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Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Bex and a Good Lie Down

I have no idea why I routinely commence these blogs with a description of the weather.  But why buck a trend?

It's a cool but overcast day today and I am, all in all in pretty good spirits.

After weeks of despair about the lack of meaningful work, I am in the throes of writing a lovely capability statement for one of my fave clients, who are based in Melbourne.

I love my work and find it very therapeutic these days, would you believe?

But this  is not why I am putting finger to keyboard today.

Today I have had an itch to share with you a really excellent line of reasoning I have fathomed to explain a possible cause of breast cancer.

Did you know that in Australia right now, roughly 14,000 plus women are diagnosed with breast cancer ever year BUT, by 2020 (yup, seven years from now), this number is expected to rise to 17,000 plus.

That's a staggering increase and I suppose I wouldn't be completely human if I didn't allow myself to dwell, albeit temporarily, on the reasons why the incidence of breast cancer is growing, well, like tumour.

Look, to be honest, I am a little impatient with the philosophical concept of causality.  We as a race seem obsessed with explaining things.

Having originated from a mainly Buddhist culture, there is a part of me that prefers a certain fatalism.

My predisposition in the main is to argue that fate is random.

Why does everything have to have a reason?  Some things just are.

One can get one's self in a needless lather in a quest to find an answer to that most perplexing of questions: Why.  Or as one particularly articulate solicitor friend of mine, once notoriously questioned in a personal injuries case before a court:  "Why, oh why, oh why, oh why".

Where breast cancer is concerned, several theories abound, and among those I give credence to are the following:
  • Genetics
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (more than 2 standard drinks a day)
  • Having your first child after the age of 30.
  • Fertility treatments.
Some specialists claim other factors could be considered.  Such as starting menstruation early.  Or not breastfeeding long enough.  I guess, in the main, anything that stuffs around with your hormones should be considered.

My sister, Fiona, who is given to profundities that elude me (these days!), even has a theory about emotional states and their impact on the whole shebang.

But there are other potential causes, posited in brief in various literature but backed by little evidence-based research.

One I've fixated upon is the (possible likely) influence of phytoestrogens.

You see, breast cancer feeds on oestrogen, and phytoestrogens apparently impact oestrogen.  It's not such a long bow don't you think?

Did you know that phytoestrogens in the form of non-organic, manufactured soy products are distributed to an alarming extent throughout our food system.  Chocolate, yoghurt, peanut butter... it's the substance used to make things creamier and, in its name, gazillions of hectares of the Amazon and other important habitat have been razed to the ground.

What to do?  Become some sort of organic nut, slaving over a domestic buttery, yoghurt maker, juicer, fruit dehydrator?  Slaughter my own hens?  Rear my own llamas?  Hive my own bees? Maybe weave my own clothes?  Take to making incense sticks from patchouli to sell at the markets along with my fatted pigs and those Indian dreamcatcher things (that always look like very bad macrame)?  

Hell, I should have made do without caesarians too and Harry and I should have perished in child birth - just like the good old days.

The fact is that I'd rather spend my time playing sport, reading, painting, entertaining my friends, raising funds for my causes - than bothering with all of this.  Living a full life takes devotion and I'm afraid, perfecting my home-butter doesn't make it into my bucket list.

I have no patience and, as far as I am concerned at least, the horse has bolted.  So screw it.  Pass me the chocolate!

But today, a lightbulb moment.

Look at this stupid graphic I googled.  It's even got the photographer's stamp on it in case you are so desperate, you want to use this contrived and completely unnatural image in one of those documents you may be preparing for one of your multi-million-dollar pitches.  I don't know about you, but it had me immediately thinking of 'Liceblaster'...

Today I have come up with a new and different theory about the causes of breast cancer, with my train of thought developing as follows:

It seems a lot of women (including me) are obsessed with exercise and losing weight.  Health size 10?  Not thin enough!

But the cautionary thing is this.  Of the women I know who have had breast cancer, the vast majority - yes, the majority - report that they were in their absolute "prime" when calamity struck.

Many if not most of the breast cancer babes I know were fitness and health nuts - and I mean NUTS.  You would have believed they were the very last people on earth to have ended up with this DREADED DISEASE.  (Note dramatic use of capitals).

You see, if I was a scientist - which I sometimes am when, for example, attempting to dispel unpleasant odours left by rotting pork chops, forgotten in the back of Al's Prius -  I'd be investigating the effects of CORTISOL on our health.

Science has proved that women who have high stress levels at the time of conception - such as money worries, a demanding job, or living up to family or societal expectations - have higher chances of producing a girl.

If cortisol = girl; then girl must = Estrogen.   And we know Estrogen = cancer (infact, breast cancer feeds on estrogen).

Cortisol, as you might know, is a stress hormone.  It's created by the adrenal glands.

The reality is that most women today exist in a state of high stress. We stress about our looks, our clothes, our children, our relationships.  (Some of us stress about sagging boobs.  Others stress because their mastectomy scar is bloody itchy.)

We extend ourselves to ridiculous heights because, it seems, the bar is never high enough.

These days women are never thin enough.  There skin isn't smooth enough.  There lips don't pout enough.  We aren't being paid enough.  Our husbands don't listen enough.  Our children aren't brilliant enough.  Our gardens aren't weeded enough. Our dogs aren't trained enough (shit, Spunky, when will you EVER learn how to fetch me a cup of tea, dumb dog).

In short, our lives are neither pristine nor perfect enough and so we stress, stress, stress.

Already slim but wait! (or Weight!).  You need to be as thin as that 20 year old.  As muscled as Michelle Bridges.  As gorgeous as Heidi Klum at 40.

Already smart?  But wait, little Junior must get an OP 1 or else we will remain unvalidated and unworthy.

Already living a great life?  Then let's stress about something else?  Our families.  Our friends.  What's going on in Syria.  Or Outer Space.

So women stress out.

So they practice yoga - no, you fool.  Not the one that involves breathing, sitting still and langourous stretches.  No, you have to feel the burn.    You have to do it in a room heated to 400 degrees so you feel like one of those hot chickens in the window of the counter at the IGA.  You have to become a human pretzel.  Fatless, limber, an Olympic gymnast at 80 - that's the goal!

So they meditate like a guru - perhaps in a cupboard under the stairs, which may be the only place they get some peace and quiet.  Then they emerge to scream at the kids to pick up their towels.

So they sit on their bums, thinking laziness passes for 'inner peace'.  Meanwhile I see them screaming at their kids, equilibrium too easily upset by small annoyances.  Actually, that also applies to people who don't sit on their bums.  Our equilibrium, overall these days, seems to be too easily upset.

Or they turn to alcohol and/or anti-depressants.   Or shopping (which has the same effect - I mean, who isn't instantly uplifted by the sight of a bargain).

But stress isn't just a 'first world' problem.

Over on the other side of the world, in those developing countries where they actually have you know REAL PROBLEMS, the stress is even worse.

On my various journeys around the world, I've seen them first hand.  While men loll lazily in doorways, it's the women sweeping, toiling, carting, washing, begging.  Those bastard males just get to lie on their bums, chewing their beetlenut.  It's an effort even to scratch their balls through their cool sarongs.

Never mind that.  I think we can all relate to the levels of stress that any grandmother, mother, sister, or aunty feels when the family struggles.  Poverty with its plethora of associated ills is, in my view, the ultimate stressor.

Effectively, ladies, what I'm saying is: It is fucking stressful being a woman these days.

Unlike our grandmothers, no, we aren't content with baking cookies and slow gossip at the town hall after Church on Sundays.

Mass media has meant that we constantly have inequity shoved in our faces.  There is always someone we know who is 'better off'.

That human tendency to compare ourselves has been pushed to the zenith until it has all become about exteriors, keeping up, worrying about what people will think.

And it's not necessarily conscious.

Meanwhile, we don't have that grounding force which is that extended network that was once typical of smaller communities - families working together for mutual goals; friends who would check in from time to time to say hello and see if we were okay.

We have become stressed AND we have become disconnected.  Perhaps even lost.

We are all isolated and alone, our insecurities fuelled by day-time TV and those fucking Kadarshians.

Could it really be cortisol?   Is stress really the root cause of rogue levels of oestrogen, feeding latent cancers?

The Harvard Medical School maintains walking as little as three times a week for 30 minutes reduces the recurrence of breast cancer by 50%.  Is there a reason why it's gentle WALKING and not riding a bike up Mt Coot-tha in low gear while carrying Clive Palmer on your back?

Nutritionists maintain that a diet rich in greens, with smaller portions of carbohydrates and protein assist in preventing recurrence.  Is there a reason why there are no urgent strictures about avoiding certain food groups, not eating after a certain time, not eating while wearing anything floral, perhaps not eating at all, NOT NOT NOT?

I believe there is and the reason is stress.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to imagine you life without stress.

But for what it's worth, I hope I have made you at least stop and think about why managing your stress levels is more important than you think.

These days, I notice the younger kids have a saying when the adults are losing it:  "Calm your farm" (best expressed in the intonation of a Julia Gillardn -  possibly ith the word 'Love' attached for extra effect.

Maybe those ankle biters know something we don't.

'Calm ya farm, Love.'

Take that chill pill.  Cool your engine.

For today, that's my breast advice.

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