Posted on

A Carer’s Christmas

Carer's at Christmas

The festive season is approaching and many of us look forward to enjoying this time. But for those caring for a loved one, Christmas can add an extra layer of stress, on top of everything else they are contending with.

Whilst caring for my husband, I still loved Christmas time, but immediately after, I always fell ill. I then spent January recovering, which made caring even more difficult.

So with this in mind, here is some useful advice to help you enjoy the season as you continue to care, so as not find yourself completely exhausted by the end of it!

  1. Spend a few moments planning the next three weeks. What do you really have to do and what do you not have to do? For example, do you always make the Christmas cake? Why not buy in this year and save yourself the time and energy? Just by making a few simple choices, can help to relieve us of any unwanted stress.
  2. We can find ourselves writing Christmas cards into the night! I know I certainly have. Then there’s the expense, plus the thought of climate change and all those trees. Why not write just a handful of cards to your nearest and dearest, and send an email or text to friends, letting them know you will be donating a bit of money to charity instead of sending them a card?
  3. We want to say yes to all things! But if you are caring, you only have so much energy, plus limited time and money. So instead of trying to cram in and see everyone over the next few weeks, why not suggest meeting some folk in the New Year to spread it out? This will give you a bit more space and give you something to look forward to in January.
  4. All that Christmas shopping can leave anyone frazzled. If you don’t have a problem with shopping online, this can certainly take the pressure off, avoiding the crowds and shops. Also, you may get some better deals online, as well as having your gifts delivered to your door, without leaving the house.
  5. Listen to your body. If you’re already feeling exhausted, and you have planned to go out and see friends or family, let them know how you really feel. Take the time to rest and recoup. If you try to do too much, and become completely depleted, your immune system may become low, leaving you susceptible to picking up a bug. The last thing you or your loved one needs. We just can’t please everyone all of the time. I know. I’ve tried! Let others know how you feel and if they really care, they will understand.
  6. Enjoy the simple pleasures. I love the fairy lights going up in the living room and having the candles on. Why not invite friends and family over instead of going out for an evening? Even though you will then be hosting, it can still help to save money and the energy,or getting your loved one out to a destination in the winter months.

Finally, we want to make the most of this special time, because for many of us, we know we may only have limited time with our loved one. This is why caring can be so very difficult. So be kind to yourself, ensure you take regular breaks and rest, so that you can make the most and enjoy the festive season.

Blog post written by Sara Challice, Who Cares? How to care for yourself whilst caring for a loved one. Available from Hammersmith Health Books, April 2020. 

Posted on

How to Cope with Family Gatherings When No One Understands Your Illness

family dinner

The holiday season can be filled with moments of love and joy, but it also can be stressful for those of us living with chronic illness. This is especially true if your family doesn’t understand what you are going through day to day. If you are worried about managing the holiday season with your family this year, here are five do’s and don’ts to help you navigate family gatherings when feeling misunderstood.

  1. Let people know what to expect. If you don’t tell your loved ones what you need, they won’t be able to help give it to you. A close friend of mine keeps a live Google Document with a current health status, a list of foods she can eat, and a couple tips on how to best support her. Try making a guide like this of your own and share it with you family before you get together – more often than not, when people know how to support you, they will.
  2. When it comes to food, make something you know you’ll enjoy. One of the most challenging things about navigating the holiday season with a chronic illness is sorting out dietary restrictions. Before you get together with your family, spend some spoons on preparing a dish you know you can eat and will enjoy. This ensures that you aren’t left out of the family meal. If you aren’t able to make something for yourself, ask a friend to help you prepare before you connect with your family.
  3. Find an ally. Whether this is someone in or out of your family, find someone you can touch base with through the day. Family gatherings can induce anxiety for those of us battling illness and having a friend or ally checking in with you can make a real difference.
  4. Decide on a safe space to rest before you arrive. This is a big one. Make sure you have somewhere quiet and calming that you can retreat to. This might be a guest room, a study, even your car. If you have somewhere safe and comfortable to rest, you may have more stamina for the day.
  5. Try not to over-extend yourself. Family gatherings are exhausting even for able-bodied folks! Try not to give more of yourself than it is healthy to give. Does it make sense for you to come in before a meal and hang for an hour before going home? Do it! Even if they don’t understand your day to day life, most families want to love and support each other. By making choices that take care of YOU, you’ll be able to better invest in moments of positivity throughout the gathering.

Every family is different, and every illness experience is different – some are shaped by more toxic support relationships than others. But if you can communicate clear expectations, find support where and when you need it most, and be able to take yourself out of the situation when you need to – you’ll be able to manage your next family gathering with grace, positivity, and strength.

Blog post written by Allie Cashel, expert patient featured in the book Lyme Disease, medical myopia and the hidden global pandemic. Available from Hammersmith Health Books. 

Posted on

Time to Vote in The People’s Book Prize

People's book prize

The People’s Book Prize is a literary competition aimed at finding, supporting and promoting new and undiscovered works — decided exclusively by the public. This year, we are proud that three authors have been nominated in the Summer Collection, non-fiction category:

Last year, author of Understanding BRCA, Clarissa Foster, won the Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author award. Here is what she said about what winning this award meant to her:

“I am over the moon to have won ‘The Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award’ at The Finals of The People’s Book Prize, which was made possible by the many, many people who supported and voted for me – thank you to all who voted!

“Being a part of this prestigious book award has offered a fantastic platform to help raise much-needed further awareness of BRCA gene mutations, and the support I am offering to those, like myself, who are at an extremely high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer during their lifetime.”

The winners in each category are determined by votes. The People’s Book Prize is a great opportunity for us and our authors to seek the support of our many readers and to be judged by the actual readers of our books.

We encourage you to take a minute to vote. Here’s how:

Voting is open now until the 15th October!

We wish Iida, Alex and Richard the best of luck in this year’s awards.

Posted on

My Journey to Managing Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis

One Step Ahead of OsteoarthritisIt crept up slowly with a little niggle here and there, and a bit of stiffness in the joints and then I wondered why my knee seemed to hurt when I played tennis. So I went to the doctor and was referred for an MRI, worried that I might need to have an operation. So it came as some relief to be shown the scan and see that it was osteoarthritis, no damage, and no need for an operation.  I was told to carry on playing tennis and do other exercise.

After a couple of months I was back to playing tennis with a support on my knee and that was eight years ago, and I haven’t had to stop since.  But then my thumbs started hurting, and the joints in some of the fingers felt swollen.  I was wary of arthritis in the hands as I’d seen my mother’s gnarled fingers and didn’t want the same to happen to me.  So I had them X-rayed and sure enough it was osteoarthritis.

I am a health journalist and I follow a natural lifestyle, so that seemed to be the way to go. And to be honest the doctor didn’t really offer any alternatives. They tell you to take Ibuprofen if the pain is bad, but strong drugs are reserved for chronic pain and due to the side-effects they certainly don’t hand them out to anyone who has a bit of osteoarthritis.

I also take the view that with many health issues there is so much you can do yourself that it’s not necessary to suffer.  So I started researching the subject and found out that I needed to make my diet more alkaline and much less acidic as acidity in the body is a problem for osteoarthritis (and many other conditions).  This simply involved some adjustments to what I ate, but no major changes.  I almost cut out certain foods  like tomatoes, aubergines and potatoes, and decided to drink much less wine.

I was already exercising quite a lot – tennis, tai chi and yoga – but I added some specific exercises for knees and hands and made sure I did some every day.  Tennis clubs are full of “older” people wearing knee supports yet doctors seem to think that it’s a good idea to continue with any exercise that you are used to doing.  Tai chi and yoga are both very good for osteoarthritis, and classes are often manageable for the less mobile.

I experimented with different supplements, that are known to be good for osteoarthritis (glucosamine, chondoitrin, rosehip, and more) but settled on turmeric and (no-blush) Niacin or Vitamin B3).  I took cider vinegar in water every day and gradually things began to improve, although I should emphasise that you can’t actually cure osteoarthritis but you can reduce inflammation and pain.

By not taking my thumbs and fingers for-granted, as I had done all my life, and trying to avoid putting undue pressure on them,  I have found that they don’t cause me many problems any more.  In fact, and this is quite amazing, they are straighter and stronger, and the knuckles are far less inflamed – happily they are not now very noticeable to other people, which is a good thing.

It’s important for me to keep my weight down as a few pounds extra can make all the difference with my knee and it can start hurting.  I also need to avoid too many stairs downward,  so often take the lift just to avoid them. I can walk down steps perfectly well but it puts unnecessary pressure on them.

Once it becomes a way of life to manage osteoarthritis, it is easy to do and prevents too much pain or discomfort.  My own experience and my background as a health journalist made me decide to write One Step Ahead of Osteoarthritis, so that others can benefit and take a positive approach rather than feeling downhearted about it.

Blog post written by Frances Ive, author of One Step Ahead of Osteoarthritis which is now available from Hammersmith Health Books!

Posted on

Are you One of the Billion Migraine Sufferers?

woman-migraine

There are one billion people in the world like me (and most likely like you too, since you are reading this blog): people who suffer from migraine. Although you already knew it was so common, you still probably feel (as I do!) that you are the only person in the world who suffers this much, and in a way no-one else can understand.

This is called the paradox of living with chronic pain disease. It is so much easier with flu: during the flu season most people around you are also sneezing, coughing and moaning, at workplaces or at home in bed. It helps to know that you are not alone. It makes suffering tolerable. When ill, you may enjoy being pampered by healthy family members. You may even update your Instagram with a photo of you on a couch in front of the TV with a blanket and a bowl of chicken soup. Post #sickasapuppy and empathetic faces, thumbs and hearts will fill the screen.

During migraine attack, there is no-one but you and the pain inside your head. The excruciating pain grabs all your attention, unplugs your power cords, shoots you with a taser, holds you to ransom. It allows no people in sight. Pillow adjustments by the loving spouse make no difference. Selfies do not even cross your mind. The only thing you care about is to get rid of the pain. You count the minutes.

Migraine is one of the most severe and disabling neuropathic pains one can experience. That is a solid fact. When, where and how migraine affects people varies considerably between people, and also within each individual. A billion people means several billion variations of migraine attacks. Not every attack is identical, nor are the triggers always the same. The pain-free periods between the attacks also differ. For the lucky ones, it is 24 months; for the unlucky ones, it is 24 hours.

A billion people is a massive peer group. That said, it is still only you who knows your migraine and only you can find the best ways to live a good and meaningful life with this disease. Despite this disease.

You don’t have to figure out everything by yourself, though. So much scientific evidence, and understanding of good practices, has emerged during recent years on effective ways to treat migraine attacks – as well as prolong pain-free periods – that all the tools you need for your own toolbox are already out there. You just need some easily digestible information, some perseverance, some help from skillful healthcare professionals…  and some support from the billion peers, of course.

Written by Dr. Helena Miranda, pain physician, chronic pain sufferer (including migraine), and author of the new book Rethinking Pain – How to live well with chronic pain.

Posted on

Irritable Bowel Syndrome & Giardia – A Q&A with Susan Koten

What was the inspiration behind your book?

Experiencing the trauma and desperation of my life being turned upside down with the sudden onset of IBS symptoms fifteen years ago, and the lack of help available. This experience stayed with me and when I started to see and treat patients in my clinical practice who were going through the same experience, I knew I would one day write a book about it and Irritable Bowel Syndrome & Giardia is the end result of all that experience.

What was the most challenging part of writing the book?

This is my first book and when I started the project 10 years ago, I had no idea the amount of work that lay ahead to finally get it published.  This book has the potential to change people’s lives for the better so it was important extreme care and research went into writing it. With a busy practice to run, I would often start writing at 10pm and finish at 2am – this has always been my quiet time and I could concentrate with no interruption.

What has been the most satisfying part of the writing process?

My aim is to pass my knowledge on to those who need it and as I delved deeper into the subject matter, to understand how and why the clinical observations and patterns of my patients were presenting themselves, I have found writing it down and putting all this information together in a manuscript, has allowed me to achieve this.

Did anything surprise you while writing IBS & Giardia?

About seven years ago I changed my treatment strategy to a more gentle approach and the results surprised and amazed me which is reflected in the book.

What sort of people would benefit most by reading your book?

This book is for anyone who is struggling with the health of their digestive system and other related disorders. It is also aimed at health professionals, both allopathic and alternative, who are treating these patients.  It is my hope that the information contained in this book, and the personal testimonies of my patients who were suffering with what is currently a chronic and untreatable diagnosis, (IBS), will bring hope and healing to those who are unwitting hosts to the Giardia parasite. Of course I appreciate this parasite is not responsible for all digestive issues but in my experience a Giardia infestation is very often overlooked as the cause of digestive problems and this then leads to misdiagnosis and a life of misery for those affected.

Posted on

Happy International Falafel Day

Falafel recipe

Today – 12 June – marks International Falafel Day! Deep-fried and composed of chickpeas or fava beans, this Middle Eastern food is often found wrapped up in a pita bread, or served with salad and sauces.  A favorite among meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, the latter of whom will often find it presented as an alternative to meat, falafel is one food that certainly deserves its own day of recognition.

To celebrate your favourite chickpea treat, we are sharing a special, new recipe from Iida van der Byl-Knoefel, author of A Kitchen Fairytale. This falafel recipe, complete with Tahini miso dressing, is brand new, made especially for International Falafel Day. Enjoy!

Falafel recipe

Falafel
2 portions
Ingredients:
  • 1 heaping cup of cooked, drained and patted dry chickpeas
  • 0.3 cup of mixed coriander and parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 0.5 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 teeny tiny onion, chopped (approximately 2 tbsp)
  • 0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 tbsp oat flour (blend oats on their own for a few seconds to get oat flour)
  • Black pepper
  • 0.5 tsp Himalayan pink salt

Method:

  1. Turn the oven to 200C (400F).
  2. Set aside 2 tbsp of chickpeas.
  3. Place the rest of the ingredients in a food processed and blend until you have a nice, crumbly consistency, about 1 minute.  When done, add the remaining 2 tbsp of chickpeas and blend for another few seconds as it is nice to have some varying textures in there.
  4. Put the mixture in the fridge for an hour to allow it to set.
  5. After an hour, using your hands, make small round balls with the dough, about 2 tbsp each, and pat down on a non-stick ovenproof sheet – or baking paper – in an ovenproof dish.  You will get eight of them.
  6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Serve in pita bread/your choice of gluten free bread with generous amounts of shredded lettuce, sliced onion, tomato and cucumber and this heavenly dressing drizzled on top:
Tahini/miso dressing 
Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp Tahini
  • 1-2 tsp brown rice miso paste
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 4-5 tbsp of near-boiling water

Method:

  1. Add the tahini, 1 tsp of miso paste and the maple syrup to a mug.
  2. Start stirring in the water, one tablespoon at the time.  Note that the water mustn’t boil completely, in order to retain the wonderful enzymes in the miso paste.
  3. Keep adding water until you have a smooth dressing consistency.  You can add more miso for stronger flavour.
  4. Drizzle the dressing over your falafel creations and enjoy!  This makes a big batch of dressing so you will have plenty for many more days to come.
Falafel recipe
Yum!
Posted on

The Emotional Journey of My Decision to Undergo Risk-Reducing Surgery

Understanding BRCA

Clarissa Foster is the author of Understanding BRCA – Living with the Breast Cancer Gene. Her book was highly commended by the BMA in the Medical Book Awards, and recently, she was awarded the Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award at the 2019 People’s Book Prize. She was also a finalist for Best Author in the nonfiction category. The following post originally appeared in the BMJ blog for BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health.

By Clarissa Foster, Author of ‘Understanding BRCA’

After learning that I carried a harmful BRCA2 gene mutation, I needed to make the decision on how I would manage my increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For a very brief moment, I considered the possibility of doing nothing at all – after all, I might never go on to develop cancer; I might be one of the lucky ones. But, the odds were very heavily stacked against me. If I knew that my flight had up to an 85% probability of crashing, I wouldn’t get on that plane! Likewise, if I knew that I had up to an 85% risk of breast cancer, I wouldn’t choose to do nothing about it.

I had three options available to me; enhanced screening, chemoprevention and risk-reducing surgery. Personally, I did not feel comfortable with breast screening throughout the course of my life for the simple reason that my risk of developing breast cancer was exceptionally high. Even if I was lucky enough for it to be caught early, I considered the fact that there were women whose cancers had been detected at an early stage who had still succumbed to their disease. Furthermore, with this option, I knew that I would always be living in fear of developing breast cancer. With regards to ovarian screening, I was advised by my genetic counsellor that there would be no screening available to me under the NHS as it was considered to be ineffective.

As far as chemoprevention was concerned, I disliked the idea of taking medications, such as tamoxifen, to lower my risk of developing breast cancer. This was partly because the side-effects experienced by people taking this drug can be extremely difficult to tolerate, causing many to stop taking it long before the five year period is up, and also partly because of the associated increased risk of uterine cancer. In addition, I felt that taking a low-dose oral contraceptive, which might lower my likelihood of ovarian cancer, was not the right choice either, because of the slightly increased risk of associated breast cancer. For these reasons, chemoprevention was not an option with which I was comfortable.

This left me with the possibility of risk-reducing surgery. Whilst this was the most drastic, and in no way an appealing option, it was the one which would give me the greatest reduction in risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer. These at-risk tissues could be removed from my body, thereby lowering my risk of ovarian cancer down to approximately 1% and my risk of breast cancer down to approximately 3-5% to age 70. Being able to reduce my risks down to as low as this was phenomenal and, for me personally, it felt like the most logical step to take. Personally, I wanted to lower my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer by as much as possible and, for this reason, I soon knew that undergoing removal of my ovaries and tubes, known as a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO), and a bilateral mastectomy was the right decision for me.

However, an emotion which lingered for many months was this feeling of having a choice, but not really having a choice. I didn’t want to have to have my ovaries or my breasts removed, but I knew that doing so would give me the very best protection against cancer. Very reluctantly, I began to prepare myself, mentally and emotionally, for major and life-changing surgery.

Having seen my mum suffer ovarian cancer, the decision to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes was certainly the easier of the two decisions to make. I would do whatever it took to avoid ovarian cancer, but what was difficult was the fear of the unknown and the fear of what it might do to my health in other ways. I was terrified by the idea of going through the menopause and, particularly, a surgically induced menopause, as I was aware that this could be more severe than a natural one. Until now, the menopause was something a long way off in my future and not something I had ever really given any thought to at the relatively young age of 35.

Coming to terms with the decision to remove my breasts was an extremely difficult and emotional process. They were a very important part of my womanhood. I had only recently finished breastfeeding my youngest, which had been one of the most beautiful experiences in my life, and now to have to face removing them felt as if I was betraying them in some way, and worse still was the fear that I would feel mutilated or even violated by these surgeries. In addition, my breasts played a very important part in my love life and I wondered what effect losing them, and the erotic sensation that I would lose along with them, would have on my overall enjoyment of making love. Trying to look at the positives, however, if there was ever a right time to have to lose them, it would be after they had fulfilled their role breastfeeding my children and prior to them becoming a threat to my life. Only naturally, I questioned whether I would feel less of a woman without my breasts and ovaries – after all, it was these parts of my body which made me female. Fearing this as a possibility was just awful, but while this mutation could take my ovaries and breasts, it couldn’t remove my XX chromosome. I figured, I am genetically female and always will be – nothing can change that. Furthermore, my husband reassured me that, in his eyes, I would be more of a woman for finding the bravery and strength to face my fate head on and to do whatever was necessary to protect our family from the trauma of cancer.

My full personal journey, and an in-depth analysis of the science and medical literature relating to BRCA gene mutations, can be found in my book, ‘Understanding BRCA’, available via Amazon and all good book retailers. I am delighted to say that my book has been ‘highly commended’ by The British Medical Association (BMA) and is, also, a Finalist of The People’s Book Prize competition.

If you have been found to carry a harmful BRCA gene mutation, or if you fear that you may be at high risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer, please get in touch and I will do all that I can to provide as much support as possible. I can be reached via my webpage and associated Facebook support group – Understanding BRCA.

You can also read the first chapter of Clarissa’s book for free here.

Posted on

Celebrating the Healing Power of Garlic

The healing power of garlic

19th April marks National Garlic Day. To celebrate, we thought we would take some time to acknowledge the healing power of this versatile plant. Below is an excerpt from Nature Cures, a book by NH Hawes.

Garlic (Allium Sativa)

Native to central Asia, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world and has been grown for over 5000 years. Ancient Egyptians appear to have been the first to cultivate this plant and it had an important role in their culture. It was revered and placed in the tombs of Pharoahs and also given to the slaves that built the Pyramids too enhance their endurance and strength.

The garlic bulb is a natural antibiotic, antimicrobial, antifungal, cleanser and antioxidant and aids the body’s natural ability to resist disease. Garlic has been used for expelling intestinal worms and parasites from ancient times by the Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Hindus and Babylonians. It is a natural anthelmintic and is especially useful against giardia, leishmania, plasmodium roundworms and trypanosomes.

Tips on Using Garlic

  • Always add crushed or chopped garlic at the end of cooking a meal to retain the powerful properties that prolonged heat can destroy
  • Never store garlic in oil at room temperature as this provides the perfect conditions for producing botulism, regardless of whether the garlic is fresh or has been roasted.
  • Garlic should be avoided by persons diagnosed with lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)

Ailments Garlic Can Help to Treat and Protect Against

  • Anaemia
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Bacterial infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Cancer
  • Colds
  • Colitis
  • Colon Cancer
  • Diarrhea
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fever
  • Food poisoning
  • Herpes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Influenza
  • Liver disorders
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Parasites and worms
  • Poor circulation
  • Prostate disorders
  • Renal cancer
  • Toothache
  • Tumours
  • Whooping cough
  • And many more…

To learn more about garlic and other natural food remedies, check out Nature Cures by NH Hawes.

Posted on

Vote in The People’s Book Prize

People's book prize

Recently, the People’s Book Prize announced 36 finalists in three categories: fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The annual awards, now in its 10th year, celebrates the best in each category as voted on by readers. This year, we are extremely pleased to have three of our authors nominated in the non-fiction category:

The winners in each category are determined by votes. The People’s Book Prize is a great opportunity for us and our authors to seek the support of our many readers and to be judged by the actual readers of our books.

In the last awards, Hammersmith Health Books received the Best Publisher Award, which was a huge boost for a small independent like us. The glass trophy stands proudly in the office and encourages us to keep challenging received wisdom in relation to health and wellbeing.

The awards rely on your votes. If you already voted in the first round, you can vote again so please head over to the People’s Book Prize website and pick your favourites in each category. Here’s how to vote:

Voting is open now until the end of the month and the winners will be announced at a special, black-tie event in early May. The evening will also see the presentation of the Beryl Bainbridge Award for First time Author, the People’s Book Prize for Best Publisher, and the People’s Book Prize for Best Achievement.

We wish Lynn Crilly, Clarissa Foster, Dr Sarah Myhill and Craig Robinson the best of luck in this year’s awards.