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Dealing with Family Illness: 
Knowing Stephanie & Letters for Lizzie


Knowing Stephanie


=    More of what I love in life…

“My body and soul do not function as separate parts. I pieced together a new self, unified and wonderfully alive.” ~Stephanie Byram

“Knowing Stephanie” is a beautiful gift and I am amazed at how a woman I will never meet in this life has affected my life in a profound way. I am also deeply touched by the sheer beauty of the souls who surrounded Stephanie during a time when she became so very human and vulnerable.

Stephanie had a dream for her life. She was pursuing a career and wanted to start a family when her life turned into a nightmare instead of the dream she had envisioned.

After becoming concerned about a painful, swollen breast, all the tests showed the presence of a tumor. At the young at of 33, she was diagnosed with a highly aggressive breast cancer. Doctors said she only had a 50 percent chance of surviving five years.

Stephanie refused to see this situation as an obstacle to her dreams. Although she struggled with cancer for eight years, she decided to get married, buy a home, earn her Ph.D. and even travel the world. Stephanie didn’t give up on life because life decided to take her on a path that would show her the limits of her own endurance.

Knowing Stephanie is a combination of Charlee Brodsky’s photographs and Stephanie Byram’s words. There is also an wonderful essay by Jennifer Matesa to give us a story of the medical journey without being overly clinical.

In “Reconstructing a Life” we learn how Stephanie found out about her cancer and how chemotherapy works. We finally understand what causes the nausea and why patients undergoing chemo go bald and experience neutropenia.

In this collaborative effort, you will meet Stephanie and learn about her struggles. You will see how she took charge of her own life and relive the experiences of chemotherapy and doctor visits through photographs. There are also beautiful notes from her mother, father and niece. She makes of list of everything her friends and family did to help her including telling her is was “OK to cry.”

Stephanie had weaknesses and strengths and both are portrayed in this story. We are invited to share her love of gardening, the feelings she experiences as she wondered how men would accept her after her surgery, how she is suddenly confronted with her mortality and how she uses the experiences in her life to heal instead of withdrawing into the darkness of despair.

A portrait of a woman who refused to see cancer as anything less than an opportunity to embrace life in all its beauty and sadness and learn from the experience. Her optimism and determination is an inspiration to us all.

“What is my future: love, laughter, gardens, family, friends, spirituality, travel …more of what I love in life. I surround myself with positivity, gentleness, challenge, and hope. I be, I am, until I pass, as we all shall.” ~ Stephanie Byram


Foods to Fight Cancer


Taking preventative measures..., May 19, 2009
"Analyses conducted by independent laboratories showed that the quantity of resveratrol present in the capsules studied was so small that a person would have to consume thousands of them just to ingest the equivalent of the resveratrol contained in a single glass of wine." ~ pg. 169

What action can you take to prevent cancer? Is it really as simple as eating certain types of food and avoiding others? Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras believe this to be the case. In "Foods to Fight Cancer" they present a fairly simple plan of action, eat more fruits and vegetables, especially the ones they recommend.

The initial explanations in this book bring a new understanding of what cancer actually is. Then the rest of the book is dedicated to explaining how certain foods like citrus fruits help you fight against cancer. Throughout this book you will also find helpful diagrams and pictures that make the topics easy to understand.

If you are worried about pesticides you can always buy organic fruits and vegetables but the authors believe that the benefits of regular fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks associated with tiny amounts of pesticides.

There are some surprising facts like how a baked potato has four times the antioxidant activity of broccoli. Then, if you think frozen vegetables are better than fresh the authors explain how the benefits are cancelled out due to a high-temperature blanching process.

If you need some good reasons to eat more vegetables and fruit this book supplies quite a few. As you read through this book you will gain a sense of empowerment. All the recommended foods are delicious and easy to prepare.

~The Rebecca Review


A Husband's Perspective

Letters for Lizzie


A Journey of Compassion, August 10, 2005

"Cancer teaches you harshly to think short-term, holding everything loosely." ~James O'Donnell

It is difficult enough to know how to react when a someone you love is diagnosed with cancer and even more difficult to face the reality of a friend or relative entering treatment for this devastating disease which tests the very fabric of existence. Letters for Lizzie explores even deeper struggles as a man's heart makes a transition from wanting a divorce to fighting for his wife's life with every ounce of strength he possesses.

Letters for Lizzie is a journey through a spiritual crisis where James O'Donnell is forced to reevaluate his life when Lizzie is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Together they travel through sickness and sorrow from Christmas in 1994 to July 2, 1996. While this book is filled with thirteen letters, James O'Donnell also provides a setting for each reading experience.

At first you may question James' decision to relocate his family and take a cut in his salary to become a teacher, but as the story unfolds, you start to realize how God works in amazing ways to put you in a place you need to be so you can be loved and nurtured. Not only do they move close to an Advanced Research Center, the community they live in supports them and cares for them through their struggles with frustration, anger and failed expectations.

As doctors struggle to keep Lizzie alive, she continues to weaken and yet manages to find the strength to write Letter Eight. Her strength and positive attitude wanes at times and yet even in this dark time she has a deep faith and commitment to God. In her letter she says:

I know it has cost each of you dearly to ride this wild roller coaster with us, yet I am convinced that it is your prayers and God's mercy that have carried us through this ordeal so far, and I can't begin to thank you. The best way I know how is to share with you the wonderfully ordinary life we now live, which we no longer take for granted. ~Lizzie

Written from a husband's perspective, James O'Donnell deftly describes the destructive qualities of the cancer diagnosis and gives insights into how to fight and how to surrender. I was surprised by the life affirming qualities of this work and how a story of cancer could be one of the most beautiful love stories I've ever read.

Tomorrow my father will find out what it will take to fight his cancer and this book has helped me to understand how I should react, what I should say and how my life will change in the coming months and years. Like so many, I never thought cancer would invade my family and just the knowledge of illness causes you to reevaluate your priorities.

If you are struggling with the emotional aspects of dealing with a cancer diagnosis or you are in the midst of fighting this disease, this book will bring comfort to your heart. In our world, where uncertainty is certain, this book provides a peaceful knowledge of God's care for us even when we think he has disappeared. James O'Donnell's conclusions are beautiful and he provides insight into troubling conflicts and difficult interpersonal relationships. In the end, kindness is what matters most and our presence in the life of someone who is suffering might be what is truly needed, even if we don't know what to say.



Flor-Essence Tea


Gentle Detox for the Entire Body/ Cancer Tonic, October 3, 2005

This tea is a cancer tonic that was originally popularized by a Canadian nurse, Rene Caisse. She originally called it "Essiac" which was her name spelled backwards. She received the original formula from a woman who survived breast cancer after sipping a cancer tonic given to her by the Ojibway Indians. Now more than 200,000 people take this tea each month.

When I first ordered this tea I thought it would be in small tea packets for daily use, but there are actually three large 0.74 oz/21g packets of "Dry Herbal Tea Blend."

This box contains:

3 packets of Herbs - powder mixed with some chopped up herbs that look like tiny pieces of say rhubarb

1 sheet of instructions for how to use and make the tea

After trying to make the tea the first time, the second packet was so easy to make. You simply boil the ingredients in water and then let the tea sit out on the counter (I put it in Pyrex container and covered it with plastic wrap) for 10 hours. This is great to do overnight or you can start the process early in the day. Once the tea has been made, it can be stored in the refrigerator.

When the instructions said to "chew" the tea before swallowing, I could not understand why. Then, when trying the second tea packet, there were many small pieces of herbs that were sort of fun to chew up before swallowing.

The taste of this tea is somewhat interesting when it is undiluted. They recommend diluting this with water, but I found cranberry juice to be far more appealing. I could not swallow the tea as well without mixing it with an equal amount of slightly flavored water or a juice.

Results you can expect from using this product:

Increased Energy - I feel that this removes toxins from my body because my mind seems more clear.

Increased Blood Flow - Better skin tone

Decrease in the change of illness - The body can get rid of foreign items when detoxing.

Condition this product can help include: Cancer, Thyroid problems, emotional issues (anger issues) allergies, PMS, Ear Infections (especially in children) Diabetes, insomnia.

The Ingredients:

Burdock Root
Slippery Elm Bark
Turkish Rhubarb Root
Red Clover
Sheep Sorrel
Blessed Thistle

One of the good side effects ( I haven't noticed any negative side effects) was a calm descending on me so maybe this does help to clean out negative emotions. This could be because of the red clover this mix contains.

Dosage Recommendations (see packet, but this gives you an idea):

For adults - 2 ounces of the tea diluted with water ( I like juice)
For Children - Ask your doctor, they say 1 ounce twice daily.
For Pets - They have various weights and ounces and you can put the tea on pet food.

When using this tea, you do have to stir it up a bit. It will look like it has divided into two mixtures. One is clear and the other is more mucilaginous (from the Slippery Elm bark and Burdock root) with fine sediment. Once you mix it up it is quite palatable.

To find out more about this product, please consult with your Naturopath. From articles I've read on the product, it can help give your body support during chemotherapy and radiation. Please talk to your doctor before taking this natural remedy.

Once you get used to taking the tea morning and evening it is almost something to look forward to. If you don't want to make the tea, there is also a bottle of liquid you can order.

~The Rebecca Review


Seasons of Goodbye

Caregiver's Journal, May 17, 2006

The highest form of wisdom is kindness. ~Talmud

Robyn Feld has created a journal for caregivers to help them work through sadness, frustration, confusion and isolation. Through this book you can learn about the infinite number of behavior variations a patient may experience.

The pages are green, blue, gold and white representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The chapters include:

Spring - remembering the person before AD
Summer - the diagnosis
Autumn - the steady decline
Winter - the sad reality

In the Spring section there are places to write about family, children, celebrations and holidays, friends, education, childhood memories and memorable travels. This section has no notes and is mainly a journal entry section.

Summer explores dilemmas like the patient not being able to drive and how the comfort of familiar things like taking care of a garden or maintaining friendships can help even when memory is failing. The section on obsessive behaviors explains the frustration of memory loss and there are real-life examples. Sections on handling money and getting support from the medical community make this book practical.

Autumn addresses a series of challenges and the examples given are very comforting. As people deal with the challenges they tell how they overcame them and this gives caregivers ideas for how to address issues they are facing. I became very emotional while reading the "Language Challenges" section. To lose your ability to speak and not to be able to tell people what you need or want seems to be the ultimate in frustration for AD patients. The necessity of keeping up with doctor's visits and tests is brought home rather starkly in one story of a man who could not tell his caregivers how he was feeling. By reading this book you can become aware of these issues in order to make the patient more comfortable and cared for. Paranoia, hallucinations and delusions are also discussed. Especially helpful sections on creative care, caring for the caregiver and grief counseling make this chapter especially helpful.

When you are facing choices at the end of a patients life, the Winter chapter explains the symptoms of decline, medical decisions that must be made and choices like hospice care or faith-based comfort. Many of the issues in this chapter like the issue of a feeding tube would be best to discuss with the patient as soon as a diagnosis is made. By reading this chapter you learn so much about the true feelings of the family and how they either regret decisions or were at peace. The last section includes a place to put phone numbers and addresses.

Overall this seems an essential guide for caregivers because it is always best to know what might occur so you can be prepared for all circumstances and challenges.

~The Rebecca Review


HIV/AIDS - One Woman's Struggle


How a Transfusion Changed a Mother's Life, May 23, 2006

"I want you to write about me having AIDS because I don't want anyone else to suffer in silence like we have." ~Nancy's Mom

When Nancy A. Draper's mother underwent a bypass surgery, she received a transfusion that turned out to be HIV contaminated blood. At the age of 66 she was diagnosed with AIDS and battled with her illness until she was 69. Before Nancy's mother died, she asked her to write a book so that others would not have to suffer in silence. Through "A Burden of Silence" Nancy gives her mother a voice and writes with the care and concern of a loving daughter.

"Hundreds of thousands of people like my mother who went into the hospital trusted doctors who assured patients that the blood was safe. So many lives were lost because of a lag in testing by blood banks throughout the United States." ~ pg. 139

This book is not only about Nancy's mom's illness, but also about the choices she made while living, like taking a painting class. In order to deal with her diagnosis, she relied on a variety of useful tools like guided meditation and breathing exercises. Realistic conversations and family issues keep this book engaging and heartwarming.

Even in a time of extreme stress for a family dealing with AIDS they find time to connect and care for each other. Through the sadness of the diagnosis, we learn about the realities of caring for an AIDS patient and the struggles are at times recorded in a realistic diary style that takes the reader on a journey from diagnosis to the sad yet somewhat poignant moments of goodbye. In the end, this sad story is a beautiful gift to the world and will be especially appreciated by anyone in a similar situation or by anyone who wants to develop more compassion and understanding.

~The Rebecca Review


Critical Conditions


5.0 out of 5 stars Life Saving Advice, August 5, 2009
"Patients with involved family members get better care." ~ pg. 101

I wish I would have had this guide when my husband, father and grandmother were in the hospital. Fortunately even with the shocking statistics they made it out of the hospital alive. I believe this was in part because family members rallied around the patient each time and made sure the patients were receiving the best care possible.

When your family members or friends end up in the hospital it is important to remember that each year 2 million patients get an infection and about 100,000 people die from these infections. It may seem intrusive to ask a physician or nurse to wash their hands but it could save lives.

Martine Ehrenclou interviewed nurses, physicians, social workers, psychologists and family members to discover the best ways to care for a patient. She lists many of the pertinent questions you should ask physicians and nurses to prevent medical errors. This book also has a section where you can write down all the information so you can keep track of medications and the prognosis. When conditions change you can then read and compare notes to make sure the patient is actually getting better instead of worse.

"Critical Conditions" is written with a sense of care and concern. The advice goes beyond helpful hints and deals with life saving strategies. There is some good advice about not having too many visitors in the room at the same time as it can interfere with patient care. Since the patients mental health may also be at stake it is also important not to fight about their care in front of them.

Since by the year 2020 there will be a nationwide shortage of nurses this book will become even more important. This is the real reason why nurses cannot at times respond immediately to the call button when patients are in dire need. They are overwhelmed and overworked already and things seem like they are just going to get worse.

Martine Ehrenclou presents a book that will encourage family members and friends to be more active in the patients care. There is no need for patients to suffer needlessly or to be the victims of medication errors.

Highly Recommended!

~The Rebecca Review






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