Telling your kids you have cancer

If you are a parent, telling your children you have cancer is nearly as bad as hearing you have it. Especially if they are young children. You may wonder how much do you have to tell them? Will they understand? You don’t want to scare them unnecessarily, but you also need to be able to share something, anything with them.

Coming from a child whose mother died of breast cancer when I was 7, and then contracting the same disease when I was 43, I find myself in a strange position of being able to offer my perspective from both sides.

So, first of all, you’ve been told that you have Cancer. I kind of remember “my moment” well, but at the same time, I feel like it was someone else’s nightmare. You know that sinking feeling in your gut? I felt that, as well as feeling really lightheaded, and then wondering (of all things) whether it would be appropriate to burst into tears or howl in anguish whilst the doctor was explaining this to me. But the overall feeling that I felt was fear. Pure fear. Fear that I was going to die. Then fear of how this was going to affect the people who mattered most in my life. Who were my husband and two young daughters.

Back in 2015, Mira was aged 9 and Lara was 6. After Matt and I had our moment of utter sadness and fear whilst sitting in our car in the hospital carpark, we wondered what to tell our daughters. We decided on the truth. But truth wrapped in positivity. Because how else would children this young understand?

My mum died when she was 7, but she would have been diagnosed when I was about 6 I think. I say “I think” because quite frankly, I can’t remember much. I am unsure if the holes in my memory are due to my intentionally forgetting the brutal memories, or because I wasn’t told about the fact that my mum was dying from this horrible disease. My first memory was of my mum wearing a wig, surrounded by her friends having afternoon tea at home. She seemed well enough then, but she’d lost her hair due to chemo.

The next memory I have, is of the actual day she died. I remember seeing her in bed, she seemed to be in a lot of pain. I remember the drive to the hospital, and my sister begging my dad not to re-marry if mummy died. I remember the hospital, waiting. Then dad coming out, kneeling down on the floor, with his arms outstretched toward us, and the 4 words no child wants to hear “Mummy’s gone to heaven”.

Apart from that, I don’t remember much. Do I wish I’d remembered more? Now as an adult, I can unequivocally say yes. I wish I’d known more, then I would have treasured those moments more. I may not have realised just how precious those moments would have meant to me at that young age, but I wish I had more memories of her.

If you are a parent who is dying from cancer, you don’t want your children to suffer. But I think it’s also important that you give them the chance to process what’s happening. Children can handle more than we give them credit for.

The day we were told of the awful news, we went home and told our girls that I had cancer, but I was going to have surgery to remove it and that I would be fine. They were very scared and there were tears. Of course, we had no idea if I was going to survive this. But, regardless if I was telling my child or my sister or a friend, I’d have said the same thing. You wouldn’t exactly say “Hey, I have cancer, I’m going to have surgery and I may die”. Of course not. Positivity is the required emotion. So we hugged them and said the words that many a parent has said to their child “It’s all going to be Okay”.

The school counselor at my daughter’s school also advised in telling the truth from the outset. She had a case in school where the parents decided to not share the cancer news with their children (who were at the time, tweens). They thought they were protecting them from feeling anguish at the news, but in actual fact, it was probably the wrong move for them. The older daughter found out in school, from a friend. I assume the friend didn’t mean to let the cat out of the bag, but inadvertently did so by either sharing her commiserations or just asking about it. Unfortunately, her daughter then felt so betrayed by her mum. She couldn’t believe that everyone else knew about it but her, and felt that she’d lost the ability to trust her mum.

My daughters, although so young at the time, were incredibly resilient. And supportive. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that they helped me every single day. Just by being there. They had lovely words of encouragement, and really gave me the will to live.

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After my mastectomy, Matt and Mira in the hospital room chilling out, just like it was a normal day for us! (Lara was there too, she took the photo)

After school, Lara would come home, get herself a snack and a book, and crawl into bed with me while I slept from the effects of the chemo. She didn’t have to say a word. Just her presence, being there, was enough for me. Mira being a bit older, would confidently tell her friends and teachers at school that her mum had cancer but was getting better. They wanted to get involved in making me better, so they decorated 12 golf balls with words of encouragement. These balls were known as my chemo balls, and represented 12 taxol tranfusions. Every time I finished a round, the girls would take turns moving the chemo ball from one clear vase to another, cheering as I completed yet another round.

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Chemo balls – everytime I completed a Taxol tranfusion they’d move a ball from the left vase to the right. (See on the right the top right hand ball’s message “You are Epic” ūüôā

If I hadn’t told them I had cancer it would have been so hard to hide the physical effects I was feeling. Not to mention that I had a bilateral mastectomy. Oh, and that my hair all fell out. I would have been caught up in a tangled web of lies. Far easier just to be honest and tell the truth.

I can understand that if you’re only having minor surgery (like a lumpectomy) and no radiation or chemotherapy, then you’d feel there was no reason to tell your kids. After all, there wouldn’t be any physical tell tale signs. And perhaps, if they were very young (subjective at best to figure out at what age this means to you and your family), then telling them about cancer would be hard because they really wouldn’t understand it.

But when they get old enough, I’d recommend telling them. It could be something along the lines of “hey, you know how I have this scar? Well, a few years ago I had cancer, and had surgery. You were far too young at the time, so we decided to wait until you were a bit older to understand”. You may ask if it was even necessary to share this information with them. Absolutely. Because it’s imperative that our children are fully aware of any potential risks of disease that they may face. By sharing this information, they will be self aware and when they become adults they can make their own lifestyle choices that they feel may be best for their health. Regardless of when you tell them, they may have a lot of questions so best be prepared. And if they don’t have many (any) questions, then they are likely processing the information and will need you to be patient with them.

Of course, what you decide to do is entirely your choice. But children can get angry and feel betrayed if you don’t share Big News with them. My own experience with that was when I was 9. My dad had been dating a woman whom we had grown fond of. They got married in May 1981. When did my dad tell us? An hour before they got married. He hadn’t bothered to ask us what we thought, or to tell us before that. Although we knew about it of course, but he didn’t talk to US about it. I remember that moment. We were in his bedroom, and my sister and I were dressed in our “wedding attire” and he said “Girls, daddy is getting married”. And I felt, as furious as any 9 year old could be, like punching the lights out of him and screaming “No Shit Sherlock!!!!”. But I didn’t. I was silent. And kept everything inside of me until my confused and rebellious teenage years took over and I then hated my dad and step mum.

We are alright now of course. But I didn’t trust my dad for a while. I was angry and incredulous that he hadn’t told us himself, indeed told us first before anyone else and even asked how we felt about it. And that was how I felt about his second marriage. I didn’t have enough time to process how I felt about my mum dying, because the over riding feeling I had was just sadness. Pure sadness that stayed within me until I became a mum myself.

So that’s my take on it. Whatever you decide to do, I know your decision will be based on what you feel is best for your family. And that’s all that matters. But if you’re sitting on the fence about whether to tell your kids – my 7 year old self in 1980 would have said “Please tell me everything because I don’t know what’s going on and I’m scared”.

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Pumpkin Oat Pancakes Recipe

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I’ve always had a sweet tooth. It’s time I stopped apologising for it, or feel guilty about it. In the past, I’ve always denied myself something sweet, categorizing it under “Evil Food That I Love”. It’s time to stop that self shaming and to see how I can adapt certain recipes so that I can still enjoy the food that satiates my taste buds.

Pancakes. Oh boy. Pancakes for breakfast more specifically. Every weekend at home, it’s Pancake Brekkie Day. Over the years I’ve used a Martha Stewart recipe that has been fool proof, fluffy, and incredibly delicious. When my daughter’s have their friends over for sleepovers, the kids all know that it’s pancakes in the morning and they are geared up for getting multiple pancakes in. It uses the normal pancake ingredients like plain flour and sugar.

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But since cancer, I’m trying to reduce my refined sugar intake, which isn’t an easy task to do when my cravings run on the sweet side. And while I’m not gluten intolerant, wheat does cause my tummy to bloat. So I’ve adapted some recipes that are wheat and refined sugar free. As it’s Thanksgiving I was inspired by a recipe by One Lovely Life. It uses no flour or no granulated refined sugar. I’ve adapted it slightly to suit my tastes, and I used my darling Blendtec Blender (it’s my favourite child at the moment) to whizz everything together.

As I’m half Australian, pumpkin runs in my blood as it’s a huge deal there (as is lamb). I love it roasted, steamed and everything inbetween. Normally I roast a pumpkin with rapeseed oil and a couple of tablespoons of cinnamon, then once cooled I pur√©e it and bag it up in about 200g portions, ready for cooking or making into smoothies. Of course, you can use butternut squash as well. But it tends to be pricier compared to pumpkin so, pumpkin it is! Even saying that word… pump-kin… mmm.

These pancakes are¬†not terribly sweet as I reduced the amount of maple syrup, but I eat it with my home made date syrup. Just a tablespoon of it and it complements the pancakes while giving it a mild sweet flavour. To make the date syrup, first soak a cup of pitted dates in hot water for about 20 minutes to soften. Then blend it with half a cup of filtered water and a little squeeze of lemon juice. You can always add a bit more water or lemon juice to taste – but don’t do what I did the first time – too much lemon juice yikes! You can never take it out… but you can add it in!

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Enjoy these pancakes anytime of the year – after all here in Singapore we don’t get autumn so if I had to wait for the changing colour of the leaves I’d be waiting forever! Just a note on the texture, if you make them bigger, they get quite thick and the middle gets a bit sticky. So I make dollar size pancakes, which look cute and also cook well all the way through. Let me know how you enjoyed the pancakes.

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PUMPKIN OAT PANCAKES – makes 30 dollar size pancakes or 15 palm size (quarter cups worth of batter)

Ingredients :

2 1/2 cups rolled oats

200g pumpkin pur√©e (home made or canned but make sure there’s no added sugar)

1/4 tsp salt

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1 heaped tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

250ml non-dairy milk (or if you’re drinking dairy then go for it)

2 eggs

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or substitute with rapeseed oil or butter)

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I use BioTrust low carb non hormone free protein powder)

 

How to :

First blend the oats for 20-30 seconds on medium speed so it turns into oat powder.

Add salt, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, protein powder and pulse to mix.

Then add in the rest of the ingredients, and blend until combined. Let it rest for up to 10 minutes.

Heat oil of choice in a frying pan (I use coconut oil), and pour about an eighth cup of batter. I use a small ice cream scoop which gives me perfectly formed pancakes.

Bubbles will form at the top, then flip and cook till the bottom gets nice and brown, about 1-2 minutes.

Serve with home made date syrup or maple syrup. Enjoy!

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To stress or not to stress?

Stress. I’m sitting here right now, in beautiful Bali, not a whisper of pollution (traffic or air) around. I have spent the last 3 days enjoying this tropical paradise, drinking from giant coconuts, enjoying the exceptional service of the staff here at this gorgeous hotel. And yet right now, right here, I’m feeling a bit stressed out.

The reason for my stress is that my youngest daughter (nickname Bimble) has an ear and throat infection. She can’t clear her ears. We’ve had to change our flights (and incurred significant financial penalties to do so). We’ve also had scrummage to get an extra night at this (nearly fully booked) 5 star hotel. And I’ve had to change all the social arrangements that we had planned so that we can stay here an extra night, in the hopes that Bimble’s¬†ears can clear. Right now, she’s sitting squeezing her nose and mouth shut while trying to blow air out of that nose, and her eyes are watering and they look like they’re about to pop out. Needless to say, those ears are jammed shut. For now.

Everyone, at some point, feels stressed. Financial stress, relationship stress, work stress, health stress – it’s all there. I know that BC (before cancer) I was highly stressed. My stress involved motherhood, some marriage stress, work stress, body image stress and a lot of others. Like most women, I uttered this phrase “I’m juggling too many balls right now” with far too much frequency. But, also if I’m being honest, with a sense of pride. As if juggling these balls was an invisible badge of honour that women pinned on ourselves. And perhaps, if I’m laying my cards out, how we judged each other as well?

I have been guilty of saying fleeting statements like “it’s so important for the cancer patient to cope with their stress” without quite understanding why. The jury is still out whether there is scientific proof from proper scientific studies done on whether stress causes cancer. But it’s quite reasonable to conclude that we could all do with less stress in our life – wouldn’t you agree?

The ground control centre of our bodies, the nervous system, has two “highways” if you will, that¬†relate¬†to stress – the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous systems (PNS). The SNS is also commonly known as the “fight or flight”, and triggers adrenaline to be released when there is a sudden “stressor”. Example – blare from a horn from a car causes you to jolt and react by jumping out of it’s way. But prolonged stress will also release cortisol. These hormones are there for a reason – they protect us from harm and danger. But too often, we can’t switch this off. And this in turn can lead to a whole lot of other health problems to the body which include weight gain.

We need our PNS to switch off the SNS. The PNS is commonly referred to as our “rest and relax” system. How many times have you either told someone, or been told, to take long deep breaths to relax? Or to do something that relaxes you, such as yoga, meditation, gardening, take a relaxing bath, or to get a massage. These are not just simple ideas. Techniques such as these can switch on your PNS – which is what we want. Different people will relax in different ways. I find swimming stressful, but I also know friends who can swim for an hour because it helps them to relax. ¬†I find stroking my fat, furry cats very calming – until those cats decide they are now stressed out with that incessant stroking and proceed to lacerate my hands with their sharp weapons. Thank you adrenaline, for helping me sense this imminent danger and to make me pull my hand back just in time! Me 1 – Cats 0. (FYI cortisol didn’t get a chance to appear because I was immediately filled with smugness because I’d managed to evade those wretched beasts from attacking me)

The trick is, to find what works for you. And to remember to include it in your life. Daily. We can choose to remain stressed. Think about it. A lot of stressful moments, are created because we actually create that stressful environment in our mind. Okay, a fire in a building is a stress for everyone granted. But traffic? You could be sitting in that traffic jam fuming, while the other guy in the car next to you seems to be singing along to some tunes on the radio, and seems to be enjoying himself – annoyingly so.

The next time you get stressed, take a moment and ask your self these questions :

Do I need to stay stressed?

What can I do right now, to change this situation from a negative one to a slightly more positive one?

What methods can I employ to get me in a more relaxed state of mind?

Can I choose to NOT be stressed? 

Hey I’m not suggesting you suddenly start to chant “ohm” or to go through life absolutely stressed free. That ain’t gonna happen is it? But how’s this for a suggestion? The next time you experience something that causes stress, acknowledge that stress. Realise why you’re stressed, have a silent (or loud) rant. Let the stress have it’s moment to shine! Then shake it off. Don’t let it linger. It’s had it’s moment, but now it’s time for it to take a hike.

Just try it. It’s not easy, but it’s imperative we learn to let go of these negative emotions and thoughts.

So today, sitting on this balcony with its million dollar view, stressed out about Bimble’s ears and the extra money we’ve spent on our flights, stressed out about having to use our Hotel Rewards Points to get us an extra night’s stay in this 5/6 star hotel; I am sitting back and laughing at myself. How many people would love to be stuck in Bali for an extra night? There is nothing important waiting for me at home to get done. We are getting various refunds on the other return flight tickets we aren’t using. And the extra night’s stay is free because we’ve used our points. And the look on my daughters’ faces when I told them we were staying an extra night? Priceless.¬†So right now, having written this blog about stress, I now choose to be calm. Deep breath, Ohm.

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October Breast Fest

Pink, Pink, Pink. It’s all about the boobs this October. Officially known as Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’m sure that your social media is bursting with pink ribbons, breasts, and countless of articles on how to check for lumps, cancer nutrition, and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle so as to avoid getting cancer. Kind of like this site, come to think of it.

Here’s what I want to tell you ladies. If you followed my previous blog “Rocked by pilates“, you’ll know that I was diagnosed a year ago in October 2015. I didn’t go specifically to get¬†checked because it happened to be breast cancer awareness month. It was just your run of the mill, routine mammogram. In fact, I was actually two months past my scheduled mammogram and ultrasound. So, I didn’t feel any lumps, bumps, there was no discharge. Nothing. Just a routine squish and a squash.

When they found the lump, it was 5 mm, Stage 1. But as there were no clear margins during the lumpectomy, they recommended a mastectomy. And because of my family history, I asked to have a bilateral mastectomy. Which my oncologist agreed to. In the pathology that followed, turned out I was what they term as Triple Positive. Which means I had positive Estrogen and Progesterone receptors, and I was HER2* positive as well. Oncologists need this information so they will know how to treat the cancer. My prescribed treatment was taxol (chemo), herceptin, and tamoxifen. The first two were via IV, administered weekly for 12 weeks (I’m currently still on herceptin which will end in December 2016). Tamoxifen is an estrogen inhibitor which stops estrogen production. This is commonly taken daily, for 5-10 years.

There is a point to my story of how I was detected sans symptoms, and the type of cancer I had. Because HER2 is an aggressive “cancer” so to speak, it means that it progresses quickly. Here is an anecdotal story on how fast this grows.

During one of my chemo sessions, I got talking to a woman who was having chemo prior to surgery. When they discovered her lump it was 3.5 cm, and she was HER2+. For reasons unknown, it took her 6 weeks to decide which course of action to take. But, by that time, the tumour had grown to 6 cm. So in a span of six weeks, it grew 2.5 cm. Let me repeat that in another way. 42 days later, it grew 25 mm. About 0.6mm a day.

Let’s just spitball this thought. If this continued linearly, it would grow 1.8 cm a month. So in six months, that’s 10.8 cm. Okay these numbers are simplifying the science, but when they say “you have aggressive cancer”, ¬†this sonoffabitch is running through your body, guns blazing, taking everything down in it’s path – and doing it at an insane speed. Yeah, it’s the Usain Bolt of tumours.

So, back in October 2015, I had no symptoms, and my tumour was only 5mm. I couldn’t feel anything. Now, imagine¬†a scenario, where, three months later, I finally felt something. That would have (based on my back-of-the-napkin science) grown to about 6 cm. That’s a bit larger than a golf ball right? That wouldn’t make me a stage 1 cancer any longer. See¬†this site for more details on the various stages of cancer.¬†Generally, the larger the tumour, the higher your stage, and the poorer your prognosis.

Don’t wait till you feel that lump. Don’t put off your yearly check. Don’t say you’re too busy. Don’t say it will never happen to you. Don’t think just because you lead a healthy lifestyle (which is all relative anyway) that you’re safe. Don’t think juicing means you don’t need a mammogram.¬†Don’t say no to trying to save your life.

 

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Many women below the age of 50 get cancer. Many of these women don’t have family history. Breast cancer is not immediately classified as life threatening. It all depends on what stage it was caught at. The earlier the better, so that the best possible treatment can be given to kill that sucker.

To give you the chance to survive it.¬†To give you the chance to grow so old, I’m talking shar pei wrinkly, gum smacking old. Old enough to play with your grandchildren; old enough that Sia, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift will only be heard on Gold FM; and old enough to be able to give great advice to all the women in your life.

This is October. It’s breast cancer awareness month. If¬†I have managed to get one of you readers to get a breast check, then I will have done what I set out to do. Pay attention to your boobs ladies. Because, they may be plotting an evil plan against you.

*HER2 gene is a protein receptor in a cell, and it determines how quickly breast cells grow. Sometimes these genes go crazy and divide uncontrollably

Green Tea Zing!

Today I started to write a serious post. It was serious because I was addressing something that was sent to me about how cancer was not a disease but a business, and all would be well if we just consumed more Vitamin B17. I did a quick search and found that there wasn’t a B17. So go figure. I then proceeded to write about being responsible about disseminating information that may be false and not scientifically proven.

Then I discarded that post. Because I was fed up. If I had published that post, I may have received back lash from those who advocate natural remedies to cure cancer. And I just didn’t want that sort of negativity in my life. I’m trying to eliminate stress in my life, not add to it. And if I’m going to post something that may be controversial, then I’d better be ready to accept any backlash. And I’m not ready for that at all.

So how does one reduce stress in one’s life? In the old days, I’d look forward to my 7 pm glass of crisp, cold Sauvignon Blanc. I’m no longer a huge drinker (I was an oil broker so drinking was part of the job); but I’m still trying to reduce my alcohol consumption. While I love drinking water, it just won’t cut the mustard when you’re being social or feel like you’re having a special drink does it?

I’ve discovered tea. While in London I came across the Australian tea shop T2. It was a hot sunny day, and I stumbled into that shop for some respite from the heat. Oh, it was like nirvana. The shop was just stunning and in front of me were a few jugs of iced tea. Different Flavours like “Strawberries and cream”, “fruitilicious”, “Pumping Pomegranate”. The jugs were see through and filled with summer berries, ice, lemon and lime slices, mint leaves. I had my first sip of strawberries and cream iced tea and fell in love. Right there and then I bought a few tins of their loose leaf tea. And today I’m going to share one of my favourites with you which I tried that day – Green Tea Zing.

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Using matcha (green tea powder), you whisk it with nearly-boiled water (about 80C), add ice cubes and soda water or sparkling water and dress it up with whatever fruit and herbs you choose. I normally put slices of green Apple, limes and lemon and mint leaves. It makes for an interesting non alcoholic drink that’s perfect for a hot afternoon.

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We grow our own mint on our balcony via a hydroponic tower from Aeropring Gardens and mint grows like a weed! So looks like it’s mint sauce for dinner this weekend, which means I’ve got to track me down some hormone free lamb.

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Try this drink and let me know what you think! Here’s to creating stress free situations – cheers.

A Year of Breast Cancer

That title is somewhat misleading. For, I didn’t sit with that tumour in my breast for a whole year. Rather, I discovered via a routine mammogram in October 2015 that I had a small lump in my right breast. And in the last 12 months, I’ve endured surgeries, chemotherapy, weight gain, hair loss and depression. But I’m here now. Alive and well.

My last blog, Rocked By Pilates, chronicled my breast cancer journey. I was very honest in that blog, and lay my heart out. It was my outlet, where I could pour my emotions and I didn’t truly care who read it, or what they thought. The blog was for my own personal therapy.

 

I’ve decided to lay that blog to rest though, and continue my journey on Pink FitNut. I came up with the name purely because I felt I needed to help other women just like me. I started a Facebook Page under that same name, and created a closed group where women could write in for support and for help. Pink – well obviously pink is for breast cancer. Fit is for Fitness (I’m a Pilates instructor and Personal trainer), and Nut for Nutrition (I’m a certified Nutrition Coach).

It’s been a tumultuous year, but I think I’ve come out of it a better person. That sounds like such a clich√© but it’s true. I don’t get so worked up over small things like traffic; I don’t yell at my kids (much!); and like a simply puppy, I really do enjoy the simple things in life. Like, at this very moment, I’m sitting on our balcony and there’s a lovely Breeze blowing and I couldn’t be happier. Really.

What can I do for other women? I am not that arrogant to think that I can provide them with the solutions, support, and answers for their fitness and nutrition and their breast cancer journey, but I think I can make a small difference to their lives. If nothing else, then maybe someone out there will be able to relate and if I can help one person, that that will be enough for me.

But this isn’t purely for breast cancer warriors (I prefer that to the moniker “survivors” because, every person who has had cancer has had to fight their damn hardest through it). This is for any woman out there, I hope to be able to help with their fitness and nutrition.

Well this is my first post, but not my last! Watch this space.