Monthly Archives: April 2008

8 random facts

8 random facts about me

… and things you may not know …rudolf nureyev, russian dancer

  1. i once seriously considered starting a web site dedicated entirely to caesar salad
  2. the only autograph i ever bothered getting was from dancer rudolf nureyev
  3. in my crazy berlin-before-the-wall-came-down days, one saturday i had a one-night stand with a kurdish urologist who looked like a french philosopher
  4. my next grandchild is expected on 08-08-08
  5. in paraguay, one hangovered morning i was trapped up in a grapefruit tree
  6. part of the novel i’m working on plays in dahomey (present-day benin)
  7. my most traumatic musical experience ever was when i had saved up for a ticket to covent garden in london, terribly excited to watch debussy’s the afternoon of a faun – and i had to listen to tosca
  8. one of the best gifts i’ve ever received from a client was one of those little stuffies-in-a-can, rescued from a garbage bin

i’m doing this because it’s fun and because damien (remember him from the 10 cognitive distortions?) tagged me. now i’m supposed to tag 8 people. let me find some blogospherians i’ve never tagged before. hmmm ….

  • raul, because he’s beautiful
  • todd, because he’s kind
  • lillie, because she edits
  • gillian, because she has a cat
  • catatonic kid, because she wrote about synaesthesia
  • sage, because she’s a philosopher
  • stumbleblogger, because i owe him a guest post
  • zoe, because she knew how to spell ‘articulate’ when she was 4

(image of nureyev found here)

frozen pea friday: psychological research on breast cancer

it’s friday, and frozen pea post time – my weekly post on cancer. today, i’ve put together a guest post about psychological research regarding breast cancer over at GNIF brain blogger. you won’t be surprised to hear that social support contributes to higher survival rates.

two observations are more counter-intuitive, though: it is unclear to what degree being married helps with survival rates. also, surprisingly, it looks like minimizing is a good coping strategy. the authors of the studies supporting this do not go into much of a description of what is meant by minimizing and indeed, it is a coping strategy that tends not to be discussed much in detail. i suspect that is because psychologists and therapists tend to be suspicious of it – after all, we’re big on validation, which, at least on the face of it, looks like the opposite of minimizing.

minimizing refers to downplaying the impact of an event or experience, e.g. downplaying one’s pain level, the degree to which one is incapacitated, etc.

perhaps minimizing comes with a “glass half full” attitude, and that helps with better survival rates?

what do you think – should i look some more into this?

a buddhist carnival – april 2008

a buddhist imagewelcome to the buddhist carnival, a selection of buddhist posts all over the blogosphere.

this month is poetry month. let’s start with a zen poem, then, by p’ang yun, who lived from approximately 740 to 808 C.E.

when the mind is at peace,
the world too is at peace.
nothing real, nothing absent.
not holding on to reality,
not getting stuck in the void,
you are neither holy nor wise, just
an ordinary fellow who has completed his work.

you can find this and other zen poems at the zen frog.

and on with creativity. janet riehl has a series of interviews with buddhist artist eden maxwell, entitled “life purpose is dharma in daily life”, “art in zen and the zen of art” and “make rejection work for your creative life”. here’s a teaser:

in zen buddhism, the fundamental concept is to intuitively grasp the truth; there are no lengthy discourses, and no reasoning for a logical answer.

those who practice zen reject the phantom world; you are capable of perceiving the world directly; this is power; this is the gift each true artist paints, writes, dances”name your form.

nothing is more profound than direct personal experience of a thing, which is the point of both zen and art.

finally, an artistic contribution from the world of film, buddha wild monk in a hut. in a related post, it says

the film gives us a glimpse into the cultural and monastic lives of missionary monks. it provides a mixture of both seriousness and humor that i see both in myself and the monks who are kind enough to teach me here in kansas. plus, a little bit of humor goes a long way in adding dramatic effect. buddha wild takes us on an exploration of the tenets of buddhism, celibacy, politics, the role of women in asian society as well as the everyday goings on of the monks.

and as a last feature, from the art of therapy, wayne contributes non-habitual living and being

i break the habit of being normal.

i discover that standing forth as a whole, centered, focused, and clear human being is ultimately, what life is really all about.

the worst habit you can have is to live your life as if you have no choice. continue to ignore yourself at your peril. see with new eyes, and the world and you are transformed, transcended, and whole.

other submissions include

let’s try this again next month! the next edition of a buddhist carnival will appear here at change therapy on may 15, 2008.

have an article you think we should see? go here to submit it.

(image by steve evans

schizophrenia, taboos and meditation

this is a guest post by geb sheru geb. in this intriguing article, he takes up on my post about kiddie porn a while ago, and talks about how the process of obsession in a person who hunts for child pornography is similar to the process of obsessive thoughts of someone experiencing schizophrenic symptoms. walking into the “danger zone” of taboo confronts one with conflicting feelings and emotions. amplify such conflicts and you have the experience of schizophrenia.


“oh be careful, little eyes, what you see…”

these are some of the words to a children’s song i learned during my primary school years in sabbath school. its counsel is one of guarding the gate to the sense of sight, the sense of hearing and the sense of touch. i limit my topic to this counsel only as the chorus of the song opens up a wholly unedifying discussion.

in the discussion that follows isabella’s post kiddie porn, reference is made to a kiddie porn website and one poster remarked in apparent horror, “i can’t believe people would even want to check those kinds of sites out!”

it is here that i would like to introduce a question for discussion’s sake; why would one not want to check those kinds of sites out?

my assertion is that the most likely answer is not for some sense of right or wrong, neither commiseration or empathy for the victims, but for fear of the feelings one may experience while viewing the images or reading the words found there.

during my time in university, one of my courses was sexual perversion in history and the modern age. in that course, i was exposed to the gamut of procedures and practices, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, etc., etc.; many of which, only the most deranged would find anything but revolting, however, in the “right” presentation, revulsion disappeared and in its place a low level arousal surfaced.

i don’t believe that most of us will feel a lasting aversion in this “right” and “harmless,” “friendly” presentation. for the vast majority of us, the zenith of our human experience is the sensual pleasure leading up to and including the orgasm. we call it many things; love being the most common, but when the one you love is no longer there for you, does your zenith become something else? we seek another partner and call it love all over again. we are social, sensual beings, for better and for worse.

we might sound the bell of our own voice, while viewing images of exploited children, and drown out inappropriate feelings with, “oh, my god…that’s disgusting!” but the battle has begun, between the subliminal and the expressed.

i tried this for a while, expressing my disgust when some part of me was not. as i got deeper into the course matter, i began to notice patterns in my stimulation. and as the pathways became well lit, i became lost in the internal arguments along the way. first, the case justifying prepubescent sexual autonomy; then interrupting it was the argument against; back and forth like a caged animal it went. but the undeniable fact acknowledged by only the most painfully honest remained – i felt something.

now, amplify this many, many times over; amplify the semi-conscious, low-levels of arousal to dynamic bodily phenomenon; amplify the quiet monologue of the conscience to screaming accusations against whetted and angry declinations; now multiply them and amplify them again to a frequency that prevents you from finishing a meal, from walking one minute in the same direction, that makes even the comfort of sleep far distant. make this your life for a week; no make it a month, how about a year? then you might catch a glimpse of schizophrenia.

antipsychotics? the list is long, and for many of us, they are the only option. i struggled with over-medication for two years. i struggled with proper medication for three more until after just six weeks of a meditative practice called tranquility thru concentration, i put down my medication and began clearing my mind of all thoughts at will. two years, four months and three weeks later, i am still in the meds-free mode and achieving tranquility thru concentration moment-by-moment, day by day.

my name is geb sheru geb; i’ve written a little book (23,000 words) that tells my story of overcoming schizophrenia with meditation. you can find it at meds free mode.

happiness – a group writing project

happiness and exuberancea while ago, alex shalman interviewed 34 people on the subject of happiness. following up on this, he created the happiness project, a group writing project where everyone who wishes answers questions about what happiness is for them. these posts then are gathered on his blog, here.

below are my answers. and if you’d like to participate, read on for the guidelines to be part of this.

1. how do you define happiness?

happiness is whatever feels good and right. on a happy day, i go to bed with a feeling of contentment. i don’t regret anything and am resting in the knowledge that i have contributed to the world.

2. on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your happiness now, versus when you were a child?

that’s hard to say. childhoods are long and often arduous. mine was. on a gut level? my happiness is around an 8 now, and maybe a 5.5 when i was a child.

3. what do you do on a daily basis that brings you happiness? (and how consistent is the feeling of happiness throughout your day)

these are things that i maybe don’t do each and every day but definitely most of the time

  • contribute to the good of the world
  • spend time with people who i deeply appreciate and who deeply appreciate me – close friends and family
  • pray
  • write, especially poetry
  • connect with friends, including spending time on twitter
  • cook
  • sleep
  • dream
  • hug people
  • smile
  • laugh
  • remember how blessed i am
  • relaxing into the moment. experiencing and participating in what is, not what was or what will be.

how consistent is the feeling of happiness throughout the day? oh, that depends. i don’t think it often goes below 6, even when i’m in a depression.

4. what things take away from your happiness? what can be done to lessen their impact or remove them from your life?

they’re not things. they are my thoughts. it’s all in how i frame my experience. even when i’m challenged, for example when i’m overly tired, i know i can relax into the moment.

what can be done to lessen the impact of my unhelpful thoughts? often it just helps to remember that this, too, shall pass and that all in all, my life is pretty darn good. when it gets really uncomfortable – something that doesn’t happen that often anymore, thank god – then i like to remember what pema chodron suggests: go into the feeling, right into it. for example fear. where in my body does it sit? what is it like? go right into it, and it transforms.

by far the biggest problem is that i forget. unless i’m in deep doodoo, i forget that i have all these wonderful tools. of course that’s my mind again – this type of forgetting is self-sabotage.

take away the forgetting and at least half of the barriers against more happiness would be gone.

5. what do you plan on doing in the future that will bring you even more happiness?

the less i plan, the better. and there is nothing that brings me closer to where i need to be – happiness, fulfilment, groundedness, aliveness, whatever you want to call it – than being present, right there with the divinity of the moment.

how to deal with the forgetfulness – right now i am part of a support group that helps each other with frequent phone calls. so: i’m planning to discuss this with them.

most of all i want to keep remembering that it’s not all about my little happiness. my own individual happiness is meaningless without the context of others’ wellbeing. i don’t mean this in a codependent way. i can be perfectly happy walking around vancouver’s downtown eastside, surrounded by the suffering and misery of people deep in the throes of poverty, substance use and survival sex trade.

however, i can only do this with my heart, mind, eyes, arms and hands open. literally. if i’m unwilling to give in to the spontaneous desire to have a little chat with the toothless old native woman who has schizophrenia, and to buy her some smokes if i feel so moved and/or hug are at the end of it, i can’t say i’m truly happy.


so. wanna talk about happiness on your blog?

here’s how alex set it out:

group writing project guidelines

  1. answer the questions. in a new post answer the questions that you see above, while being as genuine and open as possible. i might not know you very well yet, but believe me, you are awesome, and i want your readers and my readers to be able to see this extraordinary side of you.
  2. overview and linkback. in the introduction of your post, go ahead and give a brief overview of what the happiness project is and where you happened to hear about it first. this is the part where i would appreciate if you linked back to this post, in order to let people know about the guidelines, and how they can participate. while your doing that, i would love it if you also linked to the main happiness project page, and gave people access to the full list of interviews and participants.
  3. tag your blog friends. the purpose of this project is to share it with as many people as possible and to spread the awareness about happiness all over the world. the best way you can help us do that, aside from answering the questions on your own blog, is to tag some of your blogging friends (no limit here, the more the merrier), and let them know to participate.
  4. comment here + i link to you. after you’ve successfully published your happiness project post on your blog, and linked back to this post, go ahead and leave a comment here to let me know you participated. what i will do is add a link to your entry into the main happiness project page as soon as i can. another bonus is that i’ll do periodic updates of where the happiness project is going, in which i’ll link to the newest group of participants. that means you get two links from a page rank 4 blog, and exposure to tens of thousands of people. good deal?

i invite these people – sort of randomly. if you’re not on the list, it’s not because i didn’t think of you, or because you’re not invited, it’s because i was too lazy to dig out your URL 🙂

anmol mehta

buddhist military

change your tree

elizabeth potts-weinstein

the people from the frozen pea fund

hootin’ annie

vivien from inspirationBit

jacob from the jobmob


lives less ordinary

middle zone musings

nancy zimmerman, the money coach

nickie from puppybraille

reiki digest

shy one

the middle way

urban monk

vegan feast kitchen

weight loss dude

karen zara

(image by estherase

frozen pea friday: researching tamoxifen

a tamoxifen pilltoday is frozen pea friday, and as usual, i’m writing about cancer.

a friend of mine who just underwent a mastectomy and will most likely get the recommendation to take tamoxifen in the near future was asking some of her friends to do a bit of research for her (remember, sifting through tons of information can be a heavy burden for someone with cancer). so i decided to do that here. when i looked for information i tried to take into account that we are looking for information for someone who is not postmenopausal, which makes it a bit tricky because most material seems to concentrate on older women.

first of all, let’s remember this: research has shown that not all breast cancer web sites contain correct information. i think i have a relatively good nose for reliable information but let’s take all of this with a big grain of salt, shall we?

what is tamoxifen?
tamoxifen, or nolvadex®, is a drug that interferes with the activity of estrogen, a female hormone. (see this article at women to women for a discussion of the connection between estrogen and breast cancer). tamoxifen has been used for more than 30 years to treat breast cancer. the known, serious side effects of tamoxifen are blood clots, strokes, uterine cancer, and cataracts. other side effects include menopause-like symptoms. the results of the breast cancer prevention trial (BCPT) showed a reduction in diagnoses of invasive breast cancer among women who took tamoxifen for 5 years.

a good overview of tamoxifen is on a site i had never seen before, organized wisdom. it is a human-powered health search service. their guides and physician reviewers create WisdomCards to help people find the best health information, products and services on the web. i’m not sure what their background is (are they big pharma driven?) but i found their summary on tamoxifen helpful, particularly the indications and contra-indications of tamoxifen.

tamoxifen, goserelin, chemotherapy and ovarian ablation
ovarian ablation [i.e. removing the ovaries, because of their hormone production] with goserelin is equivalent to CMF [cyclophosphamide, methotrexate fluorouracil – a chemotherapy treatment] without tamoxifen, and goserelin plus tamoxifen is more effective than CMF without tamoxifen. if one has a premenopausal patient with ER-positive, lymph node-positive breast cancer, goserelin plus tamoxifen is a good alternative to treating her with intravenous CMF without tamoxifen while achieving the same results.

what happens after the first five years of tamoxifen?

the received wisdom seems to be that tamoxifen is fine for preventing the recurrence of breast cancer for the first five years. what happens after that seems to be a a thing of debate.

1. take letrozole
currently, women whose tumors were fueled by the hormone estrogen can take the drug tamoxifen after undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to reduce their risk of a recurrence. but tamoxifen only helps for five years. after that, it may be dangerous.

a recent study in conducted in canada reveals that breast cancer patients treated with the drug femara® (letrozole) several years after completing treatment with tamoxifen (nolvadex®) have a reduced risk of a recurrence. these findings were published in the journal of clinical oncology.

supposedly, letrozole is very similar to anmidex, a drug that my twitter friend susan reynolds – the original princess of the frozen pea – is planning on taking after her 5-year run with tamoxifen.

how similar different drugs really are is up for question, as this article in the obstetrical and gynecological survey shows. i certainly remember from my work with people with chronic pain that the minutest changes in medication can have a significant effect.

2. stick with tamoxifen
7,154 women at high risk for breast cancer were randomized to 5 years of daily tamoxifen or placebo. (such a placebo-controlled trial couldn’t be undertaken today for ethical reasons because tamoxifen is now approved as a breast cancer chemopreventive agent).

the primary end point was the incidence of breast cancer, which at 10 years was 3.9% in the tamoxifen arm and 5.5% with placebo, for a highly significant 29% relative risk reduction. this result included a 38% reduction in ductal carcinoma in situ and a 27% decrease in invasive breast cancers.

there were 87 estrogen receptor-positive invasive breast cancers in the tamoxifen group and 129 in controls, for a 34% relative risk reduction. tamoxifen had no effect on the rate of estrogen receptor-negative tumors.

tamoxifen prevented tumors of all grades. importantly, the risk reduction was as great in year 10 as in year 1.

drawbacks of tamoxifen and possible alternatives

long experience with tamoxifen, has shown that it does have drawbacks. the drug is considered to exhibit mixed effects, being antiestrogenic in breast tissue but estrogenic in the endometrium, bones, and liver; and a significant increase in the incidence of endometrial cancer has been consistently seen with its use. tamoxifen is also associated with a significant increase in thromboembolic events, with pulmonary embolism being a particular concern. the related but more selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) raloxifene, as well as other SERMs such as toremifene, have also been undergoing evaluation as potentially safer alternatives to tamoxifen.

a relatively recent article (october 2006) at the fabulous resource breast cancer research site states that

placebo controlled trials in over 25,000 women showed that tamoxifen reduced breast cancer risk by about 40% and osteoporotic fracture risk by about 32%. similarly placebo controlled trials in nearly 18,000 women showed that raloxifene reduced breast cancer risk by 44-72% and osteoporotic fractures risk by 30-50%. a direct comparison of tamoxifen with raloxifene showed similar risk reduction for breast cancer and osteoporotic fractures with less toxicity for raloxifene.

other alternatives come from complimentary medicine. that’s a whole difference bowl of wax. perhaps we’ll post about that some other friday.

(image by linda bowman)