Posts made in April, 2011

Cancer…it’s still personal

Posted by on Apr 28, 2011 in breast cancer, emotions, Inspiration | 20 comments

Two years ago, I wrote a post about breast cancer and the fact that it was personal. Very personal. I want to share a portion of that post today and also add a few thoughts. The reason? It’s personal. Again.

Location: Department Store dressing room stall. Circa: late 1960s, early 1970s.

The characters: Me and my mom.

Scene: She is covering herself as she removes her shirt. I notice the scars. Lots of scars….to the side of one breast. I meet her eyes and she meets mine. Then I learn what the term ‘ breast cancer’ means.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 30. Thirty. Even today, less than half of women under the age of 40 are likely to develop breast cancer and the majority of cases are diagnosed after the age of 50. So, imagine the shock. What’s more, imagine the time. 1960… when breast cancer awareness wasn’t at the fore and people didn’t discuss it, when breasts and surrounding muscle were literally hacked off rather than carefully removing the tumor with clean margins, when many men left their wives after they became disfigured.

My dad didn’t leave. And my brother learned about it through a ‘friend’ in school who was teasing him.

I’ve spoken to my mother about her cancer, about the fear of it returning, and about how she feels about not being able to wear sleeveless tops or strengthen/firm those muscles even though she has exercised regularly her entire life. How she felt when my brother came home from school and asked her about it. How she feels now when a friend is diagnosed with cancer. Her answer is always pretty much the same.

But cancer can return. And even though this time it’s not in her breast, it looks like she’s may go down that road…again. And my heart is breaking. Because the fear in the tone of her voice says more than any words can.

She is afraid.

I don’t blame her. I would be afraid too.

Only this time? She’s 80, not 30 and although she’s tough as nails and very, very active, cancer has an insidious nature, sometimes too insidious. And even though in my heart of hearts I believe that she will be fine, I still feel awful about it.

In the past two years, I’ve had two friends who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, not for the first but second time. Recently, another close friend developed a very rare form of cancer and despite its severity, emerged in one piece and better than ever. Others in my life are four-, five-time survivors. Hell, even my dad has had bladder cancer since the early 90s. People survive. People move on with their lives. And yet sometimes, we lose people that we love.

Although it may be too early for a Mother’s Day post, it’s never too late to let someone know how you feel about them.

So Mom?

Thank you. The relationship has been a difficult one for most of our lives, threatened by personality and character and actions and words. Often, this road has not been an easy one. But you brought me into this life and I want you to know that despite all, the forks we’ve taken to get to this place have converged and our road is paved with mutual love and respect. I. Love. You. That is all.

And the cancer, I am not certain of the outcome this time. But I am certain of one thing: a mother’s love, and my mother’s love, is one of the most important gifts.

This one’s close to the bone. It’s close to my heart. It’s personal.

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Wednesday Bubble: botox those emotions right out of your life

Posted by on Apr 27, 2011 in appearance, emotions | 1 comment

Still thinking about botox for your aging skin?  Well, you may take years off of y0ur face but it appears that you may also put up a barrier to one of the most important communication tools humans possess: the ability to accurately make emotional judgements based on expressions. Ultimately, this implies that botoxing not only smooths signs of aging but also numbs social interactions.

Bubble-worthy? You bet! This week we’re bursting the aging bubble wide open and challenging the societal push and pull towards the elusive Fountain of Youth.

So, what have researchers learned?

First, a bit of background and psychobabble. It is believed that facial expressions are powerful clues into inner thoughts and emotions, and that humans subconsciously mimic this expression  in order to decode, or perceive it. Less clear, however, is whether or not we can use these clues to make better judgements about one another.

To find this out, researchers conducted two experiments:

  • In the first, a small group of women received either Botox injections (which paralyze facial muscles) or Restylane filler (which plumps wrinkles) for the purpose of smoothing facial wrinkles that are most often associated with expression, i.e., frown lines, forehead and crows feet in the Botox group and frown and laugh lines in the Restylane group. They were then shown images used to convey emotional states through the eyes and surrounding areas only and asked to select the emotion that best demonstrated the respective expression.
  • In the second, the researchers applied a restrictive gel to the lower forehead, brow and area surrounding the eyes that when dried, would tighten facial muscle contractions in half the group, and then applied the gel to the inner arm in the other half. They then conducted a test in which the participants were asked to judge emotions in brief audio clips and then took a quiz that would measure how much brain power was used to evaluate emotional cues.

The findings?

Although botox didn’t completely block out women’s ability to discern emotional cues, perception was significantly lowered compared to women who had had Restylane. Interesting enough is that the researchers allude to a previous study that shows a similar dulling of reactions to emotional stimuli, implying that botox appears to interfere with emotional processing. What’s more, while the women who had restrictive gel applied to their face appeared to be better able to judge emotional expression but only the type that they would normally mimic themselves. However, the ability to judge audio emotions were the same whether the gel was applied to the face or inner arm. This suggests that facial muscle mimicry is essential.

So what do these findings really mean? Researchers say that it is possible that prolonged use of Botox could lead to changes in the way that our central nervous systems process emotions and even diminish the feedback we get from other people’s expressions. This may also effect social interactions and close relationships.

Is it an absolute? No. However, this information does suggestion that short-term gains in appearance might have longer term ramifications, such as interfering with important emotion cues and even the way the brain processes them.

I’m not sure that that’s worth the price of a smoother face. What do you think?

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Diet? Exercise? Or both?

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 in diet, exercise, weight | 3 comments

novel study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center shows that combining dietary changes with exercise yields the best the results. While this isn’t necessarily surprising, it is important, especially as the metabolism starts to slow as we grow older.

So what’s the 4-11 on this study?

Previous studies have shown that moving your body is important, not only for maintaining weight but also for preventing conditions like osteoporosis, which is a huge problem for both men and women as they age.  Other studies suggest that watching what you eat, both in terms of calories and content, are key. You can check out those posts here.  But how do the two strategies differ when it comes to weight loss?

To find the answer, researchers separated 439 overweight or obese (by body mass index > 25) postmenopausal women (average age 58 years) into four groups:

  1. > 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, 5 days a week (225 min/week), including walking/hiking, aerobics and biking with the goal to reach 75% to 80% of target heart rate and 45 min/daily exercise
  2. A weight loss strategy based on a daily intake of 1,200 to 2,000 calories comprising <30% from fat coupled with individual and group dietary counseling, diet journaling and weekly weigh-ins, with the goal to achieve a 10% weight loss
  3. A combination of exercise and weight loss per above
  4. No intervention

Over the course of the 1-year study, women in the diet group lost 8.5% of their total body weight (a mean 15.8 lbs) while those in the exercise only group lost 2.4% of their overall weight (mean 4.4 pounds). However, women who participated in both diet and exercise strategies lost 10.8% of their overall weight (mean 19.6 lbs). Moreover, although all women who had some active intervention lost inches off their waistlines, the greatest decline — almost 3 inches –was in women who watched their diet and exercised regularly. The same pattern was observed for the overall percentage of body fat that the women lost over the course of the study: 4.2% for diet alone, 1.6% for exercise alone and 5.9% for a combined strategy.

Importantly? The researchers say that when women added the 5 days weekly of exercise to a diet program, however tedious and time consuming, the majority were able to attain the 10% weight loss goal.  They add that both the American College of Sports Medicine and the US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines Committee suggest that current activity level recommendations (which are roughly 30 minutes daily) be upped to as much as 60 minutes per day.

Granted, this is a hard pill to swallow. It’s difficult to find time in daily schedules to exercise as much as an hour a day AND eat properly. And lord knows, it’s not easy. Can you do one or the other? You can, but the best strategy is both.

A few tips to get you started:

  • Start slowly and build up over time.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or cheat on your diet goals. While moderation is key and diligence is important, so is the occasional cheating! Deprivation is not a rule, ever!
  • The same goes for missing a day of exercise. And remember, a little is better than none at all.

So the skinny (pun unintended) is that the greatest potential lies in doing the greatest amount possible. The only thing at risk is your health. And that’s a pretty big deal.

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50. Ain’t dead yet.

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 in Inspiration | 29 comments

I was originally planning on writing a post about diet and exercise today. But a few things have transpired this week that pushed some deep buttons so I’ll save that post for Monday. Meanwhile? I have a wee bit of wisdom I’d like to impart:

50 ain’t dead yet.

Yup, I am well aware that 50 is past middle age for most people. And, if you are in your 20s or 30s or even early 40s, man, 50 is fucking old. Fifty is past its prime, ignorant of current developments in technology, politics, community, media, you name it. Fifty is mired in (dare I say it?!) the 1900’s; you know, the century before the Interwebz explosion, smart phones, tablets, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Instant Messaging, email…

Fifty is just, well, O.L.D.

Guess what?

Beliefs like these are incorrect. In fact, if you are under the age of 50, you’ve got a whole lotta living to do and you ain’t done hardly any of what you will do…yet. Yeah, really.  Hell, I’ve only done a small portion of what I intend to do before I leave this journey.

I turn 50 in less than a month. It’s been an interesting year, this 49th of mine. It’s been a wake-up call and I’ve approached it in ways that I’ve never approached anything…ever. I’ve gone from shock to defiance in less than a year. And I’ve finally embraced the following from every female friend of mine who’s turned 50 before me: you stop putting up with the shit. You don’t need to and you don’t want to and you don’t have to.

Fifty ain’t just a number; it is indeed past midlife. But if you think for one minute that anyone who is 50 or older is dead, think again. Because I’ve got a little secret:

Fifty is when you truly grow into yourself.

Since embarking on the Flashfree journey, I’ve written about the incredible disappearing woman. I’ve talked about appropriate dress for “women of a certain age” (which I continue to argue, is absolutely ridiculous). I have alluded to career opportunities being taken away as women grow older, especially in the film and entertainment industries. This topic is not new nor was my ire inspired by one individual, but actually, many. And so, do you wonder why women feel a wee bit angry when they receive the message — either indirectly or directly —  that they’ve crossed the finish line?

Naysayers? Ignoramuses? Men who think 50 is past their prime and only date women whose ideal is so mismatched with the ideal of themselves?  Take a look in the mirror; dare you! Especially you!

Guess what? I look in the mirror all the time. And while I don’t always like what I see on the outside, I do like what’s happening on the inside.  A lot. So…50? It’s not the next 30, or 40; it’s the the next 50. And it’s pretty fucking phenomenal. Fifty is beautiful in ways that can only be understood when you reach that milestone.  Just open your eyes and your hearts. ‘Cause you can’t take away my joy. Nuh uh. No way.

I ain’t dead. I’m just getting started.

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Wednesday Bubble: improve your sex life… the maca way

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Is Maca (Lepidium meyenil) the Peruvian Viagra?

If you read what’s on the interwebz, you might believe that this Andean plant that is part of the mustard family will improve sexual function and desire. Some clinical studies even suggest that maca can boost sperm count and mobility. Wow. A wonder plant. Makes me all va va va vooommmm; you too?

Um. Not. So. Fast.

I wrote about Maca two years ago and shared some information about studies examining its potential for alleviating symptoms in peri- and postmenopausal women. At the time, I also alluded to its so-called aphrodisiac and energizing properties. Heck, not only is it widely used in Peru but it’s even licensed in Norway for medicinal purposes. So perhaps the claims are true?

Again, not so fast.

I ran across an interesting review of randomized studies on maca that examined its effects on sexual desire and function. Interestingly, of the 88 studies that the researchers identified, only 4 met scientific standards for analysis. All study participants — both men and women — ingested 1.5 g to 3.5 g of Maca daily for up to 12 weeks. Only one of these studies tested dried, natural maca and the rest were commercial grade. Here’s what they learned:

  • Despite claims, few scientific trials have evaluated maca’s effect on sexual function.
  • Of the few trials that met the researchers’ review criteria, there was only limited evidence to suggest that maca improved desire after at least six weeks.
  • None of the studies looked at side effects.

In other words, maca may be useful but it’s still unclear what it’s useful for. Meanwhile, if you want to improve your sexual desire or functioning, you may want to look elsewhere.

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