Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bittersweet Pain

The other day I started to make a list of all the things that I'm thankful for. The list included pears. How many of us would even think to list pears as one of the great gifts in our life??? Four years ago, before my illness, if I made the same gratitude list, I wouldn't have listed pears. Now living a very restricted diet and a very restricted lifestyle, I am so much more grateful for the simple things in life! That is why the pain is bittersweet. The bitterness we experience increases our capacity to feel the sweetness in life!

On that note, I just got an email from a dear friend. She told me of all the health, family, mental, financial struggles she is currently experiencing. Hearing her real-life dramas of divorce, infidelity, children making poor choices, and health struggles made me wish I could do more to help her. It also made me more grateful for the simple blessings in my own life. And hopefully someone else out there who is reading my blog and feeling down will be able to recognize similar blessings in their own lives. What are some of the simple things you're thankful for? 

Be Selfish Sometimes

It really is true that we do unto others as we do unto ourselves.Those who first love themselves are able to love others more genuinely. As we honor our own wants and needs, we can do the same for others...Those who truly love themselves--as opposed to being self-centered--can trust, accept, and support others from a [better] place...Make a list of the things you would like to do for yourself, but haven't because you thought it would be too selfish. If you do these things, will your life be richer? Will you be happier?...If you answered yes to...these questions, your life and your relationships will benefit from the infusions of a little selfishness.
Sue Patton Thoele, A Woman's Book of Confidence

This was difficult for me to learn. (Let's be honest, I still struggle with caring for myself first.) But it's all about production management. When I take care of myself, I'm better able to care for others and happier while I'm doing it too! It's important to give yourself the rest that you need and deserve. If you have a day that is particularly painful or difficult, treat yourself to something nice. Find ways to lighten the tremendous load of illness by pampering yourself for a bit.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How do I afford healthy organic food? (Financial Solutions)

If you read the post before this one, I know what you're thinking...eating healthy organic food can be very expensive! But look at it this way--healthy food is a long-term investment. The healthier you eat, the less money you will need to spend later on expensive medications and doctor visits.

1.Don't try to go organic all at once. When you go shopping compare the prices of regular food to organic food. If the difference is only 20 cents, then start there. Gradually add other organic foods into your diet.

2."Shop farmers' markets, or become a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm; in return for a seasonal fee, you'll get a weekly share of the harvest. Visit for CSA options near you." ("6 Ways to Save the World" O magazine)
3. Search the internet for your local grocery store's website. The store will usually post what produce is on sale. Plan your meals around what fruits and veggies are cheap and in season.

How to avoid getting CANCER (healthy goodness)

"The American Cancer Society reports that one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer. Yet, the No.1 risk factor associated with cancer death is diet." (, July 2008) If you already have cancer and are reading the title of the post, you're probably a little bugged right now. I know that most often when people are diagnosed with cancer or other chronic illnesses, it isn't a result of choices that they've made. I lived a very active, healthy life before I became ill. I also know what it's like to try to control every aspect of your environment (what you eat, how much you exercise, etc.) and still be very ill. There is nothing you did to cause your illness. BUT there are prevention steps everyone can take for some cancers, and if you're already sick, this advice will really help your body handle your illness. Better recommends, based on research, the following...

1. Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily. (For example; fix yourself a big salad on most days of the week. If you have Crohn's disease, IBS, or a similar illness check with your doctor before adding a lot of raw veggies to your diet.)
2. Eat organic whenever possible to avoid harmful preservatives, pesticides, hormones, and other cancer-causing substances; new research also indicates that organic foods have higher nutritive value.
3. Drink more pure water (avoid sodas).
4.Choose essential fatty acids. Take an omega-3 product.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

GIVE YOURSELF Some REST (Sleeplessness relief and pain relief)

Whether you're sick or healthy, this post can help you get more Zzzzzzzz's. You deserve it! I haven't had a full nights sleep in four years, so I'm very tired. With my illness, it's almost impossible to sleep through the night because the pain is so relentless and strong. But I have come across some great strategies that really help me sleep a lot better! The first three suggestions come from Dr. Woodson Merrell...

1. Dark Therapy: "Scientists studying the light-melatonin connection have discovered that the blue spectrum of light can disrupt circadian rhythms and keep you awake. Exposure to the blue light late at night--it's emitted by computers, televisions, even digital clocks--can wreak havoc with your body clock. Keep your room pitch-dark at night and cover all digital clock or DVD player readouts." ("Your Best Energy Source--Sound Sleep" O magazine, October 2008)

2. Behavioral Therapy: "Avoid nonsleep activities in bed (watching TV, eating, planning, or problem solving). Try to get up at the same time every morning, [and] don't get attached to unrealistic expectations of sleeping soundly every night." ("Your Best Energy Source--Sound Sleep" O magazine, October 2008) I make my bedroom a relaxing peaceful room, and I save clutter for the other rooms.

3. Acupuncture: "Because research suggests that acupuncture helps balance neurotransmitters, there's a logic for its use in promoting relaxation, which results better quality of sleep. In China acupuncture has been used successfully for thousands of years to treat sleep problems." ("Your Best Energy Source--Sound Sleep" O magazine, October 2008)

4. Routine: Creating a soothing bedtime routine is key. For example; take a shower, listen to calming music, or read a book.

5. Supplements: Health food stores sell natural sleep supplements. I have one called Nutrasleep and it contains natural herbs and vitamins that help you relax. If you need sleep medication, consult with your doctor. My doctor recommends Rozerem because it works with your natural wake-sleep cycle and is less habit-forming.

6. Aromatherapy: I buy a product called Anti-Stress Mind Repair from Earth Therapeutics. It has smells of lavender and chamomile. These aromas have been proven to be calming and are also natural way to relieve headaches.

Sweet dreams!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More free advice from a very sick blogger...

Do you ever feel confused, like your life is flying past you, without a lot of clarity on where it's going? This exerpt from the wonderful book My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, a cancer physician and counselor to chronically ill patients for more than 20 years, offers some insights into life and its randomness...
In 1998 Commonweal, the center at which I work, installed a labyrinth exactly like the one that has been in the cathedral at Chartres since 1300...Walking the labyrinth is deceptive. At the beginning one seems to be heading directly for the center when one is actually farthest away from it...Walking the labyrinth causes you to confront the world of illusion, the difference between our hard-edged perception of how the world works and how the world works. It can be a humbling experience...Could events [in my life] that seemed meaningless, or even wasteful, be taking me to a destination as surely as the twisting and turning path I had just followed? Perhaps my path only seemed random because I was still on it. At the end, from the center, would I someday see life as complete and whole and recognize a hidden direction and pattern that redeemed loss and failure and pain and utterly changed their meaning and value? Often it is only as a life becomes complete that the pattern which it upholds it, its underlying meaning, can become visible. (p.50)

It cost way too muh to be ill (Financial Solutions)

I just read in Newsweek this week that 1 in 5 is the "fraction of cancer patients with health insurance who still spend most or all of their savings paying for their medical care." ("We Fought Cancer...and Cancer Won")

Thankfully, Money magazine published an article entitled "50 Ways to Cut Your Health-Care Costs". If you are struggling to make ends meet because of medical costs, this article is very helpful!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Healthy Goodness...

At the time of my diagnosis, one the worst symptoms I experienced was nausea. I was vomiting all the time. It doesn't matter what your chronic illness is, it will be aggravated by your stomach digesting improperly. Sometimes, chronic illnesses can even be caused by an upset digestive system. Initially, my doctor tested me and treated me for a parasitic infection. (I had been living outside of the country for over a year.) Then, he had me do these important things...(Remember, it's important that you check with your doctor before you start any new treatments)

Probiotics - To place healthy bacteria in your digestive system, use probiotics--especially if you've been on a lot of antibiotics that can kill good bacteria. Better Nutrition says that probiotics are one of the "3 Household Essentials" (July 2008). "Probiotics improve resistance to respiratory infections, lower the risk of...allergies, and support healthy digestion. Probiotics are found in yogurt with live cultures and in supplements."

Elimination Diet
- If your stomach is upset, it could be from food allergies. It's important to meet with a doctor who guides you through all the steps of an elimination diet, so you can find out what your food-triggers are. I started out eating only veggies, rice and chicken and slowly added wheat, milk, soy, corn, eggs, sugar, nuts, etc. back into my diet. I paid attention to how I felt as I added these foods back into my diet. If I felt nauseous, groggy, or stuffed up, I knew I needed to eliminate that food from my diet.

Digestive Enzymes - These enzymes can help you digest your food better.

Fish Oil - This helps to heal any inflammation in your digestive track. Better Nutrition also recommends this as one of the "3 Household Essentials". It can help you have healthier hair, skin, and a healthier heart. It "helps to stabilize mood, reduce depression..., relieve PMS symptoms, alleviate attention deficit disorder..., and support healthy weight loss."

Nystatin - This help to kill any yeast overgrowth in the 'gut' that might be affecting your digestion.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bittersweet Pain

If you experience physical pain, please don't ignore it! I tried working two demanding jobs and ignored the pain I was in, but it kept getting worse. Now I know that as soon as my pain increases, I need to stop life's craziness, rest, and address the pain. Otherwise, I know it will get out of control and become more difficult to treat.

Newsweek featured an article entitled "The Changing Science of Pain" by Mary Carmichael (June 4, 2007). In the article, Mary discusses the complexities of chronic pain. Pain can be a beneficial signal in our body that tells us something is wrong. With chronic pain patients the neurons are constantly firing, screaming to the brain that something is wrong. "Chronic pain is one of the most pervasive and intractable medical conditions in the United States...Regardless of [the patient's] injuries, their genes, their gender or their background, nearly all chronic-pain patients agree on one thing: the hyperactive neurons can make life near unbearable. The cascade of changes in the nervous system can lead to an equally painful cascade of events in a patient's life; memory loss, job loss, marital strife, depression, suicide. And through it all the body hurts like hell."

How do you stop the pain?!

I've been through a lot of surgeries, medications, and experimental treatments. I have finally found a combination of therapies that help to somewhat numb the pain. Everyone responds differently to treatments, so be sure to consult your doctor before trying anything new.

I go to a multidisciplinary clinic. At the clinic, there are physical therapists, doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, dietitians, and psychologists all working together to treat pain. Chronic illness needs multipart therapy. Acupuncture helps with the nerve pain. Physical therapy treats muscle pain. Diet, medications and supplements help with inflammation, and my primary care doctor/ pain specialist oversees how it all works together.

As far as pain treatment goes, I love acupuncture. I would never voluntarily go and get 12 needles stuck in me several times a month unless it worked, and it definitely helps. Acupuncture interrupts the pain signals from continually firing, and gives me some needed relief.

Free Advice...

I often have to remind myself of the lessons I've learned from experiencing chronic physical pain. Initially, my diagnosis made me very angry--I couldn't accept the reality of a chronic physical illness at my young age. I fought the reality of an illness ruling my life. When the pain is extreme, it's difficult to accept. But I've learned that it's transformative to be at peace with the pain. Instead of bracing myself against an inevitable struggle, I can open myself up to the inevitable and accept the pain.

In his book, When You're Falling, Dive, Mark Matousek teaches, "When we attatch ourselves to a single outcome, it's easy to become hope's hostage... we risk spending our time consumed by longing...unhappy with what life has chosen to give us. Buddhism warns against too much clinging to desired outcomes we cannot control." (p.76) In order to conquer uncertainty and pain we have to really accept it as a reality of our lives. This isn't simple--it takes a certain kind of wisdom to accept all the crap life throws at you, but once you do, the pain isn't as consuming.

It costs way too much to be chronically sick... (Financial Solutions)

Tip #2
Try using cash this month for all of your expenses. Budget how much you want to spend for the month, and take out that exact amount in cash. Separate the cash into categories. For example, set aside $300 for groceries, $100 for gas, $20 for entertainment, etc. Once you use the allotted amount of cash, don't spend any more money. Compare what you spend in cash, using this system, to what you normally spend using a credit or debit card. Using cash can decrease your monthly spending. Less spending means more money for medicine, doctor visits, and hospital bills.

Tip #3
If your health insurance doesn't cover some of your prescriptions, or you've already reached your maximum prescription benefit for the year, there is help. There are websites that offer applications for prescription assistance.
If these websites don't offer help for a specific medication you are taking, then contact the company that makes the medication. Sometimes the company offers coupons or other ways to help you afford your medication. If it's a new medication that you are trying, ask the pharmacist to only fill a week of it. Don't pay for the entire medication until you know that it doesn't cause any adverse side effects and that it works for you.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chronic Illness Awareness Week!

This week is Chronic Illness Awareness Week!
Go to:
for information about the upcoming conference schedule that you can access online!


In his book The Inflammation Cure, Dr. Megs explains how almost all chronic sicknesses are related to some sort of inflammation in the body. He says that -itis is a suffix that means inflammation. Any disease ending in -itis is inflammation related. Arthritis, aging, and allergies come from inflammation in the body. Even dementia can be accelerated from inflammation!

Dr. Meggs supports eating fish and/or take fish oil! There isn't a cure for most chronic physical illnesses, but research shows taking fish oil can drastically improve how your body is able to handle disease. Fish oil or other types of Omega-3s can help you life a longer and healthier life!

Always consult your doctor before trying any new supplements. Ask your doctor for guidelines on how much fish oil to take, and what brands are best to use. My doctor recommended EPA-DHA Complex (Ultra Pure Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids) made by Metagenics. Taking Omega-3 essential fatty acids has reduced the inflammation in my body and helped to lessen my chronic pain!

Foods that reduce inflammation include:
Sweet Potato

I recommend reading The Inflammation Cure, by William Joel Meggs M.D., Ph.d. In his book, Dr. Meggs gives great examples of the benefits of eating an anti-inflammation diet. He recommends that you always eat lots of fruits and vegetables and add olive oil to your diet. Following this advice has been very beneficial in improving my health, pain, and need for medications!