Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tip #9: Remember the Power of Now

Some years ago I bought the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It was when he was in Oprah and it seemed like everyone was talking about it. I didn't have time to actually watch Oprah, but I found the title intriguing enough to buy the book. I started reading it, felt totally lost and bored after 10 pages and that was that. Still, the words in the title, the power of "right" now, were very alluring. I just had a bit problem with the idea of "But what if "now"actually sucks?" In any case, I decided to give it a try last year. I needed to know there was power somewhere, and the power of now started to sound good again.

Well, I have to say that now I'm a convinced believer and that book  is one I love to recommend. I think everyone should read it, at least give it a try (more than 10 pages). But you should particularly read it if you are going through a crisis.

I will tell you now my super short version of what I learned from it, with the hope that you find it interesting enough so you read it, or at least consider it. Here it goes.

In our daily lives, we tend to be accompanied by a voice inside our heads that is constantly talking like a mad person. The voice tells us things like "You should do that instead," "Who do you think you are," "I cannot believe she said that. She really is pushy," "Does this dress make me fat?," "What are we going to have for dinner? I forgot to buy the salad dressing." Or, much, much worse things. You all know what I'm talking about. Well, we need to pay attention to that voice (who he calls "ego"), listen to it as if it were other person talking and realize that it is not reality, and then proceed to stop it completely or minimize it as much as possible. Reality is what's in front of you, in my case the computer where I'm typing. Nothing hurts me as I type. Nothing bothers me as I type. And, as I'm quite distracted with this activity, that is, I am consciously typing, there are no voices in my head telling me anything. Of course, I can stop typing and then I can hear it: "Writing a blog post? How stupid is that? I still have to make dinner. I forgot the laundry. How can I make plans for the summer? My PET scan is in May, I'm getting nervous already. What if I'm not in remission any more?" We need to learn to say STOP to this voice that we all have. What we have is now, pure and simple. The past is not there any more. We can remember it, if we want to, but we cannot go back. And the future does not really exist either. No one can assure us tomorrow (or even five seconds from now).

So, what to do? I have trained myself now, more or less, to be in the moment as much as possible. I love that sentence: "be in the moment" (my yoga teacher says it in every class and it is such a great reminder). In this "moment" you can plan for the future, for things like "I need to go to the grocery store before I go to school." Maybe even retirement, or long term plans like that. But make those plans part of your now, that is, enjoy making them as much as getting there.

Remember this one thing: make this moment count as much as possible. It is what we have. Don't waste it listening to that voice that teaches you nothing. In my weekly walks to school, I often hear that voice telling me a million things. I then remember to say: STOP! And you know what happens every time? I see my surrounding with new eyes. I notice the trees, or a flower, or a bird, or a cloud and I see their beauty and wisdom and I feel peace.

And, together with this idea of the power of now, come the concepts of acceptance (instead of resistance) and surrender. But I will talk about them in other tips.

PS: What do you think of the sign my eleven year old son made me for this post on Photoshop? Pretty cool, isn't it? I love it!

Let me know if you have read the book and what you thought about it!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tip #8: Learn about inflammation, maybe even yours

Before last year, I had never really heard of inflammation. Or if I had, I don't remember. But I instantly perked up when I read the following:
 "At the Glasgow Hospital in Scotland, oncologists have been measuring inflammation markers in the blood of patients with various cancers since the nineties. They have shown that patients with the lowest level of inflammation were twice as likely as the others to live through the next several years. These markers are easy to measure, and to the astonishment of the Glasgow oncologists, they are a better indicator of the chances of survival than the patient’s general state of health at the time of diagnosis".  
Servan-Schreiber MD PhD, David (2009-12-31). Anticancer, A New Way of Life, New Edition (Kindle Locations 926-931).
In fact, I found out that your level of inflammation (as measured according to the The Glasgow Prognostic Score) at the time of diagnosis is a better indicator of survival than the stage of your cancer. Thus, you may be diagnosed with a Stage IV cancer but, if you have low inflammation, you will probably live longer than somebody with Stage I with high inflammation. This was great news! There was something I could do: Keep my inflammation low. I learned most of this through my nutritionist (I'll talk more about her in another tip) and, with her help, I follow now a plan to control my inflammation.

So, what is inflammation? The way I understand it, your body has an inflammatory reaction when you get a bruise or a cut and this is good, as it your body's way to heal that bruise or cut. But, in our modern world, we attack our own bodies with the food we eat, the little exercise we do, with stress, etc and cause systemic inflammation that affects the whole body. This inflammation is actually at the root cause of many diseases: Type II diabetes, heart disease, some autoimmune diseases and, possibly, also cancer.

From what I've learned, I feel that everyone should have an idea of how "inflamed" they actually are. There is a simple blood test that can actually tell you. It is called the C-Reactive Protein test (or CRP). I'm not suggesting that you go to your doctor right now to have it done. But maybe, next time you have a check up, you can ask for this. It is normally used to predict the risk of cardiovascular disease, but I think it is good to know for all the other things mentioned. If you have a high CRP it may indicate an underlying problem you may not even be aware of.

Here is some more information about it:
And to keep your inflammation low, the same things that you always hear apply here too: have a healthy diet (lots of greens, organic products, not processed foods), avoid stress, cultivate friendships and connections with others, you know, everything I've been telling you. :)

And, just for reinforcement, here's a 2 minute video about it:

You know, you still can have low inflammation AND cancer, like it happened to me. The first time I was tested for the CRP, about three months after my diagnosis last year, my inflammation was extremely low. But, that number still gave me lots of hope, and, who knows, maybe that's one of the reasons why I'm responding so well to my treatment. 

To your health(y CRP)!!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tip #7: Love

As next week is Valentine's day, I decided to write about love. In my own life, this past year I have re-discovered the unbelievable power of love. The love of my husband, the love of my family, the love of my old friends, the love of my new friends (whom I met in my new journey, in my online support group, in my yoga for cancer patients class), the love of strangers in many countries praying for me. All this love carried me through in the hard times, gave me the strength I needed and provided me with an immense joy. I now know that I matter to so many people and I am extremely thankful for it.

Scientifically too, this power that I felt this year has been studied. Here's the Amazon review for Dr. Dean Ornish's book Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy:
"Ornish demonstrates that personal intimacy and other aspects of emotional well-being--all the elements that make up what we call "love"--are as important to our physical condition as to our mental health. Not only do these positive emotions motivate us to make better lifestyle choices, Ornish argues, they also have a powerful direct effect on our bodies, giving us stronger immune systems, better cardiovascular functioning, and longer life expectancies. But the benefits of opening our hearts to others go beyond curing our bodies of disease; it's also the first step toward healing our entire lives".
And, in his website, there are more resources where we can learn about the importance of creating connections, by spending more time with family and friends, listening, touching and meditating, among many things.

This week I also listened to a story on NPR that made me reflect on how love is, indeed, powerful. It is part of StoryCorps, where anyone can record another person so they can tell the story of their lives. You can hear them on the radio every Friday morning, or you can just go to their website. All the stories are preserved at the Library of Congress. I have always loved this project, and every single time I hear one of these stories I learn something, about love, about strength, about faith in humanity.

So, for all of you, here's a 3 minute story that teaches us that, if we have love, we should never give up. I hope you like it.

This week go ahead and give hugs, kisses and love. To your kids, family, friends and everyone. What you give, you'll get back, I promise, in health and in happiness.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tip #6: Walk

Exercise is one of those things everyone agrees on: we need to do more of it. The human body was not built to sit around all day. But that's just the problem. Our modern world makes us sit around for huge chunks of our days. We sit at the office and then, we sit at home, exhausted from sitting at the office all day. Here's an article I read just last week about how by living in the suburbs our lives have become much more sedentary and the risky implications to our health that this has ("Communities learn the good life can be a killer"). During my own research about cancer, one thing I discovered is that exercise is as important as diet when it comes to preventing and slowing the disease, if not even more important. For middle-aged women, it is particularly important, as estrogen can hide in fat cells (but not in muscle) and excess estrogen can provoke breast cancer (like the type I have).

But now the question is, what kind of exercise and how much of it. In the book Anticancer (see Tip#5), I learned about the fascinating studies of Dr Ornish on early prostrate cancer (PDF link), and how some lifestyle changes were able to affect very favorably the progression of the disease. In that study, the patients were recommended, among some other changes, like a vegan diet, stress management techniques, etc, to walk 30 minutes 6 times a week. The more the patients adhered to their programs, the better their results.

And in this other article from the New York Times, "What's the single best exercise?" one of the answers is this: brisk, interval-style walking: three minutes of fast walking, followed by three minutes of slower walking, repeated 10 times. That is, 30 minutes walking.

So, armed with this information, I started going to the gym around 5 days a week and did the 30 minute interval in the treadmill (as in the pic) and then I would take a stroll with my family on weekends. But that was when I took the semester off and had a lot of time. When I went back to work, this was not going to work, so this is what I have been doing now. Three days a week, I park my car about a bit less than a mile from work. I then HAVE TO walk about 15 minutes to get to work and 15 minutes back to my car. I bought a cute, little backpack for my laptop and books, so I'm also doing some weight bearing exercise for my bones at the same time (more on this on another tip). Then, on two days I go to the gym and do the 30 minute interval. One day a week, I do yoga.

Last semester, this wasn't easy and I ended up not going to the gym at all. So, this year I learned about an iPhone App called GymPact and you make a "pact" with your own money to go the gym as much as you decide or you lose that money. I have to say, it has worked for me so far (I've been using it for 5 weeks now).

One more thing I'll say about walking is that I definitely feel an improvement in my mood when I'm able to walk like this. There is also a very strong link between exercise and mild depression and if not for anything else, I do believe it can really help to make you happier. Here's some more information about it.

I think this is easy and can be rewarding. So, remember, just walk!

Do you have any other tips we may all use?

Thanks for reading!