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I think about my mom a lot in September.

doris-channelmarker-headshotI went to stay with her in September of 2000, not knowing how long she had, because she wanted to die at home instead of in a hospital, and I had told her I would help make that possible.

Also, September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The month of teal. Because not all women’s cancers are pink.

I take ovarian cancer very personally. So should you. How can a disease that starts by destroying your female balls, to use the blunt words of Dr. Christiane Northrup in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, not be personal?

Five years before that September, after nearly a year of general achiness, fatigue, and fevers that started with deep chilling and ended with drenching sweats within the space of a couple of hours, over and over again, Mom’s doctors could find no infection to explain what was going on. An immunologist thought it might be autoimmune and treated her for rheumatoid arthritis, which helped temporarily but then the symptoms roared back. (The treatment was methotrexate, which also happens to be a chemotherapy drug.)

So he sent her to the Mayo Clinic. There, they spotted some irregularities on her ovaries and scheduled her for surgery, which revealed stage 3 epithelial ovarian cancer throughout her abdomen. They removed — debulked — all the cancer cells that they could, plus both ovaries, her uterus, her spleen, and omentum. That’s the fatty pad on the front of your abdomen. (We learned a lot during those years.) After she recovered from the surgery, she started her first round of chemo.

Seven months later, back in Minneapolis in a snow storm, Mom had her second-look surgery to see if the chemo had had its intended effect. The doctors were satisfied and optimistic and declared her in remission, but she would need to have ongoing regular CA125 blood tests to watch for indications of recurrence.

Eventually the CA125 level rose dramatically. It was back. Over the next five years, Mom went through multiple rounds of different cocktails of chemo, with periods of varying length in between when the count was low again. Eventually the cancer ate a fissure between her bowel and vagina, which meant she learned how to live with a colostomy. Finally the chemo had weakened her so much and could give her so little hope of living longer that she said no more.She chose to live the rest of her days well and then when her time came, die peacefully. That’s when I went to stay with her. She died five months later.

Ovarian cancer is not as prevalent as breast cancer, but it is deadlier because early detection is so much harder. Ovaries can’t be examined from the outside, like breasts , and there is no screening test. (A PAP test checks for cervical cancer, not ovarian.) Researchers are working on that, because catching it early increases survival rate.protect-your-privates

In 2015, 21,290 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the US. In the same year, 14,180 women died from ovarian cancer. Once diagnosed, chances of living five years are 45.6%. (Source: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) My mother made it past that mile-marker, and died 6 months later.

Subtle symptoms exist. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, The most common are:

  • Bloating
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or Abdominal pain
  • Feeling the need to urinate frequently
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual changes
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex

Obviously these can all be caused by other, more minor things. That’s why this disease is so sneaky.

If you experience any of these things more than usual for two weeks, call your doctor. You will notice my mom’s symptoms of achiness and spiking fevers are not on this list.   I suspect that earlier, more subtle symptoms had escaped notice, and this was her compromised immune system trying to fight back.

The lifetime risk for any woman to develop ovarian cancer is 1.4%. Mine is 5% because one of my first-degree relatives had it. Other genetic factors can increase the risk for other women. (Ovarian Cancer National Alliance) Besides genetics,  risk factors include:

  • Increasing age
  • Menopausal hormone replacement therapy
  • Obesity
  • Menstrual and reproductive history. Starting your periods before age 12, going through menopause after age 50, giving birth to no children or having your first child after age 30, or having never taken oral contraceptives all increase your risk of ovarian cancer.

I share this information to honor my mother but mostly because as women it’s important to tune into our bodies and participate actively in our own health. There are no guarantees against cancer, but with knowledge we can give ourselves a better chance.

The two links I’ve provided, to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, both have more information and resources, if you want more.

Here’s to our health.

I still miss you every day, Mom. I love you.

 

 

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Food Progress Report

Almost 3 weeks into my month without wheat or sugar. Have I had slip-ups? Sure.

First there was Easter. What are you going to do when there is strawberry mango pie? I figured it was a feast day and enjoyed it thoroughly. Then some little things like the tapioca pudding in the box lunch at a workshop I went to, and the breading on the chicken in my salad Saturday. On purpose I put wheat bran in the granola I made Sunday.

The chocolate covered dried cherries did me in, although I stretched them out just a few a day. Two Saturdays ago a couple of us were working on a very stressful project at work, and when someone offered to get a pizza, I was in. There were also fun-sized dark-chocolate Mounds bars. On the plus side, I’m allowing maple syrup to replace sugar, in the granola and in my homemade plain yogurt.

Fresh fruit dipped in yogurt is just as good and better for me than that caramel apple dip. I could eat sweet potato wedges coated in olive oil, mustard, and spices, and roasted, every day, but I won’t. The chicken soup thick with veggies I made tonight is pretty darn good and will carry me through several days. A breakfast of an egg, leftover brown rice, and an orange is pretty good. I don’t have to have toast.

Am I feeling better? I think so. I am noticing that when I indulge in candy or pie, I feel sluggish. Can’t afford that. Also my gut is happier without the wheat.

On the spiritual side, I had envisioned myself deep in study of scriptures about bread and the sweetness of God’s love. Must say that has not been the case as much as I thought. And yet it does feel like God is moving in me and for me. I’m just too tired tonight to tie it to my food fast in some deep and meaningful way. So I’ll take it by faith and go to bed.

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I’m trying an experiment. It’s inspired by Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, in which she chronicles her journey of a different kind of fast for each of seven months. Why would she do such a thing? Isn’t that kinda crazy and extreme? She writes that her decision came out of the question, ” Where have I substituted The American Dream for God’s kingdom?” Her plan for 7 was to be “an exercise in simplicity with one goal: to create space for God’s kingdom to break through.”

Now, in many respects I’m already Ms. Simple. Some of Jen’s fasts wouldn’t make sense for me. Clothes, for instance. She writes about how appalled she was when she actually inventoried her wardrobe and was faced with how obscenely abundant her clothing options and therefore her clothing spending were. I, on the other hand, for example own three pair of jeans: one paint-spattered and holey, one blue denim, and one black denim. I’m still wearing my husband’s black socks to work, and he died six years ago. Hey, they’re warm, have worn like iron, and mostly don’t show under my slacks. No, they don’t work with dress shoes, but I barely ever wear dress shoes. Bunions and hammer toes are not welcome in my life. Just sayin’.

But going on this kind of a journey, opening up space for growth and movement with God, really appeals to me. Maybe my frugal nature will mean that my discipline somewhere along the way will be to add something instead of taking it away. I don’t have it all figured out yet. But I’m starting with food.

Jen carefully chose seven whole foods to limit herself to for a month. I already eat very little processed food and meat, enjoy lots of fruits and vegetables, and major on whole grains instead of highly refined. My goal will be to go without wheat or sugar this month. April 1 was the first day, and my first challenge came within hours, when my colleague Sean delivered to my desk the bag of dark-chocolate covered dried cherries I’d ordered maybe a month ago from his daughter’s high school band fundraiser and then forgotten about. “After this,” I told myself, and opened the bag. So good. I’ve had some each day. Until today. Because I felt so sluggish yesterday after I indulged in some. So they’re going away. Then my dear friend/cousin/soul-sister Becky and I decided to share Easter dinner, and the first thing out of my mouth was “Let’s just order pizza.” As good as that sounds, we’ve made a different plan. My part is to bring broccoli salad from the deli. It probably has sugar in the dressing. I’m at peace with that. it’s Easter after all.

Along with the dietary change, I want to see what exploring the concepts of bread, wheat, and sweetness, metaphorically speaking, reveals to me.

Today I read Psalm 81 because my concordance told me it has a reference to wheat in it. Just starting simple, you see. And by golly, it speaks to sweetness too. Sweet music, specifically, expressing joy and praise. So hmm, what if when I get the urge for chocolate or pie, I at least turn on music or better yet make some? Take a joy break? Consider the sweetness of God’s love for me?

Further in the psalm God says he desires to feed his people with the finest of wheat. That set me to wondering what the finest of wheat was in Biblical times. Thank you, Google, for filling me in. Given how different modern wheat is from ancient grains and how it’s prepared now, it makes sense that the vast majority of the types of carbs we eat have such an adverse affect on our health. We are settling for dust — too often contaminated dust at that.

I’m also on a quest to find raw, unfiltered, local honey.

I hope you’ll read Jen’s book, but be warned, it could shake you up. And that’s a good thing.

I’ll let you know how this goes.

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Margins

I like the actual physical act of writing with a pen, if it’s a decent pen. And I keep a journal in addition to blogging. As I’ve been writing with a fountain pen in my journal, I’ve noticed something interesting. I’m observing the right margin again. See, for years I’ve ignored it in the interest of making the book last longer. Ever the good steward, that’s me. Thrifty. Don’t waste paper and all that. But fountain pen writing slows me down, and the look of the page seems to matter more. Why is this?

Margins set off the words like matting sets off the picture in a frame. Is it that the act of writing with actual ink awakens the artist? I wonder.

I’ve been pondering those margins. Too much of my life is running clear to the edge, ignoring the need for margins. Hence life lacks a certain attractiveness and I crave beauty. Too much is crammed onto each line, or into each day, and I feel mentally messy and chaotic and exhausted. Burnout is a lack of white space.

Good steward, did I say? Hmm, maybe of paper. But not so much of myself. Which is more valuable? (That’s a rhetorical question, just to be perfectly clear.) Will I ever finish learning that lesson?

There is something to be said for living full out. I have written many times in my journal that that is my desire, made it my prayer. And yet. I must also create new margins in my life and rediscover the beauty of old ones in order to sustain a full out life.

in The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz has written that we are made to pulse, not to run continuously like machines. Full out, then rest and play. Repeat.

Sounds like margins to me.

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Bring it on

Going up and down stairs made my day today.

Our building is being remodeled while we continue to work in it. First I was moved out of my office into a temporary space so they could knock out a wall and make a classroom. Then Friday I moved upstairs to a second temporary space so they can convert that other space for another use. Eventually I’ll get a new permanent office upstairs, but that’s not the point today.

First, I’m reminded every day of this process, as if my work doesn’t remind me enough, that flexibility is key. In fact, my entire life to this point has taught me that I must remain flexible. I’m not just talking physical here – adapt, and adapt again, and stay true to myself in the process. I can do this.

Second, I welcome going up and down stairs multiple times each day. I’ve been too sedentary for too long. It felt good today.

Yeah, I know going up and down a flight of stairs only burns, like, 9 calories. But I did it probably a dozen times today. It’s a start. It’s more.

Get the blood pumping, and stay flexible. Good things.

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