Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Next Step Of The Journey

Man, this past week has just flown by! When you go from laying around all but a few hours a day back to the reality of keeping up with 2 small energetic, crazy kids it feels like your spinning in a tornado. We have stayed pretty busy catching up on the life that I so missed living. I dusted off my bike and we have taken several trips to the park. We met up with friends at Wacky Tacky. We also took a quick trip to Chico to see my cousin and her best friend give their 8th grade presentations. My cousin’s best friend had interviewed me in early January for her report on breast cancer. Being her “research” I was honored to be invited to hear her report. She did a fabulous job on her presentation and did a great job public speaking. It’s been fun… but man am I tired. I hit a wall a couple days ago and let the TV take care of the kids for the day. I know it’s not optimum, but sometime you just have to do what you need to do.

My appointments last week went well. Depending on the results of the BRACA testing (which should be back within the next 2 weeks) we will know when, or if, I will start radiation. If the test is positive, I will opt for the surgeries, eliminating the need for radiation. Soon we will know what the next step looks like. My appointment with my Oncologist was great. After checking me out he said, “You need to know that I have changed your patient status from ‘cancer patient’ to ‘history of cancer’. It’s in your past, in your history. Good job, you did great.” As he spoke, I broke into tears. He gave me a hug. I gave him a hug. I cried. He smiled. I breathed. He nodded his head and shared in my joy. A weight was lifted in that moment. I feel free for now.

So now, we march into the future…
There was a moment a few months ago where I had a true ‘ah-ha’ moment. I was standing at the kitchen sink trying to wash the dishes. In that moment, my body was weak, my muscles ached, and the slight bend of my back over the sink was killing me. I was tired and irritable. A hot flash came over me, kicking me while I already felt down. I remember thinking how pathetic it was that I could barley stand there to do such a simple task. I clearly remember that in my head I heard myself say, “You have taken your health for granted.” This statement is true. You often do not know what you have until you have lost it. Before cancer I did not understand the importance of valuing my health – it was just always there and things were fine.

I do not think I mentioned this before, but as a side effect from the steroids in the chemo I gained close to 20 lbs during the 12 week treatment of Taxol. The last few weeks my skin also seemed to break out in red bumps (kind of like acne, but nothing to pop. Gross, I know, sorry.) As you can imagine, feeling blotchy, puffy, bloated, and bald has a way of making a girl feel less than pretty. I tried to keep a positive attitude, but every time I looked in the mirror there was a reminder of how chemo had beaten up my body and altered my appearance. I have been determined that once this was over I wanted to take steps to feel healthy again.

 Throughout this cancer journey I have begun a quest for understanding health and diet a little more. After all, my favorite food is candied peach rings, so clearly my understanding of good eating is a bit messed up. I have been given several resources and notes from friends and family about clean eating. I watched a documentary called ‘Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead’ that really got me thinking and evaluating my diet lifestyle. I read most of The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health. Learned a ton about the Crazy, Sexy Diet from my Crazy, Sexy Cancer book. I watched a ton of Dr. Oz and recently watched the movie ‘Forks Over Knives’ which takes a look at food and it’s impact on disease. With all of these sources of info flooding my brain it has really made me evaluate what I can do to treat my body better and live a healthier life.

It is a strange place to be as a cancer patient. The oncology/medical science world does not seem to endorse or encourage you to follow any particular diet. They do not recognize studies by dietitians as concrete (from my experience). Yet in the world of dietetics, there are all sorts of studies that link diet to disease and even cures for disease. Being Triple Negative, we felt it was necessary to take the most aggressive form of treatment, however some people (depending on their diagnosis) choose to use food and ancient remedies to heal their bodies. Honestly, this is all bigger than my understanding (What is a candied peach ring anyway?) but what I do know is that if I can do something, anything, to help my body and health then now is the time to take action.

Several weeks ago, I visited my friend’s church and the pastor was preaching out of Daniel Chapter 1. While his message was on a different topic, I read ahead and found an interesting passage that I had never seen before. In the passage, Daniel (along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) had been captured by King Nebuchadnezzar and were sent to his palace to basically be brainwashed to be one of his loyal followers/servants. They were not treated harshly like slaves, but instead given the same royal food and wine and sent to school to learn the language and ways of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Okay, so here’s what caught my eye:
Daniel, Chapter 1, 8-16:
 8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

 11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. 

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

Reading that passage was a tipping point moment for me. What a testament to the value of a clean plant based diet! Additionally, when I met with the geneticists last week, after he heard that my dad & all 3 of his siblings, along with my grandmother and great-grandmother all had diabetes, looked at me and said “you realize your genetically destined for diabetes”. No need to argue or dwell over this topic any longer. I need to make a change, and it needs to be more than just a fad diet. A real life change and moving to a mainly plant based diet is the change I want to make. (Knock on wood!) My husband of course is terrified that I will go all vegan and we will never eat meat again. No… that’s not my plan, but I do want to choose food from the earth over all the processed foods I have gorged on all my life.

I know that some of you are shaking your head in agreement and some of you think I have been brainwashed and have gone to the ‘dark side’. I know you are scared that I have become a hippie-loving-tree-hugger…or worse, a liberal. (To my liberal friends – you know I am just kidding. To my conservative friends - you know what I’m talking about.) For those of you that think I am crazy, I double-dog-dare you to watch ‘Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead’. The first time I watched it I was inspired and motivated to make a change. The second time I watched it I was taken by the way that the average American cares so little about their health, diet and life expectancy. Check it out (also available on Netflix and Hulu):

For those of you who are smiling and giddy that you have a new convert, please be patient with me. This is a completely new way of doing life and I thank you ahead of time for your support and help as I try to fight this new fight for better health. Today marks the 8th day of a 10 day juice fast/reboot/detox. Just veggies and a little fruit. My mom had a juicer that my aunt gave her years ago. It is older as not as flashy as the new sports car-like machines, but it gets the job done. So far, I have increased energy, my skin is completely clean, and unlike a diet where you feel hungry, I feel completely satisfied. After the 10 days are over, I will report what I have discovered. Oh, and Eric, my husband, my meat-loving, Pepsi drinking, big boy of a husband decided yesterday to join me on this fasting experiment and has committed to juicing 2 meals a day. I’m pretty proud of him for how he is open to this life change too.

I hope this wasn’t too preachy of a post. And I hope I can live up to these words that I have now put into print for eternity. This kind of life change is just the next step of the journey and a new way to fight for a better and healthier life. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting Back To Normal

There was a little girl who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead;

When she was good, she was very, very good,

And when she was bad she was horrid.

I am not sure why I know the above Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme by heart… but if you remove the girl with the curl and insert the image of my nearly 5-year-old ‘bundle of joy’, you will get an idea of what the past week has been like in our house. Let’s just say I have been busy reestablishing my boundaries and authority as “Queen of the Castle”, and our “Little Prince” is resisting the regime change.  To be fair, the poor kid has dealt with being displaced, multiple caretakers, a sick and unavailable mom, and a house full of a variety of emotions, uncertainty, and a degree of chaos. I know Nathan is just testing the boundaries of just how far his attitude, actions and language will be tolerated and accepted. Earlier last week I even trimmed his hair (all by myself and it actually looks decent – yeah me!) in hopes that I might be able to cut off a bit of his attitude. It worked for a couple days. Then I took a note from my grandmother’s book and blamed the amazing full moon, which has graced us over the past few days. As of today, I just have this nursery rhyme dancing in my head, When he was good, he was very, very good and when he was bad he was horrid.”

Then there is Leah. Her poem is “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.” I know her day will come, but for this past week she has been a delight. She is clearly glad to have mommy back and I think that somehow in her 20-month-old brain she is taking advantage of Nathan’s behavior in order to shine like a sweet little star.

My shopping buddy.
"You talking to me?"

So, basically now that I am done with chemo… I’m REALLY tired. However, I feel great! The weather has been beautiful and I have enjoyed spending most of the days working in the yard or watching the kids play. Being active has made me feel better both physically and mentally. What a difference a week makes.

This week I have several doctors’ appointments. On Monday, I meet with the Radiation Center to discuss my treatment plan, which should begin in early April. Then later that day we will meet with my Oncologist for my follow-up appointment. I have a number of questions for him so I am looking forward to this meeting. Wednesday I meet with the Genetics Dept. and will have blood drawn for the BRCA1 genetics testing. Last week I was interviewed by the Genetic Counselor for about an hour. She needed to discuss the testing and go over family history, although considering I have cancer at such a young age, I already qualify for the testing. It will take about 3 weeks to get the results. A few months ago, I had great fear about this test, but now I feel comfort and consider that it will bring either peace or clarity... both results offering a gift to my family and myself.

It surprised me what an emotional and mental rollercoaster ending chemo has had on me. As excited as I was to finish treatment, there was also a part of me scared and nervous about this phase of the fight ending. For the past 5 months, I have been able to actively fight cancer. Chemo has been my nunchaku, my katana, my pair of sai, my bo staff – my weapon of mass destruction. It was as if getting that last treatment was my last attempt to battle the enemy and now I lay down my weapon and have to wait for my enemy to either return in the night, or trust that he is gone forever. Believing that I have been healed, while at the same time needing to survey my body daily for any new growths is like being tossed by a wave in the sea. I expect that radiation will feel like going back to battle again but this time with a smaller sort of weapon… like brass knuckles or pepper spray.

This really is a fight, mentally, emotionally, and of course physically. Perhaps I am slow, but I am just starting to realized how long this fight will be… I suppose in some ways the rest of my life.

Sorry I do not have anything too thought provoking to offer this post. Just an update and grateful heart that we are now one step closer to being back to normal.

* You know, since the day I found out I had cancer and the radiologist used the word “mutant” to describe the Triple Negative nature of my cells, my mind can't help by likened myself to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.  “Heroes In A Half-Shell. Turtle Power!"