Lesson #81: Don’t Ever Stop Letting in New Information (a.k.a. “The Other Side is Just As Sure of Themselves As You Are)

My friend Sarah is the type who just thrives on being a mother. She struggled to get pregnant and suffered because of it: the thought of not having children just devastated her.

She was rewarded with a beautiful, healthy daughter — then a bouncing baby boy: carrot-top hair, sparkling eyes and the sweetest disposition. Everything was right on track, and she was happy.

Photo credit: piyaphantawong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo credit: piyaphantawong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The most fastidious of mothers — concerned with nutrition, safe cleaning products, good doctors, good schools and every other positive step she could take for her children, Sarah took her son in for his fifth round of vaccinations, during which he was administered a vaccine against pneumococcal disease. That day will live forever in her mind — the last day her son was really able to see, experience and interact with the world.

The early hours of the next morning are described as if the plot to a horror movie. Sarah’s son woke up in the night “screaming like she’d never heard before or again, like he was being tortured”. The incessant, agonizing sound tortured her as she struggled to do anything she could to help him. But it wouldn’t stop. For hours as they dealt with doctor calls and the ER, it just wouldn’t stop.

Sarah’s little boy lost his hearing. Due to a violent reaction to the vaccine, (one that she later learned had been reported previously), his brain swelled, his fever got out of hand, he suffered permanent brain and digestive tract damage, and is now on the Autistic spectrum.

And they suffer. The many ways that they suffer.

We are engaged in a dangerous, polarizing debate in this country. Both sides of the argument, whether it’s “pro-vaccinations” or “against vaccinations” are so sure of their side and absolutely dumbfounded by the other.

With the potential for major illnesses to return to the forefront of threat and concern… at the same time the potential for severe vaccine side effects like my poor friend and her son will forever be impacted by — is anybody really going to win? Can’t we all just stop, put down our swords and think for a second?

In order to really understand where I’m coming from and where I’m headed, I need to digress for a second. Let’s delve a bit into some U.S. history…

During the early development of this country, farmers moved West to the prairies of the Great Plains, turned over the land, and (to make a long story short) ended up creating the infamous phenomenon called “The Great American Dustbowl” in the process. A devastating time for our country, the air was so filled with dust and mess from the uneducated and financially-driven actions of the farmers that many people died, entire herds of livestock were killed off and many families experienced complete financial devastation – a true depression.

To learn more about this, I recommend the book “The Worst Hard Time”.

Because of the huge surge in wheat farming all at the same time, there was an epic surplus of the grain that was eventually rotting away in silos — too much supply for not enough demand in the entire country. To aid the farmers and economy, the government began inundating its citizens with a “Grains! 4x a day!” campaign, telling U.S. citizens that eating wheat 4x’s per day was the key to all sorts of crazy, made-up health benefits. This, of course, wasn’t true or based on health facts at all — it was to help the economy. And it worked.

The 80’s “Milk It Does a Body Good,” campaign? Doesn’t take much research to uncover that was exactly the same predicament. Too many dairy farmers. Too much supply. A slumping economy. Let’s make a glowing health recommendation for milk — that has little to do with actual medical science.

Anyways, back to the discussion at hand. The U.S. government has come out recommending that parents vaccinate their children saying, in no uncertain terms, that “vaccines are safe”. And I’ve just gotta’ ask a couple questions that, to me, are blatantly obvious:

Which Vaccines? And in What Conditions?
The most obvious “um… what?” in this debate for me is this blanket statement: “vaccines are safe and parents should vaccinate”. There are many different kinds of vaccines administered for many different reasons. These have different ingredients, different procedures for making them all by different manufacturers. While simple testing can be done to ensure a vaccines efficacy, there is no possible way to test the effects of these vaccines in real-world situations: administered with other medications, administered with all other potential vaccinations, administered in immune-compromised children and infants, administered in children prone to allergic reactions. There’s absolutely no way to test for long term effects. So… why would the government make such a declaration, when there is no doubt that, in some situations, some, of many different types of vaccines are not safe?

Let’s, please, ignore the fact that the pharmaceutical companies making the vaccines are represented everywhere in politics and pay big money to politicians to have their backs. No one can know exactly what’s going on there, or if there’s any real influence, and it just leads to circular, pointless political debate.

I like to think that the U.S. government is making this blanket-statement declaration not because its truth is ironclad, but because they believe it’s for the greater good. Simply, if some of the serious, preventable-through-vaccine illnesses rise again the results could be dangerous, expensive and out of the bounds of control.

Secondly, there’s an uphill battle. It’s a really difficult (if not impossible task), to separate out the vaccines that aren’t as necessary (or the vaccines that have more known and severe potential side effects) in any sort of simple education campaign. This is not a simple issue: there’s just so darn many of them, so many different reactions and so many different situations in which they’re administered.

And, all in all, children and adults with vaccine reactions are much more rare than the routine, successful vaccines. The chances anything will go wrong are there, but slim. So it comes down to a decision: 100% protection of my child from the vaccinated illness vs. not knowing if my child will get or transmit the illness (but knowing they will not be vaccine- damaged).

The decision to vaccinate can seem very cut and dry. I can respect all of these arguments and understand why many decide to just get all vaccinations that are recommended by the CDC and their doctors. We want to trust the CDC. Trust our doctors. I have no bad feelings towards people who take this approach for their own families. I’ve taken the time to consider this line of thinking, and it makes sense.

My Decision
Having watched my friend and her son suffer, having researched this debate at no end, I will take a slightly different approach with my kids. I don’t think a parent has to choose an “all vaccines” or “no vaccines” side — I want to make educated decisions about which vaccines my children are administered.

I know I’ve probably already raised the pulses of a few who feel passionately about all vaccinations being administered. But there’s more to this thinking, so give it a shot. (I swear no pun was intended, but this did just bring a smile to my face). 

Take the example of the vaccine that damaged my friend’s son. This vaccine is administered to infants to prevent invasive pneumococcal disease and otitis media. The CDC reports that the incidence of invasive pneumococcal diseases in infants up to one year of age is 31.4 children out of 100,000 per year, with death occurring in 0.22% of these children (so one child out of 100,000 children dies per year from this).

Given the reactions my friend’s child and other children have had to this vaccine, when compared to the .0003% chance of my child getting this illness by the age he was vaccinated, I would likely choose not to get this one. I understand that puts my child at a higher risk for pneumococcal diseases. I also take into consideration that we have excellent advancements in medications that can help prevent and treat these rare diseases if they were to occur. I understand the chances my child will have the same reaction are rare; I am someone who doesn’t want to take those chances. In both camps, pro-or against vaccines, aren’t we really just making different versions of the same decision in this particular case: protecting our child from the rare instance of getting the disease, or protecting our child from the rare side-effects?

Another to consider: The Varicella Vaccine (a.k.a. The Chicken Pox vaccine).
Get Chicken Pox as a child, and you’re forever immune. The vaccine can wear off in 5-8 years. 5% of all children vaccinated develop a fever and rash. Since an attenuated live virus is actually administered, this vaccine states openly that it’s more dangerous to immunocompromised patients, and side effects have included pneumonia, meningitis, fever and, well, chicken pox.

No one used to fear and condemn chicken pox like we do now — in fact, parents would have pox parties to GIVE their children the Chicken Pox to make them immune later in life. Personally, I don’t want my children to be vaccinated for this, I want them to let it take its natural course, so they never have to worry about it again. This decision is further compounded by the fact I have some diagnosed autoimmune concerns to add to the mix.

Interesting to note about Varicella: the vaccine is developed with the use of embryonic cell lines from aborted fetuses. Depending on your political views, that’s a fact that, of course, is not widely publicized (though it’s on Wikipedia) and may spark some thought.

Anyways, this is just a little more information on two out of the multiple vaccinations our children get. Isn’t it worth taking the time to get and consider the information on what we’re vaccinating against and what we’re risking in doing so? Then making our own decisions from there? I think so. I just so desperately want the name-calling, anger and insults to stop around this issue: it’s complicated, and both schools of thought have true merit. Parents are all just trying to care for their children the best way they know how, and they should have the right to do that.

There are several wonderful, “thank goodness we have them!” vaccinations that I will surely be administering to my children. There are others I will choose not to.

But, as a moral to all this, can we agree that parents like Sarah… can we at least agree to respect them? Talk about strength: not only does she have to raise her little boy struggling everyday, but to have to be mocked, shunned and nearly bullied by those who want to insist to her that what happened to her son “can’t happen”. That “vaccines can’t damage children”. Some have even called parents like her names, “idiots” for choosing not to get certain other vaccines. I certainly think she has that right. It’s heartbreaking.

Some vaccines can do damage. And one certainly did.

Lesson #80: The Origin of “So A Horse Walks Into a Bar…” Jokes

DSC00468Deep within the jungles of Belize, there is a most unusual place. Whether one would refer to it as an “adventure lodge”, horse stable, a resort or a zoo is all a matter of focus, I guess. But when we arrived and could only access it via boat-on-a-rope, we knew we were in for a treat.

We came upon Banana Bank Lodge as a near afterthought. Staying at the nearby Caves Branch Adventure Lodge, we were offered daily activities as part of our accommodations, and horseback riding was given a casual, “cookie-cutter” description that left us imagining a lazy, laid-back trail ride.

Instead, we were greeted by John Carr — a man who imported himself to Belize from Montana decades ago following his “dream of being a cowboy”. Tall in stature, sauntering around in a peach colored shirt and a white, ten-gallon hat, John introduced himself by first and last name, even when he answered his cell phone. What made him even more enduring, outside of the pride just pouring from him around his lodge, was that he was affectionately followed by a tiny, scraggly dog wherever he went; it even darted its way in and out of the legs of the herds of horses to keep up.

We embarked on our trail ride after spending time with a group of baby horses. Our horses wove in and out of tea trees, wild jungle — up and down steep, muddy, slippery hills, sliding much of the way. We galloped through orange groves, squealing the whole time believing we might go flying at any moment. The ride itself was an absolute blast.

DSC00555We then returned to the main grounds, where we were given a tour of the property’s animal sanctuary. Housed here are all sorts of animals: birds, monkeys and even a jaguar, who have been injured or abandoned as babies by their parents. There’s a toucan on the property who was born with an overbite, rendering him unable to break fruit open on his own and eat. You can see in the picture that the top and bottom of his beak don’t meet.

Nemura Banana BankBy the time all these things were accomplished on what was the typical melting-hot day, we believed our adventure to be over and were very ready to eat. Lunch was planned for the restaurant on the property, and we gathered around at the table with friends we’d made to eat and chat about all we’ve seen.

That’s when our guide and his very tall horse appeared at the doorway. Then in the center of the restaurant, the rider needing to lay down backwards on the horse’s back to scale the doorframe. John Carr reappeared, and invited Blake to sit in the saddle there in the restaurant. Everyone believed that was photo-opportunity enough, people who didn’t even know us jumping to their feet to snap pictures. But then he invited me to ride along with. And next thing I know my new husband was standing behind me on the horse’s rump. I half thought he might be beheaded by a ceiling fan, but the horse was so still, so well behaved, that we were able to stay like this for at least a full minute. We can now return home and take up a circus side-show act. ;)

You’ll hear it again — the old joke “So a horse walks into a bar, and the bartender asks him, ‘Why the long face?’ “. I’ve now learned that there’s a place in the world where this actually happens. I highly recommend a visit to Banana Bank Lodge: you’ll walk away with more stories and experiences in a half-day of time than you’ve been able to tell all year.

Lesson #79: There’s No Better Time of Day Than “Music Time!”

Beware. This video’s incredibly addictive.

Lesson #78: Misconceptions About “Food Allergies” and “Food Sensitivities”

food selectionLast year I was diagnosed with 34 food allergies. Removing these food allergies from my system, along with processed foods and sugars, I have been cured of Hashimoto Thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s Disease), gastritis, pancreatitis, significantly reduced the symptoms from and the occurrence of cysts related to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), I have regulated life-long abnormal / heavy periods and have lost 25 pounds. Additionally, after suffering from repeated occurrences of abnormal cervical cells due to the presence of the virus HPV for nearly ten years, I am HPV free.

Given these drastic improvements, I am a strong believer that the convenient, modified, processed foods we’re eating are at the core of most of our health problems. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine isn’t quite there yet, doctor’s looking to prescribe medication for a person’s symptoms, (and often causing other symptoms in the process), rather than treat the cause.

This is confusing people. Knowing what I know now, I can compare it to this: I see you, the patient, complaining of pain and discomfort every time you sit on a tack. The doc gives you painkillers (and maybe even some antidepressants as you get sadder about your butt pain) … but never removes the tack. And this way of handling your pain won’t change anytime soon, because the doctor can’t charge you for their services and the medical companies can’t sell you medicine any longer without the tack on the chair.

The food companies surround us with cheap, affordable, delicious, damaging crap — the medical and pharma companies ignore the effects of terrible “food”, treating only the symptoms — and the world of BIG money making keeps spinning ’round.

Anyways, back to the “food allergy” vs. “food sensitivity” debate. To me, it’s deeply frustrating. You don’t know how many times over the past year I’ve been confronted with the questions, “Yeah, but are these all food allergies or food sensitivies?”. The underlying tone of this question is always, “Can’t you just eat whatever’s put in front of you so that we can go to the restaurant I want to, or just eat in a hurry like I want to?

Food allergies or food sensitivities? It really doesn’t matter. If a person gets sick eating a food and is communicating to you that they don’t want to eat that food, then that is the end of the conversation. Slow down and listen to them. Check your feelings of irritation at the door — yes, it is an inconvenience to you, and you don’t get exactly what you want to eat … but that person with the allergies never gets what they want. They probably don’t ever get to go home after an exhausting day and order up pizza or Chinese. Whether they’re sick, exhausted or craving pizza topped with hot fudge because they’re so desperate for the foods they used to know, they have to cook their food, healthy, no matter what.

And those thoughts of doubting that the food allergies even exist? I have yet to meet a single person who has faked food allergies. Yet I’m confronted and have to prove mine all the time. This weekend I was denied admission to the day-long concert at Naperville’s Ribfest, because I didn’t have a doctor’s note to prove I was sick and needed to bring my own food in. Are you kidding me? As if my life isn’t hard enough with all this, now I have to “urgently” track my doctor down on a Sunday to get permission to eat at an outdoor concert? Are they going to stop the cancer patient with their oxygen tank, and tell them they can’t bring it in, because they already have air in the venue? Of course not. But somehow they think it’s okay to deny those suffering from food-born illnesses the ability to eat, at all.

Mine are actually food allergies. A food allergy is a harmful response within the immune system involving either the body’s T-cells or the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. When these cells come into contact with specific food proteins, such as milk, they react. This reaction can cause pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — symptoms also found with a food sensitivity. Food sensitivities are reactions of the digestive system that aren’t linked to immune reactions. Food allergies can also cause rashes or hives, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, drastic drops in blood pressure, the throat to close and a myriad of other problems within the body. As I said, ridding my body of these allergens has cured me of things that many doctors told me were impossible to cure.

food allergensWhat many people don’t understand is that food allergies don’t often make you puff up and explode as soon as you eat an allergen — often they don’t even show themselves at all as you eat, or within weeks of eating the allergen. But deep down, these allergens are causing reactions within the blood, inflaming internal organs, messing with the balance of the digestive system, etc., often leading to some very serious issues. Food allergies are at the core of issues with digestion, fatigue, hormonal issues, emotional issues, issues of mental clarity, problems with headaches, joint aches, inflammation and so much more, (as are processed foods and sugars, as well). Many links between processed sugar and cancer are also being discussed.

And, suffering from food allergies — knowing how hard it is to stay away from certain foods and work to improve your health… I have one more plea to make. Not only should people stop challenging those of us who are made sick by certain foods, or those who are trying to protect family members who are sick (e.g. the endless debates between parents who want the convenience of packing a peanut butter sandwich vs. parents of children who go into anaphylactic shock around nuts — No, the poor kids with a peanut allergy shouldn’t miss out on life and education and stay home so you can hurry your kid’s lunch). But please stop challenging those who just want to try eliminating foods. Sugar. Gluten. Dairy. Any of the foods they feel are making them feel feel less than optimal. What.do.you.care? Let people make whatever food choices they want to for themselves, and support them in their efforts to try to feel better. There’s really no reason to judge them, get upset with them or worry about anything going on beside your own choices.

When it comes to other people’s food… just let it be.



Lesson #77: How to Cure Hashimoto Thyroiditis

Ten years ago, my allergist discovered an elevation in my anti-thyroglobin antibodies. Known as Hashimoto Thyroiditis, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This often results in hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid), and the suffering of symptoms like swollen / painful joints, irregular menstruation, fatigue, digestive issues and more.

Since that time, I have sought a cure — only to be told time and time again by multiple doctors that there is none. Doctors advised that I let my thyroid die, then take Synthroid to replace thyroid functioning. Synthroid has a myriad of known side effects stated on their site: “… consequences include, among others, effects on growth and development, cardiovascular function, bone metabolism, reproductive function, cognitive function, emotional state, gastrointestinal function, and on glucose and lipid metabolism.”

Last year, in blood work performed to prepare me for surgery to remove a large pelvic cyst, the concerns about my Hashimoto’s disease were voiced again. My thyroglobulin antibodies read at over 900 H, while a normal reading is <20 H. My thyroid peroxidase antibodies were obscenely high, as well.

Desperate for relief from the illnesses and surgical side-effects I’d been enduring, as well as for a reprieve from the clearly overworked, exhausted, irritable and financially-motivated doctors I kept encountering, I decided to take a chance on a physician I found on Google. With a “what can it hurt?” attitude born out of desperation, I made my first appointment with this “natural medicine physician” and went in.

Within 4 months, my anti-thyroglobulin antibodies were down from over 900 H to 350 H. My thyroid peroxidase antibodies were down to 37 H (35 H being within normal). Then, upon retesting another 6 months later, my anti-thyroglobulin is down to 32 H, and my thyroid peroxidase is normal.

This feels to me like a ridiculous miracle. It breeds all sorts of feelings of excitement, gratitude and, admittedly, frustration. Anger. I’m terribly upset with all these so-called thyroid doctors and experts that for years have allowed me to suffer, when a natural solution continues to be ignored by the medical community in favor of selling their services and medications.

Now, let me make clear that I’m not recommending the following treatments to anyone, or saying they’ll work for everyone. My recommendation is for those suffering from this illness to find a doctor who can prescribe the right natural treatment for them.

Used to Treat HashimotoMy Hashimoto’s disease was brought under control by taking the following actions. I had an Immuno Bloodprint done, identifying 34 known food allergies, which I eliminated from my diet. I eliminated gluten and processed sugars from my diet. And yes, this is probably the hardest thing I have ever lived through, the loss of pizza and ice cream — relearning how and what to eat, preparing my own food, etc. But nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels.

I also take two dietary supplements my doctor uses to address Hashimoto’s disease: Myco-immune and Thyroid I tonic. I am due to be off of them within a few months, once my anti-thyroglobulin is also normal.

I just had to share this information with anyone who may be suffering from this condition, as well, and looking for an answer. You don’t have to let your thyroid gland die and suffer all those consequences. You don’t have to be dependent on medication. This has truly worked for me, and I hope some version of this plan can work for you, too.

Lesson #76: Go Confidently In The Direction of Your Dreams…

Hanging With Air Supply

Hanging With Air Supply

It’s that little voice many of us carry inside. Maybe today its message is that you’re not good enough to apply for that job. Perhaps its saying that you’re not attractive or likable enough to go for the girl. Or maybe its shown up to silence you, fill you with fear of what you’re about to say, telling you you’ll offend others, they’ll think you’re stupid or you’ll make a mistake.

I can’t tell you the number of opportunities I’ve missed in life because of that voice. It’s kept me from careers, from confessing the deepest of loves and from a myriad of other opportunities.

But what stands out to me are the times in life when I’ve somehow found the courage to burst through that wall of fear. I once sat wailing on the floor, terrified of a trip I was about to embark on all alone to Ireland and Italy — only to stand up, force myself on to that plane, and end up having the time of my life. The time I sat trembling in class at Second City, terrified of getting up in front of others and trying to be funny, only to end up beating the fear and performing graduation shows with new, life-long friends on the main stage. Getting past that fear has never led to the pain or agony the fear promises. It always leads to positivity.

Last week I awoke to a local radio program advertising an Air Supply concert that was coming to town. Now, Air Supply hasn’t been around for awhile, but I love their music. I grew up on it, still know all the words to all the hits and was excited by the news I could catch a show a mere mile away.

Having recently lost my job, however, I was saddened to see ticket prices were… well, pricey. I quickly decided I shouldn’t go.

Then came the announcement. The radio station was about to hold an on-air contest. Out of five callers, the person with the best story of why they deserve the tickets would win two, plus backstage passes and a nice dinner out. “Why not give it a try?”, I thought. I mean, no one ever gets through to those contests anyways.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Then, before I knew it, the DJ’s voice was at the other end of the line. “Calling about the tickets? You’re caller 3. Please hold, and you’ll be on the air shortly.”

Ho-lee-crap. My anxiety went through the roof. What was I going to say? Was anyone I know going to hear me? Could I even talk right due to the massive stroke I felt like I was about to have? Is it wrong, annoying or shameful to use an illness to win tickets — because that’s about all I could think of as to “why I’d deserve” anything.

On the radio in the other room I could hear the DJ setting up the contest. “So… here we go! My wife, Suzie, has agreed to pick the winner, here. Now, Suzie… are there any requirements you’d like to put on these people — anything you’re looking for in particular with these stories?”

“Well, Scott… I just have to make sure the girl isn’t younger and prettier than me. And I want someone who will party in the aisles with me — get crazy!”

I stared at the phone and prepared to hang up. The fear made me absolutely certain I would. I knew from listening to the show that I was younger than the DJ and his wife… and I’m allergic to alcohol. When people say “party”, that’s typically what they mean and… I can’t drink.

But there it was… that little fire inside that somehow thrusts me forward. Before I knew it, I was listening to myself on the radio in the other room discussing a surgery I had that caused 34 food allergies with the DJ.

I won.

The DJ, his wife, my fiancé and I all had a wonderful dinner that evening. Then we went over to the theater, met Air Supply (who promptly told my fiancé that he looks like Jared Leto… “the Brokeback Mountain version, not the cross-dresser role he won the Oscar for”) and witnessed a fantastic show.

Blue Oyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult

What’s more — the DJ seemed to so enjoy hanging out with my fiancé, that he gave us a second set of tickets to any show of his choice. We spent the next weekend at a concert I’d say was almost better than Air Supply ;), The Blue Oyster Cult. I didn’t know Blue Oyster was such a jam band — the talent of the guitarists had my jaw on the floor.

So, anyways — I write about this experience to inspire. If you want something, dream of something, love someone — get past that crippling fear you carry — beat out all those doubts and warnings in your head — and go confidently. You just never know what it may get you.

Lesson #75: When Winter Gives You A Lotta’ Snow…

Make cute Save The Dates!

Snowman Save the Date

Yes, I had to Photoshop out my all-too-red nose and weather Chicago’s -30ºF polar vortex in a tank top. But the pain’s just a memory, with the results totally worth it!

More diy wedding ideas coming soon!