Dr. Anna Chacon: “Listen to your body”

Eat well: eating well is one of hardest yet most important things to do. You are what you eat — as the phrase goes. When you are hungry, think about what you can eat and what good it can do for you. If it doesn’t do much good — skip it. An intake of important and essential nutrients is […]

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Eat well: eating well is one of hardest yet most important things to do. You are what you eat — as the phrase goes. When you are hungry, think about what you can eat and what good it can do for you. If it doesn’t do much good — skip it. An intake of important and essential nutrients is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and for our health, and it goes a long way in the prevention and treatment of diseases. There are many disorders that can be prevented or warded off by simply eating well and eating healthy.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Anna H Chacon.

Dr. Anna H Chacon is a dermatologist and Miami native who grew up all over South Florida including Pinecrest, Dadeland, Kendall, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Brickell, Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Miami Beach. She graduated as valedictorian from Carrollton school for girls in Miami (formally known as the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove) and was accepted into an ivy league medical school her senior year of high school. She completed her bachelor’s in economics & MD at Brown University through the combined Program in Liberal Medical Education. While at Brown, she received a scholarship to pursue clinical clerkships at one of the largest hospitals in the Middle East, Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben-Maimon) Medical Center in Haifa, Israel through the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine of the Technion, Israel’s oldest university.

She pursued a fellowship in dermatologic and laser surgery at the University of Miami and completed her surgical internship at Orlando Regional Medical Center in Orlando. She completed her dermatology residency at the LAC + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, where she served as chief resident. At LA County, she was exposed to a wide range of pathologies most other dermatology residents read in textbooks. After graduating from residency, she worked in the ABC News Medical Unit in New York City as a medical journalist reporting and covering breaking medical news nationwide and internationally. Throughout her career she was able to work at Asian Hospital & Medical Center and the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine, an authority by the Philippine Ministry of Health to prevent and control tropical and infectious diseases in dermatology including leprosy, Hansen’s disease, and HIV in Manila, the Philippines. She also has traveled internationally to see patients, present internationally and further expand and broaden her education, knowledge and breadth in dermatology, traveling as far as Kuwait, Dubai, Guatemala, Paris, Colombia, Africa, the Caribbean and Belgrade, Serbia.

Dr. Chacon has also received additional training in Hansen’s disease & leprosy, contact dermatitis & patch testing, skin disease in the setting of HIV, Mohs micrographic surgery, lasers, lights & cosmetic dermatology, hair transplantation, trichoscopy, trichograms, dermoscopy, epiluminescence microscopy, confocal microscopy and advanced techniques in minimally invasive cosmetic surgery. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology, Cutis and has presented at the American Academy of Dermatology, where she currently serves on the membership committee. She currently writes board review practice questions for the dermatology boards through the popular study source, Derm-in-Review. She enjoys traveling and has lived in many different cities including Buenos Aires, Haifa, Cairo, Manila, Los Angeles, and New York City (Upper East Side). She also enjoys the arts & humanities and previously danced bellydancing, tango, ballet, samba, and flamenco. She was a former instructor of bellydancing at the gym in Brown University. Dr. Chacon enjoys practicing dermatology, is passionate about practicing medicine, and sees patients with all dermatologic issues or concerns.

She aspires to treat her patients like members of her own family, showing them compassion and respect and helping them to make educated decisions about their skincare that may benefit their overall health and well-being. She is happy to be back home in South Florida. When she is not busy seeing patients, she enjoys traveling, art, water sports, hiking, barre, volunteering in her local community of Pinecrest, nature, outdoor activities and spending time with her family and her two pugs in Miami.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Sure! I was born in Chicago during my dad’s residency (in Critical Care medicine) and raised in Miami. Home is mostly South Florida in a beautiful (and the best!) neighborhood, Pinecrest.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My dad is a very selfless person and had a busy 30+ year career as a critical care doctor and worked in four counties at one point in South Florida. He was so busy that I actually never went to Disney until I was 18 years old — we never took any vacations as a family as he did not have an associate and worked 24/7. He worked so hard we actually lived in the home next door to one of the hospitals he worked, Baptist Hospital of Miami. In addition he also owned an apartment inside of the hospital, in case he got too tired to go home. Despite seeing all of his sacrifices and knowing that he barely had time for anything else, I loved what he did. I would ask him to accompany him to work whenever I could. I was fascinated by the ability to revive someone who was very sick, and the ability to dramatically change their outcome for the better when the future seemed bleak. It seemed surreal and I knew from a very young age, that was what I wanted to dedicate my life towards. Although family members warned me about the selflessness and time commitment that needed to be present in medicine, I was prepared for the challenge and knew it was what I wanted.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

The people who gave me the most help and encouragement would have to be my family. They have been my cheerleaders from day one. Times were tough sometimes, I went to one of the hardest medical schools in the country — Brown University. It was an amazing educational experience, but most of the exams were hard on purpose, harder than they needed to be. It was also really cold and gray — winters were 8 months long. Many of the rotations were hard, including surgery, and surviving felt like a right of passage. My dad once told me near the end of my time in medical school — remember when you started? “We knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, well now, the light is shining brighter and is just right there.”

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

One mistake that I can vividly remember is how in my first year of dermatology residency we created a fire because we did not know that aluminum chloride was flammable. We used it and then cauterized right next to it, which created a miniature explosion and a great scare. It was scary and profound enough that I have never forgotten how flammable this substance may be.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My favorite books are actually travel books by Lonely Planet. I own one for every country, region, or city that I visit. They are spot on about each area you should check out, and are really a joy to read. Otherwise I love dermatology atlases — Fitzpatrick and DuVivier are my favorites to sift through. I know I am a huge nerd but I actually read and review these when I am bored.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My dad has a lot of “life lesson quotes.” Some of them are invented by him and some of them are adapted from other sources. One of the quotes is from the Fat Man in the book, House of God: “the patient is the one with the disease.” The way I interpret this quote is that oftentimes as physicians we immerse ourselves in the case we are trying to solve — so much that we may become consumed placing ourselves in the patients shoes and trying to understand what they have, and how we can help. At the end of the day I remind myself that they are ones with the condition, I’m just trying to help — but I can’t get carried away or affected by it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Right now since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I actually started working on a book about hair loss. It covers everything from the basics including the anatomy of the hair follicle to the different phases of hair shedding. It also covers every day questions about what shampoo is, and how to wash your hair. Interestingly I started working on it because I realized how few books there are about hair loss that are available to the lay public, yet, it is a common ailment that many people suffer from and go through at some point in life.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Eat well: eating well is one of hardest yet most important things to do. You are what you eat — as the phrase goes. When you are hungry, think about what you can eat and what good it can do for you. If it doesn’t do much good — skip it. An intake of important and essential nutrients is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and for our health, and it goes a long way in the prevention and treatment of diseases. There are many disorders that can be prevented or warded off by simply eating well and eating healthy.
  2. Exercise: Exercise is also one of the best habits we can follow to achieve optimal wellness. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like to exercise — we can all find an activity that we enjoy which fits into this bucket. For me it is walking and sightseeing at the same time. I love going to touristy and beautiful places such as Bal Harbour in Miami Beach, and know that I am getting a good workout when I am walking around enjoying the attractions and decorations around it. In this manner you may be ale to tackle two birds with one stone.
  3. Make a list of goals: one of the easiest and most organized ways to stay sane and achieve wellness is making a list of (doable) goals. The key is that they have to be doable and achievable, also giving you time for other things throughout the day. I find that this is an effective way to accomplish your goals and remind you of what you are willing and hoping to achieve that day.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

When I worked at ABC News in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we used to pause at mid-day, usually at 3 pm, for a 15–30 minute meditation session. This became a habit that my boss instilled in us every day. She used to play a session from a mindfulness and meditation app, or guided meditation in which an individual guides you through a meditation session. I found these very helpful and relaxing — one time I even fell asleep through the session as it makes you think about certain things and put yourself in certain situations.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Go for your regular checkups: one easy way to stay on top of things is to go to your physician once a year and when you need to. We cannot change our genetics or what life has in store for us, but in this manner we can at least try to stay on top of our vaccinations, and do our due diligence on age-related cancer screenings and physicals.
  2. Listen to your body: if you have pain somewhere or notice an unusual growth, it is best to bring it up to your physician and get it checked out. As a patient or individual, you are not able to decipher what is good and bad, what is normal vs abnormal. It is your physician’s job. All you can mention is that you noticed something unusual about it and want it investigated further.
  3. Resting is switching from one activity to another: This is another quote from my father, who lived in the Opus Dei in Guatemala during most of his upbringing. This is one of my favorite quotes from him, because it is so true. When you do too much of one activity you tire out, and need to switch to another one to “rest” your mind and body.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Yes I have particular recommendations or thoughts about healthy eating. One of my experiences eating healthy comes from a very inexpensive yet fun class I did at the American Heart Association, during which we cooked a simple, new meal about once per week and then enjoyed our meal. They also have a list of recipes online that are easy to follow. Another favorite, particularly for busy people, are the Amazon meal kits which are designed by a chef and can be done in roughly 30–40 minutes without needing to purchase any of the ingredients on your own — these kits come with the ingredients already prepared and chopped up. However, I haven’t seen them in stock since the pandemic began, so not sure what is going on with that — sad to see them leave the grocery shelves. At home, we only cook homemade, very ethnic food and we rarely eat out. If you have the time to do so, it is always better to make your own food from scratch using the best ingredients. One of the main blockages that I say prevents me and many others, from implementing what we know about food and eating healthy is actually a lack of time. This has improved with different tools that have developed over time such as InstaCart, Amazon, meal kits, etc however it continues to be a problem. Another aspect is that meal prep and planning is hard to do — for one, I know that I am not able to even step out and go to a cafeteria during work due to a lack of time. I actually continue to see patients during and throughout lunchtime. I am sue this is the case for many and for this reason, we don’t eat when we are supposed to or get the nutrients we need to be healthy.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Have dinner with family every night: Not all of us have large families or even families nearby but this is a habit I wouldn’t trade for the world. Coming home to family for dinner after a long day at work is one of the things I enjoy most about my day and what I look forward to every day. I am always blown away by my parents and grandmother’s wisdom.
  2. Make time to do what you enjoy: Taking the time to do what you enjoy in life is really important. Not only does it give you a much needed break throughout your day but makes it worthwhile to look forward to these activities.
  3. Travel: Traveling is one of my favorite pastimes and activities, mostly because I learn so much. Discovering something new or a new place also requires a different sort of energy and is always exciting and mind blowing. It is one of the things I miss the most during the pandemic and something I am eagerly looking forward to and hoping to get back to doing.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Yes, smiling and being positive does help improve emotional wellness and also sends a positive message to others. I find this especially true and important when I am seeing patients — some of them have been through a lot, and it is hard for them to feel comfortable, positive or happy, however your ability to transmit this energy to them is important and not only may give them hope, but it may brighten their day and turn a difficult experience into a positive one.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Pray: regardless of what religion you may follow, the power of prayer is extremely powerful. I am not very religious but am a spiritual person, and believe in the power of prayer and wishful thinking to accomplish a goal you are desperately trying to achieve. It is important to devote spiritual energy as well as mental and physical efforts into our accomplishments if we are hoping to achieve them.
  2. Be hopeful: there are many times when we feel hopeless as if there is no solution to a difficult problem. As a physician and doctor I consider myself a “problem solver.” Some problems or conditions are so complex and difficult to deal with that it is difficult not to give up hope, yet very important if we are going to think of a treatment plan for someone. The ability to retain hope and think of a solution is one good habit I have developed over time to lead to optimal spiritual wellness.
  3. Crystals: pick a crystal or stone that you connect with — for me it is my birthstone — amethyst — and wear it one day when you are in need of positivity and spirituality. I do believe that wearing crystals or having them around your home transmits positive energy. There is something magical about the reflection of the sun on these objects and the beauty about the colors they create in a room.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Yes! I love nature, and have grown closer to nature in recent years. Being in South Florida we have summer year-round, so it is definitely difficult to go outdoors in the middle of August when it is very humid and hot. However, I firmly believe that each place has its own unique beauty which we can appreciate. Instead of going for a one hour walk in August, maybe go for a swim in the ocean which is perfect weather during that time of year. Beauty is really in the eye of the beholder and nature has helped to show me that beauty. Over time I have come to value that being in a beautiful place surrounded by nature is not only more gratifying than something materialistic like a mall, but it is also usually less expensive (if not free except for transport) and more fulfilling spiritually, mentally and physically.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

– Take a weekend and try to visit a beautiful, nature-oriented place in the world once per month. This is something I try to do on my weekends off. It doesn’t need to be far, it could be somewhere close by. Your mind, body and spirits will appreciate it and it will not be time or money wasted.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Jeff Bezos. He grew up in my hometown of Pinecrest and went to our local public school. He has donated to my community and we love him for it. He has also built one of the greatest and most successful companies, all from a very simple idea — the ability to get us what we want, fast, without us having to move a finger. I also really admire how he was able to be so successful despite not having his biological father present in his life. He was greatly influenced by his step father, Miguel Bezos, who is Cuban just like my father, and embodies much of his mindset and ideologies. I would love to meet him someday.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I do not have a large presence online due to lack of time however you may choose to follow me on Instagram at @miamiderm, LinkedIn, or twitter at @drmiamiderm. They are set to private but if you request to follow I will accept.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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