A little truth and a little common sense please!

When our daughter was suffering from leukemia in the early 1980s, we were told that if we simply boiled up some pine needles and fed her the resulting tea, she would be well. That was just one of many crazy cures that we were told about, so I expected to be inundated with similar tales when I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. At first, I was pleasantly surprised not to be told about some magical potion or miracle fruit at every turn, but lately I’ve come to the end of my patience with all the nonsense being circulated through social media!

It absolutely astounds me how many cockamamie stories circulate on Facebook and are reposted by seemingly intelligent people who don’t bother to check the facts first. It’s so easy to do! Just plug a few key words into Snopes.com or TruthorFiction.com and voila! There you have it; the research, the facts, the truth!

These days, it’s the crazy cancer prevention and cancer cure stories that really burn me. Yesterday it was baking soda that would save my life! Really? If it was that easy, do you think there would still be thousands of people dying of cancer every day? According to Cancer Research UK, more than one person dies of cancer every four minutes in the UK alone! Would that be happening if the answer was sitting on the shelf in almost everyone’s kitchen? I don’t think so! With all the time and money that goes into medical research, does anyone really think that the cure for cancer is going to be found floating around on Facebook? Let’s use a little common sense!

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. YouTube videos and Facebook posts are most certainly not scientific evidence! Where are the clinical trials? Where are the published research papers? If only people would consider the source before choosing to repost something. If it doesn’t come from the Mayo Clinic or another reputable medical institution of that ilk, it probably isn’t true.

Of course, that brings me to my all time most loathed myth, the idea that governments, pharmaceutical companies and even charities are colluding to hide the cure for cancer because they make so much money from existing treatments. How can anyone actually believe that? There are so many ways to debunk that argument that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, it simply doesn’t make sense that pharmaceutical companies would want to suppress a potential cure. Finding a highly effective therapy would guarantee huge worldwide sales. Secondly, why wouldn’t doctors, who often prescribe less expensive generic drugs, use cheap treatments if they were shown to be effective in clinical trials? And then there’s perhaps the most obvious argument; cancer touches everyone. Even politicians, doctors and pharmaceutical executives get cancer. Their loved ones and colleagues die too. They are not exempt! Would they really withhold treatment from their own spouses, parents or children if they knew they could save their lives? Again, I think not!

Perhaps before reposting or passing on an unsubstantiated, too good to be true, miracle cure a person should ask themselves, what if one desperate cancer patient chooses to abandon conventional treatment and try this instead and what if it doesn’t work? Do I want to be responsible for that? Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, had the same cancer that I have. He chose to ignore his doctors’ advice and sought out alternative treatments instead. By the time he discovered that they didn’t work and turned back to the doctors for help, it was too late. He was a highly intelligent man with enough money to be able to access the best of treatments available anywhere in the world and he might be alive today if he’d used a little common sense!

There ends my rant!

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Hope and a future!

It’s been awhile since I wrote an update about my battle with cancer which is, in itself, an indication that things have been going well. There really hasn’t been much to report which is a good thing! Yesterday, we sat down with one of my specialists to discuss the results of recent CT and PET scans. Though we weren’t expecting anything dire, I think we both walked out of his office feeling like a load had been lifted off our shoulders. Yes, the news was that good!

As many of you are aware, I have dealt with two completely separate and unrelated cancers over the past two years. The first good news was that there is absolutely no sign of the acinic cell cancer that was removed surgically and treated with radiation last summer. I have routine follow-up appointments with both the surgeon and the radiation oncologist next week, but I’m certain that they’re going to tell me that everything is fine.

We already knew that my primary neuroendocrine tumour, which is located in my colon, has been shrinking as a result of the radioisotope (Lutetium) treatments that I’ve been having. Yesterday we learned that the other four tumours, three on my liver and one in a lymph node, have not changed in size since diagnosis. That’s a glass half full / half empty kind of statement. While it would be nice to hear that they too are shrinking, the fact that they have not grown and that there are no new ones is actually very good news.

Another indication that the disease is stable, that my tumours are essentially dormant now, is hormone production. Neuroendocrine tumours (NETS) produce serotonin, a hormone that we all have in our bodies. Serotonin is sometimes referred to as one of the happiness hormones because a deficit may to lead to depression, but an excess secreted by neuroendocrine tumours results in carcinoid syndrome which, as in my case, results in symptoms that include abdominal cramping and diarrhea, skin flushing, and periods of rapid heart rate. It can also lead to heart disease and other complications. A 24 hour urine test is used to measure the amount of serotonin in the body. I don’t yet understand exactly what the numbers mean, but I was told yesterday that my level at diagnosis was 150. A year ago, it was down to 69 and now, it’s 42. Apparently, normal is around 40. That would indicate that my tumours are no longer actively producing serotonin which is definitely good news!

So what does all this mean for the future? There is no cure for NETS. Even if my tumours were to disappear completely which happens very rarely, I would not be considered cured, but I am now entering a maintenance phase. For the next two years, I will receive a Lutetium treatment every six months instead of every 9 to 12 weeks as has happened so far. Then, if things continue to go well, we’ll go to a treatment every nine months. Yesterday was the first time we were even told of that possibility!

“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

Yesterday was definitely a day that gave us hope and a day that gave me greater confidence of a future here on this side of heaven! The battle isn’t over, in fact it never will be, but for now it’s getting easier and that’s enough for me!

Walking on water… sort of!

Last summer when we were camped at beautiful Porteau Cove with Matt, Robin and the boys, I saw something out on the water that I’d never seen before; a lone figure who appeared at first glance to be walking on the water! Can you see him in the early morning mist?

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I soon learned that he was stand up paddleboarding, a sport that combines surfing with kayaking or canoeing and that has become increasingly popular over the past ten years. Watching him brought back delightful memories of the styrofoam paddle board that my parents gave me when I learned to swim over 50 years ago. We lived on the waterfront in those days and I spent countless hours playing on that board. It was meant for lying on, of course, but I had to try kneeling and even standing on it. Kneeling wasn’t too great a challenge, but I never did manage to stand successfully. The board was simply too small and unstable for that, but splash after splash, I had fun trying!

When I saw the stand up paddleboarder at Porteau Cove, something new was immediately added to the bottom of my unwritten bucket list. I had no idea when or where it would happen, but I knew that I wanted to try this new sport. This week, at Barnabas, I had my chance and it was great! My first time out the water was very calm and the width of the board made balancing easy. It really did feel a bit like walking on water. Returning to the dock, however, I approached too quickly and took a spectacular spill! Fortunately, I managed not to hurt myself and was eager to try again another day. This time, there were small waves to contend with providing a bit more of a workout for my knees and core muscles. I managed to end my time on the water much more gracefully the second time around though and left determined to try the sport again. Fortunately, there are a number of places where I can rent a board when we’re back this way again.

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Never too old to try something new, I hope!

Barnabas

Last Sunday afternoon, we left our son’s home in North Vancouver and headed for Gibsons, setting of the popular Canadian comedy-drama series, The Beachcombers, that ran from October 1972 to December 1990. There we climbed aboard the Kinbasket Queen and left the rest of the world behind! Our destination was a five day family retreat at Barnabas Landing, perched on a hillside on Keats Island overlooking Howe Sound.

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Taking it’s name from the New Testament character whose name means Son of Encouragement, Barnabas Family Ministries has been dedicated to strengthening, educating and encouraging families since 1986. Barnabas is sometimes referred to as a “thin place”, one of those wonderful places where the boundary between heaven and earth seems especially thin and we feel just a little closer to eternity. This past week was certainly like that, a time when we left the stresses and concerns of this world behind immersing ourselves in the beauty of the location, enjoying luxurious accommodations and savoury meals, and being renewed physically, mentally and spiritually.

Lamplighter's Cottage, our home away from home for the week

Lamplighter’s Cottage, our home away from home for the week

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Our days were full but energizing. Every morning after breakfast the children went off with their various age group leaders for a wide variety of activities while the adults attended sessions with our speaker. Afternoons were family activity time with many options to choose from. On Monday, Richard and I joined a group for a hike across the island to Bridgeman’s Bluff, one of the higher points on the island, where we enjoyed the spectacular view.

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Other afternoons were spent taking long walks along the rocky beach, doing crafts, enjoying a wide variety of waterfront activities and visiting the General Store for ice cream treats.

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Bedtime for the kids was a highlight for the young parents because it was taken care of by the staff! That’s right! While the adults attended another session with the speaker, staff tucked their little ones into bed and continued to look after them until 10:00 PM. After our sessions, the General Store was open again for the adults to enjoy a steamed milk or a cup of tea and a snack before heading back to their rooms and taking over their parental duties.

Our speaker for the week was leadership coach, Mark Warren, who specializes in helping people discover and experience their personal life callings. This was Matt and Robin’s third summer retreat at Barnabas and Mark was speaker at their first one. They enjoyed him so much that they specifically chose this week in order to hear him again and I can definitely see why. I found myself looking forward to each session. Learning about our core strengths and exploring our personality types, we came away with lots to consider and apply. We also learned about empathy and how to diagnose and master the stories in our heads about other people and how they affect communication and relationships. A dynamic Christian, Mark applied biblical principles to all that he taught us.

In addition to being a retreat centre, Barnabas is also a working farm and much of what we ate during the week came from its organic gardens. Everything was cooked from scratch and was delicious! With the exception of one formal, adult-only dinner, meals were served buffet style on the Orchard Terrace, a casual outdoor setting. Yes, we were well fed mentally, spiritually and physically!

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Tote-ally awesome!

When I read “Crashing the Cancer Club“, Jenny Charlesworth’s story of surviving cervical cancer, in the March 2015 issue of Chatelaine magazine, I immediately responded with a letter to the editor via email. I’d completely forgotten about that until I flipped open the May issue and saw my letter in print! A bright pink tag announced that it was “This Month’s Winner”!

I vaguely remembered seeing a tiny note at the bottom corner of previous Letters pages announcing the chance to win a prize for writing a winning letter, but I didn’t give it much thought. I was just happy to see my letter in print! Sometime later, I looked back at the March issue and saw that the prize that was being offered was a blender. I already had a perfectly good blender and no real need for another one, so I wasn’t even concerned about the fact that I hadn’t included my mailing address with my letter.

Almost exactly a month ago, in the middle of June, I received a surprise email from Dominique at Chatelaine telling me that I’d won a leather tote from The Sak and asking for my address and phone number!

Leather tote or blender? Which would I rather have? I looked up The Sak website and checked out the many tote bags on offer. I love my blender, especially the fruit smoothies that I often make in it, but it was no contest. There were lots of bags that I could visualize myself carrying and I began to wonder which one would soon be mine!

Today, it arrived by courier… the Palisades soft leather tote in the shitake tassel design. I love it’s casual, slightly bohemian look. With it’s spacious fully lined interior, zippered inside pocket and magnetic closure, it has plenty of room for essentials like my wallet, cell phone, sunscreen and camera. In fact, I have a feeling that it’s going to be an ideal travel companion! I wonder where we’ll go together?

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Born To Be Wild

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I saw the painting Born To Be Wild by Norwegian artist, Sylvia Sotuyo, for the first time the day before yesterday on the NET Cancer Day Facebook page and it immediately spoke to me in a way that art seldom does. I looked at it over and over again, each time asking myself what it is about that figure that inspires me so. I even posted it as my Facebook profile picture. Why? Because I see it as a picture of me! I may not look like this to you and it isn’t what I see in the mirror, but I know it’s me!

I contacted the artist and she graciously gave me permission to share her painting here and to try to explain what it means to me, but first, let me share her description of it:

The dynamic human tree represents the strength and stamina of the tree, combined with the power and intelligence of the human being. The human tree stands proudly, well grounded to earth, and reaches towards the sky to achieve all it`s hopes and dreams…

I, too, see it as a symbol of strength and hope, but I see other things that the artist may not have had in mind. First of all, the zebra is the symbol of neuroendocrine tumours (NETS), the incurable cancer that I was diagnosed with almost two years ago. Neuroendocrine tumours are difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are usually vague and similar to more common health problems. Many family doctors have never encountered a NETS patient. When presented with symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea, they naturally think of things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance. Medical students are taught “when hearing hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” Neuroendocrine tumours are very rare and therefore they are considered to be zebras.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve noticed zebra stripes everywhere! In recent years, the fashion world has been inundated with animal prints and the zebra is definitely a popular motif. I’ve seen zebra t-shirts, zebra leggings, zebra pjs and even zebra bras. I’ve tried on zebra jeans and a sexy looking zebra dress, but I didn’t buy either one. I’ve also seen zebra handbags and zebra luggage. One of the ladies I occasionally play golf with has a zebra golf bag. Obviously, it was the zebra stripes on the figure in Sotuya’s painting that prompted the NET Cancer Day organization to post it on their Facebook page and that initially caught my eye, but there’s more than that to my fascination with it.

Like the tree, I’m more firmly rooted to one place than I was before my diagnosis. I receive a monthly injection to alleviate the symptoms mentioned above that has to be administered by a specially trained nurse. Fortunately, I can arrange to have the injection given anywhere in Canada. In fact, plans are already in place for me to have my next one in Vancouver, but arranging to have it given outside the country would be much more complicated. There likely won’t be any more long term stints teaching English or doing missionary work overseas in my future.

I’m also firmly rooted in my faith, however. It’s my absolute confidence that my life is in God’s hands that gives me the freedom and joy that I see represented by the outstretched arms or branches of the figure in the painting. I see strength and purpose in those arms as well as exuberance.

The figure is also graceful, possessing an elegance that I would like to think is true of me. I often pray that I might be a woman of grace, one who doesn’t allow the circumstances of life to define who I am. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I fervently prayed that God would enable me to endure whatever lay ahead with grace.

As the title of the painting implies, there’s also a wildness in her. I, too, am a little bit wild at heart. It’s not a loud or out of control sort of wildness, but I believe in living life to the fullest and I’m always ready to try something new. I don’t like to follow the crowd and I don’t always see eye to eye with the people who love me. I speak my mind, but I don’t fly off the handle. I love nothing more than a hike in the wilderness or a walk on a beach and just because I’m in my 60s doesn’t mean I can’t climb a tree! Yes, I’m a little bit wild; a little bit unconventional and I think this is a picture of me!

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You can see other examples of Sylvia Sotuyo’s work and even purchase prints here.

Donalda day trip

Every time we travel Highway 53 on our way to Red Deer, Calgary or other points to the south, we dip down into Meeting Creek Coulee, the northern most point of the Canadian Badlands. As we climb back out, we pass the access road to the tiny village of Donalda. With its population of about 260 people, it perches on a bluff overlooking the vast valley below. Over the years, we’ve often thought that this would be a great area to go hiking and apparently, we weren’t the only ones. A few years back, the community developed and advertised a hiking trail. When we discovered that geocachers had hidden some caches both in town and along the trail, our interest grew and finally, yesterday was the day. We packed a picnic lunch and off we went! IMG_5318Donalda’s greatest claim to fame is the world’s largest lamp, a replica of the oil lamps that once lit the homes of early settlers across this land. Standing 42 feet tall at the end of the town’s quaint main street and just across the corner from a museum that houses the world’s largest collection of oil lamps, it was lit for the first time on July 1, 2000. All night, every night, its light shines out over the valley below. Inside its base, visitors enjoy a series of paintings depicting the town in its earlier days. Our first cache was hidden just outside. IMG_5327 IMG_5323  IMG_5322 IMG_5321 IMG_5316 After picnicking close to the lamp and the restored railway station nearby, we searched out the other two caches that are hidden in town and then set off along the hiking trail. We expected to find ourselves walking along the rim of the coulee, but instead, we followed a woodland trail that eventually led us out onto an open bluff overlooking the valley below. Seldom ones to stay on the beaten track, after stopping to rest at a picnic table with a spectacular view, we set off to follow an animal trail down into the valley. IMG_5351 I hiked down to the flat valley floor while Richard explored the interesting formations on another close by bluff. IMG_5344 IMG_5345 IMG_5346 The valley is far vaster than we ever realized from the highway and my photos hardly do it justice, but it was great to finally trek through a very small part of it. There are so many interesting places close to home if one but takes the time to explore them! IMG_5334 IMG_5335 IMG_5336

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