Kirklin Clinic Head & Neck Cancer Support Group,  Birmingham, AL

distributed by American Cancer Society

Pat Sanders, Editor

August 2006

by Shari Aizenman

It’s the travel season again and here we are, ready to go!  We have our bags packed and all of our plans made. There is just one more thing to do…get to our destination.

In order to remain in health consciousness, I am offering this bit of advice:  traveler beware!  As a long-time massage therapist and frequent trans-Atlantic traveler, I am aware that the stillness associated with prolonged traveling can be unhealthy and even deadly. 


There is a silent killer out there and this article will help you not only become aware of this particular problem associated with airline travel, but hopefully bring you into more consciousness regarding your health while traveling.  The exercises at the end of this article will assist you in combating fatigue and poor circulation, swelling, joint pain and lethargy while sitting on a plane or in a car for any length of time.


An unknown number of people die every year from pulmonary embolisms caused by thrombophlebitis.   Blood clots can form in the legs, usually the thighs, and occur more often on longer flights on airplanes.   The airline industry does not warn you of this danger for fear of scaring off customers.  Here is what you should know:   for some reason sitting still on an airplane in 8,000 ft. pressure altitude in very dry air does not make you thirsty.  It is easy to take a long flight without drinking very much or ever needing to go to the restroom.  Research has shown that your body responds to the pressure and dehydration by increasing clotting factors in your blood.  So, what is the problem?


The degree of dehydration (also due to the moisture lost with each exhale) plus the pressure inside the plane, combined with the immobility is a recipe for disaster!  These factors, when combined, can cause a blood clot in your legs that, when dislodged, can circulate through your blood stream and reach your lungs, blocking an artery, causing a fatal pulmonary embolism.  The medical term for this clot is Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT.  The most common results are organ damage or death. 


DVT can also occur on long car trips and in those who are immobilized for longer periods of time due to surgery or injury.


People who are at higher risk for DVT include those with varicose veins, cancer, smokers, history of leg clots, leg or pelvic surgery, women on birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, overweight people, the elderly and very tall people.


Some of the warning signs include aching legs, feeling a sensation like pins and needles, a warm or hardened area on your lower extremity and difficulty bearing weight on your legs.  If the clot has moved to the lungs you may have shortness of breath or chest pain.


Here are some ways you can take charge of your health and prevent DVT while flying:


·        Drink at least 8 ounces of water for every two hours on a plane (this includes ground time!)

·        Avoid alcohol and caffeine drinks as they are dehydrating

·        Do not smoke

·        Wear loose-fitting clothes

·        Do not cross your legs at your seat as this can reduce blood flow in your legs

·        Wear compression hose

·        If in higher risk categories, ask your doctor whether to take aspirin before flying to inhibit blood clotting

·        Book an exit row, bulkhead seat or aisle seat and stand up or walk, whenever possible

The following exercises are designed to do while sitting in a car or airplane seat.  Not only can this help prevent DVT, but will keep your body and mind relaxed while traveling.  At the very least, you will entertain your fellow passengers as they watch you and wonder.

While in your seat, clench your toes.  Squeeze and hold for ten seconds.  Release and relax.  Repeat, holding this time for twenty seconds. 

Bend your foot upward and spread your toes, holding for five seconds, then point your foot down and clench your toes, holding for five seconds.  Repeat twice. 

Keep the balls of your feet planted and raise your heels using your calf muscles.  If it is too easy, consider placing your carry-on bag on your knees.  Repeat ten-twenty times.  Place your hands on your armrests and raise your knees, one at a time or together if you can and hold for five seconds, release and relax.  Repeat three times.

Rotate each foot, one at a time, in a circle ten times, then in the opposite direction ten times.  Relax.

Squeeze a tennis ball or pair of socks with your hands twenty times.

Stretch your neck by pulling your chin close to your chest, then tilting it toward one ear.  Then roll your head toward the other ear.  Come back to neutral.  (Avoid tilting your head backward without support on the back of your neck.)

Do ten shoulder hunches, raising your shoulder toward your ear, first one shoulder, then the other.  Then do ten with them together.  Relax. 

Arch your torso gently forward and backward like a cat.  Repeat ten times.

Squeeze your buttock muscles (gluts) and hold for twenty seconds.  (This may cause strange glances.)

Between meal or beverage services, stand up and walk in the aisles.  Go to the galley section and do some small leg stretches, holding onto the wall or flight attendant’s jump seat.  Twist through your torso, breathing and relaxing.   Be considerate of other passengers and crew.

I remember a flight I took on KLM Airlines from Atlanta to Amsterdam.  Imagine my surprise when on the screen that had shown a movie just minutes prior, there came on a film encouraging the passengers to join in, stretching their arms up and down, squeezing their legs and rear ends and waving to the people on the other side of the plane! 

Enjoy your trip!


What’s it like to be a Moderator?


Before I was asked to be back-up Moderator for our Web Whispers email list, I liked to check in during the morning to see who had questions and who had answers. But after accepting Dutch’s request to moderate, my mornings took on a new flavor. Suddenly I was seeing messages before anyone else, and was responsible for making sure each complied with our Netiquette Rules prior to release. I never realized how many had to be returned for non-compliance.

I still don’t think of myself as a full-fledged Moderator for our mail-list, because even now I ask Dutch’s opinion on what to do about an email, if there is any question in my mind. I know the 3-S rules. It has to have a subject, a signature, and be a single email without a full copy of the one you are answering. In the beginning sometimes I let one or two of those get by – we all did as trainees – but we got to keep our jobs anyway, and eventually we learned to be more careful.

Content must follow certain inflexible rules. No chain letters, virus warnings, cute stories or individual Holiday Greetings that, while pleasant, tend to create traffic jams on our list. And no attachments, which are rejected at incoming and don’t even come through to me.

The other Netiquette rules are more ambiguous. No sales pitches allowed – nothing inflammatory or political, don’t flame anyone and no preaching to the choir about the evils of smoking and the ugly tobacco companies. Take it to the Forum, where it is allowed. Hard to avoid the first one when you are enthusiastic about a product you use and someone has asked for general input. That’s one of the things that makes Web Whispers so great – product feedback. However, if you are affiliated with the company you are telling us about and don’t mention it, that comes under sales pitch and is not allowed!

If you had bad luck with a product, and want to tell us what went wrong, maybe one of us can tell you how to “ fix” it. But we don’t want to hear what an awful company it is because they charge too much and don’t stand behind their product. Our vendors all try to work with us to straighten out problems if we give them the chance.

I think we are all pretty much against people smoking, even if it wasn’t the cause of our own cancer, and if you are active in presentations at schools and organizations to help kids avoid starting, share your success with us on The Forum where people can comment freely on it, not the list. If you have rather unusual stories about this or any other topics, run them by Pat to see if she can use them on Whispers on the Web instead.

The mail-list is the Jewel in our Crown. I think this must have been the core of Dutch’s thinking when he sat down at his computer that fortunate day and said, Let’s see – what do we need. People, yes, people who now share the same anxieties and needs, trading information, experiences, sympathy and support! This, then, is the main purpose of our mail-list, communication between larys, caregivers, and professionals..

So much experienced help is here 24/7 that, when you have a crisis, you can usually count on reaching a member who has lived through the same thing before you can get through to your doctor and make an appointment. Our members offer suggestions to start with, and things to ask or tell your doctor when you do see him. We, collectively, know more first hand about post lary stuff than most doctors who can intelligently talk the talk, but have never had to walk the walk. They still learn from us while we learn from them.

So now, first thing each morning before breakfast, I pour a cup of coffee for the commute to my office down the hall, and automatically start my job of spreading the word about who needs help and who has advice to offer. It is truly exciting and rewarding to be even a little wheel in our very big pond.

Barb Stratton

WebWhispers Moderator


Kirklin Clinic Head & Neck Support Group

No meetings until further notice.  In the interim, we suggest that you join WebWhispers.org, a fine support group online. There is a large web site full of information for you and an email list to contact other laryngectomees.  You do need an email address.

We are also invited to attend an All Cancers group with a luncheon every third Tuesday in Birmingham.  Call or email Pat Sanders.

HeadLines Newsletter: B’ham:  Pat Sanders,   205-980-8416; pat@choralmusic.com
For cancer information call 800.ACS.2345 or visit our Web site at www.cancer.org
American Cancer Society in Birmingham:   nprice@cancer.org



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