Functional medicine is making me dysfunctional

A couple of years ago I went to my regular GP because I was constantly feeling tired & unwell. She spent about 15 minutes with me before telling me it was a B12 deficiency and prescribed injections for the next month. 

I still felt shite. So I decided to go by some word-of-mouth suggestions to see a ‘holistic’ doctor. Now normally I’m inclined to follow evidence-based protocols when it comes to health and my body. I’ve worked at a healthcare agency where I was surrounded by incredibly intelligent people with multiple degrees and PHDs and I learnt a lot about clinical trials, data and evidence being everything when it comes to health. But something inside me was telling me that I wasn’t getting all the information I needed from a 15 minute consult. And when you hear so many stories of ‘I feel sooooo much better after seeing this quacky dude’ then you kind of think, what’s the harm?

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The only kind of ‘quack’ I want to see

So I went to a functional GP near me (also known as ‘holistic’, ‘integrative’ or ‘functional’). She spent a good hour with me. She ordered a blood test that nearly drained my body as well as stool & urine samples. Wow, I thought, she’s really comprehensive. She’s ordering so many tests, she must really know what she’s doing. I’m so grateful she’s taking the time to find out what’s wrong with me.

The follow up appointment involved her going through an iGg antibody test which showed me what I might have an intolerance to. It came up with dairy, egg whites and sheep’s milk. She said to cut those out of my diet completely. She also told me to give up gluten, starchy foods, most grains, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods and sugar. I asked her what was left… She told me that it was all about making the choice to improve my health and that yes it’s hard, but I had a responsibility to eat better. I left feeling really guilty about how terrible my lifestyle choices were, despite being a healthy weight, fit, non-smoker who’d never touched drugs in her life. Who knew caffeine & gluten were silent killers?

I decided to take her advice with a grain of salt and reduced my dairy intake. She’d provided no information or evidence as to why I should give these things up. Low and behold, I felt better in about 6 months. Job done. 

So a year and a bit later when I’ve discovered I’ve now got PCOS and have just miscarried, I thought ‘’Well, this lady fixed me up last time, maybe I’ll get get her opinion on how to treat my PCOS and if there’s anything else amiss”. 

An appointment later, and she’s told me that I probably have a thyroid problem (because my temperature is too low) and that could have caused my miscarriage. In order to heal my thyroid, I need to give up all the aforementioned foods and take my health a bit more seriously. 

Hang on, what?? My fertility specialist had told me (and I know from common sense and my own research) that the miscarriage was not my fault. But here is this lady, suggesting that if I had given up all the fun things in life and not been so irresponsible with my diet (!), I may have carried this baby to term? First of all, I think this is a really irresponsible thing to say. Miscarriage is a really tough thing to go through, and many women automatically think that they’ve done something wrong, that their bodies have failed them. But statistically, its just a risk with any pregnancy. It’s incredibly common and although it’s tough, it’s just part of life. So to infer that a woman does in fact have power over this, and that it may indeed be caused by dietary problems, is largely inaccurate and just plain horrible. I left the appointment thinking I’d been irresponsible in drinking the odd coffee and indulging in a treat every couple of days, that this had caused my thyroid to fail and me to miscarry. My husband had to talk me out of this nonsense, and told me to listen to the specialists. I knew in my head that she wasn’t right, but it planted a tiny seed of doubt in me that I in fact do have a thyroid problem and that I won’t be able to carry a baby to term.

Since then, I’ve done a FUCK TONNE of research. It’s what I do. I used endocrinology journals, studies & blogs, (like Hormones Demystified which is an excellent source of endocrine truth) to sense check this advice. And what I got from these sources, is that the integrative medical community is largely the modern form of quackery. 

For example, the IgG test that my ‘functional GP’ ordered for me is pretty much useless as a diagnostic too for intolerance. It is not recommended by the mainstream medical community, as there is no evidence that it is actually indicative of intolerances, and actually harms those who have genuine allergies, because now there are so many people walking around thinking they’re intolerant when they’re not, there is a lot of crying wolf. I’m pretty sure the reason I felt better after giving up dairy, is because I stopped eating things like ice-cream, yoghurt, custard, treats with dairy, and a daily skim milk coffee – all of these things have sugar in them. I generally started eating more healthily (instead of cheese or yoghurt as a snack I’d take to vegetables & nuts). I think this, and cutting out sugar made me better – a known cause of fatigue & insulin issues. 

The other misguided quackery were the thyroid tests she ordered. My endocrinologist said TSH is the only test anyone needs to diagnose thyroid disorders, and mine was at a really good level. The Functional GP ordered TSH, as well as T3, T4, Reverse T3, and a bunch of thyroid antibodies. I’ve now realised that NONE of these tests are diagnostic tools and are warned against by endocrinologists. The other red flag is that I fell inside the lab’s normal range for all of these. However, I was in the ‘upper end’ of normal, and she told me that I needed to be in the ‘lower end’. Surely if I was falling into the normal category for all of these tests, I’m not at risk of my thyroid causing miscarriage? I know in my head that I’m fine. But it’s really hard to shake this seed of doubt in my head now. It’s really hard to not be anxious that I’ll miscarry again. 

There are a lot of women out there who are desperate to fall pregnant, or desperate to find out why it’s so hard. And I think the alt-medical community is taking advantage of this, whether they believe it themselves or not. 

So I’ve resolved to listen to the conventional medical community, who are telling me I’m fine. But I can’t help thinking how much anxiety & confusion these Functional GPs are promoting..

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Ok, so maybe there are a few benefits to the kidlets

Today is ‘bring your kid into work’ day. It’s an opportunity for parents to show their kids what they do. There are tours of the studios and photos with Santa. So all the parents are busy doing all the things. And I’m sitting here like a chump pretending to work. Because I don’t have a child and don’t have an excuse to be away from my desk all day.

Which got me thinking about a post I did on all the reasons being kidless is great. But now I’m going to list all the reasons having them IS great.

  • On days like today. When you get to use your child as an excuse to not work
  • Being able to get scarily excited about Christmas without seeming like a weirdo
  • Going to see Disney films & animations at the movies without seeming like a weirdo
  • Wrapping all the presents. Wrapping presents for adults is a bit boring. You know they’ll thank you for the gift, but nothing is as exciting as getting a present at Christmas as a child! How nice it would be to see your kids eyes light up on Christmas morning!
  • Taking kids to see Christmas lights. Again, we still do this as adults, but this was way more exciting as a kid!
  • Having someone to help exercise your dog. When you can’t be bothered walking the pet you can farm the chore out to your kids. Two birds one stone.
  • Activities. I’m currently doing a lot of craft projects and it feels a little bit out-of-place without tiny hands getting in the way and mixing the paint colours and getting it on their clothes
  • Being able to work part time, or take some time off work. My friends will kill me for writing this, and yes, I know it’s not a holiday, but how nice to have a purpose OTHER than your career (that you don’t really enjoy that much anyway). And how good to not sit at a desk all day. To be moving, bending, carrying, walking, lying, crawling.
  • Sugar rushes. I just feel sick when I eat sugar these days. How awesome is it when kids have all the sugar and are funny little arseholes that you wish were vegan. Parents hate sugar rushes on the outside, but I’m sure deep down there’s a part of them laughing when they’re running around in circles yelling ‘beefcake!’ repeatedly until they run into some furniture.
  • The night before Christmas. Currently this is a boozy dinner with the in-laws. How lovely would it be to add the mystery of Santa coming in the morning, to put out carrots & milk (or in my case, Tim Tams & Baileys) for him and his reindeer? To wait until they’re asleep and fill their stockings with s̶u̶g̶a̶r̶ presents.
  • Decorating the tree. This year I was the only person without a child eyeing off the best tree at the Scout hall, I borderline lied about not having kids because I was embarrassed to take it so seriously as an adult. My husband sat hungover on the couch and watched me decorate it whilst watching the cricket. I desperately need some little people to bring the joy back and drag him out of his hangover to participate in tradition. And make traditions of our own.

Maybe it’s just this time of year that gets me. And don’t get me wrong, I know there is a lot about Christmas with kids that is crazy stressful. And maybe the parents taking their kids around the building wish they were at their desks, pretending to work. But right now it’d be nice to have an excuse to be stupidly excited about Santa in the building. Instead I’ll shrink away behind my computer and hope that no one notices I’m blogging. Maybe next year I’ll have a tiny little excuse to not be at my desk at Christmas….

My fur baby

Like any regular baby, well before she was born, my husband & I were making life decisions about her future presence. The house we were about to buy needed to have grass. My job needed to be flexible enough to spend time walking her. We needed to consider how our lifestyle would work with her around. And I was so epically excited for her arrival. Probably more excited than any other milestone in my life. 

We made the drive up to Bathurst, which is a pretty decent stint from where we live. We’d already purchased bowls and beds and food and had been given various hand-me-downs in anticipation of her arrival into our lives. We spent just under an hour with 4 puppies. She chose us. She was cheeky, sociable, energetic, growly but not barky, and one of the smallest of the litter. She just wanted to be around us. I’d put her down and she’d come awkwardly bounding back into my lap. We loved her instantly! 

On the way home my heart broke as she cried the tiniest and saddest of cries because we’d taken her away from her mother & siblings. We’d been assured that her mother was well and truly sick of her and just wanted rest, both for her nipples and her sanity! But it was one of the hardest things I’ve done. The only solace was that she was leaving her old life, but entering one of complete love and affection and treats and cuddles and would be a treasured member of the extended family for her whole life.

We also discovered that we had chosen the fartiest puppy. Of. All. Time. The toxic fumes emanating from the back seat required all 4 windows to be wound down and noses to be held. She still vents the most horrendous farts I have ever witnessed in my life. From any living being. She clears rooms & puts people of their food.

She was a really easy puppy. Other than the usual toilet training mishaps and needle-teeth biting, she’s very smart and eager to please, often completing tasks for a simple pat as a reward. She loves humans, any human, and is only truly happy in their presence. But she’s independent enough to want her own space, as long as its within earshot of a human. She was a breeze to train, and had leant to wee on grass in a week or two, despite the large set of stairs she needed to hike up to get there. She picked up the basics of sit, stay, drop & come very quickly. She only ever chewed designated toys and sticks, never developing a taste for furniture, or irrigation, or skirting boards, like a lot of other puppies. Although she did take a liking to my underwear which was both awkward and expensive!

She’s unlike any other Labrador I know. She’s small, athletic, anxious and tightly wound. She’s controlled in her movements, muscly and doesn’t put weight on easily. She drops like a kelpie and hunches pre-fetch like a working dog. She only barks when she’s uncomfortable or frustrated and delicate as she enters the water. But food. Oh food. It is her kryptonite, like every other Lab. She will eat anything but grapes and lettuce. Her favourite food is meat off-cuts, closely followed by a whole carrot, taken to a hiding spot in the garden & eaten lovingly like a bone. 

She is anxious around most dogs. She’s happy to say hello and let them sniff her but in greeting, but will then move on. She was attacked very early on in her life at a dog park and since then has never been happy around most dogs, particularly the small & fluffy variety. Through lots of training I now understand that most small dogs verbally attack her, and she is just reacting to their aggression. But the smaller dogs, even though aggressive, come across as cute and yappy, the owners very rarely care that they’re the instigators, and the bigger dog who is just trying to defend herself is always blamed, so I keep her away from the teeny aggressors & their annoying parents. There is an exception – she loves her cousin Rosie to pieces (who she’s known since they were puppies) and will harass her tirelessly. But most other dogs she’ll only tolerate, not enjoy, until she knows them better. She is way happier around her humans.

She is my little companion. She never says no to an activity, in fact she lives for them! She will go wherever I go, without complaint. Camping, swimming, driving, running, bush walking, beaching. She encourages me to find new places and venture where I otherwise wouldn’t, in the hunt for a decent swimming hole, or new smells, or unspoilt bush where we know no other dog or human will venture. She makes me walk further and quicker than I otherwise would on my own. She doesn’t let me lie on the lounge for too long, or dwell in my sadness. Whenever she sees me cry she gets confused and will put her face right in mine, close enough so I can feel her hot breath, wag her tail and make little whiny sounds that make me laugh. She’ll lick off my salty tears and suddenly I feel better. (Make no mistake, I rarely let her lick me because she also loves to lick her vagina as frequently as possible). She loves the smell of milky babies, she doesn’t know what they are but I think she likes them. She’ll tolerate toddlers and will happily steal their cupcakes and lick their hands and faces (mums you’ve been warned!), much to their pleasure! She is gentle when she needs to be but will on occasion knock over a little person. 

She is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. She loves me more than any other human in the world. And its the best feeling to know that I am her favourite, her Mum. She won’t leave my side at the park and she comes when she’s called, not because she knows she has to, but because she wants to come back to me, for pats & scratches. 

If having a human child is anything like having a fur baby, it sounds pretty bloody good to me. But she will always be my first, I have more love in my heart for other children, but she will always hold a special place. And I don’t feel an ounce of guilt over that.

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Don’t let this cute face fool you. She stinks like hell!
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She’s great to take to cafes
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She’s a nice wake-up call in the morning
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She loves snuggles
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She loves picnics
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She won’t let me sit down for long. This is the look I get.

 

Fertility drugs – the glass case of emotion

I wrote a blog last week but didn’t post it. You’re welcome. After re-reading it I realised that that was me then. But its not me now. It was full of expletives and outrage and was basically a stream of hormonal verbal diarrhoea that I won’t subject you to. Especially at the most wonderful time of the year when we should be talking about elves & presents & fairy lights & the sweet sweet smell of pine trees in your home!

So needless to say, now that the hormone Pregnyl (seriously, FUCK YOU Pregnyl) is out of my system, I feel MUCH better. It was a dark, dark time in my life. I accidentally killed a spider and cried. The house was a little messy and I cried. I couldn’t open a jar of jalapeños and I cried. I watched terrible Netflix Christmas movies (but FYI A Christmas Chronicle – amazing piece of Netflix production!) and guess what.. I cried. My husband was confused. My dog was scared. My family were worried. And I absolutely hated myself!

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Not my dog. But Baxter’s face is indicative of my dog’s face whilst I cried over news that Christmas trees were only available in the SECOND weekend of December.

On top of the emotional side effects of this devil drug that supposedly makes my uterus cushy but my personality putrid: weight gain (3 kgs in 2 weeks), bloating (I genuinely looked 7 months pregnant), ovaries hurting like a mofo & being constantly tired (anything so much as a glance at my weights and yoga mat made me feel weaker). But the silver lining, and there is ALWAYS a silver lining, is that it only lasted a couple of weeks (excl. the weight!). Only to do it all again this month!

I think it’ll get easier. I think I’ll learn to adapt like I always do. I know what to expect now, and maybe next time (and yes, unfortunately there’s a next time) I feel the crazy bitch inside me quickly rising to the surface I can make a detour to the Thai massage place, or just lock myself in my room for an hour and bash it out into a pillow or something. But seriously – what do people do when they’re hormonal to ride it out? Are there techniques? Please don’t say meditation, anyone who has been in a hormonal fit knows it’s really not possible to sit still and contemplate yourself in a fit of rage. But I need something other than alcohol to sort me out! One excellent way to let out the rage is to attend a ‘screamo’ festival in a dustbowl in 30 degree heat. And that’s exactly what I did! 

Anyway, onwards and upwards! I’m trying to ignore the fact that my pants are all starting to cut into my balloon of a stomach, now is not the right time to worry about that, especially because of the added temptation of Christmas. I’m trying to focus on the fun things in my life, of which there are plenty! Although I have to say I have never experienced anything remotely close to anxiety or depression until this year. There is a little ball of something in my stomach, it feels tight & hot & like it could take over my whole being any moment. But for now I’m managing to keep it down below & exude a cheery glow on the surface. I can’t ignore it, but it’s manageable for now. Apologies to everyone for when it takes over my person in the coming months… !

All I can say is surely pregnancy will be a fucking breeze after this! I think I just jinxed myself. Oops!

Fertility junky

So after 2 cycles on Letrozole, the last one being pretty unpredictable, my fertility specialist decided to go straight to the good shit. She gave me a box of syringes & a sharps disposal box and left me to my own devices. I might as well be a junky the amount of times I’m jabbing myself right now.

Sitting in my OBGYN’s office earlier this year after finding out I had PCOS, trepidatious to say the least, she went through the many options I had ahead of me. I think she was trying to make me feel better about the fact she’d just told me it was unlikely I’d fall pregnant without help. She brushed over the injectables, saying ‘you probably won’t need to go that far’. I never thought I’d go that far. I was scared to go that far. But here I am. 

At first it was a bit rocky, I almost fainted the first 2 days and had to lie on the bathroom floor for a few minutes. Granted, one of these days I was especially hungover after a wedding, so I can’t tell if my floor whoring (great phrase BTW) was from the injects or the alcohol. My bad. By day 3 I was nailing it. I ice the injection site so I can’t feel the needle going in, its not painful and I don’t have any bruises or side-effects (yet!). The fainting thing is just me by the way – I feel faint when I walk into a hospital, or look at any form of blood, I’m just a weirdo and can’t handle anything medical-smelling or looking. Don’t judge me!

So this is my new normal. I’ll probably be injecting myself for half the month until after Christmas because I’m trying not to believe the first cycle will work. Can you tell my coping mechanism is to keep my expectations really low so that I never get disappointed?? If anything, this treatment makes me feel incredibly lucky. Lucky that I’m not diabetic and injecting myself for my whole life. 

The injections have worked though, and I have one beautiful follicle, which is exactly what we’re after (yay for no twins!).

I’m also turning 34 next month. I thought it would be a huge deal, and that it was considered ‘old’ in terms of fertility. But I realised this morning that I was the youngest person in the clinic, and that 34 really isn’t over the hill. So I’m hopeful!

Ideally, my next post will be ‘yay! I’m pregnant!’. But if its just ‘yay! The injections work!’ I’ll take it. You learn to just go step-by-step and try not to plan too far ahead or get too excited too soon. 

Cross your fingers for me peeps!

The only 2 signs you need to know before trying to conceive

This year I have learnt a lot about my body. Things I wish I knew long ago. Things that make me realise how wonderful, mysterious, complex & frustrating the female anatomy really is. We weren’t taught in school, or by our parents (presumably because they don’t know themselves), that there are ways to know exactly when the timing is right to conceive. In fact, none of the medical professionals I’ve seen this year have given me any insight. I’ve had to find out on my own. And there is a wealth of knowledge out there that is simply untapped. 

My fertility specialist said that usually she’ll do 3 treatment cycles before moving to the next step (i.e. 3 months on tablets, 3 months on injects). She essentially said that if you’re timing ‘the deed’ correctly (and believe me, timing is everything), and you’re not pregnant within 3 cycles, you really should try something else. This amazes me. Here I was, almost a year ago, thinking that its just natural to try for 12 months, that sometimes it just takes that long. But really, if you’re timing it right, 3 months is the magic number. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and it might just take some women a few extra months to nail it so to speak. But in general, the problem is that a lot of women don’t actually know when their egg is dropping. Or if its dropping at all (like in my case). They’re either winging it, or following one of these shiny apps that tell you day 14 is the best day, or predicts your window based on the month before. None of these techniques actually tell you when you’re ovulating. We’re just flying blind. And in my case, the 5 months I thought I was trying, I wasn’t doing it properly. At all.  Well, I was doing it properly, just not timing it properly. Hell, there are some poor women who are having sex every other day for the whole month! The whole month… respect. And UTI’s. That’s all I can say.

Now its taken me a while to become fully aware of what my body is doing.  And if I’d had my time again, I would have started paying attention at least a year before starting to try. Essentially there are only 2 signs you need to observe in order to know where you’re at in your cycle:

  1. Basal body temperature
  2. Cervical fluid (sorry for the TMI, but it really is the crystal ball of ovulation)

And knowing how to read these 2 signs is explained in so much detail all over the internet, in podcasts, books & forums. It also means you only have to have to do the sideways tango 2-3 times a month to hit the egg. The other times are just for fun. Who am I kidding? There are no other times!

If only the signs were as obvious as crop circles in corn rows. Unfortunately they’re quite tricky & subtle at first, but once you know the rules they’re quite easy to interpret. I won’t tell you how to do this in case I fuck it up and lead you down a path of confusion & stress.  To learn how to read them you’ll need (fuck I wish someone had writing this blog 2 years ago!):

  • The Fertility Friend app. This is basically the go-to app to track your cycles. Its user interface is like a smashed mango, but it allows to enter ALL the things; symptoms, treatments, temperatures, mood, lunar cycles, anything (not actually lunar cycles though)! Signs that you may not know you have. Signs that you’ll never be able to ignore again. Signs that I won’t describe because you’re probably eating your breakfast right now. Log everything in this app and it will tell you when you’re actually ovulating! 
  • Fertility Friday podcast. This is a super in-depth podcast where Lisa runs sessions with women on how to use the ‘Natural Family Planning Method’, or essentially, reading your body. She is a wealth of information.
  • Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. This is a great book detailing how to chart your temperature, example charts & what they mean, and how to tell if there’s anything not quite right. This should be a compulsory textbook in high school. I used this to understand PCOS and what it really means.

Of course, this is overkill for most women who will most likely fall pregnant without even having to worry about their cycles. But it hasn’t worked out like that for me. And I all of these life lessons are handy for women who aren’t trying to conceive too. If I could, I would have researched all of this much earlier and potentially saved a lot of time & pain. I also think its good to know as much as you can about your body. Sure, taking your temperature every day is a lot, but there are other signs that have been glaring at me all these years and I had no idea what they meant. 

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In a way, I’m actually really glad I had to find all of this out. Because now I know the roles of progesterone, oestrogen, insulin & testosterone in the body. How complex & amazing the process of menstruation, conception & pregnancy is. And not in a hippy earth mother way, in a scientific & completely nerdy way, its addictive to research because its so bloody fascinating. In fact, in comparison, men’s bodies are pretty bloody simplistic and boring (no wonder there are so many male OBGYNs). And this is something that every woman should appreciate & be proud of.

I hope someone who was like me a year ago stumbles across this blog and benefits from the information I wish I knew a long time ago.

Silver linings

This morning it took 3 attempts to draw blood for the start of my monitoring. After failing, they told me to come back at lunchtime. I must have had 50 something blood tests this year, and I still suck at it. I have tiny veins and as soon as the phlebotomist has trouble finding it I get fainty and all my blood rushes to my internal organs. This happens about 6 times a month. It never gets easier and it is the single most frustrating part of getting fertility treatment (dildo cam come at me!). But it is what it is, and I will keep doing it until I get this damn baby so help me God!

I told my nurse at lunchtime that its actually a good thing in a way, because the blood tests make injecting myself daily with drugs seem easy in comparison. (I’ve recently started injectable FSH, more on that later). She said to me, ‘Um, yeah, I guess. It’s good that you can find the positive in this! You really are the most positive patient we have at this clinic!’ And laughed. And then I realised something. I am really positive. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, and although I have my moments, in general I think I’m coping pretty well. It probably doesn’t come across in this blog as its kind of my outlet, but anyone who knows me knows that I can always see the light in any dark tunnel. I often don’t like to throw this affirmation around, because I know many people struggle to stay positive when shit things happen, and I completely understand, I still get to some dark places. Also no one likes a peppy bitch singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and whistling as she stops to smell a rose and pat a puppy (I do this on the regular). But I think I need to be more proud that my best asset is my ability to adapt quickly to whatever challenge is thrown my way, and try to see the silver linings. I realise how lucky I am that I’ve even been able to fall pregnant in the first place. That I’ve managed to find a partner who I love and adore and want to have children with. That I’m (mostly) healthy, have a great family, a few amazing friends & live a privileged life in a beautiful city. I wish I could bottle this shit up and spread it around, spray it like Fabreeze, because it really is so handy to have optimism when shit hits the fan. I wish I could give it to the people I love most who’ve had to deal with cancer, loss, anxiety & depression, so much more than I’ve ever had to go through. I only hope that some of my disposition has rubbed off, or helped them in some way.

So to anyone who’s going through this, or any other challenge in life, I hope you can find your silver lining. There really is one on every cloud.