The body’s endless issues

By Caitlin Kelly

Oh, the joys of the human body!

I started 16/8 intermittent fasting November 1, and am sloooooowly seeing a difference.

I won’t get on a scale until my GP appointment Feb. 27 so I’m working hard — three 45-minute gym sessions a week (cardio and free weights) and hoping to add ice skating or walking or swimming the other day or two. The pool, at our broke and badly-run YMCA, now needs repairs it can’t afford.

But, of course, I got a recent surprise at my oncologist check-up, where they take blood every time — excess iron in my blood, necessitating more tests. I’m hoping it’s “just” a genetic mutation, which occurs in people with my Irish heritage, and which — so utterly bizarrely — might mean regularly getting blood taken out of me.

I’m trying to process how utterly 16th century this feels!

Apparently, the body can’t shed/excrete iron in any other way, which is so odd. How it got there is what we have to examine. I’m sort of hoping this is the reason although — uggggh — the thought of regularly getting a big-ass needle in my arm is not appealing.

Thanks to my DCIS (early stage breast cancer), I already have to take 5mg of Tamoxifen daily for five years; it suppresses estrogen and, initially, the hot flashes were pretty intense, but they’ve calmed down (now 2 years in.)

High blood pressure pills.

A statin for cholesterol.

Generally, I feel great — lots of energy and stamina. I sleep like a champ, at least 8-10 hours a night and I never hesitate to take a “toes-up” as my husband calls them, aka a nap or just a quiet time lying down and staring at the sky.

We eat healthily, most of the time! My weaknesses are cheese, chips and (sue me) sweets. So it’s a constant battle to be “good” and reduce calories, but not feel hangry and annoyed all the time.

I recently hired a nutritionist whose advice was….lengthy!

I need to eat more protein, so am working on that — but excess iron also means eating less red meat. I need to drink a lot of water (already probably drinking 3 cans of soda water, plus tea and coffee.)

The actual fasting, meaning I now can only consume calories between 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m, has gotten easier. Some mornings are easy, but some mean I’m counting the minutes til I can eat!

My father is still super healthy at 91, lucid and living alone.

My late mother had a lot of health issues, some of them terrible luck (multiple cancers), some self-imposed (COPD from smoking, other issues from alcoholism) so I worry about my genetic loading.

In the past, I went to a therapist, but haven’t for a while — I actually worry about her! I know the pandemic has really burned out many mental health workers, so unless it’s some emergency, I figure others need her a lot more right now.

With our small town a Covid hotspot, and super-contagious variants now raging, we are being super careful. I know eight people who have had the disease, luckily all mild (except for 2 people) and none lethal.

It’s a real challenge — even as healthy as Jose and I are — to manage all of this. He uses insulin for T2 diabetes, so we pay a lot of money for comprehensive health insurance. It’s not a place to economize.

I pray for a few more decades of good health.

You never know.

An ER visit (I’m OK!) — and lessons for women

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

I awoke this morning at 4:40 a.m, feeling like my chest was being crushed.

I sat up in bed, trying to focus on whether this was a heart attack, knowing that symptoms are very different for women than men, and because of that often overlooked or ignored.

I had never had one, but knew to pay close attention to my body’s signals.

 

These include:

 

shortness of breath

nausea

dizziness

pain in chest, jaw, back, shoulder and arm

cold sweat

light headedness

 

I felt light headed and, although there is no history of heart disease in my family, I’ve been taking a low dose of cholesterol medication daily for a few years.

We have health insurance and a very good regional hospital that I know far too well from multiple orthopedic surgeries since the year 2000, only a 10 minute drive from home.

The roads were empty at 5:00 a.m. so my husband got me there fast and the  emergency room luckily, had only one other patient in their 30 rooms.

I was quickly given an EKG, X-ray and had four vials of blood taken. The nurse put in an IV line in case (as I did need) they would need to take more blood later.

The pain subsided and within a few hours, thankfully, I was pain-free, if exhausted.

I learned a lot.

If it had been (thank heaven it was not!) a heart attack, specific proteins like troponin-1 are released into the bloodstream as heart cells die. The first blood test showed I was probably fine, but the second one needed to be taken six hours after my symptoms — i.e. I arrived at the hospital by 5:00 a.m. but had to wait there til 11:00 for the second set of blood samples to be taken and results read and shared with me.

I also learned that if it had been a heart attack, I would have been sent to another larger hospital for the insertion of a stent.

I also learned that many people present at the ER thinking, like I did, they were having a heart attack but it was — as we think it was for me — a very bad case of acid reflux, an esophageal spasm. (Very unusually, I had eaten a very small snack at 11:15 the night before. Normally, I know better, and don’t eat anything later than 8:00 p.m. now.)

 

We are very lucky:

— we have good health insurance, so few fear of surprise huge bills for this treatment; we’ll see

— it’s a very good hospital, created by the Rockefellers who live a 10-minute drive east

— we didn’t need the cost of an ambulance (which, we hope, would have been covered); our town has a volunteer ambulance squad as well.

— my treatment was quick, respectful and detailed.

— the hospital was recently renovated so the ER, which we knew too well from a few broken fingers and my husband’s biking concussion, was very different from a few years ago. Now it’s attractive and very comfortable; I was a bit stunned to have a TV screen in the room with me. Each room had an internal privacy curtain and a sliding glass door and an overhead light that didn’t glare into my eyes.

It was so American — each room had a glass plaque by the door with the name(s) of the donors who gave the funds for it.

But I’m grateful as hell for their generosity.

 

If you’re female, please memorize these symptoms — and make sure your partner/spouse and/or family know them as well.

 

They’re easy to ignore or dismiss.

 

 

Does A Long Look In The Mirror Scare — Or Inspire – You?

An Etruscan mirror encased in bronze decorated...
An Etruscan mirror. Twas ever thus...Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

From one of my favorite sites, thefbomb.org:

This morning I got out of the shower, walked to my room naked and stood for a solid 15 minutes looking in my long mirror at my naked body. It’s really amazing what I noticed. I have kinda flabby arms, I never noticed that I had some muscle in there. I found a big freckle on my right breast and a birth mark on my left thigh, things I never knew I had.

Why did I never know? I’ve never really stared at my body before. I don’t have terrible self-esteem, but I don’t have great self-esteem either, so why have I never done this before?

While looking at myself, completely exposed I thought “I love my body.” I really do. Yeah, I have a stomach, bigger thighs, my legs aren’t shaved and always have some sort of bruise or scratch on them and my arms are big and my nails are bitten, and I could think of many other things that are wrong with me but so what? By thinking of all these things am I really helping myself? Is my image really that important?

So then I just had this extreme loving thought towards myself. That I love my body, I DO love my curves and my back spots and my bigger arms and my freckles. This was then slammed down a second later by another voice in my head asking why? Why should I love this? There was so much disgust in this voice, I was shocked. How could I have such a loving moment to myself then followed immediately asking myself why I should ever feel such love towards myself when I look this way?

I make it a point to look at myself in a full-length mirror in broad daylight every day. Like millions of others, I’m trying to lose weight so it’s not pure vanity, but necessity. But unless you have a “perfect” body — and even models think they’re flawed — it’s often not amusing. No one wants to face “failure” head-on, but if you’re otherwise healthy yet have let your body turn to flab and jiggle, you’ve got some thinking to do.

Aging and bearing multiple children take their toll. But go to the right gym, pool or yoga class and you’ll find women, and men, in their 60s, 70s, 80s, who are still working it. Women are so constantly barraged in the West about the hideousness of wrinkles, sags or loss of muscle tone that a mirror’s judgment can feel frightening.

And women in many cultures are taught our bodies are a source of shame, something to flaunt sexually or cover up, but never acceptable  — let alone valuable and worth loving — in all their fleshly corporeality. Men, still, often get a pass.

But the mirror isn’t the best judge of your body. It’s useful if you’re heading out for a professional meeting or date — it will help you catch any stains, tears, a rip in your stockings — but it’s not a place to obsess. Health and strength are key, not being skinny or Botoxed.

Having studied ballet and jazz for decades, I know that a mirror is simply a tool. It offers you information and feedback on your alignment, line, grace, turnout, epaulement.

I think two groups of women are consistently ahead of this curve — moms and athletes. Having used, relished, tested their bodies’ strength and capacity, we know our body is also a determined, sturdy vessel, a smoothly-functioning machine. It can be both a tower of strength and a soft, comforting place of nurture.

Is your mirror friend, foe or neutral?

Women With Brain Tumors Seven Times More Likely Than Men To Be Abandoned

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Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a sobering sad story about how women take care of their men when they become seriously ill — but, apparently, not vice versa.

Dr. Marc Chamberlain, a Seattle oncologist, noticed this pattern with his patients and a national study of 515 patients who received disgnoses of brain tumors or multiple sclerosis from 2001 through 2006 confirmed it. Women were seven times as likely to become separated or divorced as men with similar health problems, according the report, published in the journal Cancer.

As some of you know from firsthand experience, serious illness is terrifying and, like many such situations, quickly lays bare the character of those around you as they respond to the situation — or flee. My mother, who is now fine, was found in August 2002 to have a large meningioma, a brain tumor. She was discovered, unable to leave her bed for days because it had so affected her body, by the RCMP who broke into her home into her small British Columbia town. I found out because I called her exactly at the moment they were there, and a strange man answered her phone — one of the officers.

My partner, who then had a key position at a major newspaper, unhesitatingly told his bosses I needed him and left with me the next day to fly across the country. It cost a fortune to fly last-minute, which he paid. I didn’t have the money. It took several days before she could even get a clear diagnosis after extensive tests and, in the meantime we had to suddenly take charge of her home and her dog, this in another country over a holiday weekend. She’d never met my sweetie before – now, there she was lying in a hospital bed. He looked handsome, confident, happy to be there, no matter what her condition or how distraught I was over it. “Holy cow!” my Mom said.

As a child, his own Mom had been sick, sometimes for a month at a time with terrible vertigo, and he saw his Dad caring for her. It was how, thank God, he was raised. This isn’t the stuff of first dates, romance and roses and sweet nothings.

That terrible weekend, he happily helped me in every possible way to deal with this nightmare; I returned to Vancouver later, alone, for her six hours of surgery.  He took my mom’s soiled matttress outside and scrubbed it with hot soapy water. That’s when I decided I’d marry him. Is there anything more powerful than love in action?

The men who leave these women, in their moments of greatest fear, grief and need, should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

The Christian marriage vows, at least, specify, in that order: “In sickness and in health.”

Fear Versus More Fear — Why Women Want Mammograms

Mammography pictures, normal (left) and cancer...
Image via Wikipedia

Like many women, I’m confused and alarmed by the recent decision that mammograms aren’t needed by women under 50 and annual exams  only needed every two years for women over 50. My mom, who is fine, had a mastectomy 13 years ago which has made me, like anyone with a history of this disease in their family, hyper-vigilant. I had my baseline mammo at 35 and faithfully get one every year. The summer of 2002 was a little terrifying as some cysts showed up in my right breast and had to be watched. They were nothing.

Would I have been better off utterly ignorant?

Mammos, as anyone who’s had one and the photo I chose for this post make clear, aren’t comfortable. Your breasts are squeezed as flat as possible between two plates of glass, for what feels like ages but is likely 30 seconds. The frightening part is awaiting your results and, like thousands of other women, every year I shake with anxiety. Thank God, so far, I have not been hit with this disease. But I cannot imagine that not knowing what is happening to my body, choosing deliberate ignorance (even with false positives), is better.

The exam gets easier as you age, as breast tissue thins and mammos, typically, hurt less as a result. I plan to keep getting mammos and keeping a close eye on the twins. I’m betting many women will do so as well.