Feathers. They are a sight to see around Jasper. Beautiful colours and patterns of feathers left on our trails are like gifts from mother nature to remind us of the beauty of the birds that grace the skies of Jasper National Park.
But there is another type of feathered gift that will soon settle onto the trails surrounding our lovely town. These feathers are far less likely to camouflage into their surroundings with their bright blues, purples and pinks sparkling in the sun. These are the talisman of the feather boa wearing J9 Sparkle Run/Walk/Bike participants, as they bound through the streets of our town in an effort to once again raise funds for, and bring awareness to, mental health in our community.
On April 30 at 3 p.m. Jasper’s streets will spill over with participants dressed in the sparkliest and craziest outfits they can find, as they take part in the third annual J9 Sparkle Run. The 2016 event will mark the third year our community comes together to open up and talk about mental health illnesses and remember Jeanine D’Antonio, a friend and community member who loved feather boas and all that sparkled and who became the namesake of this event after she lost her battle with depression in the spring of 2014.
This year’s run will also mark the midpoint of Mental Health Awareness Week in Jasper, an event that promises to raise the bar in helping Jasperites shed the stigma of mental health issues and realize the potential available resources in our community. As a close friend of Jeanine’s, an active member of our community and someone who has personally battled with the darkness of depression on a number of occasions, I have taken a keen interest in learning more about mental health. Over the last two years, what I’ve learned has made me think twice about the way I view mental health, helping me realize that in some way, shape or form, it affects us all.
For example, did you know that:
-Over half a million Canadians will miss work this week (and every week) due to mental health issues
-Over 4,000 Canadians will die from a mental illness every year
-80 per cent of people with depression will respond positively to treatment, but 90 per cent of these people can’t access the treatment they so desperately need.
Despite these stats, I’m working hard to focus on the pink and purple feathers that adorn the streets and trails around town long after participants’ sparkliest outfits have been tucked away for yet another year. These remaining feathers serve as a subtle reminder that even in tragedy, there is a gift if we choose to see it. That gift includes the ability each of us has to talk and to open up to help break the stigma surrounding mental health. The ability each of us has to reach out to those experiencing mental health issues and show compassion and empathy instead of frustration and anger. The ability to be vulnerable and show your support for mental health by coming out and taking part in the J9 Sparkle Run/Walk/Bike and the events of Jasper’s first ever Mental Health Awareness Week.
So I invite you to get your sparkle on and help spread these little feather reminders of hope around Jasper at the third annual J9 Sparkle Run/Walk/Bike on Sat April 30 at 3pm. To add to the festivities, all participants and community members are invited to attend the awesome after- party at the Legion, complete with food, local musicians and a silent auction, all to raise funds that will remain in Jasper to support local mental health initiatives, programs and education. For more info on the event, to register online or to sign up as a volunteer, please visit our website at
THE EVOLUTION OF A CN SPOUSE
With Christmas just around the corner, for many of us it’s time to begin baking, decorating and planning our holiday festivities. Unless, that is, your other half works for the railroad.
Those of us who are spouses or partners to a CN employee (affectionately known as a CNer or a railroader) know better than to try to plan anything beyond 24 hours away. We also know better than to expect to have two good nights’ sleep between us. These are hard realities to face because I like to plan, and, as a health practitioner, I know how important sleep is.
Nine years ago I was sitting in a dressing room at the Jasper Arena when the topic of railroaders’ hectic, unpredictable schedules came up.
I told one of my girlfriends at the time that she should smack me if I ever thought about dating a CNer.
Not long after that, I met my husband-to-be. I guess my girlfriend wasn’t around at the time because eight and a half years later I know all too well the quirks of life as a CN spouse.
Like when it’s 3 a.m., the house is fast asleep and suddenly, the serenity is broken by the sound of a ringing cell phone. I feel my hubby roll over in bed and hear him murmur the word “accept,” taking his assignment for his next trip. Inevitably, 30 minutes later, just as sleep begins to return to me, he will rise to start his day. As I try to drift off, I can’t help but think of the weeks ahead. Even though I know better, I’m anxious about planning to attend functions. Do we confirm with friends and hope that he will be around, or am I better off to just go with the flow and crash the function as the surprise guest who didn’t RSVP?
Frequently my exhausted hubby rolls in from a 10 hour trip at 5:30 a.m. He’s beat and badly in need of sleep, but because the rest of the family will be rising soon, blissfully unaware of his recent arrival home, his stint in dreamland will be short. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after eight hours of being tucked in tight, our morning routine can’t help but disturb his recharging. Health care professionals recommend adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep, but on those busy mornings, my man is often running on about 18 per cent of that. No one wants to walk the gauntlet where the weary-eyed beast lies, and because of his sleep deprivation, it’s hard to know how involved he will be able to be as the day unfolds.
Perhaps, however, it’s because of that uncertainty that I’ve learned to appreciate things that most other spouses might take for granted. On those days when I come home, fully expecting an empty house strewn with the remnants of two teenagers who clearly don’t pay the mortgage but somehow think they own the place, I am overjoyed to find that my hubby has arrived home early from his trip, cleaned the house, cooked dinner and somehow saved the kids from my impending wrath. They owe him big time. Also, while it’s true that CNers can be gone for extended periods, leaving their spouses and families to continue daily functioning without them, I look at this as time that I get to catch up on my life.
My perspective on other things has changed, too. In eight and a half years, I’ve developed an appreciation for those mornings when we go to sleep at night and wake up together—loving that he hasn’t disappeared into the abyss of CN land at some absurd hour of the night. This is all stuff that most people wouldn’t think of as blessings, but I have learned that these moments are some of life’s simplest gifts.
Could I be a CNer myself? Not likely. Having seen the lifestyle disruptions, sleep deprivation and planning challenges that CN employees face each and every day, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t hack it. But despite the havoc the job can wreak on our family’s schedule, neither would I go back to that day in the locker room and insist that my girlfriend smack me to smarten me up! Yes, there are ups and downs of life as a CN spouse, but I know that driving trains runs deep in my hubby’s blood and is an integral part of who he is: that man that I love. In that vein, I will soon start the baking, decorating and holiday planning. And when my hubby is home this holiday season, I will relish the time my family and I get to spend with him, no matter whose schedule it is on.
Hearts. As we recuperate, post-Valentine’s, from an overload of candy hearts, chocolate hearts, heart shaped pancakes and cute, cut-out cardboard hearts, let’s take a moment to reflect on the real deal, the human heart.
Each and every day of your life, this fist sized muscle has the mighty job of beating an average of 100,000 times and pumping over 9,000 litres of blood through over 96,500 km of blood vessels which feed your organs and tissues. I get tired just thinking about how hard my heart works for me. But each and every moment of each and every day without fail, my heart keeps me alive.
Recently, I had the unexpected privilege of spending a few days at a remarkable establishment where the extraordinary staff were nearly as hard working as my heart and where the patrons were even more awe-inspiring. Here I not only learned about the heart itself, but the idea of having heart and how the most unexpected people can affect your heart.
It all happened in Edmonton, at the Stollery Children’s Hospital Cardiac unit. Here the doctors, nurses and support staff work tirelessly to attend to the needs of some very special little people who have some of the biggest hearts around. I was fortunate enough to get to share the better part of two days with a remarkable and adorable young man named Peter, as well as his father.
Peter has curly strawberry-blonde eyelashes, a dazzling smile and a contagious laugh. He is three years old. Through talking to his father, Hekthor, I learned that Peter has a debilitating heart condition in which his heart is not strong enough to pump all of his blood through the labyrinth of blood vessels in his body.
Enter the Berlin Heart, a simple air-driven pump that takes over the function of one or both sides of the heart. This remarkable “simple” machine is anything but. As I chatted with Hekthor, I couldn’t help but marvel as I watched this lifeline work its magic by pumping Peter’s blood from a tube exiting his chest into a small diaphragm-like pump and back through a tube re-entering his chest. The Berlin Heart allows Peter’s blood to then be recirculated throughout his entire body. This occurs hundreds of times a minute each day as Peter watches his favorite television program “The Wiggles” or plays with his favorite collection of farm animals. It was one of the most astounding things I’d ever witnessed in my life.
For me, seeing this technology keep Peter’s blood pumping was a miracle. And I felt lucky to witness such life-changing technology in action. However, I realized that there is an even more amazing miracle that we can all be part of: organ donation. Because while the Berlin Heart is a truly amazing device, it has its limits and is meant to bridge the gap between when a patient’s heart ceases to function adequately and when a suitable donor heart is found for transplantation.
Enter, you, me and the simple act of a visit to the registries office or to myhealth.alberta.ca, where it takes less than five minutes to register yourself as an organ and tissue donor and/or become part of the Living Donor Program. This simple act of registering yourself can benefit the lives of more than 75 people and save the lives of more than eight people--people just like Peter.
So as you finish off that dish of candy hearts, or tuck away the last of your favorite Valentine cards, think about your heart and how you can make choices to promote its health, but also think about having heart, and signing up to become an organ donor. As Peter and his parents can tell you, there is no better Valentines Day gift then the gift of life and I am happy to report that is exactly what Peter and his folks received this February 14, when this extraordinary young man who so unexpectedly touched my heart, received his heart transplant.
My father-in-law turned 80 last week.
Not long before that momentous celebration, I signed up as a solo racer in the 2015 Great Canadian Death Race (I use the term “racer” loosely. If I’m lucky, I’ll crawl my ass across the finish line). Although these events might seem unrelated, I couldn’t help but entertain the parallels between them.
I believe that reaching the age of 80---enduring all of the challenges and hardships that accompany eight decades of life--and completing a race that involves trekking over 125 km of unforgiving mountain terrain— including 17,000 ft of elevation change in 24 hours--are both monumental achievements.
Keep in mind I have yet to do either.
Nevertheless, I’m fairly certain that both accomplishments have moments in which an individual experiences sheer and utter joy, only to be matched by moments filled with absolute and total despair. Moreover, both of these undertakings, as daunting and challenging as they might seem, can be broken down into individual goals that, with the right attitude and support, can be achieved by all of us, if we choose to look at them in the proper light.
In Jasper, we can see examples of folks who have tackled seemingly-larger-than-life battles by concentrating on smaller, achievable goals. I’m thinking of Liam Harrap and Jake Alleyne’s 6,000 km hike and ski from a Jasper doorstep to the Mexican border; Greg Van Tighem’s many miles in the name of MS fundraising; Joe Urie’s uber-organization of last month’s successful December Project; and the infectious energy around supporting auto immune disease suffers which culminates in Marta Rode’s Pajama Day celebrations.
From that outside looking in, all of these huge projects seem overwhelming and nearly insurmountable. However, as we’ve seen, with a healthy mix of tenacity, stubbornness, inspiration and a desire to do something different for a good cause, these folks have raised the bar to new heights. Now, not only can they say they accomplished their goals, but their successes have become part of the glue that holds our community together.
If you’re like me, you’ll agree that these folks drive us to dream bigger. It was with a nod to their bold aspirations that I signed up for the Death Race this year.
Whatever goal you might be considering undertaking, allow yourself to take a moment and absorb some of the glory, sense of drive, determination and achievement that the title “Jasperite” is becoming synonymous with. Set that goal. Work towards it with persistence and resolve. Appreciate the moments of sheer joy and recognize that the moments of despair will truly make you a much stronger person. But most of all, know that we Jasperites have your back and will support you with whatever you need to make your dream a reality!
Certainly one of my goals is, like my father-in-law, to live to celebrate my 80th birthday. And in a few months, I hope to celebrate at the finish line of the Death Race. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jasper, with all of its inspiring community members, someday sees someone do both, at the same time!
I see dead people.
On my bedside table that is. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers has been my nighttime reading companion since it beckoned to me off the shelf of the Bodies Exhibition during a recent trip to Vegas. To some, this might seem an odd way of being ushered into a deep and restful sleep but Stiff is an oddly compelling, entertaining exploration of the strange lives of our bodies post-mortem.
To me, the human body (dead or alive) is the most interesting, amazing and wonderfully functioning thing on the planet.
Most of us are oblivious to how amazing this finely tuned apparatus is. We get up each day, scratch and stretch, use the facilities, make our coffee, ingest our breakfast and most likely open up our computer, pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV to tune into what is going on in the world. What we don’t tune into are the hundreds of processes, chemical reactions, neuron-firings and organ system operations that must work simultaneously to get us through something as the first 30 minutes of our day.
With the new year upon us, and with health-and-wellness related resolutions in the air, I thought it would be a great time to take a moment to share some interesting facts that might help foster a healthy respect and appreciation for our bodies before they become fodder for a book like Stiff.
The Liver’s Quiver
The human liver has over 500 functions. Those functions include detoxifying chemicals, filtering blood coming from the digestive tract, metabolizing drugs and creating proteins important for blood clotting. That’s one hard working organ! I don’t know about you, but after all of the celebrating this holiday season, I will most certainly be giving my liver a break.
Small Organ, Big Appetite
The brain uses between 20-25% of our oxygen and caloric intake. That’s a lot of oxygen and calories for a part of the body that on average in an adult, only weighs about 3lbs. Now you know why when you have skipped a meal or two or are stressed out and not breathing optimally, your decision making can be impaired.
Scents and Sensibilities
Along with the five traditional senses (sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste), scientists estimate that humans have 15- 20 (and possibly even more) other senses including balance, temperature, time, pain, thirst and fullness. Take some time this new year to tune into and develop your “other senses” and help rediscover the inner workings of your body. Perhaps someday science will recognize the sense of “Jasper time.”
Cry it Out
The chemical composition of tears that are shed in different circumstances varies greatly. For instance, the contents of emotional tears (the tears you shed when you are upset) contain hormones and toxins that that are accumulated during stress, whereas the composition of reflex tears (the tears you shed when your eyes are irritated) is 98 per cent water. You know when you were upset and your mom told you crying would make you feel better? Well, she was right. So the next time you feel the water works coming on…don’t fight it. Science has proven that you really will feel better after a good cry.
As you begin your journey into 2015, I invite you to take some time and appreciate your own body…not just for how great it looks or how much abuse it tolerated over this holiday season, but for the daily functions that may on the surface seem so simple, but which are actually incredibly complex, intricate and essential to our well being.
With the season of short cold days and long even colder nights recently arrived, I have dubiously switched into “Excuse Mode” when it comes to my own health and wellness.
My early morning runs which I so love and value when the weather is favorable, have transitioned to an early morning workout that consist of repeated rollovers in bed, getting up to let the dog out to pee and then crawling back into bed still in my parka and toque. “Way too cold to go for a run…probably really slippery as well” I reason with myself. My usual fare of fresh salads, and loads of fruits and veggies, transforms into frequent pizza and pasta dinners with scarce veggies to be found.
“Comfort food helps me cope with the cold and dark....and there are tomatoes in the pasta sauce right?” I rationalize from my carb induced coma. And with the holiday season just around the corner, I know that there will be excuses abound for me to exercise less, indulge more and just resolve to do better January 1st like everyone else. That’s what the New Year is for right?
Well I’m trying something different this year and I’m here to invite (and challenge) you to do the same.
I’m not waiting till January 1 to resolve to do better, I’m kick starting my action plan now. Why now? Simply because I hate feeling crappy and the lack of exercise and abundance of festivities and overindulgence that December brings are generally a sure fire plan for feeling crappy. Here are a couple of tips that I will be keeping in mind to help me stay on track, feel free to add your secrets to success:
Be reasonable and don’t deprive yourself
Eat, drink & be merry! Yep, there’s room for all of the indulgences the festive season has to offer…just try to be reasonable and listen to what your body is telling you. Did you know it takes 20 minutes for your brain to process the “Hey I’m full!” message your stomach is sending? With that in mind, try to pace yourself through the eating and drinking frenzy so you don’t end up having to unbuckle your pants too often. Also, try to keep alcoholic beverages to reasonable amount because holiday season or not, hangovers are no fun!
Is your cup half full or half empty? Check your attitude
Yes it’s dark and cold for upwards of 15 hours a day. Yes you may be far away from home and family for the holidays. But you needn’t dwell on the negatives around you. Just take a look around…you live in a UNESCO world heritage site! One of Canada’s nature sanctuaries. Pretty amazing place to call home! If that isn’t enough, connect with those around you. Not only is Jasper home to some of the most beautiful untouched terrain on earth, but it also home to some of the most beautiful people on earth as well. Beautiful people who care about each other, our community and our home. Volunteer, pay it forward, or just smile at someone on the street and you’re bound to know what I mean. I’d say our cups are definitely half full!
Move Your body
Ski, skate, run, walk, board, bike, swim, take a fitness class, lift weights, go sledding, hike, climb, have a snowball fight, play soccer in the snow…the options are endless! Movement not only stimulates your muscles and your physical body, it stimulates your mind and soul. Whether it’s a 20 minute walk or day of ice climbing, just do it. How often have you ever heard someone say “I sure regretted that workout?”. Enough said.
Set a goal
Set a goal and make it SMART! SMART means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable and Time oriented. Setting reasonable goals means looking at the specifics of what you want to achieve and how you will measure your success. Then assess whether or not the goal is reasonable and attainable within the time span that you set to achieve it. Write it all out, and revisit your plan on a weekly basis to help keep you on track. This is a great tool to use for any and every goal you set forth, making your chances of achieving your goal much higher!
No matter how you think of it taking care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally may take some work, but the payoff is well worth it. So don’t wait till January 1st to make it happen. Jump on the bandwagon (or the sled as the case may be in these snowy parts) and join me in moving from Excuse mode to Awesome mode…and beat the January crowds on the road to success!