The Big C – why me?

By Eunice J Minford MA FRCS Ed, Consultant Surgeon, N.Ireland 

We all know what the phrase ‘the Big C’ means – it is a way of saying cancer without using the word cancer. I recall hearing it when I was growing up, people whispering it to one another that, “so and so has the Big C” – the feelings of fear, trepidation and worry were palpable. Even though as a young child I initially didn’t know what the Big C was – I knew it was something bad, terrible, to be avoided at all cost if possible, there was a sense of finality to it and the smell of death hung in the air. It didn’t seem to matter which particular big C you had – they were all cloaked with the stench of illness, disease, decay, sickness, bodily destruction and death. Even in the medical world, the word cancer was often avoided in the past so as not to induce such fears in the patient and euphemisms were used like ‘growth’ or ‘ulcer’ without revealing the true diagnosis.

The depth of fear around the Big C was and is huge – people instantly equate the C word with death, but not just death, it is a death that is considered to be slow, painful, miserable, full of sickness, sadness, a failing body, losing weight, having chemotherapy and its side effects like losing hair – of losing one’s bodily functions perhaps and being dependent on others for help and support in a way that we never think we will need to be. And the reality is that cancer can wreak havoc on the body and all of the above can be part and parcel of the journey with cancer – and suffering of one kind or another, be it physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual is a common experience for the cancer patient even with all the advances in palliative care, medicine and surgery. Yet all these medical advances focus more on the physical aspects of the disease and to some degree, but usually less so, the psychological and emotional components, with very little, if any, addressing of the spiritual dimension.

Yet many people with cancer struggle with the ‘why me’ questions: what is the meaning of this cancer, this life even? Why do I have cancer now, at this stage of my life? Is there a reason? Is there a purpose to it? Is it a punishment? Is it God’s will? The existential angst that arises through a cancer diagnosis is huge but often goes unaddressed and unanswered, especially in a way that is truly healing.

Continue reading “The Big C – why me?”

Contagion – Part two: Non-communicable diseases, are they really not communicable?

By Anne Malatt and Paul Moses, Australia. 

In the not-so-distant past, contagious or communicable diseases were greatly feared, and the cause of many deaths, often on a mass scale. The Black Plague, the Spanish Flu, and smallpox all come to mind and are seared in our collective memories. With the advent of modern sanitation and medicine, these diseases have become much less common. As they have waned, the importance of non-communicable diseases has risen.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), non-communicable diseases (NCDs) now account for 68% of all deaths, worldwide, every year. (1)

In Australia, chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness, disability and death, accounting for 90% of all deaths in 2011. (2)

What are non-communicable diseases (NCDs)?

Continue reading “Contagion – Part two: Non-communicable diseases, are they really not communicable?”

Contagion – Part one: Contagion

By Anne Malatt and Paul Moses, Australia.

When someone walks into a room, we know how they are feeling.

We can feel it with our whole being, and we then confirm it with our five senses.

If they are angry, we feel it first. We then see it in their facial expression, in the way they hold themselves hard and the way they move and walk, we can hear it in the way they bang things down or stomp their feet, we can smell and taste it in the air we breathe and we can touch it if they come into contact with us, but most of all we just feel it.

And we can react or respond in different ways.

Most of us tend to tense up, contract, and go hard ourselves, in an effort to protect ourselves from what we can feel is coming at us. We may be on edge, ready to fight, or flee. It may bring up memories and feelings in us of when other people have been angry with us, and may even have hurt us, or those we love.

Whatever our reaction, it can be very challenging to stay open and loving with someone who is behaving in this way, no matter how much we may love them.

So, can this anger be contagious?

Continue reading “Contagion – Part one: Contagion”

Esoteric Medicine: is it complementary or alternative medicine and what’s the difference?

by Eunice J Minford MBChB MA FRCS Ed, Consultant Surgeon, N Ireland

I used to think that complementary medicine and alternative medicine were the same thing. I have come across others who speak of them as one and the same thing as well. The words are used interchangeably by many, and both often get tied together in the abbreviation ‘CAM’ – to refer to all things complementary and alternative in the world of medicine.

I was also very dismissive of anything that was in any way alternative/complementary and basically anything that was not mainstream medicine, and which had not been verified scientifically as I understood it. I viewed them, as many medical doctors do, with contempt and considered them all to be a waste of time and potentially dangerous if they prevented people getting access to ‘real medicine’. I had heard stories of people refusing medical treatment and who insisted on the ‘alternative’ path – only to end up dead when their cancer was of course not cured by the ‘alternative’ treatment. So it would be fair to say I was pretty staunchly against anything that had the label of complementary or alternative, as to me they were all in the same bag!

At that time I was of course very much in the arrogance of the medical/scientific consciousness, which thinks that doctors and scientists are the only ones who understand the body, illness and disease and treatment, and that unless people have been through the rigors of a bona fide medical and scientific training, then they basically have no right to make any claims as to the workings of the body – even their own. Continue reading “Esoteric Medicine: is it complementary or alternative medicine and what’s the difference?”

Gallstones – more to it than the five F’s?

By Eunice Minford, MA FRCS Ed, Consultant General Surgeon, N.Ireland

Gallstones are quite common (25-40% of the population have them) and they can cause a variety of medical conditions. However, it is only the minority of patients (10-20%) with gallstones that develop symptoms requiring removal of the gallbladder – many people live with gallstones without even knowing they have them and without any symptoms. Some conditions caused by gallstones, like pancreatitis, can be quite serious and even life threatening. Much more commonly, patients present with pain in the right side or across the top of their abdomen, often associated with nausea and vomiting. Some people notice it is brought on by eating fatty foods in particular, as the gallbladder is involved in digestion of fat – it stores bile and contracts to release bile into the gut when we eat a fatty meal. The pain can occur when a gallstone gets lodged, preventing the passage of bile from the gallbladder into the bile duct and gut.

Being a surgeon myself, it was not difficult to self-diagnose gallstone disease when I first developed symptoms about 10 years ago. I had been out for a meal and had eaten too much, along with having a particularly rich chocolate dessert. It tasted yummy at the time, but several hours later when I was in agony my body was saying something else! I eased the pain and the nausea by making myself sick – off-loading what was clearly an over-loaded system.

Over the next couple of years I had intermittent attacks, often precipitated by eating something that was too fatty.

Continue reading “Gallstones – more to it than the five F’s?”

Why are patients called patients?

by Dr Anne Malatt, Ophthalmologist, MBBS, MS, FRANZCO, FRACS, Australia

Why are patients called patients?

Most practitioners call their customers clients, but doctors call theirs patients.

Why is that?

Is it because they spend so much time waiting patiently for care – that waiting to see a doctor or waiting for a hospital procedure is an exercise in learning to be patient?

………… Continue reading “Why are patients called patients?”

Cancer – is it bad luck or a blessing in disguise?

by Anne Malatt, Australia 

When we receive a diagnosis of cancer, or hear of it in someone else, our immediate response has often been to say that it is “bad luck.”

In fact, a recent study attributed two thirds of cancer cases to ‘bad luck’. (1)

What is luck, and what does it have to do with cancer?

When something ‘good’ happens, like getting a great job or buying a new car, people tend to say “aren’t you lucky?” And when they do, we can be quick to point out that we worked hard for it, and we deserve it.

Yet, when something ‘bad’ happens, like a diagnosis of cancer, we are not so quick to take the credit for it! We are very willing to call it ‘bad luck’.

So, is it luck, or is it not? Are we responsible, or are we not? And if we are, how can we be responsible for the ‘good’ things, and not the ‘bad’ things?  Continue reading “Cancer – is it bad luck or a blessing in disguise?”