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Cancer

Cancer – a word you do not want to hear from your doctor

When my wife was diagnosed with cancer twenty months ago, we immediately began to research both conventional allopathic treatment and alternative options, along with how to prevent recurrence. For her breast cancer, it was clear that conventional treatment was the best path forward and so we followed it.

But we also realized that it was essential to change the stress factors in our lives if we wished to attain – and maintain – true health. And so we did this with intensity and great success – for a time. But, as often happens, life interfered. Family drama reared its inescapable head. While I put my business on the back burner for three months, I also returned to my original focus for the business. Cancer gets your attention; however treatments and test results that show an over ninety percent chance that the cancer will not recur, work to lull you back into the matrix.

Cancer and stress

Cancer makes other people treat you differently; which can increase stress (stress, incidentally, can lead to more Cancer!). Many people were supportive, many more were afraid for themselves and shunned us in fear of having to face their own inevitable mortality. A few people even processed the cancer as a weakness and allowed (subconsciously – I hope) their darker natures to take over, directing negative thoughts and energy toward us.

It is clear from my research, which, as a certified holistic health coach has been extensive, that cancer is dramatically affected by both food and mood. It was easy when cancer was the blaring voice inside of our home, to follow the advice from our mutual health coaching training. Be happy. Live in the now. Eat organic, seasonal, local food, a plant based diet, drink lots of water, exercise and get good sleep. Surround ourselves with happy supportive people. But as we heal – so also do we become over-confident, forgetful of the lessons Cancer so recently taught us. In that recognition of our human tendency to gloss over issues of the past is the realization that true health is an ever present, evolving force in our lives. One to be constantly considered, attended to, and managed. True health will not survive our typical autopilot mentality. We must instead actively cultivate it.

Cancer and the persuasion to care for yourself

Cancer gives you permission to be selfish. It forces you to live in the present and be radically mindful of even seemingly small choices. But cancer in the more distant rear view mirror, coupled with societal pressure to un-selfish, takes us back into the dysfunctional matrix in which western civilization has been spinning for so long.

In the second half of life, we are going to die. Cancer is a real possibility, as are heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s (to name but a few). All are increased by stress, an acidic diet and inflammation. Stress is caused by not living in harmony with our core values. Inflammation is mostly caused by the food we eat. To be truly well – we must address and manage both of these primary aspects of disease generation. There are other causes of disease; toxins, viruses, and bacteria, but our immune system is designed to fight them when we are not being stressed out; when we are truly well.

In our personal journey towards wellness, we have  found that living in harmony with our core values is a primary need for us both, as we are our family unit. We have also found that laughter, community, and good food that works for our bodies is of vital importance to our ability to sustain true health.

How about you? What is your path to true health? If you wonder what your core values are, and what you need to do to live in harmony with them, get started with a free assessment. Do it today, and in the words of a small boy in Star Trek, Insurrection. “Remember Data, you need to have a little bit of fun every day.”

Health and Wellness through Integrative Wellness

Two weeks ago, we began our focus on health and wellness with a listing of the various theories that we use as informational resources for our clients in our health and wellness offerings.  In my practice, I focus on a client’s inner thought process that often destroys their approach to becoming healthy, and how they can create a state of work-life balance.  My practice is not life coaching, nor is it wellness coaching in its purest sense, but more of transition coaching in which I work with a client on a vision of what path they want to take in their life, and then how to take the steps towards that route. Many Americans (60% of the population, in fact) want to follow a slimmer path – as in, they want to lose some extra weight.

The list of diet approaches being recommended by the doctors in our first entry are all variations on a theme.  Both Melinda and I have worked through programs at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and have studied these theories as well as a number of others in our training.  We start the discussion with the views of Dr. Andrew Weil, who is a founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. The crux of Dr. Weil’s opinion, which is being adopted by over 25% of the medical schools in the US includes:

  • Restore the focus of medicine on health and healing
  • Insist that human beings are more than just physical bodies – they are also spiritual, emotional, beings
  • Insist on the importance of lifestyle practices – how to eat, how to handle stress, how to manage relationships, how to sleep, how to balance career and so on
  • Insist on the importances of the practitioner and patient relationship – allows the patient to tell their story

According to Dr. Weil, the key element of a health-promoting lifestyle – stop eating refined, processed and manufactured food.  His premise includes that the diseases of aging, which include cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) and cancers are not our natural fat but the outcome of the standard American diet.  His working premise is that all of these diseases are caused by a combination of factors, but all are based on chronic low levels of inflammation.  Inflammation is, of course, the corner stone of the bodies healing response – we’ve all seen redness and swelling as we bruise our bodies.  Dr. Weil asserts that we need to control this so that it ends when it has fulfilled its purpose.

So are these diseases a requirement for aging?  No – you prevent this by eating healthy foods and meeting your core needs for relationships, spiritually, physical exercise, and your career.  His teaching from a dietary perspective is to avoid processed foods, especially foods that are high in carbohydrates even if they, and perhaps especially if they claim to be whole grain or healthy.  The standard processes that food manufacturers use pulverize the grains such that they have no real whole grains left in them. The resultant product has a higher glycemic index than white bread and is seen by the body as sugar. Nutrition labels can be deceiving; fat is not necessarily the culprit of obesity; excess carbs are the silent criminal.

His anti-inflammatory diet is written in his books and on his website. It is based on a colorful diet of various fruits and vegetables, less animal products (especially meat), more fish, olive oil, green tea, red wine, tumeric, ginger, and dark chocolate made with at least 70% cocoa. Most people prefer to eat delicious, healthy food rather than simply throw back pills, and fortunately, Dr. Weil agrees that nutritional supplements should strictly be supplements and not substitutes for nutrient-dense food. However, fish oil, a multi-vitamin supplement, Vitamin D (especially north of Atlanta six months out of the year) should be taken with a fat containing meal.  On a side note, adequate levels of Vitamin D are critical in fighting off colds and flu in the winter especially. If you are bothered by these, there is a book discussing this available from Amazon and other retailers.

Keeping physically active in the second half of life is key, according to Dr. Weil and his study of centenarians who maintained physical activity, social support, and intellectual liveliness. You can see why I have chosen to start with this author’s works because it is our premise that being onCORE to your values, eating the right foods, and achieving whole life balance is essential to living a long life.  From a physical activity perspective, things like walking, gardening, hunting, fishing, nature photography, biking outdoors and other daily activity is important as we age.  It is not time to play basketball and run marathons – but a time to do things that are of a lower impact, such as swimming and walking.  He also asserts that it is important for older people to be loved and embraced by younger people and to have a respected place in society.

Stress kills – it increases cortisol levels in the brain that kills cells in the hippocampus, which processes memories in the brain – so Dr. Weil promotes breathing techniques that are effective at reducing stress – these are found on Youtube if you are interested in them.

What I have gotten from this body of work and in reading Dr. Weil’s work is that I need to be balanced in my life; I need to be active, and I need to be spiritually grounded to manage stress.  Dr. Weil believes that breathing exercises are great for reducing stress – groovy, right? No, I think that idea is about as stupid as the term “groovy.” Moving forward to the eighties, I think that meditation is actually “totally tubular.”  Onward to the twenty-first century, I’d say it’s “awesome.”  The key is managing stress, and for me, that means meditation.  Earlier this week, after three days of too much Quickbooks and not enough stretching – I needed to meditate for about thirty minutes to relieve the pain and tension in my body that I only became aware of at eleven in the evening when I woke up with numb hands and sore legs because my lower back was out.  I woke up my wife and asked her to get me a heating pad for my neck and some herbal tea and then consciously relaxed my pain points through mediation and relaxation until I was able to get to sleep.  The alternative would have been a trip to the ER and hours of tests or prodding followed by, “It’s only stress, bozo, go home.”  As I was writing this entry and listening to Dr W; they only go to the doctor as a last resort. On the other hand, in America, we go immediately and expect some pill to fix us.

Combining what I have taken away from Dr. Weil with what I am getting from Bruce Lipton, the quantum biologist, I have come away with my own theory for my approach to my health in the second half of life. Last week, I spoke of the environment in our bodies. according to Lipton, as producing things like excess fat – for me, excess stress means excess thinking about the past or worrying about the future – which means fat. And it also leads to the potential for disruption of the health of my brain, according to Weil.

This certainly explains the last couple of months for me, as personal stress has lead to a small weight gain, and I feel like I am often more foggy than I have been. What has been missing is intense exercise and regular meditation. I have not been focused on living an HD version of life. I have not been fully engaged; I’ve only gone through the motions at times. I have allowed a personal source of stress to decrease my passion, because in the past, others have been hurt by my actions.

But others have been helped by the same actions, and how others receive my energy is not mine to control or predict. I can only be authentic and speak with my authentic voice and the truth. I cannot allow fear of how others might perceive me to stop me from being me.

So, is food the reason for obesity? Technically. However, Weil and Lipton agree that the environment in our bodies is a big part of the reason that we store fat, even when we do not have to. Toxic thinking leads to stress which leads to fat. So becoming well means eating the right foods, mostly plant based and not processed, and balancing our primary needs for exercise, spirituality, relationships and career.

One piece of advice directly from Dr. Weil: surround yourself with the people that you want to be like.

Look at the Birds….

Last week, I talked about the different diet approaches that provide the basis for our own food choices in the second half of life, which is a good starting point for anyone looking to make their own choices.  My original intention was to simply summarize the points of each of the authors, but that quick “Cliff Notes” process is not our style.  We believe you need to live with each theory and see how it affects you because our purpose is only to share what we have learned from an author and how it has impacted us, not tell you which one is right for you.

This belief comes out of my religious background, which is firmly rooted in my mother’s Irish Catholic beliefs.  In my formative years, I was raised in St. Bridget’s Parish on Long Island.  My own initial training in Bible study came from the teachings of two Pittsburgh Catholic priests who taught me two considerations when reading the Bible.  The first is that you have to understand the audience and the times of the writer.  Father Eugene Bonachi of the Mon Valley, which was decimated in the eighties as the steel mills closed, also taught me that the backstory of the writer cannot be ignored.

For this reason, so much of my back-story is on this blog series.  Who I am and my beliefs are always made visible in my writings or teachings.  Father Bonachi was an activist priest who believed that Reganomics was a disaster; something on which I believe he was remarkably accurate.  His assumption was that it would lead to a larger gap between the poor and the now former middle class, and the wealthy as the industrial base of America was destroyed and moved offshore.

But he also taught the importance of context.  Father Bonachi used the example of the headline of “Buc’s Bomb Birds.” Currently, it could refer to the Pittsburgh Pirates beating the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball.  It could be anything from the victory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game a few years ago to a Disney-created story of Jack Sparrow bombing an island with flocks of birds in a future “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

So, the audience to whom the diet-creator is writing as well as the context of his experience and motivation needs to be understood.  Regarding diet, we are coaches, and we want our clients to be healthy and happy.  We are not selling diet books or being paid by food or drug companies for a testimonial.  We form our own beliefs, and we expect our clients to do the same.

The second thing I learned about reading and studying the Bible in the early Catholic church is that the interpretation of the Bible was not in the purview of the uneducated laity who had no knowledge of the times in which the stories were written.   For them it was to reflect upon how the story applied to their life and to share that with others.  This is something that I have continued to hold to, and the same thinking  should be applied to a lot of the teachings of both conventional and alternative healing theories, both of which seem to be religions to the people promoting them.  I believe this to be particularly true with diets that purport to understand how people lived and ate in the “cave man” era, or “diets” designed to sell supplements or manufactured foods.

The only thing that is certain right now is that regardless of what we do, we are going to die eventually.  If we fixate on the belief that we are going to be in more pain the older we get, and we are going to be less able to do the things that we used to do, we are going to amplify those effects on our bodies and psyches.  We need a fresh start in order to have healthy living in our retirement years.  Each of us has to weigh quality of live versus quantity of life and make our own decisions.  If in reading these diet books, we feel that eating kale for the next fifty years in order to have health is not worth the fact that we have to eat kale, then we won’t do it.  What we eat is important, but how we find our spiritual center is equally as important.  We can find similar answers in quantum biology and in sacred scripture.

So what was to be a six week blitz of these diets, is turning into a Thursday Wellness posting, and we will weave in these theories and others into the entries.  What we eat is only part of the story.  How we think and what we feel are a big part of what the fifty trillion cell structure that appears to the world as our body does with the food.  In his new book – “The Honeymoon Effect” about how our thinking controls our health, Bruce Lipton channels James Carvile from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign with “it is the environment stupid.”  This is how I interpret this portion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:26-27) “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Here is a link to a site that Melinda found today, and my interpretation of it is that we, like this squirrel or the birds in the Sermon on the Mount, know what we should eat if we don’t let our egos and toxic thinking get in the way.  If squirrels are in-tune with what is good and what is bad, then why are we not able to do so?  Because we worry, which means we tune into the fear that we will look stupid.  So if everybody else is eating beef that was force-fed GMO corn and injected with drugs, then we should.  Really?  The last time I ate factory beef I found it to have no taste unless it was combined with sauces and salt and perhaps a bacon wrap.  We must not be dominated by our fears, but by our “gut feelings” on what is right for ourselves.

To do this we need to be in harmony with the magnificent creation that is the fifty trillions cells known as an individual human being, and to eat food and establish practices that balance our mind, body and soul.

Who cares for the caregiver?

“Til death do us part,” are the words often proclaimed by newlyweds as they prepare to enter the world of married life. No one wants to think about the reality of that statement, but it’s inevitable. At some point, we will be separated from our loved ones with one final breath. In spousal relationships, one of you will become a caregiver to the other, which will surely change your relationship dynamic.

It’s amazing how one word can change your life. Last October, the word “cancer” shook up the relationship my wife and I had enjoyed for years when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. From both mine and her perspectives, I battled the storm well at the time. After the surgery and radiation treatments was a different story; the rain crashed down on me.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t try; I hired a coach, felt in touch with my feelings, journaled and exercised daily, ate well, and took care of myself. You can’t keep life from happening, though. My other relationships suffered as I lost tolerance for drama and menial concerns. Compared with cancer, any minor discomfort struck me as petty self-indulgent behavior.

My toleration for those living in the future, or even in the past, went away. Cancer shows up with an HD reality.  It takes you by the throat and says, “Shut up and listen to me, mf’er.”

I took those thoughts and locked them within my mind. I did not project them onto my friends, family, and business associates because I was afraid of burdening them with my own fears. I listened to their normal concerns, but my mind was elsewhere, thinking about my potentially dying wife.

In spite of this, I had to remain positive and affirm that she was doing well.  I had to try to pretend that I cared about some issues that were important to others.  With my clients, because I am required to remain detached, it was easy to focus on their needs and be present to them.  Unfortunately, in many other conversations, I used that ability to feel untouched by others.

But I still heard them. I shut off my capacity for feeling, but I could not flip the switch on my sense of hearing. Two months ago, I got a major ear infection.  I struggled to understand the deeper meaning behind my left ear infection.  Is it the feminine side of me that I do not want to listen to, since caregiving is more feminine in nature? Is it my wife that I do not want to listen to?  Women in general?  Phone conversations since I used my left ear?

The answer, two months after the fact was a resounding, “yes, all of the above.” I found the answer to this question in baseball.  I do not want to sound like a line from “Field of Dreams,” but even in bad times, my father and I had baseball.  Yes, we had lots of bad times, but I will never forget my first baseball game in 1958 at Yankee Stadium.  The field for me was a cathedral, in the era of black and white TV, I’d never seen grass so green.  And players like Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline still seem larger than life to me.

Last week at the beach, the Pirates were on TV each day playing the Nationals. Growing up in a fifties New York home with a grandmother who rooted for ‘dem Bums, a father who was a Giants fan, and other grandparents who rooted for the Yankees, coming home to watch 42 had special significance. Watching the Pirates take four of five this week from the Cardinals was not only exciting, but also a lesson. The timeless nature of the game, the rules, the strategy, the elegance, the pureness, and the maleness allowed me to realize that even in the second half of life, sometimes men just need to be men, or childlike boys. It is hardball after all, not softball.

For men, especially those thrust into the role of caregiver, and made to feel vulnerable about the prospect of losing a wife, it is time to get over the disposable conditioning of our youth that tells us to ignore our own needs and fix it for everyone else.  We are conditioned to think of women and children first, to jump on a hand grenade for our buddies.  We are taught to make sacrifices for others. We can’t forget about ourselves, though. Besides, how can we make others happy, if we aren’t happy ourselves?  We need to make sure that we take time for the activities that bring smiles to our faces.

I am not sure what forms those will take for me, but I fully intend to enjoy this year’s baseball playoffs and this year’s football season.  Who knows, I might spend my fall days wandering the woods, photographing the kaleidoscope of leaves that fall in my path. And I intend to do as I have already begin doing; scheduling time for me to work ON my business and not just IN it, and to read novels that bring me joy.

Caregivers have to care for themselves as well as others.  And if we do not, we are going to get sick ourselves.  Deepak Chopra teaches that life is a sexually transmitted disease that is always fatal.  There is no escaping that.  We need to remain true to our own nature and find the beauty in each and every day.  It is not how or when we die; it is how we live.  Part of the wisdom that came out of Star Trek was that you need to have a little bit of fun every day.

If I had taken a day a week or a few hours a day, and took care of myself while I was taking care of my wife, I would have been better off.  Or instead of rushing to “save her” after she was done with treatment and immersing myself in growing my practice, I should have created “me” time. I’m convinced that if I had, I would not have gotten sick. The one voice I was not listening to was my own mind, screaming, “Hey! Don’t forget about me!”  Ultimately, we must be a caregiver to ourselves, too, if we want to be a caregiver to our loved ones.

 

Vacation – Road Trip

The ocean does not just make up the majority our planet; it makes up part of my soul as well. It is a magical transformation: the salty air nourishes my body and frees my breathing, allowing me to center almost immediately.

It seems like recently the environment of where we are living and the toxins stored there take my breath away. Literally. I hope to determine on this shore vacation if the toxins are my own manifestations, or that of the physical environment. Or perhaps they are my own projections of unresolved issues from my past in Life 2.0.

Timing can be a curious thing. In May of this year, I inhaled a significant amount of pollen and dust from the environment around my home. This occurred as my wife completed her treatments for breast cancer. Did this trigger a subconscious desire to get sick, just so I could be taken care of?

I also find it curious to know that to myself and others, I am not an “inflammation patient.” Despite suffering from inflammation since infancy thanks to dairy and genetically altered modern wheat festering within my body, as well as environmental toxins in Pittsburgh and other inland cities, I do not consider myself to have a disease, although this condition kills millions prematurely.

However, my wife and others that have grown cancers are forever labeled as “cancer patients.” We can always characterize ourselves by these trials and tribulations. Ultimately, inflammation responses in the body produce a disease that we can allow to define us, but I refuse to do that. At the end of the dark tunnel of disease, there is a light, which can actually teach us a thing or two.

When I was six I had pneumonia, and through the “miracle” of antibiotics, I was healed. At eight, I had my tonsils removed, and through the “miracle” of surgery, I was healed. At twenty-eight, I had a ruptured appendix, and through the “miracles” of surgery and antibiotics, I was healed.

Over the years that I lived in Pittsburgh, and then on airplanes, and then again in Pittsburgh, through the “miracle” of antibiotics three to twelve times a year for forty years, I was healed. I also had the pleasure of tossing down steroids a number of times in order to reduce inflammation. What is the common element in all of these diseases? Inflammation.

As part of my continuing journey, I removed wheat and dairy from my diet in 2012, and my health, specifically my inflammation levels in my body, drastically improved. That sinus-infection-free year-and-a-half of my life was well worth the sacrifice.  And suddenly I had no need for “miracles”. Or so I thought.

So, on June second of this year, I found myself with an ear infection. Three antibiotics later and one dose of steroids later and I was almost symptom free. Key word: almost. The symptoms eventually returned. Proving to be a stubborn condition, the inflammation would not budge.

Refusing to let this uphill battle seize my life, I sought help from a naturally gifted healer: my chiropractor, who is able to tune into her patients at an energetic level. Taking it a step further, I also visited an acupuncture practitioner. With their help, my body began to heal itself and drain the fluids caused by my body’s natural inflammation response.

Hopefully, this week at the shore will put an end to this disease once and for all.

In Life 3.0, we do not have the ability to ignore our bodies any longer. In my case, I was born and raised on Long Island, and my body is used to the salty air and humidity of that environment. Unfortunately, I was also given dairy at birth and I am allergic to caisson – the protein in dairy.

We have a choice when we reach this stage of life. We can be defined by the labels of the disease, like cancer, or like the outcomes of chronic inflammation – including conditions like adult onset diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and a plethora of other ailments, or we can change the way we eat and live to be on core with our own bio-individuality.

This blog entry is the first in a series of entries that will deal with how I use the food that I eat and my primary foods of career, spirituality, relationships and exercise in Life 3.0. Each Saturday, I will post a personal entry about my Life 3.0 experience.

Some will be reflections extracted from my gratitude journal that I started in December of last year as my wife began her cancer treatments and we changed our lives. For the most part, the entries will be current accounts of what’s happening now.

For now, I leave you with a question: When are you? I tell my clients to ask themselves three questions in order to center themselves for meditation. Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? The implicit answer to when am I, when we are centered, and when we meditate, is now.

With the stress of disease, I found that I am often not in the now, but in the drama of the past. Or wishing for a future. In truth, we only have the now. And for those of you with an illness, or living with someone with an illness: you are not your disease. You are beautiful. As another Fred in Pittsburgh always said, “I love you just the way you are.” Be now here and not nowhere.