Monday, September 30, 2013

You will ALWAYS have a second way of looking at things.

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A speech I gave at the Leukemia Foundation's "Light the Night" event to give hope to other patients and their carers. I hope that it can help you, in whatever challenges you're facing, as well. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bone Marrow Transplants Sound Scary, But They're Not. And They've Saved My Life. Twice.

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2 years ago, to this day, I received a bone marrow transplant.

It was the hardest thing I've gone through, as a cancer patient.
I spent weeks stuck in a bed, subsisting on unsolid food, barely drinking and in intense pain - even with morphine!

And for months after it, I was fed into a spin-cycle of maladies, starting with my skin feeling like it was burning for days on end without relief, followed by months of sickness and huge shifts in weight and ending with the a relapse and the knowledge that I'd have to go through it all again in my second transplant.

But it saved my life. 
And I'm eternally grateful for it and for my donor.

One thing that may astound you is the fact that the transplant took only thirty minutes, didn't involve any pain - it was just a minor, drip-like infusion!
Even DONATING bone marrow doesn't mean having a needle put into your bones these days - at any point!

Bone marrow transplants are the cure to variety of illnesses - not just blood cancers/disorders which I speak about mainly on this post. 

It has cured AIDs, which has only happened twice, EVER.

And it's the only way possible for a mammal to change blood types. 
Personally, I've had 3. 

Click here to skip to a particular section of this post:

Basically, a bone marrow transplant, also known as a haematopoietic stem cell transplant, replaces your old bone marrow with someone else's. You can also use your own cells for this, but for this post, I'll only talk about allogeneic transplants, ones you get from other people, rather than autologous ones which you get from yourself.

Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue inside your bones which make your blood.  It's usually filled with haematopoietic stem cells - cells which rapidly divide over and over again and transform with the aid of certain hormones and chemical messengers produced by your body to eventually become your blood cells.

When a disease process affects these stem cells, they cause a malfunction in your blood cells which has a wide range of complications as your blood is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to your body, and also your immunity, amongst other functions. If that disease involves a change in the actual DNA sequence of the stem cells and divide so it begins to take over the normal stem cells (in other words, if the disease is a cancer) and chemotherapy is not an effective cure for it, then a stem cell transplant can become the best curative option.

Now here, I wanna make it clear what I mean by "Bone marrow transplant" in this post. I'm referring specifically to Allogeneic bone marrow transplants - one received from SOMEONE ELSE. It's possible to have an Autologous BMT too - in a procedure where your own blood stem cells are collected, so that they may be injected back into you after treatment. This is usually done to get very high doses, or treatments that would otherwise have killed off your vital bone marrow for good, into a patient, without killing them. The collected cells are stored and injected back into the patient after treatment has taken effect and remnants of the drugs have left the body.  

What an allogeneic stem cell transplant does is get someone else's bone marrow, blood producing cells into you. Not only does that allow for, if required, the same high doses of chemotherapy and other treatments to be given, it also gets someone else's white cells (white cells are blood cells, made in the bone marrow) into you - their immune system. And this had the added effect of them attacking your cancer cells, where your old immune system couldn't (often, cancers have special mechanisms by which they can evade your immune system), or of getting a new immune system in there to replace the old one. 

The Procedure: 

An allogeneic transplant involves, on the patient end, first, some chemotherapy and radiation to the entire body (blood production, though often limited to bigger bones like your sternum or hip bone in adults, can occur in any bone in the body) to ablate, or kill off, your old, diseased stem cells. Less intense chemotherapy regimes can also be given, in diseases with lower agressiveness or in patients who can't take as much of a battering (my second transplant, due to all the drugs and radiation I'd had previously, was done using a "reduced intensity chemotherapy" regime. Many older patients are now able to get bone marrow transplants where they weren't before due to these regimes).
The major side effect of this step is that your blood production halts, or stops outright, meaning you will be much more likely to bleed and bruise in that period and be very susceptible to infections - which are even more life threatening as you don't have white cells to kill them off. Many of the drugs also have side effects of chemos (they often are chemos), and the radiation itself can cause severe mouth ulcers in some. This in itself makes the procedure very risky.

After this is accomplished, you inject your donor's stem cells into your body in order to replace it. The donor's stem cells take around 3 weeks to engraft, or take residence and begin working, in your bone marrow and from then on your donor's stem cells become your own. Which means that from now on, you're producing YOUR DONOR'S blood cells instead of your own.

The intent is not only for his (or your donor's) cells to take over and start making proper blood cells again, but also to stop your old stem cells from coming back. You see, when his cells take over, his immune system does too. This is what is trying to be achieved in the whole procedure actually, a change in the immune system - as his immune system, being different to yours, will, hopefully, kill off any old stem cells of yours (including your cancerous ones) that remain. This is called the Graft Versus Disease effect (GVD).

The problem is, there is also a good chance that his immune system will also find your body's other organs to be foreign to it and it will attack them too. This is called Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD). And it is a big reason why it's seen as even riskier than even chemotherapy and radiation.

In order to reduce the impacts of GVHD you are given some immunosuppresive drugs, which, as the name suggests, suppresses the immune system. When given early, it also prevents your old cells from coming back from the radiation and chemotherapy to cause rejection.

Examples of these are methotrexate, and cyclophosphamide, given before transplants to reduce both the risk of acute GVHD and the chances of your immune system from rejecting the donor's stem cells,  cyclosporine in the long term to manage chronic GVHD (GVHD that presents 6 months to years after a transplant) and prednisone, a corticosteroid, to manage acute GVHD (GVHD that presents after engraftment. Prednisone can also be given long term to manage cGVHD, and many of these drugs are used at different points).
GVHD can be life threatening, if not managed well. GVHD is a big reason why a transplant is seen as a very risky procedure. And though acute GVHD is more dangerous, chronic GVHD can have long impacts into the future.

But it's not all bad news. Actually, the presence of GVHD and having a more severe version of it is correlated to a higher cure rate because the GVD will also be stronger. It's a balancing act. You don't want too much severe GVHD but a little bit is good as it indicates a good level of GVD (graft versus disease) as well.
And if you catch GVHD fast, and do as recommended by transplant hospitals, and rush to emergency, or call up your doctor immediately to initiate treatment in the critical periods (up to 3 months after a transplant, or when you feel classic symptoms of GVHD like fevers, gut pain/diarrhoea, skin prickling/redness/rashes or eye dryness. It can affect many other organs in different ways too) - it is often gotten on top of!

When you're being matched to your donor, it's very preferable to have a complete HLA match. Basically your HLA is how your body recognises and differentiates your own cells from that of other foreign cells. You inherit your own 'HLA settings' from your parents, half from your mum and half from your dad and there are many HLA subtypes people can have, making it very unlikely for two random people to be matched to each-other.

Usually there are 6 main subtypes they look at when they're trying to find a donor to match for you (they can go to 8 or 10 or more as well - I was a perfect 10/10 match for HLA with my donor). You have a 1/4 chance of any sibling being a match for you. In fact, transplants from siblings get lower amounts of GVHD, so they're seen as less risky (by the way - even being a 10/10 will result in GVD and GVHD occuring, as there will always be little differences between your donor's immune system and your own). But outside of your immediate siblings, the chances are very low due to the sheer number of possible HLA subtypes combinations that there are. But they do happen.

That's where the bone marrow donor registries come in.

Bone marrow donor registries are usually done by country. It's basically a huge database of people's HLA combinations. 

The process of actually joining the registry varies from country to country but NOT ONE involves too much pain! NOT ONCE will you have to get a sample taken from your bone marrow! What they need is a tissue typing test - a test which checks which HLA subtypes you happen to have.

In the United States, this involves simply buying a $5 test simply taking a swab of the inside of the your mouth and sending it away. In Australia, it involves a 20mL sample of blood, and has to be done while giving a blood donation (which takes less than 10 minutes and is no more painful than a blood test by the way) - and you have to ask and fill out a form in order to do it. This is done to ensure that everyone on the registry will be willing to actually give the donation. In the US a lot of people opt out of actually becoming a bone marrow donor in fear of the procedure, so finding a match doesn't equate to finding a donor, which it usually does in countries using Australia's approach.

With the help of my doctors, I was extremely lucky to find 5 matches, from around the world, and have had 2 bone marrow transplant from them.

Only 60% of people can find one.

So we need you to join up on the registry. Especially if you're from an Asian or Indian or Middle Eastern background. It is more preferable to find someone who's similar to you - whether it be by race, gender or age, and these races in particular have critically lower rates of people joining the registry.

Find out how, if you live in Australia, by clicking the link below:

And if you live elsewhere, click here:

The actual procedure rarely ever actually requires harvesting of actual bone marrow either (95% of the time it doesn't and a good portion of the other 5% choose to go through the surgery process because they have access to general anesthetic through that pathway). The donor has to go through a series of subcutaneous injections, small injections under the skin - usually into the belly or arm, of a hormone which increases the activity of stem cells and causes them to enter the blood more. From there, blood is collected from the donor from one arm, siphoned through a machine which separates the stem cells from the regular blood, and the regular blood is injected back into the patient's other arm.

There is a chance that you'll need to have surgery to remove actual bone marrow from your bones as well. Though it is unlikely nowadays, the procedure is done under general anesthetic  meaning you won't feel pain from the operation, and is very safe too.

The actual transplant is a bit of an anticlimax. The stem cells, collected in a bag, are infused into you, just like a saline drip, except with blood. In some cases, or in cases where a complete match wasn't found, you can get a reaction to the actual cells.
What is dangerous during the procedure is the chemotherapy and radiation which kills off your original stem cells.

As with any systemic chemotherapy, your fast-growing cells are killed off. This includes not only your bone marrow, but also things like your hair and the lining of your gastro-intestinal tract. This leads to very low blood counts and hence tiredness, very low immunity and higher chances of bleeding, as well as abdominal pain and diarrhoea or constipation. There are a range of other side effects too such as nausea and taste changes which aren't pleasant to say the least - but all of these can usually be controlled with medications. 

The low immunity in particular is of huge concern. Your neutrophils, the white blood cells at the front-line when fighting infections, plummet to 0 and not only do you become more susceptible to infections, you also become very weak at fighting them. In fact, it's the leading cause of death in not only bone marrow transplants, but also in chemotherapies and even in hospitals. Hence it is important to stay away from other people who may have infections during a transplant, and also important for appropriate hygiene measures to be taken, such as always sanitising your hands before allowing others (including doctors and nurses) to touch you and being placed in a room where the air is always being filtered.

Often, despite these measures, you can still get infections from your own body - it's something you can't help. These usually manifest as fevers or shakes or coughs and the like and are treated very aggressively, as your body has little to no capability of fighting them. Don't worry though - medications can take the place of your immune system while it's weakened - so infections are mostly controlled if caught early.

The total body irradiation is another factor which comes with a range of side effects. The procedure itself is a little daunting at first, involving being beamed with radiation for 20 minutes whilst being placed in a box and held still by rice bags, but after a few times (it's done once a day on a 5-7 day cycle), you get used to it.

Again, it will cause your blood counts to drop and subsequently cause the cascade of side effects that come from that but it also causes skin irritation and in particular, mucusitis - or pain in your mouth and throat which, in my transplant, was the worse symptom. I found intense pain on swallowing - even if it was water or my own saliva and hence spent almost 3 weeks eating little more than less than a tub of gravy or custard and little sips of water. A morphine pump wouldn't even help with the pain, and the sad thing is, 85% of patients who go through total body irradiation get this. But there's a way around this too - a nasogastric tube which allows for food and water to be pumped into your body rather than forcing you to swallow it through a very sore throat. 

There are also other ways of doing transplants which don't involve the radiation aspect of it - and my second transplant is an example of it. It was a transplant whose pre-conditioning only involved chemotherapy(and that too a less intense variety of it) protocol known as RIC (Reduced Intensity Chemotherapy).

Bone marrow transplants are complicated, often risky procedures. They're hard and often scary, and unfortunately necessary for some. But they give a second chance for people facing cancers, and other blood related or autoimmune diseases, at life.

I can never be thankful enough to my 2 donors for what they've given me - a total stranger - to them. And they haven't asked for anything back from me.

They're angels.

I hope for a day where no-one has to go through the things I went through during my bone marrow transplant. 'Til that day comes though, be sure to join your country's bone marrow registry and become an angel yourself.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Healthy Way Of Living - My experience with "Alternative" Medicine

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Alternative medicine.

I can almost hear the collective clench of sphincters as hundreds of med students and doctors read those two words.

Call it whatever you want. Naturopathy, "Eastern" medicine, Homeopathy - it's something that a lot of people turn to instead of real medicine when they're sick. It's basically the idea of taking natural remedies or therapies rather than "Western" drugs when dealing with diseases. 

Most doctors and other health professionals just don't trust them.

You see, a lot of alternative treatments aren't researched, tested and often, they have no scientific backing whatsoever. They can be anything - from herbal remedies suggested by ancient scriptures to, to random chunks taken from exotic animals to full-fledged vitamin based treatment protocols administered instead of conventional drugs to treat things like cancer.

And in a majority of cases - they haven't been shown to work.

Most of the time the people who prescribe them mean well and really do believe their cures work. Sometimes though, they're simply just scam artists and fraudsters - disgusting people taking money off suffering, sometimes even dying, people.

But, though they are often referred to as quacks, some of their treatments do have merit. 
For example, arsenic had been used for hundreds of years by the Chinese as a traditional treatment for severe tiredness. Today it's actually the first line treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia and has rendered many forms of CML a very high survival rate. There are thousands of "super-fruits" or wonder-juices which have actually been shown to have high levels of antioxidants and other beneficial substances (though most are monopolised and overpriced it seems) and treatments like acupuncture and activities like yoga have been proven to calm, relax and ease pain.

And the whole western, "take a pill and you'll be fine" attitude is destructive.

In the developed world, we've become just plain lazy and our health is the usually the first thing that goes out the window because of it. Rates of obesity are increasing exponentially, working hours are getting longer and longer and we often just want the fast way out of medical problems rather than living healthily as we ought to do.

I recently had my own experience with alternative medicine. My mother was told of a man who was apparently helping out and even curing cancer patients. When she told me about it, I rolled my eyes. I'd investigated probably a hundred of these claims before - heaps from soon after being diagnosed with cancer and some from suggestions from family or friends, and all had turned out to be useless, or scams of some sort and most were very expensive.

But then she told me the guy was actually researching cancer treatments at the University of Sydney. And that he wasn't selling anything or charging for visits either - rather talking to and advising patients in his own time on the weekends. That in itself was different to the ones I'd seen and read about before...

So, after a few weeks of putting it off, I decided to meet the guy. It couldn't hurt could it? And who knows, it may just help in some way.

So we rocked on up to his house one Saturday afternoon and met him.

I was pretty suspicious at first - almost sure he'd be sucking us into subscribing to some sort of product over the next hour.

In a way he did. But surprisingly, it wasn't really a product. It was an idea. One basically advocating a healthier lifestyle. Though I wouldn't agree with all he said, and sometimes, the way he said it, a healthy lifestyle is something that's been tossed aside in our medical system. And it shouldn't be.

So, what did he actually say?

Well, he begun by establishing the idea of us relying on medications too much in life... and by trying to convince us of a sort of conspiracy taking place where pharmaceuticals didn't want to cure people. That they didn't want to cure diseases, rather to get people to buy their drugs more and more and foster a "take a pill and you'll be fine" culture.

In a way it's true. 

Pharmaceuticals are businesses after all, and they're making billions off others' misery and sickness. In America, a prime example of where pharmaceuticals hold too much power, it costs $400 for a hospital to put up a bag of saline. It costs less than $1 to make one. And they do anything and everything to increase their profitability. From mass advertising of unnecessary medications treating made up or over-diagnosed diseases, to buying out studies and politicians to even effectively buying out doctors by sending them on vacations and giving them other "gifts" in exchange for them prescribing their medication.

Yet at the same time - this profiteering is necessary. It costs literally billions to develop new drugs and the industry is filled with risks. Without it, we'd never see drugs coming out. And the idea that a pharmaceutical wouldn't want to develop a drug to cure a type of cancer or a disease like diabetes because they make so much already off chemotherapy and maintenance drugs, though it seems feasible at first is ludicrous when you consider the pharmaceutical that came up with that drug would be the richest in the world.

What I couldn't agree with at all though, was the way he presented his view. To someone who may not know too much about the medical system or the way the body works, he may have convinced them to give up medications which are vital to keep them functioning at the moment, or led them to believing his changes would save them in a real emergency when they worked over the long term. 
And his claims that his lifestyle changes will cure cancers and diabetes and other sort of ailments is simply misguiding. Not only because he hasn't got any proof for it yet, but also because he'd be giving potentially dying or suffering patients false hope (see my opinion on hope and medicine here by the way).

But when he went on to explain his treatment or outline his plan for me, to my surprise, he didn't advise me to stop my medications. In fact he told me to keep them up. That all my treatments and all I'd done so far was the best thing I could have done. 

That shocked me - after that diatribe I was half expecting him to ask me to regurgitate my morning medications...

According to him, all cancers thrived in low-oxygen, acidic conditions - and fed off glucose - or sugar and that cancers didn't exist before 1970 and was something that emerged with the advent of chemical preservatives and other such additives to our food.
I questioned this immediately.
First of all, the body needs glucose - it's what our body uses as fuel. And even if you were to stop it completely - the body could still make it from other types of sugars and even proteins and fats! And if cancers did exist in low oxygen, acidic conditions - it was most likely because they created that environment (bit of science here - because tumour cells are hungrier than most, they'd use up all the oxygen in the vicinity, making the region low in oxygen, and hence have to use the lactic acid pathway for energy - which releases lactic acid, which would be responsible for the high acidity). And the idea that cancers only started in the '70s is laughable. Yeah they may have become more prevalent around that time, but that's because our life expectancy grew in that time and one of the factors that contributes to cancer is old age, and prior to then, we couldn't even diagnose a lot of cancers til AFTER death because of it! And there is evidence to suggest that mummies had tumours - not to mention thousands of documented leukemias and tumours dating back to the early 18th century.

But he did give some explanation and proof to back up his statements - even if they weren't too solid in their science at times.

Cancer cells probably may just grow more when you have consumed excess glucose, or carbohydrates essentially. And as cell dividing, the process by which cancer grows, takes a lot of energy tumours would be glucose hungry. Therefore by stopping excess carbohydrate intake, you could starve cancer cells to some point.  Whether or not it can stop them is dubious. And this idea - though pushed by many around the world - doesn't have too much proof to back it up.

As for his plan to increase the pH of the body in order to slow down cancer growth - he explained that the low, acidic pH observed around cancer cells has a variety of mechanisms which increase cancers' spreading. His "treatment" would be taking sodium bicarbonate, a non-toxic substance, twice a day or otherwise increasing pH (with things like alkaline water - easily available for about $1/L) and he believes that you'd possibly arrest or even reverse cancer growth because of it. He produced a study done by the University of Arizona on mice to show it to be effective in shrinking tumours, and he's currently doing a phase 1, or small scale, safety and efficacy study, of taking sodium bicarbonate along with various chemotherapy drugs in humans too - so it may, in the future be a possible treatment path.

What was surprising was that he said that it was extremely hard to secure a company who wanted to actually do the trial because sodium bicarbonate is cheap and easily available, something not marketable for them. That got me thinking that a lot of these sorts of simple diet and lifestyle changes may not be tested because of this reason - or because it's just too hard to ensure patients are actually following and complying to any diet changes in comparison to making sure they took a pill, or had an injection of some kind.

His final suggestion was to take supplementation alongside these of all basic vitamins and minerals the body needs - as modern farming methods mean that foods we eat today are not only filled with pesticides and other chemicals designed to keep them fresh, but also lacking in nutrition. Whether or not this is true I can't say, but supplementing vitamins is only useful if you aren't getting enough of them - if you are, they'll just be removed from the body. So essentially, if you were already eating a healthy, nutritious diet encompassing all your necessary intake requirements,  taking vitamin supplements would mean you're essentially paying for nutrient-rich pee.

All in all - his "treatment" involved only small, very affordable changes that I was willing to make. And he wasn't profiting from it at all (though he did advocate a particular brand for the vitamins pretty vigorously...). All we had to buy were things like fresh, organic food and inexpensive, edible sodium bicarbonate. 
And in the end his methods pretty much led to a healthier lifestyle. Healthy eating and living seems to make sense where iridology often doesn't. 
So I've decided to follow most of his advice. And so far, about a month or so in, I'm feeling great to be honest.

In the end, a healthier lifestyle is something that doesn't seem to be advocated enough in our health system and by doctors these days. Maybe because there's no proof (from even first year of med school, doctors are taught not to advocate or prescribe something that hasn't been proven in properly done trials) or maybe because you just can't expect people to listen or change their habits anymore - whether it be drinking, eating unhealthily or smoking - and for that reason the industry and the individuals working in it have just stopped trying.

My final opinion: Alternative medicine has its place. It has the potential to help but it should be regulated in some way and people should proceed with caution.

Healthy living, however, is never a bad idea.

So why not do it?

A link to the studies on acids and tumours is below:

A link to his website is here too:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Biggest Killer in our Modern World. Stress.

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One question that weighed heavily on my mind in the few days after being told I had leukemia, was "What had caused it all?"

When we asked our doctors that very question, all he could do was shrug his shoulders and tell us "Bad luck..."

Apparently there's no one solid pathway that can explain how people get a lot of cancers - there isn't an explanation for many other diseases too for that matter.

I, through how I dealt with my condition mentally, hadn't really given it too much thought though. I had a disease to deal with - it didn't matter to me how I'd gotten it after I changed my attitude toward it all. 
All that mattered to me was how it could be treated.

But in hindsight, I feel I know exactly what caused my sickness.


It's something we've become accustomed to - especially in the last 10 - 20 years. It's become part of life that everyone has to deal with. But it doesn't have to be. In fact it shouldn't be.

It's killing people.

Both physical and emotional stress equally have a range of effects on the body that have dangerous repercussions that people underestimate or consider to be manageable when it isn't.

It can cause hypertension, depression, nausea, loss of sex drive even! And over a longer time frame of a few weeks or months it drastically increases your body's secretions of cortisol and adrenaline, which gives you symptoms of insomnia, weight gain and moodiness,  and can even, as I believe occurred in me, cause cancer or expose you to other dangerous diseases from the effects it has on slowly breaking down your body's cells and immune system!

You may think it's fine to throw an all-nighter or two before an exam period or as you're finishing off a report for the boss, you may think it's okay to be overwhelmed by all your struggles every now and then as long as you keep functioning, you may think it's fine to hold all your emotions in until you release it all on people you love and care about.

It's not.

It's not only endangering your life and only making you unhappy.

But there is good news.

It may be hard to see straight away, but you do have a choice on how you let stress impact your life. More often than not it's our own selves that create it. And if you see this from another perspective, it also means that we do have the propensity and the power to change ourselves and our lifestyle and take away that stress from our lives.

Let me take you back to my life in the months of December 2010 - May 2011. It was summer holidays during the first few months of that period, a time where kids would be running outside in the beautiful weather, having fun playing cricket or footy with the other kids down the street or heading off to the local pool for a dip.

What I was doing, though, was far from that.

You see, it was my year 12, my final year of high school, the year before I entered university. I had to sit the HSC, an examination that would determine what course I would get into for university - something that would probably decide my career path for life.

I wanted to do medicine. Really badly. In my eyes, it was one of the most noble professions where you got to deal directly with people and help them in their times of need while also being able to provide well for yourself and your family in the future. But as many of you know, it's a challenging course, and the hardest thing about it is just getting a seat.

So unlike those other kids who got to run around and enjoy their holidays, I spent mine locked up in my room studying as hard as I could.

You see, my philosophy, my plan of attack, was to study hard and long during my holiday periods and learn everything I needed to for the whole year then - in order to allow me to only focus on preparing for exams while everyone else would still be learning content. 
A good idea, I know, but the way I did it was just damn right unhealthy.

I was, months away from any assessments, pulling off all-nighters, powering through textbook after textbook in Maths, writing up essay after essay for English and learning concept after concept for my sciences. I was studying at least 16 hours a day! Add to this travel times to and from tutoring institutions, meal times and time for other necessities, and time spent with family on the odd occasion, and that left around an average of 4 - 6 hours of sleep per night. And that's with close to no exercise and a bad diet too.

And I maintained that for a good 2 months.

It seems wreckless and stupid looking back. That's because it was wreckless and stupid...  

But you see this kind of attitude in people everywhere today. In our 21st century lifestyles, often we prioritise our jobs, our responsibilities, our studies over our health, relationships, families and friends. The effects of the stress we put on ourselves for these aspects of our life eats away at us, whether we admit it or not - and the effects may not be seen for months, even years. 

Just looking at our politicians and leaders changing of our years is a prime example of how stress affects us! Barack Obama, when he got elected, looked a young, vibrant leader literally oozing with enthusiasm and hope. Just have a glance at the photos before and you can see the impacts of stress on the body. 


 Left: Obama before taking office. Right; Obama 4 years later after his first term.

The same thing has happened all around the world actually. In my own country, Australia, our current Prime Minister has changed just as much in just as short a time period too.

Left: Kevin Rudd campaigning in late '07. Right - Kevin Rudd early in 2013.

These are literal snapshots of the life-draining effects stress has on the human body. Our body is designed to be able to recover from the stresses of daily life. But when you compound it all up and do it for days, months or even years on end like many today do - things will end up going wrong in the body.

But it doesn't just happen to our politicians. 

In our modern, rat-race society I see people all around me, every day, working themselves to excessive limits, often above and beyond the call of duty, in order to make a few extra bucks, or progress in their careers or to please their boss. 

Sometimes, people have to do it out of necessity. In fact, 4/5ths of the world have no option but to stress themselves out in order to just put food on the table for their family! What I find almost as sad as that fact though is the fact that the remaining 1/5 often put that stress onto themselves.

I see it in my family. My mother - especially when she was studying for her MBA and working at the same time - would often stay up to 12 or 1am at night working on projects for clients for weeks on end. How she manages to look so young and keep so healthy is beyond me. Probably her immaculate diet to be honest.

My uncle, her younger brother, hasn't handled it as well. He works as a financial consultant and had put in the hard work and done well to get into, and achieve highly, in a very prestigious university in a very challenging course. Thus he was headhunted almost straight out of university and works contracts end on end for big companies.

Yet though he is successful, he works his butt off. Whenever I call him or he calls us, he sounds so tired. If he does come over on the odd occasion - he'd fall asleep - right there on the ground or on the chair he was sitting on, just exhausted from day after day of constantly overworking himself. He's only 37 years of age, and he's already got hair as white as Santa Claus with deep wrinkles on his brow when a few years ago he had the looks of a man in his mid 20s.

I drew the short straw perhaps - I managed to harm myself enough to get a life threatening disease so early in life. It may not have been the stress only that contributed to my cancer - there may have been other factors, who knows. But I do know for a fact that stress DID play a major part in it developing.

But I can't go back and change that now.

What I can do is vow to not allow myself, ever again, to cause myself that much harm again. 
I'll vow to myself that I will always take time out for myself, eat healthy, exercise or at the very least - get enough sleep - no matter how many exams or how many night-shifts I may have to work in the future.

And to you, my readers, who may be going through, or may end up going through stressful events in the future, let me ask you one question. 

Why wait until you've got cancer, or heart failure, or peptic ulcers to change your lifestyle, habits and attitude in order to make your own life easier, happier and healthier?

Even if you don't think you have a problem right now - or if you think you can handle it - just take a step back and examine your life and ask yourself if there's anything you can do to make it less stressful. Ask yourself why you have to take on such a huge workload when you haven't seen your family awake in a week. Understand that though there will be times or occasions when you can't help but stress out about things, there will always be another option, another, easier, way to do it - or at the very least - that you can give yourself a little break afterwards to allow your body to rest.

You can do it from today! You don't have to quit your job, or even make huge changes to do this! 
The changes you make may be just to spend a half-hour a day going for a walk around the local park with your kids, or to maybe start your studies a little earlier and to pace yourself, or to possibly even reduce your workload if needs be.

You can't change yourself overnight.
 But you can always do little things to make your life less stressful.

The next time you're stuck in traffic, getting late for work, instead of getting angry at the car in-front of you for not moving quick enough in the queue of traffic, take a little step back and relax. Your worrying won't be able to push the thousands of cars ahead of you forward and speeding is only going to endanger yourself or your fellow drivers, so why do it? Just put on some nice music and relax and think about being late when you get there.

Next time you're worrying before entering an exam or worrying whether your proposal or report will be shut down by your boss - just take a step back and ask yourself why? In the end, you've done what you have done in your preparation and by worrying, all you're doing is making yourself more prone to forget things out of panic when in the actual exam or just making yourself unhappy over something you can't control!

I guarantee you that by taking a step back, analysing yourself and questioning your doubts and worries, by seeing another way to look at your situation and by accounting and planning for obstacles in your path that may increase your stress, you WILL save you a lot of pain, and will be happier and healthier in life.

And if you're blessed enough to be able to be able to, you owe it to YOURSELF to allow yourself the healthiest, happiest, life possible.

I'll leave with this message from the words of the immortal Bob Marley.

"In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double!"

"Don't worry, be happy."

Any stresses you may have, any problems that are confounding you at the moment - do post them in the comments below (you can do so anonymously) and I'll help you to reduce them if I can.

Remember - also - that emotional stress is just as dangerous as physical stress in its impacts of the body - and often more dangerous because it can last for a long time and hence cause more damage to your body without you even knowing you are! So don't ignore that either! The first, often hardest thing to do is talk about it.
Once you're past that though, I'm sure you can beat it.