Category Archives: Dying

Government is not promoting good health

I know, this sounds like a conspiracy. Well, I believe it is.

I have just started a petition at http://www.whitehouse.gov asking the administration to instruct the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to write the National Dietary Guidelines, not the USDA (Department of Agriculture).

Please review the petition here, sign, it and spread the word.

As top executives at the Department of Agriculture have traditionally had long-standing ties with big agribusiness, and as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes are at epidemic rates, and as diet is largely responsible for our health, I believe the fox is minding the hen house when it comes to the health of the American public.

The pharmaceutical, beef, chicken, egg, dairy industries and their ilk do not have the best interests of the public at heart. Their best interests are in profits. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, profits from the sicknesses and diseases that the high fat, high cholesterol Standard American Diet from the USDA guidelines. The sicker the American people get, the more money the pharmaceutical industry makes. For the USDA to promote artery-clogging meat, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, chicken, and pork as a hefty portion of the Standard American Diet is irresponsible to the extreme, and causes hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths every year.

If we want to reduce the top health hazards of Americans (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.), and thereby drastically reduce the amount of money spent on health care every year, these dietary guidelines must come more in line with the guidelines proven to prevent and sometimes even reverse the ravages of disease caused by poor diet. The government organization most likely to do the independent research required to conceive a healthy dietary guideline is The Centers for Disease Control.

I refer to Dr. Neal Barnard’s The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Dr. Michael Greger’s nutritionfacts.org, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyne’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Program, Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s Center for Nutrition Studies, and others.

If you’re not familiar with these ground-breaking studies, it would be good for your health and the health of your family and the health of the planet if you looked into it. Start with these websites, read these doctors’ books.

And if you like what you find, please sign the petition.

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Filed under Diet, Dying, Uncategorized

Death Cafe

Last night I drove through foggy fog to a meeting of Death Cafe.Death Cafe
I heard about this national organization and its local chapter at an event last summer where Death Cafe had a booth. It stopped me in my tracks. “What do you do?”
The woman smiled. “We get together, eat cake, drink tea, and talk about death.”
My kind of organization, for sure.
Most of the people there were middle-aged. Many were Hospice workers. Perhaps there were more women than men, but I thought it was pretty evenly divided. We sat at six different tables of five or six, and then proceeded to spend 90 minutes eating cake, drinking tea, and talking about death.
It was fantastic. I am a firm believer that our culture needs to open up a public dialog about this completely natural aspect of life, but it is shrouded in mystery, in secrecy, in pain and grief and a wretched (in my never-humble opinion) compulsion and dedication to staving off the inevitable, no matter the cost to the dying person or the community.
I say “community”, because that’s who pays the exorbitant end-of-life medical bills, as we try to delay or avert what is a natural process.
Would you send your son to the hospital and have him put on all manner of drugs because he was nearing puberty? Of course not. Death is just as natural a process, but because we don’t talk about it enough, we don’t understand it, therefore we fear it.
At our table last night we had a young woman who is terribly afraid to die, we had an older gentleman who has been a Hospice worker and volunteer with a local organization called Nobody Dies Alone, and has been personally present at 25 deaths in the last five years, another woman who has only witnessed one death, but who dreads her own death, and another woman who doesn’t fear death at all, but doesn’t know how to think about the potential of excruciating pain for her elderly mother–or herself, for that matter–that might accompany a death unaccompanied by medical professionals.
We talked, and talked some more, covering a variety of important related topics in quite some depth. Surprising depth, actually, for a group of people who had never met before. We could have talked another hour or two without difficulty. One person said that a son-in-law went through medical school and they didn’t talk about death hardly at all, because a doctor’s focus is prolonging life.
This Death Cafe group meets once a month. Only two people had been to a meeting before; the rest were there for the first time, like me.
One of the takeaways for me was the importance to talk more about death with everybody. Talk about your own death with your parents and your children and your friends and you neighbors. Talk about your parents’ death with them. Open up the dialog. Explore the mysteries.
Our culture is very peculiar about death, and it is time that changed. We need to stop being so afraid of it and start seeing it as an inevitable process of life.
You can find a local chapter in your area by going to http://www.deathcafe.com
I found it to be an evening well spent, and I believe you will, too.

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Filed under Aging, Death, Dying

Evan Engstrom – 1942-2010

Heaven is richer today for the presence of my former husband and one of my best friends of all time. Evan Emil Engstrom died yesterday after a 26-year battle with cancer. The man was a warrior. 

I first met Evan when we were both struggling to get sober. I knew his sister and she was everything I wanted to be. Shortly thereafter, I met his mom and his kids, and knew this was the family for me. We married, I adopted his two wonderful children, and we set out to have a full life together. Evan was incredibly smart, the master of the one-line zingers, handy and clever, but most of all, he cared. Deeply. About everything, all the time. He wanted to do the right thing in all situations. My honorary Uncle Paul told me to marry “a man I could live up to.” Evan was just such a man, and he provided a moral compass for me from the moment we met, as well as everyone with whom he came into contact.

It wasn’t long after we married that Evan’s dentist found a small lump under his tongue. The surgery to eradicate this squamous cell carcinoma took the floor of his mouth, all the lymph nodes and big muscle on the left side of his neck, and required a skin graft from his thigh. The doctor told me: “The chances of his being here in two years are slim and none.” Well, they didn’t know Evan.

We moved from Maui to Oregon to provide a broader perspective of life for the kids, began to eat organically, raising most of our own food, and for a long time life was good. Eventually, however, we began to see that while we were really good friends, we did not make good mates. We discussed the fact that friendship is eternal while marriages are likely not, and we were in danger of losing our friendship as we toiled to maintain a broken marriage. So we separated, and eventually divorced, still committed to one another, still connected to one another via the heart, forever, in this world and throughout the next.

When I married Al, Evan came to our wedding. His classic comment: “I’ll come to all of your weddings, Liz, if there’s a meal in it for me.” Al had to know that my commitment to Evan was part of my family unit. And when Evan and Sharon discovered each other in a new way, we all became one big happy weird family, impossible to describe, but precious in every way.

Evan’s cancer came back. Again. And again. And yet again. He never gave up the fight against it, not after all the rest of us thought it might be a good idea that he just let go and let God. But he wanted to see his kids grow up. He wanted to see his grandkids grow up. And for the most part, he did. He leaves his two wonderful children, Nicole and Eron, and five grandsons, Luke, age 19, Joey, 17, Edison, 8 and Dean and Davison, both 3.

Evan left us too early. I particularly grieve that he and Sharon had such limited time together to explore their new relationship, to travel the world in happy retirement. But it is what it is, and we are all richer for knowing and loving him for as long as he was on loan to us.

Congratulations on your graduation, Evan. We all look forward to seeing you on the other side.

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Filed under Aging, Cancer, Death, Dying, family, Graduation, Marriage, relationships

We Choose Our Lives

Those of you who are parents have undoubtedly said to your pre-teen or teen, “You’ll remember these times as the best times of your life.” We worry that they want to grow up too fast, cutting short many childhood experiences, in quest for the more alluring adult activities. I was one of those kids; perhaps we all were. Eager to get out of high school and get a job, get out of the house, get on with life.

Well, the same holds true for today. Now that I’m “of an age” I’m in no hurry to get older, but am I taking advantage of who and where I am right now? Am I enjoying my life today to the degree that some day I’ll look back and say, “Man, those were some good times.”? Or am I too busy worrying about this and that and making appointments and meeting deadlines and paying the bills to stop and think: “I’ll never be a human again. I’ll never be in this type of material body with its strengths and its difficulties. I’ll never live on such a magnificently beautiful planet like this again. I better literally stop and smell the flowers.” It’s true that I don’t know what lies on the other side of the veil any more than anybody else, but I have my idea about that, just as you have your idea about it. My point is, from every place I find myself in the future–whether it’s next week or a thousand years in the future–I want to be able to look back and say, “I took advantage of everything that was offered to me back then.”

We’ve also probably counseled our children not to burn bridges or close doors on our options, because they don’t know what the future holds. The same holds true for us. We don’t know what doors we’re closing on our future when we act irresponsibly.

There are long ugly stretches of my history that I would just as soon forget, but those are long behind me and that is not the way I choose to live today, or tomorrow, or for the rest of my days. I want to be conscious, aware, engaged, happy with who I am and what I’m doing. I want to be able to look back and know that I was present, not pining for what was, nor spending my days daydreaming about what could be in the future. There’s value in some of that, certainly, but I believe that we will some day have the benefit of perspective on our lives that we currently have on our childrens’ lives.

We’re only here once. Let’s do good works, be kind to one another, and be proud of who we are today.

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Filed under Aging, Death, dreams, Dying, Fun, Goodness, Possibilities, regrets, relationships, Social Consciousness, Spirituality, time, years

Farrah’s Story

I just heard that Part 2 of Farrah’s Story is in the works.

For those who didn’t watch the 2-hour documentary on NBC last Sunday night, it chronicled Farrah Fawcett’s two-year battle with cancer. She said that the purpose of filming and screening her horrendously painful treatments was to educate, but what did we learn?

Not much. We learned that Farrah is a fighter, to an astonishing degree.  The cringe factor in her treatments was extreme.

But we didn’t learn much else. We only learned the type of cancer almost as an aside (squamous cell carcinoma). We didn’t learn anything about squamous, how it grows or spreads. We didn’t learn how she discovered this tumor. We didn’t learn anything about her treatment options or why she chose the ones she did. Instead, we learned about her iconic hair, and how the doctors tried to perserve it. Good grief.

So, Ryan, if you’re not out to exploit the pain and suffering of the woman you love, use this platform to do some serious education. We all know that chemo makes people puke. That’s not the type of learning we’re after. We want to know the medical stuff of treatment. We want to know what trials are being done. There’s not a one of us who hasn’t been personally affected by cancer, and we’re after answers. Show us her scans. Have a doctor explain them. Show us alternative treatments and experimental treatments and how they work, and why they didn’t.

We all know and love Farrah, but her story has so much more potential to save lives and educate people than what we endured by watching her incredible suffering on Sunday night.

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Filed under Cancer, Dying, Honesty, Memoir, Spirituality

Let’s Talk About Dying

No, really. Let’s talk about it. Let’s everybody talk about it.

We’re all going to die sometime, and while I’m not advocating hastening anybody’s death, I think death should be met with as much grace and anticipation as birth, puberty, or any other naturally-occurring event in our lives.

I participate on internet forums where people are spending their families into bankruptcy, making themselves sick beyond comprehension, all in a futile effort to stave off the inevitable. I can understand that when the sick person is a youngster, or a young person with children, but when the victim is elderly, has led a long and fruitful life, why not go gracefully to the other side? Instead of encouraging them to cling tenaciously to the physical body, we should be holding graduation ceremonies for that person and celebrating their contribution to the world.

I don’t get it. I really don’t. Except, perhaps, we don’t talk about it enough. My family knows (at least I think they do, I hope they do, I will make sure they do) my wishes about how easily I intend to slip beyond the veil to the other side. I can’t imagine that there is anything to fear there. We’re all going to go there, so why would anybody want to be dragged kicking and screaming, making it an unhappy, miserable event for everybody?

I hear people who have incurable, terminal cancer say: “I’m going to fight this with every ounce of energy left in my body, to my last breath.” And I say: Why? Does the God of your understanding have something horrible in store for you? I doubt it.

I ask you to think carefully about this topic and bring it up around your dinner table. Make certain that you understand how your loved ones feel about their deaths, encourage them to put those feelings in writing so there is no mistake about it, and make some arrangements for yourself while you’re at it. There’s no question that the death of a loved one or family member is an emotional time, and illness is a very stressful time. So that is not the time for these decisions to be made; that is not the time for these discussions to take place.

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyHLxPlQ_To

Get your mind right and get your earthly affairs in order. Then, when the time comes (and we never know when that will be), things will be easier on everybody.

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Filed under Aging, Death, Dying, Social Consciousness, Spirituality

The Afterlife vs. the Afterdeath

I just finished reading a most remarkable book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

 

Being somewhat ghoulish by nature, once I heard about the existence of this book, I couldn’t wait to read what this hilariously funny author had discovered in her research about bodies donated for medical and other research.

I was amazed.

First, I was astonished to discover how researchers treat their cadavers with tremendous respect, even if they’re subjecting them to a t-bone car crash to find out what happens to the brain when it is rattled from a side impact (this research led to side-impact airbags, by the way). Medical students are even more reverent about the cadavers they are privileged to study. Some even name them. These students know that they would never be able to learn some of this stuff by watching a video, so every cadaver helps immeasurably to educate a new medical student.

The body of knowledge that a selfless donor adds to medicine, safety, forensics… it’s quite amazing. I had no idea. And fewer and fewer people are donating their remains to research.

My husband is not crazy about the idea of me donating my body to research, but I’m filling out the forms today, and he’ll have to get used to the idea. As a cancer survivor, I can’t donate organs like kidneys, heart, corneas, bone marrow, etc.  But if someone can learn something by using this tissue after I’m finished with it, before reducing it to ash, I think this is a good thing.

We spend a lot of time talking and thinking about where our souls or identites or personalities go after death, but we hardly give a thought to whether we waste our remains or put them to good use.

Please give it some thought.

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Filed under Cancer, college, Death, Dying