healing Archives - Vitanova

Ashwagandha: Keep calm and be awesome

 

If you ever feel overwhelmed by the never-ending to-do list of modern life, there’s one herb you should know about: ashwagandha. The root of this well-studied herb has a long history of use in Ayurveda—the ancient Indian system of medicine—for restoring vigor and strength after the body has been depleted by stress.*

 

A premier adaptogenic herb

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. This remarkable class of herbs actually increases an individual’s ability to maintain homeostasis, even when under physical, mental, or emotional stress.*

Unlike most herbs, which work in one direction, adaptogens work in all directions. Ephedra, for example, is a stimulant. No matter who takes ephedra, the herb will have a stimulating effect similar to caffeine. Its direction, in other words, is always up.

Adaptogens, however, can turn the dial up or down as needed. Like a thermostat that heats or cools the air to maintain a consistent temperature, adaptogens increase or decrease bodily activity to maintain homeostasis.* Their direction changes depending on the person.*

As an adaptogen, ashwagandha reads what your body needs and then fine tunes your system in response. If you feel fatigued, it will energize you.* If you are stressed out, it will calm you down.* If you need to concentrate, it will help you focus.* If you need to rest, it will relax you.* Sound too good to be true? Check out the research!

 

Researched benefits of ashwagandha

Several human clinical trials published over the past two decades provide scientific evidence that ashwagandha is effective for the relief of occasional stress.*

In 2000, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that after six weeks of treatment with 500mg of ashwagandha per day, 88.2 percent of participants felt relief from occasional stress, while only 50 percent of those taking the placebo did.* (In other words, it was almost twice as effective!)

Another double-blind study published in 2009 and lasting 12 weeks compared two different protocols for occasional stress. One group of participants received counseling about diet, learned deep-breathing exercises, and took a multivitamin plus 600 mg of ashwagandha per day. The other group received psychotherapy, learned the same breathing exercises, and took a placebo. At the end of the study, the ashwagandha group experienced a 56.5 percent reduction in stress, while the psychotherapy group experienced just a 30.5 percent decline.* (Again, ashwagandha was nearly two times as effective!) The folks taking ashwagandha also experienced more marked improvements in concentration, energy, social functioning, and overall quality of life.*

 

How ashwagandha works

The active constituents of ashwagandha are called withanolides. They work by decreasing levels of cortisol, a hormone released during stress, and increasing levels of DHEA, a hormone that supports a positive mood.*

These mechanisms of action were illustrated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2008 that compared stress symptoms and hormone levels among people taking either 125, 250, or 500 mg of Sensoril® (a standardized extract of ashwagandha) or a placebo. Sensoril® not only helped reduce feelings of occasional stress—as well as sleeplessness, forgetfulness, and irritability—it also reduced cortisol while increasing DHEA.*

Ashwagandha root extract is sold in capsules or tablets, or as a powder or tincture. The withanolide content is often standardized and indicated on the label and can vary from 1.5 percent to 10 percent.

 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958355/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19718255

https://blog.priceplow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/withania_review.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573577/

Collagen: Bring firmness back to your skin

By Sara Lovelady

One hallmark of youthful skin is firmness. When you’re young, your skin is naturally taut. As your skin ages, though, it loses its firmness and starts to sag. Ideally, you want to take steps to prevent your skin from sagging in the first place. But if you’re past that point, is there anything you can do? The answer is yes, in the form of collagen.

Beauty from the inside out

Collagen is a structural protein and the main component of connective tissue. It makes up 30 percent of the protein in your body and an amazing 70 percent of the protein in your skin.

Think of collagen as the scaffolding of a building. It provides the structure that supports and binds the other tissues of your body, including your tendons, muscles, cartilage, skin, and bones.* Unfortunately, several factors—including chronological aging, sun exposure, pollution, and smoke—break down the collagen in your skin, causing it to droop and wrinkle.

The good news is that collagen supplementation can help. In fact, a human clinical study found that when 26 women took 1 gram daily of a combination of type II collagen, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid for 6 weeks, the collagen content of their skin increased significantly.* At the end of the 12-week study, the participants experienced visible skin health benefits, too, including significant reductions in facial lines and wrinkles, dryness, and skin scaling.*

How does collagen work?

Collagen appears to work in a number of different ways to support youthful skin.* First, test-tube research has shown that collagen stimulates chondrocytes (cartilage cells) to produce type II collagen and proteoglycans—both important components of connective tissue.* Second, human research has documented that collagen supplementation may help the body synthesize hyaluronic acid (HA).* Because HA holds water molecules in the skin, it contributes to skin firmness.* And third, animal research has found that collagen ingestion enhances the number of fibroblasts (cells that produce collagen) in the body and protects against UV damage to the skin.*

All collagen is not the same

Importantly, there are several different kinds of collagen:

  • Type I collagen is present in the skin, tendons, blood vessels, organs, and bone
  • Type II collagen is present in the cartilage
  • Type III collagen is present in the reticular fibers of connective tissue
  • Type IV collagen is present in the basal lamina, a layer of the extracellular matrix
  • Type V collagen is present in the cell surfaces, hair, and placenta

A combination of various types of collagen may be more effective for supporting youthful skin than one type alone.*

* This statement has not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426261/

Joan Liman’s Story

Some people seem to have it all—going through life with luck on their side, having good things seemingly come to them without effort. Most of us don’t have it that easy, of course, but neither do we have to deal with major obstacles at a young age, only to have more problems pile on top of those. Joan Liman has had to deal with mental and physical illnesses simultaneously. She’s had marital problems. She lost a job. But one word that isn’t in her vocabulary is “insurmountable.” Not only did she make it through medical school, she found a creative outlet for expressing her life’s dramatic challenges via the magic of theater. As Joan relates her story, one can’t help but hear the hope and humor through all of the layers of turmoil. Although for much of her life, she has been arm wrestling with life’s challenges, Joan explains how, through perseverance, attitude and humor, she was able to gain the upper hand and deal with things that might have devastated mere mortals.

“I was 26 when I had my first battle with depression. I was hospitalized. Depression ran in my family. I had my ECT—electro-convulsive therapy—in 1977. It worked. I had recovered from my depression, but I wasn’t really happy being just a stay-at-home housewife and mother—doing laundry, and that kind of thing. So I decided to apply to medical school. I was accepted. I had been pre-med in college, but I abandoned it when my daughter was born. I loved medical school. I really felt I had found my niche.

At the end of my second year, I was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was stage four, which meant it had spread. I was given two years to live. I developed depression again at the end of my third year of medical school. People told me, “You have cancer—of course you’re going to be depressed.” But it was more than that—the deep depression had returned. My marriage was on shaky ground. Not only did my husband have to deal with a wife with a mental disease but now also a very serious physical illness. So I had fallen into a very serious depression. This time, I was hospitalized for four weeks in a residential facility. I had taken a leave of my medical residency when that happened. I figured my marriage was going to fall apart, and I knew the courts weren’t so kind to people with mental illness back then. I wasn’t even sure I could return to my residency. At this point, I was a non-practicing physician.

The depression episode was kind of an “aha” moment for me. I decided I was going to keep my family together and was very fortunate to find a position in medical school administration. I joked that I used to feel like a Jewish mother who had 500 kids. People there were going through all sorts of things I had gone through, like depression and cancer. It was a 9-to-5 kind of job, as opposed to the hours I would have had to work as a doctor.

I defied the odds with my lymphoma—everything was great. Then, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. On top of that, a new dean came in to the medical school where I worked. They wound up letting a lot of people go—and I was one of them. I got a severance package from the school, which I really had to fight for. I went through chemo and had a double mastectomy. I suffered from another phase of depression, but it was nothing like before. At this point, I had been on an effective antidepressant for a number of years.

I realized after being laid off that being involved in theater was something I could put my energy into. I heard an interview on NPR about this small theater I had never heard of. This theater company celebrated the minority perspective. It really appealed to me because I came of age in the sixties, during the civil rights movement. At the end of the radio interview, they said they needed volunteers. I decided to volunteer for the theater, and ended up taking a course in producing—and I began to produce plays.

Someone once told me, “You have had such an interesting life—you should really write a book about it.” I’ve always wanted to write, but if I wanted to write at all it would be a play because I love theater, and it would be a musical because I love musicals. So I came up with “A Limanade Life,” which is a play on words of the old expression, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, my name is Liman, so it makes Limanade! Basically, the play tells in song and narrative what I just told you. It’s been performed mainly for fundraisers for The American Cancer Society. I’ve also had it performed in a theater festival, where I was a semi-finalist; and I just submitted it to another theater festival. It’s opening up there at the end of August. It was one of ten plays chosen, and it’s the only musical. Hopefully, it will keep having a life of its own.

I’m a two-time cancer-survivor. I’ve been depression-free and mania-free for 20 years. My mantra is that when tragedy strikes, don’t be defined by it—find the divine in it. I’m a person who happens to have cancer—it doesn’t define who I am. My career path took so many twists and turns. No one knows why bad things happen to good people. The question is what happens after bad things happen to good people? I have a good sense of humor. That’s what got me through it. The message of my play is that if you have obstacles, you can overcome them. I have, and you can too!”

A Second Chance at Life – Bruce Oakes’ Story

One afternoon, Bruce Oakes, father of three, and a successful lawyer in his mid-40s, felt a severe pain in his chest. Somehow, he was able to drive himself to the nearest emergency room. Oakes, it turned out, had suffered a heart attack—unsurprising, considering the severity of the pain. And though it was a relatively minor one, the doctors decided, as a precaution against a future heart attack, to put in stents, a common preventive procedure that opens up the arteries. And there were other issues: Oakes was a heavy smoker, and—in addition to his briefcase—he carried a few extra pounds. Those factors, combined with the often stressful and demanding pace of his job, which called for almost constant traveling, created the perfect storm for health issues. What’s more, in addition to the heart problem, a previous bout with pancreatitis had left Oakes with serious diabetes, which one feckless physician deemed “out of control”—yet he sent Oakes home with no treatment; just a scary diagnosis that left him confused and feeling helpless.

“I had the first incident in 2007. I was at work, and I had some chest pains. I somehow managed to drive myself to the hospital. They told me I had had a heart attack. Well, they weren’t positive I did, but they said I was 99% blocked. That was bad enough. I was told I could have a bypass, but they thought that putting in some stents might be enough for now. They told me I should lose some weight and quit smoking. But, I still ate the same. Around that time, I was seeing a doctor who turned out to be pretty bad. He would write on my chart: ‘Diabetes out of control. Patient isn’t eating right.’ He should have prescribed shots of insulin; but instead, he did nothing. He just sent me on my way, as though there was nothing he could do. Things were fine for a while. But about seven years later, I was having some chest pains again. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew things were bad. At that point, I decided I absolutely needed to stop smoking. I should have quit earlier. Actually, I switched to the vaping system, which was better than cigarettes. But, in other ways, I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. For example, I didn’t go to cardiac rehab, like I should have. I finally went back to my cardiologist and, this time, I was told that bypass therapy wasn’t elective—it was essential. Quadruple bypass. So, I went under the knife. Man, it was scary. But I pulled through the ordeal with flying colors. The doctor said I had strong heart muscle, and because of that, through all of this, it didn’t sustain much damage. He thinks that’s because I played a lot of sports when I was young.

I look at life so differently now. I feel as though I’ve been given a second—or, is it a third?—chance to do things right. For one thing, I’m eating healthy. My wife, Dawn, cooks for me. About a month ago, I started on a diet consisting of a lot of vegetables—low carbs. And, I started walking about two miles a day. Now, I’m up to four miles. Since the surgery, I’ve felt so much better. I have energy. I work hard, but I try to find time to take it easy—to travel; things like that. I’m feeling grateful for so many things: my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my parents, my puppies—and I’m grateful that my law firm is doing well. I’m thankful for sports, for great drama series, and a good steak at Morton’s. And, I’m working on a novel, too; I haven’t given up my dream of becoming the next John Grisham. I have so much to live for. Life is short but wonderful—and now my heart is in it.

How fermentation can enhance nutrition. Hint: think sauerkraut and vitamins.

Sauerkraut has made a comeback with a new generation of foodies––healthy foodies. That’s because fermentation makes this centuries-old European cabbage dish a good-for-you choice, and Millennials have re-discovered its benefits. According to Chelsea Krost, Millennial lifestyle expert, younger generations are “obsessed” with fermented foods because the active cultures make them “good for intestinal health and digestion.” Essentially, they’re a delicious way to get your probiotics.

Fermented foods may be one of the latest culinary trends, but many of these recipes have been around for thousands of years since fermentation is one of the oldest-known ways to preserve foods. Fermented foods have played a role in cultures across the globe throughout history, including: Latin America, India, Russia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea. Other well-known, fermented foods include kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, and tempeh.

So, how does fermentation occur? Yeasts and lactic acid bacteria are two types of microorganisms that foster fermentation—and in the process, common foods such as milk, cabbage and soy are transformed into substances with far more nutritional value. And, not only do they become more vitamin-rich, but the nutrients are also more bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb the nutrients better.

Science-Based Medicine, an organization that explores the scientific perspective of alternative medicine and treatments, did their own research and drew the same conclusions: “The fermentation process enhances the nutritional quality of food by contributing beneficial compounds such as vitamins and by increasing the bioavailability of minerals,” writes Lucy Shewell, author of the Science-Based Medicine article. She goes on to say, “Probiotics, including those found in kimchi, have a range of positive effects on health.” These include supporting a healthy inflammation response, positively impacting the immune system, managing weight, and altering the composition of the gut microbiome.*

Here’s a fascinating fact: Did you know that your vitamins can be produced with fermentation, benefiting your intestinal flora and making the nutrients more bioavailable? It’s an important development in nutrition.

Vitanova™ is one of the only multivitamin brands in the world to use a fermentation process to enhance the nutrition of their supplements. They start with the organic yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and then add in their wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, omega fatty acids, organic superfoods and enzymes from tropical fruits. Vitanova then adds three strains of beneficial probiotics: L. acidophilus, B. bifidum, and L. rhamnosus. Under low heat, the fermentation process continues and the cell walls of the substances break down, thereby increasing the bioavailability of the nutrients. In the end, the process creates a living, whole-food complex from which the supplements are made.

So, go ahead, eat your sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchi—and take your vitamins. Who knows? Maybe you just discovered the secret to staying younger, longer.

Sources:

10 Food Trends Millennials are Obsessed With

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/fermentation.aspx

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/070112p32.shtml

Everything you always wanted to know about fermented foods 

Botanical Wisdom: Why Vitanova Uses Ginger.

Most of us have heard at least something about ginger, either as a spice or for our health, but most probably don’t know why or how we should be using it.

Ginger has been on record for more than 5,000 years and was one of the first recorded spices. Native to south Asia and brought to the Romans and Greeks by Arab traders, ginger was once considered a luxury costing the equivalent of an entire sheep in the Middle Ages. Belonging to the Zingiberaceae family (along with turmeric and cardamom), ginger (zingiber officinale) is best known as a spice used for adding a warming feeling to the stomach and a pungent taste to many food dishes, but it also has many medicinal uses and health benefits, as well.

In Ayurveda, ginger is used for a variety of health issues including stimulating digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, relieving menstrual cramps, and for easing the pain of sprains or strains and increasing joint comfort and flexibility.* Chinese medicine recommends dried ginger to support respiratory health.* And, modern clinical research indicates that ginger is an excellent tonic for nausea, occasional indigestion, gas, and possibly even motion sickness.* Ginger is one of the most studied spices for improving health.*

Can a spice also help you lose weight? Ginger’s high fiber content means that foods ingested will be processed more efficiently and move through the gastrointestinal system and out of the body more quickly. In addition, ginger improves digestion by increasing the pH of the stomach, which can stimulate digestive enzymes. But, the big piece of ginger’s helpful weight loss properties lies in its ability to rev up the body’s burners resulting from its thermogenic effect. This increases metabolism, which translates to fat burning.

Not only is ginger a proven fat burner, it’s also effective for curbing the appetite. A study in the journal Metabolism from 2012 showed that giving study participants (men) a tea with 2 grams of dried ginger powder helped with feelings of satiety. The men were given ginger tea with breakfast on alternating days, and hunger was recorded hourly. The study showed that ginger had a significant effect on the feeling of hunger after eating.

Ginger comes in a variety of forms: tinctures, powders, whole rhizome (root), essential oils, pickled, and in supplement form (pills or capsules), and the FDA has registered the spice as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Since it also has the ability to reduce blood platelet build-up as effectively as aspirin, speak with your doctor before adding ginger to your stable of natural remedies if you take medications for blood thinning or other maladies.

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21849094

http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/zingiber-officinale-ginger

Ginger Root In Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine

http://www.progressivehealth.com/ginger-for-weight-loss.htm

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/ART00366

http://www.herballegacy.com/Whitney_History.html

http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(12)00118-7/fulltext

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginger

http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/zingiber-officinale-ginger

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4277626/

http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm091048.htm

Living Healthier, Living Longer – Katie’s Story

Katie Doble is a 34-year-old staffing manager. Single and seemingly healthy, she was blindsided by a diagnosis of a rare cancer, ocular melanoma. Refusing to let the diagnosis define her, she learned she needed to be living a far healthier lifestyle if she was going to give cancer her best attack.

Katie sat down with me to tell me her story. ~ Story by Sandi Pearce

I had already been going to an ophthalmologist because of my poor vision. When I went in to see the doc again after noticing a slight loss of vision in my left eye, he noticed a bump on my retina and said he wanted to send me to a specialist. I went to the retina specialist that same morning.

On my way to the specialist, I called my sister, Julie, and told her there was something wrong with my eye. My dad was diagnosed with macular degeneration when he was my age, and my sister and I were both worried it might be that. Instead, I was diagnosed that day with ocular melanoma. I was completely blindsided by the diagnosis.

I called my sister crying—she was at her son’s field day at school—and told her I have cancer. She called my parents and other siblings to let them know the news, and then accompanied me to the afternoon appointment to find out  what my options were.

A week later, I had radiation treatment to my eyeball. They left the radiation plaque anchored to the back of my eye for one week and also biopsied the cells during the treatment. The cells came back as 1A, which meant that there was a 98% chance that it wouldn’t metastasize.

I experienced this euphoric state when I got the news that it was a 1A. I was suddenly a cancer survivor only a few weeks after diagnosis. I didn’t lose my hair, I didn’t have to go through chemo, and I didn’t miss any work. I was very grateful. I did lose my vision in that eye, and I’ve had to adjust to a different depth perception. I run into walls and I can’t catch anything to save my life, but that’s a small price to pay.  And then, it was just back to my normal, single life.

I met my husband, Nick, that fall of 2013, on LinkedIn. Weeks earlier, I had been on a date with a guy who said that my current situation wasn’t conducive to starting a romantic relationship, but if I wanted to call him when I was all better, we could hang out again. When I met Nick, I let him know what I’d recently been through, but it didn’t faze him at all. I knew right then that he was the one.

For a year after that, I had been getting routine ultrasounds. With ocular melanoma, if it’s going to metastasize, it will spread to the liver or lungs, so I had chest x-rays and liver ultrasounds every six months. After the first one, I got a voicemail from the clinic saying that everything was fine. Then, I had another checkup in November. While I was in a meeting with a client, my phone started blowing up with messages. By the time I got out to my car, I had two missed calls from the doctor’s office and a voicemail from the doctor saying I needed to call her back right away. You know it’s bad when the doctor calls. So, I called her back, and she asked if I was sitting down. My heart was racing. She said there was something suspicious on my liver. She said she didn’t know anything yet, but she wanted to biopsy it right away.

Nick followed through with his previous plan to propose to me on Thanksgiving Day, which just happened to be the day before my biopsy. My dad, a general physician, flew into town Thanksgiving morning to be there with me for my biopsy the following day, and Nick and my sisters also joined us.

When I was 15 years-old, my mom died of pancreatic cancer. She came to me in a dream a couple of years after she died and told me that whenever I saw a hot air balloon, I would know she’s with me. As I was rolling into the biopsy room with my dad at my side, I immediately started crying. My dad asked what was wrong, so I told him to look up. In the ceiling tile, there was a picture of a hot air balloon. I have seen more hot air balloons this year and last than I ever have before. Almost weekly I see one.

We found out for certain a week later that I have uveal melanoma.

After starting in a clinical trial in New York City, I decided to make a stronger effort to clean up my diet. So in the spring of 2015, I met with a nutritionist. She was operating under the assumption that I knew how to cook, which made it difficult to work with her because she would tell me to sauté something, but I had no idea what that meant! I had no cooking skills. All of my dishes involved bison or red meat because I’m from Nebraska. I needed someone to hold my hand and tell me what to do. The drug I was on caused me to become lactose intolerant, so I struggled to find things to eat that didn’t have dairy in them. By July and August, as a result of the drugs, I had no appetite at all. The only thing that I wanted to eat was french toast. It was such a painful thing because I was so hungry; yet, the thought of food was horrible. That’s the only time that I went off wine! I lost 30 pounds. I’m pretty petite, so that was a huge loss.

In August, I was forced to go off that trial because it was not working. We tried another trial in September that also failed. With the break in medications, I finally regained my appetite. From mid-October through the end of the year, I ate horribly. I was drinking milkshakes every day, eating donuts—you name it, I’d eat it. I was just trying to put weight back on. I was really struggling because I knew I needed to gain the weight back, but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t making healthy choices.

I spoke with one of my doctors about my eating habits, and he made me promise to call another doctor he recommended. He’s a general physician who specializes in nutrition. Up until this point, none of my doctors had talked with me about diet.

Dr. Ed, the nutrition doc, is also a cancer survivor. After practicing medicine for some time, he went back to study integrative medicine to combine Eastern and Western medicine. He talked about meditating and asked me where I see myself in 10 years and asked me to start to meditate about that. That’s something I do every day now. I picture being in Ireland with my husband and future family. That’s my happy place. He wanted me to put positive thoughts in my head instead of living in fear. I stopped doing things like thinking of songs for my funeral. It’s a lot easier to get through the day thinking happy, positive thoughts.

Dr. Ed gave me a homework assignment: read The China Study. That book gave me the science and facts I needed to start making healthier choices.  He also has me taking a number of supplements. I tell people who are wary of supplements, “I know that taking extra vitamin D or magnesium is not going to hurt me. It might not help me, but it’s certainly not going to hurt me.

Since I started taking the supplements and changed my diet, I have eaten very little red meat at all. You’re talking to the girl who used to eat meat three meals a day.  I don’t struggle as much with not eating meat as I do with no dairy.

Nick has been so supportive. He used to do most of the cooking, but now I do most of it, and I cook a lot of vegetables and salmon now. My doctor is 90% vegetarian, a plan I also adopted. Just eating 10% meat is helpful because I don’t feel as restricted.

I used to be in this huge struggle between my willpower and my food. I needed the doctor to explain the science behind it so my willpower could rise above my cravings. The China Study was the exact tool I needed to finally learn how to change and take this seriously. I don’t cut myself off from everything, but I make much better decisions now. It talks about the correlation between animal proteins and cancer, and dairy was a big piece of it, too. And, it’s in everything.

I have a habit that helps me. I use lists. I have a daily checklist. On it, it says: Meditate, fruits and veggies, juice, bedtime pills, dinner pills, lunch pills, breakfast pills and 30 minutes of exercise. In the beginning, I looked at that list every day so I wouldn’t forget anything. That’s something that really helped me mentally cope.

Someone else suggested this mantra: “I am healthy, I am young, I am light, I am love.” And I added, “I am surviving.” That’s one that I say when I drive to work or when I am rolling down that CT scan tube.

My advice to people is to take it one step at a time. Everyone just has to figure out their own go-tos to get through whatever they’re dealing with.

I have literally never felt this good before. I feel the healthiest I’ve ever felt. That gives me hope. This cancer can’t take me.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Paul Morrison’s Story

Paul Morrison is a 52-year-old radio personality who was just enjoying a normal life when one day he found a lump in his throat. That’s a terrifying moment for anyone, but it’s especially terrifying for someone who uses his voice for his livelihood. Paul shares how rebuilding his life since cancer has helped him take everything, big and small, less seriously.

Two years ago, I was just living my life like everyone else: going to work every day, raising the family, enjoying life.  Then one day, I felt a lump in my neck. I knew what that could mean, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, and I certainly didn’t want to scare my wife and kids. So, I went through the process of seeing some doctors on my own without talking to anyone first. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a little thing; it was stage four throat cancer. At that point, I had no choice but to talk to my kids and my wife and tell them what was happening.

At first, the doctors didn’t know whether they wanted to do surgery or chemo. The cancer was pretty deep in my left tonsil. When they did the PET scan of my whole body, they found that it had already metastasized to my lymph nodes, but it had not traveled below the collarbone. The docs said if it had gone below my collarbone, there wouldn’t have been much they could do for me. Fortunately, it stayed above my shoulders, so we went after it with 35 radiation treatments and seven weeks of chemo. And I lost 85 pounds in 100 days. It was a crazy time, but I had my family, my friends and my community to support me. I’m not a religious person, myself, but I also had spiritual support from people in the community, which I appreciated.

One person I made friends with in this process is the senior pastor of the local First Christian Church. Brad and I have since become very good friends, and we have deep philosophical and theological discussions often. It’s interesting because we come from very different perspectives, but we actually see things similarly.

In your life, you have moments that shake you—say somebody in your life passes away or a traumatic event happens, even on a national level such as 9/11.  And in those moments, you have clarity of thought. Everything is clearer. Your perspective is changed—it’s all in line. But, the farther you get away from that event in time, the more that clarity kind of fades away and you once again get caught up in life and the web of just doing your day-to-day stuff. But the thing about cancer—cancer is that same moment of clarity every day for a year. When faced with that reality, it’s a profound experience.

I wasn’t really scared for myself; I was just terrified about how this was going to impact to my family, my kids, my wife. What would it do to them? That’s when you realize the important things in life and the things that aren’t important. Those unimportant things just go away. They aren’t even on the back burner anymore. They’re gone. Now, I fill my life with the things that matter and the people I care about and the people who care about me and who bring me great, positive energy. As it turns out, I am surrounded by great people with positive energy who have helped me through this. And the doctors did a miraculous thing and saved my life.

We had some friends who came to me feeling helpless. They wanted to help, but in this situation, their hands were tied as to how to help. They decided the best way to show their support was to pay for things, so they put together a fabulous benefit at a great local venue in town and pitched in their time and money for the evening. It was a terrific event, but the money they raised was secondary compared to the love from all of the people there. I also got to see firsthand the people’s lives I have touched, and that’s more important than the money.

The nature of the radio business is moving around and bouncing from station to station, but my wife and I really wanted to have a stable environment for our kids, so we wanted just one place to call home. We set up house here in this community and have stayed here for years. There’s no substitute for heritage and the time you spend with people and the events you share with them. Those are the things that you can’t replace. You can’t buy that experience.

It was not lost on me the similarity with the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s that same kind of moment I was talking about earlier—it’s the clarity. In that movie, George doesn’t know what to do, but then, he gets that moment of clarity and he has that perspective to see what matters—and that’s what life’s all about.

Since the cancer, I smile and laugh a lot more than I used to. I smile and laugh at things that I used to frown and scowl at. It’s a different perspective. It’s not that those things aren’t important to me, but I just don’t take them as seriously anymore. The things that bring me down in life—I have to categorize those things. The little irritants no longer matter. The woman in line at the grocery store with 17 items in the 15-item line—that just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s okay. I’m going to live if she has two more items.

I’m still a radio announcer. That was one of the most miraculous things. When they first told me it was throat cancer, I thought, “I’m going to lose my voice, and that’s my money.” The doctors said I could have a feeding tube or I could keep trying to eat through my mouth, which would continue exercising my throat. So I didn’t get a feeding tube. I just forced myself to swallow and use my throat. The benefit of using my voice for 30 years I think helped my throat recover. I was out of work for three months, and I really couldn’t talk, but then, it slowly came back a little at a time. It’s not all the way back, and probably never will be 100%, but it’s pretty close.

It’s a job that I love to do, so it’s really easy for me to get up and go to work in the morning. I like talking to the people on the radio, I like the people I work with, and I actually start work even before I leave the house. I get online and look at some work sites while I’m drinking my coffee. I take it pretty easy, and I don’t go to work until 10, so that gives me time to spend with my daughter as she’s getting ready for school and with my wife as she’s getting ready for work.  I have some coffee, oatmeal or scrambled eggs and then head into the station.

I’m a big believer in results-based work: do what you’re supposed to do and the rest of your time is not all for work. It’s about balance. I work to live; I don’t live to work. I work so I can spend quality time with my kids and my wife and my friends and doing the things that I enjoy.

At first, the cancer knocked me down, and I couldn’t exercise. I did a lot of lying around, recovering. Now, I’m more active. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors. Less of it is for the sake of exercise and more of it is to just be outside in nature. I like to walk in the park, play disc golf with my son, walk my dogs in the woods behind our house, go mushroom hunting—things like that.

I’ve made a conscious decision to not do things that I don’t want to do. I’m more concerned with how I spend my time than how I spend my money. I live a peaceful and happy life now.

The Ride of My Life – Catherine Brubaker’s Story

Catherine Brubaker had what she thought was the perfect life—the relationship, the homes, the trips, the degrees, the money—until she and her (then) partner were attacked and she was left with a lifelong brain injury. But through permanent trauma came healing of the soul and a calling to help others to find their way out of the darkness of brain injury. 

The long and the short of it is, I thought I had a successful life. I was in the financial services industry, had a long-term relationship, and had two homes, two cars, a boat, dogs, toys. My partner and I were in great shape. I was on the ski team, downhill skiing. I was really enjoying life and was at the peak—or what I thought to be the peak of my life. And then it was all taken away from me in an instant. On a weekend away with my partner, we were drugged and assaulted and left for dead. From the blood loss of the attack, I was left with an anoxic brain injury (lack of oxygen to the brain). I had a lot of amnesia and extreme difficulty with everything. The medical response wasn’t what it should have been at the time because there was no bleeding in the brain on the scans. The blood was already gone from my brain since I had bled so much from the attack, so no one noticed the brain injury, and I was too confused to tell them anything accurately. But, they knew there was a problem. I had obvious issues with my heart rate. It was down to 38, and no one could explain why. I had a lot of confusion, and it was clear within three days that I had a big problem, but no one knew what that problem was. I was left to pick up the pieces of my life.

Now, instead of focusing on the attack, my focus is on my recovery. It’s been a big part of my journey of healing to let go of the assault. For a long time, I was stuck in the lack of justice. I had a lot of anger. When you have a brain injury and you lose everything, including your ability to walk, talk, shower, feed yourself, and other things, you get mad. After being competent and having a master’s degree and a high IQ…and then here I am…I’m stuck in a wheelchair. It’s a huge shock. I had to go through all of the stages of grief while I was in rehab. Events began to come back as the amnesia lifted.

During rehab, we started strength testing, and the testing revealed there were some serious issues. I wasn’t able to stand up. My blood pressure would bottom out, and I would pass out. I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, POTs. It’s a part of the dysautonomia—my autonomic system isn’t working correctly. My brain doesn’t have clear communication with my body. Then, my heart failed, so I had to get a pacemaker. My blood pressure bottoms out easily. My temperature doesn’t regulate, so I constantly have to add and remove layers of clothing. My body doesn’t hold onto salts and electrolytes, which is an ongoing issue, and I go in and out of episodes.

Adding to the issues I already had, while on my way home from having a pacemaker implanted to regulate my heart, I was in a head-on collision as the front passenger. That gave me a second traumatic brain injury—post-concussive syndrome—and landed me back in the hospital. I was an inpatient for about a month and outpatient after that for another month or so and then in rehab after that. That was about a year and half after the original brain injury, around 2012.

I’ll be very candid. I don’t think I have the most intense strength. After the second injury, I bottomed out. I lost my relationship and had to live with my mother, who was not in the best health. My life was packed into boxes, and I slept on the couch. Then, one morning, I found my mother passed away. At that point, I wanted to give up, but I saw the result of where my life could go if I did give up, the trajectory of my life if I were just going to lie in bed and do nothing. I could see it before my eyes—like a choice in front of me. That motivated me.

I discovered adaptive cycling in rehab and found that my blood doesn’t pool in my abdomen and legs when my legs are horizontal. So, I went searching for the best thing for me—a trike. Discovering a trike wasn’t by design or by plan. It was purely by accident; I just couldn’t balance a regular bike. When I went to the local bike shop to look for a trike, I was picturing an old lady’s bike with a bell and a basket! I didn’t know what to expect. At a bike shop online, I found the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It looks like a Batmobile, and it’s the fastest trike made in America. It took a month or so to get it delivered because it was fitted specifically to my size.

The day I got my trike was the day I got my freedom back. It changed my life. First, I rode it around the block, and then a bit farther, and then I rode to my grandmother’s house—from Tempe to Chandler, Arizona—and back. Now, I ride to live and I live to ride, every day.

If I don’t ride my trike, I have challenges with my digestive system, my blood pressure—everything. So, by cycling, I am forcing my digestive system to work. I’m forcing my body to heal. Forcing my blood pressure to work and really trying to heal it naturally, despite taking a ton of medicine for the neurological effects. I had to find a healthy way to get control and not be a shut-in anymore. After having a full life and then suddenly going to live with my mother and having the most exciting thing be senior discount day with my mom, well, that’s a stark contrast. Here I am, a person who has her master’s in leadership, and I was playing video games with 19-year-olds. And here I was in my bedroom I was in when I was two years old. Cycling allowed me to go from being a shut-in to reclaiming my freedom.

That’s how I met Dan Zimmerman. Dan and I literally ran into each other on the bike path on our adaptive tricycles. He had suffered a stroke, so the right side of his body doesn’t function properly. When he spoke, his speech was delayed like mine. We had something in common—we were both coming back from tragedy—and we were complete strangers. Then, he showed me a card. On the back of this card was a plan to cycle across the United States. I wanted to do this! I saw this as my way to a different life.

 

When I rode across the country with Dan, we started as complete strangers and ended up with the most beautiful experience two human beings can have as survivors. We were 20 inches off the ground and in complete silence, reclaiming our lives and seeing the most beautiful parts of the country and meeting people of all walks of life. It’s not the impression you get of the U.S. that you get from seeing it on CNN. There were so many beautiful people along the way.

I have a certain language that I have been developing for this next ride, called Sea to Sea, which we launch on June 4 in Anacortes, Washington. I call it our Road to Recovery. I invite the city mayors and leadership to help celebrate our milestones. And on pit stops along the way, I ask survivors to join us.

Somebody once told me, “That’s a fantastic journey you made, but not everyone is going to have that opportunity.” Which made me think, “What can we do about that?” I had an opportunity to go to the Ellen show because someone I knew bought tickets. And the show we attended was called the 12 days of Christmas. I was blown away to discover that on that show, she was giving away trikes! And also a $500 gift card to Kohl’s and a $250 Visa card. I took those cards and I found the same trike on sale at Kohl’s. I ordered them so they’d come right in time for an event.

22 for 22 is an event to help war veterans. A lot of brain injury survivors are returning from the war and they don’t have solutions to their problems. An average of 22 veterans take their lives every day through suicide as a result of brain injury and PTSD. I gave one of my trikes away at that event to the son of a veteran (and brain injury survivor) who got on my trike and loved it.

I needed to find another trike recipient, so I contacted the BIAAZ (Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona) and asked them to identify another candidate. It was through that contact that I discovered that BIAAZ had resources I didn’t even know existed. They have a 360 gym for disabled people, a return-to-work program, and many more programs and resources for survivors. I would imagine that a lot of survivors don’t even know those resources exist. When I’m in the Facebook groups—and that’s where a lot of survivors are—they’re all talking to each other, but I don’t think they’re familiar with those resources. When I gave those trikes away, the survivors came flooding to my Facebook page. “I want one!” “I want one!” “Where’s my trike?” I was overwhelmed. I felt such a responsibility to make it possible to give trikes to riders.

One of the results of my journey was realizing that I found my voice on my ride. And part of the challenge was also realizing that even though I could cross the country on my trike, I would still need a wheelchair to get through the airport. People don’t understand the challenges I have with organization or short-term memory loss or overstimulation or fatigue, and I recognized that a conversation needed to happen. I knew that I needed to start with that conversation. Dan and I partnered again. He has a nonprofit called Spokes Fighting Strokes, spokesfightingstrokes.org, and my nonprofit is Hope for Trauma, hopefortrauma.org. The vision for Hope for Trauma is to have a national conversation about brain injury and the challenges that survivors have.

I can’t take credit for this work. It really takes a village; it’s not just me. My community was behind me to support me in my very first ride. I needed to gather a bunch of friends to go on my ride. Some of these people didn’t even know me that well. They held fundraisers and opened their homes—families and churches. I knew I could write to these people and they would support me. So I did. And they sent checks. And I used those funds to go on a trip that changed my life.

But again, it’s about teamwork and about people coming together. It’s a miracle when other people do in-kind donations when they hear an inspiring story and they want to help and they want to contribute. They want to contribute a banner or a table or a tablecloth or Internet services—anything. Help along the road, it’s all done by in-kind donations. It’s all done by caring people everywhere.

I don’t think things happen by chance anymore. I believe that was God’s hand. I think that God had a plan for me. Sometimes, you think you’re successful in your own way, and you think you’re living the life you’re supposed to with money and things, but really, you’re kind of in a hamster wheel, just existing.

My father had a true servant-leadership style. That was his legacy, and that’s what I inherited from him, and I want to honor him for that. He left a clear path for me. Serving others is very fulfilling for me, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is my purpose now. I’ve never known my path this clearly before. This is my most important job.

Staring Down Cancer – Lesley Draper’s Rebirth

Lesley Draper was just going about her everyday life as an escrow officer for a title company when she felt a breast lump while doing her usual self-exam in the shower one day. After going through surgery, chemo and radiation, she appreciates life on a level she never did before. Now, she lives for today and takes much better care of herself because she has seen how fragile life can be.

In 2013, I was in the shower and I felt a lump while doing my breast exam, which I wasn’t good about doing regularly. I felt a lump and I thought it felt weird. I tried to ignore it, but then I thought it was best to get it checked out, so I went to my doc. She thought it just felt like a cyst, which relieved me a little bit, but she set me up for a mammogram to be sure. When nothing showed up on the mammogram, it was an eye-opening experience for me because I learned that about 50% of women have tumors that do not show up because they have very dense breast tissue. Everyone thinks the mammogram is the end-all-be-all of tests, but it’s really not.

Since my doctor knew something was there because she could feel it, she scheduled an MRI, which showed several spots, so I was scheduled for a biopsy. From the biopsy, they determined the spots were cancerous—which really threw me for a loop because it’s really one of those things I just never really thought about. Other people get that, not me. I was on the overweight side, but I felt I was really active and I didn’t eat a lot of junk food, didn’t drink a lot, didn’t smoke, and felt like I was doing all the right things. But, I had to face that I actually had cancer.

Within three weeks after the biopsy, my doctor and I went through all of the options and decided that since there were a couple of tumors that were pretty deep into the tissue, it was obvious we were going to have to remove the breast. I had really large breasts, and I didn’t want to just get rid of one, so I decided to have a full double mastectomy and then have my breasts reconstructed. They also found that the cancer was in one of my lymph nodes, so I also had to go through chemo every three weeks for six or seven sessions.

The chemo was worse than the surgery itself. I didn’t want to eat because everything tasted terrible, so I wouldn’t eat, and I’d lose 10 pounds. Then, I’d finally feel better and start to eat again, which made me gain the 10 back plus five more. So, it was this frustrating back-and-forth game of weight loss and gain, which was hard on me, too. Just when I started feeling normal again, I’d have to go back and do it again. I now have a lot of sympathy for people who have to go through chemo because that was the worst part of the whole experience.

After the chemo, I had to do radiation treatments, which was every day for five weeks. That wasn’t as bad as the surgery and chemo, though. They say that if you go through chemo, radiation is easy, but if you don’t go through chemo, radiation will be much harder. I needed some other surgeries after that for reconstruction, so it wasn’t just smooth sailing after that. It was still a process.

Though it was a difficult process for me, I think it’s even harder on the family and friends who are caring for those with cancer. I gained a deep appreciation and understanding for the caretakers. It’s very hard on them. My significant other at the time and my sister helped with so many things throughout the process. Linda, my ex, helped me sit up and get out of bed after surgery, emptied my breast drains, changed bandages, brought me food and drinks when I didn’t want to eat and kept track of a multitude of meds, just to name a few. Both Lisa and Linda went to every chemo treatment,  all the doctor’s appointments and  provided me with much needed emotional support and so much more. I’m extremely grateful for their support and love. The person going through the cancer is getting all of the attention, and the caretakers—who are working so hard to help their loved ones heal—don’t have that same emotional support, even though they are also going through a huge ordeal.

My friends and family really didn’t want to share with me how scared they were, how concerned. My sister, Lisa, said that the day I had the mastectomy, she walked outside of the hospital and was just screaming and crying outside all by herself and yelling at God. When she was with me, she was always strong and supportive and didn’t show that fear to me. You really find out who the true friends and supporters are in your life. I found some important friends through this process, and it made me appreciate my friends and family so much more.

I have a story that so far, I’ve only told Lisa. When I came out of my mastectomy surgery, and I was in the recovery room and semi-conscious, it looked like fairy dust was floating around me. I remember trying to reach at it. I wondered if I was dreaming it, but it felt real. And right then it hit me: The fairy dust was everyone’s prayers around me. I could feel everyone around me, supporting me, encircling me, and it was such a great feeling. I felt so safe and so protected. I really didn’t feel any fear.

After going through this, I knew I needed to live my life differently. I looked at areas of my life that I could improve on. Doing things differently daily. A lot of it was about alleviating stress in my life. I still have a stressful job, but never again am I going to go back to what I was doing before and working the super long hours. I just told myself that I wouldn’t do that to myself again. Stress was the only factor that I could think of that caused the cancer. I know there are genetic factors, but I didn’t have any history of it in my family. It just came down to stress—working too much, taking on too much, eating crappy because I was tired and overworked. The majority of the time, I tried to eat pretty well, but that didn’t always happen with the hours I was working.

Today, I look at life more positively. Lisa is big into this, too, so she pushes me to be positive. She doesn’t like to allow negativity into her life. I try to alleviate stress, walk my dogs, and relax as much as possible. My daily routines have shifted. Even before I put my feet on the ground in the morning, I say, “Thank you God for this day.” And my days are filled with the “I ams.” “I am strong.” “I am courageous.” “I am healthy.” I even say my mantras on my way to the bathroom at work, and I constantly look for new ones to say to myself. That’s really helping me.

I also look at other aspects of my life that I can improve on, not just exercise. I’m working on eliminating sugar and I don’t eat meat. I’m more consistent with walking and being healthy. I take vitamin D and vitamin E because that really helps my bones. But, I’m not obsessive about taking or doing any one thing. I just try to keep balance in my life now.

I noticed I was really starting to beat myself up, telling myself I was weak and I should be this or that. But, I’m still building my strength. The surgeries took a lot out of me. I still have a lot of numbness, and everything feels strange. Even just exercising feels strange. It’s like starting over with everything, and I have to not beat myself because I’m not able to do certain things and I’m not as strong as I was. Now, I just don’t go there. So what if I can’t do it perfectly? Just start and go slowly. And that’s hard when you’re a competitive person like I am. I felt I needed to keep up. I liked being the older person in the workout class who was keeping up with the younger kids. That always felt good. But now, I just have to accept that I really am the older person! It’s just a matter of getting over what people think of me. That’s a huge part of it. Just do what you can do. Be who you are. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Gradually, I just started to feel better about everything through this process.

I don’t feel like I’ve done anything really special. I see all the women who go through this all of the time, and I feel I just had to get through it and do what I had to do. I don’t feel like it was anything great. But, my sister told me it really was a huge thing I went through. Growing up, she used to tell me I was a wimp and make fun of me (teasingly) because even brushing my hair would hurt. But when I went through this, she told me that even though she used to make fun of me, she thinks I’m the strongest person she knows. That blew my mind. I don’t necessarily think that about myself, but hearing her say that really makes me appreciate what I’ve been through. Maybe I really am stronger than I think I am.

Just recently, I had yet another PET scan. It was clear, so I’m now three years out—from stage three cancer to cancer free!

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