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Natural Sugar vs Added Sugar

What is sugar anyway?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate and it gives you energy. Sounds good, right? Not all carbs are the same! The two types of sugar, natural and added, are very different in how they provide you with energy.

The natural sugars are what you will find in fruits, vegetables and milk. The great thing about natural sugars in the fruits and veggies is that they also have fiber, water, and nutrients. With the natural sugars, not only are you getting so much more, but because of the fiber, the sugar is released slow and steady. This means a steady stream of energy, as well as the benefits of fiber, vitamins, minerals and water. You may be wondering about fruit or vegetable juices. If the juice is 100% juice, without any added sugar, it will contain some nutrients and water, but it does not have fiber. Fiber is really the key to the slow absorption of the natural sugar and prevent sugar spikes.

Added sugars are found in many processed foods that you purchase. Of course there is added sugars in sweet treats, but it is also hiding in bread, crackers, cereals, dressings and sauces. Anything made in a factory likely has sugar added for texture, preservation and taste. Items that are labeled low fat typically have more sugar to compensate. When foods that contain added sugar enter your body it gives you a spike of sugar – your liver gets hit with an excess amount of fructose and what isn’t used for energy turns to fat. Over time, excess fat in the liver can cause Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), which means the liver is not functioning correctly. Too much added sugar over time is also associated diabetes, heart disease and joint pain.

How much added sugar is too much?

The FDA currently recommends added sugars be limited to 50 grams, or about 12 1/2 tsp, per day for those consuming 2,000 calories a day. The American Heart Association, on the other hand, recommends women limit themselves to 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugars per day and men limit themselves to 38 grams, or 9 teaspoons, of added sugar per day. There is more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar in one can of a popular soda!

The FDA is now requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of added sugars on the products nutrition facts label, but they have until 2021 to make the changes. By having the information consumers will be able to gauge their added sugar intake and make choices based on the information.

Do you want to learn more?

You may be wondering about all the different names of sugar on food labels. Or, is honey natural or an added sugar? I know it’s not realistic to significantly change sugar habits during the holidays, so if you are in the Twin Cities, I will be holding a class all about sugar in January 2020. Watch my social media for details, Facebook: Inspired Vitality of Minnesota and Twitter: @InspiredMN. Enjoy the upcoming holidays, in moderation, and in 2020 we will tackle sugar together!

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Which is easier – preventing cancer or treating it?

Making healthy choices every day is hard, there is no denying that, but I can tell you first hand that going through cancer treatment is harder than any workout, or changing the way you eat. Yet many people follow a path of unconscious decisions that lead them to the consequence of disease.

Being in the midst of Pinktober, aka, breast cancer awareness month, I want to be sensitive to those fighting the disease. I know the onslaught of pink can be encouraging for some, while for others, it can be painful to be reminded of the disease that has forever changed them. My first October after being diagnosed I was angry at being surrounded by pink, and the reminders that came with it. I didn’t want to be in the pink club, and I hated that I was that one in eight diagnosed with breast cancer. I also didn’t like retailers benefiting under the guise of awareness. Where was the money going, really, I wondered. But, this year I decided it is my choice to ignore the retailers promoting pink products and instead put my energy into education.

Cancer screening is important, and if awareness months are effective, people will be reminded to get their screenings done. But, to truly prevent cancer a person needs to make conscious choices every day that brings them further away from the path of a diagnosis.

Will you choose the path of prevention?

What can you do? What are the choices on the path of prevention?

First, move. Walk (or run, or swim, or dance) the path, literally. If you are new to fitness, always talk with a doctor prior to starting, and start slowly. Physical activity helps with weight loss, or to maintain a healthy weight, and it strengthens immune defenses. For women, excess fat cells produce estrogen, which help cancer cells to form and spread. Maintaining a healthy weight is ideal in prevention of an original diagnosis, as well as a recurrence. The immune system plays an important role in preventing cancer, as well as other disease. It detects and destroys abnormal cells, and most likely prevents or curbs the growth of many cancers, as part of its normal function. So many reasons to make exercise a part of your daily routine!

The next step is to limit alcohol. Alcohol increases estrogen levels and impairs immune function. While red wine is known to have heart healthy benefits, you can get the same benefits from eating red grapes and without the cancer risk. The World Health Organization division of International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that all alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans. For some, completely eliminating alcohol is not something they want to do, but limiting the intake to one serving a day is recommended.

What is it about estrogen?

We all have estrogen in our bodies, yes, even men. Despite the symptoms, post menopausal women have some amount of estrogen as well. When it comes to breast cancer, approximately 80% of breast cancers are hormone positive, including estrogen positive. This means the cancer has receptors that respond to, or feed off of, hormones. When you put excess amounts of that hormone into the body with food and alcohol (yes, we’re getting to the food), it can cause DNA damage, which is the first step towards cancer. Even if you choose organic, grass fed animal products, the animals naturally contain hormones and you ingest them.

If you haven’t already guessed, the third step in cancer prevention is to choose plant based foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds all lower the risk of cancer in several ways. Not only do plant based have the ability to lower estrogen levels, they also provide your cells with a nutritional armor that protects against mutations. There are a great deal of various compounds in plant based foods that create an anti-cancer environment, so much so that rather than go into detail I will link you to reliable sources. If you want to dive deep into the scientific reasons for plant based eating, specifically for breast cancer, I highly recommend the book: Breasts – The Owner’s Manual by Dr. Kristi Funk and her website, https://pinklotus.com/powerup/ Additional resources I trust are: https://www.pcrm.org/ and https://nutritionfacts.org/

If you currently consume a standard American diet, drink alcohol and don’t exercise on a regular basis, following the path to prevention of cancer will take time and effort. The changes don’t have to be done all at once. It’s a step by step process! It is truly a conscious choice every day, and having been through cancer treatment, I choose to make choices that will reduce my risk of going down that path again. My sincere hope is you will learn from my experience and make preventative choices for yourself.

This blog is dedicated to all those who have experienced cancer.

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Inside My Story Sunday

Have you noticed I haven’t blogged in a couple of months? I hope so…that means you’ve been reading my posts! A couple of months ago I decided to start a live series on my Facebook page called My Story Sunday. While the series was great, the preparation time for each video took time, and something had to give, so blogging was put on hold. If you haven’t watched the videos, start with Chapter 1 here:
https://www.facebook.com/InspiredVitalityMN/videos/2423503381306498/

Throughout the My Story Sunday I provided hindsight tips and insight information, but I bet you didn’t take notes on this valuable information so here’s a list of the tips throughout the series. While the information is particularly relevant to those diagnosed with breast cancer, some of it can be helpful to those with other cancers.

Hindsight: If I’d only known then what I know now, this is what I would have done differently.

  1. I would have tried a whole food plant-based diet prior to hormone replacement therapy for peri menopausal symptoms.
  2. I would have asked questions about breast density when my earlier mammogram results made a notation about it. Questions such as; What does density mean? and, Should further testing should be done?
  3. I would have joined an online support community sooner than I did, because I found it to be helpful with information and support. My favorite online community for breast cancer is: http://breastcancer.org
  4. Post mastectomy I would have tried men’s v-neck t-shirts. (No excess material with men’s shirts. Women’s are made for breasts!) For a dressier look, prints and scarves are helpful with camouflage.

Insight Information: Random information I have gathered over the years.

  1. Always make sure you are comfortable with your medical team, and if you’re not, explore your options.
  2. There is much involved in whether a mastectomy vs a lumpectomy is recommended for a patient. Ask questions and know your options before making a decision.
  3. After being diagnosed, try to have some cancer-free time each day. Spend time NOT talking about cancer, even if only for an hour.
  4. To manage the post-mastectomy surgical drainage tubes you can purchase belts with pouches (some intended for showers, some not), or simply wear a hoodie inside out and place bulbs in the pockets on the inside.
  5. If you are considering reconstruction, a great reference book is: The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook by Kathy Steligo
  6. If you are experiencing a metallic taste due to chemo, try smoothies. You can put a lot of nutrition in them and the cool, fruity taste may be soothing.
  7. If you know you will be loosing your hair and it’s naturally long, you may want to get a short cut to lesson the trauma as hair falls out. Some may choose to proactively have their heads shaved, and some salons will shave your head for free if your hair is falling out from chemo. It’s worth the ask!
  8. Wigs, hats and scarves are all good options to keep you warm and comfortable with a bald head.
  9. There are eyebrow kits with stencils to aid in drawing in eyebrows if you choose to do so.
  10. Radiation is typically scheduled for a certain number of treatments and take place Monday through Friday.

There are seven chapters in the video series, so these are just the highlights. There is much more detail in the videos! Please check them out and comment with any thoughts or questions.

Our experiences become part of our stories, and to pass along what we have learned in the pages of our story is an invaluable gift. May your story end in health, joy and peace!

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Living with & within gratitude

Gratitude is defined as: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. When asked, “What are you grateful for?” many respond with; family, food to eat, a place to live. If, in fact, these are what the person has in their life. These basics; community, food and shelter are the obvious things we can be thankful for, but also what we most often take for granted. Imagine if you didn’t have just one of these three, how much harder your life would be! In reality, there are many who do struggle without the basics, and even if you are not exposed to it daily, deep down you know this and appreciate what you do have.

How can you live with gratitude?

Experts encourage people to keep a gratitude journal, or simply listing three things you are grateful for each day, in order to remind ourselves of what we do have. This is what I call living with gratitude. It’s the first part of the definition; the quality of being thankful.

What is living within gratitude?

Living within gratitude takes things a step further. It is the second part of the definition; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. What does this mean? Say, for example, you are standing in a line and the person behind you strikes up a conversation. You’ve already had a long day, you might be feeling a little grumpy, and would rather not engage. You do have a brief conversation, however, during which the other person smiled and showed positive energy. You feel better as a result, and when you reach the front of the line, you return the kindness to the clerk. What happened in this scenario is a mindset adjustment. When you make a conscience decision to pause, and allow kindness and appreciation to flow between yourself and others, you are creating an environment of gratitude.

Gratitude for material things takes a mindset adjust as well. It’s really hard, for example, to feel gratitude when your furnace breaks down in the middle of winter. But, pausing and remembering that there are those without homes who are either huddled outside or sleeping in a shelter can put things into perspective. Sure, there is time and expense involved when things break down, and it is appropriate to feel upset at the circumstances. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, and then think of others to gain perspective and appreciation.

Why is gratitude important?

The number one reason to live with and within gratitude is simply the more you focus on being thankful, the less time there is for negative thoughts. You create increased happiness and less stress for yourself and others. In addition, it has been shown that being more optimistic has positive effects on physical health. Gratitude could be one of the easiest steps to better health! And, once you truly live within gratitude, you glow. It’s the kind of glow that makes people feel your positive energy and want to know the secret to it.

It may not be an effortless transition!

Just because gratitude is one of the easiest steps to better health, does not mean the transition to a gratitude filled life will be effortless. (Certainly less complicated than finding time to exercise and cook healthy meals each day! All of which are important.) It takes effort to make in-the-moment decisions and adjust your thoughts. but over time it will get easier. Share the secret! Eventually, expressing and showing appreciation for the people, things, and experiences in your life, will become a lifestyle. It becomes a part of you. A part of the smart, beautiful, creative, kind, amazing, thankful you!

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Do You Have A Happy Place?

I admit it, I’m a suburb lady. I like to be close enough to bigger cities to have options, such as entertainment venues, but also have a little distance for less traffic and more safety. I like the convenience of being close to the stores that I frequent, and also like a quiet neighborhood. It’s not the city, nor the country, for me it’s just right. However, for 19 years I have had the honor of going to a farm weekly in the summers, and sometimes more, and I consider it my happy place. It’s funny, even to me, that a place I go to only ten to twelve times per year brings me so much peace and joy, but I think the infrequency is part of the magic.

This farm that is so special to me is Freedom Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Waverly, Minnesota. http://freedomfarmmn.org The therapeutic horse back riding is for children and adults with physical, mental and emotional challenges. The farm also has Healing With Horses – a veterans program, and Freedom Academy – an alternative learning program and Accredited Public High School. Freedom Farm is located next to the home of it’s founder, Susie Bjorklund and while there are some staff, the farm relies on many volunteers for it’s programs, fundraising and operation. This is the what, and now I’ll try to capture the why.

Let’s begin with the drive. For me it’s about a 45 minute drive one-way to the farm. As city turns into country I notice myself taking deep breaths as I leave my daily environment and the sights take over. The sky becomes bluer, and occasionally I see an Eagle souring through it. The grass and trees are a deep, rich green. Without buildings in the way, the landscape stretches out and the cotton-white clouds look close enough to touch. The natural beauty calms me. As I drive past fields and tractors I think about the farmers and how grateful I am for their hard work to produce the bounty of food often taken for granted by city-goers.

Once at the farm, the sights and sounds are evident. There are riders and volunteers arriving, staff moving horses from outdoors to the arena, as well as a cat and puppy in their favorite spots. You can smell the hay, and hear the horses and goats. More deep breaths.

It’s the energy, though, that really makes this place special. Freedom Farm is love, kindness, friendship, healing, learning, laughter and respect, all mashed together into a calm, yet happy energy. The stars, among all this energy, are the horses. Their personality, strength and unconditional love creates magic. I have witnessed this magic in riders learning to talk, learning balance and posture, overcoming sensory issues..all while riding. Then when the ride is done, there is bonding between the rider and the horse during brushing, and hugs before departing. These large, beautiful animals truly heal, physically and emotionally. Here’s a link to learn a little more about about the horses. https://www.freedomfarmmn.org/horses-of-freedom-farm/

While I am passionate about Freedom Farm and I encourage anyone in the area to think about volunteering there, a happy place for you may be something completely different. Perhaps it’s a cabin, or simply a patio or deck outside your home. Is there a place you go to for soul searching? A place you find yourself going to over and over again? Whatever, wherever this place is, it should be a place of calm and joy. It is essential to a person’s wellness to create opportunities for happiness. Sometimes, I know, this is easier said than done and in this case, one could multi-task. Now I’m not encouraging you to bring work into your happy space, although doing work in a calm, happy environment would certainly make the task easier to complete. In the case of Freedom Farm, volunteers are in a joyous place, and they are providing a service. Perhaps there is a place you love, that feeds your soul, AND it’s a place that you can give to with your time.

Choosing a happy place may take some thoughtful, creative consideration, but it will bring you increased energy and focus, better sleep and better mood, and a sense of calm and joy. It may even bring you magic!

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From meat-eating to plant-based eating

I consider myself a plant-based eater (mostly), but I haven’t always been this way. When I was a child meals were primarily meat and potatoes. We also often had vegetables and fruit, but animal protein was prepared daily. At my core I believe I have always desired more of a plant-based diet. I’m a very visual person and I recall times, even as a child, eating chicken for example, and having a hard time chewing my food as I visualized the animal. Visualization is one of the factors that has led me to eating more plants. To this day, thinking about where the meat has come from, and what the animal may have endured is enough to make me desire a salad rather than a burger.

My road from being a meat-eater to a plant-based eater, however, has been a long one. In my 20’s and 30’s I ate as I did when I was a child, which was an animal product the highlight of the meal, along with fruits and veggies as side dishes. In my early to mid 40’s I began experimenting with incorporating more veggies and trying vegetarian recipes. I still ate meat, but had begun buying organic instead of traditional, and it wasn’t the star of the plate. I also began eating meat free meals at least once per week. It was after my stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, at the age of 46, that I really began changing the foods I ate. After doing my own research and then studying with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), I transitioned to primarily plant based eating. I had seen and heard too much to not reduce my animal product intake.

Did you know that animals are given hormones to grow, and those hormones show up in the meat that ends up on your plate? For people who have had hormone positive breast cancer, avoiding the intake of hormones is vital for long term cancer free days. In addition to my concern of hormone exposure, I have seen videos about animal slaughter practices and that visualization has stuck with me. You cannot un-see these kinds of things! Then there is the added benefits of eating plants with their nutrients, flavor and phytochemicals. Not only do fruits and vegetables offer their own nutrients and unique flavor, but they also contain phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are a compound found in plants that are believed to protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer. That’s right…plants can help prevent cancer, from onset to recurrence! Not only can these cancer fighting properties be found in fruits and veggies, but also in nuts and whole grains. Here’s a link to more information about these cancer fighting foods: https://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/diet/elements_phytochemicals.html

So why do I use the term plant-based, verses vegetarian or vegan? Let me break it down for you. Vegetarians do not eat meat, but will typically consume dairy products and eggs. Vegans avoid all animal products. This means they do not consume meat, diary or eggs, and also avoid animal products such as wool and leather. As a plant-based eater, my focus is to consume plant foods, and I do it for the nutritional and long-term health benefits. I also feel better when I do not eat animals.

Right at the beginning I did say that I was mostly a plant-based eater. I say that because the fact is, life happens. You may be at an event where there are not enough plant options to fill you up, and rather than go hungry you decide to consume meat. As a health coach, I will never tell my clients to eat one way or another. We are all individuals and have different needs. I may share the benefits of plants, but each person makes their choices, and my role is to educate and guide my clients through whatever choices they choose. I believe in doing the best you can, the majority of the time. If you think going to plant-based eating may be too hard, or over-whelming, take it slow. It took me decades! I encourage you to explore the benefits of plants, one delicious meal at a time!

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Are you ready?

If I asked you if you wanted to have cancer in your lifetime, I can say with certainty that you would tell me, “NO!” But, are you ready to take action to prevent cancer? I mean really ready to take action steps. If you are saying to yourself, “I’m fine,” or “I’m too busy to make changes,” then that tells me you aren’t ready, but if you recognize the importance of prevention, allow me to provide you with information to get you started.

I have studied Dr. William Li, who gave a Ted Talk on the subject of angiogenesis. In it he posed the question, “Can we eat to starve cancer?” His research provided the answer, “YES!” To back up, angiogenesis is the process our bodies use to grow and maintain blood vessels. When the system operates as it should, the system is in balance, or a state of homeostasis. However, if an abnormal blood vessels grow, they can feed microscopic cancers. We all have the potential to have microscopic cancer cells within our bodies, but if they are not fed, they do not result in disease. Dr. Li’s research found that eating a predominantly whole foods plant-based diet is effective at preventing the development of the abnormal blood vessels, and thus prevents cancer.

So where do you begin? Dr. Li wrote a book, “Eat to Beat Disease” and in it discusses foods that are naturally anti-angiogenic foods. These foods are the ones that block the blood vessel growth and inhibit cancer cells from developing into disease. Dr. Li found that some of the best anti cancer foods are berries and vegetables, as well as green tea, and yes, even dark chocolate (in moderation).

While Dr. Li’s book is a great resource, my take away for you is that a whole food plant-based diet has been scientifically shown to prevent disease. This does not mean you have to go 100% plant based today, for some, it may be a process. Any steps that you can take to incorporate plants into your meals, and reduce animal products will be progress. In addition to more plants, consider your physical activity, relationships and stress level. Where is your life out of balance? Do you need to increase your exercise, surround yourself with more positive people, incorporate meditation? All of these things, along with healthy meals do contribute to your over-all health.

Are you looking for more guidance and accountability as you consider making these changes? This is where I would love to partner with you on your path to long term health. Contact me at hhckatherine@gmail.com to schedule a complementary consultation!

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The heart of self care

In my last blog I wrote about self care and provided ideas for ways to incorporate self care into your day. I believe at the heart of self care is meditation. Meditation is simply regulating the dysregulation in your mind. It is not necessarily religious or about a philosophy. Meditation is intentional attention to your breathing, movement or thoughts to quiet external noise and bring you calm.

Why is meditation so important for your health? It’s all about the stress. Our bodies are amazing and help us manage acute stress by increasing our heart rate and breathing, as we prepare to battle. This is helpful in an emergency, but many people are living in a chronic state of stress, which is harmful to our bodies.

Symptoms of chronic stress include; headaches, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability, overeating or undereating, and social withdrawal. These are just a few of the effects of stress on your body, mind and behavior. Left untreated, these effects can lead to many health problems, including; heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Studies have shown that mediation is effective in the management of chronic stress and can be in the forms of transcendental meditation, deep breathing, guided meditation, movement, and mindfulness. According to Transcendental meditation (TM) experts, it is simple, natural and effortless. It uses a mantra and is typically practiced twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time. It is taught individually by a certified teacher. There are many deep breathing techniques out there. Some believe in inhaling for a specific count, holding, and then exhaling for a certain count. Typically the focus is on the belly rising on the inhale and falling on the exhale. For beginners, guided meditation is a great option. There are many apps and videos for guided imagery. A technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation, in which you tighten and relax muscle groups can be guided, or easily done on your own. Movement meditation includes yoga, Thi Chi, and Qi Gong, all of which are widely accessible through group classes or videos. Mindfulness as meditation may be more difficult for beginners. It requires you to be completely present in whatever activity you are engaged. The activity may be a shower, or craft, but the key is to focus on your senses as you engage in the activity, rather than letting your mind wander.

As a holistic health coach I believe there are many factors that come together to create your best health and I’m passionate about preventing disease with stress management. As Mother’s Day approaches I encourage you to think about the women in your life (yourself included) who would benefit from incorporating relaxation techniques, such as meditation. Life is busy and hard now, and it’s even harder when you are experiencing a major health crisis. I know this from personal experience! I can help you manage stress by incorporating techniques that will fit into your lifestyle. Contact me at hhckatherine@gmail.com for details.

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Are you on the list?

Most Sunday’s on my facebook page, Inspired Vitality of Minnesota, I ask, “What are you doing for yourself today?” because I believe that self care is an important part of being healthy. We have to-do lists, but we forget to put ourselves on that list, and suddenly the day or week is gone. By not taking care of ourselves, we end up running on empty, and less able to care for others.

Self care simply means caring for your physical and mental health. It is also caring for your soul, your essence. It encompasses nourishing food, sleeping well, being physically active, and quiet and peaceful activities for a calm mind. If you sleep 8 hours per night, in 16 waking hours you have 960 minutes per day. Can you devote 10 minutes out of 960 minutes for you? Or more…are you worth 10, 20, 30, or even 60 minutes out of 960 each day? I say YES, you are worth it! Not only are you worth it, but when you care for yourself on a regular basis, you will find yourself in a better mood, and more motivated and better able to handle all your tasks and challenges.

If you are running on empty, you may not know where to begin, so ponder these questions. What makes you happy? What fills you with peace? I suggest you make a list and circle the items that you haven’t done lately, or that really stand out to you. Once you have the list, it’s time to take action, but I’m a realist. I know the desire to do things and the reality doesn’t always coinside. So, you may have to adjust your action steps according to your situation. For example, if you love to dance, but you have young children, it may not be realistic to go out dancing every Saturday night. But, you can turn on music at home and have a dance party! (A party of one, or more!)

If you are still stuck for self care ideas, here are some of my favorites:

  • Listen to music
  • Dance
  • Reading/journaling
  • Exercise
  • Prayer/meditation
  • Spend time in nature
  • Stretch
  • Cuddle with a pet
  • Try a new recipe
  • Plan a vacation
  • Make a bucket list
  • Pamper yourself
  • Do a craft or build something
  • Ride a bike
  • Garden or visit a farmers market
  • Go for a walk
  • Watch funny videos
  • Deep breathing
  • Coloring or playing with kinetic sand
  • Spending one-to-one time with someone you love

Today, while writing this blog I was listening to my favorite smooth jazz music. As I paused to listen to the music, I noticed that I was breathing deeper, it provided me with inspiration, and it made me smile. All this, because it feeds my soul.

The next time you start writing a to-do list, don’t forget about you. Practicing self care does not make you selfish! It’s self love, and if you practice self love, you will feel stronger, happier, and ready to take on the world!

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What can I do?

One of the most frequent questions I get from people is, “what can I do to help my loved one that was just diagnosed with cancer?” The answer is complicated because there is no one answer. There are people who are open to receiving any form of help from anyone, while others want to have boundaries around the type of help they receive. Also, the newly diagnosed individual may be too caught up in emotions or medical details to be able to comprehend what they need, and the needs will change over the coarse of treatment. Your loved one is fortunate to have you in their life, fortunate that you cared enough to ask the question.

The amount of help a person needs may depend upon whether they are living alone, with others, and if they have young children. However, these suggestions may be helpful to anyone. Let’s start with the practical side of things…

Depending on your loved one’s insurance plans, things are going to get costly. Money may seem impersonal, but believe me, it comes in handy! Many medical facilities charge for parking and although the patient may have their parking ticket stamped for a reduced rate, it will add up over time. I suggest you do some investigation at the location your loved one will frequent. If there is a cost for parking, ask if you can pre-purchase parking passes. If not, money for parking is a helpful gift. If you want to get creative, you could get a bunch of one dollar bills and clip them together in the amount of the exit fee. For example, if you know the patient will be charged four dollars each time they have an appointment, paper clip four dollars together and put as many bundles together as you can afford into an envelope. Label it, “parking money” and this will allow them to grab a bundle each time they have an appointment.

Becoming a Caring Bridge administrator is another way to be helpful. Caring Bridge is an online journal for those going through a medical crisis and allows everyone to keep updated on the status. Sometimes the patient themself wants to take on the journaling, as it can be cathartic, but sometimes it feels like too much to keep up. Having another person with the ability (password) to post a journal can be helpful, but it does need to be someone close to the situation. https://www.caringbridge.org/

Another great resource is Care Calendar. It is an online calendar that the patient or family member sets up, then provides people with access in order to sign up to help. It has MANY uses, but basically coordinates help that is needed by the patient/family. When you set up the account you can, for example, simply ask for meals and provide preferences, but it can also be used to coordinate rides to appointments, cargiving of children, or providing help around the home. This allows the patient to receive exactly the help they need without directly asking someone to do something for them, which is sometimes difficult. https://www.carecalendar.org/

If your loved one is going to have a surgery, such as a mastectomy, in which they will have surgical drainage tubes afterwards, one helpful item is a belt with pouches for the drainage bulbs. In particular, something that can be used in the shower. This was one of the best gifts I received! The patient may have the drainage tubes for an extended period, and they can be quite cumbersome. When dressed, the tubes can be clipped to clothing, but in the shower, it’s helpful to have a place to put the bulbs. You can search online for a post-op belt for choices or check with a local mastectomy store.

Some other things that I received after my diagnosis that were really helpful; button down soft pajamas, soft hats, soft blankets, and earrings. After a mastectomy there is pain and limited mobility, and it was helpful to have a button down pajama top. During chemo a person can get cold, so the hats and blankets came in handy. Notice with all of these things I said soft? Post surgery and during treatment your nerves are affected, and the softer materials felt the best for me. I also received pretty new earrings, which were nice when I was wearing hats and scarves, to dress up my look.

Receiving meals during chemo, for me, was huge! (In hindsight, I wish I had accepted help with meals earlier on in the process.) The fatigue from chemo is like the worst flu you’ve ever experienced. You may shower, for example, and then have to lay down immediately because just that act is so exhausting. So, while a person may be capable of preparing meals, it is helpful to have items in the freezer or a freshly prepared meal. If the patient is having a hard time eating, the family will appreciate the meal! Some chemo drugs cause a metalic taste, which leads to nausea and difficulty eating and one thing I found helpful is incorporating smoothies. If your loved one does not have a blender/smoothie maker, perhaps collecting money for, and purchasing one, could be a group gift. Indiviuals could then create smoothie bags. A simple one would be to put 1-2 cup berries, 1-2 tablespoons flaxmeal, 1/2 cup frozen spinach and 1/4 avacado in a freezer bag. Then provide a liquid, such as almond milk. I suggest doing just a few of the bags at first and see how the patient likes them and adjust ingredients for their preference. The cold, fruity flavor of smoothies was one thing I found palatable during chemo.

If your loved one does not use an online calender to coordinate helpers, when you do offer help, be specific. To say, “let me know what I can do to help,” puts a responsibility on the patient. It is better to say, for example, “I can come X day and pick up dirty laundry, and bring it back the next day.” Or, “I’m available X or X day if you need me to run errands.” By giving them examples of what you are willing to do to help, you provide the patient with the thought process of, “yes, that would be helpful.” It plants a seed and they are more willing to accept your offer.

Finally, just be there..emotionally. Allow your loved one to say anything, and know that their moods will swing drastically. There can be much fear in a diagnosis, and pressure to be positive. While I believe a positive attitude is essential to healing, it’s also essenial to acknowledge all emotions. The key is to not live in the fear. So, listen, acknowledge and consider laughter. A person CAN have cancer AND laugh. Texting or emailing your loved one a funny video will put a smile on their face. If your loved one is typically an affectionate person, don’t forget to offer a hug. If surgical sites are a concern, then hold hands. All of the things you can provide are helpful, but kind compassion in the forms of listening, sharing and affection are really what your loved one will remember when they have healed.