The Mind-Body SHIFT

Nourishing the Body, Feeding the Mind, Nurturing the Soul

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Unlocking the Benefits of Gratitude

Melody Beattie Gratitude QuoteWhat better time to talk about the benefits of a regular gratitude practice than on a holiday that celebrates giving thanks? Cultivating an attitude of gratitude can help us feel happier, more optimistic and appreciative. We are less overcome by stress, which is then seen as more of a challenge than a threat. Our self-worth rises when we feel the hands that support us. Recognizing our own blessings, we are inspired to be more compassionate and generous to others.

By feeding our generosity, gratitude can, in turn, have great physical benefits as well. According to Dr. Pamela Peeke, a physician and lifestyle expert, helping others activates the brain’s pleasure center, causing dopamine production to rise. The resulting endorphin rush can decrease the sensation of pain, bolster the immune system, lower blood pressure, increase energy levels, reduce stress and lead to longer and more refreshing sleep. A study of nuns who had gratitude journals when they were young also found that they lived almost seven years longer than those who didn’t have a regular gratitude practice.

Some even suggest a steady dose of gratitude is as effective for stabilizing mood as medication and therapy. Said positive psychology professor Martin E.P. Seligman, who established The Positive Neuroscience Project: “Research has shown that positive emotions and interventions can bolster health, achievement, and resilience, and can buffer against depression and anxiety.” In an Authenttic Happiness study of several hundred people who practiced gratitude and counted their blessings regularly for six months more than 90 percent of participants felt happier after the course, and the majority of those who felt depressed prior to starting the practice felt less depressed after doing so.

Defining Gratitude

Defining GratitudeA leading expert on gratitude and psychology professor at UC-Davis, Robert. A. Emmons, Ph.D., defines gratitude as an affirmation of goodness in our lives and the discovery and recognition of where that goodness comes from, outside our selves. Gratitude is not a denial of the real problems, burdens and hassles in our lives. Instead, it’s the conscious decision and action to seek out and acknowledge the benevolent goodness and abundance we do have.

Emmons say gratitude helps to block the toxic, happiness thieves of resentment, envy and regret. He argues that one cannot feel both gratitude and envy at the same time. When you are grateful for what you have, you cannot resent someone for what you do not have.

Looking at the big picture view of our lives encourages us see where there is light. When we become more present to the positive—a challenge certainly, when the majority of the news fed to us is about corruption, murder, disease and natural disasters—the brain experiences a “happiness advantage,” where energy levels, creativity and intelligence also rise, says positive psychology educator Shawn Anchor. Gratitude encourages the brain to scan the world first for what’s positive, which allows us to view life and take on its various challenges in an entirely different way.

Gratitude Takes Daily Practice

In Attitudes of Gratitude, M.J. Ryan says “A pessimist is someone who has exercised the muscles of negativity and lack till they are strongly habitual, while an optimist is a person who has development thankfulness and a can-do attitude until these are second nature. We all have a choice of which muscles we want to strengthen. With practice, we can become joy-filled participants in the game of life, thankful to do our part and relishing in the sheer pleasure of play.”

So how do we strengthen the muscles of joy and optimism? We can start by recording things for which we are grateful on a daily basis. There are many reasons why keeping is a gratitude journal is so powerful and beneficial. Anchor says that when one writes about a positive experience he or she has had in the past 24 hours, it allows the brain to relive that experience, extending its affirmative effects.

In an article about gratitude, Emmon wrote:

In our studies, we often have people keep gratitude journals for just three weeks. And yet the results have been overwhelming. We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Benefits of Gratitude

Getting Specific With Gratitude

It turns out the more specific you are with your gratitude, the better. “If you want the most ROI for your gratitude practice, the dividends are in the details,” said marketing and lifestyle expert Marie Forleo in a recent vlog entry. “Research shows that if we want the most bang for our gratitude buck, we have got to get specific. That means way more depth and less breadth.”

Forleo shared the results of a 10-week University of Southern California study on journaling, which documented three different types of gratitude journaling. One group had the task of writing down five general things they grateful for each day. Another group took a more selfish perspective, writing how they were better off than other people. The last group picked one specific thing a day for which they were grateful and wrote five sentences about that thing. This group was “more elated, excited and alert than the other groups, and less tired, sad and lethargic.”

Thus, to say, “I’m grateful for my job,” isn’t going to cut it. It doesn’t get to the heart of why your work is so meaningful and appreciated by you. In my case, as a health coach:

1. I am grateful that I have a career I am passionate about and that I love.

2. I am grateful to do the type of work where I can constantly learn and grow, and in which I am regularly challenged.

3. I am grateful I have the financial, emotional and technical support that allows me to grow my business from the ground up.

4. I am grateful I can use those difficult and challenging experiences I’ve been through and learned from to help counsel and educate others.

5. I am grateful to share stories that inspire others and that lifts people up instead of tearing them down.

Thank You, More Please

One of the indie films that touched me deeply in recent years is Happythankyoumoreplease. In one powerful scene, the main female character, who is surviving cancer, is talking with a potential suitor about an enlightening experience she had in a cab the year before. “Bliss is your birthright,” The cab driver said to her. “You have great potential in this lifetime. The key to your life is gratitude. You do not give enough thanks.”

When she asked him how and when to do so, he answered, “Simply: say, Thank you…All the time. Right now.” The cab driver told the woman that after expressing her gratitude, she should also say, “More please.” He told her that with gratitude, the universe is eternally abundant.

It is easy to focus on the things that are going wrong in our lives and in the world. It takes a certain humility and grace to refocus on how we are blessed each day. When life is a daily struggle and it feels as if everything is falling apart around you, it takes thinking outside the box to recognize where you are being supported and who is affirming you.

Yet, I have found in my practice that the more I seek for the good and positive things in my daily life, the more good and positive things come to me. Like begets like. Gratitude begets abundance. Particularly on this Thanksgiving, let us hold close to our hearts the many examples of human kindness and compassion, selflessness and solidarity—especially in the face of hardship and tragedy. Even as we face our struggle and setbacks, may these people inspire us to seek out happiness and to express gratitude for our own daily blessings!

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Weightlifter With Dystonia Inspires People With Disabilities to Keep Following Their Dreams

Weightlifter James SutliffFor many folks living with the debilitating neurological condition dystonia, getting physically active and staying fit can seem like a near impossible dream. Repetitive, involuntary muscle contractions can cause the body to twist or take on abnormal postures, leaving muscles tight, strained and sore. Understandably, some fear exercise might make this condition worse—yet on the yoga mat, I not only found more flexibility, mobility, balance and strength, but greater control of this movement disorder. Likewise, weightlifter James Sutliff, of Leicestershire, UK, shared in a recent interview, “having a focus on keeping fit has been my savior.”

Five years ago, after a normal night out on the town drinking with friends, Sutliff woke up to a stiff neck, unable to move his tongue or talk. His symptoms progressed to where his speech was slurred and distorted, and his hands locked up in fists. As a result, the rugby player’s life changed suddenly and dramatically.

“I was unable to do the things I would normally take for granted, like having a conversation, or eating a meal in public, as the condition affects my ability to eat properly,” he said.

As the condition of his hands deteriorated, Sutliff had to give up his job as a full-time plumber as he found it increasingly difficult to do his work. After training for the trade for 10 years and earning a great living that afforded financial comfort, this was an especially hard blow.

He also came to the heartbreaking realization that playing rugby was no longer an option. “I had been a keen rugby since I was 14 years of age and played at semi professional level. To be told I had to give it up was quite a disappointment, to say the least,” Sutliff said. “It was around two years after the first onset of symptoms, much to the doctor’s disapproval, but it eventually became too challenging.”

After these huge losses, his confidence and self-esteem plummeted. At first, he didn’t know how to cope with his condition or the major impact it had on his life. “I fell into bad habits and it took some strength to get out of them,” he said, “but no way was I going to let it defeat me.”

Finding Strength Through Fitness

Three years after first developing symptoms, Sutliff was finally diagnosed with dystonia. After researching it and recognizing he had a milder form of the condition, his perspective began to change. Adapting workouts for his hands—which can now slowly open and close—he shifted his focus to his passion for fitness.

“It has helped me to keep positive, focused and to gain confidence and self-esteem,” he said. “It has taken the best part of six years to help rebuild my confidence and learn how to live with for me what was such a life-altering circumstance.”

Sutliff now trains six days a week, doing a combination of free weights, bar and machine. His weight training is broken down into three-week intervals. On week one, he focuses on compound movement. Week two is dedicated to super sets, and he does high reps during week three.

As most exercises that require the use of his hands are challenging, he has special grips for doing pull-downs, shrugs and rows. “I use lighter weights and also have a training buddy who helps spot me,” he said.

For more than two years, the 6-foot-tall Sutliff has dedicated himself to the gym with a focus on entering the Men’s Health cover model competition. He is now one of three athletes with health challenges featured in this year’s November issue of Men’s Fitness magazine.

“It was an amazing experience for me,” he said. “It allowed me to start getting me story out there and to raise awareness for dystonia, which is what I have been working so hard to do for such a long time.”

Inspiring Others By Example

Man With Dystonia Finds Strength Through WeighliftingSutliff hopes to not only inspire people with dystonia to keep fit, but also anyone with disabilities or obstacles in life that make life a little more challenging. He urges people to keep fighting through their obstacles, as the rewards are well worth it—both physically and mentally. “It will be very challenging at times, and you will most certainly have periods of wanting to give up,” he said. “Have a goal. Stay focused and positive.”

He encourages people with disabilities to “make fitness a part of your lifestyle, like taking a shower.” Sutliff advises folks to make sure they are well rested and hydrated before they work out. He also stresses people to be consistent with their diet.

“It’s okay to have cheat days but remember to get right back on track,” he advised.

Nutrition plays a big role in Sutliff’s life. “I would say it is a large part of what keeps me in the shape I am,” he said. “Eating and drinking right feeds you from the inside, and it shows on the outside.”

Sutliff generally consumes a lot of protein, green vegetables and nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrates, like sweet potato. Additionally, he drinks a lot of water. He also recommends the use of supplements, such as creatine and amino acids like glutamine, to aid performance.

Sutliff cautions people with dystonia to not lift too heavy when weight training. “Supersets with light weight, in my opinion, get really good results,” he said.

He offers similar advice for dystonia sufferers who work. “Make sure you do not push yourself too far physically. Take breaks when you feel you need them,” he said.

He encourages people to always communicate with their employers about their condition and how it affects daily life. “It’s surprising how supportive people can be at work—colleagues and bosses,“ he said. Sutliff was able to find different job that is very supportive of his situation, allowing him to take time off for treatments and hospital appointments.

Staying On Top of Dystonia

James Sutliff Gets Botox For DystoniaTo keep on top of dystonia, Sutliff has botox injections every six months and sees a hand therapist every month. He wears special splints in the evenings to help keep his fingers stretched. He also has regular acupuncture and massage treatments. “It helps to relax me and also helps with the emotional, mental aspect, of handling dystonia,” he said. “I also enjoy cleaning the house, funnily enough. I think it’s important to have down time and just chill out.“

Sutliff recognizes that a great support team also helps to get through the challenges of the condition. He is very grateful for the amazing group of friends who have supported him through his journey, including his wife, Sam. “She was and is a huge support system to me,” he said. He credits her for treating him no differently after he developed dystonia than she did before.

“[Dystonia] does not control me nor define me,” Sutliff said. “In the grand scheme of things, I see dystonia as a small part of life.”

He recently announced his plans to do a bodybuilding competition in 2015—100 percent naturally. Though he’s never really been into the competitions he feels his participation will be great for raising awareness of dystonia and other disabilities. He said he hopes to continue to provide a positive image to others, with or without disabilities. He sincerely believes that whatever people put their mind to, they can achieve.

You can follow more of James’s story online at


The Great American Smokeout Urges Smokers to Take Steps to Quit the Tobacco Habit

Quit Smoking on November 20, 2014


Each third Thursday of November, the American Cancer Society (ACS) presents the Great American Smokeout to encourage the 42 million Americans who still smoke cigarettes to kick their habits in the butts. Besides clearing the air with non-smokers, the biggest benefits for users to stop smoking are health-related. Kicking cigarettes to the curb reduces their risk of many types of cancers, as well as decreases the chance of heart attack, stroke and chronic lung disease. Quitting smoking also increases the success of treatment for already diagnosed health problems like cancer.

This is critical when you consider that approximately 80 percent of deaths from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) are a result of smoking. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 60 are known carcinogens. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States, and smoking causes approximately nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer.

Lungs of Smokers vs. Nonsmokers


Smoking also slows down lung growth in children and teens, With a third of the nation’s youth estimated to eventually die prematurely from smoking-caused diseases, this roughly equates to 6 million young people alive right now—76,000 of whom are currently living in my home state, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Here, smoking is the number one cause of heart disease, which is the top cause of death in the state.

The health threat of tobacco smoke isn’t limited to smokers alone. Secondhand smoke can cause disease and premature death in nonsmoking children and adults. Secondhand smoke can cause severe asthma in children, as well as lead to pneumonia, bronchitis and an increased risk of SIDS. Exposure to secondhand smoke is thought to increase the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent and cause roughly 46,000 deaths from heart disease each year in the United States .

Fortunately, you’re never too old–or too young–to quit smoking. Studies have shown that smokers who quit around the age of 50 reduce their risk of dying prematurely by 50 percent compared to those who keep smoking. Those who quit at age 30 reduce their risk of early death from smoke-related disease by more than 80 percent.

The ACS states that within 12 hours of refraining from lighting up, smokers experience the level of carbon monoxide in their blood returning to normal and the abnormally high heart rate and blood pressure in smokers drops. Circulation can improve in within a few weeks, and coughing and wheezing is reduced. Within several months of quitting, people also experience significant improvements in lung function.

Even we non-smokers know that quitting isn’t easy. There are a number of tools and resources out there to help. It’s important to remember that what works for one person may not work for you—if you can’t quit cold turkey, consider gradually cutting back on the amount you smoke. For some people, the decision to quit is for health reasons; for others, motivation comes from setting a good example for their kids.

My mother was a smoker before I was born, and her children implored her to quit. She shared how important it was to have a detailed plan in place before she made the date to stop smoking. She first visualized what her life would be like as a non-smoker. She would stop going outside with co-workers during work breaks when everyone was smoking, and she decided she would walk during that time instead. She had a steady supply of crunchy carrot and celery sticks at her desk to combat the craving to have the physical sensation of a cigarette in her mouth. With her plans firmly in place, she was able to quit cold turkey.

It’s also crucial to set up the right supports. Surround yourself with people who will cheer your mission to quit. Find a buddy you can text or call whenever you have a craving to smoke, who will help remind you of why you really don’t want to pick up that next cigarette.


Fit4Mom’s Passion Project Brings Peace of Mind and Self-Confidence to Women

Lisa Druxman and Passion Project's Judy, age 70

Lisa Druxman and Passion Project’s Judy, age 70

As a fitness professional for more 20 years, Lisa Druxman has helped thousands of women transform their bodies. Now, with the release of her new, body-positive video campaign, Passion Project, Druxman is looking to help women transform their minds as well.

“For so many women, no matter how we change their bodies, they are still not comfortable being in their own bodies,” she said in a recent interview.

In the Passion Project, Druxman highlights seven women, ages 20 to 70, who express their own experiences with body image. Some share common frustrations of not liking certain body parts when they look in the mirror, while others commented on how they would feel beautiful when they lost weight or if they were proportioned differently. Druxman wants women to be able to look into the mirror and not see their imperfections first, but to see their own beauty here and now—not 15 pounds from now.

“Change the lens that you’re seeing your beauty,” she said, asking women to stop looking in the mirror and picking themselves apart by fragments and parts, with this stretch mark here and that bulge there. “If you’re going to fragment, look for the good—the strength and the definition you earned through your fitness.”

Druxman, who has been helping moms and moms-to-be get fit with the fitness program Fit4Mom since 2001, wants women to stop measuring their value by the number they weigh on a scale. “We need to redirect our goals so they are not so ego-based,” she said, suggesting that women not get obsessed with counting calories and pounds, despite the great societal pressure to be thin. Instead, she encourages women to change their focus to becoming healthy and strong, with more energy to fully (and even playfully) live their lives with the ones they love.

She feels this is especially important for new moms. While women believe in the idea of putting on their own oxygen mask first to have the energy and strength to take care of their child, Druxman said that most mothers don’t put this into practice. Normal, sleep-deprived moms are struggling to juggle caring for a newborn with household chores and other familial duties, much less make time to care for themselves.

“We’re often martyrs as mothers and try to do it all,” she said. “But it’s important to carve out some time for yourself, fueling your body with fitness and food.”

Druxman stresses the importance of mothers getting adequate sleep for sanity and health. She also encourages moms to take naps when babies are sleeping and to exercise wherever they can fit it in. Women can make great progress in their fitness goals by working out a couple days a week, exercising for the 20 minutes while their baby is in tummy time or by doing a stroller workout.

“It’s important to realize time constraints don’t mean you can’t get a good workout in,” Druxman said. Just because a new mother may not be able to get in an hour-long yoga or spin class does not mean she cannot still see the benefits of exercise, say from a 20-minute HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout.

Because the body is put through a lot of forward movement during pregnancy, Druxman encourages moms to focus on their core and back strength for balance. “You want to put muscle back on with lean body mass,” she said, encouraging a combined core and cardiovascular workout.

Stories of celebrity moms, like Kate Hudson and Victoria Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, losing 45 pounds or more of weight in three or four months put unnecessary pressure on new moms to lose weight fast. “It’s very harmful to compare yourself to these celebrities,” Druxman said. “They have nannies, personal trainers and chefs.” Many of these celebrities also have the help, time and energy to work out two to three hours a day, six days a week.

Druxman said that most women can experience changes in their bodies six to eight weeks after adding exercise to their routine, but they should expect that it will take nine months to a year to get pre-pregnancy body back, depending on what their fitness level was before pregnancy. “Have the gratitude for your body getting you through pregnancy and delivery,” she said, “and the grace to realize it took nine months for your body to grow a child so it’s going to take some time to get back in shape. Be patient with yourself.”

Fit4Mom Passion Project MomWhile the barrage of unrealistic representations of women and mothers in media is hard to avoid, Druxman said, “If the imagery you’re looking at doesn’t make you feel good, start looking to new sources of input.”

A typical human has 60,000 thoughts a day, she said, “and 98 percent of your thoughts are what you said to yourself yesterday. So if you want to change a thought, you need a do-over thought to replace the negative one. We need to keep going to the place we want to get to mentally.” By doing this consistently, we can start to retrain the mind to think positive thoughts and get the body to start doing positive things.

Druxman encourages women to start looking around to see how beautiful real people are. Mothers especially can take notes from their children. “It’s time to say, ‘how do my children see me?’ and start looking through their lens,” she said. “Children see you as beautiful and only see your flaws when you point them out.”

With the Passion Project—which included a liberating, naked photoshoot—participants found increased self-confidence and peace of mind. They reflected on how much time, energy and peace of mind is wasted when women don’t recognize their innate beauty. “With age comes wisdom, and so many other things are important. And I’m so sorry I didn’t get this earlier on,” said Judy, age 70.

Druxman said Judy emphasized the reality that one’s body is going to change over time and the importance of realizing how amazing you are right now. No matter what age you get to, you’re going to look back and ask yourself, ‘why didn’t I realize I was good enough back then?’

Fit4Mom is the parent company of Stroller Strides and Body Back, which help new moms, moms-to-be and seasoned moms, exercise with a community of other like-minded women—those with similar goals, struggles and hectic lives. The classes provide a safe and supportive environment for women to share and help each other with the difficulties of raising a family, and keeping mom’s health a priority when all too often we let that fall to the bottom of our priority list. Learn more here:

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Rev Run and Wife Justine Urge Readers to Get Screened for Diabetes

Rev Run Talks Diabetes RiskYesterday was hip-hop icon Rev Run’s birthday and World Diabetes Day. Wondering what the two have in common? After learning about the Ask.Screen.Know campaign for diabetes from Novo Nordisk, Rev Run knew he had to get involved to help others at risk for developing the disease.

“I found out that November 14 is World Diabetes Day. That’s actually my birthday,” Rev Run said in an interview this week. “If there ever there was a sign from God: ‘Okay, you’re in the right place. So World Diabetes Day is your birthday, dude—you need to be on board with this.’ So it got me even more passionate about it.”

With a father who had diabetes, Rev Run was worried about his own risk for developing the disease. “I was afraid because I didn’t realize when the last time I was screened. I got concerned right away. I checked myself, got screened and found out that I didn’t have it,” he said. “I realized through the website at that moment that, you know, ‘I’m at risk though. I’m at risk because I’m over 45. I’m at risk because I’m African American. I’m at risk because I’m overweight. I had to take off some weight.”

Being overweight increases the risk of developing the more prevalent, Type 2 diabetes. According to a 2004 study by Harvard University researchers, excess weight stresses the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) system of cellular membranes, which then suppress the signals of insulin receptors, leading to insulin resistance. In Type 2 diabetes, while the body is able to make enough insulin, the cells of the body grow resistant to insulin consistently increasing the amount of glucose in the blood. Losing weight has been shown to help control, and sometimes even cure, type 2 diabetes.

Rev. Run said he’s traded in cake for chopped up fruit to satisfy his sweet tooth. Since changing his diet and adding walking to his daily routine, Rev Run has lost 20 pounds. “I’ve changed my mindset. I’ve changed my refrigerator,” he said. “I’m doing things so that I can avoid, or at least have less of a risk of getting diabetes.”

Ask.Screen.Know states that more than 1 in 3 American adults are at risk for diabetes, with African Americans nearly twice as likely to develop the disease as Caucasian Americans. The American Diabetes Association reports that 1.7 million Americans were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2012, bringing the total of those living with the disease to 29.1 million people, or 9.3 percent of the population. Approximately 8.1 million people were yet undiagnosed with the disease, according to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, which is why early screening and risk assessment is so important.

“I found out I was at risk listening to my husband talk—over 45, I was African American, overweight, and diabetes ran so deep in my family—my father, my uncles, my aunts,” said Rev Run’s wife Justine. “My cousin passed away with diabetes, and she had children and was in her early 30s. So right there let me know—this could be me.”

Someone with a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes has five to 10 times greater risk for developing diabetes than a person without a family history of the disease, according to the Obesity Action Coalition.

“A lot of people feel that, if it’s in the family, you have to get it and that’s it—live with it,” she said. “But that’s not true. With diabetes, this disease is what you don’t know can hurt you and what you do know can help you.”

Justine has been instrumental in helping to transform the bad habits in the family’s diet by getting more creative in the kitchen. For example, she has a crispy chicken recipe to replace fried chicken. When Rev Run has a hankering for hamburgers, she puts seasoning on veggie crumbles. Topped with fat-free cheese and a pickle, Rev Run said, “It was like eating a real hamburger for me. It’s little changes making big differences.”

Justine, at age 48, has discovered a love of Brussels sprouts that she shares with the kids. “Now, I got an amazing recipe that I love and that the kids love, almost to the point where our son will try to hide his portion and take my portion.” She recalled a late night when she and her 19-year-old son ate freshly baked Brussels sprouts like they were chips. “I couldn’t believe this was happening. So it’s a lot of new things.”

Some of her healthy recipes can be found on

With three of their six children still living at home, Justine said, “Thank God our children who are not with us are already eating very well.” At home, healthy living has become a family affair. Their 19-year-old was already making the choice to eat healthy and work out. “That’s what he wants around him. He wants fresh vegetables and fruit. Chicken with no skin. It’s amazing that it happened at the same time, and now it’s like everybody is doing it.”

Rev Run and Justine believe the best way to teach children about diet and diabetes is to live the example. Their 7-year-old already has awareness of the disease. “I just wish my family had this knowledge early,” Justine said.

“We’re going to stop the cycle if we can,” said Rev Run. “At least we’re going to cut the risk.”

AskScreenKnow diabetes riskAfter initially being fearful due to having a lot of the risk factors, Justine got tested and founded out she didn’t have the disease. “But now I do know there are a lot of things you can do to cut your risk down, like walking, eating well and working out. Just those things can help cut your risk, or if you do have it, it can keep it under control to where it feels like you’re living a normal life, managing it,” said Justine. “So that’s why we’re here to spread the word because maybe my cousin wouldn’t have passed, and maybe my father wouldn’t have been so sick [with diabetes] right now.”

She and her husband acknowledge that many African Americans are especially hesitant to visit health professionals. “I think I was the top afraid guy to go to the doctor,” Rev Run said. “But what got me was looking at my children, you know—doing it for them. Once I thought about doing it for my wife, doing it for my children, then, for some reason, it struck a chord—like, okay, now it got me afraid because I didn’t want to do anything to hurt anybody else.”

Rev Run admits that he can be especially persistent in encouraging his friends to get checked for diabetes. Many will go in for routine medical testing expecting diabetes screening to be part of it. He said, “A couple of my friends were like, you know what, I didn’t get checked for diabetes, so thank you. So I feel like patting myself on the back a little bit for being so aggressive because it’s been helpful. I’m thankful that I can get in where I fit in. So I’ll tell anybody out there, if not for yourself, do it for the ones you love.”

At Ask.Screen.Know, readers can take the diabetes risk factor assessment. Common risk factors for diabetes also include lack of physical activity and high blood pressure. Those with a number of risk factors are encouraged to see their doctor to get screened for diabetes to take a proactive role in preventing or managing the disease.

View my full interview with Rev Run and Justine here.

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New Mother Met Mesothelioma Head On–Her Story and Recovery

Heather Von St. James and Dr David Sugarbaker

Heather Von St. James and Dr David Sugarbaker in 2012 at Heather’s bi-annual checkup.

Heather Von St. James was just 36 years old when she was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. The aggressive form of cancer, which affects the membrane lining of the lungs, abdomen and, rarely, heart, is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 50 and 70. Von St. James was the mother of a 3-month-old when she discovered she had the most serious of asbestos-related diseases.

“I’m a new mom and I’m having all these weird symptoms,” Von St. James recalled in an interview. She attributed her fatigue to being a mother of an infant and a low-grade fever to hormonal fluctuations. “I was short of breath, but I figured it may have something to do with having had a c-section or because I was breastfeeding.”

Von St. James lost a significant amount of weight and grew increasingly anemic, pale and “bone-weary,” she said. Yet it wasn’t until she passed out for a couple hours on the couch when she was home alone with baby Lily that she finally called the doctor. An x-ray revealed that she had excess fluid around her lungs, what’s called a pleural effusion.

She was referred to a pulmonologist for a CT scan and a thoracentesis, a procedure that draws the fluid out of the lung. “There was over a liter of fluid around my left lung,” said Von St. James. “It was crunched up to about half its size.”

The CT scan revealed a mass in the lower left portion of her lung. She was scheduled for a needle biopsy the next day. Two weeks later, the biopsy results came back: She had malignant pleural mesothelioma. A surgical biopsy performed by the Mayo Clinic confirmed the disease two days prior to Christmas.

The leading cause and risk factor for mestholioma is asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once ubiquitous in daily life, thanks to its strength and insulation properties, while being both lightweight and fireproof. It was woven into fabric, like fireproof vests, as well as mixed with cement or used as insulation in residential and commercial construction.

Abestos Causes MestholiamaBetween 2,500 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Not surprisingly, construction workers—especially plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters and electricians—are most vulnerable to asbestos-related diseases, according to Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. As asbestos was widely used in ships, tanks, aircraft and trucks and was used all over military bases from the 1930s to the mid-‘70s, approximately a third of all Americans with mesothelioma are military veterans.

“It affects them disproportionately more so than any other cancer,” said Von St. James. “Many navy ships hulls had been lined with it, so navy veterans are especially at risk. It was used in brake pads, so army and marines who worked on jeeps have gotten it. Asbestos is anywhere where there’s insulation in things.”

Von St. James said that those most at risk for mesothelioma today are DIYers who are demolitoning old houses. They are unknowingly exposing themselves to asbestos-containing vermiculite in building insulation. Now a known carcinogen, the use of asbestos has been largely restricted, and it has been banned in more than 50 countries—although not in the U.S.

So how did the young, former hair salon owner get the disease? Von St. James acquired mesothelioma from secondary exposure to asbestos—her father worked construction while she was growing up, and she frequently wore his clothing.

“In his early years, he did a lot of sanding, cleaning up after drywall installation and mudding. A lot of drywall mud, drywall and insulation had asbestos in it. Those fibers would go airborne and settle into his coat,” she explained.

During the cold Minnesota winters, her father’s coat was always hanging in the entryway, so she would put it on for any quick trips outside. “I wore this coat when had to go outside and feed my rabbits because I didn’t want to get my coat dirty,” she said, also recalling that his car was always dusty.

Her father eventually developed renal carcinoma, or kidney cancer. He passed away from the disease this past February. Von St. James believes asbestos is what caused her father’s carcinoma as well.

mesotheliomaMesothelioma can affect the lung, stomach and rarely the heart. Peritoneal mesothelima affects the stomach, causing bowel issues, like constipation, vomiting, pain and swelling in the belly, as well as swollen feet. Von St. James developed pleural mesothelima, which affects the lungs. Common symptoms include:

• Shortness of breath
• Anemia
• Chest pain that doesn’t go away
• Dry cough
• Difficulty swallowing
• Persistent, low-grade fever
• Weight loss

The disease is further differentiated by type of cell, with the more easily distinguishable epithelial cell as the most common. These types of cancer cells are most commonly associated with pure lung cancer. Sarcomatoid, grown out of supportive structures, like muscles and bones, is less common and has a grimmer prognosis. Biphasic mesotheliomas have a mix of the two cell types, with a prognosis of 15 to 18 months.

“Most pleural mesothelioma patients die within 15 months of first developing symptoms,” Von St. James said. According to, only 8 percent are expected to live three to five years from the disease onset. It wasn’t a prognosis someone with a three-month-old wanted to hear.

Her doctor advised that her best option was to go to Boston to see Dr. David Sugarbaker, who had developed a groundbreaking new surgery where the lung would be removed. “Without the surgery, and with chemotherapy and radiation alone, my survival would be 5 years at the most,” she said, “but with the surgery, I could live up to 10 years or more.”

Her husband said, “Get us to Boston.”

HeatherReceivingChemoIn February 2006 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Von St. James had what is known as an EPP (for Extrapleural Pneumonectomy). The affected lung, the lining of the chest (or pleura), the lining of the heart (or pericardium), the left half of her diaphragm and a rib were removed. After surgery, she had a heated chemotherapy wash, where the medicine is pumped into the chest and “swished around” in a procedure known as the shake and bake.

“It was in clinical trial when I had it nine years ago,” said Von St. James. “[Dr Sugarbaker’s] perfected the technique.”

She had four sessions of chemo and 30 session of radiation for a total of one year of treatment from diagnosis to last radiation treatment. Today, nine years later, she considers herself very much a “normal person.” She keeps active around the house and takes walks. “You only need two lungs to float,” she quips.

She does experience shortness of breath walking up several flights of stairs or in really cold weather. She is also sensitive to cigarette smoke, strong perfumes and laundry detergent aisles. She switched over to the Clean+Green cleaner products, which are non-toxic and fragrance free.

As she had to give up working in the toxic environment of a hair salon after surgery, her husband went back to school after her diagnosis, while working full-time. “He did it for two years, graduated at the top of his class and never missed a day of school,” she said. Asked to give a speech at graduation, her husband said, “If my wife can beat cancer, I can do this.”

Heather Von St. James-family-photo

Heather Von St. James, with husband Cameron and daughter Lily, now 9.

His sacrifice inspired the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Scholarship, which kicks off this year. As leading mesothelioma advocates, the Von St. James created the scholarship for anyone who has battled cancer or who has a loved one with cancer. “Cancer can be such a financially devastating thing,” Von St. James said.

The $4000 per semester scholarship will be awarded to a full-time student at an accredited university or college. Students must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher to be eligible. The deadline is Dec. 1 for the Spring 2015 semester and March 31 for Fall 2015. Applicants must submit a typed essay or video submission describing how cancer has affected them, how it has changed their outlook on life, and what the scholarship would mean for them.

“I hope some of the scholarship winners are inspired enough to go into research or medical field, like nursing or medical school,” she said. “Education is the future.”

For more details, visit


Can We Grow Even Stronger as We Age

Building Strength with Pull-UpsA couple of years ago, I was so pumped up when I discovered I was able to do more than 15 pull-ups in a row, reaching all-time highs. After years of battling chronic illness, it had been quite some time since I felt quite that strong and nimble. I felt as if I were channeling the gymnast I had been as a child who broke records in school for the most pull-ups done by a girl (FYI, I could also do more than most boys my age).

More than two decades later, I was thrilled when my body started responding with more strength and flexibility again. I give much credit to yoga for reawakening those muscle fibers, but I can’t deny the power of a strong foundation—and great genetics. I was immediately humbled when I found out my father, pushing 70 at the time, revealed that he did multiple sets of more than 20 pull-ups.

So perhaps this is why I’m not as shocked as others might be to read the news that a 54-year-old, Mark Jordan, broke the record for the number of pull-ups completed in 24 hours on Nov. 3. Still, 4,321 pull-ups in one day is a hugely impressive number for a human of any age or gender. Jordan beat the old record by 111 pull-ups.

Equally as cool, each pull-up Jordan executed raised money for the Hammons Education Leadership Program, a non-profit in Corpus Christi, Texas that provides youth mentoring and career coaching.

It just goes to show that age alone need not dictate your fitness level. As I inch even closer to 40, the last couple of years have seen me at my fittest and strongest as an adult. One day, I aspire to be like 96-year-old Master Tao Porchon-Lynch. In 2012, Guinness Book of World Records officially deemed her the oldest living yoga teacher at the age of 93.


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