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.
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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!

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.