Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lessons in Survival – from which we ALL can Learn

On Sunday, April 22, at the Komen Philadelphia Affiliate’s Survivors Celebration!, I was honored to present an outstanding survivor award on behalf of UnitedHealthcare to one of our own, Susan Affeldt. Susan told me she traveled the 1,370 miles from Duluth, MN not to receive “her award,” but to celebrate the lives of everyone in her breast cancer survivor family. As we sat on the dais – looking out at more than 600 survivors and loved ones gathered, laughing and crying as others shared their stories, hearing families stand up and cheer – my emotions ran high.  It was impossible not to feel empowered, as well as grateful, to be part of a community so full of hope in this fight.

As noted in the Survivors Celebration! tribute journal, UnitedHealthcare chose Susan for this honor because:

“To those who know her and have been touched by her many means of outreach, Susan is the embodiment of a warm embrace - offered at the perfect time, whether that time be one of anxiety, fear, clarity or celebration. When you meet her, there’s no doubt much of Susan’s embraceable demeanor stems from the love she carries for her son, who, at just three years old, was her inspiration to face and defeat breast cancer in 1992. She extends that same love and appreciation to everyone united in the quest to end breast cancer, as well as those she seeks to support, especially children who have family members with cancer …”  

As I read this excerpt, it struck me how “full circle” breast cancer – a disease diagnosed 3,756 times a day in the U.S. – travels. I had that ‘ah-ha’ moment connecting Susan’s ability to draw from the strength of her son to survive, and her dedication to helping other children deal with breast cancer… with our sponsorship of the first-ever Kids for the Cure®: UnitedHealthcareDash to Make a Difference.

This Mother’s Day at the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure®, approximately  500 boys and girls aged 3-12 are expected to join the fight against breast cancer by participating in The Dash. Those numbers speak to the cruel fact that with one out of every eight women diagnosed, the number of children who have either lost loved ones to breast cancer or experienced them in treatment, is staggering. Silence about the disease and its impact can actually intensify children’s fears. Not involving them in the fight for a cure can contribute to their feelings of helplessness in protecting their adult loved ones against breast cancer.

The Dash to Make a Difference will embrace children in the same hope and sharing experienced by adults at the Survivors Celebration! At the event, we’ll help kids realize and celebrate the more than 2 million survivors living in the U.S.—including their moms, neighbors, teachers, aunts and grandparents. We will give them a real way to get involved and to show that they care. Most important, at the end of the Dash EVERY child will receive a medal, placed on him or her by a parent or adult loved one. Again, I get goosebumps thinking about the hugs that are going to take place at that moment – the ultimate demonstration to these youngsters that they will never be left to face breast cancer alone. I invite you to be there with me to experience it!

And, if you are a woman who is facing a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment or recovery, I invite you to visit UnitedHealthcare’s Source4Women website at www.source4women.com. It’s everything healthcare for women. It’s a place where you can talk to health topic experts and even connect with women with similar health or family concerns. You can also follow us on Twitter:  @Source4Women

Sue Schick presents UnitedHealthcare's Outstanding Survivor Award to breast cancer survivor Susan Affeldt

Sue Schick gathers with "Kids for the Cure"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Learn How to Stress Less

I think it’s safe to say that we are all stressed these days, to one degree or another. Certainly there are “official” seasons for stress, such as around tax time or during the holidays. Or, when a health or other unforeseen crisis strikes. But, for most of us, stress is just always there, like those pesky five pounds you are always trying to loose.

We know that constant high levels of stress are unhealthy, causing neck or low-back pain, ulcers, hypertension and diabetes, and can lead to strokes and heart attacks. But they can also affect job performance, relationships with co-workers, even your employer’s bottom line. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 40 percent of employee turnover is due to job stress, and health care costs are 50 percent greater for employees with high stress levels.

The good news is that while you may not be able to change your work environment or the amount of traffic during your commute, you can manage how you react to them. The key is learning “resilience” in your personal and professional life, developing strength in the face of what you define as stressful situations, and, above all, not letting it get the best of you.

Of course, applying these principles takes practice and patience. And, exercising and eating well will boost your effectiveness. I’m also a big believer in three coping mechanisms that work for me: remembering to “be here now,” giving back and laughter.

Recently, our Employee Engagement Committee sponsored a “Be Here Now” challenge. We encouraged each other not to multitask in meetings or on the phone. We promised to help each other quiet our busy minds. When I think about a meaningful change I've made in my life over the past six months, the ability to “Be Here Now” looms large. I can’t say I never multitask, but now I catch myself – and stop -- a lot faster. While it used to feel natural to have a busy mind, now it just feels wrong. I know my performance is better and my relationships are stronger. This challenge helped free up space for creativity and innovation, and helped us to better focus on our core values.

Giving back also always helps me to keep my stress at bay. Next month, in an effort to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, I’ll be a “celebrity scooper” -- I’ll be at Reading Terminal scooping up the newest Basset Ice Cream flavor, PBJ, in honor of the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 30th anniversary.

Although it might sound simplistic, keeping a sense of humor during difficult situations is a common recommendation from stress-management experts – because it really works. Laughter not only releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps keep perspective, but it has been shown to have actual physical and psychological benefits, from reducing stress hormone levels to improving self-esteem.

If you want to get a head start on your stress reduction, check out “Laugh Rx” comedy segments at www.uhc.tv. And then let me know some of your favorite ways to minimize the stress in your life.