Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Sun is fun but you need to take precautions

Airplane in a sunny sky

If you’re out in the sun – maybe taking in Quesnel’s SkyFest this weekend – be sure to take precautions like wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

I just heard about a new skin disease. Well, it’s as new to me as this lump on my head. Funny, that! Here’s what happened:

Bald guy shaves head, notices a lump about size of sixpence (bigger than a penny, smaller than a nickel for you Canadians!) that feels like sandpaper and is real itchy.

Bald guy’s inside voice thinks, “What is that? Don’t know, but it’s OK.”

Eventually, I visit my doc for something else.

Lo and behold, the doctor he sees the lump and pronounces: actinic keratosis!

“What’s that about my hairy toes?” I think.

Actinic keratosis. The sun has damaged my skin. I mention this because as we age, it is so easy to discount certain things as occurring “just because” we are getting older. Some of them are linked to simply getting older and some are not, so it really is best to get thoroughly checked out if you’re suspicious of anything. It can do no harm. I messed up this time and should’ve connected with my doctor after that first itch. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

I had had this lump for about 4 months and thought, “it’s OK, it will heal next week.” And then when it did not heal, I would say to myself, “it does not look like a melanoma to me, so I will wait and see.” And so I waited 4 months and finally asked my doctor as an aside after much prompting from wife.

So, looking back and given the fact that I am always telling others to get checkups, why did I just ignore the lump and my own advice and chalk it up to “getting older”? I think that I did so for the same reason as a lot of other guys do: I just thought that this was no big deal. That I would be OK. Luckily for me, I was – but what if I was not?

Actinic keratosis is a skin disorder that can be pre-cancerous but, luckily, is very easily treated with nitrous oxide. It can, however, develop into squamous cell cancer, which, although also easily removed, can get into the lymphatic system and spread. This, of course, is not such a good outcome but is mostly avoidable by paying attention to the skin around the areas exposed to the sun, like the top of your head, ears, face, shoulders and chest.

So, sun is fun, but make sure you cover up and take precautions! HealthLink BC has some information about that.

I am a pink flamingo, never tanned in my life, but I do like the sun. Even today, I caught myself out in the yard without a hat.

Doing the right thing is not so easy sometimes, but my summertime resolution is to cover up and wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen and shades when I am outdoors. Even if I add long sleeves and pants to the mix, there is no reason why I should not be still enjoying the good weather.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: There’s no smoke without fire

Stuart Lake

Keep an eye on air quality before planning your days this summer! With wildfires raging and dry conditions so far this year, not all days will be as clear as this beautiful afternoon at Stuart Lake!

With B.C. wildfires – including plenty in northern B.C. – dominating the headlines recently, I’m worried.

I’m worried that soon – and for some of you this may already be the case – I will be stuck indoors as outside there will be two enemies of my personal health which will keep me imprisoned:

  1. The smell of smoke in the air from a forest fire, which makes me cough.
  2. That lovely sun, which recently hit 32 degrees for me, even in the shade. I took my wall thermometer off the wall to see what the temperature would be if I placed it in the sun. Within minutes it went to 42 degrees! Standing still for any length of time will do that to your skin, too! 42 degrees. Holy smokes! It was not quite a scientific experiment, but all the same, it was very hot!

The recent headlines and my past experiences during this time of year got me thinking about wellness and all the other issues related to these two conditions, like air quality advisories and sunscreen.

At one point last year, my local air quality health index was at 7, which is high risk. Given the current fire situation, I suspect that I’ll see that number again this year – some of you may have already. You can check your local air quality at bcairquality.ca.

So, what’s the advice given to those of us with respiratory ailments, children and the elderly at these levels?

Take it easy, stay indoors if you can (well, yes, it may also be plus 30!), and try and avoid strenuous activities during the period of the warning. This, I should say, also applies to the general population. If you are working outside and it’s causing you to cough, maybe you should take it easy, too. Catch up with the yard work another time.

And did I mention sun? I don’t think I have to tell folks these days that as beautiful as it is, it also harbours some dangers in the form of skin cancer from too much exposure. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and spend as little time in the sun as possible. Higher SPF doesn’t mean you can stay out longer! Also, try to cover up as much skin as possible, especially if you are as fair as I am, and especially on top of your head.

Lastly, keep an eye on local air quality advisories, especially if there are forest fires out in your area as exposure to smoke and particulates can trigger asthma and worsen other respiratory ailments.

Happy holidays!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Stroke awareness and heart disease

Learn the signs of stroke: Act FAST

Do you know the signs of stroke?

Sometimes we spend so much time doing what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it. This, of course, also happens in men’s health blogging. Why am I blogging?

After rereading Where Are The Men? (the men’s health report), it is once again obvious why I need to do what I am currently doing. We have to somehow give men the ability to live healthier, longer lives by providing information that is current and well-researched.

One thing is clear: men are dying younger than women and we need to address that gap. To do this, we need to address the causes of earlier male mortality and look at the lifestyle factors that contribute to that. Lifestyle factors are things that we men can change. Making small changes to your lifestyle will have a big effect on your health! So what can we men do to live longer, healthier lives?

It’s Stroke Month so I’ll start there!

Heart disease and stroke prevention

The Heart & Stroke Foundation has information on the risk factors that you can do something about to prevent heart disease. For the Mayo Clinic, they present this as five steps to follow to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
  • Eat a diet that’s healthy.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular checkups.

If you are overweight, smoke and have a poor diet, the road ahead can seem overwhelming. It is, however, very achievable. How, you ask?

Start with one step. Then add another.

At first, the best step might simply be to go to the doctor and have your blood pressure checkup. Then you have a starting point that can be a valuable place from which to decide your next move in consultation with the doctor.

In addition, add some fruit and vegetables to your diet, as well as some extra activity and exercise to your life. For some people, this is best done by doing something that makes sense to them, like walking to work. Park the car further away. Take the stairs. Stand up more often if you are in a sitting job. Simple things done often can mean a lot in the long term.

Stop smoking.

If you smoke, there really is no getting around it. You have to stop.

Stopping smoking is the one big thing that you can do to help yourself. Nicotine replacement therapy is now available via 8-1-1 to help you quit and your doctor can also help if you are having a really hard time.

A stroke is a real, life-threatening emergency and requires rapid emergency response. Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of having one. Let’s make some changes!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Health is a journey, not a destination

Photo of man holding basketball

After a health screening, Duane Jackson took steps to improve his health and is sharing his story and tips to inspire other men.

This week is the 2nd Annual Canadian Men’s Health Week. It’s an excellent opportunity to look at some of the highlights of men’s health work in the north and to acknowledge some of the men who are making positive changes in their lives. I thought it would be a great time to share my interview with Duane Jackson.

Duane is Gitanmaax from Old Hazelton but has lived in Prince Rupert most of his life. Duane shared with me his story of how he has taken steps towards improving his health.

What motivated you to look at your health?

Every year, I do the health screening that is offered at the All Native Basketball Tournament. Two years ago, I was honoured to be the Male Role Model for both this initiative and the tobacco reduction program. I thought that this title should be more than just show! When I first did the testing, my blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels were all pretty high so I started taking steps towards lowering those by looking at what I was eating and by being more active. This past year, I went in and took the screening again and my blood sugar and blood pressure were lower but my cholesterol was twice as high as it was supposed to be. At 48 years old, this wasn’t something I was willing to simply look past and not take seriously.

What did you do?

It was recommended to me that I see my doctor and have further tests done. I booked an appointment right away and the tests came back with the same results. Between my doctor and I, we came up with the plan to lose 30 pounds over the next 6 months. I started walking to and from work every day. In fact, any time I had to go out, I walked. I cut caffeine completely out of my diet and my energy levels went up within the week. I started eating foods with healthier fats, like walnuts, to help with my cholesterol. I started checking labels for saturated fats and was surprised to find that some foods that we are being told are very healthy really aren’t. Check the label!

What changes have you noticed?

I haven’t really checked my weight but I can tell you that I have had to purchase new clothing as my other shirts were starting to hang off me and all of my pants are too big. I even pulled on a pair of pants that I had stopped wearing a while ago when they got too small! I am also looking to use the belt punch for the first time, well, ever.

I have started to see things differently, too. I thought that I had played my last game of basketball, but now I’ve purchased a new pair of shoes and am planning to make my 48-year-old comeback next season!

Any message you’d like to share with men?

As a very good friend pointed out to me, “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know you don’t know it.” I would recommend to all men to get the health screening done because I was feeling pretty healthy and the truth is that I wasn’t. As a father of three, I can say that knowing was my first step.

The steps afterward weren’t life-ending decisions, they were only a life change and, truthfully, not hard ones. I still have a treat every now and then and even treat myself to fast food occasionally – I just walk home afterward. Also, I don’t think that I’m aiming for the 30 pounds anymore, I’m simply aiming to be healthy. I won’t know when I’ve reached the pounds I wanted to lose, I’m fairly certain that this is my life from now on.

Haa’mii’yaa,

Duane

Feeling motivated yet? What things have you done this week to improve your health?

Doreen Bond

About Doreen Bond

A true Northerner, Doreen was born and raised in Prince Rupert and has lived in the north her whole life. She works in at the Public Health Unit in Prince Rupert as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator with Northern Health’s Population Health team. Doreen is passionate about tobacco reduction and has a strong interest in community development. Once contemplating a move to Vancouver Island, she chose to stay in Prince Rupert to raise her sons with everything the north has to offer. In her spare time, she loves sport fishing on the ocean, beachcombing on the white sandy beaches and hiking outdoors on the pristine mountain trails. When not at work, Doreen can be found at home, spending quality time with her family and friends and taking the odd bellydancing class.

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Tales from the Man Cave: We men can help each other cope with life

Numbers are funny creatures – or at least the way we react to them is funny.

Take prostate cancer mortality rates, for example. Roughly 4,000 men die each year from prostate cancer in Canada. Most are well over 50 years of age and each and every case is undoubtedly a tragedy. There are walks and talks about it and the message is getting out, which is great. There is a Movember fundraising event as well as Ride for Dad and Big Blue Ball. I have many friends who are currently being treated for prostate cancer and, as far as I am concerned, we cannot do enough to raise awareness and raise funds for research to improve their chances.

But there are other statistics about men and mortality, too, and they get less attention. Some 2,700 males commit suicide every year in this country. Some estimate that this figure actually hides the true number, in part because some motor vehicle accident fatalities, for example, are probably suicides. This number has remained more or less stable throughout the past several years.

In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 and 44. In Canada, suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of male death in 2007.

It’s a tragedy that is hidden and taboo. Families who have lost loved ones in this way understandably don’t want to shout it from the rooftops but as a society, we should.

Culturally, men are at a great disadvantage for depression and suicide. We are not encouraged to talk about our “feelings” and, in fact, doing so is actively discouraged. It makes the guys feel a little awkward when someone starts going on about feelings. Most feel inadequate at dealing with it. What do we hear all the time? Boys need to “man up” and “suck it up” and “stay strong.” Vulnerability will not be tolerated!

This was probably an OK strategy when it came to the need to keep the tribe strong and fearless. In survival and war, there is not much room for talking about feelings. But in our modern world, it is a hindrance to health at best and a tragedy of enormous proportions at worst. Compared to women, fewer men report feelings of depression or suicidality but more men are likely to kill themselves, though women actually make more suicide attempts. The methods that men use are more lethal, resulting in 4 times more deaths. It is, therefore, really important that we change the way we think about men and talking about our feelings.

We men pay a heavy toll for silence and society as a whole suffers much from male mental health issues. It starts very early with alienation and isolation. The use of drugs and alcohol to “cope” compounds the issue and may result in addiction, violence, absenteeism, and increased road traffic accidents, to mention just a few.

Getting help is actually a sign of strength. The Crisis Centre is a wonderful resource.

We sometimes think that we need permission to seek help and support when things are tough. If that’s you, consider this your permission. May we men enable each other to seek the help we need. May we be the shoulder that supports a friend or workmate when needed.

Stay well!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Breaking the taboo – let’s talk ED!

Francois Lake

We know that ED can be an uncomfortable topic, so Jim’s provided a picture of beautiful and soothing Francois Lake while he has a frank conversation about prevention and treatment.

It’s Men’s Health Week so I thought I’d write about a health topic that carries a big taboo amongst us men. Because what better time to get the conversation going?

I always seem to be writing about worrying things and this time is no different. For our sexual health, we should all be aware of it and despite how the media sometimes portrays this, if you have it, then it’s no joke.

It is erectile dysfunction (ED) and it carries a heavy taboo. ED is a fairly common condition in males as they age, but is also a complex matter that can be affected by numerous lifestyle factors. It is these that we can try to change so let’s take a look at them.

Alcohol, drug use and smoking can all lead to erectile dysfunction.

Obesity also has an impact and a good rule to keep in mind is basically, if your belly is too big and you can’t see your tackle, then that’s a problem.

It is important to know that hypertension and diabetes are also causes, along with atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries. ED can be an early indication that all is not well with your veins and arteries and can be a sign that heart disease may be down the road. A good reason to see a physician and have a checkup!

Given the taboo – and how special our, ahem, tackle, is for many men – I think ED is every guy’s worst nightmare! The psychological causes of erectile dysfunction can be every bit as distressing as physical ones and ED can be a symptom of depression and anxiety.

The incorporation of a healthy diet with an active lifestyle as well as stopping smoking can help mitigate some of this and there is some evidence that aerobic exercise may benefit those with ED, too.

In fact, living an active life and getting enough exercise in combination with a healthy diet can go a long way to helping with both ED and all of these causative issues. It can also improve your health in general as well as your performance. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s really a healthy option.

There are other causes such as nerve damage or low levels of testosterone. Your physician can run a battery of tests to see what the cause is and let you know if medication might be on the agenda. The main thing about all these things is to talk them over with your doctor and partner. This article is too short to be able to cover all the angles, so I’d suggest HealthLink BC if you want some more information.

ED is a serious condition that can make you miserable. But take it from me: you are not a loser, you are not alone, and it’s not the end of the world. The good news is that there is treatment available and, more importantly in some ways, know that you can take steps to prevent it by modifying your lifestyle!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: The sacred and the evil

Charred pack of cigarettes

Jim’s got a fiery message on the heels of World No Tobacco Day: there is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke. There is more support than ever to quit!

Tobacco is not an evil thing in and of itself. It has been used ceremonially for eons in Aboriginal cultures and even used by some for medicinal purposes. As a sacred gift, it has been given and used as a way of making peace or a contract. Historically, it is a very important plant. It has also been used as a pesticide, but this use has largely stopped because it’s also very poisonous when eaten.

Tobacco smoke it is both a relaxant and a stimulant. It can help with depression but may also cause depression. It can make you calm and it can make you more anxious. It is thought to be the type of drug that opens up the brain to develop other addictions and is therefore called a gateway drug.

Boring it is not. Dangerous it is.

So, on the heels of World No Tobacco Day, the main point of this blog is not to disparage the tobacco plant but rather the misuse of tobacco, outside of its sacred, traditional use.

When misused, tobacco is a killer. Smoke it, chew it, snuff it and it will addict you! It will lead to cancer and it will kill you. It will kill you through many different cancers, such as lung cancer, but also through heart disease and lung disease.

Make no mistake: the misuse of tobacco products in a modern context such as cigarette smoking or chewing is a great evil that may kill 1 billion people on this planet in this century according to the World Health Organization.

The language in this blog is a little strong, but I feel this strongly about it.

It is my wish that not another lung choke, nor another heart fail, nor another living thing die from this addiction. And my wish for you, the smoker and tobacco user, is to know that it can be overcome. There is more support than ever! You can access free counselling by text, phone or email as well as information to help you quit at QuitNow.ca.

If you are a smoker, encourage your children to never start using tobacco.

It is hard, yes. But you can do it! All British Columbians can access free nicotine patches or nicotine gum through the BC Smoking Cessation Program.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Cancer and men

Daffodil

Daffodils are popping up all over northern B.C. thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Month campaign. It’s a great chance to think about cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

Flowers may be blooming in the Lower Mainland, but in northern B.C., you’re hard-pressed to find spring blossoms in April. There are daffodils everywhere, though, thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month! The annual campaign raises funds and shows support for those living with cancer.

We likely all know of someone who has been affected by cancer and, according to the Where are the Men? report, men in northern B.C. have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women.

I sat down with Margaret Jones-Bricker, regional director for the Northern Region of the Canadian Cancer Society BC and Yukon Division to talk about cancers affecting men and what men can do to decrease their risk.

Are men at a higher risk for cancer than women?

When you look at cancers that only men can get, their risk is 100% greater. Such is the case with prostate and testicular cancers. Overall cancer risk and risk for specific cancers can be determined by a lot of other factors besides sex like lifestyle, genetics, age and family history. In Canada, men have a 45% lifetime probability of developing cancer compared with 41% for women.

What cancers should men be particularly concerned about?

The three most common types of cancer in men are lung, colorectal and prostate. Prostate cancer accounts for about one-quarter (24%) of all new cancer cases in men. Breast cancer rounds out the top four most frequently diagnosed cancers in Canada, but is much less common in men.

In the north, we have higher rates of tobacco use, which means higher rates of lung cancer. Smoking is related to more than 85% of lung cancer cases in Canada and men develop lung cancer slightly more often than women.

Approximately 1,000 Canadian men were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2014. It is the most common cancer in young men 15–29 years of age.

What can men do to decrease their risk of cancer?

The number one thing men can do is if you smoke, stop!

Other ways to decrease cancer risk include lifestyle changes related to physical activity and healthy eating. The Canadian Cancer Society has some great nutrition and fitness recommendations.

Occupational and environmental factors can also impact our health; these include our home and work environments. Have your home tested for radon, which is a factor in lung cancer, second only to tobacco use.

What screening options are available to men? How do they know if they should be screened?

Approximately 5-10 per cent of cancers are related to specific inherited genetic abnormalities. The fact that 1 or 2 family members have been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you will also develop cancer. This is especially true if the family member is not a first-degree relative or if the cancers are of different types. It is important to discuss screening with your doctor if you have a family history of cancer. Your doctor may suggest testing at an earlier age or using a different test than recommended by the provincial guidelines.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men (and women) age 50 and over have a stool test (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test) at least every 2 years. There is convincing evidence that stool tests with appropriate followup can significantly reduce deaths from colorectal cancer.

Prostate cancer seems to be different. Large, reliable studies haven’t been able to tell us clearly whether it’s a good thing to use these tests to look for prostate cancer. So, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer and about the benefits and risks of finding it early.

Daffodil

In northern B.C., men have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women. There are, however, things that men can do to decrease their risk of cancer.

Are all cancers preventable?

Up to 50% of all cancers are preventable. Certainly your risk of contracting lung cancer is hugely preventable by quitting smoking.

For other cancers, we don’t always know what the cells in our bodies will do, but we can do our best by following a healthy lifestyle, getting physically active, eating more vegetables and fruit, and limiting our consumption of red meats and alcohol.

Investing in the best research has led to tremendous progress against cancer. We know more about what causes cancer, how it develops, how best to treat it and how we can improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.

What resources are available for men looking for more information?

The Canadian Cancer Society has information specific to men and downloadable pamphlets on everything from cancer prevention to diagnosis and treatments:

We strongly encourage smokers to use the supports that are available to help them quit smoking and to get access to nicotine replacement therapies through the Lung Association’s QuitNow and the new QuitNow Men websites.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!

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Tales from the Man Cave: Colon cancer and screening

Screenshot of BC Cancer Agency website

Generally speaking, survival rates for colon cancer are better the earlier the cancer is diagnosed. Screening is key to early detection and the BC Cancer Agency’s Cancer Screening site is a great resource for information about screening.

Did you know that March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in Canada?

It is estimated that about 50% of colon cancers could have been be prevented with lifestyle changes and early intervention. I see these kinds of statistics quite frequently and as much as they come from current scientific research, it is very important to bear in mind that only 50% of these cancers can be avoided. Not 100%. So it’s important not to impart the kind of thinking that makes one feel guilty or think “if only.” If you develop cancer, it is not your fault! No one can tell how an individual’s cells will react.

So, as I think about some prevention tips for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, I remind you to take these messages as intended: to be helpful and to try and give folks a fighting chance, not to instill fear or guilt.

What can we do to look after our colons? The BC Cancer Agency has some excellent information.

Get screened.

Colon cancer is one of those diseases that can be picked up early and have treatment started before it gets out of hand. Generally speaking, survival rates are better the earlier the cancer is diagnosed.

There are new tests available, such as the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) test, which your doctor can order. The FIT can be carried out every two years or so for individuals between 50 and 74 years of age. It’s an easier test to take than a colonoscopy and it’s from the comfort of your own bathroom. Family history of bowel cancer is a powerful reason to take the test.

Screening is the key to early detection. Discuss which screening option is best for you with your family doctor and visit the BC Cancer Agency for information about screening for colon cancer.

Keep track of your movements.

Changes in bowel movement such as blood in the toilet are always a good reason to visit your doctor. Chances are that it’s due to something less serious such as internal hemorrhoids, but don’t bury your head in the sand! Changes in bowel habit either accompanied or unaccompanied by abdominal pain are another good reason to see the doc.

Check in.

I can’t emphasize enough the need to let your family doctor know who you are every now and then! Get a health screening at least once a year once you are getting over 40. Arrange an appointment and discuss with your physician what different screening options might be appropriate for your age.

For the FIT, it’s a case of check your poo in the loo and take the sample back to the lab. Simple.

Other tests such as blood sugar, blood pressure, tests for prostate cancer and cholesterol screening can all be done quite easily. These can inform you what lifestyle changes you might make to improve your chances of a healthy, long life.

Lifestyle changes often require commitment, of course, but are much easier than going through chemotherapy or surgery.

There are no guarantees in life but a little friendly check-in with a health care provider and some reading accompanied by small changes in diet and activity might just help you dodge a bullet down the road, and will keep you feeling good in the here and now!

All the best.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Brain Awareness Week

MRI machine

MRIs and other tools have created a wealth of knowledge about the brain and how it works but even these advances are just the tip of the iceberg! Look after your brain by looking after your overall well-being!

Brain Awareness Week is happening this week and that’s got me thinking about our wondrous brains!

Your brain is wonderful. Everything it does affects you – and everything that you do affects your brain in some way – so it’s very important to keep your brain healthy. But what does that look like exactly?

One important aspect of brain health is mental wellness, and the BC Healthy Living Alliance has some great information on that connection.

In spite of all the advances of modern science, the brain is still very mysterious. Most mental illnesses, for example, have no blood tests or scans which can determine their existence or origin. Research in this area continues but given the complexity of the brain, understanding this area fully is a tall order! It seems to me like there are billions of possible connections to explore! We do have some tools, though. Functional MRIs can see areas of the brain that light up when certain tasks are being undertaken but they can’t tell us what someone is thinking. In the same vein, EEG states are electrical readings that might point to sleep, waking, or other states determined by the waves seen on a screen.

As wonderful as this all is – and it truly is wonderful – nothing that we have so far can take the complex whole of brain cells and nerve endings and synapses and read all of the electrochemical messages and make sense of them.

Just how complex are our brains? Here’s one way to think of it:

When I read back this text, I have a voice in my head that is reading the text simultaneously. I am aware of the mess on my desk, the room I am in, and the fact that I have just smacked my lips. I am aware of the pressure on my buttocks from the chair, that it’s cloudy outside, that there are people putting drywall up in my bedroom, and so on. All of this is being processed in fractions of milliseconds! Where is that information? This awareness is just the tip of the iceberg – think of all the unconscious things I’m not aware of!

Still, in spite of all its mystery, we know that if certain areas of the brain are damaged, for example, you won’t be able to lift your hand or move your foot. But to further complicate matters, it’s also known that one area of the brain can learn to take over a function that is normally processed or caused by another area in the brain.

Phew! My head – or should I say my brain – is spinning with the mind-bending reality of it all!

So with all of this mystery during Brain Awareness Week, while we keep learning more and more about the brain every day, can I suggest these brain-boosting healthy living messages for us to try?

  • Eat well.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Don’t smoke or take chemicals (think drugs) into your brain.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Be as happy and as positive in outlook as possible.
  • Do life wholeheartedly.
  • Look after your mind, your body, and your spiritual needs as best as you can.
  • Get involved in your community.
  • Laugh a lot.
  • Be grateful for the small things in life.
  • Meditate or do yoga.

Your brain and you are one in the same, so looking after your overall physical and psychological well-being is important.

I wish you the best with my whole brain and my whole being.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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