Would you Recognize the Signs of Ovarian Cancer?

Ladies, would you recognize the warning signs of ovarian cancer? Ovarian cancer can be a deadly disease. It is the fifth most common cancer in women, affecting 1 in 73.  However, because the symptoms and warning signs are usually subtle, it often goes undetected.

Unlike breast cancer, which is the “rock star” of women cancers, with a vibrant pink campaign encouraging women to do self screening and get mammograms, little is known about ovarian cancer. However, one woman in Newfoundland is doing something to change that. Bonnie Morgan is an ovarian cancer survivor, who, (along with her co-chair, Alana Walsh-Giovannini, a dedicated committee, and the support of Memorial University), has made it her mission to raise awareness and understanding of ovarian cancer, and in doing so, she hopes to help save lives. Here is Bonnie’s story:

                                                      Bonnie Morgan
 In late 2008, I moved home to Newfoundland for a fresh start. I was 52, happy to be home, healthy, just starting a new relationship and was high on life. Exercise and good food were always important to me. I never smoked, and only drank socially.

It all started just over a year after returning to Newfoundland. I seemed to be feeling a little more bloated than normal, and it didn’t go away as I expected. I thought the bloating was due to menopause, as after all, I was at that age. I decided to see my family doctor for a check up and was given the appropriate physical exam. She felt something during the exam that was suspected to be a cyst; however, just to be sure she sent me for a blood test and an ultrasound. When the results came back, I was in total shock. I had stage three ovarian cancer.

I was heartbroken and terrified all at the same time. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. My life was shattered-a cancer diagnosis was the furthest thing from my mind, as to my knowledge, there was nothing like this in my family history. I had gone from being, what I thought, was a healthy woman one day, to a frightened and confused person with what could be a terminal disease. Not unlike most women, I didn’t know the signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer, nor did I know much about cancer itself.

Two major surgeries and nine cycles of chemotherapy later, I thanked God every day that my wonderful family, sincere friends and the devoted gynecologists at the H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre were there to support me through this difficult time in my life, because there was not doubt, both physically and mentally, it is devastating.

Four years later, in early 2014, my cancer returned. Emotionally shocked by the recurrence, I underwent an additional six months of treatment in the fight for my life.

Ovarian cancer is extremely hard to detect and my experience has made me realize that I can help other women by sharing my story. I want to do what I can to educate others about the facts, risks, signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and raise funds to advance research into prevention and treatment here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bonnie’s initiative to promote awareness of ovarian cancer in NL, has spawned a new, exciting initiative: The Ovarian Cancer Research and Education Fund (OCRE), at Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine. I am happy to report that I (Florence) will be a presenter at the first OCRE project, taking place on Saturday, September 23rd, “Ovarian Cancer Exposed”, a day of interesting sessions and informative lectures. See the poster below for more details.

To REGISTER FOR THE EVENT: CLICK HERE

To donate to OCRE: http://www.mun.ca/alumni/give/ Or call: 1-877-700-4081. (NOTE: Please specify that donations be directed to the Ovarian Cancer Research and Education Fund)

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A Wine-Less Summer: Part 2

Part two of my booze-less chronicles found me in Gros Morne National park, with my lifelong friend, Lilly along with a new friend, Sarah. Heading out to a wine free girls weekend, I fully expected a somber mood to envelop us on our eight hour road trip to our cabin. But I could not have been more wrong! The fun started the minute we boarded the SUV, and by the time we arrived at Gros Morne, our throats were raw and sore from roars of laughter. Even though I had just met Sarah, after sharing our life stories while singing along to Blue Rodeo and Fleetwood Mac tunes, we soon felt like old friends.

Neither of my travel companions are big boozers, and Gros Morne is renowned for its beautiful scenery and hiking trails, as opposed to pubs and fancy restaurants, so I really did not miss the wine on this vacay. Besides, I soon found a suitable replacement to pubs: cafés! And I also found an enjoyable replacement for wine: coffee, aka, Christian Liquor. Each day, we would tour the scenic communities and visit the many craft shops and tourist attractions, which would culminate with a visit to a local coffee shop to ”liquor up” on coffee and a sweet. I have to say, the most delicious pecan pie I have ever tasted is served at the Old Shop Café in Norris Point. While I am no expert on pecan pies, Sarah is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to sweets and even she said it is the best she had ever tasted. It was so good in fact, that she managed to stop eating it, mid slice, to save a bit for later.

“I hate to stop,” she said, “But I am beyond the point of optimal enjoyment. I am going to save the rest for later this evening, when I can really savor the experience.”

I admired her self discipline as I greedily devoured the last crumbs of my piece, washing it down with a gulp of café mocha and feeling fully rejuvenated by my sugar and caffeine buzz.

One of the highlights of the trip was our quest to see a large wild animal. The park is full of moose, bears, eagles, coyotes and foxes and on every drive, we were on the look out, phones poised to capture the image and broadcast it on Facebook. Finally, on our last day there while driving back to our cabin, we saw it, right in the middle of the dirt road.

“That’s a coyote, if I ever saw one!” I said in an excited voice. “Stop the car!!!”
Sarah pulled over and we grabbed our phones and switched them to camera mode.

“I can’t get a clear shot,” said Lilly. “Throw out some food to lure him over.”
“All we have is trail mix,” replied Sarah, as she threw a handful of pumpkin seeds and raisons out the car window.

To our delight, the coyote approached the car and started to nibble on our offerings. With his head down, it was difficult to get a good picture, and we really needed proof of this encounter. He soon tired of his hippy snack and was moving on.

“Quick”, I said, “Give him more food!”

“But all I have left is my half a slice of pecan pie, and I was saving that to have with my tea later,” said Sarah in a sheepish voice.

Although Sarah clearly did not want to part with her pecan pie, we convinced her to sacrifice it for this rare photo op. She opened the window half ways and held out the pie, but the coyote looked at her with such hungry eyes and razor-sharp teeth, that she chickened out and quickly closed the window. I mean really, her arm could have been bitten off, but I secretly suspected that the pie was more important to her than a limb at that moment. To our disappointment, the coyote started to retreat.

“Throw out the fucking pie, Sarah!” we encouraged her.

With her heart pounding, she opened the window and reluctantly threw out the pie, which the coyote quickly devoured, getting him close enough to the car to get great photos. Then, to our horror, we saw in the dim light of dusk, a woman approaching in the distance.

“Oh my God, we have to warn her. She will be eaten alive,” said Sarah, as she frantically honked the horn. The coyote was standing right in front of the car, and although we are all animal lovers, we were fully prepared to run over it if it came down to saving this woman’s life.

Strangely enough, the coyote started to wag its tail. We rolled the window down a crack to warn her that her life was in danger. Just then we heard her call, “Here Sasha! You naughty girl, you escaped your leash again. Come to mommy!”

Red faced, we drove away, our camera roll full of pictures of a friendly husky.
Who would have thunk that the most fun I would ever have on a girl’s trip, was had without even a sniff of wine!

 

A Wine-Less Summer

 

You may be wondering who highjacked my blog. Who is this Florence speaking of a summer without wine? But alas, it is really me. You see, because Tamoxifen (drug to prevent cancer recurrence) can affect liver functioning, I have to get my liver enzymes checked every 6 months. And on my last check, they were not quite right, so I was advised to take a break from booze. It is not easy, but as much as I love my wine, I love my life a lot more!

Being a voracious reader, the first thing I did was stock up on books written by women who have kicked the wine habit, such as This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace. She asserts that the reason we drink is because our unconscious minds are programmed to believe that wine will make us more sophisticated, make life more fun, and relieve our stress. We are programmed by advertising, social media and society in general to believe these things. Some other fallacies we are programmed to believe are: we drink for the taste; there are health benefits of drinking wine; and that drinking leads to better sex. She then systematically refutes each of these false beliefs, her premise being that if we attack the beliefs of the unconscious mind, we will lose our desire to drink.

Well, it is going to take me some time to convince myself that drinking is no fun, but she certainly has something with the whole brain programming thing, which I became acutely aware of as I headed out to Edmonton to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with Steve. My mind was definitely programmed to associate vacation time with drinking time, but is it any wonder? From the time I picked up the Air Canada magazine, En Route from the seat pocket in front of me, my mind was bombarded with images of mature, sophisticated women wearing sexy, low cut dresses and savoring a glass of wine; younger, sportier types drinking beer in the great Canadian outdoors; and James-Bond-type men with fancy watches drinking hard liquor on the rocks. I have to give it to them, the alcohol industry sure does know how to make booze look attractive. When I ordered a tin of Pringles from the on-board café (I had to snigger at the term café), I was asked if I would like a glass of wine with that. It was 10:00 in the morning, and it might have been 5:00 somewhere, but certainly not anywhere in Canada! That said, I did notice with envy several of my fellow passengers crack a cold one. And that was just the beginning of my wine envy on that trip.

Picture it: it is a sweltering hot day, and you are walking down Whyte Avenue, the busiest and booziest street in Edmonton. The streets are closed off for a jazz festival, and on every corner you hear different strains of sexy, smouldering jazzy tunes. Colorful, half-clad people are all around you, dancing, drinking and laughing merrily. The air is perfumed with cigarette smoke, weed, and the aroma of street meat cooking. You are hot and thirsty so you pop into one of the many pubs offering an inviting, shady deck. You are passed a drink menu the size of Texas and a much, much smaller food menu, around the size of PEI, in comparison to the drink menu. There are at least fifty types of beer to choose from, and all around you people are quenching their thirst with a cold one. (Oh, and by the way, according to Annie Grace, that is another fallacy, since beer actually de-hydrates you). You ask for an Italian soda and the waitress looks at you as if you have three heads. So you settle for a Diet Coke, although all they have is fountain pop and you despise fountain pop. It takes forever to get your food, which you really wouldn’t mind if you were de-hydrating yourself with a cold beer. Your mind wrestles with the unconscious programmed belief that booze makes life more fun, because God-damn it, those beer-drinking fuckers look like they are having way more fun than you with your watered-down fountain pop!

That said, I truly enjoyed my trip to Edmonton, even without wine. Steve took me on many outdoor adventures, including bike riding the many scenic trails of the river valley, hiking, and exploring beautiful parks and gardens. We hung out in café’s as opposed to pubs and quenched our thirst with Italian sodas rather than beer and wine. While I sometimes miss my beloved wine, I have never felt healthier or more energetic. And so, it continues. I am journaling my experiences and who knows? Maybe this will be fodder for my next book. But meanwhile, keep your eyes open for Soul Steps: 52 Ways to Re-Connect with Spirit, due for release in the fall. Now go and enjoy this very large day!!!!

Check out my books HERE

 

Going Home

Have you heard the song,  Castle on the Hill, by Ed Sheeran?  It is a song about going home that really touches my heart.  I have actually been using that song to engage myself in a new form of therapy called Mindful Movement.  Well, maybe it is not new, but it is new to me.

I recently attended a national conference for psychologists and counsellors.  It was a fabulous event, with 550 attendees from all over the world.  One of my favorite sessions was called Mindful Movement, and I went, assuming that we would be doing yoga.  But instead, we danced. Had I known I would be dancing in a roomful of my colleagues without a drop of wine in me to loosen me up, I never would have signed up for the session. But this session was not about strutting your stuff, it was about releasing trauma, and not only did it work for me, but several of the people there reported an emotional release from just one session, which is pretty amazing to a psychologist like myself. So, I set out to investigate how the process works.

In a nutshell, the two sides of our brain work in very different ways.  The left side is logical and linguistic. It is the side we use for communication and where we store our verbal information.   The right side of the brain is our creative side.  It is our center for creativity, arts, music and imagination.  Think of a time that you experienced a trauma.   For me, being told that I had cancer was one of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced.  I can recall perfectly what the room looked like, what the doctor was wearing, and the look on my sister, Juana’s face when he said the word “cancer”.  But after that, I don’t recall another word. It was like I was listening to the teacher on Charlie Brown, “Whannn, whann, whannn…”  That is because I went into panic mode (also called fight or flight mode) and the left side of my brain shut down, making it impossible for me to store the words he was saying to me.  Where did the trauma get stored?  In the right side of my brain.  So just talking about my experience is not enough to release the trauma, I have to do something creative to tap into the cell memory of that trauma.  For me, dance works!

Give it a try!  Turn on a song that you like, close your eyes and just move in a way that you feel guided. Dance like there is nobody watching.   Let your emotions surface and just allow yourself to feel those healing feelings.  If you cry, that is ok.  It means it is working.  It is not important that you understand why you are feeling the way you feel.  It is just important that you allow yourself to experience the emotions.  Your spirit will take care of the rest.

This weekend, I literally had the experience of going home.   I spent the weekend in my beautiful home town of Lawn, just me and my parents. Although I am fifty, it is impossible to feel grown up when you have your parents taking care of you.  Dad: “That suitcase is too heavy for you, let me carry it,” he said as he laid down his cane.  Mom: “Now dear, if you are too tired to get up and turn off the light, just knock on the wall and I will come out and turn it off for you so you don’t have to get out of bed.” Yes, I felt just a little bit spoiled.  It made me feel so grateful to still have my parents with me, and still wanting to take care of me in that way.

I guess as you get older, you appreciate things that you once took for granted. The first time I took Steve to visit my parents, he was blown away that I grew up right next to a river with a beautiful water falls.  To me, it was just a brook, nothing impressive.  But now, I stand in awe of the power of those roaring water falls after a heavy rain.  Walking along Sandy Point, and seeing boats in the harbour was another sight that I took for granted.  Now I resemble a tourist, snapping selfies of myself using this beautiful scenery as a backdrop.

It is always nice to go home, however, there were two highlights to my weekend which I would like to mention.  One was praying the Rosary with my parents.  On Friday night, the three of us prayed together, but on Saturday, it was just me and my dad in the house. I think he assumed that since mom was not there, we would not pray.  I said, “Well Dad, I guess it is just me and you for the Rosary tonight.”  He jumped up off the couch and grabbed the Rosary beads with the same enthusiasm that I would have used to grab a wine glass. My parents pray together every evening, which is a beautiful thing.  I felt blessed and honored to be a part of their ritual.

On Saturday evening, I had a visit with my 96 year old grandmother, who is still as smart as a top and lives in her own home.  Pretty much every evening, my mother and her four sisters visit with Nan, and I felt honored to be a part of their daily tradition.  It was a simple evening of drinking tea, talking and laughing until my stomach hurt. (Aunt Alice could make the cats laugh!)   It made me kind of tear up as I watched each of these women, all in their sixties and seventies, tenderly kiss their mother good night.  Can you imagine being surrounded by that much love every evening?  My grandmother is truly blessed, as am I to be a part of the Kearney clan.

As I write this, it is a beautiful Sunday morning.  The sun is shining and the birds are singing as I sip my coffee and look out at the boats in the harbour.  Dad is getting ready for mass, and my mom is next door at Nan’s house, where she spent the night. The peace here is almost tangible.   Tomorrow I will head back to my busy city life, but I will carry with me these sweet memories of going home.

 

You Are Blessed

If you awoke this morning with a roof over your head, you are blessed.   An estimated 100 million people around the world are homeless.

If you awoke this morning and there was food in your cupboard, you are blessed.  Every four seconds one of our fellow human beings dies of hunger.

If you awoke this morning with a spare dollar in your pocket, you are blessed.  Half of the people in the world are living below the poverty line and 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty.

If you awoke this morning and you are healthy, you are blessed.  There are countless diseases, illnesses, injuries and accidents that could change your life in an instant.

If you awoke this morning, you are blessed.   If your heart is beating and you are breathing, there is a lot more going right with your body than is going wrong. 

There is always something to be grateful for.  Let us give thanks for our many blessings.

Florence Strang

click on book to learn more

Click on book to learn more

Where Do I Take My Son To Pee????

It seems that I have caused quite a stir on Facebook with my most recent post getting approximately 1500 comments and over 300 shares in less than 24 hours!  The post was short, so I would like to take the time to clarify exactly what happened that upset me.   Ben was taking swimming lessons at the Aquarena from the Autism Society.  He requires assistance with changing his clothes and with toileting.  While there is a change room for people with special needs, when I asked for directions to the family bathroom, I was told by two staff members that they do not have a family or a  gender neutral bathroom.   So, I had to choose between taking him to the men’s or the women’s and I chose the latter.

This was not something new to me! I am a single parent and Ben loves to be out and about in the community, shopping and going to restaurants.  Many places are not equipped for people who have an attendant of a different gender with them. Up until that point, it did not cause a dilemma for me.  Sure, I got some strange looks taking a boy into the ladies room, but in my eyes, he is my baby and it is no big deal to take your little boy to the bathroom with you.

That was what I thought until two days ago when I walked into the ladies washroom at the Aquarena.  Sharing this small, two stalled space with 12 year old Ben, was a girl about his age.  Needless to say, this adolescent girl felt uncomfortable with this set up, as did I.  It certainly was not great for Ben’s dignity either.   It was then that I realized he is not a little boy anymore.  He is an adolescent boy, who is quite big for his age, taking a size 10 in men’s shoes already.   He is quickly growing into a man.  How will it look when I, a single mom and his primary caregiver, have to take him to the ladies bathroom then?   If he has a respite worker, it will most likely be a female as the majority are.   As far as I am concerned, Ben’s basic human right to be able to access a toilet has been violated.  Many of the people who responded to my post have  been in the same situation, so this is much bigger than me and Ben.  Not just people with autism, but people with physical disabilities or disorders such as Alzheimers may also require assistance with toileting.  It is an issue that needs to be brought to light.  It makes me nervous to think about how I will proceed with this, but something must be done, and it looks like I will be the one to start the ball rolling. I hope my angels got my back on this one!!!  (If you would like to sign my petition, please go to my Facebook page )

In addition to bathroom accessibility for Ben, here are some other things that would make for a more autism friendly world:

Autism Friendly Hotels:  I was once told by hotel management that if we didn’t keep the noise down, we would be asked to leave the hotel.  The noise he was referring to was Ben’s stimming: loud vocalizations and jumping.  These behaviors, although disruptive, are necessary for his sensory integration. The picture below was taken at Canada’s first autism friendly hotel, located in Port Aux Basques, NL.   It provides a space for children on the spectrum to meet their sensory needs.  It also has a specific room for individuals with ASD and their families.  Nothing in the suite is movable or can be thrown should a guest become distressed.  In an autism friendly world, all hotels would have such a room, and would be more tolerant of autistic behaviors such as stimming.

Photo credit: golfnews.ca

Autism Friendly Movie Theatres:  A friend of mine was once asked to leave a movie theatre because her son’s vocal stimming was disturbing to the other movie goers.  Some movie theatres offer mommy and baby matinees where crying is ok.  I would urge all movie theatres to offer this service and to extend the invitation to children with autism and other special needs.  Rather than call it a “mommy and baby matinee,  a more appropriate name might be “An Inclusive Movie Matinee”.

Autism Friendly Airports:  It can be difficult traveling alone when you have a child with autism, as Ben’s dad once learned when he disappeared at Heathrow Airport!   Wouldn’t it be great if airport personnel provided assistance to families who are traveling with a person with ASD, in the same way that they support people with physical disabilities.

Autism Friendly Stores:   When Ben was younger, it was very difficult for him to wait in line, especially at grocery stores while he was anticipating his treat!  When I took my kids to Disney World, we got a special pass which allowed not only Ben, but his whole entourage (mom and siblings) to go to the front of the line for all rides and attractions.  How nice would it be if kids with autism got a special pass to go to the front of the line at shopping centers.  Hey, if Disney can do it, then why not Walmart?

Autism Friendly Restaurants:  Imagine a world in which restaurants designated a table, away from the main traffic area, with a sign that says “Autism Friendly Table.”  Then if the child was having a meltdown because for example, his chicken nuggets were touching his fries, people would know at a glance that the child has autism, and is not just “being a brat” as is too often assumed.

Autism Friendly Hair Salons:  Many children with autism resist getting their hair cut, which can cause quite a scene at hair salons.  Wouldn’t’ it be great if hair salons offered a private room, with dim lights and soft music to help soothe the senses of people with ASD, while preserving their dignity?

Autism Friendly Parades:   I am happy to say, that in my home town of Burin, Newfoundland, last year’s Christmas parade was autism friendly!  There was a stretch of the parade which was quiet, no sirens or loud music, for people on the spectrum who are sensitive to loud noises.  In an autism friendly world, all towns and cities would adopt this practice.

Autism Friendly People:  In an ideal world, not only would businesses be more accommodating to people with autism, but so too would people.   However, that can only happen if we raise understanding and acceptance of the disorder.   The time for awareness has passed.  People are aware that autism exists, yet many still react in a very negative way to autistic behaviors such as stimming and meltdowns.  Tolerance.  Understanding.  Empathy.  That is what an autism friendly world would look like!

As my friend, Kathy Hickman pointed out to me, these services would benefit not only people with autism, but people with other exceptionalities as well.  Like the hotel in Port Aux Basques, whose story went national, it would also be a smart business move.   If there are businesses in the St. John’s area who would like to have their staff trained on autism sensitivity, or would like to consult with me on how to make their business a more inclusive environment, please contact me through my website: www.florencestrang.com.   Not only do I deal with autism on a personal level, I am also an Educational Psychologist, so doing these presentations is part of my work.   I am offering this as a free service.

You can buy  our book “Calm the F. Down! A Day in the Life of an Autism Mom”
HERE

Overcomer

Let me introduce you to my new friend, Denika Philpott, also known as “Overcomer”.  After reading her book, you will understand why she is so deserving of this title!   Here is a guest post from the beautiful Denika;

Denika Philpott

Denika’s story:  Lying on the cold, hard bathroom floor after chemo number four, it was extremely hard to see my purpose. I have lived by the verse from the Bible “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Don’t run away. I’m no minister and I don’t claim to be perfect in any way so when I quote a verse from the Bible, you don’t have to ready yourself for a sermon. There won’t be one. It’ll be me speaking “straight from the heart” as Bryan Adams sang way back in 1983.

That very day that I hauled myself up off the bathroom floor, walked into my bedroom and collapsed in my mother’s arms, sobbing. Most days it was being strong and leaning on the support of my team, my tribe that got me through. But some days were just exhausting and filled with tears.

It was during this time with my husband’s gently nudging that I realized, “you know what, God does have a purpose for me! I’m going to write a book.” And that’s exactly what I did. During the endless days of waiting for the side effects of chemotherapy to wear off or healing from another surgery, I could do very little. I would sit in my library and write for hours. I poured my heart, my soul and all my experiences onto those blank pages. The daunting report from the MRI that revealed the severity of the breast cancer I had, my head shaving party, my story of my mastectomy journey and what this surgery revealed; all this I chronicled in my book I very proudly titled Overcomer.

We all learn lessons from adversity. Mine was to not focus on past mistakes but forgive yourself and move on, continually living out your purpose.

At times, like when I was on the bathroom floor, this purpose is really hard to see. There are so many obstacles that can stand in our way. They can range from people who are not in our corner, to living circumstances or just our own mental well-being. To be able to heal, I had to focus on myself and not on the negative.

During the past year and a half, my heart has been molded and shaped in a way that has given me a new purpose. I have a deep hunger to pour my experience into people so they can see the importance of their purpose in this life.

During the storms, when you question so many things that are happening, trust that you are intricately woven into the tapestry of this life. With patience and perseverance, your purpose will be made known.

You can check out Denika’s blog at:   https://journeywithdenika.wordpress.com/

You can buy Denika’s book HERE