My Survivor Story

By Tami Edwards

In my pre-cancerous life, I was a very healthy and active individual. I had done everything right, according to everything I read after my first diagnosis. Yet, cancer still found me. In 2007, at 33, I found a small bump in my left breast, in the upper, inner quadrant. At first, I thought it was just a pimple and I would pick at it. It would bleed, then grow a little more. I was in a very bad marriage at the time and couldn’t really focus on my own health. I ignored it until it started to hurt. I finally showed it to a coworker who scheduled my appointment with my OBGYN that day. When he saw me, he thought it may be a cyst but referred me to a general surgeon, whom I saw 2 days later. When that doctor tried to aspirate the “cyst”, and couldn’t pull fluid out, he looked at me and said, “I believe this is cancer.” Something in me already knew that.

A mammogram revealed a very strange-looking mass. A biopsy a week later brought the official diagnosis of breast cancer and I was scheduled for surgery. On March 28, 2008, I didn’t know going into the surgery if I’d have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy; it would depend on my lymph nodes. Fortunately, those were clear and I only lost a golf ball sized chunk from my body. My oncologist planned my chemo treatments, 1 round every 3 weeks for 6 cycles, to be followed with 33 rounds of radiation. Then he told me I should do genetic testing because of my Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (all Eastern European). Five weeks later I found out that I am BRCA1, which carries with it a long list of other potential cancers and problems. At this time, I was the only one in my family who had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of my family had been killed in the Holocaust and so our history was limited. I was told to have a double mastectomy and total hysterectomy but I was only 33. I wanted more kids. So I opted to keep my own parts. And life went on.

Fast forward a little bit. I never did have any more kids. I was rendered essentially infertile from the chemo treatments and left that bad marriage in 2009. I had developed a drinking problem at the end and finally got sober in 2011, meeting my current husband in the rooms of AA. We married in 2014. I had both knees replaced in 2016 due to osteoarthritis brought on by the chemo. It had definitely aged my insides even if I still looked my stated age. In 2016 I was 41. In 2017, we relocated from California to Texas and I gained a lot of weight from the depression that set in. I had already started perimenopause and I was unhappy with my weight and my life.

In July of 2019, I had a cycle that started and then didn’t finish. At first I assumed it was due to the “change”. But then the bleeding got heavier and I was getting weaker and I finally called my doctor (my new GYN in Texas) and he put me on hormones to stop the bleeding and then we did a uterine biopsy. I was now 45 and figured it was time to let go of the idea of being a mom again. I was accepting that it was time to remove the plumbing, because there was no way I could continue with cycles like that for long. We decided on February the following year but 2 days later my biopsy results came back positive for uterine cancer. There was a question as to whether or not it was related to the gene but nothing would be known until my total hysterectomy on October 9, 2019. When I saw the surgeon two weeks later, he confirmed that it had also been found in my right ovary (I knew deep down it would be), a separate primary cancer, and we knew that the gene was responsible.

I went through chemo again, same schedule, different drugs. Fortunately I did not have to have radiation (radiation in my hoo haw??? Who wants that?). I gained more weight from the steroids and now that I’m officially in menopause, it’s stuck to me. And we moved to Utah in June, 2021.

I lost my mom to stage 4 breast cancer on 1/22/14. She had been too ill to meet Robert. She hadn’t wanted to get checked when I had the gene and when she was diagnosed, 3 years after me, it had already spread like wildfire throughout her body. I lost one of my best friends to lung cancer 12/23/20. She had always been too busy to see a doctor and when she was diagnosed, it was also too late. She only lived 9 months. I have lost many other friends to the awful disease of cancer, and some were seemingly preventable.

After my breast cancer, I took ownership of my life. If something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t look right, I go to a doctor. I’d rather it be nothing than find out later it’s too late and I should have done something sooner. Had I waited just two more weeks, the cancer would have invaded my chest wall and I likely wouldn’t be here. My daughter was 13 at that time. I would have missed out on so much. And that gene is still active in this body, waiting to attack something else. I have to stay vigilant.

I’m a big advocate for cancer research, of all types. I used to do charity walks (until the knees) to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I’d like to try that again. And I share my story with anyone who will listen. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. But the odds vary among races. One in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women will face the diagnosis compared to 1 in 500 Asian women. No one wants to be the “lucky” one. So get checked. Do your annual exams and your mammograms. Feel your boobies! But also keep in mind that uterine cancer is one of the most prevalent female cancers. And we are so dismissive! We shouldn’t be. Your odds of survival are so much higher when things are caught early, and the treatments are easier, too. If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.

Be Aware of the Dangers of Alcohol Use

By Dr. Lauren Prest

It’s Alcohol Awareness Month and in Moab, alcohol is abundant. It is a big part of our tourism industry, in particular, which is a positive source of income for many. Alcohol is often seen as helping life feel more fun, relaxing, or pleasurable. On the other hand, alcohol use presents challenges when visitors and locals alike over-imbibe and can result in injury, interpersonal disputes, legal repercussions, and sometimes death.

Certainly in this day in age, the “opioid-emic” is getting far more press. But high-risk alcohol use is more prevalent than opioid and other drug use, and also more socially acceptable. People drink in happy times and sad times. They drink to numb their emotional and physical pain. They drink more or less depending on their stage of life, life stressors, family traditions, friendships, and physical tolerance. The COVID pandemic has changed how many people drink: recent studies indicate alcohol use may have increased by 21% over the last couple of years. Genetics and family dynamics have a role in how people perceive and use alcohol.

Some 14.8 million people in the United States over the age of 12 meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder or alcohol addiction. As we examine our own alcohol use during Alcohol Awareness Month, it may help to understand what amount of drinking is considered excessive from a health standard.

Drinking any amount of alcohol is known to increase harm, but the CDC guidance recommends 2 or fewer drinks for men and just 1 drink or less for women on any given drinking day. It goes without saying that pregnant women, youth, those with significant medical problems, and those with addiction histories should not drink at all.

The most significant short-term consequences of alcohol use, including accidents, injury, and violence, are associated with binge-style drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men and 4 or more drinks for women. The long-term health risks of alcohol use include high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, gastrointestinal problems, malnourishment, brain damage, and a long list of cancers.

With all these negative health outcomes associated with alcohol use, not to mention the alcohol abuse’s impact on social function and family systems, it can be easy to carry a lot of stigma and shame about drinking and to avoid thinking about how significant the impacts may be on yourself and those who love you. But it’s also important to know how to get help and support if you are struggling to cut back your alcohol use on your own.

Moab Regional Hospital is opening a new recovery center in June 2022 to provide counselors, medical support, and even detox services for our community. It can be life-threatening to suddenly stop regular and heavy alcohol use, so reaching out for medical care is vital. Please have a safe start to the season and come find us at our new Recovery Center if we can support you or your loved ones!

Dr. Lauren Prest is a fellowship-trained addiction psychiatrist who began working at Moab Regional Hospital in 2019.

Harm Reduction: An Effective Framework for Treating High-Risk Behaviors

By Dr. Lauren Prest, Director of Mental Health and Recovery Services at Moab Regional Hospital

Harm reduction has entered the Zeitgeist! Even though this term has been around since the 1980s, it is finally becoming a concept more and more people are familiar with. Those involved in caring for and treating people who engage in habitual, high-risk behaviors of substance use and addiction, know there’s no amount of negotiating, begging, pleading, or threatening that will change a person’s end action. From this basic truth, harm reduction was born.

Harm reduction means meeting someone where they are and helping negotiate the inevitable outcomes of their decisions. It means increased acceptance toward risky behaviors and finding strategic ways to reduce the associated damages through the core principles of realism, flexibility, pragmatism, and social justice.

Classically, harm reduction interventions have focused on substance using populations due the inherent harms involved. IV drug use, for example, is associated with many infectious diseases because needles may be shared or re-used. Safe needle exchanges, a type of harm reduction program, were created to give individuals who use IV drugs access to sterile needles. These programs also reduce the risk that needles will be shared, reused, or left in unsafe places. As a result, morbidity and death associated with infectious diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV and the cost of treating them have dropped significantly for health systems and communities using needle exchange programs.

Harm reduction philosophy can be applied to non-substance using people as well. We all engage in activities that have the potential for some threat. As an example, many of us wear seatbelts when driving. Wearing a seatbelt doesn’t stop us from getting into accidents, but it does reduce the threat of physical injury.

Of course, some activities go against social norms and as a result, carry more stigma. With this in mind, harm reduction has been growing as a mainstay of addiction care because it also helps fight stigma by allowing people to make their own decisions without judgement. It provides an access point for care and an intervention point for healthcare providers to introduce treatment. Harm reduction keeps people who might avoid treatment engaged in care by allowing them to participate more openly and find aspects of care that work for them.

Allowing those struggling with ambivalence about their behaviors to make their own decisions and empowering them to do so more safely can provide essential and lifesaving time for them. Addiction is not a moral failing – it is a biological and behavioral disease that responds to treatment just like diabetes and high blood pressure. Moreover, hope exists for healing as long as a person can be kept alive.

Nevertheless, because of social stigma, many people may misunderstand what harm reduction is intended to do. It should be understood that harm reduction does not advocate for drug use. In fact, in communities using harm reduction methods, drug use and crime rates both decline. The economic and legal benefits for communities that embrace harm reduction are well established and easily evidenced. And, programs that enhance education and emphasize social interaction are more effective.

As our new Recovery Center opens in June 2022, Moab Regional Hospital will engage in general harm reductionist philosophy to ensure an unbiased access point for care. The new Recovery Center will have strong, evidenced based standards, which include harm reduction as both a clinic culture and a form of treatment.

If you or your loved ones need support, education, or resources for substance use and addiction, please contact us at 435-719-3970. The Recovery Center will have Narcan and harm reduction kits available for anyone who asks.

Save the date, Friday, May 20th, Recovery Center Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Open House. Noon to 3pm. Food & Drink provided.

5 Essential Exercises for Seniors to Improve Balance

One of the most serious dangers brought on by advancing years is the risk of slipping and falling. Falls can result in broken bones and other severe injuries. Besides being painful, difficult trials on their own, these injuries can easily precipitate a rapid physical decline. Luckily, seniors do not have to passively accept worsening balance and loss of bodily stability and coordination. Here are five essential exercises older folks can practice to improve their ability to balance.

1. Calf stretches. This simple exercise strengthens the legs. Seniors should perform calf raises by standing and then raising themselves up on their toes as high as possible, before gradually returning to the starting position. Calf stretches can be performed 25 or more times at once.

2. Single leg balance. This exercise is performed standing behind a chair, holding on to the top of the chair. Seniors should lift up one leg and hold it in place for as long as possible. The goal is to be able to hold the pose for a full minute. With time, as strength is regained, seniors can progress to balancing without the aid of a chair.

3. Lunges. Lunges are a lower body exercise that helps seniors regain their balance following a misstep. Lunges are performed from a standing position. Seniors should step one foot forward, bending at the knee until the thigh is straight up and down. This pose should be held for up to 30 seconds. At least ten lunges per leg should be performed.

4. Standing march. This simple exercise is exactly what it sounds like. Seniors march in place for 30 seconds or more, continually raising and lowering their knees throughout. The standing march should be performed as rapidly as is comfortable.

5. Walking a line. This exercise is completed using a line of tape on the floor or any other straight line. Seniors should slowly walk heel to toe for 25 or more steps, being sure to carefully follow the line. Extending the hands out to the side will help improve balance further.

It is true that the process of aging cannot be stopped. However, age-related declines in physical ability are not nearly as inevitable as is commonly assumed. With a proactive, dedicated approach to staying active and relatively fit, it is quite possible to minimize injury risk and to retain a high quality of life deep into old age.

It Was Just Another Day

By Dalena Terwilleger

I’m writing this in hopes of helping others. You tell yourself, “this will never happen to me”, but it can, and it will. 

Three things could have changed our lives on April 19th, 2020. Testing Strips, Narcan, and the knowledge of The Good Samaritan Law. It’s interesting, because in the few days leading up to Emma’s overdose, in passing conversation, we had talked about “Fentanyl”, and how it was killing people. 

Emma had been clean and sober, and doing her best to get out of the situation and house she was living in. We had plans. She was going to move in with me on Monday. 

Saturday April 19th, 2020 was the last time I saw my baby girl Emma Elizabeth Christensen. She was just 21 years old, born December 3rd, 1998.

 

 

Sunday April 19th, 2020, my alarm went off at 3:15am, I had to be to work at 4:30am. I hit snooze. At 3:30 am, I got up, and got ready. It was just another day. I was extremely busy and stressed at work that day. My feet hurt, I was staying late again, I was tired and had deadlines to meet. 

At approximately 12:30pm, there was a phone call for me on the work line. “that’s odd”, I thought. My employee’s face had me concerned. What now? I took the call. My life would never be the same. 

In my mind, I see her beautiful green eyes. I need to touch her, smell her, hear her. I see the little freckle on her back left side, just above her hip. So tiny. I have never not known it was there. I see her beautiful smile, the one dimple. The oddly shaped brown freckle in her green right eye. I see her scar above her right eye, the birthmark just above her left knee. It never would wash off. I see her stretch marked belly from bringing life into this world. I see beauty, pain, and sacrifice in them. I see my baby girl. 

Had I known that day, I could have sent her out with Test Strips, Narcan, and the knowledge of the Good Samaritan Law, along with the “wear your seatbelt, make good choices, and I love you” that were always said anytime she walked out the door. 

#EndOverdose

 

Join us to remember those who have died and acknowledge the grief of family and friends left behind on #InternationalOverdoseDay.

August 31st, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Moab Valley Multicultural Center, 156 N 100 W
Dinner will be provided

“45 is the New 50” for Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with almost 52,000 deaths in 2019.  In general, however, it is a slow growing cancer that is treatable if caught early enough, and in fact it can actually be prevented. That’s where screening comes in. In the past, screening was advised starting at age 50, but prompted by an alarming increase in colorectal cancers in younger patients, an independent expert panel has recommended that individuals at average risk for the disease start the screening process at age 45. This change in guidelines advocated by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) now aligns with that of the American Cancer Society, which made the recommendation for a lower screening age of 45 in 2018. The task force recommendation means that insurers will be required to cover preventative procedures such as stool tests and colonoscopies that can detect colorectal cancer at an early stage. 

In 2020 11% of colon cancers and 15% of rectal cancers occurred in patients younger than 50 years, compared to 5% and 9%, respectively, in 2010. Colorectal cancer is even being seen in increased frequency in patients in their 20s and 30s and by 2030 is expected to be the leading cause of death from malignancy for people in their twenties through forties. 

The reasons for this increase are unclear though there are several known risks factors:  environmental toxins, poor diet, sedentary lifestyles, and obesity.  

In addition, another major study has found that continuing colorectal cancer screening past the age of 75 is felt to be beneficial for some people, whereas previously it was generally advised to stop screening in these patients. 

Colonoscopy is considered to be the “Gold Standard” of colorectal cancer screening. This is because the test physically looks at the lining of the intestine, and also because pre-cancerous polyps can be removed before they ever get the chance to turn into malignant growths. There aren’t many cancers where we can intervene in such a way. Another benefit is that with a normal exam, the next one will not be necessary for ten years, depending on one’s personal and family history. 

Are you afraid to get a colonoscopy?  If so, you are not alone.  Many people think the exam will be painful or embarrassing. In fact, in spite of the preventative benefits of colorectal cancer screening, only around 70% of eligible individuals in the United States undergo screening. But colonoscopy is not something to be feared.  It is quick and painless, you will be covered up during the procedure, and you can be back to normal life the following day. 

In addition, there are other methods of screening available, including stool tests which need to be done every one to three years.  These are all effective screening methods and some are quite inexpensive. If you are unsure which test is best for you, discuss it with your healthcare provider. 

Our current guidelines for screening are:

Average risk, start at age 45

People in good health with a life expectancy more than 10 years should continue regular screening through the age of 75

For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, overall life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history. 

People at higher risk may need earlier and more frequent screening. This includes people with a personal or a strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain kinds of polyps; a history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease); hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes; or a history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvis. 

With all of the alternatives available, there is no reason not to get screened for colorectal cancer.  No test is perfect, but there is a test that is right for you. So whatever one you choose, just get screened. It is one of the best decisions you can make for your future health. 

Healthcare Planning and End-Of-Life Wishes

As you get older, it is important that you talk to your loved ones about healthcare planning and end-of-life wishes. Though you may want to just enjoy any time that you get to spend together, the truth is that you need to discuss certain things that may be uncomfortable to talk about. You don’t want to wait until it is too late to talk about these things.

So, what are they? Here are some important conversations that you need to have (and soon).

Your healthcare and end-of-life wishes 

It is very important that you take the time to talk to your loved ones about your healthcare and end-of-life wishes. If you are having any health concerns, bring them up with your loved ones. Let them know what medications you are taking for these conditions and what else you need to do about it.

This is also the time to talk about your end-of-life wishes if you become really ill. Do you want the hospital staff to do everything that they can to keep you alive? Do you want to be put on a respirator? Do you want them to do emergency surgery, even if it looks like the outcome isn’t good? Let them know what you want to be done and what you want to avoid.

At this point, you may also want to fill out an Advance Directive that will appoint a healthcare advocate for you, in case you become no longer able to advocate for yourself.

Your lifestyle 

If you are struggling at home and need some more help, they need to know. Otherwise, they won’t be able to help you. You may avoid talking about this because you don’t want them to feel like they have to pitch in more. However, if you are struggling to live at home, you may be able to get help. You can talk to a caregiver agency to figure out how they can make your life a little easier. You may even decide that you would rather move into an assisted living facility to get the care that you need.

Finances

Though it can be hard to talk about finances, it is important to bring it up. Talk to them about how much you have saved for retirement. You may want to let them know how you expect to pay for your medical expenses if they grow. Also, if you end up in an assisted living facility, they need to know how to pay for it.

Estate planning 

Most adults have a will and some sort of plan in place for when they are gone. It is important that you show your loved ones where your important paperwork is and where they can find your will. Let them know what you want done with your body when you are gone. Do you already have a burial plot, or are you going to be cremated? Do you have an idea of any services that you may like to have? The more information that you can give your loved ones, the less they will have to worry about when you are gone.

Though it can be hard to talk to your loved ones, you need to do it before it is too late. Keep them informed of any health concerns that you may have. Let them know what you want to be done medically if you find yourself unable to speak up. Talk to them about needing some extra help or if you want to move into an assisted living facility. Also, talk to them about your finances and how you are prepared to deal with whatever the future throws your way.

Moab Regional Hospital will host an informative presentation on the importance of healthcare planning and how to begin important conversations about healthcare planning and end-of-life wishes with loved ones. Please join Dr. Kathy Williams, Family Medicine physician at Moab Regional Hospital, Christina Sloan, founding member of the Sloan Law Firm, and Kristine Curtis, Registered Nurse with Grand County Hospice, on Tuesday, July 13th at 6 pm via Facebook Live. On Thursday, July 15th at 6 pm, Moab Regional Hospital will host an in-person workshop to answer questions about the Utah Advance Directive form that can be found at www.ucoa.utah.edu/directives. Questions? Please call 435-719-3683 or go to www.mrhmoab.org/events.

Raising Awareness of Fentanyl

Written by Dr. Lauren Prest
Medical Director of Mental Health & Recovery Services at Moab Regional Hospital

Substance use is a part of our lives as human beings. Drugs and alcohol are used in ceremonies, religion and family gatherings. They can be used for medical purposes or purely for their intoxicating effects. Some people are exposed through prescriptions, others through casual experimentation and some in more traumatic ways. Substance use can be complicated for us as human beings, perhaps most often when we know and love someone who uses substances in unhealthy ways.

Demonizing a substance can bring problems, too. After all, some people need pain pills to function due to chronic pain conditions or cancer-related pain. However, we should learn about the risks and how to reduce the harms of any substance exposure. Even substances that caused some previously positive experiences can become twisted or dangerous.

The risks of fentanyl, a new drug trend, are worth discussing. Deaths involving synthetic, or man-made, opioids have been increasing over the last decade in the United States. In southeastern Utah, this trend has been especially devastating. The most common cause of an overdose is fentanyl.

Fentanyl is an opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine, meaning overdoses can happen quickly and can be harder to treat. People often don’t know they are using it or they are unfamiliar with how powerful this pain killer can be. Illicit fentanyl can be pressed into pills that could be mistaken for other medications like Adderall or Percocet. Some drug dealers mix fentanyl into methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, MDMA or other substances without telling their customers.

In Moab, new cases of fentanyl use have been seen in youth as young as 14 or 15. Even a small amount of fentanyl, the size of the tip of a pen, can cause an overdose in someone who isn’t tolerant to this drug.

Opioids like pain pills and heroin have been in the Moab community for a long time, but Moab has not suffered as many opioid-related overdoses as our neighbors to the north and south. But with fentanyl moving into our community, Moab is at risk of seeing more fentanyl-related overdoses and deaths. We should try and be prepared.

Talking with your medical prescriber is a good place to start learning the risks. If you are taking drugs illicitly, learning to start with low doses and how to test drugs for fentanyl might save your life. Even if you have been taking legitimate pain pills from your doctor for many years, it is important to know what an overdose looks like.

Know the signs: fentanyl and other pain pills as well as heroin can cause drowsiness, nausea, confusion, slowed breathing, unconsciousness and cardiac arrest from lack of oxygen. Lips can turn blue or gray and skin can be cold or clammy. Breathing can slow to the point you may hear gurgling or groaning rather than regular breaths. Ultimately, breathing may stop completely.

Naloxone, sold as Narcan, is a medication that is wise to have on hand if you use opioids or if you know someone who does. Narcan is sold by pharmacies or can be prescribed by your doctor to have in case of opioid overdose. Fentanyl is so powerful, it may require higher doses of Narcan than other opioids. Getting emergency medical help is still necessary after an overdose to ensure you do not succumb to the overdose after the Narcan has worn off. For more information about Narcan including how to get it, how to use it and additional resources I recommend visiting the website www.utahnaloxone.org.

On May 4 at 6 p.m., Moab Regional Hospital will be streaming a LIVE presentation on their Facebook page featuring Special Agent Jay Tinkler, DEA and Debbie Marvidikis, SEUHD. They will discuss the risk of fentanyl in our community and surrounding areas. In-person educational workshops on fentanyl testing and naloxone (brand name Narcan) as treatment for opioid overdose will be held on May 6 at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. at Moab Regional Hospital. For more information or to register for a workshop, please call 435-719-3771.

Fentanyl addiction, like all substance use disorders, is treatable. Just like diabetes or high blood pressure, addiction can take hold of some people given the right mix of biology, stressors and lifestyle choices. Please know we are here to connect you or your loved ones to treatment or give you information on any opioids you’re prescribed.

Be safe, Moab.

Online Resources:
https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2021/spike-drug-overdose-deaths-during-covid-19-pandemic-and-policy-options-move-forward

https://www.aha.org/news/headline/2020-07-16-cdc-drug-overdose-deaths-46-2019#:~:text=Drug%20overdose%20deaths%20in%20the,by%20drug%20category%20and%20state.

http://www.utahnaloxone.org/

https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/utah-opioid-involved-deaths-related-harms

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7006a4.htm?s_cid=mm7006a4_w

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl

Desiree’s View – Choosing Love over Fear

01.21.21

The View – Moab Sun News

Desiree Westfall, PA-C, MPH

Guest Columnist

When I was pregnant with my son, my mother began sending me books on vaccine safety—or rather her belief in the lack thereof and the importance of not following the Centers for Disease Control’s regular vaccine schedule.

I’ll be honest, her feelings freaked me out even though I’m a physician assistant with a master’s degree in public health. When I analyzed the resources my mother had shared with me, it was clear that the claims were based on anecdotes and poor data. None of the sources had evidence to support their claims of serious consequences.

Unfortunately, it shook the emotional side of my brain up. I skipped or delayed some recommended vaccines for my newborn son. At 6-months-old, my son developed breath-holding spells that provoked mild convulsions. He had a few full-blown seizures and information from my mother began pouring in. She blamed the vaccines we’d given my son for his condition.

My heart was tortured by the idea I had perhaps done something to harm my child. I had a consultation with a pediatric neurologist at the University of Utah after my son’s first seizure. Near tears, I asked her if this could at all be related to something I had done. The surprise and then pity on her face was clear. She assured me that evidence shows that vaccines are safe and have no connection to my son’s breath holding spells. I had done the research, I asked experts, and I had an excellent education to make an informed choice about vaccine safety.

My son was about one year old when I discovered a book called “On Immunity: An Inoculation,” written by Eula Biss. The book discusses the history of childhood vaccination and where a small group of individuals showed fear surrounding this practice The author creates an eloquent argument about how choosing to vaccinate ourselves and our children is a public service and ultimately, an act of love. This sentiment resonated deeply with me after my experience.

Over the past years, that idea of choosing love over fear has really motivated me to do what I know is right. Getting my second child vaccinated on schedule was much easier to do without all the fear. I now have discussions with my children about how the protection they create is not just for themselves, but for the childhood cancer survivor in early remission, or for elders with waning immune systems, or for the immuno-compromised individuals who are unable to receive vaccines.

Biss speaks to the simple truth: “We are each other’s environment. Immunity is a shared space — a garden we tend together.”

In my research about the COVID-19 vaccine, I saw no shortcuts taken with safety research during the development of this vaccine. Health researchers have known for decades that a novel virus would cause a pandemic at some point and so have spent many decades studying the spike protein on coronaviruses, which is the target methodology of both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines.

It’s true the coronavirus vaccine was developed in record time, but not at the expense of rushing clinical trials. The speedy development was due to a concerted effort of our government and private industry working with public health researchers. The safety steps with clinical trials were not skipped. Rather, the steps that tend to happen in a serial fashion happened at the same time to expedite the process. It wasn’t safety that was sacrificed, it was the red tape of bureaucracy that was cut. This is the fast-tracked life work of many dedicated scientists put into large scale production.

It’s indisputable that vaccinations are one of the most well-studied medications offered today. There are some mostly mild adverse reactions and the benefits of these medications far outweigh the possible risks.

I received my first COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 29. My arm hurt for a day, and then I was back to being myself.

With each passing day, I have a growing gratitude for each individual that worked so diligently to bring this vaccine to reality. As isolated as we’ve been over the past year, there is no way around the truth that we are in this together. We are connected—and in order to get through these difficult times, we each have to be bigger than our fear. While I suspect I will always pause for a moment before I get a vaccine, I do my part for our community and choose love over fear.

The Benefits of Vaccinations

Written by Dr. Bartczak

Facing challenges repeatedly, you grow stronger and eventually overcome them. If you know your enemy and train for battle, you are on the path to success. We see this in sports, we’ve heard in schools and houses of worship, and we encounter it at the doctor’s office. It’s the concept behind “practice makes perfect,” and we inherently know it to be true. Immunization is based on this principle as well. A strengthened immune system is able to overcome the germs that could otherwise cause severe disease.

A vaccine is made from a small part of a virus or bacteria or a weakened version of it, treated in special ways so that it cannot cause illness, mixed with stabilizers, and given as shot into the muscle. For example, the Haemophilus influenzae b vaccine uses components from the outside capsule of the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. The body learns to recognize this component as foreign, and then to fight against it. The body produces specialized cells that act as scouts, and when the Haemophilus bacteria is encountered after vaccination, the body quickly recognizes and fights it off without getting sick. Left unchecked, Haemophilus can infect the brain, lungs, epiglottis, blood, ears, joints, and heart. About 5% of children who get this infection will die; 15% of survivors may have lasting effects like cerebral palsy, seizures, blindness, and deafness.

Because vaccines stimulate the immune system, they may be followed by fever, swelling, rash, or pain where the shot was given. This means the vaccine is working as designed. Serious side effects are very rare and are monitored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccines do contain stabilizers and preservatives such as citric acid, aluminum, and formaldehyde. We ingest these chemicals on a daily basis in food, water, and medications in quantities much larger than what is in a vaccine. The amount of formaldehyde present in any vaccine is fifty times smaller than that found in a pear.

The beauty of vaccines is that the first encounter with a germ is in a controlled environment, where that foreign protein or weakened germ cannot cause disease. If someone encounters the germ without a vaccine, the number of organisms is significantly higher, and they are fully functional, therefore capable of causing disease and spreading to other people. In areas with high vaccination rates and no travel, the risk of getting an infection may be low, although the risk of serious illness from that infection remains high. However, in an area that sees a million tourists a year, the chances of catching a disease jumps exponentially. The risk of serious illness, lasting consequences, or death, are simply not worth the exceedingly low risk of serious effect from vaccines.

The biggest successes in improving length and quality of life over the last century have come from public health measures, particularly vaccines. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That is why I will happily get vaccinated, and encourage all of you to do the same.