Sunshine State Safety

Florida has long been nicknamed ‘The Sunshine State’, and we all know why- blazing sunshine and temperatures into the 90’s almost all year round. As many Floridians say to their Northerner relatives and friends, “We live where you take vacation!” Living in Florida, however, makes us Floridians extremely prone to many types of skin cancer as we are constantly exposed to the sun’s harmful rays. As we age, the likelihood to be diagnosed goes up as sun exposure has a cumulative effect on the skin. More days at the beach translate into more exposure to harmful rays.

Dr. Chris Balamucki, a Radiation Oncologist at The Cancer Center of NFRMC.

Dr. Chris Balamucki, a Radiation Oncologist at The Cancer Center of NFRMC.

Dr. Christopher Balamucki is a Radiation Oncologist at The Cancer Center of North Florida Regional Medical Center. Balamucki received his Medical Degree at Wake Forest School of Medicine and completed his Radiation Oncology Residency at the University of Florida. While he is dedicated to treating patients with various kinds of cancer, his passion is sharing information wherever and whenever he can about how to prevent cancer. In a recent talk at The Village Retirement Community in Gainesville, Dr. Balamucki was able to offer a lot of information on different types of skin cancer, how to recognize and treat it and, most importantly, how to prevent it. Attendees said they learned a lot from Dr. Balamucki. Here is some of what he shared with them.

Give Me the Stats.With more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed in over 2 million people per year, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. To break that down- roughly 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed in their lifetime, according to Dr. Balamucki. The cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined are still less than those of skin cancer! This large amount of cases may be in part because of the wide range of skin cancers that exist, which range in commonality and aggressiveness. Dr. Balamucki discussed these cancers in the order from most to least common: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma.


Identifying and Treating.Dr. Balamucki offered up a great recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation: do a routine monthly self-examination. In doing a self-examination, you will be able to identify new or changing skin lesions and promptly schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. It is important to do this because it can help you catch skin cancer at its early stages, and early skin cancers have a 90 to 95 percent cure rate. After you see your dermatologist, the doctor will assess the skin lesion and determine if it can be treated there or if you need to go to a Radiation Oncology clinic for treatment. Dermatologists have many forms of treatment. After a shave biopsy is completed, a dermatologist can perform one of many treatment options. If there is potential for a poor cosmetic result of the surgery or if the dermatologist is not able to completely remove the skin cancer, which is when the patient will typically be referred to a Radiation Oncologist.

Image courtesy of marcolm at

Image courtesy of marcolm at

Prevention is the Name of the Game. With so many different types of skin cancer, it is so crucial to do everything you can to prevent a possible diagnosis. Obviously, living in Florida makes it almost impossible to avoid sun exposure completely. However, if you can, try to limit your exposure. If you’re at the beach, spend some time in the sun but take a break and sit under an umbrella for a while. When you know you will be in the sun, wear at least 30 SPF and constantly reapply it. Lastly, avoid tanning beds! They are extremely harmful and have been linked strongly to skin cancer. So as a Floridian, it is important that as we enjoy the year round sunshine, we make sure that we take all the precautions to keep our skin safe and healthy!

Are You A Passive Smoker

Secondhand smoke; a.k.a. Passive Smoking, is a Killer

According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, there have been more than 20 million smoking-related deaths in the United States since 1964. Of those, 2.5 million were among non-smokers who died from exposure to secondhand smoke. During that same time, 100,000 babies died due to parental smoking, including smoking during pregnancy. This is no big surprise to Dr. Robert DeMarco. A board-certified pulmonologist and critical care physician, Dr. DeMarco cares for patients in Intensive Care at North Florida Regional Medical Center. We asked him if there is any question about the connection between passive smoking and chronic lung disease. Here’s what he said.

Secondhand smoke (SHS) is a mixture of 2 forms of smoke that come from burning tobacco:

  • Sidestream smoke: Smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar
  • Mainstream smoke: The smoke exhaled by a smoker

Even though we think of these as the same, they aren’t. Sidestream smoke has higher concentrations of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and is more toxic than mainstream smoke. And, it has smaller particles than mainstream smoke. These smaller particles make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily.


What To Do

Everyone can be exposed to SHS in public places, such as restaurants, shopping centers, public transportation, parks, schools, and daycare centers. The Surgeon General has suggested people choose restaurants and other businesses that are smoke-free, and let owners of businesses that are not smoke-free know that SHS is harmful to your family’s health.

Public places where children go are a special area of concern. Make sure that your children’s daycare center or school is smoke-free.

Some businesses seem to be afraid to ban smoking, but there’s no strong evidence that going smoke-free is bad for business.

At home

Making your home smoke-free may be one of the most important things you can do for the health of your family. Any family member can develop health problems related to SHS.

Children’s growing bodies are especially sensitive to the toxins in SHS. Asthma, lung infections, and ear infections are more common in children who are around smokers. Some of these problems can become serious and even life-threatening. Others may seem like small problems, but they can add up quickly – the time for doctor visits, medicines, lost school time, and often lost work time for the parent who must stay home with a sick child are all costs that can impact a family.

Think about it: we spend more time at home than anywhere else. A smoke-free home protects your family, your guests, and even your pets.

Multi-unit housing where smoking is allowed is a special concern and a subject of research. Tobacco smoke can move through air ducts, wall and floor cracks, elevator shafts, and along crawl spaces to contaminate apartments on other floors, even those that are far from the smoke. SHS cannot be controlled with ventilation, air cleaning, or by separating smokers from non-smokers.

In the car

Americans spend a great deal of time in cars, and if someone smokes there, the toxins can build up quickly. Again, this can be especially harmful to children.

In response to this fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency has been working to encourage people to make their cars, as well as their homes, smoke-free. Some states and cities even have laws that ban smoking in the car if carrying passengers under a certain age or weight. And many facilities such as city buildings, malls, schools, colleges, and hospitals ban smoking on their grounds, including their parking lots.

What Is a Health Weight

How Do You Define it?

Many may define their personal “healthy weight” strictly by the scale, others by the mirror, and some by how they feel. Which is correct? Maybe all of the above! How do you feel about your weight? Are you comfortable with how you look and feel? Do you have the energy to pursue your daily activities and hobbies? Do you miss out on events with family and friends because your weight hinders your participation? Do you like the way your clothes fit and/or the style of clothing you have as choices? Your feelings and emotions regarding your body size may be accurate or they may be skewed by perceptions from Hollywood about what “normal” size looks like.

According to My Calculations…

If your body weight is preventing you from participating in the activities of daily life, it is time to look at more objective data. One of the easiest ways to look at a healthy weight is to calculate body mass index. It is measured by your weight divided by height squared. A quick Google search for a BMI calculator will enable you to input your height and weight. The normal range for most people is 18.5-24.9. Anything less than 18.5 is considered underweight. The BMI range for overweight is 25-29.9 and for obesity is a BMI over 30. For the majority of people, this is a good estimate of how their body weight may affect their health. For athletes, this calculation may be skewed due to their high muscle mass. For this population, a calculation of body fat percentage may be more accurate. The problem with excess body weight, in addition to the way you look and feel about yourself, is that it puts you at risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, joint problems and cancer (WebMD). Unfortunately, years of carrying excess weight usually takes its toll later in life.

Healthy Habits.

Healthy Lifestyle. Finally, it is essential to look at your habits. Are your habits conducive to a healthy lifestyle? Will they promote weight loss and weight maintenance or will they eventually lead to weight gain? How much processed food is part of your daily intake? How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you regularly consume? How many sodas do you drink per day? Water? Dairy servings? How often do you cook versus eat out in restaurants? Do you participate in regular exercise or physical activity? Regardless of your weight now, poor dietary and activity habits will usually lead to weight gain which may lead to chronic disease. It has been shown that diets do not work. People can lose weight through a temporary change of dietary intake and exercise but unless those changes become a permanent part of a healthy lifestyle, they will not benefit long term. Actually, gaining the weight back may lead to feelings of failure, poor self-image, and apathy toward adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Weight

So what essential habits help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight?

  1. Eat real food. Try to eat as many foods that have a short ingredient list—Lean meat, fruits and vegetables, and dairy.
  2. Cook your own food. It is difficult to regularly consume restaurant foods and not over-consume calories.
  3. Avoid junk food. Processed foods usually have long ingredient lists with additives that you cannot pronounce.
  4. Drink water as your beverage of choice.
  5. Move.
  6. Control portion sizes. Large portions of healthy foods may still exceed caloric requirements.
  7. Get enough sleep.
  8. Manage your stress and avoid stress eating.
  9. Know yourself. What are the triggers that drive you to overeat or make poor food choices?
  10. Find the balance. Life is tough and full of situations that make healthy eating difficult. Do the best that you can in those situations then resume your healthy habits.So whether you judge your healthy weight by the scale, the mirror or how you feel, it is important to make sure you maintain healthy habits. With healthy habits comes a healthy lifestyle!

Phytonutrients? It’s not Greek to Me!

What Sounds Complicated is Actually Simple

Unless you have your healthy head in the sand, you have probably heard of Phytonutrients or Phytochemicals. What in the world does that mean? Phyto is Greek and means plants. So, Phytochemicals or Phytonutrients are words to describe healthy ingredients in plant-based foods. See, it’s simple. And it’s more than that.

They’re Good for You!

Eat your vegetables! Yeah, I know you’ve heard that before – probably from your mother encouraging you to eat your greens as a child. Nope, you’re not a child anymore, and you are hopefully a healthy adult faithfully eating your greens since you know how important it is to have those nutrients in your diet. What Mom may not have told you is that you can get important nutrients from veggies and other plant-based foods that are not greens. In fact, many of them are white. How about that?

Linda Armada is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with The Diabetes Center of North Florida Regional Healthcare.

Linda Armada is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with The Diabetes Center of North Florida Regional Healthcare.

Lessons from Linda

Linda Armada, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Diabetes Center at North Florida Regional Medical Center, offers some great insight into why phytochemicals are so important to our diet. She explains that these compounds can help increase the body’s ability to fight infections and cancer; some may even lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Armada also explains that these important compounds are often found in white fruits and vegetables. A few phytochemical-rich foods include cauliflower, onions, bananas, garlic, potatoes, pears, corn and squash.

Phyto Advice

Here are a few thoughts just to get you going.

  • Start your day with a cup of hot green tea and some mixed berries-strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. They are a great combo, and all are rich in antioxidants, a type of phytochemical.
  • Try making a quinoa salad with white beans, corn and chopped onions, which can be served cold or hot.
  • For dinner, try grilled chicken and onions, a tossed salad, sweet potatoes and cauliflower.

If you’re interested in more information about phytochemicals, click here. Next time you’re reaching for a healthy snack, don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be green!

Chronic Lung Disease and Lung Cancer

Why Do They Go Hand in Hand?

Chronic Lung Disease and Lung Cancer are two of the biggest medical problems throughout North Central Florida. Many patients who have one also have the other? It is a debilitating and often deadly combination. Why the connection? Dr. Allison Grow, a radiation oncologist with The Cancer Center of North Central Florida, sat down to talk with WCJB-TV’s Lauren Verno to answer that question. Dr. Grow offered straight talk about the simple reason and the not-so-simple solution.

Stay tuned for more posts this month about Chronic Lung Disease and what women should know and do to avoid it.

Chronic Lung Disease: Let’s Get To Work

Prevent. Prevent. Prevent

Chronic lung disease is one of our biggest medical challenges. It’s one of our Top 5 killers. Those deaths are preventable. Those who manage to live with it go through a pretty awful experience. A very kind lady by the name of Heidimarie Morrell was kind enough to share her story with WCJB-TV, our Women and Wellness partner. Heidimarie’s goal is simple. She doesn’t want you to wind up like her. Listen and learn.

Stay tuned for more this month about Chronic Lung Conditions. In the meantime, enjoy those breaths.