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Monday, June 20, 2011

Redundant people fight cancer?

We drove to the hospital this afternoon for my 2.45 PM appointment with my oncologist, Dr Nick Pavlakis. He has a formidable reputation in his field. As mentioned here, one of the most heart-warming stories about his involvement in brain tumour research and treatment comes from 2003, but it's timeless.

    I'm very lucky to have my treatment supervised by him. He visits Armidale from Sydney regularly and takes on patients like me, even though the demands on his time and patience are relentless.

    We rang from home to check on how his appointments were going.  One of the advantages of a small town is that the hospital is less than five minutes away. We can park in the street (no parking meters!) and walk 30 metres straight into the waiting room. I shudder to think of those long drives through traffic with Tracey, Alice or Sylvia in Melbourne. There, it took longer to find a parking spot when we finally got there and walk to the Peter Mac Cancer Institute than to leave this room and be on time for the appointment here in Armidale.

    The receptionist tells us things are going pretty much to schedule, so at 2.40 PM we get in the car, and there we are, right on time.

    As we’re waiting, I saw a poster and wondered why it was there. The website URL hit me first, and it seemed to be one to help people who became redundant and lost their jobs.

    I suppose there’s no reason why people like that shouldn’t have a helpful website, but the picture above the web address was confusing. It was a black and white photo of various people standing around, except that one guy has bright red undershorts on.

    Then I read the message (finally!) and looked again at the URL, and the penny dropped. <> This isn’t about people made redundant (nicknamed ‘redundies’) at all. Of course! Red Undies. But you already guessed that in much shorter time than it took me to figure it out.

    Don’t bother going to the website because it is now ‘parked’, probably till 2012. The idea is that if you bought a pair of red undies from Lowes during a week last month, profits were donated to the Continence Foundation of Australia.

    I have to confess I wasn’t aware of the campaign, nor even of the existence of the benefitting organisation. As usual, it’s usually not on our radar if we aren’t personally affected in some ways. Incontinence is something jokes are made about, but it usually remains in the realm of aged people’s problems.

    It’s not. For those suffering from kidney problems, including kidney cancer, it can become an issue, and that’s why the poster was in the Oncology waiting room. I feel glad I’m not suffering from anything that puts me in that category, but there are many who do, and it’s not funny at all. But it’s so taboo that the poster was right to use the clever slogan, ‘It’s Time for Some Decent Exposure’. I wish for its sake that it had more.

    So, that was how I spent the waiting time, and this posting was supposed to be about our discussions with Nick Pavlakis.

    I’ll write about that now. If you’d have told me this morning I would be writing about continence (which puts a positive spin on viewing the condition), I’d have been extremely surprised, but that’s what I get for reading posters in doctors’ surgeries.... As mentioned, it’s worth going here to read about it.

    And, now I’ll start writing about what I was going to, but there are times when other people’s issues become much more important than those of an individual.


  1. I wish the one who gets around in his red undies was redundant. I assumed it was a Coalition poster at first. Indeed, a cancer in our public life at the moment.

    Not only elderly and ill people have incontinence problems. A very high percentage of healthy, youngish women need to always be mindful of where the toilets are; need to use panty shields 24/7; and dread sneezing and laughing. Hormone therapy, child bearing, and menopausal atrophy of muscles wreak havoc on our nether regions. But then we get used to not having control over what happens in that part of our bodies since about age 13, give or take a couple of years.

    As for me, well after a couple of scares, I now diligently do my pelvic floor exercises every day and, lo, so far, I can laugh, sneeze, and be blissfully unaware of the toilets. Time, however, is not on my side.

  2. Well said. I am equally conscious that brain function for me is likely to become more and more unpredictable, so as you can imagine, I don't see this as something that is nothing more than someone else's problem.

  3. Most definitely. I just read an article in Shambhala Sun about the effects on the brain of mindfulness meditation -- it increases grey matter in the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, and other parts of the brain associated with empathy, integration of sensation and emotion. So I hope your exercise routine, which is working marvels on your body and brain, also includes a period of meditation. It seems that, from the experiments at the base of this study, that the brains of regular meditators do not show the same degree of deterioration with age as the brains of ordinary people.

    Obviously I was not part of the experiment :).

  4. Hah - you would have made an interesting subject! Funnily enough, I was reading an article recently where it said that DEcreasing the size of the hippocampus was actually beneficial or had advantages for the person concerned. I realise I have said either too much or too little in mentioning this as I'm not going looking for the reference, but will leave it out there anyway.

    Maybe the difference between me and most people is that I have *never* compartmentalised meditation in the way others do. It's there constantly but not at the fore all the time all my waking life - and, I suspect quite a bit of the time I sleep or am in sleeplike states. This makes me master of nothing in the yoga stakes, and is NOT some sort of constant state of bliss (if only!) but it's there when I'm exercising, or writing, and sometimes when I'm reading or watching TV, though the latter activities are more likely to agitate me and take me away from that state of equanimity. After all, there's nothing settling about the NATO bomb in Libya this morning that killed 15 people, including a pregnant woman and two children who NATO commanders knew were in the house along with the target male. Yay for 'collateral damage' yes?

    There's nothing specially beatific about my state of mind most of the time. It makes me keep a sense of proportion that works for me, and a lot of that is down to Tracey's love and ever-mindfulness for my welfare.

  5. I read an article which said that people who had a religious experience or life-changing spiritual experience later in life showed signs of an atrophied hippocampus, while people who had been meditating for a long time showed signs of an increased hippo plus increased grey matter. Probably explains why I have such a quotitian state of consciousness. :).

    As for the compartementalisation of meditation, yes, many meditators restrict it to the period of meditation and scientists focus on the brain rather than the whole body/consciousness. I've heard so many stories of people who've spent donkey's years meditating, given it up as a lost cause, and then a few years later, while mowing the lawn or changing a tire, voila, the world is a transformed place.

    I think you're right in that once you start meditating, it goes on all the time, whether you're doing it consciously or not. It's a long, slow, gradual process of transformation and mostly we are totally unaware of the changes until something major happens and somehow we cope surprisingly well.


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