Tag Archive | cancer

Are You Getting Enough Omega 3’s?

Have you taken notice how many foods on grocery store shelves are touting their omega 3 content lately? Is it just some new fad? Is it an advertising gimmick? Or have I been missing out on an important practice for healthy living? With these questions in mind, I set out on a quest to see what I could learn about the fatty acids.

eggs

While neither the word “fatty” nor the word “acid” conjures up images of good health, it turns out that our bodies need omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids in order to survive. They are necessary to maintain healthy cell membranes and to build many important molecules in the body. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions”.   While our bodies are capable of producing omega 9 fatty acids, we must get omega 3 and 6, referred to as “essential fats”, from the foods we eat.

So, if our bodies need both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, then why aren’t advertisers bragging about the omega 6 content in their packaged foods? The reason why the omega 3s are being pushed on the grocery store shelves, and not the omega 6’s is because the North American diet is already saturated with omega 6’s whereas most people are not consuming enough of the omega 3’s. The recommended ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 is 1:2 to 1:4. So for every unit of omega 3 you consume, you should consume about two to four units of omega 6. In North America however we consume an estimated ratio of 1:20. In other words, most people are consuming about ten times the amount of omega 6 fatty acids than they actually need! To make matters worse, while omega 3s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which is important for disease prevention, too much omega 6 can have the opposite effect, making you more susceptible to diseases such as:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma
  • cancer
  • psychiatric disorders
  • autoimmune diseases

So, the bottom line is this: most of us need to focus on increasing the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, and reducing the amount of omega 6.

Foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids include:

-flax seeds

-chia seeds

-walnuts

-spinach and other green leafy vegetables

-canola oil

-sunflower oil

-and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.

Foods that are high in omega 6 include:

-corn and corn products (corn oil, corn chips, etc.)

-shortening

-margarine

-dairy

-eggs

-beef

-chicken

-pork

 

My favorite way to get my daily intake of heart healthy omega 3’s is by eating chia seeds. Just one tablespoon full of chia seeds has the omega 3 equivalent of 5 fish oil capsules! I like to throw a spoonful into my morning smoothie, but you can also add them to your cereal, pancakes, or muffins. Be creative. You can easily hide them in your children’s (or your husband’s) favorite foods.

If you are a fish lover, the recipe below is a great way to increase your omega 3’s, and as an added bonus, the sweet potato in this recipe has a disease preventing anti-inflammatory effect on the body AND is packed full of Vitamin C! Did I mention they are also delicious?

SALMON CAKES

salmon cakes

Ingredients

2 tins wild salmon (215 g)

1 large sweet potato

2 large white potatoes

1 medium onion, finely diced

¼ cup flour

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons dried tarragon

1-2 teaspoons each of salt and pepper

1 cup Panko crumbs

Olive oil or canola oil for frying

Method:

Drain and mash the salmon with a fork. Boil sweet and white potatoes and mash. Fry onions until cooked. Combine potatoes with onions and salmon.   Add egg, flour, tarragon, salt and pepper. Let cool.  Form into cakes and roll in panko crumbs to coat the cakes.  Fry on medium high heat to brown on both sides. Note: Tarragon is a little expensive to buy, but it is what gives these cakes the WOW factor!

To learn more about eating for disease prevention, check out our book, 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It!

 

 

 

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The Secret To Well-Being

I am going to switch gears in this week’s post and talk to you about someone who is near and dear to me, my 9 year old son, Ben. As many of you know, I am the single mom of three great kids, Kailtyn, who is 19 and on the Dean’s list at University. She has a very bright future, and I look forward to watching her life unfold. Donovan is 16, not as scholarly as Kailtyn, but what he lacks in work ethic, he more than makes up for with his super-loveable personality. He is a good kid, and I am sure that life has many wonderful things in store for him. Then there’s Ben.

Fam jam

Family pic, summer 2014

When Ben was born, I was over the moon with happiness! Eight pounds of beautiful, healthy baby perfection. I know you are not supposed to compare your kids, but I couldn’t help but to sneak a peek into Kaitlyn’s and Donovan’s baby books, just to see how Ben measured up. On all the important things, like rolling over and taking his first steps, he was right on par. Such a smart little boy! I remember for Ben’s first Christmas I gave him this little doctor’s kit, and I secretly hoped that he would grow up to be a doctor, like his dad.

Ben A

Ben’s birth, May 11, 2005

 

But by Ben’s second Christmas, I started to notice some peculiar behaviors. Rather than put his trucks on the floor and go “vroom, vroom” like most little boys do, he would turn them over and just spin the wheels, over and over and over. He had not spoken a single word at 2 years old, but what concerned me most was how distant and withdrawn he was. Ben never came to me looking for attention. He seemed to prefer to be on his own and do his own thing. In many ways, Ben really did appear to be “in a world of his own.”

 

So when Ben was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, it didn’t come as a shocker to me. But still, it was devastating news. In some ways, it felt like a death. Although Ben was still physically with me, all the hopes and dreams that I had for his future were suddenly gone. I was no longer concerned with whether or not Ben might grow up to be a doctor. I had more pressing concerns now! Like, would he ever talk? Would he ever be toilet trained? Would he ever have a friend?

Ben B

Ben’s third birthday, just days after his diagnosis of autism. 

(It would be three more years before he was able to blow out his birthday candles on his own.)

For the next three years, I devoted myself to Ben’s therapy. I was determined to fix Ben’s autism! So I learned how to do all of his therapies: ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and I started to view nearly every moment that Ben and I spent together as an opportunity for therapy. We weren’t just throwing rocks in the water, we were working on his fine and gross motor skills. We weren’t just blowing soap bubbles, we were developing his oral-motor skills in preparation for speech. I wasn’t just giving Ben a bath. I was teaching him important self-help skills. In some ways, all of my hard work paid off. Ben’s skills were slowly developing, but I couldn’t shake that feeling that if I suddenly just disappeared off the face of the planet, that Ben wouldn’t even notice.

Ben C

Throwing rocks to improve Ben’s fine and gross motor skills.

Then something happened that completely turned our worlds upside down! I was 44 and Ben was 6 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told that my odds of surviving for 5 years were just over 50%. As you can imagine, “fixing” Ben’s autism, was no longer at the top of my list of priorities. I was in survival mode! Over the next year, as I underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I did not have the time nor the energy to devote to Ben’s therapy. Now don’t get me wrong. We would still go for walks on the beach and throw rocks in the water, but we did it just for the sake of seeing the splash. We would still blow soap bubbles, but rather than force Ben to do it, I just let him enjoy the bubbles that I blew. And I started to see bath time as an opportunity for play, not work. I can honestly say, that for the first time since Ben was diagnosed with autism, I was truly and completely……PRESENT….with him. No hidden agendas, not trying to fix him, just present. And that, my friends, is when Ben started to come out of his world, and into mine.

Even though Ben still could not talk at 6 years old, he could read and had learned how to use a computer. While I was going through treatments for cancer, he started doing something that he had never done before. He would type up and print off these notes and bring them to me; notes with messages like “mom is sick” or “mom is hurt”. I was completely blown away! I really did not think this kid was capable of understanding how sick I was. Other times he would bring me notes with messages like, “Dear mom, you are nice,” or “Dear mom, I love you.”, and those notes let me know that not only did he understand, but he cared. And if I suddenly did disappear from the face of the planet, he WOULD notice.

Ben EBen delivers a note to cheer up his mom after a difficult chemo.

For most of my life, I had been searching for the secret to “well-being”, and peace of mind. I had read hundreds of books, enrolled in courses, and attended numerous workshops. Over the years, I had many gurus: Wayne Dyer, Thich Nhath, and Eckhart Tolle, just to name a few. Ironically, I learned more about well-being the year I battled cancer than I did from all my years of reading books and doing courses. The greatest lesson was taught to me, not by a great guru, but by a 6 year old, autistic boy. When I stopped worrying about Ben’s future and trying to fix his autism, and just enjoyed BEING with my little boy, it brought both of us a sense of well-being. When I let go of the fear and worry about my future with cancer, and focused on healing in the present moment, this also gave me a sense of well-being. With a mind that was at peace, my body was better able to do the work of healing itself.

Life with Ben still has its challenges. But the joys of being Ben’s mom far outweigh the challenges.  Although Ben may appear to be in a world of his own, his kind gestures while I was going through cancer treatments proved to me that he is very aware and very much a part of my world.  This little boy taught me one of my greatest life lessons:  that the secret to well being, lies in being present.

Ben F

Ben, being “present”.

“Scanxiety”

Most cancer survivors are familiar with the word “scanxiety”; if not the word, then I am certain they can relate to the feelings of anxiety, terror and worry that come with each “scan”. Has the cancer returned? Has it spread?    How will I ever cope with going through chemo again? These are just a few of the questions that were going through my mind as I awaited the results of my recent bone scan.   How did it turn out? Well, they say a picture paints a thousand words, and this one was taken minutes after I got my test results:

happy flo

Happy Flo after her good report!

YES! That pesky back pain was not (as I had feared), from metastatic breast cancer, but rather the result of nothing more than some minor arthritis. Not only did my oncologist give me a clean bill of health, but she also discharged me from the cancer clinic! That’s right folks, after three and a half long years, I am no longer considered a “cancer patient”.   You know what that means, right? I am CURED! Enough of this healthy living crap, I can go back to living the way I did BEFORE I had cancer. Hello barbequed steak! Welcome back soft serve ice-cream!! Don’t even bother to re-cork that wine!!! I am CANCER FREE and there is no way that cancer can touch me now!

Well, not exactly, although I do think that some people see it that way. The reality is, I got a good report, THIS TIME. The reality is, there is still no CURE for cancer. The reality is, the very treatments that saved my life, are known to CAUSE cancer. The reality is, for the rest of my life, I will have about a 30% chance of having a cancer RECURRENCE. The reality is, the only way I will ever truly know if I SURVIVED cancer, is if I die from something else.

Don’t get me wrong, I am over the moon with happiness about my good health. I am also overwhelmed by the show of support from my family, friends and colleagues who celebrated this good news with me.

happy flo 3

My wonderful colleagues decorated my office in celebration of my good report.

But don’t fire up the barbeque just yet. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I will repeat what you have probably heard from me many times before: my best defense against cancer is still my lifestyle choices.   If only one good thing could come from me having cancer, then I hope it would be the opportunity to share this message with other survivors.

4-day button copy

Me and Ben

DSCN2237

Me and Ben at the Sensory Garden which I designed for children with autism.

In order to sound grammatically correct, I guess I should have entitled this post, “Ben and I”, but doesn’t that sound just a little stuffy?  Sort of like, “Please join Ben and I for tea and crumpets.”  (Imagine that said with a posh British accent.)  Not that there is anything wrong with the Brits.  In fact, my little Ben happens to be half British himself, and has been to the mother country several times, which is quite a feat for an 8 year old who has autism.   An old friend of mine who has never met Ben, recently asked me to explain how Ben’s autism affects our lives.  So here goes…..

Ben was born a perfectly normal, and healthy boy on May 11, 2005.  As a baby, he reached all of his developmental milestones at the right time, such as smiling, rolling over and walking.  By the time he was two, I noticed that he was not talking, and I recognized that as a red flag for learning disabilities,   but I never imagined he could have autism!   When his father, a Paediatrician, hinted at this diagnosis, I freaked.  “How dare you suggest that Ben has autism?  You call yourself a doctor?”  But as time went on, I could no longer ignore the signs:  his fascination with the weather channel, his obsession with letters, his lack of interest in being around other people, and of course his poor communication skills and lack of eye contact.  By age three, Ben still had not spoken a word and was not responding to his name.   It was at this age that he was officially diagnosed and it was like a death to me.  I grieved for several months, shedding many tears behind closed doors as I tried to come to grips with a more realistic view of how Ben’s future might look.  While I had hoped that this little boy might grow up to be a doctor like his Daddy, now I had more pressing concerns.  Will he ever talk?  Will he ever have a friend?  Will he need me to care for him for the rest of his life?  (This was one of the questions that haunted me most when I was diagnosed with cancer.)

It has been five years since Ben’s diagnosis, and that time has been filled with many challenges, as well as many joys.  Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Ben’s behavior is his need for structure and routine.  When something changes in his schedule, or the internet is not working, watch out!   Ben will scream loud enough that I sometimes think there is blood trickling out of my ears.  But luckily, his melt downs do not last long and it is generally easy to distract him to something else.  Another challenge for me is his great Houdini skills.  Even though my house is locked up like Fort Knox, he continues to figure out how to escape the bolts and chains and has run away several times.   Since he has very little awareness of danger, he could easily be hit by a car, or wander off into the woods.  This is a constant torment for me.  (I asked God to give him 100 guardian angels to watch over him, and I believe he must have at least that many, since he has been kept out of harms way so many times!)

Another ongoing challenge is learning problems.  When Ben first started school, I insisted that he do the same program as the other children.  I figured that if the teachers kept their expectations high enough, Ben would eventually rise up to meet them.  I was wrong.  One of the main characteristics of autism is that it is a communication disorder.  While Ben is very bright in many ways (for example, he could read before he could talk, and he is a whiz on the computer!), his communication skills are weak and he sometimes seems lost in a classroom that uses language as the main tool of teaching.  I had to eventually allow his program to be modified so that he is now learning at his own level.

The other main area affected by autism, in addition to communication, is social skills.  You may have heard the expression that people with autism   “live in a world of their own”, and Ben does appear to be that way sometimes.  Most times, he would prefer to hang out by himself, rather than be with his family or other kids.  But sometimes he surprises me.  When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, my first concern as a mother was for my children, but mostly I worried about how my two older children would take the news.  I was not so much concerned about Ben.  At six, his language skills were severely limited, and I did not think he would even understand how sick I was.  Even if he did, I reasoned that being “in a world of his own,” he would not really be concerned with my plight.  But again, I was wrong.  Even though he could speak very little, Ben had learned to use the computer to type up and print off messages.  While I was going through treatments, I would find his type written notes around the house with messages like, “Mom is hurt” or “Mom is sick.”  This told me that he really did understand what was happening to me!   Other times he would bring me notes, with messages like, “Dear Mom, you are nice,” or “Dear Mom, I love you.”   This told me that not only did he know that I was sick, but he also cared enough to try to cheer me up in his own little way.    That is one of the many joys of being Ben’s mom.

????????????

Me and Ben when I was going through chemo.

Last week, I met a woman at a Christmas party and we were talking about our children.  When I told her about Ben, she said, “Oh my, and you can’t even put them away in homes anymore.”   I was so shocked by her statement that I could not respond.   If I had my time back, I would have said something like this: Ben has a home, and he shares it with me, his brother and his sister, all of whom adore him.  (Actually, he has two very loving homes since he spends a lot of time with his Daddy and Lily.)  He is smart, loveable, compliant, and very gentle.  He has never shown aggression towards other people or any living thing, for that matter.  Our home would not be a home without Ben in it.

Before getting cancer, I was obsessed with fixing Ben’s autism.  I figured that with enough therapy and prayers, he would someday be “normal.”   After facing my own mortality, I realized that my purpose in life is not to “fix” Ben, since he was never broken.  He is perfect just the way he is.  It is my job as his mother, to help him reach his greatest potential, whatever that may be.  Isn’t that the job of all parents?

Fall and Christmas 2013 514My beautiful children.

 

 

 

A Tribute to Beck: The Girl Who Believed In Miracles

Beck1

I first met Beck when she strolled into my office at Marystown Central High School to have a chat.  While I have met hundreds of students over the years, something about this girl stood out to me.  She seemed like an old soul in a young body; possessing far too much wisdom for a 17 year old.   Later I heard that Beck had “hooked up” (as the young folks would say) with my cousin’s daughter, April, so essentially, she became part of my extended family.  I am not quite sure if it happened before or after she met the love of her life, but I do recall the horror I felt upon hearing the devastating news that she had cancer.   Even sadder than the diagnosis, was the realization that a medical error prevented her diagnosis from being shared for about a year; a time during which the cancer metastasized to other parts of her body.  Essentially, due to a medical over-sight, Beck’s cancer had advanced to stage 4.

I can only imagine the anger and resentment that I would feel towards that doctor; a doctor who admitted to Beck that he must have been “multi-tasking and skimmed her report like a flyer”(to quote Beck’s blog).  But instead of being bitter, Beck wrote: “ I understand people make mistakes and I forgive him…..”  There are very few people who would be able to forgive a mistake of that magnitude.  But that was Beck.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Beck and I kept up a dialogue on facebook, sharing our hopes, fears, and dreams.  I remember laughing when she wrote to me: “You are such a girly-girl, it must have been hard for you to lose your hair, but I LOVE my new look!”   And as the picture shows, Beck sure did rock that look.

beck2

When I started blogging, Beck would often comment on my posts.  One of her comments really struck a chord with me and I decided to share it, not only on my blog, but also in my book 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It.  Here is what then  19 year old Beck, said to me:

“I fight because I’m finally happy. I love living life… A lot of people when they’re diagnosed look at it as “I’m dying,” the way I look at it, I’m living until the day I die. I’m trying my hardest to stay strong and keep the people that matter to me, happy. You just have to live each day to the fullest.

Being diagnosed was the best, but worst thing that’s ever happened to me. It made me open my eyes fully and realize how important the simplicity of life is. It’s not about money or fancy things, it’s the simple things like watching my brother grow older, teaching him about the things I’ve learned throughout my lifetime, making my mom smile,  and making the best of every day so that when the day comes that  I pass away, my loved ones are left with the best of memories.

When people say half the battle is your attitude, it’s so true!  When a lot of people are diagnosed, they give up. They’re discouraged, fearful and it’s completely understandable.  But if you keep a positive attitude, I believe anyone can beat this, even if the doctor’s say there’s no chance of curing the illness. There ARE miracles!”

Although Beck never experienced a miracle cure of the cancer which took her life on July 23rd, at the young age of 20, her life itself was the miracle.  With her fighting attitude, she far out-lived her prognosis, and accomplished some amazing things in the process.  How many people with stage 4 cancer do you think would sign up to go to college?  That was Beck.  How many terminally ill people do you think would devote their precious time left on earth sending words of encouragement to others, such as: “I believe that if everyone made an effort to commit simple, kind gestures for others that this world would be a much greater, peaceful and safe place to live in.”  That was Beck.

As I was reading through some of Beck’s Facebook posts this morning, this one written on October 11, 2012 summed it up for me:  “If you can’t get a miracle, become one. Beck, I am happy that you continued to believe in miracles. While you did not get your miracle cure, your beautiful spirit and ageless wisdom was a miracle to all those who were fortunate enough to have been part of your life.  When you did not get your miracle, you certainly became one. I believe in angels and I believe that you were an angel on earth, and now you soar with the angels above.  May you rest in peace.

 

 

Lessons Learned

For the past 15 years, I have worked as an Educational Psychologist, from a school board office.  Over the years, I have worked in many schools, but have not really been part of any particular school staff.  I just kinda went in, did “my thing” and left.  While the work of being a Guidance Counsellor is very similar, in terms of testing and counselling, being part of a school staff is a whole different experience for me!

Take Wednesday, for example.  I was walking down the hallway when an exuberant 7 year old zoomed past me, running to his classroom.  I just smiled at his enthusiasm…..until his classmate looked up at me and said, “Hey, that kid is running in the corridors!  Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”  As a visitor to the school, I would have gotten away with ignoring this blatant example of breaching school rules, but not anymore!  Lesson learned.  Other lessons learned from my first week back at work:

-If you are going to wear heels, expect to have sore feet at the end of the day.

-Supervision duty with grade 1 students can be the longest 20 minutes of your life.

-Those bells are ringing for a reason.  When you hear them, stop whatever you are doing (eating, peeing, or chatting with your colleagues) and immediately return to your office or classroom.

-Joking about your cancer can help your colleagues to feel at ease, and lets them know that they don’t have to “walk on eggshells” around the issue.

-Teachers definitely don’t get paid enough for the wonderful work they do!  (And they deserve EVERY holiday!)

 

 

Perk # 94: Getting My Lawn Mowed

I feared that as I got closer to my 100th perk, I would have trouble coming up with new material.   I kinda figured that once the cancer treatments had ended, so too would the perks.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I no longer get home cooked meals delivered to my house, and visitors just pass by my laundry room without even bothering in throw in a load.

A few days ago however, I heard a loud buzzing noise coming from outside, and I looked through my kitchen window to see my wonderful friend, Ronnie mowing my lawn!  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I am now feeling strong enough to tackle the unpleasant chore myself.  After all, giving is as much a gift to the giver as the receiver, so I will allow Ronnie to enjoy that particular gift as often as she would like.

Tip:  Enjoy your perks as long as you can.