Hormonal Heaven

Bye Bye vovó and vovô...  We'll miss you!

Bye Bye vovó and vovô… We’ll miss you!

Changes…  Changes…  Changes…  That’s what life is all about.

Yesterday, my fabulous in-laws from Brazil finally returned back home to Rio de Janeiro after staying with us for 2 glorious months.  We truly loved having them in our home and in our lives.  I adore my in-laws.

Today, the house feels empty and silent.

It’s always a bit rough in the days immediately after our visitors go home.  A bit lonely.  A bit sad.  People often assume that it’s stressful or taxing for us to have visitors all the time, but the reality is that hubby, Miss M, and I love it.  (Although I’m sure that has something to do with the caliber of family and friends we have visiting us too).  We are so lucky to have such loving and caring people in our lives and we cherish the time we get to spend with them.

Now, for the first time in over a year, we have no guests scheduled to stay with us.  How weird.

Of course, I can never stay put (or alone) for too long…  I have another trip planned for next week :-).  This time Miss M and I are heading to Toronto (with a quick jaunt to NY thrown into the mix for my LAST appointment with the plastic surgeon until the spring).  It’s been way too long since I’ve been to T.O.  Miss M and I are psyched to see all our friends there.

When I return from Toronto it’ll be time for my next set of scans…  PET scan…  Echocardiogram…  Possible CT scan…  The results of which will determine my next steps.

At this point, my goal is still to get off all pharmaceuticals.  For however long I can swing it.  Because they make me feel like crap.  And at this point I believe natural methods can do just as good of a job at preventing a reoccurrence as the meds can.  Without all the added crap and side effects.

I want to reset my body.  Have some time to rebalance myself without interference.  Start from scratch.  Really feel what’s going on inside of me.

If my scans come back clean (which I expect them to – a girl’s gotta stay positive right?) then I plan to wean myself off the meds and use natural ways to keep my body in balance and the cancer at bay.

I feel especially empowered to do this after meeting with my naturopath today in Columbus.  We reviewed results of the urine and saliva tests I did last month to measure hormone and adrenal levels and the results are good.  I was most excited to hear that my estrogen levels are at a very low and healthy level.  They are also in balance with my progesterone and testosterone levels.  And my 2/16 OH estrogen ratio was above average (which is a predictor of decreased cancer risk for estrogen sensitive tissue).

This is fantastic news!!  This means my levels are where they need to be.  My estrogen positive cancer does not have any extra estrogen to feed off of.  My estrogen has been suppressed without having to take the hormonal meds like tamoxifen or arimidex that everyone keeps trying to push on me.  Seems you can balance hormones naturally!  Ha!  Ha!

My naturopath will continue to monitor my hormone levels in the months to come and together we will pursue all possible pathways of creating balance – body/mind/spirit – to keep cancer from coming back.

Choosing to chart my own path is challenging but necessary.  Necessary for my health.  Necessary for my growth.  Necessary to support my new desire to speak my mind instead of doing things based on what other people think.  Necessary to stay true to myself.

Sometimes you gotta do what’s necessary.

Peace.  -T

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Parental Lessons on Life

Miss M in full on angry mode!

Miss M in full on angry mode!

Parenting is one of the most difficult endeavors I have ever taken on.  Nothing tests your patience more than an angry, screaming child.

Since returning from my most recent trip to NY this week Miss M has been a hot angry mess.  I’m guessing the timing of these two events is not a coincidence.  My continued absence this week for medical appointments has Miss M clinging to me real tight and doing a lot of screaming.

Fortunately, we are having great success with Miss M’s new social worker therapist.  Miss M is opening up more and more each time.  She is sharing her anger and fears about mommy’s cancer.  Using little stuffed animals to work through her frustrations.  Asking questions.  Expressing her opinions.  The sessions are informative and reassuring for me too.  I’m receiving confirmation to do what I know is best for Miss M.  I’m learning new parenting tools, receiving support in my struggle to be a good parent through cancer, and understanding more and more about what’s going on in Miss M’s precious little head.

The picture of Miss M above was taken yesterday.  It was “one of those days”…  We had plans to go see the Dayton Ballet perform the Nutcracker…  But things did not go quite according to plan.

First there was her hysterical fit about putting on her shoes &  jacket…  Which led to us being late for the ballet…  Which forced us to sit in the “late” seats all the way in the back until intermission when they would allow us to sit in the seats we paid for…  Of course Miss M couldn’t see from these new “late” seats and made her frustration known…  Which led us out of the theatre…  Where she ended up in a pile on the floor, endlessly screaming and crying (much to everyone else’s horror and amusement)…  Finally, we decided to just go home…

What I had hoped and expected to be a beautiful festive family day, ended up being a day from hell.  And I couldn’t seem to shake the bad energy off me.  I carried it with me the rest of the day.

Then last night, watching an episode of Up All Night that I had DVR’ed finally gave me some perspective.  Reminded me that days like this do happen.  Life does not always go according to plan.  Finding the humour in these moments is key.  Laugh.  Recognize the futility of expectations.  Remember that we do not have control.  Take a deep breath and just go with the flow and let life unfold.

And always remember that tomorrow is a new day.

So today I consciously made an effort to start fresh.  I sipped my morning coffee from my favourite “Serenity” mug (the same one my mom used to drink from each morning)…  I met Miss M where she was at (a valuable skill I learned in social work school) instead of imposing my own expectations or preferences on her…  I paid attention to her…  We laughed and played together…  And aside from one minor incident over some M&M’s this morning we’ve had a pretty awesome day so far.

I realize every day offers an opportunity to start fresh.  To let go of the past and welcome each new moment.  Do things differently.  Make better choices.

It’s been one year since I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  I am so grateful to still be here.  To be feeling well.  To have the opportunity to celebrate another holiday season with those I love.  To live another day.

Wishing everyone a fantastic holiday – filled with serenity, beauty, love…  And fresh starts :-)

Peace.  – T

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What The Hell Does She Eat???

photo 1A lot of people wonder what the hell I eat.  I suppose for most folks my current diet is a wee bit hard to fathom.  But I truly believe that making these radical changes and focusing intensely on what I eat has made a world of difference in my health.  And I feel fantastic!  Lots of energy…  Clear skin…  No more bloated tummy or constipation…  Hopefully, no more cancer either!!!

So what exactly do I eat?

In general, I try to follow an alkaline diet.  I’ve read over & over again about how a highly acidic diet translates into disease.  The acid-alkaline balance is measured with pH on a scale of 0-14.  What we eat influences our body’s pH levels.  Optimally, you want to be a little alkaline, around 7.5.  Kris Carr is a big proponent of the alkaline diet.  She has a quick tutorial on how to make the transition to an alkaline diet on her blog.

The official name for my “diet” is pesca-vegan.  This means no animal meat (no chicken, no red meat, no turkey, etc.) and no dairy (including no milk, no butter, no cheese, no yogurt, & no eggs) but yes to the occasional serving of fish (but not other seafood).

I have also largely eliminated sugar (restricting my intake to 1 teaspoon of organic coconut sugar for my morning coffee and a few squares of organic dark chocolate each day), as well as eliminated all white carbs (potatoes, flour, pasta, bread, rice).  I’ve minimized my gluten intake (using spelt, almond, and oatmeal flours instead of wheat).  And severely limited pre-packaged or processed foods like crackers and cold cereal.

I also don’t eat much tofu or soy products (which is a common food/meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans).

I’ve also given up alcohol.  Gasp!!!  Yes, even red wine.  (Although as you saw from my last post, I do occasionally indulge).

Which brings me to my next point…  I do allow myself some breathing room within these “rules”.  On special occasions I’ll have a little piece of cake or a glass of wine.  If I end up eating something with an egg in it, that’s ok.  Rules are meant to be broken.  I don’t beat myself up over it.

After reading all this, you’re probably wondering what the hell I do eat.  Surprisingly, there are still quite a few options.

Most of what I put in my mouth involves vegetables (greens, root veggies, and cruciferous ones especially)…  nuts & seeds (everything from cashews & almonds to chia & hemp seeds and pumpkin & sunflower seeds… However, all nuts and seeds must be raw – no salted or roasted nuts.  And no peanuts)…  legumes (beans and lentils)…  fruits (everything under the sun)…   healthy fats (olive oil, avocados)…  And moderate amounts of ancient grains/complex carbs (buckwheat, quinoa, millet, sprouted breads, black rice).

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Miss M helping me grow sprouts!

I try to eat at least half of my foods raw because many nutrients are lost in the cooking process.  I’ve also started growing and eating sprouts.  I heard that eating 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh, raw sprouts each day keeps the cancer away.   And I do green juicing or smoothies 3-5 times/week.

I also drink around 2 liters of lemon water every day.  (The general consensus is that it’s best to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day).

I make a lot of stuff from scratch and have become quite the healthy chef lately…  Making yummy sugar free chocolate cakes and lots of deliciously healthy meals.  Luckily I’ve found an abundance of amazing recipes online, in blogs, and in vegan cookbooks recommended by friends.

Here is a look at a typical day for me:

Upon waking:  8-16 ounces of water with lemon

Breakfast:  Cup of organic coffee with almond milk & a little organic coconut sugar.  One piece of sprouted grain bread with vegan Earth’s Balance buttery spread.

[Post Workout:  8-12 ounces of green juice/smoothie]

photoLunch:  My new chia porridge.  Made with 1 cup of unsweetened Almond Milk, Chia Seeds, unsweetened Coconut, Cinnamon, a dash of Vanilla, Sunflower Seeds, Goji Berries, Cacao Nibs, and fresh berries.

Afternoon Snack:  Apple slices with cashew butter… Or brown rice crackers & veggies with hummus.  Plus my 1-2 squares of organic dark chocolate (min 70% cacao solids).

photo 5Dinner:  A big salad and/or rice and beans with veggies.

Late Night Snack:  Fruit, or more chocolate, or a handful of nuts.

Overhauling my diet has been a major adjustment but now that I’ve gotten into the swing of things it’s become easier and easier.  My taste buds have changed.  I’m enjoying what I eat.  And I miss the old foods less and less.

Thank god, because I plan on eating this way for the rest of my life.

Even if it seems way overwhelming to make all these changes, I encourage you to try making just a few.  The single best thing you can do for your diet is to incorporate more fresh veggies and minimize junk food.  When I was diagnosed with early stage melanoma in 2008 these were the first changes I made…  Eating a big salad every day and cutting out foods with white flour, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.  Pretty simple.

Start slow.  Take baby steps.  Every little thing you do to live a healthier life truly makes a difference.

Peace.  -T

 

Going Against The Grain

Treating myself to a glass of wine to celebrate the holidays with family & friends in Massachusetts!

Treating myself to a glass of wine to celebrate the holidays with family & friends in Massachusetts!

A big thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.

I am continually questioning my decision to go against the grain.  But the more stories I hear and encouragement I receive, the more I am committed to doing what feels right to me and not just blindly following ‘standard protocol’.

I recently started taking Herceptin again after a 3 month hiatus and the side effects are settling in…  Constant headaches.  Back pain.  Mood changes.  Hot flashes.  Exhaustion.  Cracking skin around my fingertips that renders them utterly useless and painful to the touch (there were a few days recently when I couldn’t even type).  Nose bleeds.  Dry eyes (no more contact lens wearing).  Forgetfulness and mental blocks.  And this horrible sensation of not feeling satisfied by the amount of air I inhale (otherwise known as “air hunger”).

And it’s not even these minor side effects that concern me.  Rather, it is the long term damage to my heart that really concerns me.

So now I am questioning my willingness to continue with the Herceptin.

The standard treatment for early stage HER2 positive breast cancer is 52 weeks of Herceptin (which I have almost completed).   However, those of us with metastatic disease are often told to stay on Herceptin indefinitely – Or for as long as our hearts can handle it.  But I’m not so sure that’s something I’m willing to do.

I just finished watching a disturbing documentary – Cut Poison Burn – about the war on cancer and how it’s not working.  As well as an intriguing book by Shannon Brownlee called Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.

Both question America’s current medical system and treatment methods for common ailments such as cancer.  They ask us to consider why death rates from cancer haven’t really changed all that much.  Why more and more people are being diagnosed.  Why so many people end up dying from the treatment they receive and not the cancer itself.  They look at how the pharmaceutical companies, FDA, and politicians are caught up in an incestuous relationship that revolves around money instead of truly helping people.  Because lets be honest here, cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry.  If cancer patients get better, jobs will be lost, and a lot of companies will loose a lot of money.  It’s like the war on drugs.  We’ve been fighting the war on drugs for decades now but still don’t seem to be any closer to achieving a drug free society.  Instead, we’ve been funneling revenue to government agencies and creating a booming prison industrial complex.

It’s all about the benjamins baby.

This is another reason why I believe “alternative” non-toxic ways of treating cancer are not embraced or encouraged.  Do the doctors and pharmaceutical companies make money by me eating healthier and exercising and meditating?  Do they make money when I boost my immune system naturally?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying my doctors don’t want me to get better.  I’m just saying the system is really really messed up.

In January I go for my next set of scans.  I believe they will show NED (no evidence of disease) – knock on wood…   If that is the case, then in my mind the battle becomes one of prevention rather than active treatment.  Regardless, most doctors want me to continue taking medications for the rest of my life.  However, I truly believe that if it’s all about prevention, all the actions I am taking to fortify and heal my body, mind, and spirit can work just as well as medications – without all the horrible side effects.

It all makes so much sense to me.  It feels right to me.  The difficult part is convincing everyone else that I’m not crazy for going against the grain and making such “radical” choices.  But, I’m learning to get over that.  I am listening to my gut.  I am honouring my feelings.  I am seeking information from all sources.  And ultimately, these are my decisions to make.

This is my life.  I plan on living it to the fullest.

Peace.  -T

Enjoying a beautiful day at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in Dayton with Miss M.

Enjoying a beautiful day at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in Dayton with Miss M.

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Don’t Discount The Hard Work

Me & Miss M at Rockefeller Center

Me & Miss M at Rockefeller Center

I know, I know…  I’ve been MIA lately.  I haven’t been writing nearly as many blog posts as I used to.

There are a number of reasons for this (none of them bad).  And most of it comes down to the fact that I’ve just been busy.  Busy with life.  Busy doing other writing (I entered a piece into the Glamour Magazine writing contest last week).  Busy traveling (another trip out east – which I’m still on).  Busy planning for the holidays.  Busy taking care of myself.  Busy having fun with Miss M.

This week Miss M and I took off for a week long journey to NY and Massachusetts.

I had three doctors appointments in NY.  Fortunately, Auntie L was gracious enough to drive down from Massachusetts to keep Miss M busy and happy while I was at the doctor.  Although I have to say, keeping Miss M happy in NYC is fairly easy task.  Just take a ride on the subway.  Of course, Miss M has her favourite lines:  the 7 train, the N & Q, and most recently the F train.  She would be in heaven just riding the trains all day long.  And we may just do that the next time we’re in town.

People often ask why I chose to have my surgeons in NYC even though I live in Ohio.  The answer is multifaceted.   Primarily, I chose NY because it is home.  Because it is familiar.  Because I am most comfortable here.  I chose the NY surgical team because they were recommended by a fellow breast cancer warrior and friend.  Honestly, I trust the NY doctors more.  They have more experience, impressive backgrounds, and amazing skills.  Plus, I have a soft spot for my team because they used to work at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the Village – where Miss M was born.

And of course I chose NY because it provides me with the perfect excuse to come back to my beloved Big Apple on a regular basis.  Being “forced” to return to NY every few weeks has been an amazing gift.  Spending time in NY gives me such a boost.  It allows me to reconnect with myself.  Brings me back to reality.  Re-energizes me.  Reminds me that there is life outside of suburban Ohio.

This week I received my usual check-in and saline injection from the plastic surgeon, as well as, my two-month follow up with the oncological surgeon who performed my mastectomy.  Both surgeons said all looks good.  I will return to NY two more times (later this month and once in January).  Then we will schedule the final surgery for April (where they remove the expander, put in my implant, and reduce & lift the other breast).

My third appointment this week was a consult with a new oncologist that a friend referred me to.  I was looking to get another opinion on what is next for me.  The oncologist is a young, charming, smartly dressed Park Avenue doctor.  One of the country’s top oncologists and one of New York’s best doctors, he is charismatic and dedicated to his patients.  He said I was a “complex” case.  He wanted more time to review my stack of medical papers before making further recommendations.  But he did seem to support the traditional stance that I should be taking meds for the rest of my life.  However, when I challenged this, by pointing out that my next set of scans will likely reveal no evidence of disease, and questioning if it is still necessary to take all these meds when there are no tumors evident, he admitted that is something to consider.

What I took away from the meeting was his recommendation that I stay on Herceptin for the rest of my life (or until my heart can’t take it anymore), and that I have my ovaries removed at some point in the near future.  He was impressed with the aggressive actions I’ve been taking thus far and encouraged me to stay on an aggressive path.

What I also took from this meeting was the feeling that I am being treated like all other stage four breast cancer patients.  Which I guess is to be expected.  Every doctor I see makes similar recommendations.  Seems to have similar expectations.  I get the sense that they don’t think I will live too long…  That they feel it is necessary to endlessly blast my body with pharmaceuticals (with minimal regard to long term side effects) assuming I won’t be around long enough to have those side effects.

This is where the difficulty lies for me.

I don’t see myself the same way.  Maybe I’m naive, or deluded with wishful thinking, but I honestly feel like I’m gonna be around for a long, long time.  And I don’t want to go through all this only to have a heart attack in 7 years as a result of some med I took.  Or die from another form of cancer or organ failure caused by the meds I am taking.

I still believe I can be the 1 percent that is cured.  The small percentage that keeps cancer at bay for the rest of my life.  And why not?  With all that I am doing, and committed to continuing, why can’t it be me?

I consistently feel like all the efforts I am making to live the healthiest life possible are not recognized by any of the doctors I see.  That anything outside of surgery or medication is discounted or ‘pooh-poohed’.

But I honestly believe that everything I am doing – from the vegan, plant based diet, to the daily exercise, vitamins & supplements, ongoing psychotherapy and mental/emotional work, removing toxins from my environment, and devotion to living my best possible life – makes a big difference.  I have flipped my life upside down and committed myself to a whole new way of living.  If my body/soul/and mind are healthy and balanced how can disease possibly take root?  I am not just doing one thing here…  One thing there…  I am doing EVERYTHING I possibly can.  And I will do this for the rest of my life if that is what I need to do to keep living.  And the beautiful thing is that the side effects of my new healthy lifestyle have me feeling and looking better than ever.  I have the energy to enjoy life.  I am more centered.  I am in a better place – despite having stage four cancer.

I am not done here on this planet, in this body, with this life.  I have so much more to give.  To teach.  To enjoy.  The doctors and their “standard treatment” options can take their death sentences and endless pharmaceuticals and shove ’em.  Do not discount my hard work!

I continue to embrace all possibilities.  And live with hope and faith rather than fear.

Love to all…  And I’ll try to start posting a little more often :-)

– T

Family dinner at Candle Cafe - one of many amazing NY vegan restaurants.

Family dinner at Candle Cafe – one of the many amazing NY vegan restaurants – with Miss M, Cousin J, and Auntie L

Times Square fun!!

Times Square fun!!