Coffee… poison in my cup

Coffee-addiction

I have no idea how many times I’ve quit drinking coffee! A better question might be, why in the world do I ever start again when I know how bad it is for me?

Coffee is known to have both positive and negative effects on health but for me, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Coffee simply isn’t my friend!

I fell off the wagon once again in August while we were on holiday. I started with just half a cup. After all, how much damage could half a cup do? The negative effects don’t show up immediately and that half cup tasted so good so that it soon became a daily habit. Before long, half a cup wasn’t enough in the morning and I started pouring myself a second one. Then my husband, who can drink copious amounts of the brew with no ill effects, started making a second pot in the afternoon. Another half cup was just what I needed to give myself a midday energy boost. Some days, I drank even more.

As usual, the side effects gradually snuck up on me and, as always, it took awhile for me to recognize what was happening. I have no idea why I didn’t immediately make the connection between the burning in my stomach and the poison in my cup, but I didn’t. Coffee is highly acidic and it can be very irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. Switching to decaf doesn’t really help. In fact, some research shows that decaf increases stomach acid even more than regular coffee.

I’ve always been extremely sensitive to caffeine. For most people it’s a mild stimulant, but for me it results in agitation and acute anxiety. Lately, my stress level has been going through the roof! After all that I’ve been through over the past 13 months, that’s hardly surprising and was easy to rationalize. Cancer, major surgery, radiation, death of a parent; all are very stressful but I’d been coping so well. Why did I suddenly feel like I’d hit a wall? I thought that my father’s stroke last month was the final straw and I have no doubt that it has contributed to my present state but I suspect that the coffee has also had a lot to do with it.

And so, once again, I have quit! Totally. Completely. Cold turkey. No more poison in my cup. I hope I have the good sense to make it permanent this time!

High flying adventure

IMG_4409We crossed another item off my unwritten bucket list today. Last Christmas, there was a little gift box under the tree for Richard and I from our youngest son, Nate. When we opened it, we found a tiny toy helicopter and a note promising us a ride in a real one! I was absolutely thrilled! It may seem odd for a girl who spent most of her life being afraid of heights to want to fly in a helicopter but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Nate’s original plan was that we would fly over when he was on one of his mountain climbing expeditions but with our crazy schedule this year and some recent developments in his own life, we weren’t able to make that work. Instead, he spent time visiting Dad in hospital in Edmonton today freeing us up for this afternoon’s adventure.

As we drove west of Calgary to the heli tours site near Canmore, the prairie and the foothills were bathed in sunshine and the fall colours shone. I could hardly wait to see them from above. The helicopter carried six passengers and when we were asked which brave soul would volunteer to sit in the co-pilot seat, I was ready. My hand shot up instantly! Soon I was seated in the glass bubble with the pilot at my side.

The flight was great! Take off was incredibly smooth and I literally didn’t feel a thing when the chopper set down. I likened it to riding on a feather! I’d been told how incredibly noisy helicopters are but with our earphones on, sound wasn’t a problem at all.

A strong wind kept us from flying into the mountains where turbulence might have been frightful. Instead, we skirted along the foothills enjoying views of the mountains to the west and the wide open prairie to the east. We followed the Bow River for a bit and saw herds of buffalo and wild horses below.

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Our sightseeing tour included a champagne picnic which we enjoyed on a grassy bluff overlooking the river with rapids churning below. We were sheltered from the wind and it was oh, so relaxing!

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So what’s next on my bucket list? I’m not sure but I do know that it includes another high flying adventure… a ride in a hot air balloon!

Enough already!

Just when I thought that life was going to settle down a little, my world was turned upside down again!

Last Thursday, my 91-year-old father flew to Alberta from his home in Vancouver. On Saturday, he walked his granddaughter down the aisle of Fort Edmonton‘s historic Anglican Church of St. Michael and the Angels. It was a unique and beautiful wedding and he was honoured to play such an important role.

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Less than 48 hours later, he was relaxing at my sister’s home in Vegreville when he suffered a cerebellar stroke!

Richard and I had just finished playing the third hole on our local golf course when the clubhouse manager drove out to tell us that our niece was trying to get hold of us about a medical emergency. We live just minutes away so in no time at all we were on our way to the Vegreville Hospital, arriving just in time for me to climb into an ambulance and accompany Dad as he was transferred to a larger hospital in Edmonton.

After laying in Emergency for another 48 hours waiting for a bed, he was finally transferred to the stroke ward yesterday. A cerebellar stroke affects the back of the brain which controls balance and coordination. Dad suffered no paralysis but he’s unable to stand without assistance because his sense of balance is completely off and he’s experiencing some weakness in his right hand. His speech is slurred, but mostly understandable, and he’s having some difficulty swallowing so he’s being given soft foods and thickened drinks. He is cognitively unimpaired and is in reasonably good spirits considering the circumstances.

I, on the other hand, feel like I’m reaching the end of my rope! In the past thirteen months, I’ve been diagnosed with two unrelated cancers. I’ve had seven hours of surgery and thirty radiation treatments for one of them and three radioisotope treatments for the other. I also lost my mother in June. Enough already!

In this morning’s devotions, I read about Gideon and I could definitely identify when he asked, “If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13)

Another devotional that I read this week was written by blogger, Cindy Keating of Red Carpet Life. It spoke of the pruning that God does in our lives to bring about greater fruitfulness.

I looked up and saw a sadly barren tree taped off in the middle of the orchard. It stuck out like a sore thumb with a noticeable sign hanging from it’s highest branch: “Pruning In Process.”

I instantly thought of the many painful times I have had to be pruned so the beauty of my fruit could shine for God’s glory rather than my own.

Is that what’s happening in my life? If so, I hope God has read this recommendation concerning pruning:

When deciding how much to prune a tree, as little as possible is often the best rule of thumb. All prunes place stress on a tree and increase its vulnerability…

As I said, I think enough’s enough already!

I know I’m not alone in asking why God is allowing these things to happen. The writers of the Psalms certainly asked similar questions. I particularly like the Psalms of Asaph who said things like “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me” (Psalm 73:16) and “do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.” (Psalm 74:19b)

I’ve often heard it said that God doesn’t allow us to go through more than we can handle but the Bible doesn’t actually say that and it definitely isn’t true. He allows more than we can handle so that we learn to lean on Him and, in spite of my whining today, that’s exactly what I will continue to do! I’ll put one foot in front of the other, hang onto the hem of His garment, and wait to see how He’ll get us over this latest hurdle.

We have no idea what the next little while will hold. Dad will likely remain in hospital for at least a week or two where he’ll have access to physio and occupational therapy. The neurologist anticipates that he’ll make a fairly good recovery but we have no way of knowing when he’ll be fit to travel again, whether or not one of us will need to accompany him, or whether he’ll need a higher level of care than he had before.

Please God, no more crises for awhile. Enough already!

25 years of fun and friendship!

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On a September evening in 1989, four young women gathered around a kitchen table and Craft Night was born. They had no idea that they were beginning a 25 year tradition. Though I wasn’t one of the original four, I was invited to join the group a few months later and not long afterward, a sixth member completed the group.

We were all busy young mothers and in the early days Craft Night was as much about having an evening out as it was about the crafts that we did. Whether we were knitting, crocheting, cross stitching or tole painting, we shared our lives and our stories. Sometimes, instead of a craft, one of us would bring a stack of photos to label and we’d share those too. Over the years, we must have handed hundreds of photos around the table; pictures of babies, family holidays, graduations and more recently, grandchildren. Three of us were school teachers and papers have even been graded at Craft Night. If the choice was staying home to get the marking done or bringing it with us, the work got done at Craft Night!

Over the years, in addition to doing our individual crafts, we occasionally tried a group project. One Christmas season, we made a huge batch of antipasto, enough for each of us to take a few jars home with us. Another December it was chocolates and a couple of years ago, we made Christmas centrepieces.

Meeting monthly, we take turns hosting. The hostess provides the wine, an essential Craft Night ingredient, and a snack. Over the years, we’ve tested a multitude of appetizers and shared many a recipe. Though we still call our evenings Craft Night, we seldom bother with the crafts anymore! Instead, we just spend our time visiting. In 25 years, we’ve been through a lot together!

Between us, we have 15 children, 4 of them born since Craft Night began. We’ve watched them grow, sharing their trials and their triumphs. They’ve all graduated from high school and between them, they’ve earned 21 degrees or diplomas. 10 of them are married and 2 are engaged. 3 of us are now grandmothers with a total of 13 grandchildren. Nowadays, our discussions often revolve around aging parents and 2 of us have lost our mothers in recent months. Perhaps the statistic we ought to be most proud of is the number of divorces over our 25 years together… 0! We’re all with the same husbands we were with back then and occasionally some of them also get together on Craft Night to play cards or throw some darts.

Craft Night took a severe blow a couple of years ago when two of our group moved away within a month of each other, but the remaining four continue the tradition. When we met at a lovely restaurant for a 25th anniversary celebration last evening, we were delighted that one our missing members was able to join us. It was a delightful evening of reminiscing; sharing 25 years of fun and friendship!

Too many trolls!

IMG_0564I’ve discovered a way to save myself a lot of time and aggravation!

For the past few years, I’ve read the news online. I rarely turn on the TV and gone are the days of having a newspaper delivered to the door each morning. The news can be depressing enough, but recently I’ve developed the habit of scrolling down past the end of an article and reading through the comment thread that’s often found there. That’s where my real aggravation begins. I love a good, well thought out debate with arguments on both sides of an issue but that’s seldom what I find. Instead, these threads tend to be filled with ridiculous and radical statements or worse yet, personal insults. I was beginning to think that the world must be filled with stupid people! Then I realized that some of them are trolls.

Like the mythical creature lurking under a bridge and waiting to gobble up the Three Billy Goats Gruff, they hide behind their keyboards and wreak havoc on unsuspecting internet users. By definition, an internet troll is “a person who sows discord on the internet starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.” Or, as someone else put it in a somewhat more indelicate manner, “being a prick on the internet simply because it’s the internet and, hey, you can be!” Clearly people are willing to say all sorts of things online that they would never say to a person’s face.

Reading about the tentative agreement reached yesterday in the BC teachers strike is a case in point. Obviously, in a province where labour disputes seem to be the norm and where students have been out of school for several weeks, heightened emotions are to be expected. As I read the comments following one of the articles, I wasn’t surprised to see mudslinging directed at both the government and the teachers union. I was a little more uncomfortable with the nasty comments directed at the teachers themselves, probably because I’ve been in their shoes, but I was also glad to see many supportive ones. In no time, however, the discussion deteriorated into individuals hurling insults at one another. The trolls had done their dirty work, stirring up dissention then sitting back and watching people come apart at the seams! Why would I waste my time reading that? In the future, I won’t. I’m determined to break the habit of scrolling down and looking at the comment threads!

Internet trolls don’t limit themselves to news pages. Blogs and other social media aren’t immune. In fact, I’m aware of one popular blogger who is, in my opinion, a troll himself. He writes controversial and sometimes inflammatory posts, then watches the comments fly! He doesn’t moderate them or even comment on them. He just lets his readers chew into one another. I can only guess that he finds this entertaining but I’ve stopped reading his blog.

I have a Facebook friend who, sometimes inadvertently, starts the greatest online discussions. The topics are often controversial and thought provoking but the moment a troll interjects or the conversation moves toward insults and personal attacks, she has the good sense to remove the entire thread. I so appreciate that! The internet is a great place for us to flex our intellectual muscles and engage in stimulating conversation, but sadly there are those who delight in ruining it for the rest of us.

My only question now is, what will I do with all the time I redeem by not reading this trash?

Finally!

Yesterday I FINALLY had the cancer treatment that my doctors wanted to give me a year ago! Thankfully, mine is a slow-growing, chronic cancer or I doubt I’d be here to tell the tale.

When my neuroendocrine tumours (NETS) were diagnosed last September, the doctors at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton would have preferred to start me on a radioisotope therapy, known as Lutetium-Octreotate, that they had been using very effectively since 2010. Unfortunately, shortly before that time, the government had cut off funding for that treatment citing a need for more evidence of its safety and effectiveness. That necessitated the setting up of a clinical trial, a very time-consuming process.

Unlike many NETS patients, my tumours were equally receptive to a second, similar treatment, so rather than waiting for Lutetium to become available again, I received injections of mIBG in November and January. It wasn’t long after that that my second cancer was diagnosed and treating it became a higher priority. My NETS was put on the back burner while I underwent surgery and radiation to rid me of the acinic cell carcinoma in my salivary gland. In fact, my neuroendocrine tumours weren’t looked at again until a CT scan was done in late July. Dealing with a second cancer was bad enough but not knowing what was going on with the first one was equally disconcerting.

While all of that was happening, the Lutetium-Octreotate clinical trial was finally approved and as of yesterday, I’m finally a participant. So, what does that mean? I don’t feel like a guinea pig because the treatment isn’t a brand new, untried one. Having heard the success stories from Dr. MacEwan, chair of the Oncology Department at the University of Alberta and head of the Nuclear Medicine Therapy/Neuroendocrine Tumour Clinic at the Cross Cancer Institute, a man who I trust completely, I have no doubt that it is both safe and effective. Simply put, participating in the clinical trial is the only way that I can access the treatment that Dr. MacEwan feels is the best one for me so it’s clearly a no brainer. I will remain in the study for up to seven years and will be followed up for another year after that. Data that’s gathered along the way will be retained for 25 years and will hopefully be used to improve patient care over the long term.

For me, there are several advantages to taking Lutetium instead of mIBG. From Dr. MacEwan’s point of view, the fact that it will probably be less harmful to my bone marrow was the deciding point, but I’m happiest about the difference in the precautions that I have to take after each treatment. They’ll still leave me radioactive but the effect of that radioactivity isn’t as far reaching. I didn’t have to stay shut away in the lead lined room after yesterday’s injection and Richard was allowed to visit me. Instead of being in virtual seclusion for two weeks afterward, now it will only be one week and the restrictions within that week are much less limiting. Following an mIBG treatment, I had to stay at least 10 feet away from Richard for all but 3 hours a day. For those 3 hours we were allowed to be just 3 feet apart! I still have to have my own bedroom and my own bathroom for the next week but we can be 3 feet apart at any time which definitely makes life easier. I’m also more free to mix with other people as long as I keep a bit of distance between us and I’m careful to stay away from pregnant women and children under the age of 12. Though there’s still the need for several blood tests between treatments, there will also be periods of several weeks when I’m not required to have any blood work done. I definitely see a winter holiday in our future!

I was told that I’d be very tired for the first week after each treatment but I really haven’t felt tired today at all. I suspect that that might have something to do with the exciting news that we received following this morning’s post treatment scans. They confirmed what July’s CT scan appeared to show. In the 7 months since my last mIBG treatment, my neuroendocrine tumours have remained absolutely stable. There are no new growths and the existing ones have not grown! In addition to that news, the scans also showed very clearly that the cancer in my face is completely gone. We were already quite sure of that but seeing it on the screen was absolutely wonderful!

Now I think I can FINALLY breathe a sigh of relief and begin to live a somewhat more normal life again. I still have cancer. In fact, without a miracle, I always will have, but I also have high hopes that the year ahead won’t be quite as crazy as the one we’ve just come through!

International Literacy Day 2014

Right now, you are doing something that one in five people on the face of this planet cannot do!

As one who values my ability to read above most other skills, I find that an appalling statistic! According to the World Literacy Foundation, an estimated 67 million children around the world do not have access to primary school education! Equally disturbing is the fact that almost two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. Given that statistic, it’s hardly surprising to learn that the majority of the world’s poor are also female.

Today is International Literacy Day, a day for shedding light on the desperate need to ensure that all people have the opportunity to learn to read and write. Education is a basic human right, but one that many people are denied, particularly in parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is not restricted to underdeveloped parts of the world, however. Literacy rates in Canada are high, around 97 per cent, but what does that really mean? While they may have basic decoding skills, the most recent literacy study by Statistics Canada shows that millions of Canadians do not have the literacy skills they need to keep pace with the escalating demands of our society and economy. A whopping 48% of Canadian adults over the age of 16, many of them new immigrants, have low literacy skills that do not adequately equip them for the workforce. The situation is similar in the US.

But what can we do? How can you and I overcome such an enormous global issue? That’s where the Starfish Story comes in (adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley).

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We cannot solve the world’s literacy problem, but we can make a difference for one or two.

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This is Marie. My husband and I have been sponsoring her through New Missions, a small organization operating in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, since she was in primary school. She now attends high school and dreams of becoming a nurse. For approximately one dollar a day, we provide her with the opportunity to go to school in Haiti where only 2% of the children finish high school and about 40% of the adult population is illiterate. She also receives a hot meal at school each day as well as regular health check-ups and medical care when it’s needed. There are many similar organizations, including World Vision, that offer you the opportunity to provide a child with the chance to go to school. Perhaps that child could be your starfish!

I also choose to give Kiva loans to impoverished women in third world countries who are helping support their families and educate their children. By investing in women’s lives, society as a whole benefits because women typically reinvest 90% of their income back into their families. In so doing, they break the cycle of illiteracy and help lift their families out of poverty.

Closer to home, encouraging literacy is as simple as reading to a child! Fill your home with books and let the children in your life see you enjoying the gift of reading.

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