Geraldine Patten is a 44-year-old mother living in Kinsale. Her full time occupation of looking after 6 children ranging from 3 to 17 years old is leaving her tired and stressed out. Her husband Steven works very long hours so Geraldine often has to cope on her own.
She does not feel healthy or physically fit and looking after young children means she often has a broken nights sleep. She already suffers from symptoms of stress, such as mouth ulcers and backache. It has been estimated that stress is related to many major illnesses, including high blood pressure, strokes and heart disease.
Geraldine will undergo a complete health screening to find out whether her stressed out life has already had any negative impact on her body.
Stress has been found to influence heart disorders so Geraldine's first test will be to examine whether her heart is healthy. Luckily Geraldine's heart is found to be functioning perfectly but as the test goes on it becomes obvious her fitness is very poor, she will have to find time for exercise if she wants to add years to her life.
Next her cholesterol is checked. A high reading coupled with high stress could lead to heart disease and strokes.
The rest of the blood and other tests revealed no abnormal findings. All the results seemed very encouraging. But her final ultrasound test had uncovered something rare and completely unexpected. A cyst is discovered on her pancreas.
The pancreas lies between the stomach and the spine. The position of the cyst means it could have carried on slowly growing, undetected for years. Now it had been discovered Geraldine was potentially facing major surgery. Geraldine was to undergo a CT scan to find out the exact nature, size and position of the cyst.
It was important that Geraldine continue to tackle her stress. Not only would reducing stress help with any treatment she might be facing, it would also ultimately add years to her life. Dr Mark's plan over the next 8 weeks is to teach her how to relax, find ways of making time for herself and to use this extra time to increase her exercise.
Geraldine admits that she has not relaxed for 4 years so Dr Mark takes her to a spa to kick off her 8-week plan. The body can cope with very high levels of stress, stress only creates problems if it is prolonged, and Geraldine has gone 4 years without properly relaxing. Studies have found that managing stress may be as effective as aerobic exercise in tackling heart disease.
If Geraldine wants to increase her life expectancy she needs to make time for herself, but with a busy household that's easier said than done. So Dr Mark calls in An Coppens - a time management expert. She's going to observe the family to build a picture of how Geraldine organises her day.
An has years of experience with people who feel overworked and stressed. She gets Geraldine to map out an ideal week - she wants her to include some time for herself in her time plan and she wants the whole family to take a share of Geraldine's workload. If Geraldine has any chance of reducing her stress the family have to be on her side.
An devises a plan based on a method of rewards and incentives. A happy yellow face will be awarded to those who do their chores and a blue sad face is given to the children who misbehave. Too many blue faces will also affect pocket money The plan will only reduce Geraldine's stress if she can learn to take a step back.
All thoughts of happy faces have been put to one side. A cyst was discovered during Geraldine's initial health screening and she had a CT scan to assess its exact nature, size and position. The cyst is the size of a large orange and Geraldine is facing a major operation. She will have to have her spleen and the tail of her pancreas removed. Removing the tail of the pancreas should not affect its' function, but removal of her spleen will mean Geraldine will be on medication for life. It will also be impossible to completely rule out cancer until the cyst has been removed and tested.
As she prepares for the operation and tackles her stress Dr Mark suggests she tries to fit in some activity 5 times a week. She's chosen golf as something she wants to take up. Exercise is a great way of relieving stress and adding years to your life, and the fitter and less stressed Geraldine can be before the operation the better her recovery will be.
By week seven the children are helping more around the house and Geraldine's finding time to improve her fitness.
Dr Mark is keen to find out if his 8-week plan to reduce Geraldine's stress has had any effect. The discovery of the cyst means it would be difficult to calculate her new life expectancy so he repeats a stress questionnaire that she filled out 8 weeks ago. If despite all the worry and stress of the cyst Geraldine is now happier then the plan will have been an amazing success.
2 weeks later Geraldine had her cyst removed. The operation was successful and thankfully the cyst was not cancerous. She's now at home recovering with her family.