Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Skin protection

I've always burned in the sun, but avoidance is not the answer. Safe exposure is so important in maintaining optimum levels of vitamin D3, implicated in a healthy immune system. As well as containing toxic xeno-oestrogens and carcinogens, commercially produced suncreams filter out almost all of the ultra-violet light which the skin needs to synthesise vitamin D3.  Our skin is not only a barrier, but a carrier, so whatever you put on it will be absorbed into your blood stream, making more work for the liver. Last summer I made a decision. I ditched the suncream and instead used pure, organic coconut oil. I didn't burn, not even in the hot Ibizan sunshine.

Coconut oil is high in medium chain fatty acids like capric acid, caprylic acid, lauric acid and vitamin E, all of which nourish the skin and cut down on ultra-violet ray damage. But it's not just about coconut oil's amazing properties. Equally important is my changed diet, which has improved my skin's ability to produce melanin, protecting it against sun damage. I drink at least 6 cups of green tea a day. Green tea contains massive amounts of anti-oxidants, which fight off free radicals, can prevent sun damage and even stave off skin cancer thanks to it's anti-inflammatory properties. I take krill oil which is full of astaxanthin, another super anti-oxidant which offers UVA protection. I supplement with 10,000 iu's a day of vitamin D3, which increases sun tolerance and protects against sun damage, which is a beautiful irony considering we should get 90% of our daily dose FROM the sun. I also drink vegetable juices daily. My morning carrot juice is a valuable source of vitamin A, and is full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, all of which protect, nourish and moisturise the skin. Nutrition from carrots helps to reduce photosensitivity, promotes skin renewal and protects from sun damage.

I'm not advocating the total replacement of suncream with coconut oil. My young children spend hours in the sea when on holiday, and their diets are not sufficiently full of anti-oxidants or phytochemicals to go cream-free. What's important is to maximize safe sun exposure to improve natural levels of D3, whilst avoiding burning. This would mean exposing 80% of your body to the sun for up to 20 minutes, avoiding the hottest part of the day between 11am and 2pm. When I feel that my kids need protection I use a 'clean' sunscreen like Badger, which is unscented and free from chemicals. In previous summers my children never went out in the sun without first being covered in suncream. They NEVER got any natural vitamin D; they were always covered by t-shirts, hats, sunglasses and cream. These days they develop gentle tans, indicating that their skin is reacting positively to the sun. 

We live in a society which warns of the dangers of sunbathing, and suggests that the answer lies in a tube of chemically engineered suncream. Instead the answer lies in proper nutrition and common sense in the sun.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Who Am I?

I'm a woman who has had breast cancer, but I'm more than that. I'm a Wife, a Mother, a Daughter, a Sister and a Friend. Sometimes I'm Scared. Mostly I'm not. I read, I research, and I'm Positive. I believe that I'll remain cancer-free, that I'll see my children grow, that I'll live long enough for them not to need me so much. That's where Fear lives, not in the idea of actually dying, but of leaving my family.

Sometimes I cry tears of disappointment, but never of self-pity. I put energy into my wellbeing, and as a result I feel healthy. But not safe. Never again will I take my health for granted, I know that this area of my life needs consistent, continued input.

I carry the weight of my prognosis constantly. That doesn't always mean worrying about cancer, sometimes it means learning from it, sometimes being driven by it, always accepting what is, and what has been.

I try to listen to my body, but pain still freaks me out. Could it be a recurrence? Have I missed something?

I watch in disbelief as cancer claims the lives of people I know, and I try to find a place of reason and understanding.

I cherish my life, I'm Alive.

I embrace my scars, they're part of me. I rarely feel the loss of my breast, but when I do it's an indescribable grief that I can't comprehend - a raw absence.

Mostly I feel Blessed. Blessed to explore a world of health and spirituality that previously eluded me, to be connected to kindred spirits, in a place of constant learning and healing. Perhaps the gift of cancer is to share all that I've learned with those I love, without them having to endure the uncertainty and pain of a diagnosis. For this I'm Grateful.

Friday, 12 April 2013

A hard lesson, but a good one

I've met some amazing people since being diagnosed with cancer. The inevitable downside to this new world, is that death becomes such a big part of life.

This post is in honour of my friend Renee, who has taught me something beautiful about death. She died yesterday, surrounded by love, celebrated by those whom she has touched, and free from the fear that many of us experience when faced with death. She was so passionate about life; she never stopped living in order to die. Her beloveds wished and prayed only for a gentle journey for her, a sweet transition into the next realm. How extraordinary that rather than being held onto, she is released with love. To be surrounded by so many loving and grateful souls is a direct reflection of Renee's spirituality and compassion. 

It's wonderful to believe that we're part of something bigger, that we have a purpose, even if that purpose is only to explore, communicate, love and play on Earth. How liberating to feel our importance and lack of it, to shift our focus to joy and trust. This, to me, is Renee's legacy. She shows us all by example how to live fully in the moment, surrounded by love.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Guest blog

It's Asbestos Awareness week, and to draw attention to this subject Cameron Von St James has written a guest post. He talks about his experience following his wife Heather's mesothelioma diagnosis, and gives an insight into how it feels when a loved one has cancer.

Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis, but Heather is now cancer free. I once read that if you can find ONE person who has survived with your type of cancer, then it's also possible for you to survive. The power of hope can never be undervalued, and Heather is a beacon of light for others with the same cancer diagnosis.

How We Got Through Cancer

After the birth of our daughter Lily, my wife and I were excited about making her first holiday season special. However, everything seemed to change a few months later. On a late November day, my wife Heather was given a cancer diagnosis. It was the day that I was forced into a position that I would never be ready for: the caregiver of a wife with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The job began the moment she got her diagnosis.

Her doctor began giving us background information on her condition and advised us to see a specialist. He gave us three different options, but my wife was in a total state of shock. Within a matter of seconds, I made it clear to him that we would be seeing the specialist in Boston.  His name was Dr. Sugarbaker and he was renowned for his experience in treating mesothelioma. While this decision was the best one for Heather's health, it would not be easy to make it through the next few months.

It was becoming increasingly difficult carry on with our lives. Between taking Heather to her appointments and taking care of Lily, on top of working as many hours as I could to support us, I was overwhelmed. Going from having two full-time incomes to less than one after Heather had to leave her job eventually put us in a financial bind. Feeling overwhelmed by our situation pushed me to my breaking point. I sat on the kitchen floor one night and suddenly felt myself coming apart. There was nothing I could do to fix the mess we were in. Nevertheless, I knew that I was going to have to find a way to be strong for my wife.  At that point, all I could do was keep moving forward and do the best I could to get my family through this tough battle.

I thought we had to go through this alone, but I was wrong. Friends and family members were able to help shoulder some of our burdens, be it emotional support, a meal, or even financial help to get us through our tough spot.  I had to learn that there was no room for pride in this fight, and once I accepted that, these offers of help lifted a weight from my shoulders.

Having gone through this experience, I can honestly say that it is not easy on anyone involved. While Heather had to focus on getting well, it was my responsibility as her caregiver to make things easier for her. It is important to learn how to manage negative emotions. Once they find a door, anger and fear will certainly try to sneak their way in. Relying on friends and family is the only way to keep from drowning in the despair.  Above all else, never give up hope.

Despite the difficult fight and the bleak prognosis for mesothelioma, Heather is here seven years later, and is cancer free. This entire experience has taught me to value my family, our time together and my stubborn streak. It just goes to show that with a little bit of hope, people have the ability to achieve their heart's desires.  Heather and I hope that by sharing our story, we can help inspire others in their own battles with cancer, to never give up and never, ever stop fighting for the ones they love.