Jan. 20, 2012 6:02 am
I’ve probably posted this before, but I was positive I wouldn’t get another breast cancer after my second one. So number three came as a surprise. At first I just shook my head and thought: “Damn…I need to go through this again.” After a whole lot of research, consultations, and soul searching, I wound up with a treatment plan I’m comfortable with. It’s not the mainstream approach but I’m not a mainstream patient. If it’s rare, it’ll happen to me. Or, put another way, health-wise I’m at the extremes of the bell curve, and have been pretty much all my life. A medication that would ease your pain would increase mine. It’s just the way it is.
So, if you haven’t been following my blog, I opted to pass on “standard treatment” after I had the lump removed and, instead, I’ve turned to changes in my lifestyle (diet and exercise). I’ve also recruited the assistance of a Naturopathic Doctor whose first step was to take samples of my blood to determine what parts of my immune system are in need of help. It turns out my “natural killer” while blood cells aren’t as active as they should be. So now I’m taking supplements to boost their activity.
But the real work for me has been in how I think about all this. As a seasoned “survivor”, I know the facts pretty well: one in three women die of breast cancer; recurrence is highest in the first two years after diagnosis; if you’ve had breast cancer before you’re considered a high risk for recurrence (or another one); breast cancer can spread (metastasize) to the liver, pancreas, bones, lungs, brain; after you’re diagnosed with a primary breast cancer (vs. a recurrence), there’s an 85% chance you won’t get it again; body fat aids in the production of estrogen, so if your breast cancer is estrogen receptive positive, it makes sense to get thin; red meat has been linked with breast cancer; over 75% of breast cancers have no risk factors associated with them (they just appear out of the blue) and, in my case, I don’t carry either of the known breast cancer genes.
These thoughts are in the back of my mind, probably always, although I’m not always consciously aware of them. But one or more pop up more frequently now. And, although my lower back and knees hurt from arthritis, I get myself to exercise each day (swimming, yoga, walking). When I feel a new ache, I take note (so far they’ve each gone away on their own).
None of what I’m doing is a big deal, or different from what so many others do for their own reasons. The only reason it’s remarkable is that I was raised on Wonder Bread and other processed foods of the 1960s and beyond. Learning to think differently about what I eat (and drink) has been in my world for a dozen years or so, but now it’s become a demanding necessity. How can I object? I’m already 20 pounds lighter (20 more to go) and feel healthier than I have in years.
More importantly, though, is my approach to each new day. I enjoy leisure time without feeling guilty. I laugh more. I seek and create happiness…for myself and others. I’m more lovingly honest and kind with people I care about. I don’t long for something I don’t have. I don’t wish I was younger, or that things were different. I’ve come to accept — on a deeper level than I had — that life really is what I make of it, and (not to scare you) death is ahead of me at some point. Nature has seen to that and has given me the blessing of bringing it into clearer focus. I could be gone in a year or two. Or maybe in 30 years. That’s not what matters. What matters is what I do with my life between now and then. I learned this after my first breast cancer. It’s an even stronger guiding light today.
It probably helps that I believe death is as natural as a fading rosebush… with an inherent spirit that will produce new roses before too very long. Which is to say I don’t believe death will be the end. Instead, I believe it’s a birth into the next phase of existence. It’s in that thought where I’ve found my faith.
Practicing random acts of kindness is a great way to spend a day. I’ve been dabbling in this for a while, but it’s becoming the norm now. I don’t get angry anymore (or not much). I understand everyone has their own battles and (for the most part) they’re doing their best, even if that means they’re mean or grouchy or judgmental. If it relieves their pain, God bless.
So this is where I’ve landed — back where I was after my first diagnosis, but with a deeper appreciation for the blessings of breast cancer than I had before. I accept this. I can live with it. In fact, I’m better for it.
And now for those of you interested in nutrient dense recipes, here’s one that’s easy to make and has become a staple:
Lentils, Rice, and Mushroom Casserole
Serves 10… lasts for up to 5 days
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minded
1 c. brown rice
1 c. dried green lentils (uncooked)
1/4 c. low sodium tamari
14.5 oz. can of low sodium diced tomatoes
4 c. vegetable broth
1-1/2 c. mushrooms, (cremini, shitake, button… one type or mix them together)
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. dried rosemary
1 tbsp. dried basil
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. dried red pepper flakes
1 c. nutritional yeast flakes*
2 c. kale, torn into bite-size pieces**
Pre-heat oven to 350°
In a large dutch oven, mix together all ingredients except for the nutritional yeast flakes and kale (they come toward the end of the baking process).
Cover and bake for 90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes to keep the casserole from sticking.
When there are 10 minutes left to bake, add the nutritional yeast flakes and kale and stir well. Cover and finish baking.
*Nutritional yeast flakes are available in the organic section of some grocery stores (under the “Bob’s” label), and is available in bulk at health food stores. It adds a cheesy flavor and texture to whatever you add it too.
** Kale is one of the most nutritional dense foods on the planet. It blends in so well that you might not know it’s in this dish.
I’ve used this dish as a hot meal, a cold salad, and as taco filling! It’s versatile and tasty.
Your Hero’s Journey!