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Here's a few facts you might not know about breast cancer.

September is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and many media outlets focus on the most common risk factors for the disease and its typical symptoms. Meanwhile, breast cancer research continues to explore new causes for the disease, and, because breast cancer can take several forms, some symptoms might not be well known either.

What’s in Your Food

Eating more plants seems to lower the risk of developing cancer, but a chemical found in the soil around them may boost it. In one study scientists saw a link between breast cancer and cadmium. This heavy metal turns up in many fertilizers used to grow our food. Other sources of cadmium include:

  • Burned fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas
  • Burned wood
  • Emissions from incinerating municipal waste and medical waste
  • Crabs and mussels
  • Organ meats

Chemicals in the Air

Certain chemicals in environmental pollutants are similar to estrogen and other hormones. Exposure to those chemicals seems to raise the risk of breast cancer. The chances of breast tissue damage is highest when:

  • An unborn baby's mammary glands are forming
  • A girl reaches puberty
  • A woman is pregnant

Drinking and Hormones

Postmenopausal women who drink alcohol daily and take hormone replacement therapy for five years or more increase their chances of developing breast cancer. One study showed that mixing the therapy with 1.5 drinks per day doubled the risk. The good news is that the risk is lowered when the therapy ends.

The Unexpected Symptoms

Some less well-known symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Swelling of the breast
  • Enlarged lymph node under the arm with associated redness
  • Discoloration of the breast
  • Dimpled texture to breast skin

Some of these symptoms are associated with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare form of the disease.

If you experience any unusual changes to your breast or nipples, don’t hesitate—see a doctor. In most cases, the cause is not cancer, but it’s better to be safe. And if you have questions about women’s health issues or need a doctor,  call North Hills Hospital at 1-855-5NHILLS for a physician referral.

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Learn the factors that increase your risk of developing this cancer.

Ovarian cancer strikes only a small percentage of women, but it can be deadly. It causes more deaths than any cancer of the female reproductive system. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to learn the factors that increase a woman's chance of developing the disease.

Factors You Can’t Control

  • Genetics – mutations in genes called BRCA1 and 2 are linked to higher rates of ovarian cancer. Other genetic mutations can lead to Lynch Syndrome. While more closely associated with colorectal cancer, it can be a factor with ovarian cancer too.
  • Family history – if any close female relatives have had ovarian or breast cancer, your chances of developing ovarian cancer are higher.
  • Personal medical history – if you had or have breast cancer or certain other cancers (including melanoma and uterine cancer), your risk increases. Taking estrogen alone after menopause for hormone replacement therapy also boosts the risks.
  • Reproductive history – if you cannot (or choose not to) have children, you might be at higher risk. Each full-term pregnancy a woman has reduces her chance of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Age – most ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women who have gone through menopause.

Lifestyle Choices and Other Controllable Factors

  • Diet – a low-fat diet has been tied to lower rates of ovarian cancer.
  • Fertility drugs – women who are at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer should avoid clomiphene citrate (Clomid), as this drug has shown to further increase your risk.
  • Contraception – using birth control pills or injectable hormone contraceptives lowers the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Assessing the Risk

If you’re curious about your risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are several online assessment tools available, including one here. Of course, if you’re truly concerned, you should see your doctor.

At North Hills Hospital, we’re concerned about women’s health too. If you’re looking for  a physician to address reproductive or other health issues, use our online physician finder or call 1-855-5NHILLS for a referral.

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Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Find out when women should worry about abdominal pain.

If you're a woman, you are probably no stranger to abdominal pain. There are a number of causes for abdominal pain and many times women can determine the cause for their pain and treat it accordingly. However, it is important that women don't take for granted certain types of pain and know when to seek treatment. Here are some common causes for abdominal pain in women, some of which should be taken very seriously.

Ectopic Pregnancy
Any sexually active woman should know the signs of an ectopic pregnancy. These typically include a sharp abdominal pain on one side that occurs 6 weeks into a pregnancy, followed by vaginal bleeding. The pain worsens with movement or straining and, over time, signs of shock occur resulting from internal bleeding. If you suspect an ectopic pregnancy, seek medical attention immediately.

Heart Attack
Women are at a higher risk of dying from a heart attack because their symptoms vary from men, and women are more likely to ignore their symptoms. Abdominal pain can be a sign of a heart attack including chest pressure or squeezing, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea and pain in the arm, neck, chest or back. Never ignore these symptoms and call 911 if you suspect you may be having a heart attack. 

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can make urinating uncomfortable, but it can also cause your belly or back to feel tender or it may make your abdomen feel heavy. It is important to have a UTI treated so that the infection does not spread or affect your kidneys.

Severe abdominal pain or nausea may be a sign of norovirus. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and stomach pain. It is very easily transmitted, especially for those living in close quarters. It can be particularly dangerous for small children or older adults.

Pain from appendicitis can start around the belly button and then worsen to a sharp pain localized to the right side of the abdomen. The severity of pain usually increases over a 6-12 hour period and can include symptoms like nausea, abdominal swelling, tenderness, pain during movement, fever and diarrhea. It is critical that those with appendicitis seek immediate medical treatment.

Digestion Complications
A number of conditions related to digestion can cause abdominal pain for women. GERD (or heartburn) can cause severe discomfort in the upper abdomen and chest. IBS is a common condition and may result in digestion issues including cramping, diarrhea or nausea. During a woman's period, she may experience diarrhea or abdominal bloating in addition to menstrual cramping. Gallstones, pancreatitis and Crohn's Disease are also more serious digestive conditions that result in abdominal pain.

When to Seek Medical Attention
Abdominal pain is common in women, but its cause or source can vary dramatically. If abdominal pain continues without relief and is paired with other unusual symptoms, it is important to seek treatment since the reason may not always be apparent. Are you experiencing unexpected or unusual abdominal pain? Call North Hills Hospital at 1-855-5NHILLS to request a physician referral. If your symptoms are severe, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.

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Why Self-Care Is Important for Women

Find out what habits can boost your health and lower your risk of disease.

Both genders can benefit from the same general health advice, but it's important to know the best ways to take care of certain aspects that are specific to women. Learn which habits to adopt in order to live a long, healthy life.

Eat a balanced diet
Dieting isn’t always about losing weight, although you should talk to your doctor about safe ways to get fit if you are currently overweight. To focus on health, you need to focus on a diet that offers you balanced nutrition, reasonable portions and meets your dietary needs. Learn how to read nutrition labels.

Get your annual exams and screenings
Check in with your healthcare provider every year for a basic exam, including a pap smear. These crucial screenings are an excellent way to stay on top of your health. Use this appointment as an opportunity to bring up any concerns you might have.

Even if you’re not at the age that doctors begin recommending mammograms and colonoscopies, you can still get screened for cancer. Talk to your dermatologist or general practitioner about screening for signs of skin cancer. Perform self-exams on your breasts.

Prioritize sleep
There are many proven health benefits when it comes to getting enough rest. Make it a priority in your life to get enough sleep at night. This means talking to your doctor if you’re experiencing chronic sleep issues.

Seek mental health care
If you’re frequently stressed, depressed or anxious, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk to your doctor about finding the right kind of therapist or counselor to get support from. Open up to friends and practice self-care. Sometimes this means saying no to obligations.

Stay active
It’s crucial to stay active as you age. It’s recommended that adults get about 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, so find ways to get moving that don’t feel like work. It may take some experimenting to figure out what kinds of physical activity are right for you.

Take control of your health with North Hills Hospital and schedule your yearly exams. Call 1-855-5NHILLS for a physician referral to get started today.

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Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Why Self-Care Is Important for Women

Learn what you can do to relieve anxiety naturally.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder. According to the CDC, these disorders are more common in women. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or not, you can benefit from ways to alleviate anxiety in your everyday life.

1. Limit things that stress you out
Sometimes stress can’t be avoided. Your job and responsibilities may be stressful, or you may be going through a life event that triggers your anxiety. Do what you can to limit stress in ways that you can control, such as avoiding taking on additional responsibilities or exposing yourself to situations that cause you to feel anxiety.

2. Get regular activity
Exercise and daily activity have numerous health benefits. In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight and helping you fight the risk of many diseases, exercise helps improve your mood. It also helps you get more rest at night, which can be crucial in fighting feelings of stress and anxiety.

3. Do things you love
When you’re experiencing regular stress and anxiety, distracting and enjoyable activities can help improve your mood. Keep in mind that if you have an anxiety disorder, it isn’t as simple as distracting yourself or “taking your mind off things.” However, sometimes a soothing hobby or something like watching mindless, fun TV can help break you out of an anxious state.

4. Practice meditation or prayer
Meditation is believed to result in a state of greater calmness and physical relaxation, and psychological balance. Try searching online for free videos that guide you through basic meditation techniques. You can also visit a local center for meditation or consult with a mental health counselor who can get you started.

5. Talk to your doctor
There’s no replacement for a doctor’s care if you feel like your anxiety is impairing your life. If you’re struggling to complete tasks, engage in everyday activities or carry on relationships, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

If you're feeling stress or anxiety and would like to speak with someone, North Hills Hospital can help. Visit our website or call us at 1-855-5NHILLS for a physician referral.

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Why Self-Care Is Important for Women

This post is part of our series meant to encourage women in various stages of their lives and to remind each other that as women, we’re all in this together. I hope this series will provide you with new ideas, or at least the reassurance that not everybody’s home looks like those pictures on Pinterest

Meet Meredith– wife, part-time employee, and mom to two beautiful little girls. (You can also check out Meredith’s blog, where she documents daily life with her sweet family.)


Meredith, tell us a little about your family.

I have been married to my college sweetheart, Walt, for six-and-a-half years.  I stay at home part-time with our two beautiful girls, Eloise Betty, two-and-a-half, and Emerson Caskey, one-and-a-half.  We also have a sweet little yorkie named Gracie Mae, who is almost seven.
As a mom, how do you find balance? 

Goodness, I think I struggled with this a lot once my second child came, seeing that my girls are only 14 months apart.  My husband travels a lot for his job, and we live no where close to family.  I love being a mom, and it definitely is the missing piece to our family link; however, I knew that I still needed to be able to live out my passion, which is teaching.  So, I found balance in staying home 2 1/2 days a week, and working 2 1/2 days a week. I feel I have the best of both worlds now…I have an identity as Eloise and Emerson’s mom, but I also have my own identity as a teacher, friend, and colleague in my work environment.  

What steps do you take to maintain your own health?

I try to be as active as I possibly can.  I make sure that I walk or run every day when I am home with my girls.  If it is too cold or rainy outside, then we turn on music and have a dance party.  I participate in afterschool workouts with other teachers on the days that I work.  I also make sure that I eat dinner when my girls do. This means eating early, but it has really helped out  because I am not eating late at night, and this has made a huge difference. 

Are your kids picky eaters?

My oldest, Eloise, is a picky eater.  I have had to be pretty creative with this little girl.  I’ve made “pictures” out of food, I have her “help” me cook, I’ve done cheers for her when she tries something new, and I have pureed vegetables and put them in sauces, batters, or breadcrumb mixtures.  Thankfully now, she watches me eat dinner and she wants to try what I am trying. If you have a picky eater, as hard as it is, don’t get worked up if they don’t want to eat something, and always have something healthy on their plate that you know they will eat. 
How do you create healthy eating habits for your children?

My girls watch what I eat, and I try to eat healthy, so I think this plays a big role in their eating habits. 
What tips do you have for managing your time in the midst of so many responsibilities?

I have a routine. My children have been on this routine since the day they came home from the hospital, and yes, there are days when the routine is messed up, but tomorrow is always a new day.  I have a life planner that I use to plan out my daily activities and keep appointments together, and a food calendar so that I know exactly what we are eating every day of the week. My children go down every night at the same time unless we have a prior engagement or we are out of town visiting family.  I have to do this so I can have time at the end of the day with my husband.  I also have certain days of the week where I clean my house.  Routine, schedule, routine, schedule.

How has being a mom made you view sleep/rest differently?

You know, at first, it was difficult. It really was, but I had to tell myself that every day will get easier and better, and it did.  Now, since I have my girls on a schedule, they sleep 12-13 hours a night. So, I can’t really complain about lack of sleep anymore.  But, there are some days where I am just beat. Maybe we did certain experiments or activities that really just wore me down, or I’ve been trying to clean a house and take care of 2 girls…so when they nap, I nap. I don’t feel guilty about that one bit. If my body is telling me, “Hey, I need to lie down for a bit,” I’ve learned I better do it, or else I will end up worn down and sick.

What mistakes did you make that you wish you could go back and fix?

Probably not to worry so much at the beginning.  I was so worried about when my girls were going to start sleeping through the night, or when was the right time for them to give up their pacifiers. One day I was at work and I realized, none of these kids have pacifiers, they all sleep through the night, these things will come.  I was not living in the moment the way I should’ve been.

What does a balanced life for you look like?

A balanced life for me is one where I hear laughter coming from the playroom, a husband who is happy and has a full tummy and the laundry has been folded and put away. 
What advice do you have for fellow women? 

Make sure you always do something for yourself…you always deserve it!

Learn how to deal with the pain and discomfort of menstrual cramps.

If you experience painful menstruation, you’re not alone. In fact, Medline Plus reports that painful menstruation is the leading cause of lost time from school and work among women in their teens and 20s. For some women, over the counter pain relief is enough to regulate the pain of cramps. For others, further treatment is necessary.

What you may not know is that cramps can be treated and alleviated at home in ways other than taking ibuprofen. Try these measures to help make your period more bearable:

  • Adjust your diet, cutting down salt, caffeine, alcohol and sugar.
  • Exercise regularly, including when you’re on your period.
  • Use heat from a microwavable bag or heating pad to treat pain in your abdomen and pelvis.
  • Ask your doctor about vitamin supplements that can help reduce your menstrual discomfort and PMS.
  • Consider stretching, yoga and meditation to help you deal with menstrual pain.

For some women, menstrual pain is so excessive it’s referred to as dysmenorrhea. According to the CDC, women may also bleed excessively during menstruation. Bleeding that occurs for more than seven days is called menorrhagia. It’s recommended that you check in with your doctor if you experience menorrhagia or dysmenorrhea so that your doctor can determine the cause and assist with treatment.

For severe menstrual pain and cramps, your doctor may recommend prescription pain relief, hormonal birth control and prescription anti-inflammatories and further tests to determine why your periods are so painful.

Women in the North Richland Hills community trust North Hills Hospital. Whether they see us to deliver a new family member or to consider gynecologic surgery, we continue to meet their specialized needs at every stage of life. If you would like a physician referral, please call 1-855-5NHILLS.

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This post is part of our series meant to encourage women in various stages of their lives and to remind each other that as women, we’re all in this together. I hope this series will provide you with new ideas, or at least the reassurance that not everybody’s home looks like those pictures on Pinterest

Meet Rachel – wife and home-schooling mom of four.

Hi Rachel! Tell us a little about your family.
My husband David and I have been married for nearly 12 years. Now we have 4 rambunctious kiddos to keep us on our toes, and we live on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. The last few years have been a roller-coaster ride for us. After my youngest was born, I taught high school English for one year, and then had the unexpected opportunity to open my dream business: a retail store for babies and kids. For two years, I sacrificed family time and sanity to keep the business afloat. We were all commuting an hour each way to work and school.  It was grueling for all of us.  When the business closed this past summer, we made some drastic life changes, and I started homeschooling my rugrats.  It was a big shift, but one we are all ecstatic that we made.

As a mom, how do you find balance?
The single most important thing is realizing that it isn’t possible to do everything.  It’s not realistic. I can’t have a perfectly clean house, perfectly behaved children, perfect meals, perfect outfits, perfect school room….you get the drift.  Once you cut yourself some slack, things miraculously seem to be going OK!

What steps do you take to maintain your own health?
To be honest, this is an area I have spent many years struggling with.  But I am finally coming to learn that it is perfectly fine for me to prioritize my own health.  In fact, it’s necessary to prioritize my own health!  These little people that I’m in charge of are watching me.  They want to be like me.  I want them to have a mom who eats right and exercises regularly as an example to base their own life habits on.  While this is still a work-in-progress in my family, we try to make this a family affair.  I don’t have the luxury of running to the gym, so we run across the pasture!

Are your kids picky eaters? How do you create healthy eating habits for your children?
I have one picky eater, but for the most part my kids eat very well.  We have always had a firm rule:  you eat what you are given.  The kids are required to try at least one bite of a new food.  If they TRULY don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it.  I always make sure there is at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal that they do like, so they always have a healthful choice that they enjoy.

How do you promote exercise with your kids?
One of the benefits of homeschooling my kids is that we have P.E. every day!  We go for a jog or a hike, we play outside and ride bikes, and we jump on the trampoline.  We also are lucky to have lots of room to roam around, so I usually kick the kids out of the house once or twice a day and tell them to run around outside!  We also limit TV and video game time, so it’s a real treat for them when they get it.

What tips do you have for managing your time in the midst of so many responsibilities?
You have to have a battle plan. For school, I create detailed lesson plans so that I know exactly what each kid is supposed to be working on. We have a chore chart for the kids, and we require them to help so that our house runs smoothly. I make a menu every week so I know exactly what I’m cooking for dinner.  Pre-planning these things keeps me from having to make a zillion decisions in a day, and keeps me from feeling so overwhelmed!

What mistakes did you make that you wish you could go back and fix?
I wish that I had not spent so many years worrying if I was doing everything “right.”  I wish I could’ve given myself a break a lot sooner.  It’s much easier to enjoy your family and your life when you’re not worrying if you’re screwing things up.

What is the hardest part of maintaining balance in your life?
The hardest part of maintaining balance is keeping a realistic picture of what balance really looks like.  It is not perfection.  Balance is contentment with what you have and where you are, and knowing you have done your best to get there.  It is striving for your best self every day, and giving yourself grace when you don’t quite live up to what you think you should be.

What does a balanced life for you look like?
For me, a balanced life is having the wisdom to focus my energy on the things that are important to me, and to let the other “stuff” in life go.

What advice do you have for fellow women?
My biggest piece of advice is to just stop judging yourself and comparing yourself to others.  We can never live up to the hype, no matter how amazing we are.  There will always be someone with a better job, a nicer house, more money, better behaved kids, whatever.  But behind closed doors, any mom will tell you, we’re all just trying to keep the house and the kids in one piece!


If you or somenoe you know should be featured in our Balanced Women Series, leave us a comment and we may just feature you!

Breast reconstruction is an important option for every breast cancer survivor.

Women diagnosed with breast cancer often face a difficult physical and emotional journey. While surgeries, radiation and other treatment options can take a toll on a woman's body, the emotional worry about health and identity after a mastectomy can often be harder to bear. Today we are hearing from Candis Lovelace, MD, a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction. For breast cancer survivors, regaining their physical appearance through breast reconstruction can be an integral step in the healing process.

Is breast reconstruction an option for everyone?
Dr. Lovelace shared that most breast cancer survivors are candidates for surgery. In fact, your health insurance will cover your breast reconstruction. She encourages breast cancer patients to discuss breast reconstruction options with her physician as early as diagnosis. It should also be noted that breast reconstruction is still an option for women who have had a mastectomy many years prior.

When is breast reconstruction performed?
Breast reconstruction can happen immediately, even as early as the mastectomy surgery, or at a later date. Reconstruction circumstances are determined based on the breast cancer patient's treatment plan and the type of reconstruction required. For instance, radiation can affect the breast, and a patient will experience better results once treatment has been completed. Most reconstruction surgeries occur over a few stages and adjustments are made as healing occurs. Dr. Lovelace notes that it's the little changes and details that give a patient the best results.

Can breast reconstruction save the nipple?
Your breast surgeon will determine if you are a candidate for a nipple sparing mastectomy. Some very select patients are a candidate for this type of surgery, but the majority will require a mastectomy that removes the nipple areola complex as well. This type of surgery is currently a hot topic of research. Dr. Lovelace explained that there are a variety of ways to recreate a new nipple and areola for the new breast.

What should patients know about breast reconstruction?
Dr. Lovelace encourages every breast cancer patient to thoroughly research her options about breast reconstruction. She should discuss her diagnosis and its affect on potential reconstruction early in the process. Dr. Lovelace also encourages women to use reputable resources while researching, including the American Society of Plastic Surgery. Dr. Lovelace notes that while women may not have an exact match of her original breast after reconstruction, the results still allow women to feel like themselves in a bikini and in clothes. Breast cancer survivors deserve the chance to feel whole again after a difficult breast cancer journey.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We encourage every survivor to learn more about this type of surgery and to discuss it further with their physicians. If you would like a physician referral at North Hills Hospital, please call 1-855-5NHILLS.


As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, don’t forget to nominate yourself or a loved one for one of our 20 free mammograms at You  may just save a life.

Deadline to enter is Friday, October 19.

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