Tag Archive | breast cancer inspiration

Dana’s Gift: A Tribute

 

“What room is Dana in?”  was the question on nearly every woman’s lips at our annual breast cancer retreat.  We all knew that where there was Dana, there was fun, laughter and music.  With more than 200 women attending the retreat each year, it is impossible to get to know everyone.  Over the years, we have formed our own little groups, or cliques you could say.  But everyone seemed to know Dana and she was considered a part of every group.  She “belonged” to all of us.  She was our Rock Star!

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“Believe” was Dana’s motto.

Dana was the first of my survivor sisters to reach out to me after I was diagnosed.  Soon after discovering my blog, she messaged me on Facebook to assure me that everything would be ok.  She had battled and beaten stage 2 breast cancer just one year prior to my diagnosis.  I cannot tell you what a relief it was to read the words of encouragement from her.  At 44 years old, my experience of breast cancer was, for the most part, hearing about little old ladies, who eventually succumbed to the disease.  But there was Dana, a survivor at just 32 years old.  “Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you have to die, Flo,” she encouraged me.  “We have lots of years left to live!”

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Dana and I at our annual breast cancer retreat.

Over the following months, as I underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a mastectomy, Dana was always there, cheering me on.   Although we had not met in person at that time, she became my mentor.  I opened her emails and Facebook messages as if they were a gift: The gift of hope.

Then, just three months after she first contacted me, she sent me a message that turned my world upside down.  Her cancer had come back and this time it was stage 4.   I was devastated!  At that point, I was still going through my treatments and I didn’t know what the outcome would be for me.  Dana was my hope and my inspiration.  Because she had beaten cancer, I believed that I too could beat it.  But with her stage 4 diagnosis, I lost faith in my own ability to survive.  However Dana remained positive even in the face of this terminal diagnosis.  She never lost hope, and she never, ever lost her faith and will to live.  Seeing her strength and her will to survive gave me back mine.

Dana was a friend to all, and a better friend you could never ask for. I was privileged  to meet some of her family and through them, I learned how Dana excelled, not just at being a friend, but also at being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister.   Sometimes when I was worried about Dana, I would creep her Facebook page to see what she was posting. Like me, she was very open about her disease and would sometimes post about her health status.    One night, just about a week before she died, I could not get her off my mind.  I checked her Facebook page and there was a post, “Dollhouse for sale.”  I smiled believing that death could not be close if she was still dealing with mundane, day to day things like de-cluttering her home.  But that was Dana; being a good mom right to the end.  Her husband, Todd, told me that after she passed, he was becoming frustrated with some paper work that he had to do.  Then he discovered that she had filled out these papers before she died, to save him the frustration.   Even in the face of death, Dana continued to take care of her children and her beloved husband.

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Dana and her beautiful family.

Although I could see Dana getting sicker and weaker over the past several months, she continued to live every moment to the fullest and spread love and joy everywhere she went.  What continues to inspire me most about Dana however, is not how she lived her life, but how she faced her death.   I recently read this passage, written by Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl:

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he picks up his cross, gives him ample opportunity-even under the most difficult circumstances-to add deeper meaning to his life.  He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal…….It is true that only a few are capable of reaching such high moral standards. 

Dana is one of the few who was truly capable of reaching these high moral standards.  I can only imagine the anguish that I would suffer at the thought of leaving three children and a loving husband.  But just weeks before her passing, Dana said that she was not afraid, nor was she bitter or resentful.  She told her friends that she experienced a peace that was beyond understanding.   She remained brave, dignified and unselfish to the very end.  Dana died just as she lived her life: with grace.

There is an old expression, “Only the good die young.”  I believe that there is some truth to that.  I believe that our souls come to this earthly plane to achieve greater levels of goodness (or Godliness), and to help other souls to grow and to evolve.  There is a key truth that our souls must learn, but not only learn, we also must live this truth before we are ready to leave this world.  Some learn to live that simple truth in a short life span, while others die after living a long life without ever having discovered it.  The truth is this:  Love is all that matters.  Dana lived that truth every day.  The love that she showed to her friends, her family, Johnny Reid, (who was as much a fan of hers as she was to him), and all who she met, was so pure and genuine.  Dana just had that way of spreading love and joy everywhere she went.  And that is why we, her survivor sisters, swarmed to her like bees to honey.  Just to be in her presence was a gift.

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Dana was a great fan of Johnny Reid, and he was a fan of hers.

The last words I spoke to Dana were through the same medium as the first words we spoke, a Facebook message.

-“Sending you lots of love, Dana.”

-“I love you too, Florence.  Xoxo”

Thank you for the gift of your friendship and for the gift of your love, my friend.  Rest in peace.

Dana singing her song at the launch of “100 Perks of Having Cancer”

5 Minutes of Pleasure That Can Change Your Life

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Think of all the ways that your body experiences pleasure:

-feeling the intimate touch of a lover; the sensation of your tired body sinking into a hot bath; a relaxing massage or foot rub.

-hearing the sounds of birds singing in the spring; the ringing of children’s laughter; or your favorite song on the radio.

-seeing a beautiful work of art; a garden in full bloom; or the sun sparkling like a million diamonds on the water.

-smelling the first cut grass of the season; freshly baked cookies right out of the oven; or the milky sweetness of a baby’s breath.

-tasting ice cream on a hot day; that first sip of your morning coffee or tea; or savoring your favorite dessert.

Feeling. Hearing. Seeing. Smelling. Tasting. The way that your body experiences pleasure is through your senses. Tuning in to your five senses is not only a way to experience pleasure however, it is also a powerful tool for grounding you in the present moment.

I recently completed a course in Mindfulness Meditation, and one of the strategies that I learned for dealing with emotional distress is a technique called the 5 Senses Meditation. In my 25 years of practicing Psychology, this simple exercise is the most powerful tool that I have ever used with my clients.   In as little as five minutes, I have witnessed clients go from a state of distress, high agitation or profound sadness, to a state of well-being.

Before I tell you HOW this miraculous technique works, I will guide you through a simple exercise. Five minutes is all it will take, so get comfortable.

Stop whatever you are doing right now and take a look around you. (This exercise is best done outside, but it will work in any room.) What grabs your attention? Is it a certain color? A picture? A glimpse of nature? For about one minute, focus your full attention on what you see around you. If you find your mind wandering, that’s ok. Just let your thoughts go, and bring your attention back to your sense of seeing.

Next, take one minute to tune into the sounds around you. Close your eyes, if it is possible, to better able you to focus your attention on your hearing. What do you notice? The ticking of a clock? The sounds of traffic? Birdsong?   Just listen. Do not judge these sounds as good or bad. Just be aware of them. If you find your mind drifting, that’s ok. Just gently bring your attention back to the sounds around you.

Now take just one minute to tune in to your sense of touch. Pick up any object that is next to you and explore it with your hands. How does it feel? Smooth or rough? Cool or warm? Heavy or light? Prickly or soft? As you explore this object, also become aware of how your body feels right now. Quickly scan your body from head to toe, looking for places of tension and relaxation. Do not judge these feelings as good or bad. Just notice them. If you find any areas of tension, allow your muscles to relax. If your mind drifts away, gently bring it back to the activity.

Take one minute now to close your eyes, if possible, and focus your awareness on your sense of smell. If you are close to a scented object such as a candle, soap, or a food item, you may want to bring it to your nose to fully experience your sense of smell. Breathe it in deeply. What do you notice? How does this scent make you feel? Can you identify certain undertones, such as flowers, citrus or spice? Focus fully on your sense of smell, and if your mind wanders, gently bring it back to this exercise.

For the last part of this exercise, you will need a small food item: a raison, a candy, a cookie or a piece of fruit works well. Put the food in your mouth and for a few seconds, just roll it around, and experience how it tastes and feels on different parts of your tongue. Does the taste change depending on where it is located in your mouth? Now slowly bite into it. Sense how the flavor is released as it mixes with your saliva. What do you taste? Is it sweet? Sour? Salty? Bitter? Notice how the texture changes as you chew it. Make it last for as long as possible before swallowing it. If you find your mind wandering just gently let go of your thoughts and bring your full attention back to the taste of your treat.

That’s it! Exercise is complete. Were you able to turn off your thoughts and tune in to your senses?

I had a client last week, a 16 year old girl who came to me in a state of high agitation and distress. She told me that her father had been in a bad car accident a few months ago and he is still in the hospital. Her eyes filled with tears as she relived the day that she heard the news. She recounted how her mother had cheerily picked up the phone, but then her face went pale and she fell to her knees, clutching the phone as she heard the bad news. She cried as she told me how she, her mother and two brothers hugged into each other and prayed that her father would still be alive when they got to the hospital.   Then her thoughts shifted to the future. She will be graduating from high school next year and she wondered whether her father would be well enough to attend her prom. She then went on to wonder if he would even be around to dance with her at her wedding.   With each “what if…..” she became more and more agitated.

After letting her talk for about 40 minutes, I guided her through the above exercise. The transformation was instant!   Her sadness, worry and fear vanished before my very eyes, and in its place I saw a young girl at peace. She even laughed a little when she tuned into the sounds of her classmates in the adjoining room.

When the exercise ended, she said, “Wow! I feel ok for the first time in a very long time.”

“That’s because you just spent 20 minutes in the past, reliving your father’s accident, and in doing so, you experienced all of the pain and sadness of that event. Then you went to the future for 20 minutes as you worried about the “what ifs”  of Dad not being around.   But you spent the last 5 minutes in the present moment. The present moment is where you find peace.”

It is as simple as that!   Most of the misery and suffering that we experience is because we allow our minds to go into the past and relive the hurt and trauma of loss and suffering. OR we project into the future and worry about the many bad things that might happen. Not every moment is a good moment……..but most of them are. Many times however, we take these perfectly good moments and make ourselves miserable by getting caught up in our thoughts. We can easily stop this needless suffering by simply bringing our attention to the present moment by focusing on our senses. All it takes is 5 minutes a day for you to access the Power of NOW!

 

 

Chickballs!

I can hardly believe it is already day 18 of my 21 day vegan challenge!  So far it has been a piece of cake….ummm, I mean a piece of gluten free, egg free, dairy free cake….let’s just say it’s been a piece of bread (multi-grain bread).   But seriously, I have been enjoying some fabulous foods, with my new favorite being “wheatballs”.  They are so versatile!  I’ve had wheatballs in thai sauce with rice;  barbequed wheatballs ; and my fave, wheatballs and spaghetti!  Since Susan is the recipe lady, I will let her supply you with a healthy recipe for these little delights.   She has tweaked my recipe for wheatballs, and created her own version: chickballs!  (Leave it to the Savvy Sister…..if ever there was a chick with BALLS, it’s her!)

The most difficult thing I have encountered with living a vegan lifestyle is not about choosing new foods, it is about getting OTHER people to accept these choices.  I recently spoke at a Chicken Soup for the Soul Luncheon (while others had chicken soup, I enjoyed tomato soup for the vegan’s soul).

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Flo speaking at a Chicken Soup for the Soul fundraiser for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

A big part of my talk was about the difference between a positive attitude and a survivor’s attitude.   A positive attitude is a wonderful thing, and I credit it with being instrumental to my healing and recovery from cancer.  Even more important than a positive attitude however, is the survivor’s attitude which I continue to maintain.  A survivor’s attitude combines positive attitude, with positive ACTION!  As a cancer survivor, I am going to do everything in my power to continue to stay healthy and prevent a cancer reoccurrence.  If that means changing my diet, I WILL change my diet.  If that means exercising more, I WILL exercise more.  If that means giving up wine….well let’s not get carried away here.  Wine is vegan after all.

I would just like for people to accept my food choices and understand that I am not turning down your lasagna or cupcakes to be rude, or because I am picky.  I am doing it because I want to stay alive! If there are any stray cancer cells lurking in this body, I want to STARVE them by eating a plant based diet, not FEED them with animal fats and sugar.  So please don’t hate me because I’m a plant eater.

Susan, do you have any tips for us this week?  And can you please share your chickball recipe with our readers?

Savvy Sister

Way to go Flo!  The mind is a complex thing, isn’t it?  Food is not only sustenance; it’s also a centerpiece for social gatherings and offers emotional comfort.  Humans want to “belong” to a group and have a sense of conformity and sharing food means connecting.

But I wonder, Flo, if you were diabetic, and didn’t have dessert would people try to force  cherry cheesecake on you and shun you if you didn’t partake?  Eating a diet to avoid cancer is really the same thing.

We all make choices about our health and no one should feel “weird” because of them.  That’s why I try not to use the word “vegan” as stated before, and prefer the term “plant-based”.

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                        See? I told you vegan’s were buff. And look at the size of those feet!

One blogger even made up his own name for plant-based eaters: “Veganauts” , and his own definition  for the word. (That’s what you can do when you make up your own word.)

(Hit this link to learn more:  http://howilost150pounds.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/open-letter-of-invitation-to-ellen-degeneres/)

Here’s how he defines it:

ve-gan-aut /VEE-gun-ot/ (n.) 1. a person who is exploring the rewarding vegan lifestyle without actually meeting all of the vegan tenets all of the time.   2. someone who lives like a vegan but makes occasional allowances for transgressions without giving up the vegan lifestyle afterwards.  3. any omnivore who is experimenting with plant-based eating or vegan living. 4. a person who is sick and damn tired of defending their own personal brand of veganism and prefers to have a label nobody can argue with.  An example sentence: Sarah is a veganaut because even though she is almost always vegan, she wears leather shoes and eats cheese fondue once a month with her Mother-in-law and has some turkey on Thanksgiving.

Here are some tips when talking about your new plant-based diet.

1.  Don’t allow yourself to feel different.  You are the ray of light on a new horizon! You are a teacher of health! YOU are the cool one. …yeah you are! “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

2.  Don’t preach.  As tempting as it is, don’t lecture your dinner companions on the dangers of casein (milk protein), and how it’s linked to high rates of cancer.   And never start a sentence with “Did you know……?”  If people ask, keep it simple.  If they want to know more, they will contact you later.

3.  Don’t condemn. I have eaten with vegans at a table and I’ve wanted to slap the “icky faces” off them as they watch their carnivore friend chow down on a plate full of ribs.  Keep your reactions to yourself.  People have a right to choose what they put in their bodies.  If asked, keep it focused on why YOU are vegan not how THEY should be.

4. Realize that at some restaurants, you may be having a salad…again.  If going out to eat with friends, check the menu online and figure out what you can eat beforehand.  Most restaurants will be happy to add or subtract items or cook in oil vs butter if you ask.  Some restaurants (even steakhouses) that I have been to recently have a separate vegan menu.  Aren’t YOU special! And remember, going out to eat with friends is a social thing. Avoid bringing a baggie of food with you.

5. Try to make concessions.  If your neighbor makes you chicken soup because you’re sick, don’t tell her “Oh, sorry, I’m a vegan and I can’t eat this.”  Take the soup, do with it whatever, and tell the person it was delicious and thank them. If it’s someone’s birthday, have a sliver of cake. Whether you sit there and push it around or you eat it, there’s good energy behind the food, so try not to refuse.

6. Be nice! Not everyone will agree with your decision and some may even tell you that your choices will make you sick. Remember you may be the first vegan this person has encountered and it falls on you to make us all look good.  Just smile a lot and realize that it’s ok because God loves even the idiots.

If anyone has any stories about their encounters with those not accepting of you diet, let us know how you dealt with it.

To heck with wheatballs, I have something much better: Chickballs!  It is the same concept, only I substitute chickpea flour for wholewheat flour…but you can do either.  Enjoy! And Flo..keep up the good work!

Chickballs:

Always try to use organic ingredients when possible

1 (15.5 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or avoid the BPA in the can by cooking your own)

1 cup chopped white mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2  to 2 tablespoons soy sauce (find a soy sauce without cancer-causing caramel coloring and MSG)

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for cooking

½ cup dry bread crumbs (or use 4 Wasa rye crisp crackers ground in a blender)

½ cup chickpea flour OR whole wheat flour

¼ cup of nutritional yeast (optional but consider this high protein/non-yeast source that is usually fortified with B12…a vitamin that is essential but is mostly found in animal products,  so vegan should get it when they can I use Bragg’s, but there are lots of brands out there)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon salt (Season to taste. I found I didn’t need the salt when using the full 2 Tablespoons of soy sauce)

¼ teaspoon black pepper

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If cooking the chickpeas, rinse and place in a pot covered with water. Cover and soak overnight (12 hours). Replace water with twice the volume of the chickpeas, and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer 1 hour. Strain and allow to cool.  Cooked chickpeas can be placed in 16-ounce containers and frozen for 3 months (It’s like having a can in your freezer.  I do this with black beans too.)

If using canned make sure you rinse extremely well.

-in food processor, combine chickpeas, mushrooms, garlic and parsley, and pulse until coarsely ground, but not pureed.  Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine.

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-with a spatula, scrape the mixture into a large bowl and knead the mixture until well blended, about 2 minutes.

-pinch off  small pieces  of the mixture and roll into one and a half inch balls.

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-in a large skillet, cover the bottom with olive oil and fry the balls, turning frequently to brown the on all sides, about 5 minutes.

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These chickballs freeze well and can be used in any recipe which calls for meatballs.  They also passed the “I’m not eating anything vegan” husband test. He gobbled them up in a flash.

Makes about 17 balls Nutrition per ball when chick pea flour, rye cracker flour, and nutritional yeast options are used ….Calories: 75, Fat: 2.5, Protein: 4.8, Iron: 4.5% RDA,  Fiber: 3.5 grams  Vitamin B12: 13% RDA

Using the rye cracker crumbs vs the breadcrumbs saves calories and also saves you from the sugars, and preservatives that breadcrumbs contain.  The rye crisps contain rye flour, water and salt.  This post is not big enough to list all the ingredients in processed bread crumbs. Go to Wasa for more info:  www.wasa-usa.com/rye-crisp.aspx

Using chick pea flour instead of wheat flour gives you 5 times the protein, more iron, and 3 times the fiber as wheat flour. These small changes add up and make your healthy diet even healthier!

FYI: Nutritional yeast, while it has yeast in it’s name, is not a live yeast product.  It is the shell of the dead yeast cells that contain an abundance of protein and adds a very unique flavor to anything it touches.  Most nutritional yeast products are fortified with B Vitamins including B12…the one that vegans need to supplement in their diet.

Perk # 60: Early Menopause

 

Hey, I know what you are thinking, Ladies, “What is so perky about early menopause?”  Those were my thoughts exactly when my Oncologist told me about “chemopause”: a side effect of chemo which causes the womanly cycle to come to an abrupt halt.  Sitting in the pretty young doctor’s office with Shawn by my side,( just three months into our relationship), I couldn’t help but blush as she told us the likely side effects:  mood swings, hot flashes, loss of libido, weight gain, and no more monthly periods (well, that part I was looking forward to).    I would not have been surprised if my new love had suddenly bolted out the door, but I’m glad he decided to stick around.    Sure enough, menopause kicked in soon after chemo, but fortunately my only unpleasant symptom has been hot flashes…..a small price to pay to get rid of the dreaded monthly visitor.

Many moons ago, while I was still married, I whined to my best friend that my hubbie turned into a complete villain once a month,  purposely doing things like slurping his soup in an attempt to drive me bonkers.  In fact, when I thought about it, it seemed that everyone around me got kind of crazy at that time.  “Does this happen at the same time every month?” my wise friend asked.  “Yeah, usually just before my period”, I confided.  Ahhhhh, it suddenly dawned on me;  they weren’t trying to make me crazy,  I had PMS.  But those days are behind me now.  As an added perk of chemopause, I no longer turn into a demon once a month.

Tip:  Early menopause is not all bad, just think of the perks: no more periods and no more PMS.  A few hot flashes is a small price to pay.

 

 

Perk # 55: Cancer Made Me Re-Evaluate The Relationships In My Life

“Being diagnosed with breast cancer and being given the opportunity to survive provides each of us with the chance to step back and assess how we are spending our time and begin to look more closely as to whether what we are doing is really contributing to this world in a positive way.

We are in touch with our mortality ahead of schedule and begin to realize that life is more precious than we recognized or conceived and needs to be valued and not taken for granted. Relationships take on a different tone, some perhaps ending and others becoming more meaningful.”

-Lillie Shockney

Darn! I wish I had said that.  Although these are not my words, they certainly resonate very strongly with me.  People expect that when you get cancer you suddenly get great insights in to life.  Well, they are right.  When I am asked about my great insights, I have only one: The only thing that really matters in life is people.  You already knew that, right?  Yeah, so did I, intellectually.  But knowing it, and really believing it are two different things.  And cancer has the perk of allowing you to really believe and feel the truth of that statement.

Like Lilly Shockney, cancer made me re-evaluate the relationships in my life.  I ended some, and gave more of my energy to others.  On that note, I would like to pay tribute to my wonderful friends, those people who are truly deserving of my time and energy.  I have been blessed from a very young age with meaningful friendships.  Lily, Winnie, and Denise saw me through my childhood and teen years.  While our lives have gone in different directions, there is a bond between us that time can never break.   Then there are the friends who were with me for a season of my life, Sandy, Carol Anne (with an “e”) and Anita, just to name a few.  Finally, there are my soldiers.  These friends have been in the trenches with me for more than a decade, and when the going gets tough, it is these phenomenal women that I first turn to.  They have cried with me, laughed with me, and drank wine with me through divorce, new relationships, break ups, Ben’s diagnosis of autism, and now the Big C.  I can depend on them for anything. I thank God for this wonderful gift of friendship, and I thank these friends for sharing my life, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I love you guys!

Madonna, Jackie, Sherry and Me (in short hair wig)

Natalie, Me and Veronica (when I still had hair)

Tip:  When you are battling cancer, your time and energy become more precious to you.  Don’t waste it on toxic relationships, instead nurture those relationships which allow you to be your best self.

Perk # 54: Riding Shotgun

Before I go driving anywhere with my teens, I am sure to hear one of them yell, “Shotgun!”   This statement gives the person saying it the privilege of sitting in the front seat of the vehicle.  I assume the expression originated in the days of the covered wagon, when the person sitting next to the driver carried a gun for protection, and therefore was known to be riding shotgun.

Since getting cancer, I don’t even have to call “shotgun”.  No matter how many people are packed into a vehicle, I automatically get the coveted spot.   Even Mom, with her bad knee, will climb into the back of a two door vehicle so that I can ride shotgun.   It may be a small perk of having cancer, but it is a perk all the same.

Tip:  Perks such as riding shotgun may be a small bonus when you have cancer, but each of these conveniences makes life a little easier, so take advantage of them while you can.