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Published by FATIMAH MAT, 2021-04-25 00:20:57

Reader's Digest Canada - 012.2020

Reader's Digest Canada - 012.2020

OUR SPECIAL ISSUE!

CANADA’S DECEMBER 2020
MOST-READ
MAGAZINE

Easy Gift Home
Ideas—All
Under $50 Holidaforythse

PAGE 127 A Celebration of Togetherness

PAGE 26

MY 77-DAY
BATTLE WITH

COVID-19
PAGE 114

How New Hobbies
Make You Smarter

PAGE 78

The Growing Risk of
Winter Melanoma

PAGE 18

Mom Knows Best:
Raising Polar Bear Cubs

PAGE 54

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• ESTABLISHED 2005 •
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Natural Calm Canada

reader’s digest

CONTENTS

DESIGN PICS INC./ALAMY STOCK PHOTO Features 36 46

26 society health

cover story Better Late Than Never Diabetes D.I.Y.

HOME FOR THE My difficulties fitting in, How patients built a
HOLIDAYS my problems at work simple phone app that
and my divorce all does a better job than
In a year when so many made sense when, your pancreas.
of us are kept apart, a at 46, I discovered I
tribute to the comfort was autistic. BY JONATHAN GARFINKEL
and joy of gathering FROM THE WALRUS
with family and friends. BY WANDA DESCHAMPS
FROM BROADVIEW 54
on the cover:
illustration by robert carter 54 environment

Mama Bear

Arctic explorer James
Raffan tells the story
of a polar bear and her
cubs—and their strug-
gle to survive in a
changing climate.

FROM ICE WALKER: A POLAR
BEAR’S JOURNEY THROUGH
THE FRAGILE ARCTIC

rd.ca 1

reader’s digest

62 78

life lesson

Old School

I started playing the
trumpet at 42. Why
learning new skills
as an adult is easier—
and more fun—than
you think.

BY REBECCA PHILPS

82

society

Of Furs and Fortune

Three hundred and
fifty-five years ago, two
cunning coureurs de
bois persuaded King
Charles II to back their
beaver pelt trading
scheme. The incredible
origins of the Hudson’s
Bay Company.

BY STEPHEN R. BOWN
FROM THE COMPANY:
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE
HUDSON’S BAY EMPIRE

62 74 90 CORNELIA LI

knowledge heart heart

A Planner’s Guide Safe in the Stacks A Star Is Born
to Dying
How I created a wel- A chance encounter
Preparing for the end coming, book-filled with a waiting room
now can save your sanctuary for teenagers songstress pulled
loved ones plenty in my library. my dad out of his
of heartache—and Alzheimer’s fog.
money—later on. BY ANGELA JOURIS SAXE
FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL BY DEBORAH STOCK
BY EMILY LANDAU FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL

2 december 2020

78 108 114

heart editors’ choice

House of Cards Fight of His Life

In my family, a game COVID-19 put Rick
of euchre is the answer Cameron in the hospi-
to everything. tal for 77 days. The story
of his amazing battle for
BY JESSICA MYSHRALL survival.
FROM THE WALRUS
BY NICHOLAS HUNE-BROWN

(ILLUSTRATION) BEENA MISTRY; (PHOTO) AARON McKENZIE FRASER 94

heart

The Button Box

Bought at auction, a vin-
tage cookie tin reveals a
lifetime of memories.

BY KAREN GRISSINGER
FROM COUNTRY WOMAN

98

drama in real life

Under the Mountain

Forty people gathered
at a hotel high in the
Italian Alps. Then came
the earthquake, the
devastating avalanche—
and the race to find
survivors.

BY JOSHUA HAMMER
FROM GQ

114

rd.ca 3

reader’s digest

Departments Humour 127

6 Editor’s Letter 13
8 Contributors Life’s Like That
9 Letters
16 Points to Ponder 44
73 World Wide Weird As Kids See It

big idea 61
Laughter, the Best
10 Hunger Gains
Medicine
How a Toronto
charity feeds thou- 97
sands with surplus Down to Business
restaurant food.
113
BY COURTNEY SHEA Laugh Lines

10 fact check holiday gift guide (GORDON) NICK WONG; (GIFTS) LIAM MOGAN

14 The Truth About 127 Perfect Presents
Pet Adoption for Everyone on
Your List—All
BY ANNA-KAISA WALKER Under $50

health BY BRETT WALTHER

18 Beware Winter reader’s digest
Rays book club

Melanoma is a 134 Give a Great Read
risk—even in the
snowy months. Sometimes the
best gift is a book.
BY VANESSA MILNE Here are our favou-
rite 2020 titles.
20 News From the
World of Medicine BY EMILY LANDAU

BY SAMANTHA RIDEOUT 138 Brainteasers

23 What’s Wrong 140 Trivia
With Me?
141 Word Power
A medical mystery
resolved. 143 Sudoku

BY LISA BENDALL 144 Crossword



reader’s digest

EDITOR’S LETTER agents of infection—every report of a (PUPO) DANIEL EHRENWORTH; (GIFTS) ISTOCK.COM/IGORISS
new outbreak seems to be blamed on
Not Home for a big family gathering.
the Holidays
Which means we’ll be missing out
I need to apologize to my in-laws, again on his nan’s fish cakes and but-
the Finneys. This was supposed to terscotch pie, spotting the Newfound-
be the Christmas we’d get to Cape land ferries in Sydney harbour, the
Breton. We usually don’t because kitchen party after midnight mass and
December flights are too expen- waking up early with all the cousins
sive and the crummy weather to open presents. A Zoom call doesn’t
means we’ll spend more time quite cut it.
waiting on the tarmac than in
the air, if the plane even manages This month’s cover feature, “Home
to depart. But we swore that for the Holidays” (page 26), will be bit-
we’d make the effort this tersweet for the many Canadians in the
holiday. Our boy, now
four, needs to see his same dilemma. It’s a collection of
nan and papa. stories—some funny, some familiar,
all heartfelt—about holiday-time
Then 2020 happened
and no one wants to traditions with family and friends.
sardine with strangers Each is different, but all share a
in a metal tube for two
hours. Never mind that conviction that, this year
by visiting my in-laws especially, there’s no
we could be unwitting place like home.

P.S. You can reach
me at [email protected]

6 december 2020

PUBLISHED BY THE READER’S DIGEST MAGAZINES CANADA LIMITED, MONTREAL, CANADA

Christopher Dornan chairman of the board
James Anderson publisher

Barbara Robins vice president and legal counsel
Mark Pupo editor-in-chief

deputy editor Lauren McKeon art director John Montgomery
executive editor,
associate art director Danielle Sayer
digital Brett Walther
senior editor Micah Toub graphic designer Pierre Loranger
associate editor Robert Liwanag
assistant editor, content operations
manager Lisa Pigeon
digital Erica Ngao
contributing editor Samantha Rideout circulation director Edward Birkett

proofreader Katie Moore contributors: Navneet Alang, Katherine Ashenburg, Diane
senior researcher Lucy Uprichard Baher, Cassie Barradas, Lisa Bendall, Derek Bowman, Stephen

researchers Nour Abi-Nakhoul, Ali R. Bown, Jarred Briggs, Robert Carter, Natalie Castellino,
Amad, Martha Beach,Rosie Wanda Deschamps, Daniel Ehrenworth, Aaron McKenzie
Long Decter, Beth Fraser, Jonathan Garfinkel, Emily Goodman, Karen Grissinger,
Shillibeer, Suzannah Joshua Hammer, Clayton Hanmer, Steven P. Hughes, Nicholas
Showler, Leslie Sponder Hune-Brown, Ziya Jones, Roderick Kimball, Irma Kniivila,

copy editors Chad Fraser, Amy Susan Camilleri Konar, Johnny C.Y. Lam, Emily Landau,
Harkness, Richard Johnson Dorothy Leung, Cornelia Li, Vanessa Milne, Beena Mistry,
Liam Mogan, Megan Murphy, Dave Murray, Jessica Myshrall,
Rebecca Philps, James Raffan, Darren Rigby, Julie Saindon,
Angela Jouris Saxe, Courtney Shea, Beth Shillibeer, Deborah
Stock, Conan de Vries, Anna-Kaisa Walker, Suzanne Westover,

Jeff Widderich, Nick Wong, Victor Wong

THE READER’S DIGEST ASSOCIATION (CANADA) ULC

Corinne Hazan financial director
Mirella Liberatore product manager, magazine marketing

national account executives 121 Bloor St. E.
Robert Shaw (Vancouver), Melissa Silverberg (Toronto) Suite 430

marketing and research director Kelly Hobson Toronto, ON
head of marketing solutions and new product development Melissa Williams M4W 3M5

production manager Lisa Snow

TRUSTED MEDIA BRANDS

Bonnie Kintzer president and chief executive officer
Raimo Moysa editor-in-chief, international magazines

VOL. 197, NO. 1,175 Copyright © 2020 by Reader’s Digest Magazines We acknowledge
Canada Limited. Reproduction in any manner in whole or in part in English or with gratitude the
other languages prohibited. All rights reserved throughout the world. Protection financial support of
secured under International and Pan-American copyright conventions. the Government of Canada. / Nous remercions le
Publications Mail Agreement No. 40070677. Postage paid at Montreal. Return Gouvernement du Canada pour son appui financier.
undeliverable Canadian addresses to 5101 Buchan St., suite 300, Montreal, QC
H4P 1S4. Reader’s Digest publishes 10 issues per year and may
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Single issue: $4.95.

rd.ca 7

reader’s digest

CONTRIBUTORS

NICHOLAS NICK WONG
HUNE-BROWN
Photographer, Toronto
Writer, Toronto
“Hunger Gains”
“Fight of His Life”
Wong’s work has
Hune-Brown is a National Magazine appeared in The Guardian, FRAME
Award-winning writer whose work and enRoute, Air Canada’s in-flight
has been published in Toronto Life, magazine. As an active member of
The Walrus, Hazlitt and The Guard- the LGBTQ+ community, Wong has
ian. He’s also the senior editor at The also shot for Pride Toronto, highlights
Local, a magazine focused on long- LGBTQ+ subjects in his personal
form stories about health and social portrait work and volunteers as a
issues in Toronto. Read his story team captain in gay dodgeball leagues.
about a COVID-19 patient’s incredi- Check out his photo of the founder of
ble fight for survival on page 114. Feed It Forward on page 10.

JARRED BRIGGS MEGAN MURPHY (MURPHY) GERRI WEATHERBEE

Illustrator, Plaster Rock, N.B. Writer, Peterborough, Ont.

“Beware Winter Rays” “Home for the
Holidays”
Briggs’s favourite part
about being an illustrator is coming Murphy’s love affair with writing
up with clever conceptual draw- began at a young age with the nightly
ings—he lives for the aha moment words “Dear diary.” Also an actor,
when all the pieces of the puzzle Murphy co-created a show this year
begin to fit together. When he’s not called The Verandah Society, in
illustrating, Briggs loves reading which she and a musician friend
science-fiction novels, being out- travel to people’s homes and share
doors and spending time with his music and stories. Read her humou-
three dogs. Take a look at his latest rous tale of a childhood Christmas
work on page 18. pageant on page 26.

8 december 2020

LETTERS

PUBLISHED LETTERS ARE EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY PINS AND NEEDLES one or both of my parents reading
I disagree with the way acupuncture is your publications. I attribute my suc-
dismissively presented in “Conquer cess in life to being introduced to
Your Everyday Aches and Pains” (Octo- reading at a young age.
ber 2020). My uncle worked at a church — WENDY MACDOUGAL, Somerville, N.B.
mission in China during the Second
World War. Minutes before evacuating, WE THE NORTH
a fellow missionary went into labour. I subscribe to your Daily Digest news-
A local midwife used acupuncture; the letter, which I find enjoyable and infor-
mother gave birth to twins without mative. At times, however, it seems like
pain. Could it be that the acupuncture Reader’s Digest overlooks our country’s
practised in China is different from territories. Because they are so “out of
what’s available in Canada? the way” and have a relatively small
— GORD YOUNG, Peterborough, Ont. and scattered population, I guess it’s
easy to forget about them. I hope you
BORN A BOOKWORM acknowledge our northern communi-
Growing up on a farm in New Bruns- ties more in the future.
wick, money wasn’t plentiful. But — SUZANNE STARRIE, Whitehorse
my family did have good food, clean
clothes, a warm house and lots of books!
Our house was filled with Reader’s
Digest condensed books and, of course,
your magazines. I could wake up in
the middle of any given night and find

CONTRIBUTE FOR SERVICE TO SUBSCRIBERS Pay your bill, view your account
Send us your funny jokes and anecdotes, and if we publish one in a print online, change your address and browse our FAQs at rd.ca/contact.
edition of Reader’s Digest, we’ll send you $50. To submit, visit rd.ca/joke.
MAIL PREFERENCE Reader’s Digest maintains a record of your pur-
Original contributions (text and photos) become the property of The chase and sweepstakes participation history for Customer Service
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CONTACT US son, not to receive such offers from other companies, please write
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have any questions regarding your record or wish to examine or
EDITORIAL OFFICE 121 Bloor St. E., Suite 430 | Toronto, ON M4W 3M5 correct it.
[email protected], rd.ca

rd.ca 9

reader’s digest

BIG IDEA

How a Toronto charity feeds thousands
with surplus restaurant food

Hunger Gains

BY Courtney Shea

photograph by nick wong

J AGGER GORDON WAS standing in landfills. He launched Feed It Forward
line at the grocery store in late six years ago, hoping to ameliorate
March when it hit him: this was hunger by making a dent in the approx-
only the beginning. The 50-year-old imately 11 million tons of food that
chef and founder of Toronto’s Feed It Canadians annually let go to waste. The
Forward, one of the country’s most food he rescues is still edible but may
innovative food bank programs, saw not meet the picture-perfect standards
that COVID-19 would have an even of consumers. Don’t even get Gordon
bigger impact on communities that started on overly aggressive best-before
depend on his services. “People were dates. “This is perfectly good stuff!” he
fighting over water,” he says, “and I just says. “Maybe a pepper has a slight blem-
thought, okay, this is going to be bad.” ish, or it’s not breast meat or whatever
the desired cut is, but you can still make
Gordon is like a modern-day Robin something that tastes amazing.” Oper-
Hood, only instead of robbing from ating out of three main kitchens with
the rich, his food bank rescues food some 2,200 volunteers, the organization
that would otherwise be destined for

10 december 2020

Jagger Gordon’s charity
redistributes food that
would otherwise be
thrown out.

reader’s digest

was, until recently, feeding approxi- for large supermarkets to throw away
mately 3,000 people every day. Since food that could otherwise be donated.
COVID, it’s closer to 5,000. In 2016, Canada’s NDP agriculture
critic Ruth Ellen Brosseau introduced
Feed It Forward runs a pay-what- a private member’s bill to develop a
you-can restaurant and grocery store national strategy on food waste, but it
stocked entirely with hand-me-downs was defeated.
from Whole Foods (some 400 kilo-
grams every day). Thirty-two Toronto- Experts predict the number of peo-
area restaurants and food supply com- ple who are food insecure to have dou-
panies—Sysco, for example—also help bled this year—but Gordon hopes that
out. On 200 acres in Whitby, Ont., Feed the spotlight the pandemic has put on
It Forward grows produce and hosts food distribution systems and scarcity
grow-your-own-food lessons for indi- will lead to meaningful change. In the
viduals and families. If the pandemic early days of the lockdown, Gordon
hadn’t cancelled in-person classes, heard from staff in the kitchens at Rog-
this fall would have meant resuming ers Centre, the CN Tower, the Ontario
Soup Bar, an offshoot program that Food Terminal and hundreds of other
provides free hot meals to students at businesses—all of them had food to
Humber College (more than a third of give and knew Gordon was the guy who
post-secondary students live with food would know what to do with it.
insecurity). People have an idea of what
a person who is hungry looks like, says As the year came to an end, Feed It
Gordon, but it’s so much more preva- Forward was stockpiling turkey. In
lent than we realize. previous years, the organization hosted
holiday dinners—community cele-
Feed It Forward couldn’t exist if the brations with live music and, of
Ontario government hadn’t passed course, plenty of good food. This year
1994’s Donation of Food Act, which will be different—less gathering and
allows individuals and companies to more special deliveries. So maybe
provide organizations with excess or Gordon is less like Robin Hood and
unused stock without fear of liability. more like Santa. “There is need out
But Gordon says we can still do bet- there, and we can meet it,” he says.
ter. In France, for example, it’s illegal “That’s my mission.”

Democracy Now

There is always a tug-of-war between policies to achieve equality and policies
to achieve excellence. I am certain that Canada can achieve both.

JOHN TURNER

12 december 2020

LIFE’S LIKE THAT Two weeks after I had
photos taken of my
Chef Boy-Ar-JEEZ! baby, I returned to the
It looks so easy when the pros do it. So why do our studio to view the pic-
versions of baked goods come out looking like this? tures on a colour moni-
tor. The photographer
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: COURTESY TAMIKA WHITE; COURTESY DANIELLE LARKIN; COURTESY HOLLY PUTNAM; A typical cup holds about Having a Hard Time started describing the
COURTESY KAROLINE SMIŠKOVA; RUTHBLACK/GETTY IMAGES; ISTETIANA/GETTY IMAGES eight ounces of liquid. I told my sister I was merits of each photo,
But if a child spills it, going through it and but as he went through
that number increases she said, “Well, go the set, he rattled off his
to eight gallons. around it.” sales pitch so quickly
that I couldn’t get a
— @HOMEWITHPEANUT — @ITSKTLE word in.

Finally, after we’d
seen all 20 poses, he
asked me which ones I
was most interested in.

“None,” I replied.
“This isn’t my child.”

— GCFL.NET

The absolute worst-
spelled word in the
English language is
“queue.” Q was killing
it on his own and
someone was just
like, “Hey, what if he
had four useless
teammates?”

— @RANDYPAINT

Send us your original
jokes! You could earn $50
and be featured in the
magazine. See page 9 or
rd.ca/joke for details.

rd.ca 13

reader’s digest

FACT CHECK 1 Adoption is a long-
term commitment.
The Truth About Thanks to better health
Pet Adoption care and diets, the life-
span of dogs has dou-
BY Anna-Kaisa Walker bled in the past four
decades to an average
illustration by clayton hanmer of 12 years, while
domestic cats now live
14 december 2020 to about 15 years, com-
pared to nine in 1995.

2 It’s not cheap, either.
Including high qual-
ity food, routine vet vis-
its and pet insurance, it
costs a national average
of $42,000 to own a dog
for 12 years, and $35,000
for a cat that lives to 15.

3 When you adopt
from a shelter or res-
cue group, you’re not
only gaining a beloved
friend, you may be sav-
ing a life—some shelters
have seen increases this
year of between 20 and
60 per cent in fostering
and adoptions.

4 Adopting from a
shelter is often more
cost-effective than a
“free” kitten or puppy.
“Our fees include
spay or neuter surgery,

vaccines, deworming, take into account an Danes can be happy in
microchipping and six animal’s known his- a small apartment as
weeks of pet insurance,” tory,” says Finnegan. long as they get regular
says Jennifer Finnegan, “If they were fearful or outdoor walks.
support services man- aggressive with kids,
ager at the Calgary we’d place them in an 11 To help an anxious
Humane Society. adult-only home.” pet integrate into
your family, place them
5 Microchipping is a 8 Veterinarians rec- in a small room and
worthy investment, ommend puppy keep their first few days
in case your pet ever socialization classes at home calm and low
gets lost. A tiny chip the starting as early as seven key. “Give the animal
size of a grain of rice is weeks of age—even space to make the
implanted under the before vaccinations are choice whether to
skin. Shelters and vet complete. The first three come to you or not,”
clinics scan the chip months are the crucial Finnegan says.
and access your contact window for teaching
information through the dogs to accept new peo- 12 One is the loneli-
manufacturer’s registry. ple, animals and places. est number, espe-
cially for some pets—
6 Pets and allergies 9 A senior pet—over kittens do best in pairs,
can mix, under the age seven—can take while other small crit-
right circumstances. twice as long to get ters like guinea pigs,
“The benefit of having adopted as a pup or kit- rabbits, rats and mice
a pet can outweigh the ten, but might just be can get depressed
risk of mild symptoms,” the right companion if without a buddy.
says Kitchener, Ont., you enjoy life in the
allergist Dr. Harold slow lane. “Their per- 13 Feelings of regret
Kim. “Allergy shots do sonalities are already after adopting a
work in about 70 per developed, and they pet—even one that
cent of patients, but just want to relax with seems perfect—are
they are a large time you,” says Finnegan. common. “It’s called
commitment, and there adopter’s anxiety and
is a risk of reaction.” 10 A large dog may it’s completely normal,”
not need as much says Finnegan. “It can
7 Don’t take it too per- space as you think— take up to a few weeks
sonally if a shelter breeds like greyhounds, to a few months for
turns you down. “We’ll mastiffs and Great everyone to adjust.”

rd.ca 15

reader’s digest

POINTS TO PONDER

If I didn’t have WE’VE BEEN CRYING FOR (MORISSETTE) SHUTTERSTOCK.COM/DFREE; ( JOHNSON) CBC; (DUVERNAY-TARDIF) LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF/TWITTER
a whole team YEARS, WE’VE BEEN
of therapists
throughout my PROTESTING FOR YEARS,
life, I don’t think WE’VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR
I’d still be here.
YEARS AND OUR VOICES
–Alanis Morissette ARE GOING UNHEARD.

–Quentrel Provo, WHO FOUNDED

STOP THE VIOLENCE, SPREAD THE LOVE,
FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF HIS COUSIN

On Friday nights my sister and I would call into
our local rez station and request songs for our

friends or cousins. It felt like this amazing
connector for our community.

–Falen Johnson, NEW HOST OF CBC’S INDIGENOUS PROGRAM UNRESERVED

THERE IS Being on the front line during this
A SMALL offseason has given me a different
MINORITY OF perspective on this pandemic and the
PEOPLE WHO
ARE AGAINST stress it puts on our health-care
MASKS. SOME system. I cannot allow myself to
OF THESE potentially transmit the virus by
PEOPLE ALSO playing the sport that I love.
THINK ELVIS
IS ALIVE. – –Super Bowl champion
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif,
–Quebec premier
François Legault ON HIS DECISION TO KEEP WORKING

AT A LONG-TERM CARE FACILITY INSTEAD

OF PLAYING FOOTBALL THIS SEASON

16 december 2020

(REEVES) STUTTERSTOCK.COM/FEATUREFLASH PHOTO AGENCY; It’s a lot harder for me to execute some of the
(TREBEK) SHUTTERSTOCK.COM/MICHAEL MATTES moves the way I would have 20 years ago. But
I would never let a stuntman do the work for

me. I have to do it myself, even if it’s painful.

–Keanu Reeves, ON AGING

I DIDN’T DRINK, IF I COULD CHANGE
DIDN’T SMOKE, SOMETHING ABOUT
DIDN’T DO DRUGS. MYSELF, I WOULD BE
THERE WERE NO ABLE TO SING ON KEY—
BIG NEGATIVES THAT WOULD MAKE
ASSOCIATED WITH
ME. I NEEDED A DIFFERENCE IN
THE SHOWER.
A VICE—SO I
STARTED CURSING. –Poet Dennis Lee

–Alex Trebek When I was cut from the women’s
Olympic hockey team in 1998,
I thought it was because of
racism, but how could I prove
that? I live with it now, but I’ll
always be devastated by it.

–Angela James, NWHL BEATRICE AEROS

FORWARD FROM 1992-2000

I wish that the certain
politicians had recused
themselves, but there’s

no one we blame.

–Craig Kielburger, DISCUSSING

THE CLOSURE OF WE CHARITY IN CANADA

rd.ca 17

reader’s digest

HEALTH

Beware T HE PREVALENCE OF melanoma
Winter Rays has been rapidly rising around
the world for nearly a century.
Melanoma is a risk—even in In the 1930s, the chance of an Amer-
the snowy months ican getting melanoma was one in
1,500. Today it’s one in 74. In the U.K.,
BY Vanessa Milne melanoma rates have tripled since the
1990s alone.
illustration by jarred briggs
While some of the increase may be
due to better detection, researchers
also believe it’s because we’re spending
more time outdoors in the sun, vaca-
tioning to warmer climates during the
winter and using tanning beds.

That rise is concerning, since mela-
noma is the most dangerous kind of
skin cancer. Non-melanoma types, like
basal cell carcinoma, rarely spread to
other parts of the body and are often
resolved by localized surgery. Mela-
noma, on the other hand, is far more
likely to spread and be deadly. In the
U.S., it makes up only one per cent of
diagnosed skin cancers but causes the
most deaths of them all.

There are a few main risk factors for
melanomas, including how much
cumulative sun exposure a person

18 december 2020

has had in his or her life—and how If you’re tobogganing, skiing or skat-
many sunburns. It’s thought to develop ing, the ice and snow reflect up to
when the sun’s carcinogenic UV rays 80 per cent of the sun’s rays back at
damage the cells that make the pig- you, increasing your sun risk to sum-
ment in your skin. That’s why people mertime levels. And if you’re outside
who have fair skin are at a higher risk during the day for an hour or more
of getting it, along with anyone with a doing any activity, you should take pre-
family history of skin cancer. cautions: wear a hat and put on sun-
screen. “To make it simpler to remem-
Most of us know to cover up and ber, make sunscreen part of your
apply sunscreen on hot, sunny days, morning routine before going out,”
but when fall arrives, we tend to drop advises Mar.
those habits. Experts warn that’s a mis-
take. Though there’s less need for sun THE AVERAGE AGE OF
protection after summer ends, expos- A PERSON DIAGNOSED
ure to UV rays still adds up. WITH MELANOMA IS

What precautions you should take to 63
defend against melanoma during the
cooler months depends on where you Finally, you should monitor your
are in the world. That’s because the moles. “Early detection of melanoma
further away you are from the equator, is vital for successful treatment,” says
the more UV rays weaken in the winter. Diffey. If it’s caught before it spreads to
“In southern England or Canada, the other parts of the body, the five-year
daily dose of UVA on a clear summer survival rate is 99 per cent. If it’s caught
day is 6.5 times higher than on a clear late, that can drop to 25 per cent.
winter day,” says Professor Brian Diffey Warning signs are a mole that’s chang-
of the British Association of Dermatol- ing size, shape or colour, or one that’s
ogists. “People in those countries asymmetrical—sometimes referred to
typically receive only about five per as “ugly duckling” moles.
cent of their annual UV exposure in
the winter months.” If you have concerns, talk to your
doctor. And in the meantime, practise
But no matter where you are, even healthy sun habits—even when it’s
during colder, lower risk months, it’s a cold outside.
mistake to put your sun-protection hab-
its on ice. “It’s important to wear sun-
screen when there is a lot of glare from
the snow,” says Victoria Mar, director of
the Victorian Melanoma Service at
Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia.

rd.ca 19

reader’s digest

News from the Cannabis Could ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/FCAFOTODIGITAL
Harm the Heart
WORLD OF
MEDICINE Now that cannabis is
more available than
BY Samantha Rideout ever, claims abound
about its medical
HOW SUGAR FUELS THE effects—good and bad.
HOLIDAY BLUES The truth is, because it
was classified as an
This festive time of year is notoriously stressful and illicit substance for
can even exacerbate depression. One thing you can years, medical scien-
do about that is limit sweets—sugar lifts your mood tists don’t yet know a
momentarily, but it’ll leave you feeling worse in the whole lot about it.
long term. According to a review from the University When it comes to your
of Kansas, that might be because excessive sugar cardiovascular system,
consumption promotes inflammation and messes the two main active
with the balance of the microorganisms in your gut, ingredients seem to
which are some of the physiological factors that have opposite effects:
have been linked to depression. Completely elim- CBD lowers blood pres-
inating foods with added sugar isn’t a realistic goal, sure while THC raises it.
but aim to keep it to less than 25 grams per day. But regardless of how
much or little THC there
is, inhaling marijuana
smoke increases carbon
monoxide in the blood,
according to a recent
statement from the
American Heart Associ-
ation. Regular exposure
to the substance has
been linked to strokes,
and more research may
reveal additional risks.
For now, the AHA
doesn’t recommend
taking cannabis by
smoking or vaping it.

20 december 2020

Don’t Fall for Seniors: Watch
Shoddy Hand Out for These
Sanitizer Prescriptions

(HANDS) ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/SATURATED; (SHOES) ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/CHICTYPE If you’ve been shop- Exercise Already McGill University
ping for hand sanitizers Saving Millions researchers recently
lately, you’ve likely of Lives found that two-thirds
noticed your options of hospitalized Quebec
have multiplied. New We all know that sloth seniors are prescribed
manufacturers entered is one of the deadly potentially inappropriate
the market in response sins. And indeed, insuf- medications (PIMs)
to COVID-19, but not ficient exercise contrib- when they’re discharged.
all of them are safe to utes to around 3.2 mil- These are drugs that are
use. For instance, some lion deaths worldwide. likely to cause more
contain dangerous sub- On the flip side, though, harm than good for
stances such as metha- physical activity pre- people over 65, who run
nol. Government regu- vents an even bigger a higher risk of falls and
lators, including Health number of deaths, other problematic side
Canada, have issued including 3.9 million effects. They include
alerts about brands to that would be consid- proton pump inhibitors
avoid. You should also ered “premature” (unless you have stom-
watch out for products (before age 75). Keep ach bleeding or a peptic
with less than 60 per that in mind if you pre- ulcer) and benzodiaze-
cent alcohol, which fer positive motivation pines (which could be
won’t kill many germs. over the fear of negative worth the risks for treat-
The best germ-killing consequences. The ing epilepsy or severe
method remains wash- British, Australian and anxiety but not insom-
ing your hands with French researchers who nia). Ask your doctor to
soap and water; hand made this calculation consult the complete
sanitizer is merely a argue that we should list of these medica-
substitute for when celebrate what exercise tions, which can be
that’s not an option, like is already accomplish- found online through
when you’re on the go. ing, as a way to encour- the American Geriatrics
age even more people Society, before filling
to get moving. a prescription.

rd.ca 21

reader’s digest

A Hysterectomy Isn’t the
Only Solution for Fibroids

They’re not normally life-threatening, but uterine Another Helping (WOMAN) ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/GLOBALSTOCK; (PLATE) ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/KCLINE
fibroids, which typically arise between the ages of Won’t Hurt You
30 and 50, are a source of recurring pain for roughly
one in six women. These non-cancerous tumours Many of us overeat
in the womb can also cause bloating, painful sex, during the holidays—
a constant feeling of needing to pee and difficult, and immediately dread
heavy periods. For years, hysterectomy (surgically the impact on our
removing the uterus) has been the one-size-fits-all health. But it turns out
treatment. But with many women choosing to con- we may be worrying for
ceive after 30, there’s a need for treatments that nothing. For a study
alleviate the symptoms while preserving the ability that sounds more fun
to start a family. People who don’t plan to carry a than most, healthy
child also may not feel that the condition warrants young men ate as much
removing their uterus. pizza as they possibly
could. On average, they
British scientists have been comparing two stuffed in about 3,000
newer womb-sparing alternatives: myomectomy calories—far more than
(cutting out the fibroids) and uterine artery embo- most adults need to
consume in an entire
lization (blocking the blood day. Yet, their blood
flow to the fibroids). Both sugar didn’t climb more
treatments proved effective than it would after a
at providing relief, and women normal meal, and fat
were able to give birth after- levels in the blood-
wards. Compared to the stream were only
slightly higher than
embolization patients, usual. Frequently eat-
the myomectomy ing too much can lead
patients had slightly to obesity, diabetes
better health-related and a host of other
quality of life at the two- health issues, but an
year mark, although occasional overindul-
they also had a longer gence isn’t enough to
initial hospital stay. make people suffer met-
Your doctor can help abolic consequences.
you explore the pros
and cons of each
option in detail.

HEALTH

WHAT’S WRONG
WITH ME?

BY Lisa Bendall

illustration by victor wong

THE PATIENT: Vera*, a 56-year-old front of her right shoulder. Ticks are a
fitness instructor common nuisance in her area, so
THE SYMPTOMS: rash, tiredness and when she got home she inspected her
heart palpitations skin carefully—but there was no sign
THE DOCTOR: Dr. Adrian Baranchuk, of the insect.
a cardiologist at the Kingston Health
Sciences Centre, Ont. Over the next few days, Vera felt achy,
as though she had a mild flu. She also
V ERA IS A high-energy fitness noticed a spreading red patch around
instructor in her mid-50s who the right side of her neck and shoulder.
looks years younger. She enjoys She drove to the Kingston Health Sci-
long-distance runs on trails around ences Centre to get checked out, men-
her hometown of Kingston, Ont. In the tioning the bug bite sensation she’d
summer of 2018, while jogging through felt a week earlier. But the skin redness
a bushy area, she felt a pinch on the didn’t resemble the typical bull’s eye
rash associated with ticks. The emer-
*IDENTIFYING DETAILS HAVE BEEN CHANGED. gency physician thought it was more
likely that she had cellulitis, a common

rd.ca 23

reader’s digest

skin infection that can be caused by called Lyme carditis. Baranchuk had
bites or stings from a wide range of treated roughly a dozen cases, all male.
insects. Reassured, Vera returned home And the photo Vera shared of her skin
with some antibiotics. rash wasn’t convincing. “This was by
no means the classic bull’s eye rash,”
The redness gradually faded, but says Baranchuk. The ring-within-a-ring
Vera didn’t feel better. She was light- happens because there are two skin
headed, and began experiencing heart reactions: one to the tick’s saliva, and
palpitations. At first she toughed it out, one to the spreading Lyme bacteria.
even though she was getting too tired Although doctors are trained to look for
to go on her runs. But then she became this pattern, Baranchuk was aware of
exhausted just folding laundry. Fifteen studies suggesting that at least a quar-
days after her first hospital visit, Vera ter of Lyme rashes might vary from this
returned to the ER. description. He couldn’t rule it out.

An ECG revealed an unexplained, AT FIRST, VERA
slight heart block. This delay in the TOUGHED IT OUT, BUT
heart’s electrical signals, which can
develop with aging and coronary THEN SHE BECAME
artery disease, often grows worse over TOO TIRED EVEN TO
time. Hospital cardiologist Dr. Adrian FOLD HER LAUNDRY.
Baranchuk was called. “Vera impressed
me as a person who, before all this, Untreated heart blocks can deterio-
was perfectly fit and healthy,” he says. rate quickly and lead to cardiac arrest.
“This came out of nowhere.” If Vera did have Lyme carditis, prompt
intravenous antibiotics might reverse it.
Heart block can be caused by other But if it was too late, or if she had some
conditions that trigger inflammation, other condition, what she’d need is a
such as sarcoidosis, an autoimmune pacemaker. This was something Baran-
disease. But if Vera was right about the chuk hoped to avoid. “A pacemaker is
bug bite, there was a possibility this was very useful when heart electricity has
connected to her symptoms. Ticks failed, but then you live the rest of your
spread the bacteria that develop into life as a cardiac patient with a piece of
Lyme disease; in the early stages, it hardware in your body,” he says.
often causes flu-like symptoms. Left
untreated, it can lead to more severe Testing for the Lyme bacteria
problems like joint pain and weak would take time they didn’t have. But
muscles, even liver inflammation.

In fewer than 10 per cent of Lyme
infections, mainly in young men, the
bacteria invade the heart, a condition

24 december 2020

Baranchuk had recently co-authored a Baranchuk recalls. He continued to be
scoring tool, the Suspicious Index in astounded at his patient’s physical
Lyme Carditis, to help physicians avoid stamina. “If it were me, I’d be lying in
unnecessary pacemakers. Vera had bed convinced I’m going to die any
Lyme-like symptoms and had been second,” he says. “But she’s used to
exposed to an area known to be popu- endurance and heavy sports. With 30
lated with ticks, but she didn’t have the beats per minute, she was still walk-
bull’s eye rash, wasn’t male or under ing the corridor!”
50, and hadn’t seen a tick. That made
her low risk for Lyme carditis—except Finally, on day six, Vera’s heart began
for one other factor. “She was a super to show signs of improvement. It was
articulate individual who was telling a thrilling moment for both doctor and
me, ‘I felt something like a tick bite, patient; they’d successfully avoided
and then had a rash where I’d felt it.’ I surgery. Shortly after, the Lyme test
gave utmost importance to that.” came back positive.

Baranchuk decided Vera warranted In a characteristic show of strength,
admission, and she was started on Vera was now raring to go home. She
antibiotics while her heart was moni- took a treadmill test as soon as her heart
tored—postponing a pacemaker. had recovered enough, and passed it.
Twelve days after her hospital admis-
Even if the Lyme carditis diagnosis sion, Vera went home with oral antibi-
was correct, however, it could take up otics. A follow-up six weeks later showed
to a week to notice effects, if any, from no sign anything had gone wrong.
the antibiotics. In the meantime, Vera’s
heart block became steadily worse “We were able to exchange a lifetime
each day. Baranchuk ordered ECGs as a cardiac patient with three weeks
every few hours. “This patient was on of antibiotics,” says Baranchuk. He’s
my radar all the time. I contacted the glad he believed Vera, despite so many
residents at night, asking how she was.” atypical factors. “It could have been a
By the fifth day, she’d deteriorated catastrophe,” he says. “As doctors, we
further. “I believed I would need to put have to remember we’re practising in
in a pacemaker, despite everything,” an endemic Lyme region. If I hear ‘tick,’
I open my eyes and start looking.”

Create Your Own Courage

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves,
and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.
I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.

CHERYL STRAYED, WILD

rd.ca 25

reader’s digest
26 december 2020

COVER STORY

Holidaforythes

In a year when so many of us are kept apart,
a tribute to the comfort and joy of gathering

with family and friends

illustrations by robert carter

reader’s digest

My Year as makeshift structure were a handful of
the Virgin children on their hands and knees with
woollen sheep ears attached to head-
BY MEGAN MURPHY bands. Joseph and I calmly sat ourselves
on a crisp pile of dry straw, among the
MY MOTHER, MARY ANNE, and her livestock, to await the miraculous birth
friend Elizabeth had agreed to head up of our child.
the annual children’s Christmas pag-
eant at our local Catholic church, I anxiously listened for my cue line,
St. Anne’s in Peterborough, Ont. Their “The time came for her to have her
challenge was to transform 20 sub- child,” and then, with nary a labour
urban youngsters from the year 1986 pain, I valiantly lifted Baby Jesus from
into shepherds, wise men and barn his hiding place behind a straw bale
animals from the year 1. and set him into the empty cradle
beside me. Jesus, in this scene, was
“Why does she get to be Mary?” my played by my own Jesmar Newborn
older sister Kate whined. Baby. He was a wrinkled, anatomically
correct doll I’d begged for Santa to
“You had the role last year. Your sis- bring me the year before. His real name
ter gets to be the Virgin this year,” Mom was Daniel Edward Paul, but on this
replied. There may have been some day, he was honoured to play the part
spiritual nepotism involved in the cast- of the Messiah.
ing (Elizabeth’s son, Tony, was playing
Joseph), but I’d rather believe that our MY WRINKLED,
mothers recognized our raw talent. ANATOMICALLY
CORRECT DOLL
Our costume budget was somewhat PLAYED THE PART
lacking so I wore my own white night- OF BABY JESUS.
gown with a baby blue pillowcase
bobby pinned to my head. Joseph wore The play was a success, and although
a terry cloth robe and a brown bath not a usual occurrence during mass,
towel on his head, held firmly in place the parishioners broke into thunder-
with a curtain tieback. ous applause—or at least that’s how I
remember it.
There were no lines to memorize.
Instead, as the lector read the story of Back at home, my younger sister,
Jesus’s birth, Joseph and I knocked on Kerry, and I held a post-mortem, and
the imaginary door of the inn and
looked appropriately downtrodden
when the innkeeper shook his head
and pointed to a wooden manger
downstage centre. Bleating about the

28 december 2020

I imparted wisdom that would be help- isn’t loyal to any particular religion. Nor
ful when the time came for her to play am I, but something about the history
the Virgin Mother. Then we changed and tradition of listening to carols while
Daniel back into his fuzzy onesie. prepping Christmas dinner feels right.

“I didn’t know Jesus had an umbili- At around six, our guests arrive. Spar-
cal cord,” Kerry said. kling wine, claret and whisky are gen-
erously poured into glasses. The house
“Obviously he does,” I responded. grows warm and cheeks turn flushed.
“He’s attached to God.” Though we are all either from India or
of Indian descent—and thus you might
A Sikh Christmas expect a tandoori turkey—my brother
and I have decided Christmas is not a
BY NAVNEET ALANG time for fusion.

THE CLICHÉ ABOUT living as part of two “Should we add some chilies to the
cultures is that you find a space between stuffing?” asks Dad. “Of course!” replies
them. But sometimes you do the oppo- Mum, who can barely bring herself to
site: just lean into one side or the other eat something if it isn’t blisteringly hot.
as circumstance fits. But my brother and I always veto them.
When you’re an immigrant, it can be
Perhaps that’s why, after moving to alienating that what happens inside
London, U.K., from India, my parents your home rarely matches depictions
decided to celebrate Christmas. “We on TV or in magazines. One reason I
thought it would be a way to be part of like Christmas is that when everyone
English culture,” says my dad, “and then else is gathering around a turkey, glass
it just stuck when we moved to Canada.” of wine in hand, so are we.

Last year, it was our turn to host my The morning after, when I awake with
parents’ friends and their families for a fuzzy head, my mom is listening to
dinner on Christmas Day. On most vis- her usual shabads. And I know what
its to my parents’ home, when I head we’ll be eating for dinner: turkey curry.
downstairs in the morning, my mom
is listening to shabad, Sikh religious Sacramental Soufflé
music. But on Christmas morning, the
house is filled with a rather English BY KATHERINE ASHENBURG
mix of choral music or carols, making
our Indian kitchen sound more like IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE, 1973, in Van-
the inside of a church. couver. I had two daughters, one 22
months and the other five months.
“Oh, are they talking about Jesus Preparing to celebrate, I told Sybil, the
again?” inquires my father when he
arrives downstairs. As an agnostic, he

rd.ca 29

reader’s digest

older one, that we would put the baby for Christmas, we do this in Vancouver,
to bed before dinner and she, Daddy Toronto or London, U.K.
and I would eat in the living room,
with the Christmas tree lights ablaze. And Hannah is always invited.
I can still see her sitting in her paja-
mas, proud as punch, at a little table Me and My
in front of the fire. Chosen Family

We ate cheese soufflé from my most BY NAJ S. (AS TOLD TO ZIYA JONES)
sophisticated recipe source—Amy Van-
derbilt’s Complete Cookbook—as well IN 2012, I CAME OUT as trans to my close
as tomatoes provençale and green friends. I was 21 years old, had moved
beans. The menu was neither tradi- to Montreal three years prior and was
tional nor particularly festive, and I forging my own identity as an adult. At
have no memory of how I chose it. In the same time, my relationship with
fact, I’m impressed that I managed to my family was growing strained—our
make even a halfway-nice dinner with values and our beliefs about our Mus-
two small children. For Sybil, the high- lim faith didn’t always align. In 2017, I
light of the evening seemed to be that cut ties with most of my relatives.
Hannah, the baby, was in bed, and she
had her parents to herself. Around December I would often miss
one of my favourite Ismaili Muslim
The next Christmas Eve, I forgot all traditions. Ismailism is a sect of Shia
about the cheese soufflé. Then Sybil, Islam—there are about 80,000 of us in
almost three, announced, “Tonight Han- Canada—and every year on December
nah will go to bed, and I will eat in front 13, my community would gather in a
of the fire with you and Daddy.” I knew high school cafeteria close to our
that Hannah, at 17 months, was not mosque to celebrate Salgirah Khushali,
going to permit that, but before I could the Aga Khan’s birthday. After prayers,
speak, Sybil continued, “And we will we put on a big, flamboyant show.
eat cheese soufflé.” I was stunned. How People performed Bollywood dances,
could someone not yet two when she comedy skits, even lip-synchs to Top
ate the soufflé remember it for a year? 40 songs. In fact, the first time I ever
saw someone in drag was when, on
Of course, we obeyed her. We have this holiday, a girl dressed as a boy for
been obeying her for 47 years. Every a rendition of TLC’s “No Scrubs.”
Christmas Eve, we eat cheese soufflé,
tomatoes provençale and green beans Two years ago, I realized I didn’t have
in front of the fire, except when we run to give up this tradition and decided to
out of floor space and then we eat it at celebrate with my chosen family—four
the table. Depending on who is hosting friends and my girlfriend, all of whom

30 december 2020



reader’s digest

I met at university. They’re not Ismaili, in Canada, my parents kept the latter
but on December 13, we make a play- part of the tradition when they moved
list of Bollywood and Christmas songs here 26 years ago.
that we blast while we decorate a tree
at my apartment. Then my girlfriend Every Christmas Eve followed the
and I pose for a photo shoot—one that same pattern: the four of us would
includes our terrier mix, Katya, dressed spend the day rehashing classic, often
in a Santa hat. embarrassing family memories—like
my days as a benchwarmer in a youth
Now that I know I can be both trans basketball league—while watching a
and Muslim, I can’t wait for COVID-19 Home Alone marathon on TV. Unsur-
to pass so that I can go back to mosque— prisingly, after a while, it became hard
this time worshipping on the men’s side. to keep our eyes open.

The All-Nighter FOR NOCHE BUENA,
OUR FAMILY SITS
BY ROBERT LIWANAG
DOWN FOR A FILIPINO
AS MY BROTHER and I removed the CHRISTMAS DINNER
Christmas duck from the oven, my
mom headed to my parents’ bedroom AT MIDNIGHT.
to wake my dad up from a nap. It was
11:30 at night. In order to stay awake, we resorted to
playing holiday music as loudly as pos-
“What do your friends say when you sible. Nevertheless, my brother, mom
tell them we do this?” I asked my older and I would often catch one another
brother. He laughed and answered, falling asleep in the living room. My
“They think I’m joking.” I was referring dad, meanwhile, would go for a quick
to Noche Buena. snooze as soon as the duck was in the
oven at nine o’clock. The rest of us were
Spanish for “good night,” Noche supposed to keep an eye on the bird.
Buena is the Filipino Christmas Eve
feast that begins at midnight and lasts Half of our feast, including my mom’s
far into Christmas morning. Dating embutido, a Filipino-style meatloaf,
back to when the Philippines became and fruit salad, had already been made
a Spanish colony in the 16th century, in the afternoon. Other dishes, like the
Filipinos embraced Noche Buena as peas, carrots and mashed potatoes my
a way to celebrate—and eat—after brother and I were responsible for, were
returning home from “Simbang gabi,” whipped up closer to midnight.
or “night mass.” Although my family
never attended Christmas Eve masses

32 december 2020

We spent the final half-hour before out of a Tupperware container and
Noche Buena popping in and out of swapping modest gifts we’d bought
the kitchen, hungry and sleepy, asking with our babysitting money. In subse-
one another, “Is it midnight yet?” as if quent years we’d make a night of it,
we didn’t know the answer. watching movies and ordering pizza
in parents’ living rooms, eventually
But the wait was always worth it. segueing into our own shabby student
The roast duck, with its crispy skin apartments, then into slightly less
and rich, succulent meat, was a hit every shabby adult apartments and finally
time. And while most Canadians were into our first homes.
asleep, we were up until four in the
morning eating, laughing and looking At the beginning, we gave each other
forward to the new year. butterfly hair clips and Spice Girls
Chupa Chups that we’d purchased at
Girls’ Club Ardene. Those gave way to gaudy mall
jewellery and satsuma lotion gift sets
BY EMILY LANDAU from The Body Shop in our teens,
cheerful housewares as we began nest-
SOME FOLKS SPEND decades looking ing in our 20s and baby clothes once
for their people, their best friends, the we started having kids in our 30s.
crew that really gets them. I was lucky
enough to find mine in Grade 7 at Once, I received a scented candle in
Glenview Senior Public School in north an antique teacup from my friend’s
Toronto—eight tween girls turned one partner, Steve—only to receive a near-
brace-faced hive mind. identical teacup candle the following
year from Sara, who’d missed the pre-
As we progressed to high school, a vious exchange (apparently, I give off a
couple of girls dropped out and a cou- Victorian grandma vibe). But my favou-
ple of new ones wormed their way in. rite gift by far was the one I received
By the end of Grade 12, the group had two years ago. That time, we’d gathered
more or less coalesced into its final at Lauren’s house, and Abra—whom
form, one that’s remained remarkably I’ve known since birth—commissioned
intact for the past 20-odd years. a custom cross-stitch kit that depicted
all the members of the group.
Among our many traditions is an
annual Christmukkah exchange. This Holidays with family can be cozy,
event first took place when we were 12 but our exchange offered something
and newly empowered to shop with- else: a chance for my friends and me
out our parents at Yorkdale Mall. We to create our own traditions and play
set it up on the long, sticky cafeteria at being grown-ups. We got to plan
tables at our school, choosing names and fuss and cook for ourselves, setting

rd.ca 33

reader’s digest

up the kinds of ritualized joy that have dwarfing her four-pound frame. Logic-
kept us bonded. And now, so many ally, I knew that this was our baby, but
years later, it’s also a time when we I didn’t feel remotely like her mother.
get to revert to the goofy, giddy girls
we once were. Mothers hold their babies, and I was
terrified to touch mine. Mothers feed
The Gift of Gratitude their babies, and I’d seen no sign of my
milk. Mothers love their babies from
BY SUZANNE WESTOVER their first mewling cry, but I didn’t feel
FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL much of anything, other than bone tired.

NINE YEARS AGO, on Christmas Eve, I MY WISH FOR A BABY
was sitting in a hard-backed chair in HAD BEEN GRANTED,
the neonatal intensive care unit of the BUT ALL I WANTED
Queensway Carleton in Ottawa, wait-
ing for an ambulance to take my baby WAS TO BE ALONE
away to another hospital. AND CRY.

I kept reminding myself to be grateful. “Your Christmas miracle,” the nurses
After two years of infertility, a failed said. I nodded enthusiastically, feeling
round of IVF, a successful frozen guilty for feigning a gratitude I didn’t
embryo transfer, a bleed at 30 weeks, have the strength to muster. For years,
and an urgent scheduled C-section, I’d I wanted nothing more than to have a
finally given birth to a tiny, perfect baby baby, to be a mother. My wish was
girl the night before. granted, at the holidays no less, but all
But after having held her only briefly I wanted to do was be alone and cry.
after birth, she was whisked away to an
incubator. The surgeon told us how LOOKING BACK, I wish I could tell my
lucky we were. It turns out that a faulty forlorn self a few things to assuage her
connection between the umbilical cord fears. I would say, “Don’t be so hard on
and placenta meant our baby wasn’t yourself. Your hormones are raging.
getting the nutrients she needed. And, You’re scared. You’re in pain. You’ve
she added, 50 per cent of undiagnosed been through the wringer and spewed
cases with this condition do not have out the other side. Give yourself a break
happy endings. and the gratitude will come.”
As the ambulance team prepped the
incubator for the trip, I gazed at my I’d let her know that even scrappy
newborn, who looked like a doll inside four-pound babies are more resilient
her glass bubble, the smallest diaper

34 december 2020

than they look. I’d promise her that Christmas morning roared in with a
her love for her new baby will unfurl snowstorm. I was discharged and then
over days and weeks, and grow fierce spent that week at the children’s hospi-
and indomitable. tal. There, I marvelled at the kindnesses
extended to us. Our daughter had her
Lastly, I would tell her, “Whatever photo taken with Santa, alongside
you do, do not eat the hospital’s chicken her very first stuffed bear, a gift from
pot pie! You’ve just had abdominal the hospital. She was the recipient of
surgery. Have soup.” a beautiful quilt, handmade by a good
Samaritan. The accompanying card
It was too soon after surgery for me read, “Cherish this time. Your baby will
to go in the ambulance with her, so I grow up so fast. Love, Barbara.”
watched mutely as two paramedics, a
neonatal nurse and a respiratory spe- Barbara, wherever she is, was right.
cialist struggled to warm up the travel This Christmas Eve, our daughter
incubator. I only let myself cry when the turns nine. She’s healthy and funny
kind paramedic turned to me and said, and irascible. She is the light and joy in
“Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll take perfect our lives. Every December, as I wrap
care of your baby.” Then they were gone. presents and gaze at the tree, I think
back to the year she was born.
After my ill-fated supper, destined to And I don’t have to remind myself to
stop me up for days, a kind night nurse be grateful.
sensed my distress and gave me a
Christmas gift I’ll never forget: “Take © 2019, SUZANNE WESTOVER. FROM “UNWRAPPING THE
an Ativan, and get some rest.” GIFT OF GRATITUDE,” THE GLOBE AND MAIL (DECEMBER
20, 2019), THEGLOBEANDMAIL.COM
Hallelujah.

Hot Takes

Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth
or burn down your house, you can never tell.

JOAN CRAWFORD

Take a nap in a fireplace and you’ll sleep like a log.

ELLEN DEGENERES

Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.

CORMAC McCARTHY, THE ROAD

Life is a flame that is always burning itself out,
but it catches fire again every time a child is born.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

rd.ca 35

reader’s digest

“When I received
my diagnosis, I
felt relief,” says
Deschamps.

SOCIETY

BETTER
L AT E

THAN NEVER

My difficulties fitting in, my problems at work
and my divorce all made sense when, at 46,
I discovered I was autistic.

BY Wanda Deschamps FROM BROADVIEW

photographs by daniel ehrenworth

rd.ca 37

reader’s digest

’m 10 years old, away at my first and assumptions of others. What I’ve
sleepover camp. The rest of the found out since is that there are a sig-
girls in my cabin are trying to nificant number of others like me—
put together a skit for the individuals who weren’t identified as
having autism until midlife. And for
I camp’s variety show, and I can reasons that are still coming to light,
see that it isn’t going to come many of them are women.
together the way they imagine. I have
a sixth sense about these things, like ALTHOUGH AUTISM has a high profile
I’m on the outside looking in when I’m today, it was only identified in 1943 by
supposed to be part of something. I the American child psychiatrist Leo
want to speak up and tell them how to Kanner. He’d observed antisocial chil-
fix it, but I’ve learned that being a dren who became obsessed with cer-
know-it-all does not make me popular. tain objects and reacted poorly to
unexpected change. Kanner named
There was always something about this disorder infantile autism. A year
me that most people considered “dif- later, Austrian pediatrician Hans
ferent.” As a kid, I didn’t enjoy sitcoms Asperger published a study about chil-
or skip rope like other girls my age. I dren in his clinic who exhibited similar
wasn’t comfortable hugging friends, characteristics. His findings were
but I did love listening to discussions largely overlooked until 1981, when
about politics. I’ve always been talk- the term Asperger’s syndrome came to
ative and inquisitive, which wore out be applied to higher-functioning indi-
the patience of my friends and some- viduals. Asperger compared them to
times even the adults around me. My “absent-minded professors” who
Grade 4 report summarized my social might be socially awkward but intellec-
deficiencies with “needs improve- tually precocious. The line between
ment.” I stuck out, but I gradually autism and Asperger’s was erased in
learned to be less conspicuous. 2013 when the term autism spectrum
disorder (ASD) was introduced, to
It wasn’t until I turned 46 that I learned account for the many degrees and
my uniqueness has a name: autism. kinds of autistic behaviours.

That was over three years ago. My Today, approximately one in 66
diagnosis was like discovering a piece Canadians is diagnosed on the autism
of my brain, picking it up, putting it in spectrum, and those numbers are on
place and feeling whole for the first the rise, possibly because of improved
time. This was also like receiving the key diagnostic methods and awareness of
to unlock my life and live for the first the condition. A neurodevelopmental
time—according to my own values,
principles, beliefs and choices instead
of weighed down by the expectations

38 december 2020

condition that affects brain develop- Autism is diagnosed four to five times
ment, autism can cause communica- more commonly in boys than in girls.
tion problems and a lack of awareness Growing research suggests that autistic
of social cues—for many who have it, characteristics in girls and women may
social interactions must be learned as go unrecognized by health and educa-
opposed to intuited. tion professionals because they pres-
ent differently than in boys and men in
GIRLS ARE GOING clinical settings, as well as in daily life
UNDIAGNOSED settings such as school and work. Why
are girls and women in particular
BECAUSE SCREENING going unrecognized?
TOOLS ARE BASED ON
STUDIES WITH BOYS. Yani Hamdani, a clinician-scientist at
the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental
Being autistic means I can appear Centre at the Centre for Addiction and
dispassionate, even though I am Mental Health in Toronto, offers a few
empathetic. I am highly loyal, honest, possible explanations. One is that autism
straightforward and direct. I’m driven has historically been perceived as a pre-
by intellectual inquiry, and thus more dominantly male condition, including
interested in why something hap- how it has been represented in popular
pened than how it happened. I am culture. From Raymond in Rain Man to
capable of stunning people by reciting Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory,
credit card numbers from memory, characters with autistic traits in movies
and sometimes speak quickly and with and TV shows have mainly been male.
a sense of conviction because I have Autism researcher Judith Gould, for-
moved along a conversation in my mer director of the Lorna Wing Centre
mind while the other person is still for Autism in Kent, U.K., believes that
formulating his or her next thought. At female autism has been understudied
work, I have been both highly praised from the outset, noting that Dr. Leo
for these attributes and harshly Kanner had only three girls in his
admonished. This wide range of reac- group of 11 research participants.
tions to the same behaviour is a reality
for women with undiagnosed autism Screening and diagnostic tools may
and one of the reasons why more not be as sensitive to autism in girls and
extensive diagnosis and research into women because they have been pre-
autism in women are necessary. dominantly developed based on stud-
ies with boys. A girl’s obsessive reading
would not necessarily be seen as an
indicator of autism, while a boy’s preoc-
cupation with lining up toy cars or trains

rd.ca 39

reader’s digest

might very well serve as a marker. “Girls from feeling like I was living on the
and women may learn strategies to hide, margins, it also delayed my diagnosis.
mask or camouflage their autistic ways
of being, doing and socially interacting,” I WAS THE YOUNGEST of 10, with par-
Hamdani tells me, “and may be more ents who were 40 and 51 when I was
adept at doing so than boys or men, born (older fathers are more likely to
suggesting that there may be different have autistic children). When I was
gender socialization processes at play.” eight, my mother moved to Toronto to
pursue a second master’s degree while
CAMOUFLAGING my father stayed home in Antigonish,
MY AUTISM AT THE N.S., and served as the primary parent.
This helped instill in me the notion of
OFFICE LEFT ME equal opportunity for women, but it
FATIGUED, ANGRY also created a void in my life.
AND RESENTFUL.
My increasing isolation, stress, anx-
This reminds me of how I paid partic- iety and confusion led me to struggle
ular attention to the most popular girls both academically and socially, leav-
in my classes at school, adopting their ing a trail of concerned teachers and
attitudes and ways of communicating friends. A call home from a junior high
as my own. Initially, I was not great at vice-principal worried about my emo-
camouflaging; it can only be finessed tional health finally made the situation
with frequent practice. So I focused on impossible to ignore. I was floundering
other strategies to combat my differ- at school; my poor math and science
entness. I was involved in a wide range marks meant I was failing Grade 9. Dad
of activities, from dancing to figure met with my teachers individually and
skating to acting to chorus singing, and successfully negotiated a pass. But I
I kept a to-do list to ensure everything only felt self-loathing: I was stupid. No
was managed. It was almost as if every one suspected that the underlying
minute of the day was planned and issue was autism.
structured so that I could focus more
on what I was doing and less on how I My grades improved, but throughout
was doing and even less on how I felt high school I still felt a sense of social
I was doing. Eventually, I learned to isolation, and our stressful home situa-
feel a sense of belonging. And while tion only exacerbated it. In 1988, the fall
social acceptance offered a reprieve after high school graduation, I had a son
with my boyfriend, Steven. We knew we
couldn’t raise him and placed him for
adoption, though we’ve had the good
fortune of an open relationship with

40 december 2020

Deschamps suspected she was autistic when her sons, Adrien (left) and Rene,
received their diagnoses.

him since he was five. We then com- not been obvious to me. I had con-
pleted our undergraduate degrees— vinced myself we belonged together
mine a bachelor of arts with a major in because we were together rather than
sociology and a minor in history, fol- questioning if we were truly happy.
lowed by a year of business college.
Two months later, I met Ryan. We
In 1994 I found work as a records married in 2000, and two sons fol-
assistant for a Maritime university’s lowed: Adrien and Rene. Meanwhile,
alumni and fundraising programs. my career in fundraising continued to
Soon after, I married Steven. I was good flourish. Always underlying my success
at my job—it provided an avenue for was my undiagnosed autism. To com-
me to apply my attentiveness to detail. bat my continued struggle to attach
But my overall confidence took a severe words to concepts, I listened atten-
hit when only 17 months after the wed- tively to people I considered articulate,
ding, Steven announced he was leav- then memorized their words, phrases
ing me. Our lack of compatibility had and sentences, and recorded them for

rd.ca 41

reader’s digest

future use. This presented as a com- In 2015, what seemed like another
mitment to self-improvement, while in great opportunity appeared: I was
reality it was one of my obsessions— recruited for a new job in Waterloo,
my version of lining up toy cars. Ont. There, I began being compli-
mented and recognized for my work
New jobs took us to Regina in 2011, like never before. Given my underlying
and for me it was nothing short of self-loathing, I didn’t know how to deal
complete upheaval. As I pushed higher with it. As I approached my one-year
at work—as well as further into middle work anniversary, all the symptoms of
age—camouflaging my autism left me my undiagnosed condition manifested
fatigued, angry and resentful. themselves in my work environment:
sensory overload and being baffled by
Our family situation had its own social cues and office politics.
stresses. Adrien read at age three,
wrote at age four and had astounding FINALLY, EVERYTHING
recall, yet he struggled socially begin- STARTED TO MAKE
ning in primary school. His teachers SENSE. FOR THE
noticed immediately that he avoided FIRST TIME, I FULLY
making eye contact, often preferred to ENJOYED LIFE.
be alone and had interests in topics
well beyond his age level. Finally, in At home, Rene’s symptoms—verbal
2012, when he was nine, he was diag- precociousness, challenges focusing
nosed with autism. Then, the next year, and trouble with interactions at
Rene’s Grade 1 teacher began to express school—were becoming more preva-
concerns about his challenges in lent. We began the assessment process
focusing, processing information and in early 2017; at the same time, my
interacting with classmates. Regretta- emotional troubles hit a crisis point,
bly, because of our stress levels and the and in May, I had a complete break-
fact that Adrien and Rene were very down at work. The day after we received
different from each other, autism Rene’s autism diagnosis, I asked my
didn’t occur to us. Meanwhile, I was family physician to refer me for my own
pursuing an MA in Canadian history, evaluation. “I think I have it, too,” I
ultimately as a full-time student, and explained. My assessment consisted of
entered therapy to address my growing completing in-person exercises as well
state of anxiety. This was my third time as the Adult Autism Spectrum Quotient,
in counselling and the third time I
would dig deeper, feel better—and
miss the most important component
of the picture. Autism never entered
the conversation.

42 december 2020

a self-reporting survey comprising 50 women’s experiences in the workplace.
statements, such as “I would rather go Hamdani highlights the urgency
to a library than a party,” “I am fascin-
ated by numbers” and “I find it difficult around early female diagnosis because
to work out people’s intentions.” the burden of late identification can be
huge. The psychologist who conducted
When, two months later, I received my assessment described my back-
my official autism diagnosis, I felt relief. ground as “a complicated picture”
Finally, everything started to make because of the number of environmental
sense. I couldn’t get over the positive and social factors involved. Unfortu-
effect of the diagnosis. For the first time, nately, my case is similar to others. By
I fully enjoyed life. the time some women with autism are
diagnosed, their mental health has
I SOUGHT ACCOMMODATION at work reached a crisis point, and they are expe-
but instead lost my job. Since then I’ve riencing depression and even suicidality.
become an entrepreneur. My new firm
is called Liberty Co. to signify that con- Self-awareness is the greatest gift
fronting the facts brings us freedom. you can give yourself, and knowing
The firm’s goal is to increase the par- my strengths as well as my limita-
ticipation level of the neurodiverse tions, both related and unrelated to
population in the workforce. I am also my autism, has allowed me to build my
the catalyst behind a collective focused self-esteem and connect with others.
on building gender equity through sup- My husband is the main beneficiary of
porting other women. And I am shar- all this positive change—I’ve relaxed
ing my story and the stories of others, and I’m more focused on myself and
often under the banner of the Inclusion us. Finally, I am a proud autism mom,
Revolution—a worldwide movement modelling for my children how you
launched by the inclusivity leader Car- can be unashamed, unafraid and unde-
oline Casey. Championing gender terred as an individual with unique
equity and neurodiversity provides an abilities. To honour my newfound
avenue for me to be an advocate for freedom, I refer to myself as “Real
women with autism, including as a Wanda.” I like her!
participant in research into autistic
© 2020, WANDA DESCHAMPS. FROM “I LEARNED I HAD
AUTISM AT 46,” BROADVIEW (MARCH 6, 2020),
BROADVIEW.ORG

By Definition

Dictionary: Opinion presented as truth in
alphabetical order.

JOHN RALSTON SAUL

rd.ca 43

reader’s digest

AS KIDS SEE IT

“And with you on guard, I won’t have to worry about that monster under my bed.”

One of my nephews just I saw him grinning eventually lost interest CONAN DE VRIES
brought me wine and sheepishly as he used in eating her cone.
said, “Here’s your my shirt to wipe cookie
Christmas juice.” crumbs off his hands. “Are you done with
— KENDRA ALVEY, author that,” my wife asked,
— ASHLEY ASHFIELD, “or are you going to
My five-year-old gently have a cow if I throw
rubbed his hands on Hampton, N.B. the rest out?”
my back. Interpreting
this as a sign of affec- Last summer, we took “It’s okay,” our
tion, I looked down to our family out for ice daughter replied.
give him a smile. Then cream and my wife “The cow can have it!”
noticed that our three-
year-old daughter — VIC WEINGARTNER,

London, Ont.

44 december 2020

My daughter just told I made the grievous mistake of laughing at
me that she checks my my five-year-old’s joke, so now I must hear
location on my phone that joke repeatedly until I die.
in order to determine
when she’s going to — @THECATWHISPRER
start on chores.
This went on for a their suitcases, Matthew
— @TMIKAMOUSE while but eventually looked into one of
got old, too. them. Confused, he
Me: Go back to bed. called out, “Grandpa?”
Six-year-old: It’s time “What’s that?” he
to get up. asked, pointing to — GAIL RODE,
Me: It’s still dark outside. a zebra.
Six-year-old: I’m faster West Kelowna, B.C.
than the sun. Exasperated, Kate
replied, “Geez, Grand- Me: What the heck am
— @XPLODINGUNICORN dad, don’t you know I going to do with my
anything?” kids today?
During my son’s confir- My daughters: We’re
mation, the Archbishop — WELLNER GAGNIER, going down to the
asked him if he wanted creek to make a movie
to go to heaven. My son Delta, B.C. about pants that are
replied, “Not yet.” actually people.
I love that my six-year-
— FILOMENA CIACCIA, old enjoys watching — @WRITESLOUD
Jeopardy, even if she
Delta, B.C. just announced At the stage of quaran-
she wants a Nano tine where my four-
My husband was read- Knee replacement. year-old nephew just
ing a story to our three- complained that I
year-old granddaugh- — @ERDMANMOLLY “take him to Dairy
ter, Kate, when her Queen too much”
attention began to Before the pandemic, and he “wants to try
wane. He tried a new our three-year-old something else.”
approach: reading a grandson, Matthew, — SELENA ROSS, journalist
couple of sentences at a went to Disneyland
time and then pointing with his parents. Before Send us your original
at pictures. they left, Matthew’s jokes! You could earn $50
grandpa had asked, and be featured in the
“What’s that?” “Can I come along in magazine. See page 9 or
he asked. your suitcase?” rd.ca/joke for details.

“A giraffe,” Kate When they got to
answered. their hotel and opened

rd.ca 45

HEALTH

How patients built
a simple phone app
that does a better job
than your pancreas

DIABETES

BY Jonathan Garfinkel

FROM THE WALRUS

D.I.Y.illustrationbydavemurray

46 december 2020



reader’s digest

i was 12 when my immune system sud- Type 1 diabetics—myself included—the
denly wiped out the insulin-producing opportunity to live full, relatively nor-
beta cells in my pancreas. The first mal lives. Insulin pumps let us forgo
symptoms arrived when I was in Paris, regular insulin injections: these small
on a family vacation. I started urinat- devices run a thin tube through a tiny
ing like crazy, drinking litres of water hole in the abdomen to deliver a pro-
each day to compensate. My memory of grammable stream of medication. Sen-
the Champs Élysées is not the beauty sors, called continuous glucose moni-
of the architecture but the number of tors (CGMs), can be placed under a
public bathrooms I had to duck into diabetic’s skin and will send updated
along the way. blood-glucose levels to users’ smart-
phones every five minutes. Managing
It was 1986, a different era in dia- Type 1, however, is still a full-time job—
betes care, and the doctors I eventually one where, if you don’t do it just right,
saw told me I could still eat whatever I you’ll feel terrible. Or get sick. Or die.
wanted, so long as I injected enough
insulin to compensate. I was told that The magic number for blood glucose
diabetes is manageable, that you can is typically 5 millimoles per litre of
live a good life with it—both mostly blood, and consistently hitting it is a
correct though not always straight- challenge, even with the most up-to-
forward. Yet my diagnosis still changed date tech. Diabetics still need to con-
how I saw myself. I contained a flaw, sider many factors to determine how
my body now a series of problems that much insulin they need to take: what
constantly had to be solved. they’ve eaten (and are going to eat),
how much exercise they’ve done (and
Diabetes is a tricky disease, both will do). Everything from stress to sex
to live with and to understand. It all can affect blood sugar. The trick for
comes down to the pancreas: in nor- managing it all is to think like a pan-
mal circumstances, the organ pro- creas—a problem, since nobody really
duces insulin, a hormone that controls understands how a pancreas thinks.
blood glucose. Diabetics either can’t
produce enough insulin (which causes But what if a computer could do all
the more manageable Type 2 diabetes) the hard work for you? Enter the artifi-
or any at all (Type 1). Because of this, cial pancreas, the holy grail of diabetes
our bodies can’t handle the sugar we management. Currently, a person might
consume. When blood-glucose levels use both an insulin pump and a CGM to
drop too low or surge too high, it can help manage their diabetes. Unfortu-
lead to serious health complications. nately, these pieces of tech don’t talk to
each other. The person with diabetes is
Thankfully, new medical and techno- still the one who’s constantly making
logical advancements have allowed

48 december 2020


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