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Cervical Health Awareness Month

It’s cervical health awareness month, so gather ‘round girls and guys, to learn about why your cervix is important and why you need to keep it healthy.

photo of women holding each other s hands
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The cervix is: The lower, narrow end of the uterus that forms a canal between the uterus and vagina.

Photo: wikimedia.org

What it does: Part of the lining of the cervix contains glands that make and release mucus. For most of the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy, the mucus is thick and stops sperm from entering the uterus. The thick mucus also helps to protect the uterus and the upper female reproductive organs from harmful bacteria.

During pregnancy: During childbirth, the cervix widens (dilates), allowing the baby to pass through the birth canal.

Now, there’s a lot more regarding the cervix that involves endocervix, ectocervix, glandular and squamous cells, but you can open up Google and discover the biology on your own. (I never liked biology.) I want to talk about why it’s important to keep your cervix healthy and why. Let’s start with HPV.

HPV: Human Papillomavirus

Photo: http://www.jpost.com

HPV is an infection that causes warts in various parts of the body depending on the strain. It’s an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) and one of the most common. You can be symptom free but still infect others through sexual contact and there is no cure. The warts may go away misleading you to believe you are cured when you aren’t. Treatment may include removing the warts by your healthcare professional or with prescription medication. In most cases (9 out of 10), HPV goes away on its own within two years without any additional problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause problems like genital warts and cancer. HPV can cause cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat (oropharyngeal cancer) and this can include the base of the tongue and tonsils. It can take years and even decades for cancer to develop in people infected with HPV. Genital warts and cancers result from different types of HPV.

Cervical Cancer

According to the National Cancer Society statistics for 2022, about 4,280 women will die from cervical cancer and about 14,100 new cases of invasive cancer will be diagnosed. It used to be much worse; cervical cancer was at one time the leading cancer killer of women. Pretty self-explanatory, cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. It starts in the cells lining the cervix — the lower part of the uterus (womb). Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. It can be caused by certain types of HPV which is spread through sexual contact. The main types of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. But you can prevent cervical cancer by getting screened before you show symptoms. Screenings can help find abnormal cells or signs of HPV before they turn into cancer.

When to Get a Pap Smear:

Many women are unclear about when they should get a pap smear. According to most doctors, most young women should start at age 21. However, is you are younger than 21 and sexually active or experiencing any reproductive health concerns, you should speak to an experienced gynecologist sooner. In part, the reason for the confusion in women is that pap smears are thought to be only for those who are sexually active, when the pap smear is to collect cells from the cervix and screen for abnormal cells. Sexual intercourse does increase a woman’s risk of exposure to HPV, which is the cause of nearly all cervical cancer and why women who are sexually active should be vigilant about getting tested. The Pap smear can also help protect sexually inactive women who have a family history of it.

Tips for a Happy Cervix:

  • Condoms: Use them. They protect your cervix and body from STD’s including HPV.
  • Get a Pap Smear: And follow up!
  • If you are able to: Get the HPV vaccine.

Message to Leave Here with:

Don’t be scared, be proactive. Take initiative with your health and make sure your girlfriends are taking care of their bodies. Cancer is vicious and this is one of those cancers that can be preventable if you maintain your health.

References:

https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/cervical/what-is-cervical-cancer/the-cervix

Hello January!

So, how’s your New Year kicking off? Everyone happy and as healthy as they can be? It’s been a slow start for me in the writing and writing goals department, but you know what they say about slow and steady? And I’m very familiar with being slow! My cane and I were never accused of being fast.

close up of rabbit on field
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closeup photo of galapagos tortoise
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Let’s see, to start off with I had a mammogram in/around October and the results were meh. I have to have another mammogram done with ultrasound of the left side. Fun times! By the way…every time I see or hear mammogram it just sounds like someone dressed as a boob should be dancing around and singing Happy Birthday to someone. I know, weird, but that’s me. Anyways, I’m not too worried about it yet- about 10-12% of women are called back after a mammogram for more tests and fewer than 1 in 10 women are actually found to have cancer after that second appointment (www.ngrmc.org). But breast cancer, however remote the possibility is still scary. I lost two friends/coworkers to it, after they both fought very long battles with it. But worrying before there’s any hard evidence seems counterproductive. Of course, when it’s 1 a.m. and I can’t sleep, try explaining that to my over active brain and anxiety.

Less stressful but more annoying has been the fierce pain in my left shoulder that makes it impossible to sleep in any other position than on my back. Also, heel pain in my left foot which has been going on for months but I’m sure y’all are familiar with self-triage. If you’re not, my definition is: when there’s so much crap going wrong with your body that you have to decide what is most important and/or life threatening and you take care of that first. I did purchase a U-pillow from Amazon that has made sleeping better. I kid you not, we have like 12 pillows on our king size bed, not including my Squishmallows and every night has been this epic game of “where do I stick this pillow, so I don’t hurt.” Not a very good game title, but you get the idea. I also play that game with ice packs.

woman holding pink ribbon
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I am still having gut/Crohns issues. While I have a great functional gastroenterologist, who I believe really listens and wants to help, the tests she wants me to do are not covered by my insurance and at roughly $400 a pop, I can’t rationalise the expense. I mean seriously, the question becomes pay bills or take these tests. I don’t have $800 bucks lying around for tests that may or may not tell me what is going on. So, I do what many of my Spoonie brethren out there do, I ignore it until I can’t anymore and try alternative ways to alleviate symptoms or hope that there might be a different test to take. It’s really a no-win situation but I haven’t found a better alternative.

set of american cash money and medical facial masks
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Okay, now that I have complained, let’s look at the positives. I’m writing in my blog. Yay! Woohoo! Pats myself on the back. Seriously, it can be difficult when you have a busy life and also the weight of being chronically ill and/or in pain. Additionally, there’s always this mini-dialogue going on in my head wondering if what I am writing about is meaningful/important. Besides this, I’m steadily working on my reading challenge this month. I haven’t gotten as far along as I’d like to, but I think trying to read at night is not a good time. I’ll have to make some time in the morning or early afternoon when I am not so tired. Even if tired doesn’t mean sleepy, it means my body and mind just want to zone out and not focus on words. Not to mention my RLS is sometimes so bad I can barely watch television at times. Good times, right?

man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography
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Other good things…the fam is happy and healthy. That is definitely something to be cheery about, especially in the age of COVID. The kids are doing great. Going to school and working. Oh! I have a list of topics I’m gearing up to right about. I am hoping having a list will help keep me organised and on track. That’s about it. Thank you for having patience with me and cheers to a new, and happy year!

See you in a week or two for my post on: Cervical Health Awareness Month

people doing cheers inside building
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Happy New Year

I always have this idea, maybe a goal, that I will have all these great blog posts out for the holidays. Then, the holidays come around and between the preparation of all the gifts, of which many are hand-made, and just the hustle and bustle of the time, I don’t do it. I admit, it’s probably about 45%-time management and needing a more thorough plan of what my blog posts will be from post to post, and 55% my health. In the past I’ve put up a hiatus notice, letting every one know I was taking a break, anticipating that this would happen, but this time it escaped me. I apologize for that.

I have found that it is much easier to write about tricks and ways to balance your life with chronic illness/pain, then it is to practice it. There are so many variables in one’s life that it can make things challenging, but I have resolved to make this a priority in the upcoming year. I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions, I prefer lifestyle changes, and I will be working on small changes here and there to help myself be more prepared in the future so this doesn’t happen next year. I do make allowances for my health and for things getting out of hand, and I know some would say I am being too hard on myself, but I’m really not. The only way to succeed, is by me setting parameters, for planning each week or each month in advance and by allotting time specifically for my blog/work, even though I am home and making it clear to those around me that I need this time for me.

My biggest New Year’s Change are challenges I have already planned throughout the year for each month. So, each month I will be devoting a full month to something I think needs more attention, or something new I want to try. I got this idea a while back and decided I would like to give it a go. I seem to do better when approaching something in a small chunk rather than the whole bite, so doing something like this allows me to focus 28-31 days on something that is important to me and be mindful of what I want to accomplish. After the month has passed and before I move on to the next thing, I will think about how I want to continue and if there should be any changes. This new year is all about changes and improvements one step at a time.

Yule is Coming!

Thanksgiving is over, and while I always enjoy that holiday, there is always something magical about Yule. It can be hectic, overwhelming and downright exhausting, but the pleasure I receive is from gift-giving and seeing the reaction of my family. It’s worth all the crazy time spent in a nearly all-consuming hunt for the perfect gift. Still, what is most important to me is spending time with family, cooking and eating and having a fun and meaningful time with those I love. Although this is a little off my typical blog post, I hope that you will enjoy our dive into the Norse traditions and learning about how Vikings celebrated Yule and perhaps it won’t surprise you that in many ways, it wasn’t much different than us.

Source: Viking Beard Club Argentina

Yule celebrations and traditions at the Winter Solstice pre-date Christianity by thousands of years. Many who identified as European, celebrated the light during the darkest of days of winter. It was often referred to as Mid-Winter Celebration and would include brewing beer, the preparation of food, visiting with family and yes, gift giving. Numerous references to the Yule in the Icelandic sagas, and in other ancient mythicism, testifying how Yule was actually celebrated. It was a time of feasting, giving gifts, drinking and dancing. Although the commencement of the Yuletide celebration has no specific date, it is traditionally 12 days long with the start of the festivities beginning at sunset on the Winter Solstice (which in the northern hemisphere is usually around December 20th). Even this was stolen forcibly by early Christian missionaries and became known the “12 Days of Christmas.”

Source: wyrddesigns.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/twelfthnight.jpg?w=640

Many of the traditions that are associated with the Christian holiday of Christmas are known to have originated within the Pagan/Viking culture. For instance, it is known that Scandinavians marked Yule (“Jul”), or the Winter Solstice, long before the Christians made their way within any of the Nordic territories. Yule is in fact derived from the Old Norse “HJOL,” which roughly means, ‘wheel,’ to identity the moment when the Wheel of the Year is at its lowest point, ready to rise again. Hjol has been inherited by Germanic and Scandinavian languages from pre—Indo-European language level and is a direct reference to the return of the Sun as represented by a fiery wheel rolling across the heavenly sky. Sun Wheels are sometimes burned as part of the folk festivities.

Source: Ms. Elly 2018 Viking Blog Post BaviPower.com

Winter was long and difficult for the Vikings. The celebration of Yuletide was the most important and most popular of all the native Germanic spiritual celebrations. Yule also marks the return of the God Baldur from the realm of Hel and the loosening grip of winter on the frozen Earth. It was a time of celebration welcoming the reborn Sun goddess, Sól, who was pursued and devoured by the Wolf of winter each year; a reflection of the Fenris wolf of Ragnarök. This is a fragile period and these rituals of fire and light dominate life to ensure the return of the Sun goddess and that the warmth of her light will bring the bounty of crops and animals come Spring. Although these rituals were an integral part in the lives of these Germanic peoples, Yule was also a time for dancing, feasting and family. But similarities stop there.

As we know, Vikings worshiped many Gods and Goddesses, and therefore made sacrifices and offered up both goods and animals to appease them, to ensure that spring would return. This was also the time of the Wild Hunt, when the King and Queen of the Underworld would ride through the night sky across the land with a band of spirits and beings from the spirit realm. Yule is also the season in which the gods and goddesses are closest to Midgard. Our deities were called ‘Yule-Beings’ by the Norse and Odin himself is called Jólnir, the “Yule One” and it is from here where the image of Santa Claus is derived from. Most of the symbols associated with the modern holiday of Christmas (such as the Yule-log, Santa Claus and his Elves, Christmas trees, Wreath, eating of ham, Holly and Mistletoe and the Star) are derived from traditional European Heathen Yule celebrations. When the first Christian missionaries began trying to force the Germanic people to Christianity, they found it easier to invent a Christian version for popular feasts such as Yule, and allow the celebrations to go largely unchanged, rather than trying to suppress them.

Source: Norsemythology.org

The 12 Days of Yule, is without question devoted to cookies, breads, cakes and pastries that we are able to indulge upon during the season. Many Heathen families have enjoyed creating beautiful decorations for their homes, including wooden toys, Straw Goats and Wild Boards to hand on the Yule tree. Each of the days and nights can be viewed as a microcosm of the months of the year. The first night of Yule is called Mothernight, when Frigga and the Disir (female ancestral spirits) are especially honoured. This day is aptly named as it represents the rebirth of the world from the darkness of winder. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. There are vigils from dusk till dawn to ensure that the sun will rise again and to welcome her when it does. On Mothernight one can recount the past January and plan for the next January. On the Second day of Yule, remember the last February and so on and so forth until ending with December on the Twelfth Night.

Source: WyrdDesigns.Wordpress.com

It was the practice in these Germanic Heathen times to swear oaths on a Hallowed boar; while also particularly meaningful oaths were sworn on the horn of a cup while drinking at the Yule feast. This survived in Swedish folk-custom; a large boar-shaped bread or block of wood covered with pig skin was brought forth at Yule for this purpose. The ‘New Year’s Resolution’ is a lesser form of this holy Yule Oath. You could also sacrifice the boar after the Oath was made to Frey. Unlike our New Year’s Resolution, these paths are meant and expected to be kept.

The tree (Christmas tree) is Heathen in origin and represents Yggdrasil. Those who kept the old customs in places where they were surrounded by Christians, hid the tree inside so church authorities wouldn’t notice, but in England and Scandinavia, the trees and various spirits received their gifts outside. In the stead of a tree that would have outed them as Heathen, a candlelit and ribbons wreath, the ring which may have reflected the Oath-ring or the Yule Sun-Wheel, was brought inside to decorate the home. Many cultures integrate the mythos of trees that symbolise life into their beliefs, from the Tree of Judaism and Christianity to the great World Tree of Norse and Germania mythology, Yggdrasil.

Source: A Very Viking Christmas Slumberingalligator.com

In honour of Thor, a person was to take the largest oak log they could find (or handle) and kindle it either in an indoor fireplace or outdoor one. The Yule-log’s intent and purpose was to burn all night during the longest night of the year to symbolise life lasting, even during the time of great darkness; its fire rekindling the sun in the morning and the ashes or pieces remaining were used as protective amulets during the rest of the year. Besides this, you could use some of the saved, charred remains for lightening the next years log.

Source: premierlogcompany.com

The Julebuuk or Yule Goat are an established symbol of Yule. Thor, the protective God of thunder was known to have two goats that he would slaughter and eat every night, resurrecting them the next day. Originally these goats would have been sacrificed to the god Thor to protect the people until Spring. Their meat was either preserved or eaten right away (boiled, pit-roasted or spit-roasted). This goat tradition remained but changed over time, connecting to the Krampus tradition. A man would dress as the Yule Goat and go house to house receiving offerings for the spirits, later giving treats to the well-behaved children. This was the harbinger of the Santa Claus and his reindeer delivering present. This Santa Claus was oft-times depicted riding a goat in early imagery. A job that in Northern traditions was performed by the gnome-like tomten. These small, magical men would be accompanied by Yule Goats. The Yule Goat tradition remains a popular custom in Scandinavia and straw goats of all sizes can be seen displayed as ornaments in people’s yards and left on neighbours doorstep.

Source: Pinterest Yule Goat Christmas Art

 In one way or another, there are many traditions of the Viking people that we continue on to this day, even if the original meaning has been lost to the ages. If you want to have a more, Viking inspired holiday but don’t want to sacrifice a boar, roast some pork and make or buy some mead. You can play Viking games as they were also a big part of the feast and festivities. Hnefatafl is a tabletop strategy game that you can play with friends and family. Theres also many drinking games you can play. Part of Viking festivities was all about boasting, oath making, poetry, dance and song.

Source: partner.sciencenorway.no/archaeology-history-university-of-southeast-norway/video-see-the-board-games-vikings-used-to-keep-their-minds-sharp/1757904

Yule is also a time to honour Thor for driving back the frost etins, Frey to give us prosperity in the coming year, Odin as leader of the Wild Hunt and our ancestors. During the Yule we are closest to the Dead. Death is all around us in the dead flowers and plants that were vibrant with life only months ago. The trees all appear dead except for the evergreens. We decorate an evergreen with lively decorations as the Vikings decorated with sin wheels, runes and items of food such as cranberries and popped corn and other bright, pretty things to remind us of the eternity of Yggdrasil, the world Tree, as it lasts throughout the Winter- Ever Green.

As you gather with your family across the globe, take a moment to honour your ancestors. They walked before you, paving the way for you. You might never have met your ancestors, but even so, many of their choices influenced your life just as your choices influence those who may come after you. It is an easy thing to do, that costs nothing, to say thank you to the people who you are in some way, connected to. As someone who is adopted, I do not know any of my blood relatives, but some of their choices directly influenced me and if they hadn’t made those choices I might not be here living this life or I may not have ended up with the family I have today. I am grateful to them and I honour their memories.

Source: Nightmares Vengeance Tumblr

I know this was not my usual post, but I have been in a writing drought recently because of my chronic illness and pain. I hope you enjoyed this, perhaps learned something that you might want to try. Please enjoy the holiday season; eat, drink, be merry and watch your spoons!

Skål!

Sources:

https://www.theasatrucommunity.org/yule

http://www.jereme-zimmerman.com/news/2015/12/22/rs5ccw8y43hyl8go3ws0h3scwda949

Making Halloween Spooktacular

For the kids and you when are struggling with chronic illness

What do I mean by less spooky? No, not supernatural. Less exhausting. Less plagued by anxiety. Less painful, because being in pain can really take the fun out of Halloween and give a different  meaning to Boo. And for your teens or little ones who struggle with having a chronic illness or autoimmune disorder this can be particularly challenging.

My children and I escaped the knowledge of our having chronic illness/autoimmune disorders until we were well into adulthood. I do not envy the very difficult task of keeping little ones away from the tempting sweets and artificial colours and high fructose that can often be found in candies. Children are bombarded with the talk of Halloween several weeks before hand and there’s chattering amongst them about what costumes they will wear and what they will be doing and who is going to what house for a party. I can’t fathom the stress of a parent who wants to make the day fun, special, spooky but safe for them. This difficulty increases by ten-fold when you are dealing with children.

However, it’s not just children who want to have fun on Halloween, it’s the teens and adults. Don’t worry, I have tips for everyone to make this Halloween Spook-tacular!

  • Find a Trunk-or-Treat: During trunk or treat events adults decorate the back of their cars for Halloween, load up on candy, and come sit in a parking lot for kids to “trick or treat” from car-to-car. It’s like a tail-gate with candy and costumes and the kids have an absolute blast. I’ve heard of trunk-or-treat events where kids show up by the hundreds. Parents typically have to reserve a parking lot or at least make sure they can use it for the event if it’s private property and you just hand out treats to the kids. This great for parents who struggle with chronic illness and kids who are fighting it too. For example, if your child is food sensitive, or you are doing your best to keep them from candies and store bought sweet treats, get a group of friends together with the same problems and have a trunk-or-treat with them. You know your child is safe then. This is also an easy and wise choice if your child can’t keep up with going around the neighbourhood but they still want to go out.https://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/6287-how-to-organize-a-trunk-or-treat
  • Pace yourself: This is for both of you. Don’t leave things for the last minute, however you decide to celebrate Halloween. Even giving yourself a week is better than leaving it until the last minute. Your body will thank you. This goes for your child too. And remember that goes for Christmas and putting up the tree on Christmas Eve. Decorating the night before might seem like a nostalgic tradition, but your body will think it’s torture and scream at you.https://www.yahoo.com/now/taking-holidays-day-day-spoonie-232047353.html
  • Stay home: If this is an option for you, make it an event. Like-wise, if this is an option for your teen or even your little one, don’t let it go by just being another day. Halloween is about the magic as well as the spookiness. Dress up in costumes, pass out candy to the kids, watch scary movies and have tasty snacks.
  • No Pressure: The best thing to do with an older child is to do your best to help them not feel pressured into doing something everyone else is doing. I know, I could feel the eye-rolling from here. But it’s easier than it sounds with Halloween than other things. Give them options. Fun options and they will be more willing to take it easy. But if they don’t, comfort them and help them use it as a learning moment.

Remembrance

The remains of the World trade Center stand amid other debris Sept. 11, 2001 following the terrorist attack on the buildings in New York. Alexandre Fuchs/AP

Today is September 11, 2021. It’s been 20 years since the wicked terrorist attacks that took down the beautiful and iconic World Trade Center. It is a day that encompasses even more tragedy with the attack on the Pentagon and though we may never know its actual target, the lives that were lost in a heroic effort to detour their hijacked plane which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania the same day. Like many of you reading this, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the day in all began to unfold. I can remember that day in all its stark and vivid detail and I imagine like my parents and their memories of President Kennedy’s assassination, I always will. My purpose in this retelling is to honor the memories of those who were lost that day. I truly believe that it is our collective memory and shared experiences and pain that can help prevent history repeating itself. When we become removed from a traumatic event like this one, and push it into a space of the past, we no longer view it as something that has the potential to happen again. It is a part of history, and might as well be some dusty tome, with weathered parchment and fading ink.

It was a normal day like any other in our house. My husband had gone to work and my older two daughters had gone to elementary school. I was home with my youngest two daughters (barely 2 and 1 years old). Our routine started early and once I had my 2-year-old fed, I sat down to feed my other daughter while I attempted to have coffee and watch GMA. It’s a routine I still have today. As the news and images started filtering in about the World Trade Center, I remember feeling frightened. At first it seemed like some horrible accident and because I have deep connections to New York with most of my family having lived there and family that still live there, I was concerned. When it became clear that this was a purposeful act, dread washed over me in a way that I cannot say I have ever felt before or since. I remember clutching my youngest close and her older sister coming over and asking, “Mama cry?” Her big, beautiful, hazel eyes looking up at me full of concern. I pulled her close and just held them both against me, enveloping myself in their love as I bore witness to this inexplicable thing unfolding, of which we only knew in those moments was the World Trade Center, and instinctively knew that everything had just changed. That day I went and collected our two other children from school, uncertain if there would be any more attacks and I simply wanted them close to me. I wanted to protect them while I still could from all the ugliness in the world.

Our world changed that day. In the blink of an eye we became closer as a nation as we grieved this indescribable loss together. We honored the heroes who ran charging into danger to try and save lives while losing their own. We honored those that made the impossible decision to fight back and protect people who had no name, even though they had loved ones who they would not see again, because they refused to allow terror to win. My remembrance begins and ends with those who were lost, celebrating their unique lives. My remembrance continues with the families who were left behind, praying that despite their loss, they’ve managed to find peace and even a little happiness in the years afterwards. We cannot change the past as much as we’d like to, but I believe that we can change the future and we can make certain that those lives lost, were not in vain. Remembering this day, the lives that were lost and the legacies left behind in each of those that survived will continue the healing without the forgetting.

*Featured image: by Jin S Lee featured in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The Texas Abortion Law is an Assault Against Women

**Warning this may be Triggering and please read with caution**

I try to stay away from things that are political on my blog, or that will simply take away from the larger message here, which is information about chronic illness, chronic pain, and mental health. However, I feel like this subject does encompass mental health as well as the emotional health and state of a woman who finds herself dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Everything I write about in my blog is emotional and personal and this subject is no different. I am a woman who found herself facing this difficult choice and without the access I had to this type of healthcare, my life would probably have been very different. But, even if I had not faced this decision myself, I am a woman and I empathize with the women around me who face different circumstances in their lives which may not support having a child. I am also a mother to four women, and one in four women will choose to have an abortion. https://www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2017/abortion-common-experience-us-women-despite-dramatic-declines-rates

There are so many reasons that this law is an assault against our gender, but let me start with following: The law bans abortions as soon as cardiac activity can be detected, which is around 6 weeks. Many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks for many different reasons. Let’s untangle this.

Speaking strictly in terms of statistics, about 50% of women will have early signs of pregnancy by the time they are five weeks pregnant. 70% of women will have pregnancy symptoms by six weeks pregnant. 90% of women will have pregnancy symptoms by eight weeks pregnant. https://www.babycenter.com/getting-pregnant/how-to-get-pregnant/pregnancy-symptoms_1146468 Most pregnancies are unplanned. In fact, about 40-49% of pregnancies are unplanned. Even those women who take birth control religiously are only human, and as humans, there are mistakes. This doesn’t even include things like medications that may interfere with the efficacy of birth control like some antibiotics. We are all busy people and sometimes there can be innocent mistakes like forgetting to take the pill. Even so, a woman taking the birth control pill exactly as they should, is looking at a 1-2% failure rate. This means that “1 or 2 out of 100 users relying solely on the pill will get pregnant.” https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/09/health/pregnancy-at-six-weeks/index.html Many women out there aren’t over-seeing the frequency of their cycle with eagle eyes unless they are trying to get pregnant and/or are having fertility issues. There are women out there who don’t have routine sex, who don’t visit the doctor regularly, and who may have mental health problems that keep them from recognizing or accepting their symptoms of pregnancy.

It may be difficult for some to understand that mental health issues could prevent someone from recognizing symptoms of pregnancy, but it’s not only limited to mental health disorders. Fear or stress can be an overwhelming emotion and for some women, they go into denial. Let us take for example, a teenager, who thinks she may be pregnant but may convince herself otherwise because she is so fearful of how her parents will react or what they may do if she is living in an unsafe environment. A married woman may convince herself she is not pregnant by someone other than her partner. Again, it may not simply be because of the cheating but if she is living with domestic violence, it could place her in danger and by the time she accepts or can no longer hide her state, it might be too late. Some women do not have symptoms like morning sickness, breast tenderness, or fatigue. If a woman is overweight or their size fluctuates, they may not notice the extra baby weight.

There are many women who struggle with irregular periods whether it is because of stress, some medications (like the birth control pill or drugs for epilepsy), or health problems like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uncontrolled diabetes or even an eating disorder. There may be spot bleeding for other women (who have period issues) who may mistake it for her period and alternatively, a woman may not have regular periods, to begin with, so missing a period for a few months isn’t a red flag. A woman who has been diagnosed with PCOS may believe they are infertile. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility (according to the Mayo Clinic), so a person with this diagnosed condition may have been told that it will be incredibly difficult (to impossible) for them to get pregnant, leading them to not suspect a thing.

 The last thing I will point out that may surprise some is lack of education. I’m not talking about finishing high school or needing a higher education degree to know you are pregnant. I’m talking about sex education. The United States has no uniform curriculum for sex education and for many across the United States, it is not required or, parents may choose to exempt their child from sex education. Also, because the curriculum is at the discretion of individual states, some might designate “comprehensive, medically accurate and inclusive of gender and sex identities,” other states may opt for a model focused on abstinence with no legal requirement to go above and beyond that.” https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/09/health/pregnancy-at-six-weeks/index.html This can leave schools to make the decision of what they will and won’t offer. It can also lead to students having gaps in understanding how the human body works and how you can get pregnant. These are actual questions from teens and answers from Bedsider.org about pregnancy :

Can I get pregnant if I was drunk or high when we had sex?Yes! Being drunk or high when you have sex has nothing to do with the biological chances of getting pregnant. Since being drunk or high probably makes you or your partner less likely to remember to use that condom or take that birth control pill, it may actually increase the chance of a pregnancy. If being drunk or high is part of your regular scene, consider doubling up to be super-safe with condoms and a party-ready birth control method like the implant, the IUD, or the shot.

https://www.bedsider.org/features/265-um-can-i-get-pregnant-if-part-2

Can I get pregnant if we’ve been having sex without birth control and haven’t gotten pregnant yet? Maybe I’m infertile.Up to 1 in 6 young people believe that they may never be able to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant. In reality, less than 1 in 100 young and healthy people are truly infertile. Having sex without birth control and not getting pregnant means you got lucky. You may get lucky multiple times, but this does not mean you are infertile. It means you are pushing your luck: 95% of young couples who have sex once a week are pregnant within a year. Most of us have heard that “it only takes one time.” While that’s true, there are a lot of factors involved, and most couples who are actively trying to get pregnant get there within 6 months.

https://www.bedsider.org/features/265-um-can-i-get-pregnant-if-part-2

Abortion is increasingly concentrated among poor women and women of colour, which makes this law all the more an assault against women. For women who have the means to leave the state (whether it’s flying to a different state/country or driving and then paying for the procedure), this law will not affect them. But the other women? I fear for what may happen to them; where they may go to receive the care that should be accessible to them. I fear for them and the lengths they might go, to terminate a pregnancy with the internet and so many shady sites that might offer toxic or life-threatening concoctions to terminate the pregnancy. Women’s lives are valuable and I shouldn’t have to plead with those that govern my state to allow us dominion over what happens to our bodies. Especially when these same people who claim to be a champion of these unborn babies, don’t also give women the resources to take care of this child they may not be able to care for, or a way to escape an abusive relationship that may eventually shift to the child, or make allowance for women who have done nothing wrong but were survivors of rape/incest and cannot bring a child into the world from that assault. Our lives are every bit as important and women should not be forced to incubate a child in their womb because they cannot access this healthcare.

Guttmacher Institute

I cannot comprehend why Governor Abbott would push for and sign into law this abortion ban that jeopardizes the lives of so many women and then says that there is no need for an exception for rape because they’re going to eliminate all rapists. It’s nonsensical. There is no way to accept that the police, with everything on their plate already, can rid the streets of rapists. Statically, 51.1% of women are assaulted by an intimate partner, in 8-10 cases the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them, and 40.8% of women are assaulted by an acquaintance. But here’s the reason why Gov. Abbott can never rid the streets of rapists and why this law is an assault on women: 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.  [National Sexual Violence Resource Center- Info + Stats for Journalists] Even if more sexual assaults were reported, do we have the capability of incarcerating these criminals for the rest of their lives? Are they going to receive special treatment because they are white, in college, and play sports? Are they going to be set free by a jury because a woman is made out to be less credible because she is a sex worker?

Governor Abbott cannot protect women from all these possibilities and neither can he protect women from rape. What he can do is change this law. The definition of rape as it reads in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is the:

unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

This is law is forcing women, against their will, to continue a pregnancy to term. I don’t see this as being any different than forcing a woman to be an incubator. This law also gives permission to private citizens to enforce the law instead of public officials allowing them to sue clinics that they feel may have “aided and abetted” illegal abortions. In the mind of people who are mentally unstable and who may fervently oppose abortions, this opens a very dangerous door. A door that could lead to clinics being targeted and women and medical staff being hurt. How is this not like rape? It is obvious that I feel passionate about a woman’s right to choose. Like so many women out there, this has touched me personally and my decisions have impacted my life greatly. Some would say that I don’t see the issues clearly because of my past, but I would say that it is because of my past, I see things so clearly. This ban tells young women that not only is their body not their own, but that they are incapable of making decisions for their future and how a baby might impact that future. It tells them that they are so incapable that people they have never met, who don’t know their history or anything they have been through had to create a law to protect something that they will have to nurture in their bodies and grow against their will. It tells women who are poor and those women of color that they are not worth it. Did you know that in states with more abortion restrictions there are higher rates of maternal/infant mortality? “Abortion restrictions—especially gestational bans, which seek to ban abortion at an arbitrary point of gestation during pregnancy—are often proposed by anti-choice lawmakers as a way to protect women’s health. However, research has shown that the more abortion restrictions a state has, the worse women and children’s health outcomes in the state are. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) conducted a study that created a state-level scoring system with the following categories: abortion restrictions; policies that support women and children’s well-being; women and children’s health outcomes; and social determinants of health.” https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2018/06/13/451891/limiting-abortion-access-contributes-poor-maternal-health-outcomes/

There is already a divide that is felt in America- a socio-economic one and a racial one- and this law will only deepen that divide. I will fight for the rights of women, for the rights of my daughters, and for the rights of any person who finds themselves facing this impossible decision because they matter. Their lives matter and their future matters.

September is Chronic Pain Awareness Month

Credit: Inktastic

Chronic Pain: is an unpleasant pain that persists for three months or longer. It is different from Acute Pain: which comes on suddenly and usually results from an injury and can be treated. Chronic Pain may be related to several different medical conditions and more often than not, cannot be cured- only managed.

The list that follows is not comprehensive by any means, but here are some medical conditions that can cause chronic pain.

Arthritis & joint problems (Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, Ankylosing spondylitis)

Migraine headaches

Back pain (spine & hip issues)

Fibromyalgia

Neuropathy and other nerve-related issues

Lyme Disease

IBD (including Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis)

Endometriosis

Cancer

Postsurgical pain

Multiple Sclerosis

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Diagnosing Chronic Pain

Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery

To be diagnosed with chronic pain you may need one of the following:

CT(computer imaging topography) is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures inside your body.

MRI or magnetic resonance imaging. It uses magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside you.

X-ray uses radiation in low doses to make images of structures in your body.

Sometimes, it takes several doctors to diagnose chronic pain and you may have to conduct one or more of these tests several times before you receive the right diagnosis and can move on to treatment.

Treatment

As for treatment, there are many ways that doctors can tackle chronic pain to make a person more comfortable.

They may use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or a TENs unit, applies to the affected area.

Breathing and meditation techniques.

Biofeedback

Nerve blocks

Spinal cord stimulation

Pain meds like NSAIDs, muscle relaxers, anti-depressants, anti-seizure meds, and opioids.

Surgery to treat the conditions that caused the pain.

Life with Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain may be the most challenging part after diagnosis. There may be feelings of loneliness; feelings like you are suffering alone and that there is no one out there who understands you or what you are going through. You may find that you aren’t able to keep up with chores like you once did and you either have to learn to let things go for when you are having a good pain day and can do it on your own or, you may have to enlist the help of some family members or even an outside source. Some of your friends may not understand when you have to cancel engagements because you are dealing with more pain than usual and you may end up finding who your true friends are. Work may become increasingly more difficult and you may have to consider going part-time or perhaps changing your profession, or maybe going back to school. Some days might be more painful than others; you may need a walking aid or a wheelchair and other days you may be able to go out and do your errands or gardening or even running. This does not make your pain fake or diminish it any way. Pain patients experience good days where their functional ability may fluctuate.

Life with chronic pain is difficult and you may have to adapt quite a bit during the course as things change in your life. You need to maintain hope even when things feel hopeless. There are still many things in this life to live for and many joys to be had, even while battling chronic pain. A support system is incredibly important and even though you may not be able to get out and be with people, the internet can be used for good and fill in that social gap. There are many communities across the internet, including Twitter and Instagram, where you can meet people who are in very similar situations and can understand what you are going through. Having these communities can boost your morale, give you something to live for and remind you that you aren’t alone in this world which can mean so much. Chronic pain can affect your mental health, so it is important to keep engaged and on to hope. If you find you are having difficulties and having suicidal thoughts, please contact someone you trust and let them know or reach out to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English & Spanish.

800.273.8255

I Have Forgotten What Life is Like Without Chronic Illness

Let me preface this by saying that I have good days. Many people with chronic illness(es) have good days, but what we consider good days are not a healthy person’s good or even average healthy day. It can be a bit puzzling if you don’t struggle with a chronic illness so let me explain a bit to help you visualize things better.  

You know when you have a really bad cold and you are in the midst of it, maybe that fourth day in, where you are just starting to turn that corner but still feel like you’ve been standing at the helm of a ship during a thunderstorm, being beaten by the rain and wind for hours and haven’t slept well because of congestion and coughing and you ache all over? Those are our good days. It varies from person to person, of course, depending on what chronic illness(es) the person might be dealing with but the bottom line is that there are no comparisons between our good days. In fact, many healthy people would probably call in sick- until, of course, they realized they weren’t getting better. This is why we take full advantage of those days where the symptoms and the pain are low and we can participate more completely in our lives. Because life doesn’t stop and we all have things that are important to us which demands our attention. 

Chronic illness entangles your life until you can’t recall what life is like without it. Continuing with me as an example, my life has become about doctor’s visits, pills, injections, infusions and various procedures, all in a valiant effort to manage symptoms of conditions that will continue to deteriorate as I get older or, as the conditions progress at their own happy little speed. I live in the ‘in-between.’ In between pain, and constantly trying to dodge symptoms as I endeavour to enjoy life. I don’t remember how I functioned before this, being tethered by a litany of symptoms that dictates what and how much I can do on any given day, and even on those good days, making certain I don’t overdo it. I’ve learned the hard way just how much I have to pay for doing too much. 

Living with chronic illness changes every aspect of your life. You lose a version of yourself and that can be very difficult to accept. How we function in our lives, how we make a living and how independent we are- these are all enormous facets of our identity. It’s not a change that happens suddenly, but rather, gradually. It chips away at different facets of our life until we suddenly realize how much we have had to change to accommodate our illness and our new lifestyle. In my case, it was gradually decreasing hours at work, changing my job and hours hoping that this might ease my life a bit, not returning to work, to ultimately filing for disability. My illness has necessitated a walking stick to get around easier. It’s also forced the purchase of a wheelchair, for when I am feeling particularly badly. When you look in the mirror, the person being reflected back at you isn’t what you remembered and yet you are still the same in all the ways that matter. 

It may seem to someone outside of this realm of chronic illness that I over exaggerate. It can’t really be that bad, can it? But my purpose in sharing this with you is not to garner sympathy. As difficult as things may be I am grateful to be here. My intent is to educate and to help you empathize with people like us, even though you may not ever understand what we go through every day. It’s easy to go about life thinking that this could never happen to me. I’ll never get sick like that because I take good care of myself. The fact is, none of us ever thought it would happen to us and yet, here we are. Life is a roll of the genetic dice. You get what you get and you make the best of it. I may have forgotten what it’s like without chronic illness, but I make certain to enjoy life now, always making the best effort to live in the moment, because I know how quickly it could all change. 

What Body Shaming Does

I recently watched Valerie Bertinelli bear her soul on an Instagram post in direct response to a body shamer. [Watch the video below.] The post’s objective is to fight back instead of just pushing down those hurt feelings. Some people will say that it comes with her line of work, or that this is just another case of people being too sensitive. Hell, I imagine there will be people coming to this person’s defense, citing free speech and that she just needs to get over it, but what this is really about is the pain that women and men endure at the hands of body shamers.

Sure, it’s just words and as probably everyone’s mother has told them when they were little, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” isn’t exactly true. Words are powerful. If they weren’t would they be such a persuasive tool? Words are used to convey meaning and sentiment in so many areas of our lives. You have Pulitzer Prize winners in literature and poetry. Words are used by our world leaders and politicians to persuade you to vote for them as well as unite us. Words in stories can be brought to the big screen and they can be powerful or funny. We can use words to convey love and hate and hurt towards another person and it is powerful.  

Today, our words are being exchanged with one another via text, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and hundreds, if not thousands, other, various platforms. This has given bullies that we once only encountered on the playground at school or organized sports or other extra-curricular school activities, another avenue by which they can torment. And the best part of this for them is they never have to engage with the object of their hurtful words. Many times, they do not even know the person they are attacking. It’s just someone on the computer and it is forgotten that they are human and have feelings and a heart.

Body shaming leaves scars. It has a profound effect on those who have endured it. It crushes self-esteem and confidence; it causes major stress which can then have an even deeper effect on the body as a whole; it can even lead to bulimia and/or anorexia or another eating disorder. It’s difficult to find “body shaming effects,” when you plug it into Google, but you’ll get thousands of possible results on “how to lose weight,” “decrease obesity,” or just about anything you can think of that relates to getting thinner.

But I know these things mostly because they have touched me and not even to the excess it has others, and the effects have been profound and long-lasting. I was an athletic kid who participated in cross-country and gymnastics, and who had dabbled in tap dancing and ballet. My earliest memories, however, have always been the uncomfortable way I felt in my own skin. My mother, who had been overweight as a child and into her youth, was constantly dieting. Even now, as she approaches her mid-70’s, she is always looking at new ways to stay trim and/or lose weight. She imposed this way of thinking on myself and my father who has always had that “dad belly.”

I can recall distinctly the way she would check my waistband on clothing to see if it was getting too tight and it had nothing to do with seeing if I needed a new pair because I was growing out of them. It was to remind me that I needed to watch my weight. I didn’t want to get fat. No one liked fat girls. As an adult, I understand my mother was trying to be the best mother she could be and was trying to protect me from the ridicule of children, who can be cruel. But, because of the kind of person I am, already prone to obsessive thinking as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, it was a catalyst for how my pre-teen years and teen years would evolve.

The first time I was body-shamed was in Middle School and it wasn’t your typical kind of body shaming. I wasn’t called “fat,” I was objectified by the boys who snapped my bra and tried to grab my ass or slap my ass because I had hit puberty early. I had breasts and curves and while I never thought of myself as pretty, especially as a pre-teen, it seems I made their hormones explode. I didn’t want to look the way I did. My friends didn’t look like me and the way my body had changed, the only way I could think of to change it was to lose weight and throw myself into athletics. In my pubescent mind, I thought I could undo mother nature.

Camp, would be the second time I was body shamed. My athletic body didn’t evolve the way I thought it would. Instead of being lean and lithe, muscles had given my small frame a bulky appearance that I despised. I had envisioned myself returning to the more, slender frame of my child-self with a boyish figure rather than to this feminine, strong, muscled girl whom I did not appreciate. While at camp, another girl pointed at me (we were all in bathing suits during swim lessons and they were comparing ‘thigh gaps) and commented to another girl (in Mean Girls fashion), “God she has fat thighs!” I was wrecked instantly.

I threw myself into exercising and gymnastics. I began restricting what I ate, counting calories and making myself throw up. It’s painful to look at pictures of myself and see this young, very slender girl and know the pain she was going through internally. There was a constant comparison of myself to other girls who didn’t have the same body type as I did and this endless competition to look like them, just so I would feel better about myself. I never achieved it.

When I got pregnant at 19, I had no idea how much it would change my life. Not only the aspect of motherhood at such a young age, but the profound effect it would have on how I felt about my body. I promised myself that I would never let what I went through affect my child and later on my children (who are all girls.) But what I didn’t realize was that while I had overcome a lot, the effects of body shaming would continue until even now at 47. I don’t wear shorts because I don’t like how I look. I’ve gained a lot of weight because of chronic illness and pain, my highest weight being 190lbs and my lowest and current weight now at 160lbs. I always say I’d like to get back to 145-150 which was my weight after my youngest was born. But it’s been a struggle and it’s like when you watch a dog trying to constantly chase its tail, going in circles and never winning. My girls know my appearance makes me unhappy and it hurts me that I’ve never imparted a more body-positive environment for them. Because life is too short to be constantly fretting about how you look. Life should be about the things that make you happy.

I haven’t endured nearly as much body shaming as others. Much of it has been me being self-critical, but I do empathise with those who have had to endure it. Body shaming is so very destructive with lingering impacts. I hear Valerie Bertinelli and those out there who may have been the object of such cruelty and I support you. We don’t need to live in a world with body shaming. As mothers and fathers, educators, family and friends, we need to teach our youth that our appearance is only a tiny bit of what makes us human. We need to show our youth that it isn’t about being thin or pretty but having a good soul and a kind heart. We can change the world, one word at a time. We can also take back our lives by embracing the body we are in and not allowing someone else to try and diminish that.