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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stressed is Not Best

What is the cause of breast cancer? 

It's one of those questions that I find most people ask. But the reality is, causality is very, very rarely linear when we talk about cancer.

Smoking, obesity, alcohol and lack of exercise are often paraded as causes. But they're just cookie cutter bad guys which have to be demonised for the general good.

A fat, lazy drunk sucking on a durry is doomed to die of every disease known to modern man.

Then there are genes. But did you know breast cancer is in fact way down the table when it comes to what's called 'heritability'? It's a lot less likely to be an inherited disease compared to, for example, psychiatric disorders and diabetes.  Check this out:


And of course, being humans, you have to also accept that however close a cause and effect, there are no guarantees either way. Plenty of smokers don't get cancer; non-drinkers can die of liver cancer too.

I do have one theory on the cause - or should that be a cause of breast cancer.

Keeping in mind that I am a charlatan behind a keyboard, my theory is that the root cause of most diseases is actually STRESS.

Where cancer is concerned, I believe there are some scientists who suggest that we all carry a few dodgy cells.  Come on -  with over 37 trillion of the suckers, you surely can't believe that every single one of them is a good guy?

I therefore personally believe - based on no medical evidence whatsoever - that stress is the trigger that sends cells amok, leading to the duplication that means cancer.

Alcohol is also considered a culprit right? Well, why do people drink? They've had a hard day at work; they were stuck in traffic for an hour; they're really wound up....Stress!

Obesity is a culprit? Why do people overeat? They feel judged; they feel unloved; their mum told them they were useless. ... Stress!

Women having babies later in life and women approaching menopause are supposed to be at higher risk, right? Well, what is the by-product of all the seismic hormonal changes impacting your body chemistry? Stress!

Add in the raft of modern day stresses imposed by the hectic, competitive, confused, challenging, conflicted world of modern women wanting to do and be it all and somewhere in there is some of the answer.

Remember, stress isn't just physical.  It can be psychological, emotional, financial, social or spiritual.  These days we might even add a new kind of stress:  Identity Stress.  We all seem to be struggling more and more to describe who we are and what we stand for.  Even political parties don't seem to know what they stand for.  Arthur is Martha.  Husbands are mothers, and mums wear the pants.  We all seem to be having a crisis of some kind:  a crisis of purpose; a crisis of direction; a crisis of epic what-the-fuck proportions.

So, it's actually the fat, lazy drunk sucking on a durry but who is in reality just STRESSED STRESSED STRESSED who is truly doomed.

Now the problem with my hypothesis is, of course, that of all the possible causes, stress is the hardest thing of all to identify.

Stress for all of us is, really, rarely intuited. It's like a fine dust that wafts in unseen and settles upon us in layers, compacting often very slowly until one day it combusts into a dust tsunami.

See that woman shouting abuse from her speeding car window? I call STRESS... and wonder what set her off. Is she running late for an appointment?  Did her teenager shout at her this morning.

See that couple who suddenly start bickering over something petty and banal? One is shouting and storms off? Things escalate and suddenly, he's packed his gear and moved out? STRESS!

Financial worries, work problems, family difficulties, screaming kids, self esteem issues, medication regimes, aches and pains, unresolved arguments, pressing concerns, minor grievances, a sleepless night, even unaddressed childhood traumas ... in they waft - silent, colourless and odourless - settling upon us, layer after layer after layer.

Until.... until....

Stress is all around us. But being woefully underequipped as humans we usually fail to take preventative steps, if at all, when it is just all too late.

The best we can do to mitigate it is to mindfully practice stress reduction knowing that even if we can't see the dust, as sure as eggs, it's there. (Why are eggs 'sure' BTW?)

Here are seven things that are easy to do:

  1. Review your current priorities and ditch anything that is just not important.  Declutter your personal agenda.  
  2. Whatever you are doing, remember to take a break.  Even good stuff can be overdone.  You can in fact diet and exercise your way to an eating disorder.    And here in Australia we recently lost an Iron Man who died suddenly.  A cardiologist confirms that over-exercise can lead to scarring of the arteries.  Who knew?
  3. Accept that the only true thing that we can control is our own reactions and attitudes. The desire to control every outcome in our lives is the biggest cause of stress in our lives.  Try a bit of que sera sera and just go with the flow from time to time.
  4. Give yourself permission to rest. Who said life had to be a competition?  And who said you had to be first or the best all of the time?  It's actually not such a bad life coming third or even last.  Did you know the leader of the wolf pack is in fact the last animal in the pack?  My sister Nicky, for example, is often arguing that it's the fat lazy slobs who actually seem to live the longest.  I am thinking she might be onto something there.
  5. Remove the word 'compare' from your vocabulary.  There is nothing more stressful than comparing yourself to someone else and, of course, social media doesn't help.  Just go with my mantra;  Nothing and No-one is as they might seem.  Alll you need to be is the best version of you... for today.  That's it!
  6. Accept responsibility for and own your own life - no ifs or buts. Blame of any kind only exacerbates stress.  There is nothing more freeing than being able to say:  This may be an ordinary kind of fucked-up life but hey, I created it and it's all mine!
And most importantly:

      7 Breathe - deeply and often.

What could be easier than that, eh?

Friday, June 9, 2017

We Go On

Today is an exciting day.

In what is turning out to be a productive year,  I have managed to strike two things off my very short bucket list.

One was a trip to Antarctica - a never-to-be-repeated once in a lifetime experience that will stay with me until the day I die (which hopefully isn't any time soon).

The second is this.  I wrote a song.  It's my third one actually but...   not only did I write it but I took it all the way.  I have had it produced and as you will see from the nifty little download button to the right, I am hoping all my dear readers will see their way to parting with $2.50 to download it.   (You can also download it from Spotify, iTunes and other streaming services).

All proceeds go to Mental Health Research.

Now some people who heard my own pathetic attempts to caterwaul this song were less than complimentary.  In fact, the girl I work with was positively rude.  My eldest son, Harry, seemed to think the song was miserable.

Well it's not...

And the 50 ladies from the Redlands Branch of the Cancer Council would back me up there.

Because today, I unveiled the song at a presentation I made at the Redland Bay Golf Club.  (Do you know the Redlands chapter of the Council - all those wonderful ladies who man all those roadside stalls, who so generously bake and sew and crochet - last year alone raised $92,000 and took out the top fundraising prize for the organisation?).

The event was the Club's first ever Biggest Morning Tea (capably organised by the lovely young girl who runs their functions, the bubbly Chelsea Morris).

In a nutshell, what I explained to the ladies is that - after the complete utter shit fucking bastard arsehole time I've had, I have kept going.  Despite the whole saga of cancer and a double mastectomy, I have managed to still travel widely, undertake new hobbies and interests, and notch up some achievements such as my book and the commencement of my phD (most exciting!). I listed off all the major events that I marked over the past five years too:  turning 50, my dad turning 80, my sons turning 21 and 18 respectively, one finishing Uni the other finishing school.

Since 2012 as well, I kept going... literally... living at four different addresses.  (You do realise that moving house is up there with death in terms of stress levels, I suppose?)

In the meantime of course, you will all by now be well aware of all the other woeful stuff that has beset me:  more cancer, the death of my dog, my broken wrist, two savage defamation actions, and of course... the end of my marriage.

As I said today:  At any point, I could have given up, but I have kept going.  

17 minutes later, I had my audience literally in tears as I explained the important things that I have learned from all of this:  the indomitability of the human spirit; the relentlessness of life; and the way humans are in fact engineered not for failing but rising - not for suffering but celebration - and not for falling but flying,

I have to tell you it was good stuff... even if I do say so myself.

Many ladies told me I was "inspiring" and I also received a couple of hugs from ladies with wet lashes.  The local MP the lovely Matt McEachan (who I accidentallly called Mark) told me he was so inspired by my talk he felt like reciting a poem (which he did - not only is he a politician, I discovered, but a slam poetry afficionado!).

My mission, therefore, was accomplished.  A good speech is one that arouses emotions and it seems this was achieved...

You see, I really believe it  We Go On.  Life goes on.    Often in our misery we tend to feel as if the world stops - as if life isn't worth living - yet life is inexorable.  It's everywhere.  That's my point.

So no matter how hard a time you may be having - even if you are at death's door - there is something truly enlivening and exciting about knowing that we are all part of it, this amazing and wonderful thing that is living and life.  We are all in it and part of it.



We are all passing through it's true but in the process we all leave something behind, a piece of us that informs the whole - that whole thing that is this vast, endlessly pulsating thing that is LIFE. 

It is enough to know that our hearts have beaten -  for what big, brave hearts they are to have contributed to this huge and wondrously ever-expanding thing that is LIFE.

We. Go. On.


Now, if you'd like to hear the song before you choose to part with your $2.50, you can watch it here.  

With thanks to Harry's lovely friend, Trent who made my video for  me for a song (literally) :)  Also to the wonderful singer Sarah Calderwood who loaned me her fabulous tonsils (and flute-playing skills) and producer Michael Fix (who is quite famous I'll have you know).

A very special thanks too,  to my good friend and fellow breast cancer survivor Mary Holdsworth who encourages me to pursue these creative whims.   Mary is herself a wonderful country singer and has been there for me since day dot, providing her patient advice and counsel even as I sobbed my eyes out.