September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The aim of these health month designations is to educate and bring awareness to diseases and the treatment of disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100. And for men, the American Cancer Society states that about 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. Both of these cancers are more likely to develop in older women and men. You can go here and here to learn more about symptoms, risk, treatments, etc.

 

We all know how fast things change, and cancer care is changing too. The big “C” is less frequently a terminal illness than it was years ago. Yet, the worry that a possible or actual cancer diagnosis causes remains. I remember how scared I was when the mammography center called me once to say they needed me to come back for another, more thorough screening due to unclear “spots.” Yikes! Thankfully it was nothing. And many of us know the sinking feeling when told a family member or a friend gets a cancer diagnosis. While cancer is not a good or simple thing to face, the good news is that treatments are much more successful and may not be as awful as once upon a time, and hopefully will see even more progress soon. Because of the public’s complaints about how debilitating older treatments were, almost worse than the cancer itself, medical personnel and researchers have begun to focus on making cancer a manageable disease – looking at less aggressive treatment and paying more attention to the fears and concerns of the patient. The focus is moving more toward prevention, early diagnosis, and patient experience during and after treatment. While still scary, cancer does not need to be the scariest of diagnoses anymore.

 

Of course we all know there are certain risky behaviors that increase a person’s chances of getting cancer in their lifetime: smoking, years of breathing industrial dust without a mask, overexposure to the sun, etc. But it is also believed that nearly everyone has or will have some malignant cells in their body, and why some people develop cancer and some do not is unknown to date, outside of obvious factors. For instance, a smoker is more likely to develop lung cancer than his non-smoking sibling, but we’ve all heard of people who developed lung cancer with no obvious cause. So what can one do to lessen the risk? Aside from the obvious like not smoking, minimizing sun exposure, using protective gear at work or around chemicals, did you know that excess stress and a poor diet can also contribute to cancer risk?

 

Stress is a normal part of living and usually not a concern, but sometimes it gets too unmanageable and becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. People often deal with this by smoking a lot, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors all may increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Chronic stress is also harmful to overall health which may leave one vulnerable to growth of malignant cells. So it is important to deal with increasing stress in healthful ways. Look for ways to reduce stressful obligations, avoid stress-inducing situations, and/or delegate tasks that are overloading you. In addition, seek ways to get a handle on your stress about things you cannot change. Learn how to meditate, learn some calming yoga poses, spend time in contemplative prayer, or set aside time for a solo walk. Do this daily! Find 30 minutes in your day to do one or more of these practices. If necessary, get professional help in dealing with stress and anxiety that you cannot manage. Help your body by relieving it of some of the burden too much stress puts on it.

 

Doctors are more and more convinced of inflammation’s role in increasing cancer risk, as well as the risk of other serious ailments like heart disease and dementia. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diet contribute to chronic inflammation. I already mentioned reducing stress, and have many times recommended regular activity/movement/exercise. A healthful way of eating reduces the chances of chronic inflammation and will help eliminate inflammation that already exists. Also, a healthful way of eating helps with weight control. Obesity increases the risk of certain cancers. What does anti-inflammatory, healthful eating look like? It looks like lots of vegetables and fruits; whole grains (not ground into flour); beans and legumes; fats such as from nuts and avocados; small amounts of high-quality animal protein if desired; and limited amounts of natural sugars (honey or pure maple syrup, for instance). Omit highly processed foods, fried food, sweetened beverages, and so forth. Common sense eating really. This is not a fad diet meant to be followed for a few weeks or months. This is a lifestyle way of eating.

 

You are your own best defense against needing cancer treatment. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. You will be the first to notice changes that warrant investigation. Take care of your body by feeding it well, getting regular exercise, avoiding known dangers, and maintaining calm and positive outlook, filled with gratitude for the gifts you have. And we all have gifts!

 

20160524_clutterwarsI am what some might call a “neat-freak”. I’m not as obsessive as I once was; a busy life and getting older changes one’s perspective on many things. But I do have limited space in the condo in which I live, so neatness still matters. People who visit will say “your house is so clean!” as if they are surprised about that for some reason, but what they really mean is that it is so neat. Yeah, it’s pretty clean too, but not as “scubby Dutch” clean as I once would have kept it. (The term “scubby Dutch” refers to southside St. Louis Germans who called Germany Deutschland and spoke Deutsch, or German. The housewives were very clean and neat, and scrubbed everything. The word ‘Deutsch’ became ‘Dutch’ when non-German speakers said the word. Yes, those women were my ancestors! In the past I tore my whole house apart twice a year and cleaned everything – every light fixture, vent, piece of furniture, drape, every square inch. On top of regular cleaning.)

Now, I was not like this as a teenager, no way. My room was as messy as it could be. Fortunately, the obsessive-neat gene bypassed my mom and she just ignored my mess, as long as it was in my room and didn’t draw bugs! She knew I’d get tired of it sooner or later and clean up, and periodically I did. Then I got married and our first apartment was small, with minimal storage space. Plus we had a baby, with all the stuff that comes with one. Keeping things picked up was essential if we didn’t want to trip over things in the dark when the baby awoke! Even as we moved to larger homes, I realized the more stuff we had on shelves, tables, and floor, the more work I’d have cleaning, not to mention packing and moving it all. So even though I had knick-knacks and decorative items, I tried to keep those minimal.

Time goes by, and I become more conscious of the environmental impacts we humans cause. Think of the trash, wasted resources, and energy usage and pollution from shipping long distances the ‘stuff’ we buy. Stuff to decorate, or to try that nifty new appliance that only gets used a couple of times, or to keep up with fashion trends. Stuff that replaces other stuff, except the other stuff is still perfectly fine so we don’t get rid of it. Or it holds sentimental value. And pretty soon, the stuff overflows the closet, the garage, the basement, the cabinets. And you have clutter! And I hate it. It makes me nervous. I have to reorganize it until it seems uncluttered, and if that won’t work – time to purge.

However, some people celebrate clutter! We call them ‘pack-rats’ or sometimes, ‘hoarders’. I think it depends on the depth of their clutter collections. Everyone’s tolerance for clutter is different. Not to say all clutter is BAD – research has found that some people need a bit of a mess in their surroundings to feel inspired. If you are in this category, the next section may be painful to read! Because I’m going to point out why you should de-clutter and give some tips on clearing the clutter.

Why de-clutter? When your surroundings are cluttered, it’s hard to de-stress and decompress from the clutter in your mind. It’s more difficult to find things. You lose track of what you already have, like discovering you own three of the same kind of shovel. It allows for more dust and dirt to hide, adding to allergy symptoms. Clutter fosters procrastination; if it’s hard to find a starting place, it’s easy to give up the task or project. Clutter can stop you from moving forward and getting passed the past. Clutter competes for your attention and overloads your senses, resulting in increased stress and impairing your ability to think creatively. Maybe multi-tasking is not the problem! And of course, clutter can be a safety hazard, like tripping over one of the three shovels on your way through the garage!

So how does one go about clearing this up? Well, there are those who insist organization first is key, and others who promote a ‘just do it’ method. The latter feel that organizing 1) takes too much time for the truly cluttered and is daunting; and 2) promotes keeping things, albeit neatly, that should really be tossed out. Yet without some organization or at least a systematic approach, time will be wasted and interest lost when tackling the big projects. One suggestion is to have a bag or box for five groups – things for the trash, things that already have a place but aren’t in it, things that have no place but should, things that you will donate or sell, and things that you don’t use, can’t wear, or haven’t looked at in years yet are reluctant to get rid of. This latter group should be labeled with a date, say a year or six months from the time you pack it, and if you do not need to retrieve anything from it in that time, out it goes. Take these five bags or boxes to each area to be de-cluttered and begin. Once you have finished that area, take care of the five bags/boxes as soon as you can. Carry the stuff to the trash. Arrange to go by the charity drop off point or plan a date for the yard sale. Take the things with a place back to it, and find a place for those that have none. Store the box with the date out of the way. You may want to limit your first forays to 15 or 30 minutes, to reduce the stress of getting started. But once you see that now clear area, it will be so inspiring you will want to tackle the next area and work longer at it! Another suggestion is to start with a really cluttered area that is in your face daily – like the place where everything coming in the door stops and jumbles up: keys, shoes, mail, dog leash, etc.

Once you clear the clutter, or at least the bulk of it in your main living areas, it is important to keep things neat. If you let it all pile up again, you will be frustrated about the time you had spent cleaning it and feel way less motivated to tackle it again. No need to become a drill sergeant, but try to make a habit of putting things away. Maybe make a rule that if a new XYZ comes through the door, an old XYZ has to go. Or no buying new XYZs unless it is really needed and has a place to be kept out of the way. And, you must engage the others in the household to stick with the new habits and rules.

Most of all, freeing yourself of clutter simplifies your life and that’s what I’m all about, right?!