Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Teenage Brain Part II - getting inside the head of your teenager

The Teenage Brain Part II

I am not going to pretend I am an expert on teenagers, except I have friends with teenagers, and I have one of my own a boy aged 14 years old and I can tell you he is driving me round the bend! In my last blog I explored how the teenage brain is different to when they were a child and that the brain is in such a transitional period that that it is unfair to expect teenagers to act like adults and that it can take up to 25 years for it to be so – maybe that’s the definitive age you can say that your child is now a grown-up and that you really do have an alien living in your home!

Teenagers only have to focus on themselves; it’s not until they get older that they realize that other people exist.”

But what consequences do these changes to the teenage brain have.  Well it can explain why teenagers are often seen to be self-centered, moody, rude, and selfish but really it’s an actual developmental stage they're at. They aren't yet at that place where they're thinking about or capable of thinking about the effects of their behaviour on other people as this requires insight. Their brain chemistry is tuned to be responsive to everything in their environment and it’s the part of the brain that says: "is this a good idea?" "What is the consequence of this action?"  Or in the case of my son is “should I do my homework now or play x-box!” To be fair, my son has never been good at insight on how his behaviour affects others, but there again he didn't have the greatest role model in his dad on this score  and has now lacked a fatherly interest at all for three years now.  Friends, family, teachers or colleagues either love my son and admire him or dislike him – a bit like marmite.  It’s not that he misbehaves badly it’s just that he doesn't always know how important personal space is, or the boundaries when to stop winding up a person and going too far. I know that he doesn't realise quite how selfish he can be but he does still have the capacity to surprise me now and again with how caring he can be.

“Love is when your teen finds £20 in his pocket which you had forgotten you gave to buy jeans and he offers to buy you a pizza!” 

I often say to my son that he should be able to organize himself better, but if the frontal lobe is still developing in things like planning, strategizing and organizing, initiating attention and stopping and starting and shifting attention it’s probably unfair to expect him to have an adult level of organizational skills or decision making.  Problem is with me being hit by the menopause and knowing that the chemo has affected my brain as well, I am not the greatest role model in this area at the moment and there are strategies that we could both work out together to make our home life less confusing at times!

 "I have nothing to wear"! He wails – his clothes are all on his bedroom floor or shoved down the side of the bed.  If it isn't in the wash basket there are consequences!” #teenlogic "

Though it is impossible to get inside the head of an adolescent, scientists have probed the teens’ tangle of neurons and here are five things they've particularly learned about the mysterious teen brain.

1.     New thinking skills
Due to the increase in brain matter, the teen brain becomes more interconnected and if given time and access to information, gains processing power around the decision-making skills of an adult.  However, in the heat of the moment, their decision-making can be influenced by emotions, because their brains rely more on the emotional seat of the brain than the more rational prefrontal cortex. Teens know the difference between right and wrong, but they do things when they clearly should know better ("Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress" - Rowman and Littlefield, 2009).

“If you continuously knock on the door when I am showering asking how much longer I am gonna take, I will obviously take longer.” #teenlogic

2.     Intense emotions
Puberty is the beginning of major changes in the limbic system the part of the brain that not only helps regulate heart rate and blood sugar levels, but also critical to the formation of memories and emotions. Its development, along with hormonal changes, can give rise to intense experiences of rage, fear, aggression (including toward oneself), excitement and sexual attraction. Over the course of adolescence the limbic system comes under greater control of the prefrontal cortex , the area just behind the forehead, associated with planning, impulse control and higher order thought and as your teen gets older additional areas of the brain start to help process emotion, and they have an easier time interpreting others.  Until that time, teenagers often misread people, and situations and become sensitive to criticism   from parents, teachers, friends and themselves leading to self-esteem issues. You can be as careful as you can with what you say but can still have tears or anger at times because they have misunderstood what you have said. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind]

“As a teenager I was so insecure. I was the type of guy that never fitted in because he never dared to choose. I was convinced I had absolutely no talent at all - for nothing. And that thought took away all my ambition too.” - Johnny Depp

3.     Peer pleasure
As teenagers become better at abstract thinking their social anxiety increases - abstract reasoning makes it possible to consider yourself from the eyes of another. Teens may use this new skill to worry about what others are thinking of them. In particular, peer approval has been shown to be highly rewarding to the teen brain, which may be why teens are more likely to take risks when other teens are around. Friends also provide teens with opportunities to learn skills such as negotiating, compromise and group planning. They are practicing adult social skills in a safe setting and even if they are really not good at it at first and all they do is sit around with their friends, teens are hard at work acquiring important life skills and trying to look cool. 

“Teenagers these days are popular based on the name brand clothing they wear and the size of their wallets...but not by their character or personality.”

My son is impossible to shop for clothes for and I now give him money to go out with his friends to buy what he needs.  The last time I went clothes shopping with him it was to buy a pair of jeans/trousers and a top to go with it.  It took an age for him to make a decision between what he wanted and could afford to have – it had to be in the right colour, the right brand and with little compromise but had to because of the budget.  My son did make me laugh though while shopping for a school bag, he took a photo of the one he wanted and sent it to his friend to approve of first!

“Nothings ever a teenagers life...”

4.     Measuring risk
In calm situations, teenagers can rationalize almost as well as adults. But stress can hijack cognition and decision-making. The frontal lobes help put the brakes on a desire for thrills and taking risks, and teens need higher doses of risk to feel the same amount of rush an adults does. The changes in frontal lobe means that they access this part of their brain more slowly with the brakes coming online somewhat later – this can make your teen vulnerable to addiction such as alcohol, nicotine, cannabis and much worse to engaging in risky behaviours such as trying drugs, getting into fights or jumping into unsafe water. These substances tap into a much more robust habit-forming ability than that compared to adults. One explanation why teenagers might be wired to be reckless is that being a risk-taker also encourages them to explore the world and to try out a range of new things.

I started smoking when I was 14 years old and this was down to peer pressure and the desire to fit in.  I went to three different secondary schools and smoking was a way for me to say that I was cool – accept me, be my friend.  Smoking has been a lifetime addiction for me and I am going to try and give up this month (third time of trying).  Luckily these days smoking is not considered so cool and my son is currently very anti-smoking – although so were my niece and nephew at his age and they both smoke now!  Right now it’s his desire for alcohol that is on my mind – not that he is drinking at all – but is talking about it and wants to try things that I may drink myself.  

“According to Teenage Research Unlimited, 51% of 13-15 year olds say they will be faced with making a decision regarding alcohol in the next three months.”

It is a fact that those within their teenage die in accidents of almost every sort (other than work accidents) at higher rates than adults and small children. Most long-term drug or alcohol abuse starts during adolescence, and even people who later drink responsibly often drink too much as teens. However, it is thought that teenagers generally actually overestimate risk but take more risks not because they don't understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently: In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.

“Thrill-seeking, the desire to impress one’s friends, feelings of invincibility and the search for new experiences are all motivating forces that drive teens to act without concern for consequences or without even being able to fully evaluate the potential risks.”

5.    'I am the centre of the universe'
The hormone changes at puberty also spur the production of more receptors for oxytocin.  While oxytocin is often described as the "bonding hormone," increased sensitivity to its effects in the limbic system is also linked to feelings of self-consciousness, making an adolescent truly feel like everyone is watching him or her.  These feelings peak around 15 years old. "It is the first time they are seeing themselves in the world, and are asking themselves for, perhaps the first time: What kind of person do I want to be and what type of place do I want the world to be? McNeely and Blanchard

“Some are young people who don't know who they are, what they can be or even want to be. They are afraid, but they don't know of what. They are angry, but they don't know at whom. They are rejected and they don't know why. All they want is to be somebody. ”

The upshot is if you don't have a fully functioning prefrontal cortex you tend to be impulsive, insensitive to other people's feelings and take unnecessary risks – sounds like your teenager? 

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Parenting teenagers can be a really tricky job and getting the balance right can be difficult especially with one who is not listening and making home life difficult. Part III of my blog looks at some parenting tips in raising your teenager.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Teenage Brain Part I

“I’m on strike!  Yep I am on strike with my teenage son and it’s a battle of wills

I have been getting really frustrated with my fourteen year old son over the last few of months and have even started a hash tag on Twitter called #teenlogic - although it’s not exactly trending there are tweets there from both parents and teenagers.  If you are reading this and have a teen yourself have a tweet on this hashtag and alleviate some of your inner stress and laugh at the same time! 

“Mum you said l've done nothing all day so why are you so cross with me?” #teenlogic

Yes, I know I am not alone in this parenting game of bringing up a teenager, the problem is I’m a single mother and I think sometimes it makes it doubly difficult especially when I am also a working mum and recovering from cancer let alone all the other daily issues that affect us both but things that a teenager just doesn’t seem able to think about!

“Mother Nature is providential. She gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers.” - William Galvin

On my son’s thirteenth birthday it was as if an instant transformation took place and now he is fourteen its wow it’s like he is another being, an alien species - irresponsible, selfish, lazy, insensitive and grumpy – although, on the plus side, also someone with a developing formulation of opinion, humour, and someone capable of great creativity, and inspiration.

In the time it takes you to understand a 14-year-old, he turns 15” - Robert Brault

It’s not just that I am picking up his dirty clothes (some of which have been washed and have just ended up on the floor getting dirty again), wet towels and cleaning the bath out after him, throwing away crisp packets or empty packets in the cupboard - searching out for an accumulation of dirty plates, cups, glasses from his bedroom - his inability to wash up even a fork to eat with, or to put things away; it’s also the lack of conversation, forward thinking, insensitivity, deliberate misunderstandings, selective hearing in the way he never hears me when I ask him to do something and when he does it’s always in a minute or when I am ready to do it but it never happens so I end up doing the tasks myself!  I end up nagging and shouting at him which I  really don’t like doing as it stresses me out. And yes I did go on strike for a little while, refused to cook for him and do his washing - it worked for about a minute but then again I did give in!

“Saying you’ll do it later...never gets down.  Story of a teenager’s life.”

And when I do manage to have some kind of conversation with him I only get sound bites back or a conversation which goes over my head as sometimes he talks in a different language!  We also fight over access to the laptop and guess who loses (yes I know I should get him one but when he wants a top of a range laptop and nothing else it is not going to happen!).  As a single mother I sometimes feel unappreciated, unable to relax when I come home from work knowing I can’t do everything myself and getting very annoyed - it feels as if am always going around in circles and arrive exactly at the same point where I started. What does it take for me to teach him that he has to take some responsibility for his home environment, and to be more sensitive? 

“Teenagers who are never required to vacuum are living in one.”

Ok, I know his hormones are certainly responsible for many things such as his fixation on sex (although x-box holds more fascination at the moment) and social standing.  The onslaught of testosterone in both male and female adolescents at puberty literally swells the amygdala - the brain center associated with the emotion – so I can blame that for the slammed doors, sudden up and downs in emotions but hormones apparently have nothing to do with behavioural changes, i.e the fact that your daughter or son can’t bear your singing voice, even if you don’t sing out of tune!  I have a friend whose daughter will not let her play her music in the house without her getting annoyed!

“One of the most embarrassing things for teens is their parents!”

 As I said I know that I not alone with this problem – and in fact apparently I have it quite easy compared to other parents out there.  However, there is a part of me that is at loss on how to deal with the changes which are going on, so I thought it may help me to know about the on-going research on the teenage brain and to understand (not to make excuses mind) that his brain is in overdrive and has started to work in a different and illogical way and thus this knowledge may give me some parenting tips on how to raise a teen, also relieving me of some stress as well. 

“The biggest test for parents is not how they parent their teen, but how they respond to the disorder and unpredictability.”― Sarah Newton

 By the age of six the brain is already 95% of its adult size. But the grey matter, the thinking part of the brain, continues to thicken throughout childhood as the brain cells get extra connections, much like a tree growing extra branches, twigs and roots.  It was once thought that the brain was fully formed by the end of childhood but now it is believed that between childhood and adulthood the brain’s “wiring diagram” becomes more complex and more efficient, especially in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.  This is the part of brain that is responsible for impulse-control, judgement, decision-making, planning, and organization and involved in other functions like emotions, and that the teenage/adolescent brain does not reach full maturity until around the age of 25 with the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and problem solving, developing last.  Oh my not until 25 the mind boggles of what I have to go through yet! 

"Mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young"

 The process of thickening of the grey matter peaks at about 11 years old in girls and 12 in boys, roughly about the same time as puberty starts. After that peak the grey matter thins as the excess connections are eliminated or pruned and the "use it or lose it" principle come into play. Those cells and connections that are used will survive and flourish and those cells and connections that are not used wither and die. During the teenage years they lose about one per cent of their brain's grey matter every year so basically what is happening in the teenage years is that their brains are being de-cluttered. Wish mine could be de-cluttered again!

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.”

So think about it, if your teen is doing music, sports or academics these are the cells and connections that will be hard-wired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games or watching TV those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.  Not sure where my son falls into this category – although he is constantly on the computer or X-Box he is building up a You Tube Network Channel (DoubleupGaming) creating videos and sound bites, learning about how an You Tube business can develop and knows more about copyright then I will ever know!  
“Teenagers...dey tink dey know everything. You give dem an inch, dey swim all over you.”  –Sebastian, Little Mermaid

The last to process in the brain is the fatty myelin insulation - the brain's white matter that speeds transmission needed for those areas for the complex task of entering the world. This period is thought to be a crucial period of learning because although the wiring is getting upgraded once it’s done, it's harder for us to change. This is uniquely a human development and although it seems a bit crazy that we humans don't do this a bit earlier in life - apparently, though, if we did we wouldn’t be so smart.  

“Teens do NOT think the way adults think because they absolutely, positively can't do that yet. Adolescent brains just aren't ''hard wired'' like adult brains. ”

Over the past decade, scientists have started to grasp exactly how distinctive the adolescent brain is and how crucial the years between ten and twenty- five are in terms of its development.  The research that has been undertaken are starting to change the way that parents, teachers, the medical community and policymakers are raising and managing their teenagers in many societies. 

“Teenagers are the most misunderstood people on earth. Treated like children but expected to act like adults.”

Part II of Teenage Brain looks at what this all means and some tips for parents (and me!) for raising and understanding their teen better.  Meanwhile one more thing on the hashtag #teenlogic

"No really I wasn't invading your territory I only went into your room to hunt down the missing, plates, forks and cups."  #teenlogic

Sunday, 2 September 2012

I owe it to myself to be healthy?

So six months after treatment, it’s back to that question again, how long will it take me to recover and start to feel that I can do the things that I used to be able to do, have that energy and focus that I used to have?  Earlier this week having gone to bed late, and waking up early, I spent the day going round town with my son specifically buying things that he needed for school, he had a friend over in the evening and I cooked a meal for all of us instead of getting a takeaway which I normally do when his friends stay over, and was so tired - almost drunk from tiredness – at 9:30pm I started dozing on the sofa falling asleep to the TV and didn’t wake up until morning – with my shoes still on as well!

“Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day.  ~Author Unknown “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”.  ~Winston Churchill

Statistics show that 30 per cent of women who have had breast cancer develop anxiety or depression within a year of diagnosis. There are expectations on you to recover quickly once you are healed physically, but the emotional trauma to your life is something you may still be dealing with long after your treatment is over.  Some family members, friends and co-workers who were there for you during the “worst of it” may now expect you to get back into life. Some may even want you to act as if nothing happened or perhaps as if it weren’t as bad as it was.  However, having spent an enormous amount of inner strength to carry on during treatment – almost like a delayed reaction or shock – it’s not that simple.  You need to give yourself time to heal emotionally as well as physically.  Do not feel that you are failing if you feel you are not recovering quickly enough, you may still need further support or perhaps some form of counselling.   

Although I know I have come out the worst of my depression, and to some degree strangely having breast cancer moved me still further out of depression, I still take my depression pills and do not yet feel confident enough to stop them altogether as I do sometimes still feel down and emotional about all the drama over the last few years. 

“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow."  - Mary Anne Radmacher

It is said that at the end of chemotherapy treatment you can expect it to be at least six months before you will recover from its physical effects. Radiotherapy side-effects can also persist for several months after the treatment is finished, but others say it can take up to year or more to feel healthy and better again. The recovery process can take further emotional strength with a healthy diet, exercise and positive thinking playing a crucial role in this recuperation stage

“Recovering from a serious illness is like a bright light suddenly being switched on from a deep sleep – your eyes need to be able to adjust before your mind catches up and you can awaken again.”

Interrupted sleep is definitely a big problem for me at the moment and experiencing an early menopause is not helping this.  Having an early menopause as a result of breast cancer treatment is not unusual.  I certainly do not want to take HRT so I am hoping my hot flushes won’t last that long!  After chemotherapy, some women stop getting their periods every month - or stop getting them altogether – it can be due to the treatment you have gone through, or the pills taken after treatment, or a combination of both.  Mine just stopped after diagnoses and never came back. 

Most cancer survivors say they experience fatigue and sleep problems. You may have trouble getting to sleep, getting up early, or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.  This can be due to various reasons - medical ones such as anaemia or a thyroid disorder. It may be it stems from depression, or the onset of an early menopause - or simply after a period of inactivity exercise can improve symptoms of fatigue.  There is a saying that “energy begets energy”. I must admit although I have thought of doing some kind of exercise regime  but haven’t quite got into one yet - mainly because my ankle needs to get a little stronger for anything too strenuous (excuses, excuses) but also  it’s just that I’m tired! 

 I am planning to start cycling again – knowing that I can do this after my holiday - but I do need to get myself another second-hand bike first.  Aerobic exercise is cited as one of the best exercises you can do recovering from cancer so I could start doing more of a stretching routine (which I do intermittently anyway) and seriously have been think about joining a zumba class – I think there are classes just across the road from me!  I think I could also find the confidence to start swimming again as well. To be fair my ankle is still a bit stiff after breaking it earlier this year – so I do have an excuse – well sort of! Meanwhile I am just relishing being able to do the normal day to day things again such as a walk through the park, shopping and housework!  I think I need to revert back to David Haas who guest blogged a while ago for his advice on the kind of  exercise I need to do. 

 “Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay, and could not win thee, Sleep, by any stealth: So do not let me wear to-night away. Without thee what is all the morning's wealth? Come, blessed barrier between day and day, dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!”
~William Wordsworth

My diet and weight gain has certainly been a frustration for me.  After my ops I put on so much weight I went up two dress sizes almost overnight and after my chemo and radiation treatment I went down 3 dress sizes!  My weight is now creeping up again so I know I need to do something and although it’s a great reason to buy new clothes, I can’t afford it.  To be fair to myself just getting my taste buds back was a revelation in itself for a while. I know what I have to do to eat healthily (we all do really), it’s just doing it, everything in moderation and not being tempted by those things which are not healthy – I do not include chocolate in this equation! 

“I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on”  - Jean Kerr

 Going to the dentist at some point is also on my health agenda.  Research shows that 40% of people who have had chemotherapy have oral symptoms, such as sore gums, cavities, mouth infections and dry mouth – and I am to some extent at this point although not half as bad as when going through chemo treatment.   I did need to have gone to the dentist before I had cancer  and kept putting it off so this is not necessarily something new – but I have a fear of dentists and not just because of the expense involved!

“Some tortures are physical and some are mental, but the one that is both is dental.” - Ogden Nash

If you have had radiation you can suffer skin irritation at the radiation site which typically abates within 12 months – this is one thing I am ok with but I do know others who have had problems in this area. I have been extremely careful in the sun this summer making sure I have plenty of sun cream on and particular stayed covered up on my radiation site. 

While researching this blog, I found out that if you have had a mastectomy, you can also experience what doctors call "phantom pain," a pain that seems to be coming from your missing breast.  I have certainly noticed this now and again and worried about it so to know this is a relief for me.  I still have the tightness of the scar tissue and still put my cream on.  I also worry about contracting lymphedema which is the most common health concern related to surgical procedures for breast cancer - I still do my arm exercises intermittently, but have not got back the left arm movement that I used to have and it pulls at the scar – I am always aware that I do not have breast because of the scar and I wonder if this feeling ever goes away or you just get used to it?  If you've had breast surgery or radiotherapy there is often tissue damage which can restrict arm movement so to continue doing your arm exercises is important. Strangely I have a shooting pain on my shoulder on my right hand side which sometimes keeps me awake at night too – I think I may be compensating for the loss of the breast on the other side – my posture is not wonderful anymore. 

“There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.”

The worse thing right now is when I forget things and get easily confused and can’t find the right words, put things down and can’t find them, or just don’t do the things I am supposed to do in a timely way like pay my bills on time! Research shows that one in four people with cancer reports memory and attention problems after chemotherapy. This is sometimes called "chemobrain." Many survivors describe this as "brain fog," which can lead to problems paying attention, finding the right word, or remembering new things.

These effects can begin soon after treatment ends, or they may not appear until much later and they don't always go away. If a person is older, it can be hard to tell whether these changes in memory and concentration are a result of treatment or the aging process.  I think my lack of focus comes from having turmoil of thoughts. Either way, some of us feel that we just can't focus as we once did. This can also be a connected by changes in your hormone levels (menopause again) and your emotions.  I have noticed that I am starting to get my focus back (albeit it slowly) and starting to feel much more organized but it has taken some effort.  I brought some crossword books to do on the bus on the way to work just to get my brain exercising and play word games – my blogging and poetry helps – as well as the spirituality I find at my Source group - but I just can’t wait until I can read a book all the way through again rather than just getting through the first few chapters. 

“But my brain winds and wends. Back and forth. Up and down. It feels like the county fair has inhabited my mind-- complete with sketchy rides, carnies, and sugar-amped kids crying over lost balloons. So loud and disorienting. I want it to pack up and move on to the next town. I want my mind to be an open grassy field again with crickets and dandelions.”

I still have sensitive fingertips and cannot open plastic bags – so frustrating to have to ask others to do; my son for the rubbish bags, the checkout girl for the plastic shopping bags!!  There has certainly been an improvement in this sensitivity as I can at least do the filing now which was a problem when I first went back to work and do up zips and buttons again.  Sometimes cancer treatment does cause damage to your nervous system and can take up to a year to resolve. The nerve damage is called neuropathy and the symptoms can be made worse by other conditions, such as diabetes (me again), and alcoholism (not me). Most people first notice symptoms in their hands or feet, usually starting with their fingertips and toes. Common symptoms include tingling, burning, weakness, or numbness in your hands or feet; sudden, sharp, stabbing, or electric shock pain sensations; loss of sensation of touch; loss of balance or difficulty walking; clumsiness; hearing loss; jaw pain; constipation; and being more - or less - sensitive to heat and cold. Funnily enough I think I may also have a bit of hearing loss as well – or that is what my teenage son says although I think it’s because he mumbles!  

“After obsessively Googling symptoms for four hours, I discovered 'obsessively Googling symptoms' is a symptom of hypochondria.”― Stephen Colbert

Sometimes I feel that I am a walking hypochondriac - which is another trait of a cancer survivor – obsessed by every little little twinge!  However I am putting down most of my minor physical twinges at the moment down to recovery and menopause and not to any other medical problem – although I should factor in my diabetes as well.  

I had a mammogram recently on my right hand breast and that came back clear and my next scan is due at the end of October – which date is ever coming closer each day.  A trip to the doctor to talk about some of the things I am going through is probably very advisable and what this is what I would advise anyone else to do - although I really do not want to go through any medical things at all at the moment – we don’t always listen to our own advice!  

According to the charity Breast Cancer Care, a national organization offering support and information to those affected by breast cancer, after surgery, 20 to 30 per cent of patients develop persisting problems with body image. The losing of a breast can lead to a loss of confidence or self-esteem.  I do want to meet a like-minded affectionate chap with a good sense of humour but who would want to take on a one-breasted short grey haired positive yet emotional woman, a grumpy teenaged son and two cats? Oh well we do all have our own baggage! 

I’m not sure where to start, going to pubs and clubs is not necessarily conducive to meeting single men as I certainly do not want someone that drinks too much and clubs – well there is just too much competition for me to stand out. There is a singles club in town but the age of men are so much older than I am and I don’t fancy dating on-line.  I suppose I should just follow what the advice columns say and join an activity where you may meet like-minded people - perhaps I will meet an angst single poet at one of the poetry groups I am now going to - but it could take some time!

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something”

Finally the fear of recurrence, this is something I try to push back into my mind and not to think about, but it is a real fear a real worry.  According to the National Cancer Institute nearly seven in ten survivors worry about cancer returning and is one of the biggest challenges that people who have finished treatment face. The fact that you are no longer actively receiving treatments or that you are not being watched as closely can leave you feeling vulnerable. Some people have trouble believing that the cancer is really gone, so it may take them a while before they have the confidence to return to their normal activities – I think I fall somewhat into this category. Others may find it difficult to deal with the possibility that the cancer could come back and you may have to manage their fears. Every survivor deals with fear of recurrence differently. You may recognize that there are certain times when stressful feelings surface – I was a little nervous waiting for the results of my first mammogram after cancer and I am definitely apprehensive about my scan in October. I am hoping that my worries on appointments with doctors or follow ups will diminish as time passes.

“I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.”  William Allen White

Finally, we all basically do know what a healthy lifestyle is:

  •  Eating a healthy balanced diet

  • Taking regular exercise (where possible, even during treatment)
  • Stopping smoking
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation
  • Positive attitude

I owe it to myself, not just to my son, family and friends, to actually get fitter, eat better and give up smoking – not think about it, or push it back until another day – but just need to get on with it and take the first steps and change some habits of a lifetime.  They say 28 days is the period where habits can change – just 28 days – so September is my month to taking the first the steps and tackle each of these one by one –I don’t drink lots of alcohol although sometimes I am partial to a vodka and coke, a glass of red wine or a strawberry cider,  and most of the time I think I have cracked the positive attitude!

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”  I do agree with the quote for those who are healthy or can become healthy – but there are some of you out there where this is not possible. “Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do”.

I do have to keep reminding myself that I need to be gentle and not too hard on myself especially when I find that I am unable to meet commitments which I am sure does annoy some of the people I know.  I try to listen to my body and although up to now have concentrated on my emotional well-being, writing poetry, blogging, tweeting, deepening my spirituality, exploring new ways to relax such as meditation and visualization and affirmations to affirm a positive attitude, it’s time to move forward for a complete change of lifestyle.  I have taken big strides towards the end of this particular journey but now need to take longer ones to reach its destination.

 I am just glad that I do now have the peace of mind and the strength to tackle my own problems in my own way as they arise more calmly and logically, and not to let other people get me down.   Having cancer has made me realize that nothing is insurmountable; everything is possible, and if you have love and support around you, and a positive attitude that you can get through life’s hurricanes and steer yourself through to calm waters whatever they are. 

“We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.”  ~Author Unknown

It’s scary to think that there are very few people in the UK who haven’t been affected by breast cancer let alone those across the world. One woman in every nine will be diagnosed with this disease during her life however I do believe that with the current scientific discoveries and research currently being done, and the unity of us together sharing our stories, our experiences, hopes and fears and taking action to keep cancer research in the minds of Governments, perhaps one day, soon in the future, cancer will be eradicated or not such a fear and a doddle to recover from! 

“Healing ourselves on the spiritual level involves developing a strong connection with our soul.  We heal ourselves on the mental level as we become aware of our core beliefs, release those that limit us, and open to more supportive ideas and greater understanding.  Emotional healing takes place as we learn to accept and experience the full range of our feelings.  And we heal ourselves on the physical level when we learn to honour and care for our bodies, and for the physical world around us.”

Shakti Gawain