As an avid gardener, I know a key to yard work is to regularly schedule my time to maintain gardens. Planting and harvesting get much of the attention, however a hidden secret to a successful harvest lies in weeding. Yes, weeding is cruicial, not just for the look, but because pesky weeds steal away nutrients and water from the good things we are intentionally growing. Weeds are manageable if you pull them at frequent intervals. Tweny minutes a week is not too bad once you have a yard under control. But if you are gone for a month and come home after a rainy and hot June, guess what greets you? A forest full of happy weeds. You can either let them grow and lose control or get to work.
Just like our gardens, we need to stay on top of things that creep, unwanted, into our lives. That means doing regular maintenance of things we may not want to do or pruning back parts of our lives that have gotten out of control. Once you begin working on your personal gardening, you’ll realize the benefits to all parts of your life.
How do we start weeding out? First, you have to be ready (emotionally and physically) to get weeding. Second, identify the weeds in your life and prioritize them. Third, grab your gloves and get weeding!
So what do you weed out first? Is it bad habits? Friends who wear you down more than bring you up? A cluttered house? Toxic relationships (personal or professional)? An unhealthy work environment? Whatever it is, you are your own master gardener, so own your gardens and get to work. All you need is a pair of nice fitting gloves (in case you run into particularly prickly weeds) a bit of time and the right mindset.
In the spirit of personal gardening, I’ve taken this last year off from paid work, focusing on a personal sabbatical to do my own weeding. And the benefits have been many. A year of trying new things, cleaning out the house #mariekondo style, painting, gardening, traveling, sharing 69 cups of coffee with the community, spending time with friends and family, reading and writing. Yes, lots of me time. And it has been such a gift. And now I’m ready for the next big thing in my professional life because I did the weeding I needed to do. For me. I encourage you to do the same, whatever that looks like for you in your life at this moment.
Are you motivated to start your own personal garden weeding? Here’s a weeding exercise if you are ready to get to work. Answer these three questions (really, get a paper and pencil), then prioritize your lists.
What (or who) are the “weeds” in my personal life that need attention? (Think physical and mental health, friendships, life surroundings – home/garden, and groups I associate with or volunteer for regularly). These are things in my life that suck out my energy or invade my time, leaving me too busy to focus on things I really want to do or be someone I’d really like to be.
What (or who) are the “weeds” in my professional life that I am in control of pulling? Work is never perfect. Even if you work for yourself. So what parts can you weed out or delegate to make time and space for the things you are really good at and love to do?
If I could weed out things in my life, what would I like to do with new found time and energy?
So what did you learn about yourself? Your “home” self versus your “work” self? Is it time to start plucking the weeds or should you grab the pruning shears? What is holding you back? The weeds are only getting thicker and sucking away the nutrients you need to live a happy and healthy life. Remember, you are the master gardener of your life. Whatever weeds have crept into your life, you only have to open your eyes to see them, squat down and start pulling. Even if it is a field of weeds, you start by pulling the first one. With each weed pulled, you will gain satisfaction and eventually, reclaim your garden.
Once your weeds are under control, you can look forward to spending more time at your happy place doing things you really want to do. For me, it is sitting on my front porch with feet up, favorite beverage on hand and hours ahead with no set schedule. I hear the birds singing, the lawn mowers humming, the softball girls in the park cheering, have books to read, a journal to fill and a blog to publish. Here’s wishing your garden gets free of weeds soon.
10 Ways to Improve Your Health and to Minimize Your Risk for (Breast) Cancer
Throughout the past decade, I’ve tracked the latest research on behalf of DCIS MyStory and Breast Cancer MyStory. This post summarizes health risk factors into “The Ten.” These are personal choices – actions – to stay/get healthy and to minimize your risk for disease, especially breast cancer. Though there are other factors, like your family history you cannot change, there are ten lifestyle choices you CAN control. Invest in your future by reading this post, then making the changes you need to live your best life. The Ten is an inventory for living a healthy lifestyle, period – not just regarding breast cancer. Skim it or read in detail and follow the links to be on your way to making more good choices in your life.
Note: Below is the summary
if you just want to scan the list and do a personal inventory. If you want more
information and research to back the recommendations, read the entire blog.
Yes, grab a cup of coffee, scratch paper and pencil and keep score of where you
need to get to work. You have only one life and your body is keeping score.
1.Make healthy food choices.
2.Obtain and maintain ideal
4.Avoid all tobacco
6.See your physician
regularly and follow recommended screenings.
8.Manage your stress levels.
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep
each night; avoid working nights.
Here are my reflections on The Ten with research and resource links as the base of my thoughts.
1.Make healthy food choices. What we put in our mouth fuels our body each hour of each day. Good stuff in, healthy body out. Junk in, problems out. Processed food, meats, snack foods, sugar, soda, artificial sweeteners, fast food and convenient foods we’ve introduced into our diet the past few decades catering to our lives of convenience are to blame. Our growing desire for easy and fast food preparation becomes the culprits of chaos when it comes to our food sources being the “good fuel” to stoke the human fire. Check out this article that backs me up on the benefits of eating healthy: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322268.php and this one too: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322550.php
2.Obtain and maintain ideal body weight. When we carry extra weight, we are just asking for
problems. Whether wearing out our
joints prematurely, eating ourselves into diabetes or fueling cancer cells, your
body weight matters. Use a BMI or
body mass index to guide you – your height and weight factor into a number
(preferably in the range of 18.5-24.9) that is the indicator you’ve got the
right weight on your type of body frame. Officially, body mass index
(BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult
men and women. Here’s the translation:
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
My conclusion? Work with your health care
professionals to attain and maintain a BMI under 25. Yes, you CAN do it and it all starts in the grocery store
with your choices there and learning how to decode and order food when you eat
or order out.
3.Exercise regularly. Since the first two on the list have to do with food and weight, here is a way to keep your weight down and your physical strength, muscle mass, bone density and fitness up. You don’t have to be an athlete, but you do need to develop a regular routine to follow that works for you, your body, abilities and lifestyle. Always seek a doctor’s advice before starting any new program and join a class or get a workout buddy for motivation. As I’ve been a life-long athlete, exercising is not a problem for me, but rather when I have physical limitations and can’t workout, then the pounds (and my bad attitude) surface. Recent research reveals exercise increases well-being by improving gut health https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324193.php and more research from the Current Sports Medicine Reports here: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/FullText/2017/07000/Exercise_in_the_Prevention_and_Treatment_of_Breast.15.aspx. The bottom line is get moving and stay moving.
4.Avoid all tobacco products. I think we all know this is not healthy and creates
multiple problems from health to finances. Don’t start and if you have, seek help to stop. Too much research on this to pick just
one, however take it from the Surgeon General and stay away from tobacco
altogether. Research published in Breast Cancer Research from the Generations
Study cohort concludes: “Smoking was associated with a
modest but significantly increased risk of breast cancer, particularly among
women who started smoking at adolescent or peri-menarcheal ages. The relative
risk of breast cancer associated with smoking was greater for women with a
family history of the disease.”
More from that research found here: https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13058-017-0908-4
5.Avoid alcohol. Yes, you may talk yourself
out of this one, but enough research has shown that alcohol not only packs on
the pounds, but may also fuel disease. The solution? Don’t start drinking or quit if you have. I quit on 12-31-18 and haven’t looked
back. Here is my blog about quitting alcohol if you need reasons why or some
inspiration: https://breastcancermystory.org/resolute/. Do you need research to back this up? Though the final
verdict may still be out, we do know that alcohol causes inflammation and
contains high levels of sugar, both which should be avoided or limited for good
health. Here is more information from the research front: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324442.php
I guess I just like to crunch my calories now
more than drink them…
6.See your physician regularly and follow recommended
screenings. This will vary depending
on your gender and age. It starts with visiting your physician annually and
following through on recommended tests and screenings. If you don’t, you have nobody to blame
but yourself. Here is a background
doc from the American Cancer Society that may be helpful: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-screening-pdq
As new screening technologies come on the
market, they will help us diagnose and treat diseases earlier and more
7.Perform monthly self-exams. An
extension of visiting your physician, it is up to you to monitor your body and
report to your physician any changes you notice. Don’t rely on the Internet docs to diagnose yourself. Visit
the real MD’s who know you and your body. This seems logical, but it seems we
are either embarrassed or afraid (or both) to share changes in our bodies that are
uncomfortable (for us) to verbalize. Remember, your doctor has heard it all and
can only help you if they know what’s going on with your body. Here is information on breast self-exam
and awareness from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/breast-exam/about/pac-20393237
8.Manage your stress levels. This one is easier said than done. Sometimes we think we are managing stress – work, illness, death of a loved one, financial pressures, but they just manifest themselves in other ways – binge eating, deprivation, isolation, self harm, depression, twitches, declining health. Your body takes its cues from our mind and if you are on overload and not dealing with “it” in a healthy way (think yoga, physical exercise, meditation, talking to a professional or a friend, etc.) it will manifest itself in ways harder to deal with down the road. Think of stress as a dandelion in your lawn. It sprouts up and calls attention to itself as a nuisance. Once it appears you can either ignore it by mowing it down each week, spray it or dig it up. But if you dig it up, you MUST get all the roots, or the weed will pop up again and again. The same goes with stress. Here is research about stress using mouse models that shows that stress hormones can help breast cancer grow, spread and diversify, making it harder to treat: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324720.php
9.Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night; avoid working nights. You can
convince others you only need 6 hours of sleep, but your body needs time to
relax and recharge daily. Don’t
shortchange yourself, your family, your coworkers or friends by picking up the
slack by cutting down on your sleep.
Here’s more to convince you to head to bed earlier and rise earlier: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323571.php
10.Reduce environmental risks. (Pollution, lead, radon…) The environments we live,
work, eat and play in can and do affect our body. Pay attention to your
surroundings and minimize exposure to things like lead (think paint in an older
home and water in older pipes), toxins from yard chemicals, air pollution,
radon (especially important in older homes with basements) and even the
non-organic food we purchase at the grocery store. It seems a pain to wash our
melons and fruits, however the more our farmers have to battle Mother Nature,
the more our food needs to be questioned and prepared properly. Here is a
background document from the National Institute of Environmental Health
Smile, laugh, enjoy life and do the best you can to control what you can. This
blog was not meant to make you paranoid, but rather to share knowledge so you
can be more aware. Remember, you are the author of your life and are writing
your next chapter now. I am hopeful it is a very long novel and you have the
needed information to make the best choices you can in the pages ahead.
It was a year ago today that my father passed away. In reflecting on the first year without “dad,” I didn’t have to look much farther than my home to feel close to him. Surrounded by artifacts that were once his, I realize that things cannot replace true presence. My heavy heart longs for a hug or a father-daughter talk over a cup of coffee in his Georgia sunroom. It is this coffee mug (pictured) that has deep significance today. A mug that was made by my mother, gone now 35 years, and enjoyed daily by my dad for decades. Drinking coffee from it today I steep in the memories as the year mark tolls.
The feeling of grief and emptiness is all too familiar – the first year is the hardest when you lose a loved one. You have to learn how to live through every day and every holiday without them – Father’s Day and his birthday were the toughest. The first and hardest year is over. As I feel the warmth of dad’s coffee cup, I’m reminded that my dad left his fingerprints everywhere – on his family, church, community, friends, volunteer work, Bosnian refugees, students, published papers and colleagues. Yes, his fingerprints are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
After recently re-licensing my dad’s car this fall, the Georgia plates switched to Illinois, the car is now officially mine (fourth try is a charm…) A few weeks ago I decided it was time to deep clean my new set of wheels. This cleaning was not just a vacuum and wash, but an elbow grease, deep cleaning with Armor All effort from hood to trunk. Discovering a wayward grocery receipt wedged in a seat, I paused to read what was purchased at the Marietta Kroger. It was evidence of my dad’s favorite snack foods, which made me smile. Touching his empty sunglasses case and a handmade sewing kit in the glove compartment made me feel calm in a weird sort of way. I half expected dad to come out of the house and sit down next to me. Dad’s presence was palpable as I reorganized the trunk and checked out the first aid kit he always kept in each car for emergencies. He was always prepared.
Closing the trunk, I sat back in the front driver’s seat to do some detail. As the cleaner-soaked rag rubbed round the bumps of the steering wheel, I froze with an awful realization. I was rubbing off my dad’s fingerprints. Horrified, I teared up feeling like I was wiping away his presence. The finality of death hits you when you least expect it. Grief comes in waves that you cannot anticipate or control. The tears flowed uncontrollably. Staring into the rag, I wondered where fingerprints go and contemplated their power to tell stories as evidence that “I was here!” I finished cleaning the console, rugs, and dashboard then just sat in the stillness of the quiet, clean car. Sitting still was both therapy and a gift. My mind went to work reflecting on stories of fingerprints left behind. Two came to mind in a car ride that never left the garage.
Last summer our grandson, Leo visited the house and in his active and inquisitive nature pulled himself up on my dad’s antique bookshelf with glass panel fronts. Leo walked clumsily along the windows, using the bookcase to stabilize himself. Before I could snap a picture, (grandma takes a whole lot of pictures), he plopped down and crawled off. Even though I missed the photo of my grandson peering into the bookcase at his great grandpa’s antique artifacts, I discovered something that Leo left behind – his tiny fingerprints on the glass bookshelf. Juxtaposed in front of my dad’s treasures, the evidence that life goes on was tangible. Our fingerprints are both unique and quietly remark, “I was here.”
The other day on an outdoor walk, my route meandered through the Batavia Riverwalk, a linear park along the Fox River that my family and our community spent eight years lovingly building. As I paced along the brick walk, memories of donating sweat equity on Saturday workdays came flooding back. I could hear the stories, see groups of volunteers, and a feel a sense of community accomplishment. Although our physical fingerprints are long gone, the Riverwalk represents the culmination of our collective hands that still stands today for the community to enjoy. Tens of thousands of fingerprints joined together to built this wonderful gathering park. And my fingerprints were there too with echoes of “I was here.”
As I finish writing this blog, I catch a glance of a computer screen laden with fingerprints. Feeling the urge to clean them off, I am struck by the thought that there are so many more things that need our fingerprints on before they are wiped away for good. And so I ask, “What is it you need to leave your fingerprints on in this world?” More importantly, “What are you doing to make that happen?” Because fingerprints don’t last forever, unless they are the kind that leave an indelible impression, just like my dad’s left on me.
Growing up I was a good student, but had to apply myself for A’s. Correction, gym was very easy for me, but math was not. I have yet to be in an interview where my potential employer asked me what my grade point was, so what was all the hard work for anyway?
But with cancer grades DO make a difference with treatment. Below is information to help you understand what size, grade and stage means.
The size (diameter) of breast cancer is usually measured in centimetres.
Although – in general – the smaller the cancer the better, size doesn’t always give the whole picture about how fast the cancer is growing.
For example, a small cancer may grow very quickly or a larger cancer may have been growing slowly over a long time. Sometimes there may be more than one area of breast cancer. In this case, each area is measured.
Multi-centric means there is more than one area of breast cancer in different quarters of the breast.
Multi-focal means more than one area has been seen but only in one quarter of the breast.
You are more likely to have chemotherapy if your breast cancer is larger than 2cm (about three quarters of an inch), but this will also depend on the other results from the pathology report.
This is because larger cancers may have been there for longer before being found so may have had more chance to spread.
Cancer cells are graded according to how different they are to normal breast cells and how quickly they are growing.
In your pathology report this may be called differentiation.
There are three grades:
grade 1 (well differentiated) cancer cells look most like normal cells and are usually slow-growing
grade 2 (moderately differentiated) cancer cells look less like normal cells and are growing faster
grade 3 (poorly differentiated) cells look most changed and are usually fast-growing.
With ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) the three grades are usually called low, intermediate and high instead of 1, 2 or 3.
People with grade 3 invasive breast cancers are more likely to be offered chemotherapy to help destroy any cancer cells that may have spread as a result of the cancer being faster growing.
Grade is a “score” that tells you how different the cancer cells’ appearance and growth patterns are from those of normal, healthy breast cells. Your pathology report will rate the cancer on a scale from 1 to 3:
Grade 1 or low grade (sometimes also called well differentiated): Grade 1 cancer cells look a little bit different from normal cells, and they grow in slow, well-organized patterns. Not that many cells are dividing to make new cancer cells.
Grade 2 or intermediate/moderate grade (moderately differentiated): Grade 2 cancer cells do not look like normal cells and are growing and dividing a little faster than normal.
Grade 3 or high grade (poorly differentiated): Grade 3 cells look very different from normal cells. They grow quickly in disorganized, irregular patterns, with many dividing to make new cancer cells.
Having a low-grade cancer is an encouraging sign. But keep in mind that higher-grade cancers may be more vulnerable than low-grade cancers to treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which work by targeting fast-dividing cells.
Be careful not to confuse grade with stage, which is usually expressed as a number from 0 to 4 (often using Roman numerals I, II, III, IV). Stage is based on the size of the cancer and how far it has (or hasn’t) spread beyond its original location within the breast.
Stage is usually expressed as a number on a scale of 0 through IV — with stage 0 describing non-invasive cancers that remain within their original location and stage IV describing invasive cancers that have spread outside the breast to other parts of the body.
Your pathology report will include information about the stage of the breast cancer — that is, whether it is limited to one area in the breast, or it has spread to healthy tissues inside the breast or to other parts of the body. Your doctor will begin to determine this during surgery to remove the cancer and look at one or more of the underarm lymph nodes, which is where breast cancer tends to travel first. He or she also may order additional blood tests or imaging tests if there is reason to believe the cancer might have spread beyond the breast.
whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body beyond the breast
You also may see or hear certain words used to describe the stage of the breast cancer:
Local: The cancer is confined within the breast.
Regional: The lymph nodes, primarily those in the armpit, are involved.
Distant: The cancer is found in other parts of the body as well.
Sometimes doctors use the term “locally advanced” or “regionally advanced” to refer to large tumors that involve the breast skin, underlying chest structures, changes to the breast’s shape, and lymph node enlargement that is visible or that your doctor can feel during an exam.
The stage of the breast cancer can help you and your doctor understand your prognosis (the most likely outcome of the disease) and make decisions about treatment, along with all of the other results in your pathology report. Cancer stage also gives everyone a common way to describe the breast cancer, so that the results of your treatment can be compared and understood relative to that of other people.
Your doctor may use another staging system known as TNM to describe the cancer. This system is based on the size of the tumor (T), lymph node involvement (N), and whether the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body (M). TNM is discussed later in this section.
I get giddy when I reach a goal. And then I am rudderless without another one. Goals motivate me, stretch me and get me planning. Goals reached are relished for the day, then get me wondering, “what’s next?” I remember when my goal was to walk down to the end of the block and back after my mastectomy. It seemed an impossibility when my traumatized body was formed to the sofa. But, step by step, that goal was realized and I’d set another one – to walk a mile, then 2, then 26.2 followed by 13.1 the next day (Avon Walk). Crossing any finish line for me is bittersweet as it means the work training for the goal is complete. The glory of achievement is fleeting for me as I’m already looking ahead to see what’s around the next corner.
Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me.
My wiring must be all messed up. Why can’t I be happy just “being” or living in the moment? Mindfulness is something I am working on this year but most days I’m failing in this inner search. Too many times I’m running on all cylinders being “busy” and forget that each day is a gift. Tomorrow is not promised; cancer and illness have taught me not to take anything for granted. Maybe that’s why I’m driven.
Last week I completed a really big goal – one that took two years and four months to reach. As I sit here outside on our front porch opening day, spring is bursting out and my winter restlessness seems to be lifting a bit. Perhaps I have seasonal restlessness disorder. I guess it’s just my nature. It is nothing that a day doing yard work and gardening can’t remedy.
Perhaps this is my mid-life crisis. Or maybe spring fever. I guess there could be worse things. Maybe I’ll self-medicate with a pedicure or a massage and take a long walk to witness spring’s promise. Yes, there could be worse things. Alas, my soul is forever reaching out to the future yearning to build something to leave behind my thumbprint. It is part of my being and feeling human.
So, right now I’m without a goal. And I’m trying to be OK with that. In the absence of that next goal, I’ll grab a glass of wine, listen to Prairie Home Companion and watch life go by from the front porch.
I had an annual physical with my GP last week. The same old pee in a cup, take some blood, step on the scale, listen to your heart and lungs and analyze your poop. Somehow, these normal tests have made me feel like I am once again myself. It has been just over five years since I was diagnosed with DCIS and about four and one half years since my treatment ended. Now, about the only time I remember I have lived through “this” is when I get a glimpse of my reconstructed breast in the mirror while hopping out of the shower. If I look quick enough, it doesn’t even register in my brain that I am different. Heck, I have even unsubscribed to many of the breast cancer resources I once followed diligently.
But all this has taken time.
The time to heal, both physically and emotionally. And now I feel good and sound and whole once again. My GP proclaimed me “healthy as a horse” with unremarkable test results and low blood cholesterol (with the good stuff very good and bad stuff, very low). My weight is in the normal range and so is my BMI. I exercise regularly, sleep 7-8 hours a night and eat wisely. So, all in all I am quite normal and am relishing that thought. Before my diagnosis my normal state was taken for granted. Five years ago at this time, all I wanted to be was normal. Today I am glowing with this revelation that to be normal is to live. And I’m living in the moment and planning for the incredible future ahead. Weddings, grand openings, new gardens, traveling, and sharing life’s adventures with my biggest gift – my husband Steve.
My wish for you is that you too find and celebrate your normal. If you currently have it, don’t take it for granted. For those of you working your way back to normal, know that I am and others are cheering you on. Just remember to celebrate when you get there and be mindful of what a gift your normal truly is.
There are times in our lives when we simply have no words. A time just after receiving some shocking news or witnessing a life changing event that leaves us utterly speechless. A time when the brain seems to replay the imprinted tape over and over to make sure it was interpreted correctly. And when we open our eyes to the same reality, we are left with an empty and sick feeling. A feeling that makes you want to run right out of your own skin. But you can’t run because you are frozen in place, in time. A sickening realization then grips our being to adjust to this new reality as shock and denial set in. It can’t be, you think. But, by the look on the face of your (fill-in-the-blank + loved one, doctor, friend), this is the state of your new reality.
Perhaps you have been here or had to deliver impossible news to another. At some point in our lives, we all suffer through physical or emotional turmoil. Someone you know is going through this right now. What is important is not the words people respond with, but their being present for us.
Let this be a reminder to comfort a friend with your presence, sit quietly or walk along side them. Be present. Simply being there is what matters.