CHRISTMAS CHEER OR CHRISTMAS FEAR

Note: If you love Christmas and family gatherings, please don’t read this ranty post of mine.  

I don’t enjoy big family gatherings. I find the whole shamozzle stressful. Who is hosting? Who is invited? Who is bringing what? If you host, there’s the clean up before and after the event. Not to mention the costs involved. 

You’re probably thinking, what’s the big deal? It’s only once a year, surely I can just cop it for a day. Well, add in dysfunctional family members, readily consumed alcohol, the undercurrent of unresolved family matters, mismatched personalities, eccentric and dementia-prone oldies, and you have the perfect storm for a catastrophic Christmas gathering. And if by chance, it doesn’t fall into utter chaos, the anxiety suffered from the anticipation is enough to make one keel over.  

Maybe it all stems from my childhood. I never enjoyed being dragged by my parents to attend our big family gatherings. Other than a few cousins that I played with, those gatherings were just an excuse for relatives to boast about their new cars, (mediocre) salaries and children’s academic achievements. Aunties would readily dish backhanded compliments to each other and drunk uncles would argue over who disrespected who. All under the watchful eyes of a cold matriarch and a distant patriarch.

By the time I reached adulthood, I had stood my ground and refused to return to the dysfunctional bosom of my extended family. I gave them all the cut. At eighteen, I decided that I didn’t need an extended family or their negativity. If my parents wanted to belong to that brand of crazies then so be it.

When I got married, there were occasions when we simply opted to go away somewhere to avoid the pressure of family gatherings. Now that I have children, it’s no longer about my wants or me. It’s about giving the children the opportunity to experience Christmas with extended family, opening presents, catching up with uncles that they don’t see often and being merry. So while it is a chore and I prefer to avoid family gatherings, I make the effort for my children. I go willingly (more like unwillingly) and I keep my grumblings predominantly to myself (and the husband).

This last Christmas, we celebrated with my parents, my brother and his fiancé. It was a small lunch affair. Between my brother and I, we organised that I would bring sides and he would cook the roasts. We agreed that my parents would have no involvement in the meal preparations. Their only task was to tidy up the house and tiny backyard.

Let me back up a bit. My parents are hoarders. My dad has at least three of everything and crams it all into his small townhouse. The garage is chock full with secondhand market goods that were ‘too cheap to pass up’. The bed in his room is cluttered with large speakers and electronic junk. There are fish tanks everywhere! Two large ones in the loungeroom, three in the dining area, one in the backyard. My mum, while not as bad, loves planting orchids. The backyard is a jungle. Nothing makes sense in their house. The kids love going there because it’s like going to a two-dollar store, jammed full of goodies to see and touch. Every time my daughter goes there, she gets a plastic bag and collects random trinkets and junk to bring home. My son just loves to feed the fish and dogs.

So on Christmas Day, we drove over with a potato salad, green salad, coleslaw and a sponge. The minute I entered, my dad proudly told me he spent hours cleaning the backyard so we could have the BBQ. He managed to clear his jungle to create a small seating space. My first questions were… What’s with the nesting pigeon and her babies doing perched underneath the café umbrella? And what BBQ, aren’t we doing roasts?

My brother was on a rant rampage on how my mum had ruined his roast chicken and roast pork. Evidently, she didn’t believe he could cook, so she took it upon herself to stuff the chicken with a pork mince mixture (instead of stuffing) and marinated it with some kind of weird mint (only herbs she had). She boiled the pork belly and shoved both the chicken and pork roasts into the oven with no regard to temperature or timing.  

My dad and his hard-of-hearing-ears-while-semi-drunk, had the radio blaring so little conversation could be had. My mum decided that feeding the kids cheese bread an hour before lunch was a good idea (there is no stopping my stubborn mother without a fight). There were prawns being barbecued on a tiny contraption, making my seafood hating husband and children barf.

By the time my brother’s fiancé had arrived, my brother and I had begun a heated debate on euthanasia of the family pets (I blame the stress of the day). We immediately put our best faces on (new fiancé didn’t need to see our crazy) and had a relatively calm afternoon with the children opening their Christmas presents. Of course, my dad took out every camera and video recording device he owned to capture the moment. And like every other occasion, the photos will be blurry and off-centre or he’ll have forgotten to press record on his devices. 

The kids were too full on bread to eat lunch but really, who could blame them for not wanting to sit with us while the creepy pigeon and its offspring watched from above.

Folks, the best part of Christmas… whimsical enjoyment by the children. Is it really worth it?

 

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2019 BLOG REFLECTIONS

This blog went live on March 1st of this year. At the time, it was called ‘A Day In The Life Of KN J’, homage to the fact that I was publishing stories based on days of my life. It was towards the end of April that I realised the name was not a correct representation of my writing – and that it was boring as hell! I was writing about snippets of my day or tales of my life, and so the name ‘KN J Tales and Snippets’ was born. What does KN J mean? Initials for my name. Why the space? KNJ was taken by some dudes. Very few brain cells were wasted there!

In March, I posted five stories – 100 Rocks, The Water Bottle, Lame, Fudge and It’s a Jungle Out There. These stories were my very first attempts at writing. I should probably go back and reread them sometime and see whether there’s been any improvement in my writing. It could be cringe worthy, considering I’ve since learnt about comma placement (and still not using them correctly).

During this blog’s inception, I spruiked and spammed mainly to family and friends. By the end of the first month, I had a total of 69 visitors and averaged 15 views per post. I had two likes and four comments, all from one super supportive and fantastic friend. I had ten followers, again all friends.

In April, I decided it was important to be disciplined with my writing schedule. I was going to aim for a weekly blog post, but I couldn’t commit to a specific day or time – I still can’t! I posted four stories – Lunch, The Art of Packing, Namaste and Basket Case . It would be The Art of Packing that finally enticed an internet wanderer to comment, and it elicited eight likes!

In May, I discovered the importance of SEO and terms like categories and tags. I doubled back and fixed my previous posts, in turn doubling my stats. The Silver Lining of Being Awkward and Half-Priced Discount…Still Not Enough were the first posts to break ten likes! My favourite post was Accidental Railjob.

In June, I delved into strategies to market my brand and created a Facebook Page and Twitter account. Other than WordPress, Facebook is my second highest referrer. I’ve only recently seen some engagement with Twitter. It takes a hell of a lot of engagement on all platforms to generate traffic and in the end, I stopped actively seeking inorganic methods. I found myself down the rabbit hole of the net, constantly checking stats and trying to improve traffic. It was wreaking havoc with my mind. It wasn’t my initial intent but somehow it had become my ball and chain. I forced myself to re-evaluate the reasons why I started this blog and did an overhaul in my thinking – I write because I want to share my experiences, my audience will find it in due course.

I began opening up about my mental health issues. My Struggle With Small Talk revealed my social anxiety issues and Find Your Strength was the first time I admitted to not coping with depression and parenting. It was also the month that my readership grew, and people began commenting. I began to understand that my words were being heard and people did resonate with my experiences, in both parenting and with mental health.

In July, our household suffered through influenza and a range of illnesses. It was a tough time where I resorted to fast food and self-pity – Chasing the Golden Arches.

In August, I received my first retweets on Twitter! Slaving Over a Hot Stove and How to Survive Toddlerhood. The writing community on Twitter is amazing and supportive. I do feel like an imposter calling myself a writer because I haven’t published any books but as it’s been pointed out to me – I write, therefore I am a writer!

In September, I struggled with content and motivation to write, producing only three posts – Stranger Directions, Live Without a Net and Little Bit of History Repeating.

In October, I got two awards! Sunshine Blogger Award and The Liebster Award. I think the last time I was awarded for something was in high school. The underachiever in me was extremely happy.

My Remedy for School Holiday Boredom took out the highest likes for the year at 26! I quit my job at the end of October, unable to balance working and motherhood and battle with mental health issues – Farewell Until We Meet Again was my goodbye post to my fellow colleagues.

In November, I did a creative writing course and submitted my homework as blog posts along with my usual ramblings. Funnily enough, I discovered that I like poetry and writing it. A Mother’s Love was my first poem. One of my stories, Remember to Breathe, was published for the first time in the Your Child magazine. They published When It Rains, It Pours the following month. Another magazine MamaMag published The Art of Packing. Man, it was the best feeling!

In December, The Dreaded School Run took out the highest number of comments for the year! I participated in Hoppy Tales, a short story writing tag that was super fun and brought a whole new crowd to my blog!

So… now that I’ve spammed you with a bunch of back links, what have I really got to say about 2019?

This year has been successful on so many fronts. It’s been a crazy journey of self-discovery and healing. Sitting down and penning my thoughts has taught me that I am capable of self-discipline, of reflecting on my feelings and actions, and more importantly, making the necessary changes to gain a happier me and experience a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

I’ve met wonderful and supportive people in the blogging and writing community. I’ve read some poignant, beautiful, inspiring and heartbreaking posts. I’ve laughed at funny gifs and admired Instagram-worthy photos. I’ve formed social connections I never dreamed could happen. Thank you to everyone who reads, comments or likes my posts – it means so much to me that you take the time out of your busy day to read my ramblings.

For 2020, I wish to continue my journey to create inspiring, empowering and humorous written pieces. I hope that my words can bring comfort, laughter and be relatable to those who read them.

I’ll be on a break for a few weeks so there won’t be any posts from me. I’m aiming for time away from social media so I won’t be online – much.

Happy holidays everyone! See you in the New Year! Keep safe. Love more. Hate less. Eat more greens.

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NEW LOW OF CUSTOMER SERVICE

Retail customer service comes in many forms and levels – a spectrum of care, if I may be so bold.

The highest level might include an immediate acknowledgement of your presence, “Hello, how can I help you?” or “Hello, I’ll be with you in a moment.” Followed by some assistance if need be, a little small talk, a quick transaction and a farewell. Throw in a freebie promotion or extra discount, and you’re guaranteed a happy customer, probably a returning one if there is a sincere attempt at forming a connection.

The lowest level might include shop assistants standing around gasbagging or placing more importance on restocking merchandise instead of helping their customers. There little to no care with forming any connection. These employees are counting the minutes until closing and simply waiting for the next paycheck. You’re actually doing them a disservice by being in the store.

When you go into a shop, what do you expect from a customer service attendant? At a minimum, I expect a greeting or an acknowledgement of my presence. Recently, I experienced a level of customer service not previously charted – it was so poor that it was off the spectrum!

I was passing a boutique clothing store and noticed the linen skirt that I had previously eyed, reduced by 30%. I really wanted it. I hadn’t bought anything for myself since… you know, I can’t even remember – that’s how long ago.

I rarely buy clothing at full prices. Being on one income and having children (costly little things) means that I opt for clothing from the sales rack or budget shops (BTW major Kmart fan). I don’t have anyone to impress or anywhere to be, so usually, I’m slobbing in a long granny cardigan and some colour faded leggings or unfashionably high-waisted jeans. It’s my go-to outfit, the one I’m most comfortable in, despite looking like the Runway Goddess of the Dag.

So on a whim, I took the skirt into the store with my three-year-old son and waited for a free change room.

I read somewhere that within the first seven seconds upon meeting a person, our subconscious mind makes a series of assessments, AKA judgements on a range of areas such as intelligence, socioeconomic status, trustworthiness, sexual orientation and promiscuity. I guess that’s why there’s the phrase “people are quick to judge.”

The sales assistant, who I presumed was the owner, must have found me severely lacking after those seven seconds of judging. I must have given her a bad first impression, so much so, that she immediately despised my presence. It’s either that or she had the best resting bitch face I have ever seen. You just know when someone is judging you. It makes your skin crawl and your gut squeamish. You feel it. It’s called intuition.

As soon as I stepped within the store, I felt the weight of her stare; her laser penetrating beams projected by her beady eyes, tracking my every move. The old coot had a downturned mouth and a surly disposition. She didn’t gift me a smile or a greeting, simply watched my son and I, standing a metre away. This woman was sending me bad vibes and visual cues that made me feel unfairly judged. It felt as though she was attempting to telepathically shoo me out of her store.

I have never experienced this kind of customer service. It had me recalibrating my spectrum of care. This was the new low. I couldn’t fathom the reason behind this woman’s seemingly poor behaviour.

Was she like this to all her customers? Was she having a bad day? Does she not care about fostering good relations with customers and encouraging repeat business? Or was it me? 

Was it because I had a three-year-old with me? Does she hate children? Was she worried about the damage he might cause to her merchandise? I mean, he was walking between the aisles and face-planting against the mirror but it was harmless fun (Probably lost some good brain cells but eh!). I wasn’t about to let him pull clothes off racks or throw jewellery across the room!

Or was it because of my appearance? Did I look like a penniless chump off the streets looking to swipe some goods? Sure I had on my ratty cardigan and could pass as a Bogan, but I had shoes on… so didn’t I meet the minimum requirements for service? Plus, I had money! Well, a credit card.

I hate to think it had anything to do with my nationality or physical appearance. Australia is a vibrant multicultural country with rich cultural diversity, so overt racism is rarely experienced. I don’t like to pull the race card, so I refuse to believe it was the reason for the lacklustre service.

The woman’s blatant disregard for customer service really had me feeling bad. Fancy that! And after all that emotional turmoil, the seam on the skirt tore upon the first wear!

I’m sure there is a lesson in here somewhere… Maybe next time I see something I really want, I’ll do online shopping instead.

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WAVES OF EMOTIONS

Pre-surgery ramblings:

There are three large frames of dusty landscapes placed strategically around the room. Lines of orange and beige chairs face towards the walkway that leads to the reception desk. It’s unsettling having eyes on you as you walk in.

Two large rugs are hung on the wall behind reception; one striped with brown, green, orange and yellow, and the other with different shaped circles. Perhaps the interior designer used the varying colours of poo as inspiration for the room. It is after all, the specialist rooms for gastroenterology.

I’m sitting here, waiting for my husband to be released post-gastroscopy/colonoscopy. We are here for investigative procedures following complaints of severe stomach pains.

If you ask me, I believe it is due to the stresses of work and life. He is known put aside his own basic needs of food and water to accommodate work issues. He works long hours and rarely takes any leave. He is always on call, awakened at all hours of the night. On days of leave, such as today, his phone still buzzes with calls from work. Having a medical procedure doesn’t give you an out.

It’s got me thinking. Is there such thing as work life balance? Can you pursue and achieve a successful career without it impacting your health, family or life? Conversely, can you have a fulfilling life without some form of work?

Post surgery misery:

As soon as my husband entered the room, I knew there was something amiss. His usually unreadable mask broken, his face shrouded with unease. The news was not positive. He was speaking but the words weren’t computing. I had to read the papers that the specialist had given him, not trusting his words.

‘Four polyps removed. One single 20mm sessile polyp removed. All sent for examination. Repeat colonoscopy in a year.’

For most people, this information wouldn’t elicit extreme emotions. No definitive results other than some polyps. There is no point worrying until the polyps are tested. However, to a person who suffers from anxiety and prone to worst-case scenarios, my mind is having a meltdown.

I’m scared. A train of morbid thoughts plagues my mind; precancerous polyps, bowel cancer, mortality rates, death. Google is fast becoming my unwanted best friend.

What happens if they are precancerous polyps? What does this mean? How can I fix this? What can I do?

I just want to cry. I can’t deal with the unknown. The thought of anything happening to my husband makes me want to break down. He is my strength, my love, my everything. I can’t help but cry as I type this.

So as I enter these next few weeks of uncertainty, I pray that I can be strong for my husband and my children, and that I can put aside my own fears and anxiety to support the man who has always been my rock. For I won’t be the only person riding the waves of emotions.

Update: We found out the polyps were indeed precancerous types, ones that lead to colon cancer if not removed. I’m relieved the outcome was not cancer but I can’t help but feel upset that there is that looming risk. For now, we continue our healthy diet and annual surveillance. Thank you to everyone for your support and kind words during the times I was feeling overwhelmed with fear and anxiety.

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CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Have you ever witnessed something that shocked you to your core? I’m not talking about something as devastating as seeing people or animals injured or dead. No, nothing like that. I’m talking about seeing someone do something that alters your perception of that person. Specifically, seeing a respectable and upstanding member of your community exit a Thai massage parlour and immediately run across the road to a boutique florist. Seriously, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground and plug my eyeballs back into their sockets after seeing that!

“Mummy, what’s wrong?” My three-year-old son had asked me. “Mummy, what are you looking at? Why are your eyes all funny?”

My general practitioner had just exited THE DOOR. A sordid looking door nestled between two family friendly establishments in a community strip of shops. This door is the entrance to a dank and dark stairwell that leads to a Thai massage.

Have you ever wondered why the windows are always covered? What are they hiding? And what’s with the flashing neon open signs? Are they really a front for nefarious activities?

I have only been for a Thai massage once. It was a result of a cheap Groupon deal for two, an eager girlfriend and my temporary loss of sanity. It involved a dusty stairwell, a few wary female masseuses, a notable lack of English, questionable stains on the carpet and a whole heap of miming about no-go zones. There was not enough soap in the world that could have scrubbed the icky sensations left on my skin from that experience.

Not so long ago, I was sitting in my car waiting for my pizza order. I just so happened to be parked near a Thai massage parlour. In the space of twenty minutes, a tradie had plonked his ute in front of me, gone for his “massage” and left, all before my pizza was even ready for collection! Now tell me, what bloody massage is that quick? You can bet I gave him my biggest judgemental glare.

I have my suspicions. Yes, my doctor could be innocent. He might have needed a Thai massage and the only convenient time was during his lunch break. By chance, it may have been his wife’s birthday or their anniversary and after his “session”, it was convenient to stop by the florist on the way back to his clinic. He probably buys the world’s biggest bouquet of red roses on every special occasion, and this time was no different. Maybe it’s just a series of unrelated events. Though, I find it hard to believe because his actions suggest a man with a guilty conscience.

You can probably sense my strong dislike for these businesses. If you tell me that you frequent these places for legitimate massages, chances are I will automatically think the worst of you. And if you bring me flowers for no apparent reason, I might judge you on the size of the bouquet… the larger the bunch, the bigger the guilt.

Am I jumping to conclusions too readily? Is my perception coloured by my experience and pessimism? Maybe the reason people aren’t as affected by the sight of men coming and going from massage parlours is because mostly, nothing untoward happens. Maybe people do simply go for massages because they are effective and cheaper than treatment with a physio. And your partner randomly giving you flowers is sweet and doesn’t equate to any misdeeds. Am I too judgmental and see the worst in people too quickly. Could I have delicate sensibilities?

Whatever. The bottom line is this… If I ever get random flowers from my husband, there will be hell to pay. Oh, and we’re getting a new doctor.

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THE DREADED SCHOOL RUN

When my daughter started primary school, I had a master plan. Despite suffering from crippling social anxiety, I was going to shove my insecurities deep down where the sun doesn’t shine, pull up my big girl pants, and be sociable. I was going to make an effort to introduce myself to other mums because I understood that I was the gateway to my daughter’s social life, and I wanted her to have positive experiences. I didn’t want people to see me as the awkward and antisocial person that seldom spoke and therefore, unfairly judge my daughter.

So in the first year of school, I tried getting to know people. I soon realised that there were many cliques and not all were welcoming, not everyone was friendly and some would outright ignore me. It surprised me to see strangers becoming fast friends within such a short space of time. People were enjoying family holidays together, picking up each other’s children and organising play dates.

All the while, I was struggling to get an invite to the end of term park gatherings and classroom parent dinners. Most of the time, I was invited as an afterthought or at least, that was my perception. I couldn’t even secure play dates successfully, bar one mum who took me under her wing.

I would watch with envy and disappointment as groups of mums would leave for coffee dates after the school runs. Why didn’t they invite me? These situations would evoke powerful emotional childhood memories of insecurities and inadequacies, making me feel like that outcast once more. Suffice to say, I spent a lot of those early days hidden in the car until the very last minute.

Fortunately, I did make a few good friends that year, and I’ve clung on to them since (You know who you are – thank you!). School runs can be intimidating, especially for someone who suffers from social anxiety. On days where I don’t find a friendly face, I feel anxious waiting around. Small talk is a mammoth task for me, especially with people I’m not comfortable with or know well.

My husband doesn’t understand my irrational fears with the dreaded school runs. How could he though? He doesn’t have social anxiety. He wasn’t an outcast as a child in school. He is confident in his own skin and has his tight-knit group of childhood friends. He has no problem with small talk or meeting new people, even though he is an introvert by nature.

I, however, allow this debilitating mental illness to dictate almost every social interaction that I have. It has become a stranglehold that keeps me from meeting new people, forming friendships and sometimes even keeping friendships. I’m plagued by insecurities and anxiety over forming connections but at the same time, I doubt why anyone would want to be my friend. I’m not interesting, I don’t have hobbies, I’m not well-travelled, and I’m not worldly or cultured.

My husband made an observation that gave me pause. “Why is it that you think so little of yourself? Why wouldn’t people want to be your friend? Why don’t you ask to join them for coffee?”

Upon reflection, I surmised that I am simply scared. I’m scared to put myself out there, to allow myself to be vulnerable and be judged. What if I’m found to be wanting? What if people don’t like me? What if I let myself hope for friendship and be sorely disappointed? What if I’m rejected for being me?

Recently, I met a wonderful and kind school mum, by chance, at one of my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. It was only upon getting to know her that I realised that I am not alone in my feelings, that perhaps there are many of us that have our own doubts and insecurities. She made me understand that having meaningful social connections and friendships are important, and that it is worth pursuing, particularly for people who suffer from social anxiety.

This year, I haven’t hidden in my car or pretended to be on the phone as much and I’ve continued to work on my small talk and forming connections with other people. I would like to think that my social anxiety has lessened in intensity and that my communication skills have improved.

But as we creep towards a new school year, where undoubtedly there will be new faces to meet and new connections to make, I know my anxiety levels will rise and there will be an overwhelming urge to hide in the car.

Does it get easier? Can someone overcome social anxiety? I really hope so because I don’t like the idea of hiding in the car for the next decade.

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THROUGH THE LENS

Perspective – the way that you see something, a point of view.

An example could be a patient and his spouse sitting in the doctor’s room waiting for said doctor to deliver the verdict of the patient’s recent colonic biopsies.

Precancerous adenomas. One considered an aggressive form that can develop into cancer and needs regular colonoscopies for detection and removal.

The two people receiving this news could be hearing the same information but have differing perspectives. The patient’s perspective could be that this is good news and some changes to the diet might be needed. What will be, will be. His spouse’s perspective might be that this is devastating news and drastic dietary changes are necessary. A ‘all or nothing’ approach.

How is it that two people can have such differing views?

We are a product of our upbringing and environment. Our beliefs are influenced and shaped by family, childhood, culture, religion, life experiences and so much more. We look at the world through our own unique pair of lens. Our perspectives are formed by our core belief systems.

How can differing perspectives cause conflict for this couple?

Well, I would imagine the woman might throw a fit and demand that the dietary changes she’s made to reduce the man’s risk factors aren’t extreme and that kale doesn’t taste THAT bad! And eating couscous is like eating rice… 

I could see that the man might try to rationally and logically explain that crash diets don’t work and smaller changes are needed to maintain longevity. He might use conversational tactics he uses on work colleagues to get his point across. He might get frustrated at the woman’s defensive and increasing volume, and start talking to her as though he’s disciplining their seven-year-old stubborn child.

She might threaten to feed him more kale. Sure, it’s bitter and tastes like medicine but that’s why you pinch your nose and swallow whole.

He might suggest eating a meat pie once in a while isn’t going to lead to cancer.

Eventually, they will reach a stalemate with neither seeing the other person’s perspective. Something about Mars and Venus is at play. Someone will cry because crying is good for the soul and an effective stress reliever.

So how can they resolve their conflict?

Time apart can help them reflect on what the other person has said. It can allow them time to consider why the other person might behave the way they do and find common ground to resolve the issue.

The man might consider that allowing the woman to have control over the family diet will alleviate her anxiety and fears of the unknown. She’s only trying to help and she might need more hugs. Plus, she can become batsh*t crazy when anxious.

The woman might consider finding a middle ground with dietary changes, that an ‘all or nothing’ approach isn’t sustainable. She’s not the only one affected by the information and her emotions must play a secondary role.

They might want to sit down and make a list of possible changes and mark what can be achieved now and gradually over time. They need to turn towards each other for support and give the other person respect and love. They must remember that everyone is different. People see the world and its problems differently, and that is ok. They both have a common goal, reducing the risk factors that lead to colon cancer, and working together is the answer.

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