health, general

48 looks at 89

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in aging, Guyside, health, general, men | 2 comments

I’m spending some time with my mom as I write this Guyside column, and 89 from the perspective of nearly 48 has been making me think about lots of stuff around aging

Here’s a few thoughts, in more or less random order.


It’s really going to be interesting to find out if I deal with technology as I age. I suspect I’m at the start of the generation that has found it relatively easy to adapt to technology. Perhaps it’s just me, but I enjoy tackling technology and understanding new devices.

My mom is definitely not in that mindset. For her, managing the universal remote is about as much as she wants to take on, and even that isn’t necessarily a done deal, as my brother and I can attest from annoyed phone calls when the TV and the cable box are out of sync.

I wonder if I’m kidding myself on this, though. There was a time when I was on top of every pop cultural trend and thought I was quite the expert, but as I creep toward 50 I find myself more and more out of touch with the music that’s getting played on the radio – something I couldn’t have imagined happening. If that can happen, then who’s to say whether I’ll be wondering how this dang neural implant turns on in 25 years?

Media images of aging 

I tend to watch very different television shows from my mom; I don’t have cable TV; and I watch a lot of stuff on streaming services. So watching TV with her showed me a world of commercials for things I don’t spend a lot of time considering. Nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals for arthritis or fibromyalgia, walk-in tubs and the like. What struck me about the ads was the idealization of aging that they showed. Sure, some people get to age with rugged good looks, dancing, hiking, driving convertibles in sunlit splendour, playing electric guitars, outsmarting their grandchildren.

But the affluence and the youthfulness of the people in commercials for products or services for seniors is as utterly mythical as a seductive babe stroking some guy’s freshly-shaved cheek or the girl who orders the magic drink catching the eye of the hunky bartender. It shouldn’t be news to anyone (I hope) that advertising sells perfect fantasies to people who live in imperfect reality. But it struck me that for many seniors, illness or lack of money must make such commercials a cruel slap in the face.


As an adult, I cherish my independence. But as an adult child of a senior, I see how easy it can be to wish my mom’s independence away. There’s a complicated and difficult balance between ensuring she has support when and where she wants it and removing her ability to control her life. And for the most part, as I see it, there are few hard-and-fast rules and lots of gray areas that have to be negotiated between people. Good will is absolutely necessary.


I’ve faced up to my own illnesses, and in the last few years I’ve lost enough friends and family to consider death far more on my radar than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago. For my mom, who’s lost many friends, several siblings, and her husband, it’s much more direct. And while I think I have faced up to mortality with clear eyes, I wonder if a little denial is not such a bad thing.

Closing note: It’s a GUYSIDE TAKEOVER next week on FlashFree. The redoubtable Ms. Scherer is taking a little time off to have a lot of fun, so I’ll be posting, along with some special surprises. Stay tuned!

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Guyside: Don’t trust the media! (Well, completely)

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in anxiety, Guyside, health, general | 0 comments

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a link on her FB profile  to a study about births by Caesarean section yesterday. The link, to the site IFLS (or, if you’re a saltymouth like me, I fucking love science), pointed to a study that found “Cesarean delivery may cause epigenetic changes in Babies DNA.

Her caption: “Great. Something else for me to feel guilty about.” 

Now, I know very well that my friend’s line was tongue-in-cheek. But there’s a glint of a problem underneath her tossed-off line.

The study looked at 43 babies, 25 born by vaginal birth and 18 by Caesarean. The researchers theorize that the changes in DNA that take place in Caesarean babies are related to the relative lack of stress they’re exposed to compared to babies being born the “normal” way and the corresponding lack of activation of their immune systems.

But I don’t want to talk about this study — I want to talk about how we all react to studies. Last week I talked about being healthily skeptical of alternative treatments. But we need a healthy skepticism about ALL treatments and research, and we need to ensure we don’t kick ourselves because of our past actions.

It’s easy to look at current dietary, drug, or treatment recommendations and look back at choices you’ve made  and see them as wrong or ill-advised. For my friend, it was having a C-section when her child was born. First off, there’s nothing that can be done about the past. Even if this study were utterly correct, there’s no remedial action she can take.

Second off, there’s the nature and limitations of any study you read or hear about. This study, for example, has a very small sample size, leading to questions about how much the findings can be extrapolated. Also, in the IFLS article about the study, here are sentences from the first and last paragraphs: “So far there has not been enough follow up to know whether the effects are long lasting… He pointed out that epigenetic changes can be either temporary or permanent and it is too early to tell whether the effects he identified will last.”  

So in this case, based on 18 test subjects, researchers observed a change in gene expression at birth. Is this related to long-term health effects? Maybe. Do we know for sure? No. Does this in any way help someone who was born via Caesarean? No.

There are thousands of pieces of research published each year that might relate to a health condition you possess — anything from cancer to bunions to myopia. When you see a news story about some piece of research, for your own good be careful about your reactions and your actions. Scientific research is a mosaic. You can’t see the whole picture without stepping back and looking at all the pieces.

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Guyside: Caveat adventor

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Guyside, health, general, herbal medicine, homeopathy, men, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Earlier this week, FlashFree took a look at a homeopathic “Menopause spray” that promises relief of menopause symptoms.

It reminded me that there’s a universe of treatments out there for all sorts of disorders and diseases. When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer eight years ago, I spent lots of time reading about the conventional treatments (surgery, chemo, intravesical chemo, immunotherapy, radiation), and about some of the alternative treatments.

To this point, I’ve only used one form of treatment, because my tumours are relatively minor — a surgical removal of the tumours when they occur.

But alternative treatments or prevention strategies are important for many people. The problem comes with the sheer volume of information out there about all sorts of treatments, especially the less conventional ones, and the way things can change. Here’s one example:

For a long time, people concerned about prostate cancer were advised to take selenium and vitamin E supplements. But that advice changed a few years ago when a major trial began to discover that instead of being associated with reducing probability of prostate cancer, no benefit was being observed, and there were concerns.

Then late last year a research report found that instead of reducing likelihood, the supplements were associated with increasing the likelihood of a prostate cancer diagnosis.

The selenium-vitamin E research illustrates a few things. First, science changes. That’s the point of science — to understand more about a process or mechanism. And that’s why if you’re managing your health, you should be always ready to learn and to adapt to new findings.

Second, it’s good to have trusted professionals on your side. I enjoy being an involved patient, and I also enjoy helping family members or friends with medical issues if they ask for help. But I don’t believe that I’m necessarily more knowledgeable than a medical professional. It’s finding the balance between unquestioningly accepting every action recommended by your doctor or doctors and striking out on your own with no expert interventions. Using skills like those listed in the National Coalition for Cancer Survivors’ page on self-advocacy can make you a better patient and maybe a healthier one.

Third, miracles are rare. Google is a great asset, but there’s a lot of information out there that’s sketchy at best. Maintain a healthy skepticism about EVERYTHING you read or encounter. Ask yourself — or a professional — how likely it is that a root, a supplement, or some other unconventional treatment is a MIRACLE CURE for a disorder or disease. Don’t let depression or desperation colour your thoughts.

And for myGuyside readers: Happy Fourth of July!

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Guyside: A brief self-congratulatory pause

Posted by on Jun 4, 2014 in exercise, Guyside, health, general, Inspiration, men, physical fitness | 0 comments

I don’t set out to make Guyside the “what’s happening with Bob” column. Because really, how many people would care. But today, I want to talk about me a little.

In the winter, I was looking forward to cycling season, and I happened upon a brochure for the Ontario Ride to Conquer Cancer. I usually use a long ride as a training goal for me to keep on my bike, so this appealed to me for a number of reasons. My usual goal ride is the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, a two-day, 220-mile ride from my home town of Ottawa to Kingston and back. But I’ve done that ride probably 10 times, and had a couple of bad experiences — one with heatstroke, one with the opposite, when single-digit temperatures and rain took their toll.

So I took the Ride to Conquer Cancer brochure home. The ride was a reasonable length — two days, about 125 miles total. It was in an area of my province I’d never ridden in — starting in Toronto, ending in Niagara Falls. The support was more than I was used to; organized rest stops?! But there was one new wrinkle. This was a fundraising ride. They expected each rider to raise at least $2500. That seemed like a lot. But I could direct the funds I raised to urogenital cancer research. That appealed to me as someone with bladder cancer, and as the son of a man who had bladder, prostate, and kidney cancers.

So I thought about it for a while, then I signed up.

I felt like I needed some mechanism to get people to donate, to get their attention. So I decided that if someone gave $100 or more, I’d find a song with their name in it (if Barbara donated, I’d grab Barbara-Ann), learn it, and record myself playing it for them on ukulele (uke has gotten to be an obsession, and no, I’m not a hipster.) So…

To make a long story short, I’ve raised over $5,000, which is amazing; I’ve put up 16 Youtube videos and have a lot more to do, and the ride is this weekend. I’m proud of myself for getting to my goal and looking forward to a new ride. I’ve even lost a little winter flab and gotten myself into better shape.

It’s made me feel really good to do this. And there’s an important point there – not for me, but for you. There’s a value in setting yourself a goal and working to achieve it. Not a work goal. A project for you, that has meaning for you and does something for others. A way to make something a little better and improve yourself in the bargain. Find it. Do it.

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Guyside: when we go wrong

Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Guyside, health, general, men, politics | 0 comments

Like most of North America, I was horrified to hear of the shooting / stabbing murders of six people in California. Those murders were followed by the suicide of the young man who carried out the mass attack, Eric Elliott Rodger. There’s been a million words said and written already about him, and I’m going to try not to rehash those.

Rodger left behind reams of video and writing about himself. He felt he was unable to “get women,” apparently. He hated women for their rejections, and hated the men who were able to “get” women for their “prowess.” He haunted “Pick-up Artist” and bodybuilding forums online, and seemed to boil with anger at those whose actions left him alone and miserable.

When I was a kid, there were people I went to school with who I quite easily could have seen carrying out an attack like this. Angry, obsessive about guns and violence, mercurial, bitter about women in the extreme. Seething underneath, their rage only surfacing when liberated by alcohol or drugs, even their jokes full of meanness.

None of the people I went to school with ended up doing anything. At least that spectacularly horrible. They drifted out of my orbit a long time ago, becoming the sort of people you only think about when something like this attack happens.

It’s difficult for me to make sweeping prescriptions about what would stop these attacks from happening, what might have stopped this most recent attack. I’m Canadian, and it’s easy — and dishonest — to be superior. We had our own misogynist tragedy in Montreal in 1989. That one left 14 women dead at the hands of someone who blamed “feminists” for his own failures. More recently, five young people were stabbed to death at a house party in Calgary, Alberta. The person charged is the young son of a senior Calgary police officer.

I’m not a parent, so I can’t claim I’m having meaningful chats with my sons about these issues, or caring for their mental health.

A Wikimedia image of the memorial to the 14 engineering students who were murdered in the “Montreal Massacre.”

So I guess all I can say is this: there are people out there who are broken. It might be they’re wired wrong; it might be that circumstances have conspired against them; it might be they’ve authored their own misfortunes. But they’re broken. Most of the time, these broken folk are more harmful to themselves than anyone else. But sometimes, and I don’t think any of us know how to tell when, they decide to take up arms against others.

So what can I, as a man, do about this? A few things, none of which make me feel particularly fulfilled. If there are younger men in your life — sons, nephews, friends — show them a positive model. If you’re concerned about attitudes or behavior that you see, SAY so. Reach out to them. If you see the corrosive attitudes which lay under Rodger, and seem to lie under so many of the perpetrators of this violence, say something about it; do something about it. Advocate for social changes you’d like to see with your political representatives. If I were in the US, I’d be talking about restrictions on firearms ownership and getting in trouble EVERY DAY. Here in Canada, we aren’t plagued by gun violence as our southern neighbours are, so I don’t feel that urgency.

We’ll never live in a world free of hatred, or of the violence that hatred can cause. But doing something to improve the situation is better than doing nothing.

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Guyside. It’s spring! (It’s spring?!) Take advantage.

Posted by on May 7, 2014 in diet, exercise, Guyside, health, general, Inspiration, men, physical fitness | 0 comments

These t’ai chi practitioners in Beijing have the right idea about spring – get outside and let it buoy you up.

I am not a giant fan of winter. So even a spring as tentative and tantalizing as 2014’s is a welcome thing. You can feel the sun’s warmth on your face, and maybe even on your bare arms. Things begin to bud out in the gardens, early flowers show themselves, and everything seems new again. It’s wonderful.

If you feel the way I do, why not take this opportunity to make a fresh start on some personal care? Here are some ideas:

  • I have a fairly substantial bike ride coming up, so that means that I am getting out on the road more and more to get the legs in shape. In my city of Ottawa, there are lots of 12-month cyclists, but I’m not one of them. I ride inside, but that’s never quite the same as being out on the road.
  • I also find myself walking to places that a month or two ago I would have driven, because it’s not boneshatteringly cold out and it’s pleasant. Are there types of exercise that winter makes more difficult that you can start doing (or restart?)
  • We’re lucky enough to have a garden and a patio, so don’t discount the raking, hauling, sowing, weeding, gopher-chasing, and other outdoor things that you have to do to get your garden started. If you’re reading this where things are far beyond our early garden phase: I hate you.
  • If you’ve been relying on comfort foods and root vegetables (or worse, sports on TV and chicken wings!) to get you through the winter, start thinking about finding leafier greens to eat, from the closer the better. Farmer’s markets start opening up this time of year, offering us fresher produce and the opportunity to revisit our diets.
  • Relax. Whether it’s on my own patio or whether I’m at a coffeeshop or pub, patio season is a wonderful thing. Take opportunities to sit, unplug from the devices, be with yourself. Or be with other human beings, enjoying the time of year. Make the most of the season as an excuse to resume social life.

The businessman Sir John Templeton was once asked when the best time to invest was. His answer was “when you have money.” The best time to invest time and energy in yourself is when you have time and energy. Let the changing season fill you up with some of that energy, and make the time. You’ll be thankful.

Photo: creative-commons licenced by Flickr user Faungg’s Photo

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