What Are the Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet?

An interview with nutrition expert Caryn Dugan, Part One

Today, SevenPonds is speaking with Caryn Dugan, founder of the website STL Veg Girl and an expert on plant-based nutrition. Caryn began researching the benefits of a plant-based diet after a cancer scare in 2008. She later went on to study nutrition and health at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Roxube School of Cooking. Caryn has also trained at the Wellcoaches School of Coaching.

Caryn Dugan Kathleen: Thanks for speaking to me today, Caryn.

Caryn: You’re welcome!

Kathleen: Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to be interested in the benefits of a plant-based diet?

Caryn: Certainly! It all started in 2008 when my dad died from cancer, and exactly 10 weeks later, I learned I had malignant melanoma. I was still reeling from my dad’s death, so my diagnosis sent me into a world of turmoil. I tried everything to relieve the stress I was feeling — yoga, acupuncture, you name it. But nothing worked. So I turned to the internet to see what I could find.

Kathleen: And you found answers in plant-based nutrition?

Caryn: Slowly but surely, yes. I was skeptical at first. Before all this happened, I was the  “Lean Cuisine queen.” I believed anything that was low-carb and low-fat was good for you just because the box said it was. But the more I read, the more convinced I became that a plant-based diet was really something I should try. I found dozens of studies that said plant-based nutrition had all these benefits, including shrinking some cancers. And not one study pointed to anything negative. So I said, “Why not? I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Kathleen: So you became a vegan just like that?

Caryn: Pretty much. I just went home and emptied the pantry. I tossed out all the animal-based foods, everything canned and everything made with refined flour. Then I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of fruits and vegetables and Ezekiel bread. I wasn’t much of a cook at the time, so I just looked online and found recipes for steaming vegetables.

Kathleen: Wasn’t that really boring? Eating nothing but steamed vegetables, I mean?

Caryn: Yes it was! My husband was very unhappy and totally rejected it at first.  But he knew I was doing this for a good reason, so he decided to take a vegan cooking class at Whole Foods. He loved it, and so the next time they held the class, I went with him. I hit it off really well with the instructor, and I loved learning how to make tasty, vegan meals.

fruits and vegetables are the basis of a plant based diet

Credit: newhealthguide.org

Kathleen: Is that how you began your career?

Caryn: Yes, although I didn’t look at it that way at the time. The woman who was teaching the class, Bridgette, asked me if I wanted to become her assistant. I thought, “Who, me? I can’t cook!” But I took a chance and said, “Yes.” I started going to the classes twice a week, learning and studying with her. Then, after about 2 ½ years, she moved to Tennessee, and Whole Foods asked me to take her place. I was shocked. I didn’t think I was qualified. But I took a chance and agreed.

Kathleen: How did you become involved with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine?

After losing my dad to cancer and having cancer myself, I was very interested in learning more about how we can use nutrition to prevent or even reverse cancer. And that’s what the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine is all about. They do studies and make evidence-based recommendations about how to use a plant-based diet to promote wellness, whether you currently have cancer or are trying to prevent it. So I attended their Food for Life certification program and eventually began to teach classes myself.

Kathleen: What was that like?

I was terrified! But as I began working with people with cancer I started to realize, “This is a big deal.” The people attending the classes were so sick and so tired. They were really struggling to feel well.  And by teaching them about plant-based nutrition, I was helping them. I began to feel like part of a larger community. It was very, very fulfilling. 

Please come back next week for part two of our interview with Caryn, where we will talk further about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and Caryn will give you some vegan cooking tips.

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Cancer Patients Might Be More Optimistic About Prognosis Than Their Doctors

A small study finds conflicting opinions between doctors and their patients
Doctor reading Xray for prognosis

Credit: dana-faber.org

According to a recent study, the majority of cancer patients believe they will live longer than their estimated prognosis. Researchers found that many patients remain optimistic about their survival chances even after their doctors give them a poor prognosis.

Professors at the University of Rochester Medical Center studied a group of 236 patients in the advanced stages of cancer. The 38 doctors treating the patients estimated that they all had less than one year to live. Despite these dismal odds, the study found that 68 percent of the patients believed that they had a 90 to 100 percent chance of surviving for two years. This was in direct conflict with the opinions of their doctors, who estimated that their patients had about a 10 percent chance of surviving that long.

Physician reading prognosis to a patient

Credit: londonsarcoma.org

Out of the 68 percent of patients who disagreed with their doctors, only 10 percent told researchers that they did so knowingly. The majority of patients in the study didn’t realize that their opinions and their doctors’ opinions differed.

This is a major issue, according to the study’s co-author, Dr. Ronald Epstein. He says, “When a patient with very advanced cancer says that he has a 90 to 100 percent chance of being alive in two years, and his oncologist believes that chance is more like 10 percent, there’s a problem.”

Lack of Information Leads to Poor Decision Making

The researchers added that optimism isn’t always misguided after a cancer diagnosis. After all, a prognosis is only a rough estimate. However, Epstein says it’s still important for patients to strongly consider their prognosis when they make a treatment plan.

He explains further that patients who ignore or don’t understand the doctor’s prognosis could choose unnecessary, aggressive treatments that won’t effectively treat their cancer. These types of treatments also greatly impact the patient’s quality of life.

For instance, chemotherapy has a number of side effects that affect a person’s quality of life. Nausea, hair loss, fatigue and anemia are just a few of these. For patients who have a promising prognosis, the benefits of chemotherapy may outweigh the side effects. But for patients who only have a few months to live, these symptoms disrupt valuable time with their families and make their end-of-life process far more painful.

Better Communication Is Key

A doctor holds a patient's arm and gives the patient chemotherapy treatment

Credit: wikimedia.org

Researchers suspect that lack of communication plays a role in the differing opinions of patients and their doctors. They recommend that doctors take more time to speak with cancer patients about their prognosis. They warn that if doctors and patients aren’t on the same page, it’s impossible for patients and their families to make informed decisions and prepare for the end of their lives.

For example, the vast majority of the participants in the study told researchers that they would prefer comfort care at the end of life rather than life-extending treatments. And seven out of 10 patients said they would choose supportive or palliative care if they knew they had less than one year to live. But if patients are unaware that the end of their lives might be close, then it’s unlikely that they will make that choice.

Researchers hope that this study will encourage doctors to have clearer, more honest discussions with their patients about prognosis. Doing so may help ensure that patients have all of the information they need to make the best decisions about their care at the end of life.

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Book Review: “I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Go to Boise” by Erma Bombeck

How children survive cancer

Until the mid-1980’s, Erma Bombeck considered herself a light comedy writer. In books such as “At Wit’s End” and “Aunt Erma’s Cope Book,” she wrote about the amusing things that happened in her family and with her friends.

A book about children beating cancer

Credit: paperbackswap.com

Then, in 1987, she met Ann Wheat, the director of Sunrise Camp, a camp for children with cancer. Wheat wanted Bombeck to write an optimistic pamphlet or booklet for children with cancer and their families.

Bombeck was reluctant. She couldn’t see anything light or funny about children with cancer. Then she visited Camp Sunrise and fell down the rabbit’s hole into a new world of humor. The kids at the camp did typical kid things like sneaking out at night to swim and having food fights. But they also had a unique brand of humor. Some of the boys, for instance, placed bets on who could withstand chemotherapy the longest without throwing up. And one girl said she wouldn’t let a doctor work on her unless that doctor could first solve a Rubik’s cube.

Erma Bombeck quickly realized that she needed to cover far more material than would fit in a book or a pamphlet. Instead, she wrote a 174-page book, “I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise: Children Surviving Cancer.”

Bombeck cuts right to the chase in the first chapter of her book, “Am I Gonna Die?” She manages to keep statistics interesting as she discusses how cure and remission rates are improving by leaps and bounds. This is probably the most dated chapter in the book, using numbers from 30 years ago. Since “I Want to Grow Hair…” was written, new treatments have evolved rapidly and cure and remission rates have improved enormously.

Author Erma Bombeck entertained readers for years

Credit: biography.com

Erma Bombeck covers all the bases in this book. She writes about the children who are sick, discussing the ways that they keep hope and optimism alive. She writes about the roles of fathers, mothers, and friends.

Then she turns her attention to life after cancer. One young man she talks to says he is tired of being the poster boy for surviving cancer. Other children wear their bald heads, scars, and prosthetics like badges of honor.

Next, it’s on to brothers and sisters like little Max who ran screaming through the park to tell his friends that his sister was in remission. He then returned to the car and asked his mother, “What’s remission?”

Erma Bombeck then returns to the camp and asks the kids about their favorite experiences as campers. Some responses include: “We got four bungee cords and tied Molly to a tree.” And “Camp is the only place I don’t worry about cancer. I worry about mosquitoes.”

At the end of the book, Bombeck cautions her readers not to take a pessimistic view of things, whether those things are cancer or the unexpected acquisition of a puppy. There are, she reminds us, a great many things that work out for the best.

“I Want to Grow Hair…” is a charming book, full of hope and Bombeck’s trademark humor. She does not glaze over the harsh realities of childhood cancer, but neither does she wallow in them. She quotes her child audience extensively and even includes their artwork.

If you love a child with cancer, or even if you’re having a bad day and just need a gentle lift, this is the perfect book to reach for.

Child fighting cancer

Credit: evidentlychochrane.net

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A SevenPonds Visitor Thanks Us

Letters like these are the inspiration that keep us going
vintage bird bringing a letter from a reader

Credit: pinterest

To Our Readers,

We are proud to share with you a letter (via email) from a visitor to our SevenPonds website. Sonia was inspired by the information we provide to help people like her and her family navigate the end of life.

Letters like Sonia’s are ever so precious to us at SevenPonds. They keep us endlessly inspired. 

Suzette Sherman, Founder

“Dear SevenPonds,

Thanks so much for sharing the knowledge and information with the public. You are a God send. I am new to all this, and you have made my life so much easier. I feel more informed now.

May God bless Your efforts,

Sonia Payne”

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“Cemetry Gates,” by The Smiths

Song touches on the unfairness of death, yet ultimately is about love

“Cemetry Gates” by The Smiths is, on the surface, a song about two people who enter a cemetery to examine the gravestones. However, there are numerous ways in which you can dissect the deeper meanings that singer-songwriter Morrissey may have intended to convey.

Opened cemetery gate symbolizing that people have entered the cemetary

Credit: flickr.com

The song begins with the singer and his companion meeting at a cemetery’s gates on “a dreaded sunny day.” Morrissey uses satire in many of his songs, and by calling the sunny day “dreaded,” he’s possibly poking fun at the fact that many people consider him overly melancholic. The lyrics begin with (cemetery is intentionally spelled “cemetry”):

A dreaded sunny day

So I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

While Wilde is on mine

As they enter this fictional cemetery, Morrissey and his companion notice that the gravestones of poets John Keats, William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde are inside. If you read these lyrics with a romantic eye, the inclusion of these writers makes sense. Morrissey doesn’t specify, but he could be at the cemetery with his lover. If that is the case, then perhaps their trip to a cemetery may be a nod to the idea of everlasting love, or, “‘Til death do us part.” Keats was one of the more prominent Romantic poets, and Yeats was an important figure in 20th-century literature. The inclusion of Oscar Wilde could be a reference to Morrissey’s own sexuality because he has never publicly identified as being gay or straight. Wilde himself was convicted in the Victorian era of “gross indecency” with men.

The second stanza begins:

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones

All those people, all those lives

Where are they now?

Photo of The Smiths band who sing Cemetry Gates

The Smiths
Credit: plagueofangels.blogspot.com

If you’ve ever been to a cemetery, you’ve probably thought similar things. It’s a very somber feeling to read people’s names on the stones and think about who they could’ve been. Morrissey also uses a bit of clever wordplay here, as they “gravely” read the stones. The lyrics continue:

With loves, and hates

And passions just like mine

They were born

And then they lived

And then they died

It seems so unfair

I want to cry

These are thoughts that come to mind when we think about how unfair death seems to be. I like that Morrissey mentions that every person who’s been laid to rest here had loves, hates and passions. Nobody likes to think about the death of a loved one. But it’s important to remember them and everything they held dear in life.

Though the song is about a cemetery, it’s quite an uplifting song. I think “Cemetry Gates” is ultimately about being in love. And, of course, when a loved one dies, it seems utterly unfair, and we ask ourselves, “Why?” However, the main reason that the death of a loved one is so horrible is because we were able to feel so strongly for them. The spectrum of emotions is what makes us human, and there is some comfort in that.

You can find the full lyrics to “Cemetry Gates” here and watch a live performance of the song below.

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Can You Still Depend on 911?

All across the U.S., consolidation and privatization of EMS is having terrible results
911 first responders at an accident scene

Credit: timesnews.net

We are nearly halfway through 2017, yet many municipalities across the United States are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession of 2008. With their tax bases dwindling, and in some cases nearly gone, dozens of local governments have slashed budgets to the point that essential services are barely adequate to meet the needs of the communities they serve. In some areas, lawmakers have cut the number of law enforcement, fire department and Emergency Medical Services personnel drastically. What’s more, many states are consolidating and privatizing important aspects of the EMS system. This includes the call centers that dispatch emergency assistance when someone calls 911.

Privatization and Consolidation

The concept of privatizing 911 services dates back to the late 1990s. At that time, Pennsylvania’s Northampton County consolidated 96 separate law enforcement, EMS and fire department call centers into one central site. Rather than take on the financial burden of doing this themselves, county officials outsourced the job to a  private firm. Several other local governments, including Orlando and Dade counties in Florida, soon followed suit.

But privatizing government services faced a lot of opposition. It wasn’t until after the financial crisis that the idea really took hold. Then, strapped local governments began looking for any solution that would allow them to continue delivering essential public services at a cost they could afford. Private sector employers could operate more efficiently, they believed, in part because they operate on a performance matrix that ties productivity to pay.

According to a 2013 statement by Lawrence Consalvos, President and Chief Operating Officer of iXP Corp, “We have staffing requirements and call time requirements. We’ll step up to those standards contractually.” The company passes those performance requirements on to employees, which theoretically leads to shorter call times and improvements in quality. But they can also backfire if rushed employees cut calls short in order to maintain a pay grade or avoid getting fired.

911 dispatcher looking at multiple screens

Credit: San Jose Fire Department

Privatization Misses the Mark

Fast forward to 2017, and the era of consolidating and privatizing 911 services is in full swing. What’s more, private equity firms have become a larger presence on the EMS landscape, taking over several dozen 911 dispatch centers and ambulance companies across the United States. Unlike other for-profit companies, these firms have little experience in providing emergency services. In fact, their main skill set is making money — a goal they accomplish with a “mix of cost cuts, price increases, lobbying and litigation,” according to the New York Times.

The results, according to the Times report, have been disastrous. Several ambulance companies owned by private equity firms have gone bankrupt, leaving parts of the country with no EMS service at all. One example: Last February, TransCare EMS, owned by the private equity firm Patriarch Partners, abruptly closed its doors, leaving many cities on the East Coast high and dry. 

Government Oversight Falls Short

Even when consolidated services have remained under government control, the results have been less than ideal. Employees in centralized call centers are far away from the areas they serve, and their lack of knowledge of local geography has had disastrous results. In Vermont, David Seguin died while the police searched in vain for the wrong address, which was provided by a 911 operator hundreds of miles away. Another Vermont man died because “Vermont State Police could not tell if the address was Route 30 North or Route 30 South,” said firefighter Lucas Hall. “It took them over 10 minutes to figure it out. By the time…we got on scene, the person was dead.”

Dilapidated area of a city facing 911 cuts

Economically disadvantaged areas are hardest hit by service cuts
Credit NPR.org.

Other parts of the country have suffered as well. Staffing shortages plague many cities. For example, in Denver, Colorado, dispatchers often work 16-hour shifts and 60-hour weeks. And in eastern Connecticut, consolidation went so badly that lawmakers moved to undo the decision just one year after it went into effect. 

Sadly, even as more issues around consolidation and privatization of essential services come to light, little is likely to change anytime soon. The Trump administration has promised to cut funding to dozens of federal programs. And these cuts will reverberate at the state and local level for years to come. Thus, it seems likely that financially strapped communities will continue to struggle to meet the needs of the citizens who rely on them. And private companies will happily step in to fill the gap. 

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