Saturday, November 26, 2011

Imperfect, Fallible and Human

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution. -- K. Gibran

April Epner: I know what I did to you, to you in particular. Kinda worst nightmare kind of thing, right? I knew that. Even at the time I knew that. 
Frank: What else? 
April Epner: I'll do it again, I will, I'll hurt you again and again. Not like that, you'd have to leave me if I hurt you like that. If we were together you would leave me if I hurt you like that again, wouldn't you? 
Frank: Yes. Yes, I would. 
April Epner: Good. But I'll hurt you in other ways, little ways, I won't mean to but I will. And sometimes I will mean to. 
Frank: This is quite an offer you've worked out. 
April Epner: You'll hurt me too, you know. You'll hurt me and change on me, you might even leave me after you promise you won't, how about that? 
Frank: I wouldn't. 
April Epner: But you might. 
Frank: But I wouldn't. 
April Epner: But... you might. 
Frank: Yeah, I guess I might. 

We are in the midst of the holiday season. It is a time for gatherings with family and friends -- holiday dinners and parties, shopping -- all of which typically requires lots social interaction. I chose the quote (above) from the movie “Then She Found Me” because in the (somewhat awkward) scene between Helen Hunt and Colin Firth,  April's words depict what happens naturally in the course of all close personal relationships; be it friendships, family or romantic.  Sometimes letting go is the right decision when we find a person who is not positive and supportive majority of the time.  But, sometimes, an understanding of  natural human tendency to be fallible softens the blow when others behavior, actions (or mistakes) isn’t the most comfortable feeling in the moment and can cause our autonomic nervous system (ANS) light up the fight or flight feeling. It is those moments where not being primitive animals that automatically respond to our biological impulses is important and let reasoning set in.

According to Dr. Daniel Amen “the people you spend time with determine your longevity”.  I attribute my father’s stroke to the social stress he dealt with for decades, coupled with genetics.  He did not have a spouse who was supportive and loving for majority of his life, nor close friends or family to help ease the problems him and my mother faced.  I am happy that seems to have now changed.  Science has proven social isolation is as dangerous as smoking.

Positive social interaction requires understanding and an ability to be benevolent to one another, and show it through our actions and words. It is thought that our “feeling side” of our brain is the primitive part of our brain and the rational part is the apart of the newly (relative to millions of years) part of our brain.    I find using science to help me understand what maybe lying behind my loved ones behavior helps me step away from taking it personal and empowers me to try react better.  Oddly (or maybe not) science  is helping me learn how to maintain relationships through the sticky stuff; to stick it out as I -- and my loved ones -- each evolve, grow and change, as long as the relationships have a predominately positive foundation. Having a scientific understanding (via psychology tests and functional MRI’s) of my son’s brain helps me and his teachers cater his education to what we know his strengths and weaknesses are. We know that he is near genius in vocabulary, but that his processing speed is on the low end of average. This could cause him to come off as being lazy, when it is really his brain catching up and it needs a little more time.  He has an amazing way of communicating, but when he is learning something new we know he needs more time than his average peers to work on mastering it. I find this understanding helps me to be patient when it might be more of a challenge to choose to do so.

 As we are moving through the holidays festivities it seems fitting to end this with a popular verse from the bible:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. --1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Raising Men: Compassion, Health and Conquering Chronic Disease

I had spent some of my spare time of the first 5 of months of 2011 organizing a team for the Race for the Cure and the day was finally here. Almost 40 people; friends, friends of friends, and family had come together to share a moment, to show solidarity against a disease that touches more women each day. I have yet to be personally affected by the disease, but this is my attempt of paying it forward for all the women who surrounded and carried me and my family through the darkest days of my oldest son’s cancer treatment. 

On that sunny warm spring day in May, the typically almost desolate streets of the Motor City were packed with 40,000 people.   Men, women and children of every race, size, and health level literally filled the streets to come together for mostly women who face this terrible disease.

As we drove home from Detroit, a friend  invited the team  back to her house for a Breast Cancer Walk fundraiser she was hosting at her home later that evening. 

I entered my friends house, the sky was now dark and another successful Race for the Cure was behind me.   As the evening progressed I found a seat with a group of her coworkers sitting at her kitchen table discussing what had trandspired earlier. A white and grey-streaked haired yet youthful faced man, sitting down the table from me, asked something to the affect, “we (society) have no problem coming together for women’s causes or children’s causes, but you would hardly hear of such a thing for men and prostate cancer.” The conversation turned into teaching our boys compassion for themselves and each other, while still encouraging sympathy for female and children issues -- typically known in politics as compassion issues, or social issues.  

I find  myself reflecting on this question in my quiet moments, even now, months later.  I am raising 3 boys who will someday be men.  I only get one chance to instill and reinforce these important human values in them.

That spring turned into summer quickly, and we were on vacation with the ocean waves coming in quick and hard; the August sky foretold of the hurricane still a good distance south of where I played with my three sons along the Atlantic. For a moment, my attention was diverted to a dad with two boys, one about the same age as my oldest (near 11) and the other probably around 5. The dad was encouraging the oldest to push and shove the younger one into the strong waves that were a result of the down coast hurricane. The younger child was clearly frightened. And  I, too,  was concerned.  I gave him an “are you serious?!?” glare for a moment, he then said something about how he was making him stronger.  I just shook my head and went back to playing with my children.  Stronger?!? Perhaps fearful, less compassionate and less trusting is what came to my mind, but I kept my mouth shut.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary compassion is the sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.  We all have experienced emotional pain, or some form of suffering at some point. In Dr. James Doty, MD article in the Washington post this past March speaks about how, “It has been stated many times that survival is of the fittest, but when one reads Darwin closely this is not the case. Rather, the more accurate statement, coined by Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. and other leading social scientists, is “the survival of the kindest.”

It is thought that compassion is the means of the genes protecting themselves and making sure they made it into the next generation. Compassion is an important part  of allowing our species to be so great in number. Compassion is what allows us, as a species, to survive in times of struggle

Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at U of C, Berkleley explains the biological basis for compassion, “…Take the loose association of glands, organs, and cardiovascular and respiratory systems known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS plays a primary role in regulating our blood flow and breathing patterns for different kinds of actions. For example, when we feel threatened, our heart and breathing rates usually increase, preparing us either to confront or flee from the threat—the so-called “fight or flight” response. What is the ANS profile of compassion? As it turns out, when young children and adults feel compassion for others, this emotion is reflected in very real physiological changes: Their heart rate goes down from baseline levels, which prepares them not to fight or flee, but to approach and sooth.  Then there’s oxytocin, a hormone that floats through the bloodstream. Research performed on the small, stocky rodents known as prairie voles indicates that oxytocin promotes long-term bonds and commitments, as well as the kind of nurturing behavior—like care for offspring—that lies at the heart of compassion. It may account for that overwhelming feeling of warmth and connection we feel toward our offspring or loved ones. Indeed, breastfeeding and massages elevate oxytocin levels in the blood (as does eating chocolate). In some recent studies I’ve conducted, we have found that when people perform behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—their bodies produce more oxytocin. This suggests compassion may be self-perpetuating: Being compassionate causes a chemical reaction in the body that motivates us to be even more compassionate.” (see reference below for article site)

Gail Underwood Parker, author of the blog 'Upbeats and Downbeats'  explains, "Sympathy is more than recognition. To me, empathy does not require more than dispassionately recognizing and understanding someone else's pain.  Compassion is far more. Compassion means feeling, regretting that pain, and wishing to ease that pain.  Empathy does not seem to require action, but compassion calls for, cries out for action."

When we experience compassion, our vagus nerve is activated. A well reacting vagus nerve is a good ticket our health. It calms us, it slows the heart rate  and it strengthen's our immune system. Research is suggesting  that compassion might be able to slow the aging process by lowering inflammation in the body. Inflammation is thought to be the precursor to many of our chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc. 

Compassion and empathy are innate within the human chemical makeup --  but some conditioned beliefs of communities and/or family culture drive many to mistrust and even at times have disdain for emotions like compassion, empathy and optimism.
Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin and a pioneer in research on self-compassion, says, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent. They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.  Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

At the beginning of her paper on  The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Self-Compassion   the summary  explains, "Self-compassion entails being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical; perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as isolating; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness rather than over-identifying with them. Evidence for the validity and reliability of the scale is presented in a series of studies. Results indicate that self-compassion is significantly correlated with positive mental health outcomes such as less depression and anxiety and greater life satisfaction. Evidence is also provided for the discriminant validity of the scale, including with regard to self-esteem measures." (available through Psychology Press)

Compassion is sometimes thought of as a women’s emotion.  The health benefits that a compassionate person reaps from the act of simply being can become apart of our society  if we acknowledge its importance within us and we encourage our youth toward it.

I still question how to show and teach my young boys -- who will be men before I know it -- how to be compassionate toward themselves and other males.  I try to be aware of opportunities (daily) to encourage them to be understanding of each other and themselves.  I try to be an example. Perhaps, in someway, it is selfish of me. I know this will improve their health, improve the communities they choose to settle in and protect the generations far beyond them. 

I am grateful for my dad who shows compassion by his constant drive to want to help,  and for other men like Jeff a active volunteer from our local Camp Quality (a group that helps kids with cancer remember to be kids) and Mark who started Habitate for Hope with his wife and made it their life mission to help families facing a pediatric health crisis. These are just a few I can think of off the top of my head that stand out (in my social circles) as reminders that strong men do know how to be compassionate and I'm not raising weirdos, but heroes,  if I encourage my sons to look to them, and other men like them, as examples. 

I hope to impart on my children that their health and wellness also lie within how well they treat others and themselves.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Did You Know that January is Manuary - Men Grow Facial Hair Awareness Month?

The list of the causes we should become aware of just the first month of the year is this long:
  1. Awareness Month Awareness Month
  2. Be On-Purpose Month, National
  3. Bird-Feeding Months, National
  4. Celebration of Life Month
  5. Creativity Month, International - by Randall Munson
  6. Clean Up Your Computer Month, National
  7. Constipation awareness month,
  8. National Drag History Month,
  9. National (Established by Logo T.V. to celebrate the history and role of Drag Queens in the LGBT community.)
  10. Financial Wellness Month
  11. Get Organized Month
  12. Glaucoma Awareness Month, National
  13. Hot Tea Month, National
  14. Mailorder Gardening Month, National - according to the Mailorder Gardening Association
  15. Manuary - men grow facial hair
  16. Meetings History Month, National
  17. Mentoring Month, National (USA)
  18. National Clown College Month
  19. Oatmeal Month
  20. Poverty in America Awareness Month, National - according to the Catholic Campaign for Human
  21. Development
  22. Radon Action Month, National - US Environmental Protection Agency
  23. Self-Help Group Awareness Month - according to the Mental Health Clearinghouse
  24. Skating Month, National - according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association
  25. Volunteer Blood Donor Month, National

It was a good idea in its original form otherwise it wouldn’t have gone so viral…all of this monthly awareness stuff.  I need to note that I am not trying to belittle the diseases or the causes that groups are trying to educate us on, some of them are  important.  For example,  it’s important for a woman to be able to do a self-exam. Early dection is  important to teach the public,  it saves lives.  Manuary, well… I appreciate the snicker at the idea when I read it on the list, and I am glad whatever group, or person, thought of that one, are not pushing it too hard.  (I don’t know if this list is complete, so if your cause is not up there it because I am not being through, it is nothing personal.)

I admit I used to turn off the St. Jude infomericals that were on TV (years ago before Kevin was diagnosed).  I tried once to watch one and thought to myself this is too depressing and turned it off.   I tuned out what eventually became my son’s saving grace.  I’m glad other people didn’t make the same choice I did.

I now live in a world where I see other moms post on Facebook about going to their child’s grave to visit, I hear about the newly diagnosed and those who have lived, but also live with the late effects caused by such a terrible disease.  This is my normal. I never imagined it would happen to one of my children.

Today I met more newly diagnosed as we waited for my son's follow-up appointments at St. Jude. As we waited for blood draws for labs, we met one little boy the same age of my youngest  who was diagnosed with Leukemia on my oldest’s birthday. His mom is 9 months pregnant.  My heart just sinks because I have a clue as to how hard the journey is going to be. Treatment is tough and scary. We, parents of kids with cancer, agree to fill our children with poisons, stuff we would normally call poison control for if they ingested, to save our children.  We walk with our children and hold their little hands through hell, praying they make it out alive.

It is hard not to cry at the end of the day here, despite all the amazing things St. Jude does to try to soften the blow. It is a terrible reality of life. And I hate more people are experiencing it.  Cancer knows no socioeconomic status, it knows no one faith or church, it sometimes does single out one community if they don’t protect their environment, but it is completely clueless about race.

This brings me to my quandary. September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  In a way, it seems like one more thing to fill the air with, something that can be easily tuned out or turned off. I used to do it. It was too sad. So I have asked myself what is the point of making people aware of such a terrible thing? These are the answers I have come up with:
  1. If you find yourself or someone you know facing cancer with a newly diagnosed child (God forbid), hopefully the stories of others will have stuck and help you make educated decisions.
  2. When elections come around, if you understand what is happening (I believe strongly there is a connection between environment and cancer, in some cases) you can vote wisely.
  3. This is our future. It might seem like just my kid, but it’s not. It’s one of the leading killers of children. And the kids who live through it are left with late effects.
  4.  I know of enough kids who have died from the disease, or the diseases they get as a result of treatment. The earlier cancer is caught the better chance a child has. Parents need to be aware it can happen and its typically the last thing your doctor will look for when a child starts showing symptoms. 
  5. Because I believe in my son’s vision for cancer to someday be treated like the flu; you take some medicine, your sick for a few days and then you go on with life as normal. This won't become a reality with out funding for research.
  6. I hate cancer, but I especially hate it when a kid  gets it.

Today we also met a man who is participating in a St. Jude survivor research project. He had cancer when he was 11. That was 23 years ago. As we both waited for our appointments in the waiting area for physical therapy, we discussed life and moving on. He was a very handsome well spoken man that looked completely normal with his jeans on. His wife, who sat next to him was bubbly,  happy and appeared very supportive. But as he told me his story I learned one of his legs is a prosthetic. He lost it to cancer at the age of 11. Bittersweet, but meetings like this sometimes fill me with hope and sometimes make me so thankful for research and improvements in treatment.

A couple years ago I met a young man who had had the same type of brain tumor as my son, only 20+ years ago. He was obviously mentally challenged. As I spoke to his mom I learned that the dosages that they used to give medulloblastoma kids were much higher then and caused some mental retardation.  My son did not make it out without consequence, but nothing as sever as that mother and son have to live with.

I am so thankful for the improvements made to treatment. We must keep moving forward as the invasive cancer rate for children has increased 29% over the last 20 years. Rare? Hardly feels like it to me. I wish it was more rare; I shouldn't be meeting so many people in my own community affected by childhood cancer.

So I will do my part to raise awareness this month. You can tune it out or participate. I was forced not to tune it out any more. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pro-life, Pro-Choice and Parenthood: A Multidimensional Subject that Should Drive More Social Issue Discussions

Note: This entry was inspired by Frances Kissling's interview on NPR's On Being.

It’s my oldest child’s birthday. This 7 pound 2 ounce -- 3 week early baby-- is the baby boy that made me a mom for the first time.  He wasn't a planned pregnancy, but he was wanted, a choice made on the fly and one that has enriched my life and made my life (and me) better.  I went to the doctor after being sick and throwing up for 3 weeks.  The doctor asked if he could do a pregnancy test. I agreed while openly expressing (in the privacy of the exam room) that there was no way this blood test would come back positive; I  didn't feel I was ready to be a mom and I was on birth control that had worked so far.   Though recently married, but I was unsure of my marriage, very unsure of myself, and pretty convinced that both my new husband and I had not married the right person for ourselves.  In my mid 20’s, so old enough but much younger than I wanted to be to start having children;  I did own a very small place of my own -- but a child was not a part of my then-current plan.  When the doctor called and told me I was pregnant me,  he gingerly asked about discussing termination.  I declined. The nurturing part of me already kicked in the moment I learned he was growing inside of me. I was going to see to it that this child was protected and cared for the best I could figure out. 

I had grown up in a household where topics like this were discussed openly in the conservative backdrop of a Mormon family. This little person, who I did not know yet, was here in the physical world in my beliefs.  I had always valued life; I had experimented with vegetarianism in my late teens and early twenties because I didn't enjoy eating the flesh from another living animal. Yet the people who were close to me convinced me I was wrong and that being vegetarian was a hassle and was not healthy.... in their meat-eating world.  I went back to doing what I did best, trying to make those around me happy and silencing my own young voice.

Lots of people come to the doorstep of parenthood in their own way, with their own perspective and beliefs.  For me, being the oldest of my 4 siblings and having to babysit a lot -- sometimes for days at a time -- formed my thoughts about the demands of parenthood.  I didn’t  have a close knit extended family to offer a child, something I feel is very important.  I saw parenthood as a very difficult job that required a lot of resources, some of which we don’t get to choose and can’t buy with money. We are either born with those extra resources, kind of have it or don’t have it at all.  I fell between the first two categories.  I understood from taking care of my younger siblings that children are amazing beings that deserve the very best that we can give them.  When I found out I was pregnant, I considered adoption, -- as I was thinking about my lack of preparedness for this, I questioned if adoption would be the unselfish thing to do, but my new husband was not onboard with that idea.  He was determined that we would just figure it out.  My dad encouraged me to have faith, and I began to believe that -- though I didn’t have a plan for this--it would somehow work out. 

August 2000 my first son entered my world and I have never been so in love (except when his younger brothers came into the world later on). I held him the first 24 hours, rarely putting him down, amazed by this little life that now was in my care. I have done my best to love, care and protect him as best as I can while navigating this world without my own mother to guide me through. I appreciate my own father, who was once was willing to reject me, his oldest daughter, to please my mother, yet in the end he did not turn his back on me and has since remained an active part of mine and my children’s lives. It really does take a village to help teach and guide a child to be able to understand and navigate this world as an adult successfully.

My choice to keep my child changed my life in profound ways that cannot be measured in monetary gain or any other very obvious measure, only in who I was before and who I have now become.  I have held all three of my children on the day of their birth in awe and respect of the life they inhibit and it is my love for them that sometimes pushes me to be better myself.

All mothers and fathers have limits as to how much they have to give; how many children they are equipped to care for.  And parenthood does leave an uneducated woman or man in a position that can lead to vulnerable situations, for both the parent and the children. It is well known in my family that my mother wanted a small family because that was all she felt capable of taking care of, and my father wanted a large family.  I believe he truly wanted a large family, but I think some of the reasons behind it were due to the religious and social pressures. My mother felt the same pressures and ignored her internal voice. My father got a large family, and to put it bluntly – my mother lost her marbles – literally and seriously.

This is where I struggle with religion, culture and societies that encourage all to procreate without the means to educate all to think critically. It is my belief that not everyone is meant to be a parent. School teachers have names for children who are “Parentally Challenged”. To me, sometimes "procreation for all" is a way to spread an ideology, a religion, but also dangerous when groups of people are encouraged not to listen to their own voices about their own limitations, and be honest about who they really are. This leaves open to the fact that children will be born into difficult challenges most will not overcome.

All this leads me to this odd intersection. It is hard for me to comprehend why would a socially conservative movement be anti- social programs;  if we  want to protect an unborn child yet throw the mother and the baby out after the birth?

It seems that are few issues are as complicated or intimate.  We have to be honest what brings a girl or woman to making the abortion choice.  It is a fact some girls and women are being abused by husbands and boyfriends, some are being pressured to have sex by boyfriends, peers  and much older boys and men, some are not educated about birth control (or do not feel that is an option), along with pressure to have abortions by the fathers of the babies, some face their own uncertainty about themselves as young teen mothers already in difficult living circumstances, some want to finish school, live in poverty, lack opportunity to adequately care for a family and for others it is their own demons be it drug addictions or abusive personalities, mental illness.  Here's what I learned: sometimes life is too messed up to bring a baby into it and we, as a society, don't have the social safe guards to catch majority of the girls or women who find themselves in one or many of these situations nor the children brought into the situation.

As of right now, I believe life starts within weeks of conception.  I understand, yet struggle, with the idea that all life is not equal.  I get the idea, but I internally struggle with the argument that a life that has the faculty to survive outside of the womb might be of more importance than the one that cannot live without its mother’s womb.  But I detest the fact that after that child is born into poverty --or difficult situations -- our society tends to  shun that young life and his parent(s) for their poor choices in life, their limited education, etc.  There’s a disconnect in that thought process that makes my stomach churn because this ideology is forming our society, our public policies.  It is affecting real lives not just hypothetical lives that don’t exist.

My belief of where life starts is the one point where modern society tells me I am socially conservative, but it is the driving belief that encourages progressiveness and a belief in a mixed capitalist society as being the ideal goal; yet I find myself in the midst of a family and community that seems both economically liberal and fiscally conservative  while being socially conservative.   I know we need to have the social programs for those in difficult places yet trying to make what some would call the “right, yet difficult decision”.

I still believe very deeply in the sanctity of life beginning within weeks of conception. I was given a choice to terminate my pregnancy, but I didn't.   I knew then I would not, though going through that choice has increased my compassion for others who do.

Some women are going to feel abortion is the only choice, no matter what anybody else says about it.  If abortion is not safe (and legal), many of these women will die from that choice.  I am not cold and callus to say either death is okay. Life is difficult and sometimes life forces one to face difficult decisions.  For some it is being told their cancer is progressive and having to choose to pursue treatment or not to, some parents have to make those decisions for children they have chosen to have.  I do not categorically support every woman's possible reason for getting an abortion;  I especially do not support late term abortions or the chilling stories I have read about babies being born alive and then killed.  It is these instances  it is important we make adoption easier, make it easier to give a young life a safe home when the child is not to be with the birth mother. Not everyone should be a parent. As a society we should empower women to 
understand their sexuality as the beautiful thing it can be
, not throw it away.  Women should be encouraged to educate themselves throughout life.   We all should choose our relationships carefully.  This is a big complicated issue, I refuse to see as one that can be contained in singularity; it is a multidimensional issue that begs for congruity, internal and external consistency in thought and practice, especially in the midst of many politically driven social issues that sprout from the birth of a child in a less than favorable situation.

Emotion, reason and policy: Thinking liberally about feeling | The Economist

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The View from the Handicap Section - “The Roseto Effect”

4th of July weekend 2010, I was in the handicap section in front of the orchestra accompanying my father who recently turned 60 and also had a stroke earlier in the year-- which gave us (almost) front row seats. To this day, my dad still fights with his own neurological connections in his brain to be able to move his left side. 

After the music and fireworks to celebrate our nations independence concluded,  I pushed my father’s wheelchair forward through the crowd to the exit- I found it impossible not to notice effects of chronic disease as it really did surround me literally at that moment.  The stark reality of the health struggles of majority of Americans was, to me, like a horror scene from a scary movie. But here I could not close my eyes as I typically would in the movie theater.  There had to be at least a 150 people moving slowly through the crowd to the waiting golf carts to transport the ill and handicap and their loved ones. These were all people facing the similar health crises as my family is facing. As I continued to push my father's wheel chair, looking over the head of the man, who when standing towers over me, the man I used to watch run and work out when I was a child, the man whom first introduced me to weight lifting and running-- was struggling to just to walk a short distance and now be considered handicap, it brought a heaviness that knocks the wind out of my breath still.
When I started speaking out more about the importance of diet, I also had a theory that diet is only 1/4 of the complete package of a healthy, vibrant life. I was in the infancy stage of trying to get a handle on what it truly means to be “healthy”.   As I looked, read, and talked to more people, I found I was not alone in my “theory”. There are doctors and researchers who already know/knew and have done the research (why don’t more on the ground, in the trenches Doctors know this?).
Dr. Dean Ornish is a huge proponent that diet is a factor but only one of the many components that help maintain health.  In his latest book, Spectrum he outlines 4 categories to health - what you eat, how you respond to stress, activity and love and support.

In one of his books, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “The Roseto Effect. To summarize, in 1966, in Roseto, a small Pennsylvania town, where the inhabitants ate what I would call “grandma’s cooking” (it was typically fried in lard), they smoked and drank, spending their days in hard, hazardous labor. But the people in this town seemed nearly immune to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other chronic diseases. The multi-generational study found that “mutual respect and cooperation contribute to the health and welfare of a community and its inhabitants, and that self- indulgence and lack of concern for others exert opposite influences”. These people died of heart attacks at half the national rate all because they cared about one another. They took the time to talk to one another, supported and educated their youth together and they thrived on the sense of community and secureness of knowing they were all in it as a whole.  Sociologist John Bruhn nearly 50 years after said, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime.  They didn't have anyone on welfare.  Then we looked at peptic ulcers.  They didn't have any of those either.  These people were dying of old age.  That’s it.”

I think the policies and leadership of our government set the tone for our society. It sets the tone for how we treat one another. It was one of the original founders of Roseto, PA ( or google 'Roseto Affect') that set the tone for that community that lasted for decades, generations--leading them to have significantly less disease than the rest of our country. If we believe that we only need to look out for ourselves, as in the words of Ayn Rand, philosopher and writer, “that I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” we are guaranteeing a life full of watching neighbors and loved ones deal with illness. Just a basic biology and psychology class will teach that our babies die without love, support and so do children and adults. We cannot become 'something' without people who believe in us combined with our own effort. Those who believe that we need only look out for ourselves are short selling out our descendants, and possibly humanity.

It was just a moment, a rare moment as I was exiting a community event, when the realities of how many people who are living through their disease, diseases that are preventing them from living fully and vibrantly, diseases that could have been prevented if we just had taken the time to care enough to understand the human in humanity and ensured that our policies and practices protected the human condition, and cared enough about future generations to make the choices that protect them. 

As I have watched chronic disease affect so many people I care about; from neighbors, to loved ones, even my own young son, I've had to really examine my life, my views, and my political views.  I find myself advocating for a healthier culture and society. It may sound impossible, especially for a country like the United States where chronic disease is so rampant, where the idea of medical care for everyone, workers rights, decent wages, vacation time, work/life balance and basic respect for life, family and protecting each other may seem threatening especially by those who have come to believe the rhetoric that these ideals are "socialist",  but I have to believe it is not. Just a  look to Denmark , and their mixed capitalist economy, and I know its not impossible, just a long shot.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Does Epistemology Mean?

Note: My goal is to get this post out in 15 minutes or less. So please excuse typo's, incorrect punctuation, etc. All of which  I know I still do,  even when I edit and spend an hour writing something.

Epistemology. It was a few years ago, a couple of weeks into my first winter semester back in college, when my English Comp II teacher said that word. Here I am sitting in English and he is speaking Greek AND expecting me to understand it. According to the Standford Encyclopedia of  Philosophy it is, "the study of knowledge and justified belief".

Epistemology is what this blog is about. I am in search of understanding. Are my belief's about health, wellness, and being a decent person on this planet right? -- is  what I think, right, wrong, right for right now, completely wrong? Are they imposing on other's freedom's, happiness? Or contributing to my own (or other's) demise,  ability to get good employment, etc? Is what I believe (thus motivating my actions) good and allowing me to better myself and enable those around me to do well also? Because one of my foundational beliefs is we are all connected in some way or form. It maybe not be obvious right now. But we live on one planet, all breath air and probably affect each other more than we could, or world, or care to acknowledge.

I appreciate the reminder this almost 20 minute "talk" gave me. I have had discussions, like I typical enjoy to do, with my peers about current affairs and our perspective views about them. But one my thoughts might have been wrong. Maybe the U.S. population is living longer. To me, with all of the disease, what I see happening in my community, and in my own family, it is a hard to see that as reality. But according to the U.S. Census we are living longer. According to this paper we are not. Huh. I don't know. Honestly too tired to put any more energy towards it, or investigate which is actually right. Maybe they both are. Because we are all, in someway,  living in multiple realities - in our own individual perspectives and experiences giving our eyes its own individual perspective of reality.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Out Running Diabetes

 In many ways I am my own experiment. In my early 20's I watched my grandmother die a terrible death from diabetes. It slowly took her limb by limb, mini-stroke by stroke. My dad had a stroke last year. And I wonder, how long can I hold this off? Can I avoid it all together?

I have traced diabetes back 4 generations from me. So I've made -  what some may think as -  radical changes to my diet; but I question if it is radical enough.  Sugar (evil sugar) and I have this bond I struggle to break. Turning down a dessert is near impossible for me. This past Tuesday was a very stressful day, as I had to watch my little sister face one of her demons  - and there was nothing I could do to help her or protect her - by the end of the day if I didn't find a huge piece of chocolate I thought I was going to go crazy. 

I am thankful that Mrs. Murry, my high school gym teacher encouraged me to break the soda habit.  But baked goods are another ball game for me. I typically try to reduce the sugar in the things I make myself but I find the kids will not touch it when I reduce the sweetness of what I try to pull off as cookies. As my kids get older and more exposed to processed foods, this battle is getting tougher and tougher for me.


I am noticing I have a similar struggle with food that both my dad and grandmother have/had. So I exercise, try to keep healthy things in the house. I eat lots of plants - - really all I eat is plants. I try to make my pantry  a safe place. I try to manage my stress, which is difficult as I care about the people around me and sometimes not letting their problems cause me to worry (I am a worrier) is difficult.  I am working on protecting my sleep because I believe that sleep is important to maintaining bodily function.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor for my annual physical. My blood pressure was 113/66 with a resting pulse of 63 – all good stats. It will be next week before the all the blood test results are back from the lab. I am concerned about the diabetes part, but my doctor seemed more concerned about my thyroid. I've gained just a little bit of weight since the summer - my ideal weight is just  a under 120 - the 7ish pound gain is a lot for me -  but not a red flag for the doctor who I am sure is used to seeing people with a more substantial weight problems. Most of fall semester I battled a terrible ear infection, which was unusual for me - if I catch a bug it typically doesn't last more than a few days. I ended up at a homeopathic/ chiropractor who put me on iodine and did this voodoo thing called Matrix on me (and, no, it was not like the movie where I was hooked into a virtual world – or maybe it was and I just haven't realized it yet). This was a last resort to surgery to relieve the plugged ear and restore my hearing.  Since the iodine worked (and none of the antibiotics she prescribed did), and since being on the iodine I want to sleep more than ever along with a few other things she is recognizing as symptoms, she is theorizing that there might be something wrong with my thyroid.  I'm not completely on-board yet, but am open to what she and the blood work say.

So, I will work on learning more in the next week about my thyroid as I await the blood work.

But, really, despite this, I am hoping to see my cholesterol level to beat my previous 150 and thus continue the experiment….can I beat it?