Dr. Douglas Flora of St. Elizabeth Healthcare: “Find the light”

Find the light. Open curtains and blinds each morning to let in the sunlight — even winter sun can boost your mood. If you sleep during the day, try ordering a “light therapy” device to help increase your exposure to light during your awake hours. Many options are inexpensive and available online or in local stores. As a […]

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Find the light. Open curtains and blinds each morning to let in the sunlight — even winter sun can boost your mood. If you sleep during the day, try ordering a “light therapy” device to help increase your exposure to light during your awake hours. Many options are inexpensive and available online or in local stores.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Douglas Flora.

Dr. Douglas Flora, MD is a Medical Oncology Specialist in Cincinnati, OH and has over 21 years of experience in the medical field. He graduated from Ohio State University College Of Medicine And Public Health medical school in 1999. He is affiliated with medical facilities such as St Elizabeth — Ft Thomas and St. Elizabeth Edgewood Hospital. He is also a personal cancer survivor.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

We lost our mom to breast cancer at an early age, and this led to my brother and myself both choosing to pursue life as cancer doctors to try and help other families like ours have a different story. I’m now a practicing medical oncologist who spends his days trying desperately to ease suffering and fight back for all of those families like our now.

I understand that you are very passionate about cancer screening and have made a significant impact in your community on increasing screenings. Can you explain why this matters to you so much and what impact you have made?

We need to challenge the old paradigms and make it our primary focus to find these cancers earlier in their course. If we can teach people about better early detection, when the cancer is in its earliest footsteps, then many of these patients can be spared morbidity of things like chemotherapy or radiation. This is why I’m teaming up with Cancer Screen Week, a public health initiative from Genentech, the American Cancer Society, Stand Up To Cancer and Rally Health to increase public awareness and foster understanding of the potentially lifesaving benefits of early cancer detection and prevention.

What role has the coronavirus pandemic had on cancer screenings?

More than one third of people living in the U.S. have missed routine cancer screenings due to COVID 19, potentially leading to many cancers being undetected. This year alone, there were nearly one million fewer mammograms, colorectal and cervical cancer screenings, compared to previous years.

COVID 19 has worsened potential social determinants of health by creating additional challenges, such as unemployment, potential delays for health appointments, or being at higher risk of COVID 19 infection or complications. This keeps me up at night. Cancer isn’t sitting by, waiting for COVID to pass — these patients desperately need to get back on track and get screened.

Patients can visit www.CancerScreenWeek.org for information on where to get screened, options if they don’t have insurance and how to plan for and safely get routine screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each?

We are all facing new fears and uncertainties previously unimagined. It’s only natural we now find ourselves seeking guidance on how best to survive in this new world. My prescription: ask the cancer patients. These patients were going about their normal lives when a cruel and terrifying reality intruded. They have been forced by their diseases to adapt, survive, and thrive amidst their own personal chaos. These patients’ experiences can offer valuable lessons and simple, but powerful tools we can use to adapt to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Cancer patients must adapt to nearly impossible situations each day with grace, courage and indissoluble hope. Real, applied hope is a powerful thing to behold. Can we tackle the coronavirus with a similar approach? I watch this hope help my patients overcome otherwise insurmountable hurdles every day. For those of you on the frontlines working in healthcare, hope will be the fuel we burn every morning when we head to the hospital. We’ve learned this from the resolve we’ve seen in our own patients over years fighting in the trenches.

I’m reminded of a remarkable patient and long-term survivor. This young mom was diagnosed at forty-two with breast cancer amidst caring for her husband as he was dying of cancer himself. I asked during one of one of our appointments how she coped so well under such incredible stress and sadness. Her response was a simple “When there is no wind, we row.” Right now, our nation has no wind to power our sails. Despite fear of the unknown, we each need to row in order to support the normal rhythms of life. We must do our own part to preserve this critical physical distancing and move the boat a little each day as a nation. If we do the hard, necessary things they did in China to isolate, test, mitigate and separate, our own discipline will be similarly rewarded. My patients get this and, despite all of their fear and uncertainty, I still see them rowing their own boats each day. In the coming months, the wind will return and fill the sails again… but until then, we row.

Cancer patients also learn to excel in stress management. They have learned that in times of uncertainty, they must strive to control only those things which they can control. Cancer patients don’t sit around hand wringing; they stay busy. Cancer patients understand that every moment matters, so they waste none.

Another longtime patient and dear friend is living her best life despite an incurable stage IV melanoma. She is thriving. She works full time. She travels. She still punishes her Peloton almost daily! She reminds me that control is always within our grasp. You can do this too. Exercise. Read a great book. Pause your scrolling online to call an old friend and tell them that you miss them, that you love them. You must stop to consider what you can control, then, to quote this wise patient “double down on it.” For her, this meant while she couldn’t control her CT scan results, she could control her choice of oncologist (me), and her physical fitness for the treatments we offered.

This approach to stress management is just as applicable to pandemics as it is to cancer. Let go of the things you cannot control, and double down on the things you can. You cannot control thousands of spring breakers reveling on Florida beaches. Let it go. However, you can safely socially distance your family, you can religiously wash your hands, and you can help those unable to help themselves.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I’ve had to look into these things for my own sanity as we enter our ninth month fighting this virus. Internally, we are spending a lot of time here trying more intentionally to focus on self-care and wellness. Our own wellness team is amazing, and just offered our own teams offered some great potential tools for calm amid chaos:

Experts recommend sitting down with a sheet of paper and mapping out routines for sleep, diet and exercise. Our bodies and minds thrive on structure and routine. Additional suggestions include:

Get outside! Take a walk in the early morning sunshine if possible. Make sure to wear SPF and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes — even in the winter. The fresh air will help, too.

Find the light. Open curtains and blinds each morning to let in the sunlight — even winter sun can boost your mood. If you sleep during the day, try ordering a “light therapy” device to help increase your exposure to light during your awake hours. Many options are inexpensive and available online or in local stores.

Get moving. Sign up for a fitness class or take a walk with a trusted friend, make sure to get enough water and healthy, vitamin-rich foods.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are anxious, angry, frightened, frustrated or sad. Find the people in your own tribe and talk about it. It is OK to not be OK right now. It is a really hard time. Community helps, even virtually.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

We have a host of resources available on St. Elizabeth’s website. I would also recommend Dr. Zowtiak channel on YouTube.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I would refer to the quote I mentioned earlier: “When there is no wind, we row” which I think of in my personal and professional life. For me, its about doing the work. Put your back into it, and you will eventually find yourself moving through the darkness and reaching your destination.

I love to read, and think about lessons that have resonated with me and I look to others that have lived lives that inspire me.

One that might be more important to me these days, as we work through COVID algorithms in clinics, and are faced with shortages of staff, resources or time was attributed to Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can”. I think we are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and the large majority of people I know are rowing their hearts out right now.

What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?

Readers can follow me on my personal social channels:
Facebook: facebook.com/DougFlora
Twitter: @dougfloramd
Instagram: @dougfloramd
 And my organization on social media:
 Facebook: @StElizabethHealthcare
 Twitter: @StElizabethNKY
 Instagram: @StElizabethNKY
 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/st–elizabeth-healthcare

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