Tag Archives: breast cancer

Diet and Exercise, the diet part

Sauteed broccoli from the garden with egg topped with refried bean sauce and local blue cheese and a side of my kimchi made with boc choi and garlic scapes from our garden.

Sauteed broccoli from the garden with egg topped with refried bean sauce and local blue cheese and a side of my kimchi made with boc choi and garlic scapes from our garden.

Whatever ails you, the first remedy is diet and exercise, specifically a whole foods/real food meal plan and regular exercise.  Such a simple remedy and yet not the first choice of most folks.  Since my cancer diagnosis sixteen years ago I’ve several times heard of people who, when told they had cancer would say, ‘I hope I don’t have to change my diet.’  That boggles my mind.  It never occurred to me to do anything less that everything I could to get beyond my cancer diagnosis.  Diet was the least of that journey.

Day two of knowing I had cancer found me at the giant Borders in Seattle buying the first of many books for my research.  I figured I needed to gather knowledge, to adjust my diet for optimum wellness,  to network with others to find my best health care team, and to address the emotional and spiritual issues around my cancer dance.  The diet wasn’t a real big deal.  I stopped eating all meat on the road since I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t full of growth hormones and antibiotics.  I eschewed salmon unless it was wild, and limited my dairy.   I’m not a junk food eater nor do I crave sweet foods  and I cook most of my food from scratch, so really eating for the cancer thing was not a big hardship.

I started loosely following the Blood-Type diet.  Loosely, because there are things that I really did not want to stop eating: olives, hot peppers, blue cheese, bacon and avocados.  When I eliminated beef, chicken and pork and only (mostly) ate lamb and turkey my digestion improved immeasurably.  I also did a lot of herbal and homeopathic digestion support and started monthly colonics for the duration of the dance.

These days my diet is largely organic and very local.  I always eat breakfast, a leftover from taking so many supplements whilst cancer-dancing.  Breakfast always includes local, whole milk yogurt on my oatmeal, usually with grated asiago cheese and harissa.  There are those who say that fermented foods are especially good because those  foods are easier to digest and have lots of live enzymes and available nutrients.  How cool is that, cuz for the last couple of years I’ve been making my own kimchi that I eat nearly every day.  As well, I have finally perfected my kombucha (fermented tea beverage) and a decent ginger beer, both made by forms of fermentation.

After writing Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan said, when asked what should we eat, ‘Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.’  Seems fairly simple and I think it’s worth trying before doing the pharmaceuticals that have so many side effects and mostly just make the big corporations lots of money.  Those corporations put chemicals in food which creates dis-ease and then medicates to perpetuate the dis-ease.

It’s fairly easy to figure out what constitutes a balanced and health-promoting diet.  Eating a variety of vegetables  with whole grains  and small portions of meat  and dairy while limiting refined carbohydrates and sugars and staying away from manufactured foods with unpronounceable ingredients is the way to be as healthy as possible.

I’m not a big fan of eating, really.  Eating takes up altogether too much time in the day for me.  At the same time I have a jaded palette so anything I eat has to have a lot of flavour.  I can’t escape the need for good fuel so that I can sustain my long days ( I sleep about 5-6 hours, mostly) so I don’t waste my eating time on anything that is not going to be good for me.  I don’t usually eat bread.  It is filler with not enough nutrients.  I will make bread if I  have a craving for toast, that way I know exactly what is in the bread.  My main meal of the day is comida, early afternoon.  I got in the habit in Mexico.  Usually it’s made in my big frying pan, mostly veggies with some egg for protein.  I like to treat the vegetables as if they are pasta or grain.  I can cook a panful of food in less than fifteen minutes.

Right now the garden is producing lots of cucumbers so my evening light meal is cucumbers dressed with whole milk yogurt and mint or cilantro, sometimes with an avocado.  If I need something really late a spoonful of peanut butter or two works for me.

cucumber, mango and cilantro with yogurt and harissa.  Cool and hot.

cucumber, mango and cilantro with yogurt and harissa. Cool and hot.

I rarely eat out.  Twenty-four years working on the road and eating three meals a day in restaurants was enough to leave me unimpressed with most food cooked for money.  Most of those meals do not live up to the flowery menu descriptions. I once had a surprisingly excellent wild salmon dinner with wonderful side dishes at the Delta Hotel in Sun Peaks, BC.  It didn’t even require my ubiquitous hot sauce.  Joshua’s (long gone from Banff, replaced by another crappy hotel and shops) always had good food but I had my own personal waitress, Celine, who told me what to eat and she was always correct.  Lamb pasanda at A Taste of India in Vancouver, anything at Villa de Lupo, also in Vancouver, Rebar’s in Victoria.

I understand that crappy unreal food can have addictive properties.  Still, what we eat is one thing we have control of and gradually changing from eating manufactured food with no nutritive value to whole, preferably organic, sustainable foods is doable.  The more a person eats food that is real fuel, the less likely that person will want to waste digestive space on candy, high-fructose anything and all the chemical crap that masquerades as food in the stores these days, and with a real food meal plan, mental and emotional health will improve with the physical.


Cancer serendipity

Swimming at Northern Pond with Murphy is another great upper body exercise.  THese days he mostly guards from shore and pulls me in when he thinks I've had enough.

Swimming at Northern Pond with Murphy is another great upper body exercise. These days he mostly guards from shore and pulls me in when he thinks I’ve had enough.

I can go months and never think about cancer and that I participated in my own cancer dance sixteen years ago, but lately I’ve been thinking about and talking about cancer and cancer treatments wherever I seem to be.

It started in my head.  I’m back to painting Ann’s house on the inside now that the weather is warm enough and I could get her out of the garden long enough to de-clutter the upper living room so I could move furniture and get my ladders in place.  Painting is good for thinking and lymphedema and exercise came to mind.

When I was diagnosed the doctors wanted to not only lop off the breast but remove lymph nodes to help stage my cancer, so they still say.  Following surgery their plan was to give me radiation, chemotherapy, tamoxifen and possibly radiate my ovaries to put me in menopause and stop my estrogen production because my cancer was estrogen-receptor positive.

I agreed to the surgery and reluctant as I was to have lymph nodes sampled, I was talked into it.  My twenty lymph nodes were free of cancer which helped me  to firmly refuse ALL of their adjuvant therapies.   I was not  a preferred patient with the oncologist because I did the research and decided that just because the treatments are there doesn’t mean I needed them.  Still, in all of my research it wasn’t until AFTER the surgery that I found the studies that stated that as many as 70% of women who had lymph nodes removed,  some time after experienced lymphedema, which is lymph fluid pooling in tissues because the lymph channels have been removed.  For some it can be very debilitating and they have to wear compression sleeves to keep the swelling down.

There was conflicting information about what to do to decrease that possibility.  I worked diligently to regain the full motion of my right arm and at first did not carry anything heavy on that side.  but I resumed swimming  and other forms of exercise, mostly walking the dog several times a day and throwing sticks for him.  I also went fly fishing a month after surgery and of course used my right arm.

These days, I only avoid having blood drawn on my right arm or doing the blood pressure cuff there.  I think, that the statistics I found were so high because, when I was diagnosed at 43, it was still very unusual for someone so young to have breast cancer and most of the breast cancer patients who might have contributed to the statistics would have been over sixty and probably mostly not very active or in shape.

Both extension ladders were needed to reach the 18 foot high windows.

Both extension ladders were needed to reach the 18 foot high windows.

So, this month, I found myself moving  large ladders around, and variously using my palm sander, a caulking gun and a vacuum cleaner up those same ladders.  Some major heavy lifting was involved.  Sixteen years of evidence says to me that exercise is good for staving off lymphedema.

A friend who had a lumpectomy a year before my surgery has had more tests lately because of some discharge.  She was going to forgo the annual mammogram this year but after seeing her doctor did have the mammogram and as well, ultrasound and an MRI and now is going to schedule a biopsy.  All this has led to more talking about treatments and diagnosing of breast cancers.

Then, yesterday I was at the post office to mail painter’s shorts to my brother.  The woman clerk asked if I had lost an earring, something I get frequently because I have always had only one pierced ear, the left one.  So I said, as usual,’I don’t have a hole on this (the right) side’, and she said, ‘you’re also missing a breast.’  I burst out laughing!  That was a first and most amusing.

I was never asked if I wanted reconstruction, maybe because they didn’t think I would live long enough anyway or because there seemed to be skin involvement with my tumour (wasn’t).  My medical wouldn’t pay for a prosthetic and I can always come up with something I’d rather have for that $200 than a fake boob.  I also thought that by disguising my mastectomy  no one would know and conversations  might not be initiated about my cancer.  It’s a very easy surgery to cover up and I think that many who have had it suffer with a lowering of self-esteem and feel less feminine.   They also suffer alone.  I  hoped that by displaying my comfort level with my asymmetrical form that I could inspire others to reconsider or at least talk about it.  My experience, though, is that many don’t even notice.  I was at a  party in Seattle 5 months after my surgery wearing a stretch velvet wrap dress that wrapped from the left across to the flat side.  No one noticed, even my friend’s cousin who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Postal woman said that she thinks that most people still don’t want to talk about it.  Cancer makes them uncomfortable and they are afraid they will get it and die.  A person might as well be afraid of life because life leads to dying too.  We all die.  The important part is how we live.  Lose the fear and life is much more fun, as it should be.

I’m not a cancer survivor.  I had cancer once, a long time ago.  It was environmentally caused and I used that opportunity to improve my body’s related systems and now I focus on (as I always have) having fun, being creative, and learning new things.  Sometimes, like lately, I’m reminded, but mostly it’s not an issue, at all.

contemplating the universe; most amusing and is something I perfected while hanging  with my giant dog friends

contemplating the universe; most amusing and is something I perfected while hanging with my giant dog friends

Dentistry, and memory

Like everything, the longer I perendinate, the more things pile up.  Writing and topics for writing are a lot like that.  One of my favourite writers says about writing,’Thinking about writing is not writing.’  Yeah, I know.  If only all those bits I write in my head as I’m walking in the general vicinity of the dog could be magically turned to print, how cool that would be.

Since February I’ve been concerned with: my ongoing saga with dental pain and the alleviating of said pain coupled with a bout of the recurring back pain exacerbated by a quick slip on the icy trail;  turning my sewing expertise into an actual income-producing business;  organizing the materials in the various closets and bins related to sewing in the hope of optimizing efficiency;  absorbing web site designing skills and designing brochures to market said sewing self;  calamity cat Mozart who has taken over from Murphy and has been to the vet three times this spring/summer with abscesses requiring antibiotics;  struggling with enough energy to get more than one thing done a day;  how to sort through the many passions I have and the quest for the proper thyroid med amount; re-staining and painting the trim of the house;  and wanting to write about my thoughts on finding myself fifteen years past my cancer diagnosis.

But what I want to write about today is my dental journey.  The last two years has been an ongoing dance with fixing teeth and getting crowns.  I broke down and had two root canals done rather than get more teeth pulled and added to my all-plastic partials, then a third tooth went ballistic when the crown made for it had to be re-done and the extra attention meant that tooth needed a root canal as well.  Each time my eight year old partial went with the impression to the lab until one day it got sent back in pieces with no word of explanation.  The subsequent replacement is not the same and now the upper one has returned from a different lab with one of the hook bits broken off.  (At least this lab says they don’t know what the material is or how it’s made.)

All of this has meant that in the last year I have been without some of my teeth for more than three months, putting all those times together.  And that has reminded me of the dental journey part of my cancer dance that started fifteen years ago.

I was so fortunate that I was diagnosed with breast cancer while living in Victoria, BC.  In addition to the traditional medicine crowd, I had three wonderful, loving and supportive naturopathic practitioners.  One of those three was a biological dentist named Dr. Dino Paulos, a joyful teddybear of a man who luckily practiced in the Greater Victoria area.  Because of my cancer diagnosis, and the fact that my other two naturopaths were great friends of his, I got in to see him within a couple of months, not the nearly year wait that was most normal.  The consult was to get my silver amalgams replaced, I thought, but it turned into so much more.

He asked me about scars I had from past injuries or surgeries, then before I left he injected all my scars with procaine (related to novocaine, I think), including the scar from my tonsillectomy, probably the most painful thing I have ever experienced.  I had to open wide and do the Ahhhh thing loudly while he stuck a needle down my throat to my scar.  The pain made me cry and the injection actually helped release trauma from the surgery episode.  The next time he injected wasn’t half so bad, and luckily only those two times did he inject my throat, although he injected my appendectomy scar and my breast cancer scar until the first is hardly noticeable and feeling returned to my mastectomy scar.

Along with removing my silver fillings, Dino wanted to remove my root canal teeth because he said that root canals can harbour foci infections that the body’s immune system can’t deal with but constantly tries to.  I was reluctant to lose teeth but that Christmas Eve I had such tooth pain that I sat up at my mother’s house in San Diego with a hot water bottle trying to think of an easy way to suicide.   January found me ready to do it all.  All ended up meaning that besides the three root canals, three other teeth couldn’t handle the extra drilling and had to be extracted as well.  I spent the better part of a year living on mashed potatoes and cheese blintzes waiting for my mouth to heal so I could get new teeth that came out at night, something I never thought I would do; but  I was in my early 40’s and determined to do it all, whatever was necessary to get beyond breast cancer.

Dr. Dino used kinesiology to muscle test me before, during, and after all the procedures.  For the filling  removals I was dosed with chlorella (something I was taking daily as well) and I was appreciably stronger after the metal was removed.  There was infection in the root canal teeth and with their removal I  again experienced more energy.

His office at the time was in his house on the coast of the Saanich Peninsula, with a view of Mt. Baker.  It was an oasis of peace and tranquility.  You arrived through a tall wooden gate to a high-fenced garden with a little stream and some of Dino’s driftwood creations.  I would bring knitting in case I had to wait but there was always an elaborate puzzle in progress on the coffee table in the waiting room to help pass the time as well.

Dino always greeted me with a twinkle in his eye and a big hug, and the session always ended with a warm, encompassing hug as well.  The dental part of my cancer dance was by far the most painful part of that journey and I must say that losing the teeth was way worse than losing a breast, but making that journey with such a kind-hearted person was a highlight of that time.   My life was made richer by that experience and I remember with fondness the caring and loving energy, not the pain.

So it is with sadness that I discovered yesterday, while trying to find out what material those original partials were made of, that Dino died suddenly in April of this year.  I wish that I’d managed a trip back sooner;  I was actually considering spending an extra month in BC this fall to get new partials made.  I’m sorry for everyone who was family and really close to him.  I’m sure they will miss his joyful presence for all their days.  Thankful am I that we made that connection and that Dino was a big part of my healing process.  Would that there would be more in the world with that capacity for joyful life and caring compassion.


And so it begins….

garb(e) \ gärb\ noun  1. obsolete: fashion, manner  2. a: a style of apparel  b: outward form : appearance

Origin:  Middle French or Old Italian; Middle French garbe graceful contour, grace, from Old Italian garbo grace.

First use: 1599

garb transitive verb: to cover with or as if with clothing  First use: 1846

Apparel, array, attire, bedeck, costume, clothe, invest and robe are just a few of the words we use to describe the  activity we undertake every day (unless we style  ourselves ‘naturalists’ the latest euphemism for nudist).  What we wear is a simple way to express oneself without lifelong commitment to any one image.  I have ever been a bit envious of those who had a singular style;  in my mind they never stand in front of the closet jammed with a rainbow assortment of skirts, vests, jackets, pants, dresses in various lengths and weights and agonize about what to wear, having nothing just right to wear.

That dilemma grew and became a further complication for me in my what-to-wear quest fourteen years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a modified radical mastectomy.  Suddenly I was no longer bilaterally symmetrical and my clothes hung differently.

The ironic part is that I’d only just started feeling comfortable with my boobs and then The Highlander, as I called my surgeon, lopped one off.  (‘There shall be only one!’)

The fortunate part is that having developed a fashion maven demeanour and a clotheshorse propensity I have always made most of my clothes.  This blog will, I hope, explore my journey to design for  the one-breasted figure, consider what makes a woman womanly and hopefully be an example of one who is comfortable in her own body.  I feel that the Amazon Warrior Look can be a powerful statement of triumph over tribulation.  (Legend has it that the Amazons cut off the breast on their dominant hand side to better handle their bows.)

And so it begins……..