Monthly Archives: November 2015

Diabetes

Blood glucose meter
Our blood glucose meter – photo by tamellu 2015

It was World Diabetes Day yesterday, the day of awareness that high blood sugar is absolutely not something we should neglect or take lightly. I’m living in Serbia, a country of somewhat more that 7 million people where 710,000 souls are diagnosed with diabetes, with estimated additional 245,000 others who have diabetes but don’t know it and don’t treat it. Those figures are indeed horrifying, and if we as humanity continue with current nutritional habits future surely won’t look optimistic.

Diabetes is a silent illness and can go for a long time undetected. At the time of diagnose if the patient didn’t check his or her blood work in years, high blood sugar had already made some damage in the patient’s body and shortened the expected length of life. People run away from this diagnose because we all very much fear illnesses that are still considered incurable, but in case of diabetes there is no need for that. There surely isn’t some medication that can fix things and allow you to go on eating whatever you want without a worry in the world, it’s a chronic lifelong illness, but there are treatments that can allow you to live a normal and happy life for many years. My dad was a diabetic for 22 years and as a medical doctor he strictly obeyed the nutritional plan he had to stick to. He couldn’t eat cakes or sweetened things, but he had a perfectly normal life, and what’s much more important his diabetes didn’t progress to provoke some of serious complications such as diabetic polineuropathy, gangrene, loss of eyesight, stroke… to name just a few. Yes, he eventually died of cancer and today we can only debate on the link between the diabetes and his pancreatic cancer, but he died at the age of 78. He was my dad and even he died at 98 it would be painful and I would ask myself if he could go on for maybe a little while longer, but I must admit that he still managed to live a reasonably long life without any serious problem up until virtually one month before he passed away. In the whole 2014 up until the end of July the only symptoms that could indicate cancer were certain weight loss and some changes in bowel habits which were attributed to his new combination of medication for diabetes. At the beginning of August the first dramatic symptom was a rapid, violent onset of blood sugar spinning totally out of control even though he still took his therapy and ate as usual. I was later told that we would never be able to tell if the diabetes had caused cancer or it had been the other way round, the only definite certainty was that it took too long for doctors to establish the type and dosage of insulin shots to stabilize him enough so that he could at least try any true oncology treatment. All in all, dad had 22 wonderful years in spite of diabetes and as he followed all the advice and rules of his treatment, he didn’t even depend on insulin till the last 3 weeks of his life.

I would just like to encourage everybody out there to check their sugar values regularly especially if you’re over 50 because this is a borderline age for a possible onset of type 2 diabetes, particularly if you have genetic predisposition or if you indulged in too much sugary and processed food before in life. Don’t let thing spin out of control and lead you into a situation where you could start drinking massive amounts of water and going very often to the bathroom, which if left untreated can lead to diabetic coma that can have even a fatal outcome. There is absolutely no need for this to happen with an illness that in many cases just requires caution, therapy and discipline. On the other hand, if diabetic with a good therapy that keeps diabetes under control, bear in mind that any sudden and dramatic elevation of blood sugar values especially if associated with stomach pains must be immediately reported to a doctor who has to perform an abdominal ultrasound.

Take care of your health and never let an illness that can be prevented or successfully kept under control influence your life and your happiness. Diabetes takes some kind of tool on human body even when treated and I am aware of that, but I think that you would agree with me that 22 years of normal life is not that short at all. In those 22 years dad was never in the hospital, at the beginning still worked as a doctor, never suffered a heart attack or stroke, he had incredible stamina and strength and in all that time he was in bed 3-4 times for several days with merely a seasonal flu. He traveled, worked strenuously in the garden, enjoyed a full and happy life. I would have nothing against such scenario if I got diagnosed with diabetes.

With lots of love for all of you out there, take care!

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World pancreatic cancer day

world pancreatic cancer day
WORLD PANCREATIC CANCER DAY – November 13th

Today is November 13th, World Pancreatic Cancer Day. This year, it’s also Friday the 13th and many people across this planet believe that Friday 13th brings bad luck. For those newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, any day on which that happens is like Friday 13th, because this is one of the worst and deadliest forms of this evil disease. Only 1-3% of those who receive this bad news from their doctors will survive the diagnose, and the survival rate hasn’t improved in more than 40 years. It’s still considered to be too hard to be understood and underfunded type of cancer. It’s hard. It’s more or less rare. It happens to somebody else. Until it happens to you or someone very close to you. Then the statistics won’t matter and it won’t seem that rare at all any more. You’ll want the cure, any cure, any support or good word of hope to cling to. But if the situation in the world still stays the same and if research for pancreatic cancer doesn’t broaden, nothing will change, there will be no cure. And with this diagnose, it is much more likely that you’ll end up among those 97-99% who won’t survive. The course of the disease is horrible and it doesn’t impact just the patient but also his or her immediate surroundings. Those days eventually end, but the horrid scenario behind them plays and plays over and over again in the heads of those who stay to live after the patient passes away. You survive, but you’ll carry the scar in your soul for as long as you live.

It’s a silent cancer and very often gives symptoms only when it’s too late for everything and everybody. That’s why the information about it has to be spread and shared so that it can be caught when there is still chance to do something. If there is enough awareness, maybe we can save some more lives. Maybe we can improve that hideous statistics and increase the survival rate. Maybe we can help some child to still have a mother or father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, relatives… If we do something maybe there can still be some hope, even though I can’t be certain about it. But on the other hand what I can be certain of is that if we don’t do anything, nothing will change and there won’t be any hope.

I’ll dedicate the rest of November to talking about this disease to try to help in the memory of my father. If you read this today, wear purple. Talk about how important pancreas is and how vital it is not to overload it with sugar, processed food, bad fats, alcohol and tobacco. Go for regular yearly abdominal ultrasound checkups and encourage someone you know to do the same, it can save a life. Abdominal ultrasounds are not just about pancreas but all the rest of your digestive system, and if for some malignant reason cancer strikes somewhere inside and you leave it undetected, it’s the perfect spot for it to spread very easily. Don’t be scared of checkups, once you complete them and they give you clean bill of health walk out of that office and put your worries aside for another year. Take care of your body and life, it is your life I know, but there are people out there who love you with all their hearts, your life is theirs too as your misery in case something happens to you will most certainly be their misery too. Don’t let yourself and them suffer if it proves that something can be done. And if you or someone you know survive thanks to the awareness you provided, there is nothing in the world that can be compared to that. We’re all on this planet for a short time and if we save at least one person, that’s what truly fulfills the purpose of our life.

In the loving memory of my father who passed away 14 months ago of pancreatic cancer:

My father
With lots of love for my dad 1936 – 2014

My city #BELGRADE is turning purple to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer! #WPCD bit.ly/wpcdsite

About American Express and “cross it out” demons

As November 15th was getting closer and closer, I had to get myself ready for paying the share of bills my dad used to cover. If I get the money for the job I occasionally do, this is my obligation. If not, then me and my mom have to come up with some incredible idea how to make the ends meet as her retirement money can’t cover all our bills and at the same time also sustain our food for 30 days. I got some money this month, but in addition to regular bills I also had to cover the last quarter of the annual tax for the apartment we live in, which is over the limit of the budget I receive. As I was making calculations and borrowing the additional necessary sum of money from the limit the bank allows on the only credit card I hold, I suddenly found myself in the middle of some kind of commercial for the American Express credit card the bank clerk was giving her best to make me take. As I was laughing out of misery over her shiny counter while trying to explain to that fancy woman that she was knocking too hard on the wrong door, she went on to elaborate on the wonders of what the travel health insurance that comes with the American Express can do. It virtually provides you with the health insurance that covers the trips all over the world, as opposed to MasterCard’s insurance which is valid for Europe and Turkey only. She continued with praises as to how this is wonderful if I travel a lot, especially if I have a family of my own. Another involuntary stab into my back from her part because obviously she thinks that if she works in a bank for a great salary, has good health and a husband and two kids, that everybody else is like her. Maybe “normal” people are, maybe that’s how things usually work or should work. And as they don’t work that way in my case, maybe that simply means that I’m not “normal”. Whatever.

When she asked if I travel, I replied – No, very rarely at the moment. What I should have said was – No, I don’t travel at all.
A) I have no money.
B) I’m an agoraphobic, I can barely stand an hour drive from home to the cottage house. You don’t need the American Express health insurance for the village at the outskirts of Belgrade.
C) I might as well die without bothering the health services – it’s just my mom who would notice the difference, the world couldn’t care less.

When she asked if I’m married, I said – no, I’m not. She replied – oh that’s not a problem, when you get married, all the members of your family will be insured as well. She said this as if getting married were some sort of undebatable truth, almost an axiom: you’ll get married, period.
What I should have said was – No, I’m not married and I’ll probably never marry.
A) I’m 39 and living in Serbia, people are already married at that age here if they marry at all.
B) I’m 39 and female, it’s getting highly unlikely that I’ll have kids if I ever marry. Serbian men usually run away from women like me.
C) I have panic disorder complicated with episodes of extremely severe agoraphobia. It’s not a flu and it won’t go away. Men in Serbia have many much younger women without mental health issues at their disposal.
D) My father died of cancer and I resemble him so drastically that I can almost bet that what I witnessed will be exactly how the end of my days will look like. Panic disorder runs in families and is inherited in 86% of cases. The type of cancer my dad had is also very often inherited, and I can’t go and have my pancreas and the rest of endocrine glands taken out as a preventive measure to secure myself a long and healthy life. I still need to somehow digest the food that I eat. The ethical question is whether or not should I create another human being and leave it on this planet with extremely high probability of being condemned to this terrible fate… life is hard even on its own.

So, where were we – basically yep, no thank you, I don’t need an American Express card. The commercial was great and the offer tempting, but you picked up a wrong target. Thank you again, but NO thank you. I think that the bank clerk would be amazed what kind of life baggage could be hidden under a credit card commercial carpet.

While I just wanted to get rid of my November bills, I actually managed to get my self-esteem deflated to zero and below by the time I was pushing that expensive double door to run away to the street and get some bank-free air. I left aside barely enough money to buy a dental floss. It’s my life savior, as without it my dental pockets would require the hideous emergency pocket cleaning and eventually degenerate into paradentosis. More money. More pain. I used to visit my dentist regularly, now I can’t any more. I entered a DM store, heaven for every Belgrade woman in love with makeup and style. High quality German brand in combination with every other world’s best cosmetic brand you can think of, and on the top of everything tasty organic products. Almost perfect, if it didn’t require a lot of money. I grabbed the floss and as I was walking towards the cashier, I spotted a winter scarf. Lovely colors, stripes in all shades of violet from the darkest to the lightest. That’s me, my color, the one I like the best. I didn’t like the price though. Seven dollars. In America, that can probably be defined as cheap by many people. In Africa, that’s a whole world for a poor person whose village is miles away from food and water. In Serbia, it’s somewhere in between if you belong to what used to be defined as middle class. I don’t any more. So I paid for my floss and went out making sure that I arrive home as soon as possible. Not so much because of agoraphobia, more because of the fact that from the terrace of my apartment you can’t see any banks or shiny department store windows. There are just trees, little wood that can never remind me so harshly that I am a failure. Nothing to buy, nothing to sell, no credit cards, insurances or scarves. Just nature. Thank God for that. I just need a constant reminder that I should stay here as much as possible because going out there among all that “normal” people strongly aggravates my depression. Also, I have to remember not to make shopping lists. Instead of writing things down I need some sort of mental pencil to cross out every single item that comes into my mind. I can do without things, as long as I’m not hungry and capable of covering the basic needs. That’s for now. What will happen tomorrow? I simply can’t think about it. I don’t make plans, I have no means for that. It has nothing to do with panic, laziness or depression, I sent out dozens of job applications willing to push over all my limits, but with no success. Qualifications are not a problem, but age is. 39 seems to be way too old for any Serbian employer, plus the country is in quite severe recession. Life in Serbia is very hard, even without my issues.

I’ll leave this post as a reminder that I absolutely must block all shopping desires that come into my head because it still won’t come naturally, I’m doing my best to adjust to this new life I have to live. It’s livable, it surely still is life. And all that stuff we tend to consider important or even essential at any given point of time can be done without. People matter, not things.

One very special apple

As omega blocking allowed us to still enjoy sun and good weather here in Serbia, I took advantage of it to take a couple of shots with my dad’s favorite apple. ๐Ÿ™‚

apple
Apple 1 – photo by tamellu 2015
apple
Apple 2 – photo by tamellu 2015
apples
Apple 3 – photo by tamellu 2015

Omega blocking

Omega block
Just what is an omega block?

I always follow weather forecast on the first channel of our national television, RTS 1. In my opinion they have the most accurate forecast for Belgrade area for the next 3-5 days, with the successful prediction rate of nearly 90 percent, which is among the highest in Europe. Also, one of the reporters called Biljana Vraneลก is a graduated meteorologist and always loves to back up the forecast explanations with interesting scientific facts. Tonight she talked about dry and unusually nice weather and clear sky above Serbia, and how the field of high pressure in our atmosphere is responsible for chasing rainy clouds away and towards East. It would have remained one of fairly ordinary forecasts if she didn’t mention that this phenomenon is known as omega block or omega blocking. That’s where the amusement and laughter started almost instantly, both because I imagined how interesting it was that the shape of Greek letter omega could shield the sky over Serbia and also because I realized how cool this expression was. In Serbian it sounds even more cool, like some super fancy foreign explanation why it’s not simply speaking cold in November as it should be, but even in English it can be hilarious. Remember how we all talk a lot about weather especially when we don’t know what to say in certain situations, or how much we complain of meteoropathy, i.e. how weather makes us feel all sorts of pains and aches, and how much we blame it for irritability, instability, anxiety, depression, aggression, insomnia etc.? Well, now if you find yourself in the middle of good weather when not expected you can tell others – oh I feel bad today, I have omega blocking… or you can excuse yourself if you unexpectedly yell at somebody with one nice – sorry, it wasn’t me, it’s just my omega blocking ๐Ÿ™‚ They might as well think that it’s some weird new alternative diagnose and sympathize with you, oblivious of the truth that it’s actually just the good old weather going on your nerves. It’s the same trick doctors use when they speak Latin, even the simplest of things and treatments get raised to a whole new upper level. In my case, I’ll try to enjoy my omega blocking as long as it lasts, i.e. till this Greek letter decides to move away from my little country and make space for some water in form of rain and snow. We’ll come up with some other fancy expression to justify winter blues by then, that goes without saying. ๐Ÿ™‚

Biljana Vranes
Biljana Vranes – video by RTS / Radio Television of Serbia

Republic Hydro meteorological Service of Serbia

Chrysanthemums

Red chrysanthemums
Red chrysanthemums – photo by tamellu 2015

I first found out about these flowers when the best friend of my grandmother brought them into my life – she used to grow big beautiful yellow chrysanthemums in her garden and it always fascinated me how this plant defied bad weather, first blows of frost and first flakes of snow. Flowers are associated with spring, with the first rays of early March sun, while in autumn everything shuts down and prepares itself for yet another long sleep. Almost everything, apart from chrysanthemums whose splendid colors explode to brighten up first gloomy days of October. They are such a pretty site, but you have to wait all year long to see them bloom for this short, late time. You have to be patient, the best and most beautiful things in life require perseverance and patience. Also, you have to be punctual, because if you miss them you’ll have to wait for another year to see them bloom again. And a year can be a very long time, once I used to say very casually and confidently that I would do something or go somewhere next year, it went without saying that the next year would come, then another next and all the other nexts after it. Today I’m much more cautious when I want to say a thing like that, now that I felt all the fragility and uncertainty of life in the closest possible proximity. Chrysanthemums will always remind me of it.

Pink chrysanthemum
Pink chrysanthemums – photo by tamellu 2015
Yellow chrysanthemums
Yellow chrysanthemums – photo by tamellu 2015
Dark red chrysanthemums
Dark red chrysanthemums – photo by tamellu 2015

Flowers for my dad

Today was one of four yearly memorial days for the dead in my culture, another occasion to visit and take care of my dad’s grave, bring flowers and relive the memories of one life that reached its end last year. Another reminder that the pain never goes away, you just learn to live with it. You simply survive because it’s the law of life, it’s still not your time. Rest in peace dear dad, as long as I live the memory of your life will live too.

chrysanthemum
Bright red chrysanthemum – photo by tamellu 2015
Heart of chrysantemums
Heart of chrysanthemums – photo by tamellu 2015