Archive for March, 2009

Mammogram pros and cons

March 31, 2009

Mammogram – the word strikes fear in some people, and I can relate to that. Even so, I know how important it is to have a regular mammogram and I wish I’d been able to have one in 1986 before my breast cancer grew to the size where I could feel a lump. Now doctors are more aware that breast cancer can strike younger women, and there are screening programs available to provide early detection.

I’m a 22 year survivor of breast cancer and I work as a mammographer, so I know the anxiety of waiting for results. I understand the embarrassment of some women who don’t want a stranger to see their breasts, and if you add to that the fear of pain and exposure to radiation, it’s no wonder that mammograms get a bad rap.

However, a mammogram is still the gold standard in breast screening large numbers of women; until there is a better solution, mammography is the answer to finding small cancers which can be easily treated and have a good outcome. There are other modalities which can detect breast cancer, but for various reasons such as cost, wait times, and accuracy they are not yet considered appropriate for screening.

Having a mammogram is uncomfortable because of the compression paddle, but I remember doing mammography before we used compression; the films were so poor we couldn’t even detect small lumps, let alone calcifications the size of a pin head. Today, there are new digital machines which are so much better than older machines. The new machines deliver less radiation, more information, and the paddle action provides more comfort than the older paddles.

The time taken for a mammogram is about 5 minutes, so even if it does create anxiety, it’s short lived. If I had been able to access a good quality mammogram when my cancer was in the early stages, it would have saved me and my family from the pain and grief we had to endure for years. It was like a nightmare as I went through surgery, chemotherapy and the fear of dying when we still had 3 young teenagers at home. The payoff for a timely mammogram would have been huge for me and for the health care system.

Mammograms are not perfect; they offer 75% accuracy in younger women and around 90% accuracy in older women. But when I consider that a mammogram can provide early detection of a disease such as breast cancer, I would choose to have a mammogram any day. The pros definitely outweigh the cons in my book.

Cure vs. Healing

March 29, 2009

There is much talk about curing cancer, and I would like to hear more about healing.

Curing comes from outside a person; it’s something that is done to a person in an educated attempt to make them well. Without medical intervention to cure me I may not be here, and I do appreciate every effort from my health care team to help me get well when I had cancer in 1986.

However, I was surprised that I didn’t feel well after treatment was over, and continued to think I was going to die in my early forties leaving 3 children to grow up without me.

I read an article which said that people who are pro-active about their health have better outcomes; so I made a decision to do whatever was within my power to be pro-active and find building blocks for my road to recovery.

At first I wished I had the financial resources to run around the world looking for cures, but I began to realize that my own inner resources were more important than my search for a cure. With support and coaching from my family and friends I found help and advice on how to get well.

 

I gathered information from books, tapes, seminars, and workshops, and learned about healing which is defined as: the natural process by which the body repairs itself.

In Dr. Alastair Cunningham’s book called “The Healing Journey” he talks about “tipping the balance with self help”. This means that if the cancer is at an early stage, and the person has medical treatment plus the energy to perform self help methods, it’s possible to overcome cancer and regain a state of health. If the cancer has advanced and tips the fulcrum in its favor, then unfortunately the chances are that the person would not have the energy and resources needed to overcome that cancer. This theory supports the importance of prevention and early detection of cancer so that it is diagnosed at the point where it can be treated and overcome.

I am grateful that I learned about self healing in time to help myself get well and I’ve enjoyed good health so far. I do not take my health for granted and practice the 4 basic elements of good health: Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, and Stress management.

Healing is therefore a combination of many things, but for each person it is a unique combination of whatever it takes to move a person along the road to their best possible state of wellness.

 

Do you love yourself enough to eat healthy?

March 27, 2009

In the days when I was a junk food addict, or a chocoholic, I have to say I didn’t care enough about myself to see that I was making myself sick. I would just eat to make myself feel better, but then I’d feel worse because I knew the stuff I was eating was bad for me.

I was more concerned with taking care of other people than I was about taking care of myself. What I didn’t realize is that I could take better care of other people if I was healthy. If this sounds confusing, it fits, because I used to be confused about this issue.

I used to think that if I looked after my self first, I was being selfish. Now I know that if I take good care of myself, I am able to take better care of others.

Having a healthy diet means that I eat healthy food at least 80% of the time and control my weight to stay in the healthy range of the BMI guidelines. I even get to eat chocolate every day, but I limit it to one wafer of good quality Belgian chocolate. I buy the dark chocolate that people use for melting since it comes in wafers and it’s easy to stop at one wafer; if I buy a chocolate bar I feel obligated to eat the whole thing.

If you think your diet could be healthier, the important part is to figure out what will work for you. Think about how you can make simple changes which will be easy to maintain, and make a commitment to yourself to follow through.

Having someone beside you, to coach you, to be accountable to, can help you stay on track and make all the difference in being able to enjoy eating a healthy diet.

The simplest path to weight control is in your head.

March 26, 2009

It was a learning curve for me, but now I think that weight control can be a simple matter(not easy, but simple): I decide what weight I want to be, and I make a commitment to follow through with that decision. If I can do this, so can you – that’s if you want to, but you have to really want to do it or it doesn’t work.

Having cancer 22 years ago taught me to start taking better care of my eating habits. Before cancer I had a high fat – low fiber diet; this made me feel crappy for the most part, pun intended.

Since cancer had a way of making me wake up enough to want to change my lifestyle, I decided to make good health my number one priority in life. I learned to filter all my eating decisions through the question “Is this good for my health?” I have to be very honest with myself and if the answer is yes, then I can go ahead and eat whatever I want to eat. If the answer is no, then I have to ask myself if I’m cheating. Once I realize that I am only cheating myself, it’s very easy to back up and filter everything through the question again.

I just read a great article by Judith Beck in the January 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest, a Canadian magazine. The article is called “Think Like a Thin Person” and it’s adapted from Dr. Beck’s book called “The Complete Beck Diet for Life”.

The philosophy in the article is the same as mine, and my summary of Dr. Beck’s 7 key principles is:

1. Change your thinking – be aware of the thoughts you have before you eat and flex the resistance muscle more than you flex the “giving in” muscle

2. Eliminate emotional eating – face the emotions that make you eat when you’re not hungry, and distract yourself so you’re not tempted to eat

3. Dare to be hungry – recognize when you’re truly hungry and talk yourself out of eating when all you have is a desire to eat

4. Get real about your intake – pay attention to what you’re eating and instead of thinking it doesn’t count, remember that it does

5. Forget fairness – if you envy someone who is thin, remember thin people consciously choose to eat less so they control their weight

6. Eat sitting down – this is key, as it helps you to see everything you’re eating so you’re more satisfied visually and psychologically

7. Believe you can do it – keep up your motivation and confidence in yourself -rather than beating yourself up if you fall off the rails, talk to yourself in a positive way so you can quickly get back on track.

If you want to make a change, remember to do something every day to be kind to yourself; something small will do, but it helps you to feel nurtured so you won’t crave the comfort food and you’ll feel great.

What’s in it for me?

March 24, 2009

Out of a sense of duty, I’ve done things for other people that I didn’t want to do on many occasions. Don’t get me wrong, I love to do things for other people; sometimes I think I’m a professional volunteer. However, if I continue to do things I don’t want to do, it can build resentment and bitterness; and neither one of these states is good for my health.

It just happened again, and I woke up this morning thinking “OK if I have to do this job, what’s in it for me?” As soon as I started to think of what I would receive if I fulfill my commitment, it changed my whole outlook. Now instead of doing the job because I should do, I’m doing it because I want to.

It’s amazing how doors open when you view things differently. To confirm my thoughts, this quote arrived in an e-mail from Michael Neill this morning:

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

If you find yourself in a similar situation where you’re committed to something and your heart isn’t in it, try looking at it from the perspective of what you can learn, what difference it will make in your life, what blocks will be removed so that you’re able to have more joy in your life. I hope that you too will be motivated by a change in perspective which will ultimately improve your life.

Commitment

March 23, 2009

What do you do if you make a commitment and then find you can’t keep it?

I find it difficult to break a commitment once I’ve made it, but if my gut is telling me it’s not the right thing for me to do, then I have no choice but to break it as soon as I realize there’s something wrong.

It’s not easy to feel that I’m letting myself and other people down, but I think it’s important not to feel guilty about doing so. If guilt is involved then the decision is not the right one.

I’ve read about the importance of taking right action and it feels so much better when I know I’m doing the right thing; I stay within my own integrity instead of living by what I think other people want me to do.

I’ve decided I can’t please everyone so it’s much more consistent to know what’s best for me. This doesn’t mean I’m being selfish because I do consider other people’s needs and wants, but first it’s important that things sit right with me. I can help more people if I’m comfortable within myself.

Each time I break a commitment it reminds me to be more careful about making commitments in the first place; life is full of lessons and I’m learning all the time.

Forgiveness

March 21, 2009

What a release it is to forgive someone and then, the best part: to forgive yourself!

 

Even though I know better, there are times when I take things personally and react to things in a negative way when I perceive things which bruise my ego. I sometimes have thoughts which do not support me, such as “She doesn’t like me” or “I don’t fit in here”. I know I’m not alone. In conversation with a very smart woman the other day she said that “many people feel they are stupid”. How sad it is that we beat ourselves up this way.

 

It has taken me a lot of mental and emotional work to acquire the skills to work through negative emotions, and as you see, they still don’t kick in automatically. I have to work through and process the negative emotions in order to let them go; if I don’t do that, they stay in my head and that’s not healthy.

 

Since my experience with cancer 22 years ago, I’ve learned the importance of being in good health in all areas: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Among other things, I took a course in Cognitive Restructuring which helped me immensely to convert negative thoughts in to positive thoughts. It makes me feel so much better about my life when I can release a negative thought and feel peace in its place.

 

The end result is that I’m able to forgive others who I perceive to be unhelpful, and then remember to forgive myself for thinking those thoughts in the first place. The feelings that replace the former anxieties are those of love and compassion, both for the people who pass through my life and for me.

Find Your Own Road

March 17, 2009

Simplicity is such a bonus in life! Having cancer gave me permission to simplify my life which led me to the peace of mind I needed most. Now the economic downturn is leading many more people to a simpler life, and I know they’re going to love it once they make the adjustment.

There is usually a silver lining in a crisis situation but you have to be looking for it in order to see it. I understand if you say “How can having cancer be a good thing?” It’s not, but there are many good things that can come out of it if you’re open to receiving them. It took me a long time to see the silver lining in a cancer diagnosis but I’m so grateful I decided to do the work needed to find it.

Simplicity in life has been buried in the trappings of the modern life we knew until a short while ago. Consumerism was rampant, and for the most part it doesn’t provide the satisfaction you expect to gain from it. Living a simpler life helps you get back to the basics of what human beings are all about; the most basic need we all have is to love and be loved. Nothing else can take the place of feeling you’re loved, and loving others enough to feel you belong and you’re connected in this world.

Especially right now when the world is changing so fast, you need something to hang on to, to keep yourself grounded. Who and what do you love? I hope you include yourself in the list of whatever your life is about. The only constant we have on a 24/7 basis is ourselves, our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes; they’re all contained in a body we call our “self”. It looks like we’re in for quite a ride here, so we need to hang on to what will provide stability for us.

Focusing on simple pleasures does not have to cost money or take a lot of time and energy; however, if you choose to focus on simple pleasures, it will provide great rewards.

Find Your Own Road

March 15, 2009

Positive thinking – there is an interesting controversy about this idea; some people take it for granted and others have to learn to appreciate it. When I was diagnosed with cancer, many people said to me “Think positive!” How could I think positive? What did they mean? It’s tough to think positive when you’re on chemo and you think you’re going to die too soon. I understand why some people say that positive thinking doesn’t work. It didn’t work for me to pretend to be feeling positive if I was feeling terrible. It didn’t make me feel better to put on a false smile and deny that things were bad. But I knew it didn’t help me to stay feeling lousy or depressed either.

It took me a while to get unstuck and start “being” positive, not just thinking positive. With one small step at a time, I learned to turn my thoughts around: I started to think and then believe that I would heal and have a life after cancer. Feeling better about myself helped me to have a better quality of life each day. This helped me to have hope for the future, and I now know what those positive thinkers are talking about. I enjoy life so much more if I feel positive.

As each year goes by since my diagnosis, I give thanks that I learned to let go of negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts; this has led to positive beliefs and a more positive attitude towards life in general. I give thanks for the extra time I have lived.

Find Your Own Road

March 11, 2009

Let go of the past and make room for all the wonderful things you can find today.

At one time, I had so much unfinished business in my head – there wasn’t room for anything new.

In 1987 I thought I was dying of cancer and wanted to make my last months as pleasant as I could. My surgeon recognized that I needed help and sent me to a psychologist; she helped me to process through a pile of baggage in my head and I felt so much lighter. It’s like dumping old files on a computer to make room for information that is up to date.

I felt free for the first time in years and found life so much more worth living without that old stuff hanging around.

Now 22 years later I still acquire stuff and get bogged down at times. It takes work to stay on top of all the stuff that comes at you, but I know it’s important to be mentally healthy.

If you have extra “stuff” you’d like to get rid of, it’s worth the effort to do so.

One way is to sort through the baggage: keep what’s good, file on a shelf what may be of use in the future, and work on letting go of what’s dragging you down.

The pay off is being able to feel good about yourself, to find something new to enjoy each day, and to raise your quality of life. It doesn’t cost money, it just takes time and the ability to focus long enough to let go of things you don’t need anyway. 

This helped me to find my own road to recovery from cancer.