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A Crumbling Economy: What Should You Do?; Stress and Your Health; Facing Breast Cancer: Where Do You Turn?

Aired October 18, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Thanks, guys. And good morning, everyone at home. Welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer and stronger.
First up, a crumbling economy. You've all heard about it. Troubling times, unemployed and uninsured. So what should you do? What can you do?

Plus, stress and your health. It affects your body, it affects your mind. I've got some tips to help get you some relief.

And facing breast cancer, it can be devastating, so where do you turn? Got some tips there as well that might save your life.

First, though, we start with the medical headlines. Vice President Dick Cheney visited the hospital on Wednesday with the recurrence of atrial fibrillation. Now, that's when the heart's two upper chambers beat abnormally. The condition can lead to blood clots. It can increase your risk of stroke as well. Cheney's doctors say the outpatient procedure to his normal heart rhythm went smoothly and was without any sort of complications.

Also in the news, Nancy Reagan has been hospitalized with a broken pelvis and a broken sacrum. A spokeswoman says the 87-year-old former First Lady fell and twisted her hip. She is in some pain, but otherwise in pretty good spirits. Doctors say an operation is not required, but Reagan will need several weeks of physical therapy.

Finally, a new study of older adults says searching the Web could sharpen your mind. That's right. Researchers looked at two groups, one with minimal computer experience and another that was very Web savvy. They did MRI scans, which showed members of the Web savvy group had more than twice the amount of activity in the region of the brain responsible for decision-making and complex reasoning. So, pretty good reason to surf the Web. Study authors say Web searches may be one way to help older adults keep their mind sharp.

We turn now though to a frustrating reality for millions. It's unemployment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First thing, I lost my job last Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what to do really, but just keep beating the trail, trying to find a job. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every door keeps on getting slammed on me, slammed, slammed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're out and seeing other people suffer, it's tough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't know what the future holds for you. It could turn out to be good. It could turn out to be bad.


GUPTA: You know, the number of unemployed people in the United States tops 9 million. Think about that. The government reports 159,000 jobs were lost in September alone. And that number's expected to rise.

Being laid off puts financial strain on a family. And health care is one of the biggest concerns. So Gerri Willis is going to join us with some tips on what you can do if you find yourself in this unfortunate position.

Gerri, thanks. First of all, I have to ask you, I mean, you've been working 24 hours a day. How are you doing? Are you able to keep your own health OK with all the work you've been doing?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, you know, it's a stress on folks who are covering this market meltdown and the employment story as well. But I think we're holding in here.

Look, the problem is really for folks who don't have jobs, but insurance is not just a concern for them. As you know, there are 9.5 million people who are unemployed and more than 45 million who are uninsured. Layoffs are problematic, especially since estimates show most folks, 62 percent, have employer-based insurance. No job, no money.

GUPTA: There's a direct relationship between your job and your health care. So if you find yourself in this unfortunate position of being one of the hundreds of thousands of people laid off every month, what can you do? I mean, what are your rights with regard to health care?

WILLIS: Well, you know, it depends on your company, your plan, and when your coverage started whether you lose your coverage right away. But in most cases, look, you have the right to extend your current health coverage programs through something called Cobra, which lets workers and their families have the ability to continue health benefits for almost 18 months.

Now, after Cobra benefits expire, HIPAA comes in. And that's the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This helps folks get coverage for at least two health insurance policies. And these policies can't deny you if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Then there's Medicare. That kicks in if you're disabled, older than 65-years-old or pregnant. It offers cheap insurance for folks with low income families -- Sanjay? GUPTA: You know, you bring up some really good points. My sense is that people get laid off and they don't have the time to think about any of these things beforehand.

WILLIS: Right.

GUPTA: So, I just wondered if you had some top tips. Hopefully, nobody's watching who's about to get laid off...

WILLIS: Right.

GUPTA: ...but if they are, what are some top tips for them?

WILLIS: Please, please, negotiate your severance package. You have to do this. Look, here are the goodies you should ask for. Continuation of health insurance, including disability and life insurance. Don't forget that. Next, call your state insurance commissioner. They can tell you what kind of state programs you might qualify for. And then you can visit the Web site, and That's where you'll find those programs and breakouts of programs available to uninsured and discount drug programs.

Now, shop around. If you don't qualify for state programs, there are other places to go., for example, will give you quotes from private insurers where you can get private coverage. Obviously, you're going to pay this out of pocket. It's going to be very expensive. And then take a look at the drugs you have to take.

GUPTA: Right.

WILLIS: Some pharmaceutical companies have free programs. And they offer you discounted medications if you're uninsured. Visit their Web site, The site offers a database of where to find and sign up for discount programs.

And finally, one other idea. Think about working part time. It may not be the ideal solution, but look, a lot of companies offer some benefits to part-time workers. So, you might want to think about that -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: I can tell you've internalized all this. You're just rattling it off the top of your mind. Peer into your crystal ball and tell us when this is all going to be over, Gerri. We want to ask you now.

WILLIS: Boy, I wish I knew. You know, we're working through this. I know a lot of people -- you know, you've done a great job covering how folks are dealing with these problems. We're going to be dealing with it a while more.

GUPTA: All right, Gerri, we'll be turning to you a lot. As always, thank you. Get some rest. Take care of yourself as well.

WILLIS: Thank you.

GUPTA: As well as your health. Gerri Willis.

Be sure to watch Gerri's own show, "OPEN HOUSE" every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Eastern on CNN, both Saturday and Sunday on "Headline News" at 3:30 Eastern.

Our down economy not only has taken a toll on people's pockets, it's also making people sick. Here's how stress affects the body from head to toe. First, it can trigger your jaw to tighten. That can cause headaches. Stress can also affect the heart, possibly increasing your risk of heart attacks, and increasing your risk of stroke. You might experience digestive problems like heartburn, stomach cramps, nausea, constipation, diarrhea. And finally, a lot of you know this, but a lack of sleep impairs your immune functioning, cognitive abilities, makes you a little bit moody.

So what can you do? Well, here are some things I think might help. Meditation, this is something that I've talked about before. And specifically, it's something called compassion meditation.

Here's how it works. While meditating, think good thoughts about people or things you may not like. Sort of reshape your views of them. That's why it's called compassion meditation. What they find is that your level of cortisol, which is the stress hormone, starts to go down. And it's followed by the going down of your stress levels overall.

Another thing you may not realize that can help is laughter. Even if there's nothing in particular that you find funny. Just simply half. Long-term studies prove that laughter decreases those same stress hormones, improves the immune system, and boosts your endorphins. Those are the feel-good hormones. Makes you laugh just looking at those guys.

Later in the show, we got some tough decisions. One family is putting cancer treatment on the back burner. We'll tell you why another concern has become their top priority.

And true, desperate times may call for desperate measures, but the financial crisis is driving some people to extremes. We're going to have some tips to keep you grounded while the economy might be leaving you high and dry. Stay with us.


GUPTA: You're watching HOUSE CALL.

A family in crisis, facing breast cancer in a rough economy. We'll tell you the challenges they might face. And desperate, your heart is racing, nowhere to turn. Is daily life taking a toll on you? Elizabeth Cohen has some tips you're not going to want to miss. And kids are constantly exposed to junk foods. How one school is making a difference that kids really like.

HOUSE CALL back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: That's a view of the White House looking slightly different earlier this month. It was pink. This display was part of October's national Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. And supporters in Washington also walked 60 miles in three days to raise money for new research and programs for patients. You're watching HOUSE CALL.

You know, there was a show of support on Wall Street as well. The Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign rang the closing bell last week. The campaign plans to award $35 million to cancer research and says about 80 million pink ribbons will be distributed by the end of the month.

Now, despite that bit of good publicity, if you will, on Wall Street, the economic crisis is making a breast cancer diagnosis even more difficult for some patients. The biggest worry now for one woman isn't losing her life. Janet Wu of CNN affiliate WCVB has this story.


JANET WU, WCVB NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jennifer Bolduc and her husband bought this house four years ago. Three children, two good jobs, they were confident they could handle the adjustable rate mortgage when it climbed to 11.5 percent the fourth year, even on one salary. But then, disaster hit. Are you in danger of losing this house?

ERIC BOLDUC: Absolutely, we are. Within 30 days.

WU: Last March, Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's undergoing chemo now and unable to work. Two weeks ago, Eric, a chef, was laid off.

JENNIFER BOLDUC, BREAST CANCER PATIENT: You know, everyone always says oh, you should always have a bank account for that rainy day. Well, our rainy day fund went really quick.

WU: They filed for bankruptcy, but with both of Bolducs unemployed, refinancing a mortgage within 30 days may be impossible. So Eric looks for work, Jennifer receives weekly treatments. There are only sleepless nights.

J. BOLDUC: Having a premature baby, and then finding out I had breast cancer, and actually realizing that you have to swallow your pride and try to get the help you need. When you actually go to get it, it's very difficult. Because they -- because no one wants to help.

WU: She said the banks were unsympathetic in the beginning. In just a few months, they've accumulated $75,000 in debts.

E. BOLDUC: We owe probably about $40,000 just in attorney's fees.

WU: They do have insurance through Nas Health, but Jennifer said right now her cancer is secondary to losing her home. She doesn't want her children to feel her anxiety. J. BOLDUC: Everything piled up, and everything just -- sorry. Everything in our lives that's so torn upside down right now. The only thing that matters is keeping my home and keeping my children stable. And then the rest, God willing, we'll be OK.


GUPTA: Well, her cancer is secondary to losing her home. What a devastating statement. These are the times that we live in.

We know breast cancer, of course, changes the lives of many women. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 182,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year and more than 40,000 women with breast cancer will die.

Joining me to talk more about breast cancer is oncologist Dr. Marissa Weiss. She's the founder of Her book is called "Taking Care of your Girls." Dr. Wise, welcome back to HOUSE CALL.

MARISA WEISS, DR., FOUNDER, BREASTCANCER.ORG: Well, thanks for having me, Sanjay.

GUPTA: You know, you just heard that story about the Bolduc family. It's such -- it's amazing these times we live in. You have to make these decisions between taking care of your cancer and taking care of your home. What did you think of that story?

WEISS: Well, it's like the patient's like take care -- the rug gets pulled out from under them just at the time that they're facing a serious illness. But I find as a doctor I have to jump in and help them address a few key things.

First of all, breast cancer is an urgency. It's not an emergency, so don't panic. You want to fortify your sources of income. You want to control your expenses and solidify your health insurance. And a note from your doctor or your doctor just picking up the phone can really help you.

You got to put on one list of -- on one piece of paper all the different expenses and, you know, financial burdens that haunt you. And develop a payment plan that will pay a little bit of each expense, rather than pay all of each one of them.

And then with your employer, where you want to solidify your source of income. Ask your doctor to write a letter. You can get reasonable accommodations like starting your day later, ending it earlier, cutting back if you need to, working from home. And if you work doing heavy, you know, lifting, that kind of thing, ask to be shifted to a desk job for a period of time. And let your doctor be the heavy. I'm telling you, a note from your doctor can make a big difference.

GUPTA: You know, I think it's probably very reassuring for a lot of people out there who are listening to our guests. Dr. Marisa Weiss from Philadelphia. We get a lot of questions. You've been on the show before. You know that. I want to get into a couple of specific ones. First of all, there were some questions about Christina Applegate recently. She had an MRI scan. And she says in some interviews it caught her cancer early. You may have heard that, Dr. Weiss. Should women insist on MRI scans instead of mammograms? Where do we stand on this?

WEISS: Mammography is still the gold standard for early detection for women in general. Christina Applegate's situation was unique. She had a strong family history of breast cancer, along with a known breast cancer gene abnormality. So she was at a higher risk and required an extra test, the MRI scan, which is a very sensitive study that helps find breast cancer in its earliest stages for women who at high risk.

It's also used for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or who have had treated for an illness like Hodgkin's disease as a young woman. But mammography remains the gold standard.

GUPTA: That's what you are still advising people. Quickly, you call your book "Taking Care of Your Girls." Clever title. What can women do to lower their risk? And I think I told you before, there's breast cancer, for example, in my family. What should people be thinking about it?

WEISS: Well, and breast cancer in my family, too. Each one of us is touched by this devastating disease. So we really believe at that you start early when you're just growing your breasts. Stay physically active. Get to a healthy weight and stick to it. Don't smoke. Limit your alcohol use to five or fewer drinks per week. And try to use organic sources of milk, avoid extra hormones in your food, and avoid fried foods. Limit your red meat to once a week.

There are a lot of things that we can do. And "Taking Care of your Girls" was a great chance for me to work with my own daughter. To each girls, starting out early, if we can prevent breast cancer from happening rather than to have to diagnose and treat it, that is our goal at

GUPTA: I wish we had so much more time with you, because you're always so helpful, Dr. Weiss. Thanks so much for being on the show. And I hope that's helpful for a lot of our viewers at home as well. Dr. Weiss, thank you.

WEISS: Thank you for having me, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Now still ahead on HOUSE CALL, we got worry, anxiety, uncertainty. Elizabeth Cohen joins us in a moment with some tips to empower you to try and stay calm through all this.

Plus, dishing up a healthy lunch. Why are these kids making vegetarian choices, healthy or not? That's the question. They're going to tell us.

And later, you've been sending your questions, I've been looking at them. My answers in "Ask the Doctor" segment. That's after the break.


GUPTA: And we are back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, the headlines are disturbing. In Los Angeles, an out of work money manager shoots his family before killing himself. In Massachusetts, a housewife commits suicide over fears of telling her family about her mounting debt. There are a number of unfortunate reports just like these, but desperate financial times don't have to lead to such desperate measures.

Elizabeth Cohen is here with some tips to help your wallet and your stress level as well -- Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, these are indeed tough times. So people need to be on the lookout for signs that someone is headed into a difficult situation.

How do you know if someone you love is thinking about suicide? Well, you don't always know, but here are some signs to look for. First of all, look and see if this person is withdrawing from family or friends. That's often the first sign. Also, if someone is talking or writing about death, or if someone is acting reckless, taking risks they don't usually take, that can be a sign that they're thinking about suicide.

And if you are concerned that someone you love is thinking about suicide, go to And there you'll see phone numbers and Web sites for suicide prevention organizations.

Now thankfully, most of us who are in financial distress do not become suicidal. And what we really need is to sit down with someone who knows something about money to help us figure out a way out of the mess that we're in. So if you go to my column this week, I have four places you can go to get free financial advice to get you out of your financial situation, whether it's foreclosure or credit card debt, four places that will give you financial advice for free -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth, thanks. And everyone at home, make sure to take care of yourselves as well.

Up next...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like the vegetarian chicken nuggets and the vegetarian corn dog here.


GUPTA: We're going to go inside a school cafeteria that's offering a very popular vegetarian lunch menu. No more mystery meat Mondays. I remember those.

Plus, preventing a stroke, coming up on "Ask the Doctor." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, for most of us, the words school lunch summons an image of greasy pizzas or mystery meat. Well, one school district is trying to change all that. It's having some surprising success.


GUPTA (voice-over): Tofu dogs, black bean burgers, soy chicken patties. Not a typical diet for most teens, but at Birkmar (ph) Middle School in Oburn, Georgia, the kids don't seem to care.

ALISHA ZARIWALLA, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT: I like the vegetarian chicken nuggets and the vegetarian corn dog here.

CHRISTOPHER HOLMES, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT: I eat the grilled cheese sandwiches and apples. And sometimes I'll eat the veggie burger.

GUPTA: Birkmar is just one of Gwinnett (ph) County schools that offers vegetarian options in the lunch line. And the kids are voting vegetarian at a surprising rate.

KAREN CRAWFORD, SCHOOL NUTRITION COORDINATOR: You know, it's estimated about three percent of teens are vegetarians, which is around 5,000 students for us.

GUPTA: Now some of the kids eat vegetarian for religious reasons, but many of these 10 to 12-year-olds say they choose it for health reasons.

CINDY HERNANDEZ, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT: We went to the doctor. I was 10 pounds overweight. Since the doctor said that that could be more -- a faster way, when I grow up, I could die faster. So my mom didn't like it. So started making more healthy food and naturally made me lose those ten pounds.

KEVIN FAOTTO, MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT: I want to stay healthy and have a healthy life.

GUPTA: All in all, Gwinnett County schools have served close to 500,000 vegetarian meals in this last year alone. And Karen Crawford hopes the habits they learn now will stay with them for a lifetime.

CRAWFORD: We know that nutrition profoundly affects, you know, how kids -- their ability to learn and grow and maintain a healthy lifestyle. And it's important to teach them these lessons when they're young.


GUPTA: See, here at HOUSE CALL, we are committed to the childhood obesity epidemic. And that's another example of some success. Coming up next, are fibroids genetic? That's one topic in our "Ask the Doctor" segment, my favorite segment. Stay with us.


GUPTA: It's time for our segment, "Ask the Doctor", a chance to get the answers to the medical questions that are on your minds. And Jane from Amsterdam writes this. "I fear having a stroke because I have high blood pressure and a family history. What are the signs to look for?"

Well, here's one thing to keep in mind. Strokes often strike quickly. So recognizing symptoms immediately is the key. Some specific things to look for, sudden dizziness, trouble seeing, sudden confusion, numbness of the face, arms and legs. If you experience these symptoms, try and seek help immediately. The longer the blood flow is cut off from the brain, the greater the damage.

You can also reduce your risk of smoke by, one, if you smoke, quit today. And two, if you have high blood pressure or heart disease or diabetes or high cholesterol even, do your best to keep these things under control. Good luck, Jane. Thanks for writing in.

We've got another question from our roving camera.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a couple of women in my family that are dealing with fibroids. And I was just wondering if it was genetic or what brings that on to certain women?


GUPTA: That's a great question. It's one we get often. The exact cause of these benign tumors is really unknown. But here's what we do know. Race does play a big part in fibroids. In fact, African- American women have a 70 to 80 percent chance of getting fibroids, not only in the reproductive years, but all the way through menopause.

Now, some research suggests genes also plays a role in fibroids. But like so many diseases, there are different ways in which they develop. For example, it might be hormonal or be more common during growth spurts.

Now, women who have fibroids often have fertility-related issues and have heavier periods with more discomfort. Dietary changes can help. Don't drink alcohol, especially beer. And stay away from red meat. Eating a diet rich in leafy greens can help in reducing fibroids. Of course, talk to your doctor for more information.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Remember, HOUSE CALL is the place for the answers to all your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.