Posts by Robin

Although this is a blog about breast cancer, I don't let breast cancer define who I am. I'm the oldest of 6 kids, wife of the best guy on the planet, mother of the best son on the planet, "Nana" to the three best grandsons on the planet, and an overall happy girl. When I'm not writing about breast cancer, I'm often writing about something else (food, music, politics, manners, you name it). I'm also a great cook, and a pretty good bridge player.

A Bump in the Road

Feb. 25, 2012 5:51 am
It’s not fully fair to call my latest health development a “bump”, but more on that in a bit.

The lovely (and very sweet) doctor I saw at Moffitt Cancer Center yesterday suspects I have an aggressive and advanced breast cancer — again in the left breast. I’m scheduled for next Wednesday to go through pretty much everything having to do with imaging: mammogram, ultrasound, and MRI, followed by scans of my bones and organs to look for metastases. By the end of the week, I should have a clear picture of how much trouble my body is in…if any.
It could be a common healing problem with breasts that have been through radiation. That’s the optimistic hope. The surgeon (who is Indian, and whose name is hard to spell and pronounce, so I’ll call her “Dr. K.”)… Dr. K gave me the worst case scenario: in part because I believe that’s what she thinks is going on, but also because she’d rather prepare me for the worst and if it’s better than that, hurrah! I don’t necessarily disagree with her approach unless she turns out to be wrong. I now have 5 days to get through “knowing” the likelihood of me living to a ripe old age is slim to none.
The facility I’m connected with is solely dedicated to women with breast cancer, so — all things considered — I couldn’t have landed in a better place. True, it’s an hour from where we’re “snow-birding” and 1500 miles from home but, for now anyway, it makes sense to stay the course. When we know more about what I’m dealing with, we’ll make whatever decisions seem best.
I can’t say I’m happy about the news, of course. It’s discouraging, scary, upsetting, and sad. Hubby (Mike) and I have had some difficult moments since the exam yesterday, using more Kleenex than I even knew we had in the car. (My dear Mike sees to many things without me realizing what he’s doing… and why. How lucky, and loved, I am).
And now for my thoughts on whether or not this is a “bump”. After a great deal of thought, soul-searching, and Sundays at church, I came to the conclusion many years ago that I’m not a good fit for organized religion. Instead, I’m best described as “spiritual”. Without going into a lot of detail, I believe the emotions I go through in response to the decline of my health are defined only in relation to life on earth. From a broader (spiritual) view, the sadness I feel is a response to the illusion of loss. The true “me” is part of a much bigger picture with no beginning and no end (and it fits well with the notion that we’re all God’s children, made in His image to do unto others as we would have done to us). When I focus with this view of things, I’m at peace with the events of my life and am able to love and savor each moment…and that changes “bumps” into new opportunities, phases, and greater love. I hope this makes sense.
I’ll let you know how things go.

A quick update

Feb. 18, 2012 12:46 pm
The surgery I had last September was done on my left breast which is the same breast I had surgery and radiation on in late 2000-early 2001. Statistically, a lumpectomy followed by radiation is the same as getting a mastectomy. So (needless to say) I was disappointed when I learned I had another breast cancer in the left breast.

(As a side line of inquiry, which is still unsettled in my mind, my initial thoughts were: would the second breast cancer have formed on the scar tissue left by an actual mastectomy — as has been the case for many other women? Would an initial mastectomy have limited my options for treating the second occurrence? Would the second breast cancer not have formed at all if I’d opted for a mastectomy in the first place rather than the statistical equivalent? If breast cancer begins in the breast, why (and how) does it occur after the breast has been removed? Surprisingly, I haven’t found any definitive answers. There are compelling theories, but nothing concrete.)

All that aside, when there’s surgery on a breast that’s had radiation, the healing is different. I knew that going in. What I didn’t know was that the breast tissue itself would also be altered. In my case, it’s become more dense. In fact, so much so, that it feels heavier than it should. And, possibly because of an over-zealous work-out during last Thursday’s water aerobics class, I noticed bruises had formed above the scar of my first breast cancer. That lead to a quick email to my surgeon who replied that it’s cause for some concern.
As it happens, hubby and I are snowbirds, currently in Florida and my surgeon is in Massachusetts. Thus, I quickly found a breast cancer surgeon at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida and arranged for the reports and films to be sent to her in time for my appointment next Friday.
The bruises are disappearing now, which is comforting. My body is telling me everything is fine. Intellectually, I’m smart enough to know I need to have it checked out before I can give my body full say-so. For now, I’m at peace with this (God knows why). Somehow I’ve been blessed with a genuine conviction that, no matter what happens, I’m exactly where I ought to be, experiencing what I should be. With that thought alone, I can make it through anything.

Evolutions of Thought…and a nutrient dense recipe

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**
Directions

1.
Pre-heat oven to 350°
2.
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).
3.
Cover and bake for 90 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes to keep the casserole from sticking.
4.
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.
Cheers!

The Way Things Go

Oct. 17, 2011 6:48 am
Lately I’ve been giving myself time to mull things over: what do I really think about such-and-such?…. what makes me feel most at ease with myself when approaching this or that?… do I have what I need to call the shots in my world? And am I being fair and loving to those around me?

After a third diagnosis of breast cancer, a girl can’t help but wonder about things like this, because things happen that prompt the need to newly evaluate them. People who love you respond differently to the news of a potentially terminal illness. At first, everyone rushes to assure you they will always be there to help however they can. And then, in as little as a few days time, some withdraw entirely — to the point of not showing up after making and confirming a date. And then you don’t hear from them again.
I figure those who withdraw like this are protecting themselves from the potential pain of loss if I die from an illness rather than an accident or old age. Had I not told them about my breast cancer, they’d still be around. I noticed this phenomena after my first diagnosis in 2001. Some people dropped all connection with me until I was “all better”. When I was diagnosed the second time, I was more careful in how I shared the news, aided by the fact that it was precancerous, so it wasn’t that scary. But this time, even I couldn’t hide from the fact that the news of a third breast cancer isn’t good. Sharing it became my biggest concern: do I tell those I love, or keep it to myself so they don’t have to wrestle with the fear of losing me? I made the best calls I could, and this time I’ve only lost one connection, although I’m not sharing my experiences and thoughts as freely I have previously.
For the first time in my life, I’m practicing a credo I formerly tossed about without making it a rule: I’m keeping my own counsel.
An example: I’ve been politically moderate for most of my life, beginning in 8th grade when I first read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. That changed after 9/11, when I found myself painfully uncomfortable with the invasion of Iraq. I spent years passionately arguing with those who felt differently, regardless of how upsetting those conversations were. Now, although I continue to have the same moderate views, I’ve decided that impassioned debates use energy I no longer want to spend on ideological differences. I think what I think; others think what they think; and we’ll either come to a compromise or one side will overwhelm the other, which will prompt a backlash at some point and eventually we’ll have to give it up anyway. I’ve concluded there’s no reason to expend energy trying to change minds that don’t want (or have no perceived reason) to change. So I’ve begun to invoke my right NOT to discuss topics that, in my experience, don’t produce anything but discord. When you’re dealing with a third breast cancer, creating or contributing to discord and disharmony is an unhealthy prescription. Despite years of believing otherwise, I’ve ceased arguing my case when the odds of getting anywhere are nil. This makes my body happy: it’s a healthier approach for me to take.
When you stop behaving in ways people have associated you with, it changes how they react to you. To continue with the example of political leanings, I’ve had an ongoing debate with someone who is much further to the right than I am, and incredulous that I could agree with “the left leaning socialist agenda”. So when I invoked my right not to talk about it, it shifted the dynamics in our discourse. We’re forced now to talk about other parts of life and, to my great relief, those discussions are fun: they make us laugh. And although I’ve known this for years, my current mulling has reconfirmed that laughter is one of my highest values…. right up there with loving my neighbors and doing for others as I would have done for me.
So far, I’ve concluded it’s okay for people to withdraw entirely. It’s something they need to do, even though I miss them. I’ve also welcomed those who’ve stayed with me, and some new folks who’ve arrived — adding new dimensions to my thinking. I’ve decided it’s okay for me to abstain from involving myself with anything that isn’t in alignment with what I need to be doing.
I guess it boils down to trusting myself. Of course I keep my antenna open for new thoughts and ideas, but I now know those new thoughts and ideas need to go through my own filter and, since keeping my own counsel can take time, I don’t rush the process. I feel closer to being at home with myself than I’ve ever been… except maybe when I was 4, and the world was my oyster.
For those who’ve made it this far in this post, thank you for allowing me to wander. As an effort to make it up to you, here’s a recipe I’ve found which has turned out to be a very good Thai Vegetable Curry. It’s from Eat To Live, by Dr. Joel Furhman, with some modifications by me (or course… modifying recipes is likely something I’ll never get over).
Note: This dish involves a lot of preparation, but if you’re going for “nutrient dense”, it’s worth it. I’ve been eating like this (nutrient dense foods only) for the last 6 weeks, having preceded that by 3 weeks with fruit and veggie juices. I’ve lost close to 20 lbs. in the last 9 weeks. This is a Good Thing.
Thai Vegetable Curry
Serves 8-12 (it makes a lot)
Ingredients:
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (I use more because I love the stuff).
2 cups carrot juice
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large eggplant, peeled, if desired & cut into 1 inch cubes (I “sweat it” with salt for about half and hour)
2 cups green beans, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 cups sliced mushrooms (shitake, portabella, crimini, or whatever you can find)
1 (8 ounce) can bamboo shoots, drained
2 tablespoons Mrs. Dash, original
3-4 tbsp. curry powder (the recipe calls for 1/2 tsp. I love curry, so I use what tastes good to me).
1 cup watercress leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted natural chunky peanut butter
1 pounds firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 can light coconut milk
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped raw cashews
1 tblsp. Bragg Liquid Aminos
unchopped mint, basil or cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)

Instructions:

• Set the over to 375°.

• Peel the eggplant and cut into 1″ pieces. Set in a colander and sprinkle with salt to cover each piece. Let sit in the sink for about half an hour. The salt will “sweat” out any bitterness in the eggplant. After the half hour of sweating, rinse the eggplant to wash off the salt.

• Cut the tofu into 4 or 5 slices and set between paper towels while you prepare the other ingredients. Then, using more paper towels as needed, press on the tofu to remove as much liquid as you can. Then cut the slices into 1/2″ pieces, and toss in a bowl with about 1 tblsp. lemon or lime juice, 1 tblsp. of curry powder, and 1 tbsp. of ginger power. Place on a lightly oiled baking pan and cook in a 375° oven for 30 minutes.

• Cut up the garlic, ginger, mint, basil, cilantro, bell pepper, green beans, mushrooms and watercress and place in a large soup pot with the 2 cups carrot juice and eggplant. Add the bamboo shoots, Mrs. Dash, red pepper flakes, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer (stirring occasionally, until all the veggies are tender). Meanwhile, prepare and bake the tofu.

• Mix in the peanut butter and stir. Add the tofu, Bragg Liquid Aminos, and coconut milk, and heat through. Toss in the cashews and it’s ready to serve. Garnish if you like, although so far I haven’t found then need to add another thing.

Note: This can be served over brown rice or quinoa.

Interesting tidbit: According to Joel Fuhrman, author of “Eat To Live”, mushrooms (even one a day) help prevent breast cancer because whatever’s in them regulates the production of estrogen to keep it in balance. So, says he, if you do nothing else, have at least one mushroom a day. If you can have it with some onion, you’re boosting your anti-breast cancer odds even more. See my previous post for a nice recipe to help with this.

A New Phase of my “Breast Cancer Diet”

 Sep. 20, 2011 7:57 am 
 
It turns out there are a whole bunch of cancer-preventative nutrients in natural foods which nearly 100% of my recipes destroy in one way or another — not that I meant them any harm. Despite my evolution to organic foods and recipes, I find myself a football field’s length away from where I need to be if what I’ve been reading is true: plant foods provided by mother nature, in the form she provides them in (without man-made additions) is really REALLY good for you.

 
Note I’ve referenced plant foods which, of course, eliminates my beloved animal foods (including beef, poultry, and fish). My studies on this are still on-going, but for now it seems that ingested beef winds up creating an environment in your body that welcomes the creation of cancer cells. Chicken seems to be even worse, and fish — as most of us should already know — has higher levels of mercury and other nasty pollutants than we really should be eating… as lovely as shrimp, scallops, lobster, flounder, and all my favorites can be.
 
So I’m at the starting line of a whole new way of cooking and I got a whiff of what’s possible just the other day when I came across a Portobella Mushroom /Roasted Red Pepper dish. I found the recipe in a book called “Eat To Live”, and then — not unlike me — I misread it and wound up making my own variation, which turned out to be great. I was stunned to find how much I liked it, and even more stunned that I’d made it without any oil, butter, salt, sugar, or other tricks I’ve used throughout the years to add levels of flavor. It turns out nature provides many levels on its own: all you need to know is where to find them (even still, there are some minimally pre-processed ingredients here).
 
With that in mind, here’s the “Ah Ha” recipe. Please remember I’ve been off salts and other additives (mainly eating veggies juices and salads) for 3 weeks, so the tastiness of this dish for me is likely to be different for you. If you’re not working to prevent yet another breast cancer, you might find this to be a nice starting point for something more to your taste. On the other hand, you might find you like it as is.
 
Portobella Roasted Red Pepper Mushroom (appetizer or sandwich)
 
4 large Portobella mushrooms, stem removed
1/2 large red onion, sliced thin
 
3/4 c. tahini (unsalted sesame seed butter)
2 medium roasted red peppers, seeds removed (home made or from a jar)
1/2 c. water
1 medjool date, seeded and chopped small
1 clove garlic
1 tsp. Bragg Liquid Aminos (or low sodium soy sauce)
1 tsp. lemon juice
 
2 c. watercress
2 slices whole wheat pita bread (optional)
 
Preheat oven to 375°. Place mushrooms upside down on an oven pan, then fill with slices of red onion (about two slices of onion each). Bake until the onion is soft (about 30 minutes). 
 
Meanwhile, put the tahini, red peppers, water, date, garlic, liquid aminos (or soy sauce) and lemon juice in a blender and blend for about 1-1/2 minutes (really blend it well). It’s color will be similar to Russian Dressing.
 
When the mushrooms and onions are done, remove from the oven. If you want to serve as a sandwich, cut the whole wheat pita bread in half and place about 1/4 c. watercress in the bottoms. Cut up the mushrooms and place inside the bread with the onions, then drizzle with the sauce. If you want to serve this as an appetizer, don’t use the bread at all. Instead, place the mushroom and onions on 4 plates, drizzle with the sauce, and top with about 1/4 c. watercress (it’s actually quite pretty).
 
 
 

Making Breast Cancer Choices

Sep. 5, 2011 12:59 pm

I’ve written three updates, and all three have failed to post… which tells me it’s not time to post much.

What I CAN say is that my treatment of choice is likely going to involve minimal surgery with follow-up treatment being a diet of fresh fruits and veggies (raw, cooked, and juiced) and more exercise. I’ve been on the fruit and veggie diet for about 10 days and have lost 7 pounds — without being hungry. (The advantage to weight loss is that fat contributes to making estrogen which is assumed to play a major role in creating many breast cancers.) Hubby has also introduced me to a new aerobic sport which we play in our driveway. It’s called Pickleball, and if you haven’t tried it, you might find you love it (just Google it).

I’m not turning my back on western medicine entirely, of course, but I AM listening to my body which, it turns out, has strong opinions: no mastectomies, no chemotherapy, no drugs with toxic side effects. I figure I owe it to myself (and my body) to listen to what it’s telling me, while still getting a second opinion and all other due diligence.

Hubby is still experimenting with his juice mixes, making greener and greener juices gradually to let my taste buds build up to enjoying more nutrient dense cruciferous veggie juice (cruciferous being heavy hitters when it comes to breast cancer). I’ve sipped each glass as if I were commenting on different wines: “too grassy”, “heavy overtone of kale”, “gag” and, most recently “delicious”. His ego still refuses to follow some wonderful recipes I’ve gotten elsewhere, but first he needs to know I appreciate his prowess with the juicer. And he’s covering the bases even if the taste could be more equisite. We’ll get there.

In the meanwhile, I’ve found a satisfying replacement for my morning coffee (which is now on the “no-can-do” list): hot water with lemon and lime juice, sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit of cayenne. It might be an aquired taste, but I wish you could have been in my body when it got its first taste… perfection!

So things are going well. There’s more to learn, but so far everything feels just fine. And there’s lots of love in every corner of my life. How great is that?

Breast cancer again… for the third time.

Bring on the Fruits and Veggies 

Aug. 26, 2011 7:13 am
About a month ago, I learned I have a third primary breast cancer. The first one was 11 years ago; the second was 5 years ago, and now this. All three have been unique (in other words, none is a recurrence of an earlier one). And what this means, put bluntly, is that I’m a high risk breast cancer patient/survivor.

First, and most importantly, breast cancer doesn’t scare me. It saddens me, but it doesn’t scare me.
Second, despite wishes to the contrary, none of us get out alive: despite my illness, I’m as likely to be hit by a truck as the next guy.
Third, because I now know my body is an equal opportunity breast cancer maker, it seems wise to adjust my diet… at least enough to bring things into better balance. And thus, I’m embarking on a juice journey of fruits and vegetables (oh, let’s toss in some ginger, shall we?). The idea of adding juicing to my treatment plan came from this: www.fatsickandnearlydead.com. If you happen to subscribe to Netflix, they’ve got it under “Documentaries”. It’s worth watching if you’ve got aches, pains, diabetes, arthritis, a serious illness, or just want to lose some weight.
As it happens, while I’ve been at the stove all these years, my dear hubby has been satisfying his never-ending appetite with “snacks” of juiced fruits and veggies. Which means for 30 years I’ve been working on becoming a gourmet cook while he’s become a gourmet juicer. How lucky (all things considered) can a girl get?
Although I’ll have the tumor removed (and perhaps be even more aggressive), it makes sense to give my body a chance to be part of the healing process. As much as I’ll miss some of my favorite dishes — at least as regularly as I’ve been eating them — I have to confess I’ve been neglectful of my fruit and veggie intake. And by that, I mean I often ignore them other than as ingredients I add to a dish starring something other than fruits and veggies.
This will be new for me, but hubby’s been offering up some very tasty juices which I’ve taken between solid foods. I’ll move off the solids soon, and go with a juice fast for a bit, to return to solids foods again when my body’s ready. And I’ll know when that is because my body, bless its heart, is very good at letting me know what it needs.