Archives for posts with tag: health

Our dear friends, Robin and Nate, were visiting from North Carolina recently. They asked a question about a parking sign they’d seen in Seattle, Robin had even taking a photo of it, “No Parking West of Here”. “We saw this weird parking sign. How do we know what direction is west?”

I thought immediately, “What’s weird about that sign? West is the direction of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains are to the east.”

My second thought was, “Oh yeah. I live here I know the landmarks.”

A life with without major landmarks is confusing. Disorientation is exhausting.

I am at a point in my life when I am establishing new landmarks. Actually, that’s not accurate. I am at a point of my life when I am mindful of the fact that I am in a perpetual state of landmark establishment.

I still think, every day, about the fact that I was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 8 years ago.

I still think, every day, about the fact that I had my first heart attack (the second, 8 days later), nearly 2 years ago.

Despite this daily mindfulness, these landmarks have changed in my life.

I have been working hard on my mental and physical stamina. I am working hard to have a positive influence on my health. I meditate regularly. I do yoga twice a week now. I have increased my exercise and a couple of months ago, I tracked my 500th meal.

I am feeling healthier and more fit. I have had fitness testing and my cardiovascular health has improved a good deal in last last year or so.

Despite all of this, I am still considered, “obese” with my current body fat percentage, which was calculated in fancy ways. I actually think I look good. But that’s not what it is about, is it? I thought I looked good 25 pounds ago. I started working on my fitness so that I can do more of the things that I want to do and to reduce my body fat, because it raises my risk for disease.

I have used “looking good” as a landmark for so long. For so long, I didn’t think I looked good. For decades. Bit by by, I developed a better body image.

Looking good is not the same as health. I have improved my health in a great many ways. I can accept it if my current fitness doesn’t improve. I will work to see if I can improve it. I will hike, do yoga, and meditate.

I will do my best to enjoy the process, which does not require, at any time, looking in the mirror.

I will do my best to focus on what I can do right now.

Here are some photos from what I was able to do last week, hiking with John and our friends, who happen to be relatives, near Bend, OR. (Note: I appear in none of the photos because I was the photographer.)


This post is from 4/6/13. I had been home for nearly a month following my TRAM surgery. I was bored.  I was trying to do a daily post following the Health Activist Writers’ Month Challenge. I decided to do it before I read the writing prompts. I didn’t like them. But I appreciated the purpose of the challenge and tried to give include some kind of health related message in each post.


For today’s Health Activist Writers’ challenge post, I have a challenge for YOU.

I challenge you to join the WRF, the World Resting Federation. Yes, you read right, the World Resting Federation. Yeah, we get confused with another world federation. We have a similar name plus we also wear really cool costumes and have cool names. My resting name is Googly Eyes. We also engage in bouts to see who is the hardest rester. I am able to use the mesmerizing power of my cattywampus bosoms to render my opponents wide-eyed while I catch some major zz’s.

Are you ready to rest with the best?

Come see my next match.

It’s on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Limited edition commemorative pj’s will be on sale.

smiley t shirt small

This post is from January 2013.

I’ve been struggling with water, the gift of life, aqua, good ol’ H2O.

There was leaky pipe in my office last Saturday, which would have created a deluge had my office mate not been there to see it so a plumber could be called to fix it.

Yesterday, as usual, I went for my three mile long walk. It was rainy, which is not unusual for this time of year. I donned my Gore-Tex armor, which has served me so well-Gore-Tex hat, Gore-Tex hiking boots, Gore-Tex parka, Gore-Tex boots, Gore-Tex pants.

If I lived a considerable distance south of these parts, I might even call myself a Gore-Texan. (Cue music.) The rain at night, lasts a fortnight (clap, clap, clap, clap). Deep in the heart of Gore-Tex!

I came home from my walk, my boots squeaky, my socks soggy, and soaked through my coat, insulated long-underwear shirt, t-shirt, and bra! Only my Gore-Tex pants managed to maintain my faith in the magical rain shedding powers of Gore-Tex.

I took my smartphone out of my ZIPPPED Gore-Tex parka pocket. Uh-oh. It was covered in water. The screen was flickering! I quickly turned it off and opened it up. It was wet on the inside! I dried it off but being fool hardy, I tried to turn it back on even though my brain was telling me, “Leave it off and call AT&T.” It turned on but was frozen on the “Samsung” boot up screen. So I turned it off and broke it down again.

“My precious! My precious phone! My extremely complicated work, medical, family, personal life calendar is on there! The names of all of the new patients I will see between now and March 5th are on there!”

“Golem, I feel your pain,” I thought to myself. “I am a psychologist. I am not addicted to technology. I am an excellent problem-solver. Get a hold of yourself, woman!” I took a deep breath and called AT&T.

A very sweet technical support rep named Shannon answered. “Oh, I just did that. I was so worried. I keep EVERYTHING on my phone. Surround your phone with rice to get it to dry out. Leave it for at least a day. I’ll call you tomorrow and see how you are.”

Shannon has felt Golem’s pain as well. I confirmed with her that if the phone didn’t dry out, it was curtains for the information on my phone. (And yes, Google is supposed to automatically back up my calendar but that stopped working and I’ve been procrastinating about figuring out a fix for that problem.)

“My precious! My precious! God, you can take my breast but not my SMARTPHONE!” I was again, I’m afraid, losing some perspective. So I then imagined the Albert Ellis section of classic 1960’s psychologist training film, “Three Approaches to Psychotherapy“, also known as “The Gloria Films”. Gloria, a real person with real life problems, agrees to be taped seeing three super famous clinical psychologists (Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis), one at a time. Pioneers in fields can be kind of extreme. The Gloria films illustrate this quite nicely. By the time I saw the film in the 90’s, it was for historical purposes. The film served up unintentional hilarity with a side of guilt since Gloria was a real person with real problems. They were not getting addressed.

So what does this have to do with my meltdown about “My precious”, you may ask? Albert Ellis was a brilliant psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), which is the foundation of modern cognitive therapy. The goal of RET is to use reason to reduce psychopathology. However, Ellis did this in the absence of stuff like, you know, demonstrating empathy and establishing rapport. He also had a rather distinctive nasal northeast accent. Combined with his lawyerly therapy style, it was pretty funny. “I can see that your situation in inconvenient, but it is not terrible and awful.” Or my favorite when Gloria puts her self down and he responds by telling her that if she makes a mistake it does not make her a “no good-nik”. The sight and sound of Dr. Ellis trying to use 60’s-era hip slang was double hilarious. Check it out for yourself here.

“Elizabeth, your anecdotes require too much exposition! What does this have to do with your phone?”

Thank you, patient readers. Basically, I tried to reason with myself as I often do, but this time I remembered Albert Ellis, and it made me laugh.

That pulled me out of my tizzy and I went about recreating my schedule, piecing it together from memory, emails, and other non smartphone dependent methods.

Today, I took my phone out of it’s rice bed and it awoke!

Thank you, Albert Ellis. Yesterday was inconvenient and more than a little stressful but it wasn’t “terrible and awful.” I hope you forgive me for laughing at you and for being able to do a dead-on impersonation of you. You were definitely not a “no good-nik.”

Just like the Proclaimers, I have something to announce:

Today it is exactly 6 months since I started tracking the amount I walk each day. And today, I passed the 500 mile mark!

And a glorious walk, it was! Sunny with a pleasant wind full of beautiful plants, the sea, and friendly neighborhood dogs.

For today’s Health Activist Writers’ challenge post, I have a challenge for you.

I challenge you to join the WRF, the World Resting Federation. Yes, you read right, the World Resting Federation. Yeah, we get confused with another world federation. We have a similar name plus we also wear really cool costumes and have cool names. My resting name is Googly Eyes. We also engage in bouts to see who is the hardest rester. I am able to use the mesmerizing power of my cattywampus bosoms to render my opponents wide-eyed while I catch some major z’s.

Are you ready to rest with the best?

Come see my next match.

It’s on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Limited edition commemorative pj’s will be on sale.

smiley t shirt small

This post was inspired by the Health Activist Writers’ challenge for the month of April. I write “inspired by” because I have yet to use one of their suggested daily writing prompts.

As a child psychologist, I am often advising the mothers of my patients to take more time for self-care. A frequent response is, “I know, but I just don’t have time,” to which I reply, “If you feel you have no time for this than you have been without time for yourself for far too long and this is even more reason to do it!”

I know I am asking a lot of moms who are already taxed with parenting, work, and household responsibilities. I have struggled with the same life balance issue myself over the years, especially since becoming a mom 14 1/2 years ago. One of the valuable lessons I am continuing to learn as a breast cancer patient is to take care of myself, I mean REALLY take care of myself. It’s not that I was living a martyr’s life but I was not taking sufficient care of my health. To do this properly, takes time.

In 2002, I was laid off from my very first job following the completion of my post-doc. To make a long story short, the job was ugly. It was the first time in my life that I was treated like I was incompetent. Down deep I knew that I wasn’t incompetent but to be treated this way for nearly three years in my first “real job” and right after becoming a mom was a major blow. The lay off itself was done in a fairly nasty and unfair fashion. It was toward the end of that job that I had my first of two incidences of Major Depression. (The second incidence occurred a couple of years later but only lasted 2 weeks because I got back into treatment immediately after recognizing that I was not myself). It was BAD. It wasn’t just sadness, which is what a lot of people mean when they say, “I’m depressed.” I had no appetite. Food was flavorless. I lost 10 pounds in a week. My sleep was messed up and I had to will myself through each day to have enough energy to parent Zoey who was a toddler at the time. She has always been an empathetic girl and at the time, was learning to read facial expressions. I remember feeling heartbreaking guilt and sadness one day. She was sitting in my lap, looked up at my face, used her fingers to push my mouth into a smile while anxiously asking, “Mama happy?”

Being laid off and depressed was a major wake up call for taking care of myself. And since I was laid off and able to collect unemployment for a few months, I was able to make use of the time to figure out what to do with my life professionally. At that point, I decided that I would never rely on one source of salary again if I could help it. So in 2002, I applied and tested for my psychology license in Washington state and in 2003, started my private practice. Meanwhile, I was writing research grants and ended up being employed through two of them, the longer one landing me on the research staff of the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington. I worked there until 2007 until the research money ran out. I was unable to secure funding for more grants. As the money ran out, I expanded my practice and then by the time I left U.W. in April of 2007, I was able to build up my practice to full time. Although being in private practice had not previously been an aspiration of mine, it ended up being the perfect job for me.

So although I would not have taken that job had I known what it was going to be like, I got some very positive life lessons out of it. Also, I made a number of friends at that crazy job including my dear friends, Jennie and Lisa, whom I’ve mentioned in my blog. Hmm, taking the opportunities afforded by crappy life circumstances to glean important life lessons? Gee, that kind of sounds like my breast cancer experience thus far.

Fortunately, I was able to use some of those life lessons from my crappy job experience to cope with my breast cancer better and to avoid getting depressed again. Sorry, I hate being depressed. And yes I have grief, but healthy grief and clinical depression are not the same thing.

So having breast cancer and especially the time off after my major surgeries, has given me some time to revise my life plan so that I am a happier and healthier person. As I mentioned previously, taking care of myself takes time and emotional space. I will not always need this much time and this much emotional space but right now I do. At first, this was a hard adjustment for my husband because healing has meant my being more emotionally distant than usual. (And no, I don’t just mean less sex.) We had to develop different ways of spending time together, for example, John started accompanying me on my walks on the weekends. He also eats all of the healthy dinners I make ahead of time in reasonable dinner-sized portions and freeze. The walking and the diet change have been part of the reason that John has lost 22 pounds. My taking care of myself has also meant that John had to take on more responsibility and learn how to take care of me after surgeries. It has also meant John taking care of some of his own health issues better.

For Zoey, my cancer has meant worrying about a parent’s mortality at an earlier age than average. It has meant seeing me less energetic and weaker at times. But overall, I am very happy to report that Zoey has more than risen to the challenge. She fairly quickly snapped out of the angry, eye rolling teen stuff that she was directing toward me and started treating me much more respectfully and affectionately. She is often there with a glass of ice water when she sees me fanning myself during a hot flash and she secretly changed my screen saver to a banner that reads, “I love you, Mom,” just because. Sure we have our moments and she is still able to be disrespectful and her eye rolling muscles aren’t totally lax. And having a mom who is a breast cancer patient when she is a 14 year-old girl makes her life harder. I wish she didn’t have to go through this. But she has grown enormously.

Finally, by taking care of myself, ultimately, I will take better care of my patients. Some of them are feeling a little anxious and impatient because I am off work again for an extended time. But if I don’t take care of myself, I will not have enough energy to do a good job. And as my dear friend, Nancy points out, by taking care of myself and coping positively with a major life stressor, I am modeling valuable skills for the families I see.

So even though the villagers were not initially happy with my changing my life to have a stronger focus on self-care, ultimately, my self-care is reaping benefits for the villagers.

I do believe that there is more than one good solution to every problem but perhaps this lesson could be helpful to some of you readers out there.


My recovery continues, though at a slower pace. Nonetheless, I’ve passed a few milestones in the last week:

1) I tried on the swim suit I bought awhile back and not only does it fit, but I look normal in the chest area. Woo hoo!

2) The miracle lounger went back to the medical supply company this morning. I still need to spend a lot of time sleeping as well as most of the day off of my feet but sleeping in bed has gotten comfortable again and our couch is again comfy. I miss my tray table, though. My laptop computer is warm and although it is comfortably resting on my legs right now, I expect it will cause some hot flashes later in the day.

3) I averaged 3 miles a day of walking, for seven days straight! Yesterday I was beat so I stayed in. I didn’t make myself feel guilty about it but instead reminded myself that walking every day is above my health goals. I started walking every day instead of 5 times a week because it felt good and I wanted to do it. So yesterday I was mindful that my body was not up to doing a “bonus round” of exercising.

4) On Sunday, I cooked for the first time since the surgery. I wanted to bring something to my brother and sister-in-law’s for Easter dinner. I roasted some asparagus. It took me 15 minutes, including washing, trimming, and cooking. They were delicious.


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I am not a naturally calm person. Like many successful nerds, I am naturally anxious. I like to know what to expect and if what is expected is not to my liking, I like to know how to change it. I like it when people are happy and they like me. I would like to know that my wonderful and unique daughter could never be harmed and will be a happy adult with meaningful relationships and work. I would really like it if none of the people I love got sick or died. I would also like it if my house were clean 24/7. Finally, I would like it if my daughter were to stop singing a Justin Bieber song at the top of her voice, while I am trying to write this post. I don’t care if she’s changed the words to “this is such a stupid song.” It’s REALLY loud. And it’s a Justin Bieber song and not only are his songs bad but it looks like his life may be going toward a very sad Lindsey Lohan direction. I’m a mom and a lover of kids and I don’t want a sad life for Justin Bieber, whether I like his songs or not.

But I have digressed, once again. None of us have control over our lives. We have influence and that is it. It is the same for our children’s lives. We have influence but not control. It is the same for breast cancer. I have influence to reduce the risk of recurrence or the occurrence of another potentially deadly disease, but not total control. As individuals, our relationship with the universe is one in which we matter but are not masters.

Prior to my forties, my current life circumstances would have likely put me around the bend. There would be a lot more crying and beating of my breast. I would yell at my husband, a lot, because that is what I do when I am feeling totally out of control. Or I would just stay in bed all day, every day, thinking dark and scary thoughts.

Not to say I don’t have my moments, but I am still a happy person and pretty even-keeled. To what do I attribute this calm? Well, there are  a lot of things including my wonderful friends, family, healthcare providers, and blog buddies, but today I want to talk about mindfulness.

Mindfulness meditation is the real deal. It has been used in eastern philosophical and religious traditions for a long long time and in mainstream, evidence-based psychology, and behavioral medicine for 20-30 years (yeah, I should look it up, but I am lazy). I am far from an expert in mindfulness but even my very beginner-level 10 minutes of deep breathing every morning and evening coupled with a mindset of trying to stay in the moment and observe and accept what comes my way, have gone an enormous way in helping me keep balance in my life.

And this is not a fringe practice, mind you, the big University of Washington, which is turbo-research oriented and one of the top institutions in the country (multiple disciplines including psychology and medicine), loves mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is helpful for a myriad of difficulties from suicidality, to day-to-day stress management, to pain management, to the prevention of the recurrence of breast cancer.

I started practicing mindfulness consistently after my mastectomy. The first thing I noticed is that meditation was relaxing and unlike some other forms of meditation I have done, I wasn’t struggling to make my mind “blank”. In mindfulness, it’s not a “no-no” to drift off in thought. It’s just something that happens. The second thing I noticed was that my brain got a chance to rest. That doesn’t happen frequently for me.  I have a very busy brain, which was put into turbo drive by my cancer diagnosis. The “voices in my head” gradually became less chatty and frenetic. The third thing I noticed is that I became much less irritable and much better equipped to handle big stressors without freaking out.

If you are interested in trying it out, if only to help pass the time while you are seated in a doctor’s waiting room, I recommend any of the following resources:

Mindfulness Meditations for Teens (Yeah, I know it says “teens” but it’s my favorite and very applicable to the world of adults) by Bodhipaksa. I also see that in addition to CD form, it is now available as an mp3 download.

Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life (This is particularly good if you like a program that is laid out for you week by week. There are a number of mindfulness techniques explained, including breathing, meditation, and yoga.

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. (This is a good place to start if you would like a background on mindfulness meditation. The author, Dr. Kabat-Zinn has been teaching mindfulness meditation skills for decades and also produces CD’s. and mp3 downloads.)

So I felt much better this morning. That’s the good news. The bad news? The nagging thoughts that I should be doing something more productive with my time, like my business taxes! Oh wait, did I write, “nagging thoughts”? I meant to write “the nagging thoughts inspired by my nagging husband.”

John asked me two days ago when I was planning to do my part of our tax return, basically the part that covers my psychology practice. He was asking me before the surgery and I told him that it was a project that I would do during my medical leave. It takes about 2 days when I have a full tank of brain. I told John that I’d been out of the hospital less than a week and he needed to not ask me about it. He asked when he could nag remind me about it again and I told him he could ask again in a week.

Okay, so this is the same man who after I requested that we stop at my office to pick up my mail on the way home from my doctor’s appointment, asked, “You’re not thinking of WORKING are you?” He settled down when he realized that I was just planning to pick up the checks from insurance companies and patients that have accumulated in over a week since I’d been in. I am paid from many sources. There’s no auto-deposit option.

So, if you haven’t caught on by now, although I harbored those ever present feelings of love for my wonderful husband, I was also experiencing a wave of irritation. When I woke up this morning, I had a lot more energy than yesterday. I was happy and then I started feeling guilty. “Oh man, maybe I should stop putting off doing the taxes.” Then I talked myself out of it for a few minutes. Then I realized that I was really bored.

The days have been going by pretty slowly, after all, even on the ones when I nap a lot. So I started my taxes. And you know what? The time passed a lot more quickly and I have a feeling of accomplishment.

Does this mean I’m going to just push through this every day until it’s done? Probably not. In the spirit of mindfulness, I’m just going to take things as they come and make the plans that make the most sense each day.

And to cap it all off, I was able to walk a mile today and I felt good the whole time! I have now walked over 300 miles since I started tracking my walks at the beginning of December! Yay!



Art, Science, Heart ❥

journals of a mature student nurse

Heart Sisters

For women living with heart disease

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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