walking is always the first goal.”

So, what’s your goal? Why not lace up your shoes and take a walk – today

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.

Living with Prostate Cancer
By Carol LeBeau
8/14/2011 4:33:47 PM


When my brother, sister and I decided to get together this summer, it wasn’t for an exotic vacation in Europe or Hawaii. Instead, we took our spouses and children to a monumental celebration in, of all places, Davenport, Iowa! The family reunion, of sorts, was for the purpose of honoring and celebrating our dad’s 85th birthday.

It was a wonderful time of porch-sitting, pork-eating and gift-giving to the father who taught us so much about life, and loving life. Bucket lists? Our dad invented them. Trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving off Grand Cayman Island, bicycling cross-country – he’s done it all. When he finishes one list, he just starts another.

But at age 70, when Dad got his cancer diagnosis, we all worried his current bucket list wouldn’t be completed. It was prostate cancer. He had two choices. Surgery or an option known as “watchful waiting.”

Hoping to avoid the possible side affects of prostate surgery, Dad chose the latter and 15 years later, the “waiting” continues to pay off. What a joy to watch Dad blow out the candles on his strawberry-rhubarb birthday pie – looking forward to number 86!

While men continue to make that delicate decision today, new studies are providing more clarity to make the choice a little easier.

No doubt, surgery to remove an early-stage prostate tumor does reduce the risk of metastases and death in patients compared with watchful waiting. But, here’s what probably spared my Dad. According to the recent results of a New England Journal of Medicine study, the benefits of surgery apply only to men under the age of 65. Dad got his diagnosis at 70, making him a perfect candidate to watchfully wait. As it turns out, most tumors found in older men grow slowly and those men will eventually die of causes unrelated to prostate cancer.

At a recent Palomar Health “Dine With the Docs” event, prominent north county Urologist Dr. Paul Neustein explained, “with watchful waiting (also known as expectant management), doctors actively and carefully monitor the patient for signs the cancer has worsened, treating symptoms of the disease when they occur.” This treatment strategy can help some patients avoid surgery to remove the prostate and related lymph nodes (radical prostatectomy) along with negative side affects including incontinence and impotence.

While researchers are encouraged, doctors warn that these recent study results should be interpreted with caution. Much more research is needed to definitively determine the benefits of watchful waiting.

I’m no doctor, but am encouraged by any option that can postpone or eliminate the need for major surgery. As for Dad? In a few months, he’ll be checking in with the doctor who’s been keeping a watchful eye on him for years, just to make sure nothing’s changed. What’s most important is the next item on his bucket list. A trip to Dubai! (I’m not kidding!) But it’s really no big deal. For Dad, it’s just another “trip of a lifetime!”

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.