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 cliché 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.