Melanoma – Are You At Risk?

Melanoma - Are You At Risk?

Transcript of Podcast Episode 5: Melanoma – Are You At Risk? Includes an interview with Jordan Hill, who had a melanoma at age 24.

Introduction

Welcome to the BRCA gene mutation and cancer awareness podcast.  I am Christina Henry of Midlifestylist.com.  I am a Registered Nurse with a BRCA2 gene mutation.  My podcast will raise awareness of BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations and their link to an increased cancer risk.  BRCA gene mutations affect males and females equally, but there isn’t a lot of awareness in the community of the cancers that male carriers are at risk of.  My podcast aims to change that.  I will also discuss other topics of interest such as genetic counselling and testing, cancer screening and prophylactic surgery.  If you would like to know more about BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations, this podcast is for you.  Thanks for joining me.

Melanoma – Are You At Risk?

Many people do not realise that a BRCA 2 gene mutation increases your risk of melanoma.  This episode is to raise awareness of melanoma, not just for BRCA2 mutation carriers, but for the general public as well.

Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with one person diagnosed every 30 minutes.  Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the most common cause of cancer in 15 to 39 year olds.  It is the third most common cancer in Australian men and women.

In the US, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 2.6% (1 in 38) for whites, 0.1% (1 in 1000) for Blacks and 0.6% (1 in 167) for Hispanics.  For BRCA2 carriers, the risk is 3-5% in both males and females.

Family History of Melanoma and Genetic Mutations

Familial malignant melanoma is a genetic condition, usually identified when 2 or more first degree relatives such as a parent, sibling and/or child have a melanoma.  About 8% of people diagnosed with a melanoma have a first degree relative with one.  About 1-2% have 2 or more close relatives with a melanoma.  My family is high risk because my sister, brother and son have all had melanomas.

Two genes have been linked to familial melanoma – CDKN2A and CDK4.  A mutation in either of these genes increases your risk of melanoma, and may also increase your risk of pancreatic cancer.  Another gene, MC1R, is important for regulating pigment in the body.  Variations in this gene have been associated with freckling and red hair, and an increase in the risk for melanoma.

Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP) is a rare disorder in which people have a mutation in a gene needed for repair of UV radiation induced DNA damage.  People with XP have an extremely high rate of skin cancer, including melanoma.  Scientists believe that there are other genes not yet identified that also increase the risk of melanoma.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing for mutations in the CDKN2A gene is available.  However, genetic test results are unlikely to change care for people who have had melanoma or people with a strong family history of melanoma.  That is why the genetic counselor told me that there is a high probability of a genetic link for melanoma in my family, but there was little point in doing further testing to find it.  It wouldn’t alter the fact that my family needs ongoing screening.

Interview with Jordan Hill, Melanoma Survivor

Christina Henry, Interviewer with Jordan Hill, Melanoma survivor
Christina Henry, Interviewer with Jordan Hill, Melanoma survivor

My special guest today is my son Jordan Hill, who was diagnosed with a melanoma at age 24.  Welcome to my podcast, Jordan.

Jordan:  Thanks for having me.

Christina:  Can you tell us how you came to be diagnosed with a Stage 1 Melanoma at the age of 24?

J:  Well for several years you got me to go and have skin tests as a family and there were two or three doctors before we finally landed on this one at Mermaid Beach Practice.  They didn’t see anything wrong with this particular dot I had on my hand.  It started as a freckle.  Over time it started growing black and started looking really nasty.  I had random people come up to me in shops (because I work at Officeworks).  I had customers pointing out to me “Oh that doesn’t look very good” when I pointed out an item that they noticed on my hand and they commented on it.  I guess I never thought anything of it and for about two or three years it was like that. 

It was slowly getting worse and looking more black and violent.  So you started getting more checks done because we were still figuring out what it was.  So we had two skin doctors check and neither of them found anything wrong with it.  They just said it was nothing, and that it was no concern.  But the third skin doctor took one look at it and he zoomed up on it with this little device and it looked really gnarly.  So he took a biopsy out of it.  Within a few days I got a phone call and he said it was a Stage 1 Melanoma.

C:  What were the signs that this was not just an ordinary mole?  What did it look like compared to other moles?

J:  Well, all freckles are pretty faded and brown looking but this one started out as just a regular freckle but then over time it just went black and it was this black dot and it kept growing and growing.

C:  And it was jagged on the edge too wasn’t it?

J:  Yea

C:  I’ll put a photo up on my website Midlifestylist.com of how that melanoma looked.

What did the doctor actually do?

J:  Well he gave me a little local anaesthetic on the hand and he cut a little incision out of it.  It wasn’t so deep. It was only a little deep.  What I noticed when he had cut it out, there was still a tiny little black dot there.  When it was healing over the next week it wasn’t healing very well.  It was kind of struggling.  It was very “pussy” and I had to go back and get it cleaned.  But when it came back as a Stage 1 Melanoma I noticed that there was some black still there and so we needed a Plastic Surgeon to fully remove it and dig deeper into the tissues to make sure that it was all gone.

C:  So Jordan actually rang me.  I was on holiday in New Zealand and because, luckily I’m a nurse and I work with Plastic Surgeons I rang and made an appointment for Jordan to see a Plastic Surgeon that I knew.  He got him in the following week and within a week Jordan had plastic surgery to remove this.  They had to take a full thickness to remove the whole melanoma.  It’s about the size of a 50 cent piece and they had to take a graft from beneath his arm to cover that deficit.  So that can’t be just any doctor.  It had to be a plastic surgeon.  Once they did that the margins were clear.

My son's melanoma
My son’s melanoma before it was removed

So what kind of recovery did you need after that?

J:  It was a complete month off, not doing much with your hand basically.  They had a cast and bandaged up and everything.  I couldn’t move it.  I couldn’t do the things I usually do like work and play drums and guitar and all that.

But it gave me a lot of time off to think about how lucky I was to survive cancer basically.  And even though it didn’t look too threatening at the time, when I found out what it really was and what it entailed, and what it would have meant if it kept growing, because they said thankfully it was a very slow growing melanoma, if I’d left it for another year or two it would have gotten to a Stage 3 or 4 which is the deadly one where it spreads through the body, and I could have been dead basically by now.  So in that recovery time it gave me a second look on life and I feel much more grateful to be here because of that.

Jordan's hand showing the scar from the skin graft after his melanoma was removed
Jordan’s hand showing the scar from the skin graft after his melanoma was removed

C: Yea, it changes you hey?

J:  It does.  And because of that I now get my skin checked every six months and it doesn’t bother me.  I just go do it.  Even though the skin doctor I regularly go see says “oh, you don’t have to come back for another year or so”  I just go “No I still like to come every six months because I just like to be on top of it no matter what.”  It doesn’t phase me and it just makes me much happier to know that I’m free of any cancers on my skin.

C:  I took my kids to see the skin doctor from the time that they were really young and I know that that’s not a typical thing for people to do with children but because I work in that field of plastic surgery I’m quite paranoid about melanoma and skin cancer.  But also Jordan has very fair skin and red hair and that alone puts him at risk.  Plus the fact that his aunty and uncle both had melanomas.

J:  The thing was when I was about 10 or 12 I had cousins over for the day. We were in the pool all day in the sun and I had no sunscreen on, no shirt.  I remember how brutally bad I got sunburnt over my back.  That night you were just there putting all this cream and stuff on and it was the most painful …

C:  I put burn cream on but it was blistered .  I probably should have taken him to the Emergency Department at the hospital because he had second degree burns all over.

J:  Absolutely and I’ll never forget how brutally painful that was.

C:  I always kept the Silversadine Cream which is a burn cream on hand.  At the moment we use Solugel for any little sunburn or anything and it takes the redness away straight away.

What precautions do you take now to protect your skin?

J:  Well just going back to when I was sunburnt those many years ago I always from that point on always made sure I had some sunscreen or had jumpers on or hats just to make sure I’m as sun protected as possible.  If I was out in the open I’d try and find any shade possible and just try and make sure I was as under cover as possible, and not so much out in the sun.  But I think that it’s also too that the Australian sun is just much more stronger.  I went to Europe a few years ago and I barely got burnt and I was out in the sun almost every day.  I still put sunscreen on and everything and you can still get burnt but I find that in Australia the sun’s way more stronger and you can burn so easily. 

I can just walk out on the beach and within ten minutes I’d be burning and you could see I’m burning right in front of you.  But we also figured out too that, because I haven’t been really that sunburnt over the years, we figured out that the melanoma developed on the back of my hand from driving.  From the sun beaming in through the window.  You wouldn’t really think much of it but it makes sense.  That would be the only possible reason that I got the melanoma on the back of my hand.

C:  What advice would you give to other people?

J:  Definitely get your skin checked every couple of years at least.  If you’ve got fair skin like me or especially red hair at least once a year or two.  Just make sure you check your skin often.  If you notice weird bumps or weird changes to your freckles or anything just go and get them looked at.  It’s not worth just pondering around it because I never thought anything of the one I had and you know, I’d just get straight on to it.  I wouldn’t beat around the bush.

C:  And you’ve got to go to an actual skin doctor because they’re trained to look properly.

J:  They grab all these magnifying glasses and all this special equipment to look deep into any freckle or any mole and they can see all these different colours and they can tell whether it’s cancer or not straight away.

C:  They do mole mapping and he writes it all into his computer, any moles that he’s had a look at.  The one that we found that actually identified Jordan’s melanoma, we just stick with him.  We go to the same doctor every six months and he knows us.  He knows our skin.  He remembers lesions.  I point out everything, but I also check my skin regularly, more than once a week.  I’d say it was virtually every day.  I’m always having a good look on my skin.

J:  It doesn’t take that much effort to do it.

C:  Yea, but there’s areas that you can’t see yourself like your back and your scalp.

J:  Yea, that’s exactly why you go and get your skin checked.  It doesn’t matter about age as well, being 24 I didn’t think it would be a melanoma.  As a kid growing up you go to the doctor’s and you see all the skin charts with all the markings and stuff and you think it’s just what older people get and people in their 40s or 50s or older.  And while that is true, look, I was 24.  I never saw it coming.

C:  So that’s our message, to get your skin checked.  It doesn’t take long as Jordan said.  It’s a ten minute visit to your doctor regularly.  Especially if they’ve found any type of skin cancer in your family, that’s important:  to go get checked.  

Thank you Jordan, that was really great.

J:  No worries.

Screening for Melanoma

Anyone with a parent, sibling or child who has had a melanoma should be carefully monitored for melanoma themselves.  Skin examinations should be performed every 3 – 6 months by a specialist skin doctor to monitor any pigmented lesions.  It is important to watch moles closely for any signs of change in shape, size or colour.

Dermatologists may photograph moles, known as mole mapping, or view moles with a hand-held device called a dermatoscope.  This will assist the doctor to identify changes over time.  Any suspicious moles or other skin changes should be removed by a doctor so that the tissue can be analysed under a microscope.

Children should begin screening by age 10.  Regular self-examinations should be done monthly to look for skin changes.  

What to Look For

Moles are usually round or oval, an even coloured black, brown or tan spot on the skin.  They usually stay the same for many years.  Almost all moles are harmless, but any changes may indicate a melanoma is developing.  Look for any changes in shape, size or colour, or new moles on your skin. 

Watch for the following:

A – Asymmetry:  One half of the mole does not match the other;

B – Blurred:  The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred;

C – The colour is not the same all over and may include different shades of black or brown, and sometimes have patches of pink, red, white or blue;

D – Diameter: The spot is larger than 6mm (4 inches) across, although some melanomas are smaller than this;

E – Evolving:  The spot is changing in size, shape or colour.

The ABCDEs Of Detecting Melanoma: Asymmetry, Border, Colour, Diameter, Evolving
The ABCDEs Of Detecting Melanoma: Asymmetry, Border, Colour, Diameter, Evolving

Other warning signs are:

  • A spot that doesn’t heal;
  • Spread of pigment from the border into the surrounding skin;
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole;
  • Change in sensation such as an itch, tenderness or pain;
  • Change in the surface of the mole:  scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or a lump.
Warning signs of melanoma:
A spot that doesn't heal
Spread of pigment from border into surrounding skin
Redness or new swelling beyond border of mole
Change in sensation e.g. itch, tenderness or pain
Change in surface of mole:  scaliness, oozing, bleeding or a lump
Warning Signs of Melanoma

Show your doctor any changes such as these.  A yearly (six monthly if you are high risk) specialist skin check should be done because they will thoroughly check all the areas you are unable to see yourself such as your scalp and back.  Melanomas can appear in unusual places such as inside your mouth or on the coloured part of your eye, so it is important to show your doctor anything that you are concerned about.

Avoid Skin Exposure to Ultra Violet Rays

People who are high risk should avoid sun exposure and take steps to protect themselves when outdoors.  Man-made UV rays such as tanning beds should be avoided.  They are banned in Australia but may still be available overseas.

Avoid manicures and pedicures that use UV rays to set the nail art.  They have been known to cause melanomas in the nail bed.  The curing lamps used to dry shellac and gel during manicures expose nails to UV rays.  The UV rays you receive during a manicure are brief but intense, four times stronger than the sun’s UV rays.  Only 1.4% of melanomas occur on finger or toe nails.  Watch for any darkening of skin around the nail, infections or nails lifting, sensitivity or nodules under the nail.

Protect Your Skin From the Sun

Remember to use sunscreen with a high SP factor, preferably 50 plus.  Cover all exposed skin while in the sun and remember you can still get burnt in the winter.  Wear a hat and avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.  Protecting your skin from the sun helps you to avoid UV damage which may cause wrinkling and age spots, and expose you to developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

Thank you again to Jordan Hill for telling his story of how he was diagnosed with a melanoma at the age of 24.  Photos and more information will be on the website.

My next episode will focus on pancreatic cancer.  Many people, even those with a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation, are unaware of the increased risk of pancreatic and other cancers.  Because my dad passed away from pancreatic cancer it is a subject dear to me.  Thankyou for listening.

Outro

Do you want to learn more about BRCA gene mutations and cancer awareness?  Find me at Midlifestylist.com where you can read about this and living a healthy lifestyle.  Please subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss an episode.  If there is a topic you would like me to talk about you can contact me via Midlifestylist.com.  Thank you for listening.  

If you enjoyed this post please share on social media. You may also like to read:

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An Easter Celebration With My Family

A white bowl of vegan choc-nut balls on a wooden table.

This post includes a recipe for Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

Easter is a special occasion in my family.  It is a celebration.  This year I will spend Good Friday with my in-laws and Easter Sunday with my sons.  Even though I don’t go to church any more, it is hard to break away from family traditions.  My children appreciate the effort I make to create a joyous atmosphere.

Easter Traditions – Good Friday  

I grew up in a household where Roman Catholic traditions were honoured.  Therefore, we fasted during Lent and did not eat meat on Fridays.  We went to church nearly every day during Lent. Good Friday was a solemn occasion of prayer and fasting to reflect that Jesus died for our sins on the cross.

Traditionally Good Friday is the one day of the year that all the shops are closed in Australia. Many Australians keep to the tradition of eating fish on Good Friday, even when they are not Catholic.  My in-laws have their main Easter celebration on Good Friday. They don’t exactly fast though – there will be prawns and salmon on the menu! 

Easter Sunday Celebration

Easter Sunday was the main day for celebration in my family.  This was to reflect Jesus rising from the dead.  My parents would stop at the corner shop on the way to church and buy us one Easter egg each.  These days the shops are full of every kind of chocolate Easter egg and people spend a fortune on them.  It has become more commercialised like Christmas.

I have always enjoyed creating a special Easter for my family. I love cooking their favourite food, and hiding mini easter eggs for them to find.  My husband and I are empty nesters so these family gatherings are very special to us.

Making Vegan Easter Food

My son’s girlfriend is vegan and one of my sons is vegetarian.  I have been searching for vegan recipes so that I can make some easter treats for them.  I like to be inclusive and try to make everything vegan so that everyone can eat it.  It gets a bit tricky at times.  

There are some dishes that can’t be adjusted to make vegan versions, like pavlova.  But I have found some chocolate recipes that I can make or adapt, including the recipe below.  We will have  roast chicken, and I’ll make a roast cauliflower for them. I’ll bake vegan bread and have almond milk, vegan margarine and vegan snacks on hand.

A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench.  Easy healthy recipe to have at your Easter Celebration
An easy healthy recipe for vegan choc-nut balls. May be adapted if you are not vegan.
A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench

Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

These vegan choc-nut balls are so delicious the whole family will enjoy them. They contain lots of protein so have them after work-outs.
Prep Time 10 mins
Refrigeration time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Snack
Cuisine Healthy, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings 40 balls
Calories 66 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/2 cup Rolled Oats
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate protein powder
  • 1 cup vegan nut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 45 grams vegan chocolate chips Chop up small bar of vegan chocolate

Instructions
 

  • Stir together the oats, cocoa powder and protein powder in a large bowl.  Stir in the nut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Stir until combined.  A food processor may be used. Add the chocolate chips and stir through.
  • Line a flat container with kitchen greaseproof papers.  Use a small cookie scoop to form balls.  Roll in between hands.  
  • Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.  May be frozen.

Notes

If you are making a non-vegan recipe honey may be substituted for maple syrup.
Keyword Healthy, Snack, Vegan, Vegetarian

Covid-19 continues to disrupt plans

The one concern this year is that a sudden lockdown could be on the cards which would prevent us from being together.  My son lives in Brisbane, where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.  My other son was going to go on a road trip to Sydney and Melbourne but the borders have closed again.  

Once again travel arrangements are up in the air and the local tourist industry is suffering.  It will be so good to see an end to this pandemic as the continual disruptions to normal life are getting beyond a joke. Meanwhile we wait to see if further restrictions will affect our Easter celebration. I hope not.

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Achieving Goals By Being Self Motivated

Pink and Blue Clouds with caption: Achieving goals by being self motivated

Is Self Motivation Intrinsic or Learned?

Is self motivation a characteristic that we are born with or is it one that develops with maturity? I believe it is partly a characteristic we are born with, but it can be developed. Being self motivated helps you to reach your goals. It is part of being resilient and not giving up when the going gets tough.

I have always been self motivated.   Even when my upbringing did not support that.  I wasn’t particularly intelligent like my brother who could get straight As without too much effort.  My success in my education came from hard work and self motivation. My parents did not support me when I wanted to go to university.  Because I’m female they said it would be a waste of time because I would get married and wouldn’t use it. I always had a desire to earn a degree so I achieved it on my own, while I was working and looking after my young children. 

No-one needs to push me to do something,  my drive comes from inside of me.  I have never understood someone who doesn’t exercise unless they have someone else to exercise with. I have always had this characteristic, it is an intrinsic trait I was born with. Can someone who isn’t self motivated by nature develop that trait?  I believe they can.

Quote:  "Being self motivated helps you to reach your goals.  It is part of being resilient and not giving up when the going gets tough" Christina Henry, Midlifestylist.com
Being Self Motivated quote

My tips for becoming self motivated are:

Set deadlines for yourself. 

This works well if you tend to procrastinate.   For example my course officially finishes in May but I wanted to complete it before I go back to work in April so I worked on it for a minimum of an hour a day to reach my deadline. 

Routines are important.  

I wake up early so that I can walk my dog in the morning. I have improved my sleeping patterns so much just by going to bed at the same time.  If you have a set routine for your day, healthy habits become second nature.

Make appointments with yourself. 

This might sound crazy but if you schedule time in your week for exercise, meditation or self care activities you are more likely to achieve them. Make your goals a priority and they will be easier to achieve.

Get the support of others. 

I have never understood someone who won’t exercise unless they have a friend with them.  But for many people this makes the difference between doing it or not.  Just make sure your exercise partner is as enthusiastic as you or it might backfire.

Enlist the help of professionals. 

This has helped me enormously in two areas of my life.  I was successful in losing 19kg because I went to a dietician.  The Exercise Physiologist is training me to build up my strength after losing so much condition.   Neither of those goals would have been achievable without professional help. 

Invest in yourself.  

I admit there would have been times when I would have thrown in the towel during my immunisation course.  The only thing motivating me to keep going was the amount of money I invested in it.  You’re more likely to stick at something if you paid for it. 

A hand holding a piece of paper with the words "I can't do it". Scissors cutting the t off can't so that it reads "I can do it".  Underneath are the words I achieved my goals by being self motivated.  Hard work pays off.  Midlifestylist.com
I achieved my goals by being self motivated. Hard work pays off

How being self motivated has helped me

My big news is that I am about to reach my goal of returning to my job as a Registered Nurse. Those of you who have been regular followers know that I had complications after surgery last year. I had a haemorrhage after a bilateral mastectomy which resulted in two further surgeries and a long recovery. To be able to return to work I needed to be able to fulfil all the job requirements including being able to do CPR and heavy patient cares.

I have been seeing an Exercise Physiologist since November to work on my upper body strength because I was so deconditioned after not being able to exercise for six months. It was slow progress at first because I had so much pain from using muscles that had been neglected. This year I have really turned the corner and I am seeing great results from my hard work. My Exercise Physiologist timed me doing CPR and I was able to do it for 2 minutes without any problems at all. I also needed to lift 3kg above my head and do modified push ups which I have been able to do for the last few weeks.

Achieving My Goals By Being Self Motivated

My boss is supporting me to return to work gradually, starting at 2 days per week after Easter. I am so excited at the prospect of being able to work again! I used to think it would be great to not have to work but now that I’ve been forced into that position, all I have wanted to do is get back there! There’s more to work than making a living. It’s feeling fulfilled and making a contribution to society. Nursing is a very rewarding career.

My other achievement this week is that I completed my Immunisation course. This was my Plan B in case I couldn’t return to my job. It helped me to switch on my nursing brain, and I realised that I still have it! I still think like a nurse, and I am still capable of being able to use my 35 years of experience in a positive way. It gave me a lot of confidence in my own abilities.

My word of the year is resilience. Hard work definitely does pay off. Don’t give up!

The sense of achievement when you finally reach goals that have been incredibly challenging is like no other. These other articles may be of interest if you would like some motivation to reach your goals:

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Time for my Covid-19 Vaccine

Time for my Covid-19 vaccine

Why I’ll Be Happy to Have My Covid-19 Vaccine

I received the text message on my phone yesterday.   It’s my turn to have the Covid-19 vaccine.  I did a little happy dance as I have been eagerly waiting for this.  Because I’m a nurse I am in stage 1b of the Covid rollout.

Although Australia hasn’t had high numbers of cases, and Queensland has escaped the worst of the restrictions and lockdowns, I have been extremely worried about catching Covid-19.   I have several comorbidities and am already dealing with enough health issues as it is.  

I’ve become a bit of a hermit in the last year, social distancing to the extreme.  My trips to the grocery store, chemist and for medical appointments are my only outings, apart from visiting close friends and family. The opportunity to be vaccinated means I can return to life as I knew it pre-pandemic.  My elderly unwell parents-in-law can too.  

Image of a vaccine being injected into the upper arm.  Text: Time for my Covid-19 Vaccine.  Read to discover Why I am happy to have it
Time for my Covid-19 vaccine. Read to discover: Why I am happy to have it.

Worldwide Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Not everyone will agree with me. A number of people are concerned about the vaccine despite the education campaigns.  Being a new vaccine for a new disease, we don’t have all the answers yet.  There is so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of Covid-19,  and why some people have virtually no symptoms and some people become very sick or die.

A pandemic has never taken a toll on the worldwide population as this one has.  The numbers are staggering and the toll on life as we know it is unprecedented.   In over 30 years of nursing I’ve never seen anything like it.

This is Not the First New Vaccine for a Vaccine Preventable Disease

I have nursed people extremely unwell from vaccine preventable deaths.  We have occasional outbreaks of measles, pertussis (whooping cough) and other diseases.   Shingles caused by the varicella virus continues to make life miserable for elderly people.

Vaccines have drastically reduced the death and morbidity toll of many diseases worldwide.  Numbers of almost fully vaccinated children are very high in Australia, because we have funding for most of them via the National Immunisation Program. 

Even in my children’s time there have been advances in the development of vaccines.  Rotavirus had my son hospitalised at 8 months.  Babies are vaccinated against it now.  Likewise HPV – a virus that leads to cervical cancer.  Hopefully my kids’ generation won’t have to go through that.  

Vaccines have almost completely eradicated some diseases.  I have only nursed two patients with tetanus in my career.  Both were extremely ill, requiring intensive care.  They call it “lockjaw” for a reason – it causes severe muscular spasms and can lead to death.  Complacency with being vaccinated has led to increasing rates of diseases such as measles.  This may be due to people not witnessing the diseases and believing that they have no chance of contracting them.

My Training as a Nurse Immuniser

I am currently doing an Immunisation Practitioner course.  As a Registered Nurse I have been able to give vaccines my whole career.  This course will allow me to administer vaccines independently in clinics or other healthcare settings.

The course is extensive and very thorough.  Most of it requires a 100% pass mark.  Following this I will need to do a separate course for the Covid vaccine which is just as comprehensive.   Be reassured: the staff administering the vaccine will be well trained.  

There was an unfortunate incident where a doctor administered four times the dose to residents of a nursing home.  If he had actually done the training he would have known that the vaccine comes in a multi-dose vial and needs to be diluted.  Swift action by a nurse brought it to the attention of health authorities. The patients were monitored in hospital and they suffered nil ill effects.  

This is a poster I designed for my Immunisation Course.  Pneumococcal Vaccines are now on the National Immunisation Schedule in Australia
This is a poster I designed for my Immunisation Course. Pneumococcal Vaccines are now on the National Immunisation Schedule in Australia

Ensuring the Vaccine Is Safe and Effective

The vaccine has been through clinical trials to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (similar to the FDA in the US).   Any side effects experienced by vaccine recipients will be reported to the TGA. The effectiveness of the vaccine will be closely monitored as well to ensure that it is not only safe, but has led to immunity from Covid-19.

Despite this, there will still be people concerned about getting the vaccine, and some will straight out refuse.  My suggestion would be to talk to your GP especially if you have health issues or have had reactions to other vaccines, medications or substances. 

Side Effects of Vaccines

Any vaccine (or medication) will have side effects.  The side effects are usually mild in most cases but there is always the potential for an anaphylactic reaction. 

A healthcare worker unfortunately had an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine yesterday.  She had a history of anaphylaxis after vaccines so she had this vaccine in the safest environment possible – in a tertiary hospital with the facilities to monitor and treat her.  She was almost certainly given adrenaline and monitored for four hours afterward, which is the standard procedure.  By last night she was back home.  

All immunisation services need to carry adrenaline and have protocols around monitoring people following vaccination.  There are strict requirements for the storage of vaccines, and this ensures the vaccine is not only safe, but is effective as well.

Do Your Research

Do your research, using trusted sources before you have the vaccine.  The Covid-19 vaccine is not compulsory in Australia.  It is free.  These are some links to reliable sources of information:

You may also enjoy the following blog posts:

This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. Please refer to the disclaimer.

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s Blog, and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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Update on Resilience, My Word of the Year

Update on Resilience - My Word of the Year

Improving my Resilience is My Goal for the Year

My word of the year is resilience.  I thought I would update my readers on how my goal of improving my resilience is going.  Resilience means to keep trying despite setbacks, to never give up.  I chose this as my word of the year to inspire me even when I feel like giving up.  

One Year After Being Diagnosed with BRCA2 Genetic Mutation

It is one year since I was diagnosed with BRCA2, a genetic mutation that increases your risk of cancer.  Since I was diagnosed with BRCA2 my life has been altered dramatically.  A year ago I was a productive member of society with a job, and pretty good health.  As soon as I got that diagnosis I knew that I wanted prophylactic surgery.  There was no doubt in my mind.  I have looked after patients with ovarian and breast cancer my entire career and I always had in the back of my mind that I would take any steps to avoid either of them.

What is BRCA2?

Because BRCA2 increases your risk of cancer by so much, and if you do get cancer it’s usually the most aggressive kind, the best treatment is to avoid it.  I had been screening yearly for 10 years leading up to this, and there’s almost a feeling of inevitability about it.  You’re waiting for them to tell you that one of the areas they’ve been watching has become cancerous.  So there was really no decision to make – I was going to have prophylactic surgery.

BRCA2 Mutation Cancer Risk infographic.  For women, the cancer risk is 40-84% of developing breast cancer, 11-27% ovarian cancer and 2-7% pancreatic cancer.  Source: Ovarcome
BRCA2 Mutation Cancer Risk infographic. For women, the cancer risk is 40-84% of developing breast cancer, 11-27% ovarian cancer and 2-7% pancreatic cancer. Source: Ovarcome

I expected both surgeries to go well.  You never consider that there could be complications, the only thing on your mind is getting rid of the offending organs that could give you cancer.  First cab off the rank was my ovaries – a relatively low risk, minimally invasive operation because I had already had a hysterectomy.

Suffering Surgical Complications 

The complication from this relatively small, keyhole operation is rare, but has changed my life.  I went into bladder retention – my bladder was stretched beyond capacity and has not sprung back into shape.  I have an atonic bladder now – it doesn’t work.  It’s probably permanent because the nerves were damaged and the muscle fibres stretched beyond their limits.  Even corrective surgery by a urologist hasn’t made any difference.

There is one positive – because I’m a nurse I can self cathetarise so I don’t need an indwelling catheter.  To be able to pass urine I need to insert a cathetar.  I get really upset about this because at 54 years old, I don’t want to think my bladder is completely stuffed.  But the reality is that it IS stuffed.

More Surgical Complications Post Mastectomies

The complication after the bilateral mastectomies was also rare.  This was another life-changing complication that I’m still dealing with.  I haemorrhaged on the left side post-operatively.  My blood count dropped really low and I needed several blood transfusions and emergency surgery to locate the bleeding area.  The swelling remained for months afterwards.  I needed even more surgery to wash out the cavity and treat  the area for infection.

Lifetime BRCA1 and BRCA2 Cancer Risks for Men.  Many people do not realise that BRCA1 and 2 affects men as well.  Prostate cancer runs in my family with my grandfather, father and brother having it.  Dad also had pancreatic cancer.  Melanoma also runs in my family - brother, sister and son.  Source:  Basser Research Centre for BRCA
Lifetime BRCA1 and BRCA2 Cancer Risks for Men. Many people do not realise that BRCA1 and 2 affects men as well. Prostate cancer runs in my family with my grandfather, father and brother having it. Dad also had pancreatic cancer. Melanoma also runs in my family – brother, sister and son. Source: Basser Research Centre for BRCA

The Physical and Mental Affects of a Prolonged Recovery

My recovery has been prolonged because I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise apart from walking until the swelling subsided.  That meant six months without using my upper body for anything more strenuous than lifting a cup.  When I was finally allowed to do yoga, my muscles went into spasm and I was in severe agony.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to improve my upper body strength without professional help.  My GP was very understanding and supportive and has much more insight into patients returning to work after injury or surgery.  He referred me to an exercise physiologist to build up my physical strength.  Because I was struggling with the emotional fall-out from all of this, he referred me to a psychologist as well.

Improving Mentally and Physically

It’s approximately 3 months since then.  Emotionally and mentally I’m so much stronger.  My psychologist helps me to look at things from a different point of view, and has given me strategies to deal with the grief and stress.  She doesn’t pat me on the hand and tell me it’s going to be alright.  I need more than that.  I need to work through the emotions that have come up from these surgical complications.

Physically, it’s been a hard slog.  The exercise physiologist can’t increase my exercises too quickly because it can result in severe muscle pain.  I do an hour long program that she gives me, three times a week.  I see her once a week to ensure I’m doing the exercises with the correct technique, and to learn new exercises.

The ultimate goal other than improving my resilience, is to return to work.  My boss has offered to reduce my hours to two shifts a week which will at least enable me to return to my job.  She has been incredibly supportive throughout the whole ordeal.  I couldn’t wish for a better boss.  If I continue to improve at my current rate, I will return to work in April.

Lack of Understanding From My Surgeon

Today I had a post operative visit with my breast surgeon.  There is always a little bit of anxiety leading up to these appointments because I’ve had so many occasions where I felt really upset.  Usually his first question is  “Are you back at work yet?”.  Despite me explaining that my employer won’t let me go back until I am back to 100% capacity and able to do CPR and heavy manual handling, he never understood.   I always felt like he was judging me for it – as if I didn’t want to work.  He even asked me straight out a few times if I wanted to work.  

Not once has he ever taken the blame for what happened to me.  In his opinion, my post-op haemorrhage couldn’t possibly be his fault.  He tried to shift the blame, even sent me to see a haematologist to find out if I had a bleeding disorder.  

Post-operative Complications Can and Do Happen

As a nurse, I know that post-op complications can happen.  When they consent you for any procedure large or small, part of the consent process is to discuss the complications that may happen.  I’ve only seen a haemorrhage after breast surgery once in my career and it was as dramatic as mine.  

I’ve been unlucky to suffer a few complications post surgery previously so I have a better understanding than most people.  That is why I’ve never blamed the haemorrhage on my surgeon.  But the fact that he tries to shift the blame to me has worn thin.  I’m not contemplating getting compensation for this, or suing him, but a lot of people would. 

The Cost of a Prolonged Recovery 

This has cost me a massive amount of money in lost wages and medical expenses and I’m just lucky I had income protection insurance through my superannuation fund.  I don’t live my life with regrets usually but there have been times when I’m really depressed because of the way my life has changed in the last year.  

BRCA and cancer - BRCA1 and 2 increase the risk of cancer for both men and women.  Source: Penn Medicine's Basser Research Centre for BRCA
BRCA and cancer – BRCA1 and 2 increase the risk of cancer for both men and women. Source: Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Centre for BRCA

Even though the last year has been difficult, and my quality of life has changed, I’m still able to be positive about the future.  I wasn’t willing to accept that I would not be able to work again.  At times I have wondered why I try so hard.  Then I count my blessings.  My parents both died of cancer, and it looks like my brother will too (he has advanced prostate cancer).  I have beaten cancer and don’t have that hanging over my head.

Being Resilient and Looking to the Future

Even when things seemed hopeless, I still had the power to change direction.  I wasn’t willing to let fate decide that I would never be well enough to work again.  I sought help.  And I continue to work hard to get back to the person I was, changed in many ways but the old me.  That’s what resilience has meant to me in the last year.

If you would like more information on BRCA genetic mutation and cancer risk, these are the other posts I have written:

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog, Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog and Senior Salon Linkup on Esme Salon’s blog

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Infected Cat Bite Caution

An infected cat bite on a thumb

This is a cautionary tale about an infected cat bite.

How Not to Say “I Told You So”

I’ll preempt this by saying that I’m terrible at saying “I told you so” without coming across as a Know-it-all.  This is definitely a “what not to do” situation.  My fifty plus years of life have not made me any better at it.

As a background to the tale, I’ve been a nurse for about 35 years.  Family members often come to me for health advice, and I will tell them straight up what I think they should do.  My mantra is don’t ignore symptoms, don’t put your head in the sand, seek medical advice early because it is easier to treat illness early rather than when you develop complications.

I am happy and grateful that my sons do take my advice, especially my older son.  They could never pull the wool over my eyes when they were younger as I could always tell when they were faking symptoms to get out of school.  My sons are proactive with their health and really compassionate with other people when they are sick.  They would have made awesome nurses except for their blood and needle phobias.

My husband remains stubborn however.  We’ve been together almost ten years so he had forty plus years without my knowledge to guide him.  This has been frustrating over the years because he’s a workaholic and will not take a sick day even when he should.

Cat Bites Can Lead to Nasty Infections

A couple of weeks ago he got a nasty bite from our cat on his thumb.  She’s 19 years old and only weighs about 3 kg but she’s as feisty as a young cat.  Phil was trimming her nails and, because she’s deaf and blind she panicked and chomped down on his thumb.  The two teeth marks were deep and bled profusely.

I told him that cat bites often become infected because they’re deep and transfer bacteria from the cat’s mouth deep into the wound.  I regaled tales of patients I have cared for that were in hospital for days on intravenous antibiotics after cat bites.  My advice was to go to his doctor and start antibiotics as soon as possible, and have a tetanus vaccination as well.

Infected Cat Bite Wounds Should Never Be Ignored

Phil did not take my advice.  The following day was a Monday – he went to work.  I looked at the wound that evening and it was purple and looked nasty.  I reiterated that he needed antibiotics.  He again ignored my advice.

The following day was Australia Day, a public holiday.  He would have gone to work as usual, so it is just as well he didn’t.  His wound looked really nasty.  A pustule had formed at the puncture site. The surrounding area was purple and his thumb joints were swollen and he had difficulty bending them.  It was obviously infected.

Infected cat bite wound on a thumb
The infected cat bite on my husband’s thumb. This was after the staff at the hospital had cleaned the wound, but before he had been to surgery

To the Hospital Emergency Department He Goes

We phoned all the GP clinics on the after hours list and none of them were open.  We were due to spend Australia Day with his family so I went there while Phil went to the hospital emergency department.  Over the next few hours he had an XRay, was given a tetanus shot and was commenced on intravenous antibiotics.  

As the wound had gone close to tendons and bone the doctors decided it could not be cleaned enough without surgery.  Cat bites on the hand can lead to nasty infections that can affect your body systemically.  They should never be ignored.

My husband ended up staying overnight in hospital, having surgery to open up and clean out the wound, followed by oral antibiotics and two weeks off work.  This is my “I told you so” moment.  I find it difficult to be patient and calm with him because it’s so frustrating to know that this situation could have been avoided if he’d listened to me.

My husband in hospital.  His infected cat bite wound on his thumb required intravenous antibiotics, cleaning out under anaesthetic and a course of oral antibiotics.  The bandage had to remain intact for two weeks.

My husband in hospital. His infected cat bite wound on his thumb required intravenous antibiotics, cleaning out under anaesthetic and a course of oral antibiotics. The bandage had to remain intact for two weeks.

His Dressings Need to Be Kept Dry and Intact For Two Weeks

Even more frustrating is the fact that he still thinks it’s overkill to make him have two weeks off!  There is no way he could work and avoid getting dirt and muck into his wound.  I have banned him from cleaning the cat litter trays, picking up dog poo, doing any gardening or any other dirty jobs around the house.  This has taken considerable effort because he’s so bloody stubborn!  I feel like I have a child who won’t listen!

Now if that doesn’t take the romance out of a relationship I don’t know what will.  I spend more time keeping an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t do anything he should do, than being productive myself.  He is not good at finding things to do to occupy his time so he’s been driving me nuts.  I hate being a nagging wife.

How Do You Occupy a Bored Husband?

I would love to know if any of my readers have any ideas for keeping a bored husband occupied.  Most of all, how do I say “I told you so” without completely losing my cool?!

Note:  I love my husband dearly and our relationship is strong.  This is very much tongue-in-cheek and meant to amuse my readers as I’m sure some of you have had similar stories to this.

Post cat bite infection.  Two weeks after the wound was cleaned up in hospital.  The wound on the thumb has two sutures
The Great Reveal! After the bandages were removed. There were two sutures which were removed and he has been given the all clear to return to work.

The Outcome of The Infected Cat Bite

Update – After two weeks convalescence at home, Phil was given the all-clear to resume work.  The post-op appointment at the hospital went well.  He had two sutures which were removed and now has full use of his hand again.  Our marriage survived intact!

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy:

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share, a Linkup by Natalie the Explorer, Life This Week, a Linkup by Denyse Whelan and #150 Senior Salon Linkup on Esme Salon’s blog

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A Very Special Birthday Celebration

A Very Special Birthday Celebration

Celebrating a long life with joy

My father-in-law turned 90 years old last week. I would like to share with you how we celebrated this special event in this post. It was a very special birthday celebration which almost didn’t happen because of sudden changes in travel restrictions. We were so lucky that the weekend strict lockdown in Brisbane didn’t affect us.

Happy 90th birthday Cec
Happy 90th birthday Cec – cheers to a long life

A Positive Outcome From 2020

One of the most positive things about 2020 was nurturing relationships that are important to me.  Normally my life is extremely busy and I feel continually jetlagged from unrelenting shift work as a nurse.  Many of you know that I have been off work since May because of complications during surgery.  Having time on my hands has been a blessing in that I have been able to spend a lot of time with my in-laws. 

I have had time to visit for a chat and a cup of tea, and not stress about needing to be somewhere or do something on my brief days off.  I also have been able to attend all the family gatherings, whereas most of the time I work on public holidays and other special occasions.  This is something I don’t take this for granted.  I feel like I have been blessed with this time.  

Stronger Family Relationships

My relationship with my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law have been the most improved by this.  My sister-in-law and I have been able to plan some lovely family gatherings such as my mother-in-law’s High Tea surprise birthday party.  I could also help with my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday Alice In Wonderland party.  Just in general we have become closer this year, bonded by being married to two lovely men who are definitely the product of their equally lovely parents.

My sister-in-law and I share another thing in common. Both our mothers passed away when we were newlyweds in our early 20s.  I think that it is why we know that we need to create lovely memories during the latter years of our parents-in-laws’ lives.  Every birthday and special occasion has taken on new meaning as we are aware that time with them is limited.

My husband and I with Gwen and Cec, my parents-in-law
My husband and I with Gwen and Cec, my parents-in-law

My Father-in-law’s Special Birthday Celebration

My father-in-law’s 90th birthday is the latest milestone for our family. We celebrated the occasion with a lovely lunch.  The family let me organise the event which I felt very privileged to do – they needed to put some trust in my organisational skills!  I don’t have the same creative, event planning abilities as my sister-in-law (just look at what she did for my mother-in-law’s High Tea and you will see what I mean!).  But I am pretty good at organising things.

The day was a success, and the smiles on everyone’s faces were my reward.  We had the lunch at a club nearby which we have used previously for events.  

My father-in-law celebrating his 90th birthday with his sister and dear friend
My father-in-law celebrating his 90th birthday with his sister Shirley and dear friend June

Celebrating a Long Life

At 90 years old, my father-in-law has been through a lot, including serving in the Australian Army in the Korean conflict when he was a young man.  He has chronic pain from injuries sustained in a fall through a roof, and suffers from COPD.  His mind is still sharp and he and my mother-in-law still drive and live independently in their own home.  Cec is one of the kindest men you will ever meet.  To be able to organise this special birthday for him was an honour.

I was brought to tears when the whole club sang Happy Birthday to him.  I created a collage of photos of him from babyhood until now and he was “tickled pink!”.  He talked about each photo and shared his memories with us.  His sister aged 92 was able to come from Northern New South Wales. A close family friend who has been like an Auntie to my husband and his brother was also able to come.

A collage for a 90th birthday - celebrating the life of my father-in-law Cec
A collage of photos depicting the life of my 90 year old Father-in-law Cec

The Special Birthday Celebration Almost Didn’t Happen

We have been holding our breath leading up to this event. No-one knows whether the border to New South Wales will close again or we’ll be sent back into lockdown.  There was a weekend lockdown as close as Brisbane and Logan because of two new strains of the more contagious UK variant of Covid-19 being detected in Brisbane.  We have been extremely lucky here to avoid it.

Treasure your loved ones as you never know when they will be taken from you.  This year marks 30 years since my mother passed away, and 10 years since my sister died suddenly from an epileptic fit.  It’s hard for me to fathom that so much time has passed.  Many of you know that my mother-in-law is in the final stages of lung cancer so we value any time we have left with her.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

Shared on Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog and Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog.

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My Word of the Year 2021 is Resilience

Word of the Year 2021

Why I Am Choosing A Word of The Year

Choosing a word of the year can be more effective than setting New Years’ Resolutions.  New Years’ Resolutions can fall by the wayside, whereas a Word of the Year embodies a positive quality that you wish to strive for throughout the year. In this post I will explain the reason my Word of The Year 2021 is Resilience. 

I have read articles from my favourite bloggers throughout 2020 that mention their Word of the Year.  Debbie Harris’ word for 2020 was Jump, while Elisabeth McKnight says that “A word of the year sets to your goals and direction in the new year.  By tying all of your goals back to your overarching word, it is easy to keep them front-of-mind.”  I like that the word becomes a common theme in their blog posts throughout the year, reminding us that they are keeping on track with their overall goal for the year.

Why I Chose Resilience as My Word Of The Year 2021

A running theme through many of my posts in 2020 was my prolonged recovery from several surgeries. I have had many setbacks in my journey towards recovery, therefore the need for resilience in my life has been in focus.  I have been inspired by other people who have overcome health issues, especially my parents-in-law.  Their resilience to aging and failing health has been admirable.

Resilience to my health challenges and the change in my lifestyle has been difficult to achieve.  I have really struggled during this time.  I am not good at adapting to change, so this enormous change in my life (going from a fully functional, healthy, productive member of society to being someone who can’t work because of ill health) has been really difficult.

Why I Want to Be Resilient

I want to become more resilient which means adapting to change better.  It also means persevering even when lack of progress tempts me to just give up.  It means finding inspiration in other people’s triumph over adversity.  Lastly, it means not being hard on myself when I have setbacks or am slow to improve.

Resilience collage - 8 images.  Slogans: You got this; A little progress each day adds up to big results; Be positive, patient and persistent; The best view comes after the hardest climb; Stay positive.
Resilience: Don’t Give Up

Inspiration from Businesses Who Are Resilient

Resilience was chosen as the Word of the Year 2020 by Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global in this article.  Huffington says that  she chose this word because resilience is a quality that will carry over from the challenges of 2020 into the New Year as we recover from the pandemic.  Resilience is the ability to get through challenges, but it also means using adversity as a catalyst to get better and become stronger.

Small businesses that were able to pivot during the pandemic were able to thrive.  For example, when lockdowns and restrictions forced the closure of cafes and restaurants, many of them turned to home delivery.  The closure of cafes and restaurants reduced the need for fresh produce.  One local company who previously supplied wholesale produce, offered home delivery and the demand soared.  Local manufacturers of bath and body products and even breweries started producing hand sanitiser to meet the demand.

What Being More Resilient Means To Me

I want more resilience so that I can overcome the health challenges I have faced in 2020, and become stronger and healthier both mentally and physically.  I want to strive for improved health and strength so that I can return to work this year.  And if that goal ends up not being achievable I want to be more resilient to my change in lifestyle.  I want to adapt to my new normal better, and become more accepting of it.  I want to learn more skills and broaden my knowledge so that I can change direction if necessary.  That will require me to be more resilient.

How I Will Achieve Resilience In 2021

I have taken steps already to build my resilience.  My fate is in my own hands so I took the first steps towards improved wellbeing.  My mental health was suffering so I started seeing a psychologist.  Being able to talk about my struggles and develop skills to deal with issues has been very worthwhile.  

I was not content with being held back from working due to my health so I sought help from my GP.  I am now seeing an Exercise Physiologist weekly and building my strength back.  It takes dedication and hard work but I am determined to do it.  My goal is to be back at work this year,to a job that requires both physical and mental fortitude.

My motto will be “Don’t Give Up”.  No matter how long it takes, I am determined to overcome the health struggles of 2020 and reach my goal.  I may need to pivot like successful businesses have done, but I will face that possibility if the need arises.  I am starting a course that will open up other career opportunities for me as a nurse.  That is my “Plan B” just in case.

Have you chosen a Word of the Year for 2021?  If not, you may find some inspiration in these articles:

This post was shared on Life This Week Linkup and Word of the Year Linkup

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A Positive Attitude Can Improve Your Quality of Life

A Positive Attitude Can Improve Your Quality of Life

A positive attitude can improve your quality of life and contribute to longevity and improved health as you age.  A positive attitude to life has been shown by studies to increase your lifespan by 11 to 15%, and increase your odds of living to 85 years or more.  Other benefits of optimism include stress reduction, improved immunity and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  It improves resilience to illness and contributes to happiness, leading to a richer, more fulfilled life  (Source VeryWellMind.com).

My Observations of Elderly Patients

 As a nurse I have developed the opinion over many years, that if you make it to your 80s and 90s, you are often healthier than the 50 or 60 year old in the next bed.  That generation was made of steel and their inner strength comes from having to survive and thrive during so many hardships.  In their eight or nine decades they have seen wars and hardships like no other.

The Strongest Woman I Know Is 85 Years Old

The strongest woman I know is my 85 year old mother-in-law.  Strength can be measured in physical terms, but in this case the strength is her inner strength and fortitude. Over three years ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She was offered treatment but she declined as it wouldn’t have cured her.  While her family fell to pieces she declared “I feel fine!  What are you all upset about?”

She got on with life and it was easy to forget she had incurable cancer and other health issues.  She has always been very active and sociable and cancer didn’t slow her down.  Off she went to bingo and lunch with her friends, carrying on life as usual.

Gwen has not only survived, but thrived.  She refused to change her lifestyle and continued to live life to the fullest.  She’s the type of person that cleans up and moves all the furniture before the cleaner comes.  We offered to help her and my father-in-law but they push on, staying as independent as they can in their own home.

A Positive Attitude Can Improve Your Quality of Life

We often complained about our aches and pains and other physical ailments.  Gwen would sit and listen to us all moan, then would pipe up with “You’re all falling apart!  I feel great!”  She put us all to shame because she never complained, and rarely has had a day in bed.  If she goes to bed during the day we know she’s really sick. Her positive attitude and stoicism has helped her maintain her health.

A positive attitude can improve your quality of life and contribute to longevity and improved health as you age.
A positive attitude can improve your quality of life and contribute to longevity and improved health as you age.

The Cancer Has Progressed

This year we’ve all noticed her slowing down, becoming more short of breath and looking pale and gaunt (under the makeup of course!).  One day she coughed up blood, which gave us all a fright.  My sister-in-law persuaded her to go to hospital to be checked.  Remarkably she’s never been in hospital other than that time, and another time when I called the ambulance because she was having chest pain.

The scans revealed that the cancer has grown and now 90% occludes her bronchus – the main airway to her left lung.  It spread from the initial tumour on her left chest wall to surround all the major blood vessels and organs beneath her sternum.  It’s finally catching up with her and she only has a limited amount of time left.  Mind you, she was given 9 months to live over three years ago so she’s far surpassed anyone’s expectations.

Staying Active Keeps You Healthy

Her positive attitude and get-up-and-go is the reason she is still here with us.  If she had decided to slow down, sit around and accept our help, I have no doubt she wouldn’t have still been here.  Just by being more active (she even still does her exercises) she has kept her physical strength up, and not allowed her body to degenerate.  

If she had lain around, she would have been at higher risk of developing pneumonia because her lower lungs would collapse and trap mucous in their bases.  Just by keeping active she has prevented this common cause of death in the elderly.  Both my parents-in-law have had influenza and other upper respiratory infections during the last few years, and miraculously have pulled through every time.  

Just seeing how the two of them have not only survived, but thrived, is so inspirational.  My own father lost most of his mobility over the last two decades of his life because he enjoyed being waited on hand and foot.  I remember encouraging him not to sit around when he was only in his 60s.  Use it or lose it.

Strong Family Connections Are Important

My husband’s family have always lived within 10 minutes of each other which is in contrast to my own.  I had no family around when I was bringing up my sons as a single mother, so it was a shock to the system to suddenly have so much connection with family.  That connection has contributed to my parents-in-law living such fulfilled lives.  My nieces and nephew don’t know how lucky they are to have so much contact with their grandparents in their 20s.

Keeping Mentally Active Improves Quality of Life as You Age

Keeping mentally active has also played a part in their quality of life.  My mother-in-law does puzzles and crosswords, while my father-in-law has a keen interest in documentaries.  He tinkers with the boat and has always been a keen gardener.  We always get great advice on gardening and home improvements from my father-in-law.

Living Life Without Regrets

The one thing I’ve seen in common with my father and my parents-in-law is that they don’t fear death.  They have lived long productive lives and don’t live with regret.  They have strong connections with their families and look forward to being reunited with their loved ones that have gone before them.  My dad was incredibly peaceful and serene when he was on his death bed despite severe pain.

We can’t choose the day we die (unless we commit suicide) but we can live our lives in such a way that the quality of life is maximised.  Keeping physically active and emotionally connected to our families – having a purpose in life – is vital if we want to live life to the fullest like my mother-in-law.

Our Family’s Loss Will Be Acutely Painful

We will all be devastated when we lose her.  The heart of the family will be gone.  We’re all dreading the day.  My sister-in-law and I lost our mothers when we were newlyweds so we know what it’s like.  30 years later and I still miss her.  Our husbands don’t know what being without your mother is like.  I just hope I can be strong enough to help my husband through the grieving process as he has helped me.  I lost my sister suddenly and my father after a long battle with prostate and pancreatic cancer, and Phil has supported me through both those losses.

We’re planning a surprise high tea garden party for my mother-in-law’s 86th birthday in three weeks.  If she can make it through her birthday, then Christmas, then my father-in-law’s 90th in January, we will be relieved.  We’ve had her for borrowed time already but that would be a bonus.

Stay Positive – It Will Improve Your Quality of Life

Elderly people who maintain their quality of life have much to teach us.  A positive attitude and a sense of optimism will not only improve your quality of life, but it will help you live longer.  Embrace all that life has to offer.  Keep strong ties with your family and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Your health will be enhanced if you stay active and continue to exercise your mind. Above all, a positive attitude can improve your quality of life as you age.

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Revitalise By Attending a Health and Wellness Retreat

Revitalise by Attending a Health and Wellness Retreat

Attending a Retreat Reminds Us to Value Ourselves

Revitalise yourself by attending a health and wellness retreat. Spending time in a retreat allows us to spend quality time in self care activities such as yoga, meditation and self reflection. Using this time to dedicate our attention on our own needs reminds us to value ourselves. We recognise that we are valuable enough to take time out of our busy schedules to refresh and revitalise ourselves. We can’t care for others if our own cup is empty.

I thought I was getting enough time for self care this year.  It feels like the whole year has been devoted to self care.  But I didn’t realise that I still had room for improvement in this area.  Having spent the morning at the health and wellness retreat, I have discovered that there are some areas of my life that I need to concentrate on.

The Health and Wellness Retreat

The Health and Wellness Retreat was a yoga and self care retreat organised by Carol Wedenberg of Harmony and Healthy Yoga, and Sue Loncaric of Women Living Well After 50.  It was a wonderful way to spend a morning.  I finally got to meet Sue who I’ve known through blogging for the last year or so.  Sue took the self care component of the retreat and it was very worthwhile.  

Numala is a blissfully serene studio in the middle of the Gold Coast rainforest with only the sound of birds and a wind-chime to break the silence.  All the equipment was good quality and clean.  It was easy to feel relaxed and calm in this beautiful setting.

The group of ladies who were there were all on a similar path – trying to carve time out in their busy schedules for self care.  We really felt supported to participate in the group sessions and we could relate to what the other ladies were saying.  It is a testimony to Sue and Carol that they could inspire such warm connections within a group of people who were mostly strangers, in such a short period of time.

The peace and serenity of the rainforest allows you to revitalise.  Photo of a rainforest, representing the rainforest retreat Numala which was the location of the Health and Wellness Retreat
Peace and Serenity Allows You to Revitalise

Creating a Self Care Plan

Sue’s Self Care session helped me to revisit those activities I once loved, that I no longer take time to do.  Using those activities we then could create a self care plan to revitalise those activities in our daily schedule.  There was an emphasis on creating a self care plan because we need to schedule time for ourselves just like all the other tasks we need to complete in a day.

One glaringly obvious area I have been neglecting is my creative side.  That may seem strange when I spend much of my day writing my blog and creating infographics and images for it.  But even though that is creative in a way, I’ve focused much of my blog on raising awareness of medical issues like breast cancer.  Because of what I’ve gone through this year with my own health, I’ve begun to lose the joy of just writing, not with a mission in mind, but just for the creative release.

My Self Care Plan is About Revitalising My Creative Side

When we were children, mum encouraged our creative side through drawing, cartooning, writing and music.  We were lucky to have such a creative and art-filled life.  I’ve always loved being creative and expressing myself through writing.  I feel that I need to return to my roots and write for pleasure again.  I’ve signed up to a creative writing challenge during November to get those juices flowing again.  I feel that if I start being creative again then my other writing will be more enjoyable as well.

Using the activities provided by Sue, I have created a self care plan that incorporates time to be creative. The insight and inspiration that I gained at the retreat helped me to focus on this area of myself that I have been neglecting. Making time in my schedule to be creative will now be a priority.

Mindfulness and Meditation are activities that relax and revitalise us.  Image of a woman in a child's pose (yoga)
Mindfulness and Meditation are activities that relax and revitalise us.

Yoga For Our Health and Wellness

My surgeon wants me to prepare my body for work again.  My recovery from bilateral mastectomies has been very slow, but I’m now at the tail end of the recovery phase.  One of the best things to happen this week was that my surgeon finally approved yoga.  I’ve really missed it and I know that yoga will help strengthen my upper body again.  His approval to recommence yoga practice came just in time.

Carol led us in two wonderful yoga sessions and a daily altar session at the health and wellness retreat.  The yoga was challenging but she was very supportive of those of us who weren’t up to doing all the poses, while incorporating enough for the experienced yogis.  It feels amazing to be able to do yoga again. Yoga is holistic and not only strengthens our bodies, it also strengthens our minds as it requires some concentration.

I normally do my yoga at home using a YouTube subscription as I find that works well for me.  Knowing how out of shape I am I started right back at the beginning with beginners’ yoga.  I’m waking up muscles that haven’t been used in a long time. My body is really feeling it – sore shoulders and neck, increased swelling in my chest and pain in my chest muscles.  I know it will help and I’ve got to take it slowly and gradually work up my strength and stamina.  Attending the retreat has inspired me to continue to build up my strength using yoga.  

Take time to pause.  It is important to includes self care activities such as yoga, into our busy schedule, as it revitalises us.  We can't care for everyone else if our cup is empty.
Image of a yoga position, legs crossed, hands on knees with the thumb and forefinger touching and other fingers outstretched.
Take time to pause. It is important to includes self care activities such as yoga, into our busy schedule, as it revitalises us. We can’t care for everyone else if our cup is empty

The Daily Altar

The daily altar was new to me and reminded me of being mindful – connecting to the natural environment and really seeing things we usually take for granted like leaves, coal, flowers and stones.  I created my mandala with yellow leaves, black coal and purple flowers.  They reminded me of how my year has been – like rising out of the ashes phoenix-like, and buds blooming into flowers.

My Daily Altar Mandala at the Health and Wellness Retreat was made up of coal, yellow leaves and purple flower buds.  These are laid out on a cleared area of the ground in a mandala shape.  They represent myself rising out of the ashes like a phoenix.
My Daily Altar Mandala at the Health and Wellness Retreat was made up of coal, yellow leaves and purple flower buds. These are laid out on a cleared area of the ground in a mandala shape. They represent myself rising out of the ashes like a phoenix.

Carol led us on a guided meditation to conclude the retreat. With only the sound of birds in the trees and the occasional soft sound from the wind-chime, we were lulled into a restful state. The meditation was blissful and the atmosphere was definitely enhanced by the setting.

Future Health and Wellness Retreats

I will definitely be signing up for any further retreats as I gained so much out of this one.  It just goes to show you, we all could do with a reminder to spend time in self care activity.  I received a lovely journal because I signed up as an early bird.  I love it!  The prompts are great and will really help me to get back into journaling again.  When you write a lot for business (my blog) you don’t write for pleasure and I feel I need to do that again as I really miss it.

Sue and Carol plan to continue organising retreats, including online sessions for those who don’t live near the Gold Coast of Australia.  Their websites are:

Harmony and Healthy Yoga – Carol Wedenberg.  There are on-line yoga classes available.

Women Living Well After 50 – Sue Loncaric.  There are many resources for living a healthy lifestyle, including podcasts and YouTube videos.


The Retreat information is at this link

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