Tag Archive | breast cancer

What Is A SURVIVOR?

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish a very Happy 70th Birthday to my dad, Len Strang.  We had hoped that all five sisters would be together to celebrate the event, but unfortunately, the youngest could not make it.  It has been many years since my whole family has been together under one roof, and I felt it important that we get a family picture.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

“It could be ten years before we all get together again”,  I insisted, “A lot can happen in ten years!  We might never again have this opportunity!”

My sisters nodded solemnly and replied, “Yeah, Dad is really getting up there now.  He might not even be around in ten years.  We need to do something to mark this occasion.”

Whoa!  Whadda ya mean Dad might not be around in ten years?  He will only be 80.  Of course he will be around. It’s ME I’m worried might not be around.

I did not speak those words, but that is exactly what I was thinking.  It surprised me to learn that my family doesn’t think that way at all.  They seem to see me as someone who has “beaten” cancer, a true survivor. They see cancer as part of my past, not something I continue to struggle with on a daily basis. Isn’t that how society sees us SURVIVORS  as well?

When I was diagnosed with Stage 111 breast cancer in April, 2011, I really struggled with the term “survivor”.  While I was going through treatments, I referred to myself as a cancer warrior.  I figured that the word survivor was reserved for those who had beaten cancer, and were declared cancer-free.  I was holding off on labeling myself in that way until I was sure that there was no evidence of the disease left in my body.

After my last treatment, on March 30th, 2012, my Oncologist gave me the all clear.  Yet I was still reluctant to call myself a survivor.  After all, the type of cancer that I had yielded just over a 50% five year survival rate.  I decided that I would not be hasty.  I would wait until the magical five year mark was up, and then I could truly call myself a survivor.  It would be impossible for cancer to touch me after that critical time had elapsed, I thought.

I made myself a survival plan, to get me through to my five year “cancer-versary”.  My plan included taking the hormone-inhibitor, tamoxifen, healthy eating, taking supplements, drinking more water, exercise, and stress management techniques.  While doing the research on how to remain cancer-free however, I made a startling discovery.   I learned that there is no cure for cancer!  (I suppose on some level I already knew that, but I didn’t think it applied to me.)  Reaching the five year mark will not guarantee that I will be cancer-free for life.  Those sneaky little cells can lie dormant in my body for decades and come back to get me!

I then made two life transforming realizations: 1. That from the day of my diagnosis until the day I draw my last breath, I am a cancer survivor.  2. Cancer was more than just a temporary disruption in my life.  It is something that I will “battle” for the rest of my life in my fight to remain cancer-free.

So yeah, everyone, I am a cancer survivor.  However that does not mean that I have “beaten” cancer, as there is always the risk of a recurrence.  It means that I take on every day with a survivor’s attitude in my fight to remain cancer-free!

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The fam, minus sister Lynette

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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”.

 alien races

                        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 # 85: Cancer Taught Me A Lesson About Loving My Body

"Do your boobs hang low, do they wobble to and fro, can you tie 'em in a knot, can you tie 'em in a bow........."

A couple of years ago I gave serious thought to having a breast lift.  Even though the rest of my body was in good shape, gravity, (along with breast feeding three children) had not been kind to my breasts.  My sagging bosoms really bothered me.   I thought, “If only my breasts were perkier, then I could love my body.”  Well, lucky for me I put it off until I could better afford it, which never came to pass.  ( I imagine I would be kicking myself now had I wasted all that money! )  Here is the irony:  Now that I have only one breast, I have come to see it as a beautiful part of my body.    The same is true about my hair.  I always hated my hair, complaining that it was too thin, too fine, or too mousey brown.   Now I look in the mirror and see this bit of black fuzz on my head, and I love it.  I have hair again, YAY!  It took losing my hair to make me appreciate just having hair.   Lesson learned.  You will never again hear me complain about my big nose.

Tip:  Love the skin you’re in.

Perk # 76: Cancer Made Me Feel Like The 6 Million Dollar Man

If you are old enough to remember the t.v. program, The 6 Million Dollar Man, you will probably recall the line: “Better than he was before:  Better, Stronger, Faster.”   When I consider the positive changes that cancer has brought into my life, I can really relate to that line.

Better: I am definitely better than I was before cancer, in many ways.  I take much better care of my body.  I have learned to better cope with stress.  I have also come to realize what is really important in life, and I no longer sweat the small stuff.  Most importantly, I have learned to love and approve of myself just as I am.

Stronger: Friedrich Nietzsche said,  “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”  (Also the title of  Kelly Clarkson’s latest hit.) There is nothing like a spar with cancer to prove to yourself how strong you really are.  Years ago, if someone had told me that at age 44 I would be divorced,  have a child with autism, and be facing cancer, I would have doubted my ability to survive.  Cancer made a survivor out of me.  It may have weakened my body, but my spirit has never been stronger.

Faster: While I call myself a runner, I have never really been competitive or pushed myself outside of my comfort zone.   Cancer changed that.   One of the items on my bucket list is to compete in an actual race this spring.  I have no expectation of ever winning.  (Cancer is the ONLY thing that I have in common with Lance Armstrong.)  Although I will not out run most of the competitors, I will do my personal best.  I will be faster than I was before.

So here I am, fresh from the battle with cancer and still bearing my battle scars, but feeling like 6 million bucks.     After my reconstruction in a year or so, I will also be sporting better boobs than I’ve had in a long time.  Better, stronger, faster AND bionic boobs; now that is one of the “perkiest” perks of having cancer.

Tip:  Take time to consider the ways that cancer has made a better person out of you.

Perk # 75: Cancer Brought Out The Family Resemblance To My Son

Ever since the day Donovan was born, I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again, “He looks JUST like his father.”  Lately, however, people are starting to notice my resemblance to my handsome son.  Maybe it’s the eyes?  Could it be the nose?  No, it is definitely the hair!

While not all chemo drugs cause hair loss, baldness is the universal tell tale sign that a woman has cancer.  Some women are quite comfortable with their lack of locks.  I met a brave woman at the cancer clinic last week who told me that the only time she covers her head is when it is cold outside.   If people stare at her in a rude way, she will say something like, “Excuse me, do I have a hair out of place?”  That takes courage.   For some women, on the other hand, losing their hair is more emotionally traumatic than losing a breast.

I fall somewhere in between those two extremes.  I can honestly say that I did not shed a tear when my hair fell out shortly after my first chemo session.  In fact, once it started coming out by the handful, I was like someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  As one woman put it, “It was like plucking a chicken.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.”   While I’ve never had the pleasure of plucking an actual chicken, I did give literal meaning to the expression, “I feel like pulling my hair out!”

Although I was personally comfortable with my own baldness, I was not comfortable enough to bare it to the world.  Not until now.  And that is only because I have been told that I look JUST like Demi Moore from the movie G.I. Jane.  Well, I have been told that by myself, but if you stretch your imagination just a little you might pick up on the resemblance.  Is it the eyes?  The nose?  No, it is definitely the hair.

Tip: While being bald has its perks, it is a joyous day when new hair starts to grow in.  Be patient, it WILL grow back.

 

Inspiration Saturday

Spring Snow Storm

On Friday, March 30, 2012, I had my last radiation treatment.  In one year I have undergone countless tests and procedures; three surgeries resulting in the loss of my left breast and associated lymph nodes; six rounds of chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments.  It is done.  I am now ready to put cancer behind me and get on with my life, with a few battle scars to mark my journey.

Given this joyous occasion, even the spring snow storm that I am facing this morning cannot dampen my spirits.  If you are looking for inspiration on this cold (if you are living in Newfoundland) morning, check out how tough we Canadian women are:

Perk # 72: Families United

Ben with his British sister, Faye (left) and his Canadian sister, Kaitlyn (right).

While at the cancer clinic last week awaiting my radiation treatment, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely woman whose positive attitude shone through despite her stage four diagnosis.   Somehow the conversation came around to my blog (aaahem,  I’m not sure how that keeps happening), and she was kind enough to share a perk with me.   Sitting in a wheelchair with her mother by her side, she beamed as she told me about her three children, and about how cancer seemed to bring her whole family closer together.   As ugly as cancer is, I thought, it is beautiful how it can unite families in time of need.

My biggest fear when I learned that I had cancer was that my children might be left without a mother.   This fear was magnified for Ben, as he is my youngest, he has autism, and his family spans two continents.   My two older children are technically his “half” brother and sister (although I do not allow that term in my house, as there is no such thing as halves when it comes to sibling love).  He also has three “half” sisters in England from his father’s side of the family.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing Ben’s joy as he was reunited with his British sister, Faye.   She was kind enough to leave her family for two weeks to help her father take care of Ben while I was away having treatments.  Although Ben is a boy of few words, I could tell by how his face lit up that he and Faye share that special brother-sister bond despite not growing up together.  I am so grateful that even the broad Atlantic cannot keep this family from uniting in a time of need.   It also gives me great comfort to know that when I do leave this world, at around the ripe old age of 90, Ben will continue to be loved and looked after.

Tip:  Cancer has a way of bringing families together.  If you are separated or estranged from someone in your family, reach out to them in your time of need.