Show your colon some love — today

I’m cutting it close to the wire this year with my annual plug for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which is celebrated in March. I thought about skipping it, but it’s too important. So here I am, last day of the month, urging you to please consider your colon for a moment.

Every year around this time, I parade out that photo of my fine-looking colon. Yes, people, that is actually the inside of my colon. (Where else can you get this kind of entertainment?) Why am I so passionate about something that many people (wrongly) feel ashamed to talk about? Because I would rather talk about this disease and pay attention to this disease than die of it, which my mother did just about 23 years ago at the ripe old age of only 47.

If caught early, colon cancer is a curable disease. If not caught early, it will kill you. Sometimes very quickly. My mother had months not years, and not very good months considering what they did to try to save her. So, for your health, for your family, for anyone who cares about you, go get a colonoscopy as soon as you can if you are over 50 and have never had one, or if you are under 50 but have a family history of colon cancer or any diseases of the colon. For obvious reasons, I am an advocate of lowering that age-50 threshold, but I don’t think the medical community is going to do anything about that any time soon. But if you can find a way to get the test earlier rather than later, do it. It is not as bad as you would imagine. Really. I’ve had two so far and the advances they’ve made in the prep work that needs to be done is remarkable. The two experiences were like night and day, and I can honestly say that I do not fear the next test, which will come up again in a few months. (I’m on a two-to-three year cycle of tests. Thanks, mom.)

In addition to getting a test to makes sure you don’t already have colon cancer or the polyps that can lead to cancer, you can also take some steps to try to prevent colon cancer. Increase fiber, decrease meat. Yes, that’s right. Cut down on meat. Do you think that’s just some vegetarian propaganda? Think again, and then read this article. Red meat is no friend to the colon. Cut it out or at least cut it down. (See, there’s a method to my madness with the whole vegetarian thing.) High fat diets aren’t so great either. Click HERE to read about dietary suggestions for colon health.

If you want more information on the signs and symptoms of colon cancer, testing, prevention and more, go to the American Cancer Society by clicking HERE. Now, go call your doctor and make an appointment before I put up photos of someone’s unhealthy colon just to scare you.

Snow drops, bright stars and sore throats

A sure sign of spring in upstate New York is the arrival of the snow drops, the first tiny flowers to emerge from the cold, dark earth. I snapped that picture above more than a week ago, but — because of an illness, which we’ll get to later in this post — I never did get around to posting it. So the snow drops have been here for about nine days, and have been battered and bruised by two minor snows. And still they remain standing strong. I think that’s what I love about these little flowers. I look forward to seeing their bobbing white heads from my kitchen window every year around this time. It’s a sign of hope, a reminder of what’s to come — eventually.

And while they look so delicate, so easily broken from the outside, they are, in reality, incredibly strong and ferociously tough. How else could they push through the winter-hardened ground and withstand freezing temperatures and snow and, often, the trampling of little feet. They are deceptively resilient. And that’s why I love them. I can see them now, way out in the yard, only four inches off the ground but towering above all the other brown, withered plants.

As I mentioned, I’ve been sick for more than a week, a nasty sore throat that turned into abscesses, that turned into swollen tonsils and more. It left me unable to work, unable to move, unable to think. I just sat on the couch, like a zombie, staring forward. And so I did something I almost never do. I watched endless amounts of TV, mostly cooking channels but every so often a certifiable “chick flick.” And my favorite of the week was “Bright Star,” the story of the tragic love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

First let me say that Dennis should be thanking his lucky stars that I streamed this one from Netflix while he was at work. He would have fallen asleep in the first fifteen minutes, but I thought this film by Jane Campion was just beautiful. And it reminded me that I once spent an entire semester studying Keats and his Romantic counterparts — Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge. Remember those days of spending an entire semester on one slice of something? No wonder I can’t remember stuff anymore. Maybe if I had an entire semester to take notes and read commentaries on every novel I read, I’d remember more about the books I read nowadays. Or I’d at least remember I read them at all.

I think back to my days at Pace University now and marvel at the fact that I could take an entire semester of Russian lit, Irish lit, Shakespeare (although I did at least two on Shakespeare) and still only scratch the surface. Remember those days? Weeks on end of Irish literature but still not enough time to handle Ulysses, which was a course unto itself. Anyway, Bright Star made me want to revisit those Romantic poets — and some of my all-time college favs, like Anna Karenina — from my more mature vantage point. What subject or book would you go back and revisit if you could return to your college days?

Finally, a little faith story to go with the sore throat nightmare. Friday night did not look good for me. After more than a week of illness, three different antibiotics, four doctor visits (including two that felt like something out of a horror movie thanks the procedures that were required), seven pounds lost in seven days due to my inability to eat, and endless amounts of pain and lost sleep, I thought I was going to the Emergency Room. My tonsil had swelled to the point that I felt as though my throat was closing up. I moved my head this way and that and found a way to avoid the ER. I slept sitting up in a recliner since laying down cut off my airway. Dennis checked on my breathing throughout the night. It was a little ridiculous.

When I woke up on Saturday, things didn’t feel much better. Dennis and Noah had to work at our parish school all day, so I was alone with the girls. I had the phone in my hand in case I needed to call 9-1-1 at a moment’s notice. It was that bad. I assumed that at some point I was going to the ER no matter how hard I tried to fight it.

Then I went upstairs, dug around my closet for a bag I brought back from Italy this fall, and pulled out a Miraculous Medal. It’s not an expensive or fancy medal, just one of a few I purchased in time for the papal audience so it could be blessed by Pope Benedict XVI. But this medal is extra special for one reason: Later in my trip, I brought that medal to the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II and asked the guard to lay it on the tomb for me.

I took the medal from the bag and pinned it to my shirt as close to the my swollen tonsil as possible, and I prayed to John Paul II. About 90 minutes later, my throat felt clear. No difficulty breathing, and, for the first time in about eight days, no difficulty swallowing. I ate lunch. Lunch! I could talk without struggling. I kept waiting for the throat problems to return, but they never did. By afternoon I made a big tray of baked ziti and a giant salad and sat down to a feast for dinner. Dennis and the kids stared in amazement as I wolfed down cheesy pasta. Every other time I’d try to eat dinner with them for more than a week I would leave the table, unable to take more than one bite. And I usually cried through that from the pain.

When I went to bed last night, I figured that was the test. I would lay down and realize that I still couldn’t breathe properly. Wrong. My head hit the pillow and I slept undisturbed for about eight hours straight. As I said on Facebook, I’m not saying all this is cause for canonization or anything, but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s my own personal miracle. I was headed to the ER one minute and whipping up dinner the next. Thank you, John Paul II.

It’s about St. Patrick, not green beer

In my childhood home, St. Patrick’s Day did not resemble the unfortunate drunken revelry we see on our TV screens and parade routes every March 17. It wasn’t about drinking too much or dying all our food green (although my mother did bake one batch of green cupcakes for dessert every year). It was about celebrating our ancestry and our faith.

I’m half-Irish (and half-Italian), and St. Patrick’s Day was a time to be proud of our Irish heritage. Sure, we had the requisite “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons for fun, but we also had Irish music playing in the background and Irish soda bread baking in the oven. Our party was a dinner party, with corned beef and cabbage and boiled carrots and potatoes. Yes, an American-Irish meal, for sure, but that was our identity.

So on this Feast of St. Patrick — and growing up in the New York Archdiocese, this day was always raised to the level of true “feast” — I wanted to share a little history about the saint of the day. Here’s an excerpt from my new book, The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass, which includes a section on the saints, of course.

From page 136 of the Essential Guide:

Despite what’s often popularly assumed, St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, was not born on the Emerald Isle. He was born in 385 in an unknown location, possibly Wales. He was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery at 16. During six years of slavery, he went through a religious transformation. He escaped to Europe, studied the faith, and became a bishop and missionary, returning to Ireland to bring Christianity to the pagans. He eventually brought about the conversion of the entire Irish people.

Legend has it he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity. His feast day is March 17. He is the patron saint of Ireland and engineers and is invoked against snakes due to the legend that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland.

From St. Patrick’s Breastplate

Christ be with me, Christ before me,
Christ be after me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in the hearts of all who love me,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Erin go bragh.

Irene’s Irish Soda Bread

Irene’s Irish Soda Bread

Every year I run this post because so many people want my mother’s Irish Soda Bread recipe. Here it is again, in time for tomorrow’s breakfast in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Keep in mind that this bread must be slathered in butter. Not butter substitute, but real, artery-clogging butter. Enjoy! (more…)

The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass

The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass

By Mary DeTurris Poust
Published by Alpha/Penguin, March 2011

Imprimatur from Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen, N.J.

An increasing number of Catholics today are looking for new ways to explore and experience their faith through various methods of prayer. Some may be familiar with tried and true devotions, and now want to try meditation. Others may want to adapt ancient traditions to modern life, or are hungry for a deeper connection through the Eucharist.

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