Saturday, April 30, 2011

After #10, Before #11

Between Chemo #10 and #11. More of my videos here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Easter desserts.

Easter at my mother's house: beautiful surroundings, beloved company, a good, healthy meal, and, as is typically the case with holidays and social gatherings that center around food, too much dessert.

Easter dinner offerings: butternut squash and asparagus.

I know a few people who can sit in front of a table loaded with temptation and make relaxed and rational choices, but there are so many of us who can't. Sweet and fatty treats are fun, but so is humor, a nice cup of tea, a bowl of raspberries.

How did we get to the point where anything short of excess seems meager? 

I would like to change this dynamic. I'm not anti-treat. It's just that I would like everything I offer my loved ones to be supportive of their health.

Macaroons. My sister-in-law made these, and a special plate just for me of the chocolate ones, gluten- and sugar-free.

As for myself, with so little that I can control about my health these days, the little that I can control feels supremely important. I am hyper-aware of the connection between cancer and diet, and between estrogen, the primary hormone driving my particular cancer, and excess body fat. I'm concerned about the international obesity epidemic and how this plays out in my own family. And I'm especially attuned to my own struggle to strike a balance between eating just enough of the treats on offer so as not to feel deprived but not so much that I regret it after.

It feels like a sinister game of limbo. Temptations multiply while the out-of-bounds regret line moves steadily closer to "not one bite." Wherever I set the line, once I've crossed it, and I almost always do, I feel a quiet, underground panic as I feel my resolve and sense of control slipping away. I can't be the only one. Why do we do this to each other?

In order to escape doing harm to my body I find myself pressed up against the emotional mirage of deprivation. It is most definitely a mirage. I know this. I am well and plenty fed. The only real lack is of the relaxed and pleasant conversation (or not so relaxed but all the more essential sharing) that might fill a gathering not so centered around food.

On Easter Sunday, I failed as usual to find the (forgive the pun) sweet spot between indulgence and regret, but I had my camera along and managed to push away from my plate in search of photogenic distractions.

Thanks to mother nature and my own mother's talent for beauty, I managed to find plenty.


A neighbor.

Eying the bird feeder.

A kitchen window.

Avocado pits, poised for sprouting.

My mother's china cabinet.

Holiday dinner aftermath.

Out the back door.


Back home, trying something new: horned melon. Bright orange outside, jewel-green inside.
Grassy tasting, mildly sweet, a bit like honeydew only slimier and seedier.
Okay, I admit it. Not my favorite.

A treat at my house: cashew cream (in the food-processor: tofu, cashew butter, lemon juice, agave nectar, vanilla, nutmeg) served with fresh passion fruit.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Latest

In this video: Chemo takes it's toll again. Plus Millie gets a haircut, and an ode to the butcher shop.
More of my videos here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Shift

Something is shifting. I was getting better, and in some ways I still am (improved sex drive, for one, and my hair is returning), but at the same time I am also losing ground. My stamina, my stomach, even the taste in my mouth have taken a turn for the unpleasant. It's a subtle shift, nowhere near as all-consuming and overpowering as in the Adriamycin and Cytoxan days. But it's disappointing and depressing nonetheless.

And confusing.

I feel energetic, yet rundown at the same time. Good yet bad.

Maybe I've been recovering from the A/C all this time, meanwhile, Taxol is beginning to take its own unique toll.

Perhaps foolishly I had thought the improving trend would continue throughout the remainder of my six weeks of chemotherapy. I let myself imagine an expanding sense of well-being in the weeks ahead, fantasizing about how I'd spend the riches of my increasing energy. Today I'm realizing that I must continue to assess myself moment by moment, let go of expectations both good and worrisome, and make more room for self-nurturing.

So, toward that end, I'm lounging on the couch with my sweet dog, watching a movie on half the laptop screen while writing this message on the other half.

The rest I'll share in pictures - a selection of meals from the last week, and moments with my beloved man and beast...

Another vlog on the way, it's uploading right now. Check my Youtube channel for the latest.

Last night's dinner: red calypso beans, roasted red pepper hummus (this kind), steamed Swiss chard, tempeh sauteed with garlic, tamari, dill, and nutritional yeast, raw butternut squash, and purple cabbage with fresh ginger lightly steam-sauteed in a splash of water/rice vinegar  and a hint of agave nectar.

Another dinner: Local salad greens, steamed broccoli, black beans, squash and potato puree (more on that one here), with a dressing made from blended tofu, fresh dill, lemon juice, sea salt, onion powder, and the sweet herb, stevia.

This one was a lunch: steamed kale with sliced onions and portabellas sauteed in balsamic vinegar, pecan-raisin rice toast (this kind), and a dressing of tahini, lemon, sea salt, and smoked paprika.

The best nose in town.

My cuties.

Hair! Two days ago. J~ says there's already much more.

This one goes way back: the soup is this one, plus red miso, spinach, and peas.

Rainbow salad: kidney beans, dandelion greens, purple cabbage, red pepper, avocado, and jicima with tahini dressing.

And for dessert...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stress Relief and Water Balloons

Chemo #10. More of my videos here.

A friend who has both a daughter and husband with cancer asked me this morning how I feel when people complain to me about their comparatively insignificant life trials and tribulations. It's a good and interesting question, and we took it on together, deciding that the truth is, for both of us, it depends.

Whether it's cancer or a hangnail, we all have issues that deserve our attention, and we all have moments (some of us more than others) when we truly don't have the bandwidth to deal with anyone else but ourselves.

I imagine our capacity to deal with emotional stress like a water balloon - the balloon is the container, the level of liquid inside reflects the amount of undischarged stress we're carrying around. Sometimes there's relatively little stress and the balloon is thick and flexible. We have slack; we can take a lot of poking without getting upset. But other times, when the balloon is full and taut, the tiniest little pin prick will cause the balloon's contents to come spurting out.

A part of healthy self-maintenance is intentionally emptying the balloon at regular intervals. The best way I know is to talk about it (with someone who has slack for listening, of course.) We don't have to depend on a crisis to come along and poke a hole in our armor, or to excuse us for taking up space with our emotions, nor do we need to pick a fight. Though perhaps a water balloon fight would be a fun way of doing it... Something to consider as the weather warms up!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hard to Believe

Pureed butternut squash, potato, parsnip, and Brussels sprouts with rosemary. Served here with fresh cracked pepper and a dollop of lemony garlicky hummus. You can see the origins of this dish in the video below.

Meet my Mom in this one. And the beginning of the meal above. More of my videos here.

It's hard to believe I've completed 10 chemotherapy treatments. If you include radiation, there are twelve weeks of treatment ahead of me. It's hard to imagine this will ever end. I am so so so ready to put this behind me.

Feeling under the weather today. Felt great this weekend. The roller coaster continues...

On positivity. More of my videos here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Chemotherapy Countdown Continues

Six chemotherapy treatments remain of sixteen.

Finally a number I can wrap my brain around. Six is a mere handful, soon to be five four three two one — done. With a single pesky exception (neuropathy - more on that later) every week on Taxol I feel better than the week before. I don't crash mid-cycle like I did a few weeks ago. My appetite and sense of taste are normalizing. My hair, just a pale fuzz thus far, is slowly coming back. Even my sex drive is reemerging.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I feel like the picture of glowing health. My blood counts are still low and I truly feel it. It's like I'm perpetually coming down with something bad and tomorrow is when I'll really be sick.

But compared to Adriamycin and Cytoxan, my first chemo drugs, this is a walk in the park.

Except for the neuropathy, that is, and even that isn't so bad.

Every day I down a huge arsenal of supplements - B vitamins (1, 6, and 12), amino acids (L-Gluatmine and Acetyl-L-Carnetine, three times a day), vitamins E and D3, chlorella, several probiotics, and eight bitter little black pellets of a Chinese herbal concoction called "Ten Flavors" that is supposed to help with my blood counts.

At first these seemed to be helping quite a bit, but right now, I'm not so sure. My fingers and toes feel tingly and hot as I type. I fear I'll be switched to Taxotere, a related drug that tends to cause less neuropathy, but with other, harsher side effects. I also fear my doctor will keep me at a lower dose of Taxol. What does that mean for my prognosis? No way of knowing.

One day at a time, I guess.

Which reminds me, this week I will not be receiving chemo on Friday as I usually do. The cancer center I use is part of a Catholic hospital. Friday this week is a holiday. So from now on —a mere six weeks more — I will receive chemo on Mondays.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eighty Percent

Not so bloggity this week, sorry folks, but plenty vloggity. I've been busy with getting the word out about the t-shirt fundraiser (it's not too late to order one!) and collating orders - fifty-one and counting! I'm very pleased.

Living the Good Life, Cancer or Not. More of my videos here.

Chemo tomorrow. I'll be getting less than a full dose again, thanks to a resurgence of the neuropathy issue. My palms and the soles of my feet feel like I've been slapping them against pavement - hypersensitive, tingly and hot. After two weeks at eighty percent, last week I was given almost ninety. This week I was supposed to go back up to a hundred but instead I'm going back down to eighty.

I was worrying over this today, fretting about how all these drugs will impact me long-term, fearing my doctor will want to switch me to a different, harsher drug (that has less neuropathy issues). So all in all, I'm all right with the 80%.

And, on the bright side, it is nice to notice I'm assuming there will be a long-term to fret over.

My old friend F~ visited today, haven't seen her in many years. She's become a massage therapist, brought her table along and set it up in my living room. I'm here to say she's become a mighty fine massage therapist. Lucky me.

My stepson is on a school trip for a week - good to have the space on my own, and space to be with J~ uninterrupted, good also to notice the boy is growing up. Not worried about him one bit.

On deck this weekend: Millie gets a full-on sheering, I will bike again, and J~ and I will take some romantic time alone. If you're thinking that means roses and candlelight, it might. But then again, we tend to feel especially romantic in Home Depot, so who knows.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Before and After: Chemotherapy #9

Before. (More of my videos here.)

After. (More of my videos here.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Recipe for Progress

Only three ingredients needed:

1. A specific and realistic goal, the smaller the better.
2. A deadline, the sooner the better.
3. Accountability. Just one person will do. Someone to hold you to it.

Jicima salad: mixed greens, almonds, black and kidney beans, carrot, red onion, tahini-balsamic dressing.

Mushroom, chick pea, zucchini, and parsnip soup, plus spinach.

I want to publish a cookbook. I've wanted this for a ridiculously long time. I have a very specific idea for the book and have put a ridiculous amount of work into it over a ridiculous number of years, but for some reason, I don't get any closer to getting it done. In fact, the closer I get, the more important it seems that I clean out the coat closet and get my underwear drawer organized to perfection.

I mentioned to my brother J~ that I'm struggling with this and he said, "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

Next thing I knew, I had homework, and a deadline.

My goal this week is an outline, just one page, a very rough bare bones sketch of the book.

The deadline? Tomorrow. I'm giving myself until the end of the day.

Progress so far? Let's just say I've gotten a lot of other long-avoided chores done, and my kitchen is very clean.

What will happen if I don't come through? Nothing.

But nothing is not good. I'm sick of nothing. It's time to stick my neck out - for something.

So today I broke out the dusty cookbook files. And tomorrow I will have a lot of work to do.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Day I Found Out

I was asked to make a video about the day I found out I have cancer for a web site aptly named The Day I Found Out. The site has been up for some time now in an older format and will relaunch soon. You, my dear and loyal bloggites, get a sneak peak:

More of my videos here.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

And another one down and another one down... Seven more chemo cycles remain. I'm home now, on the couch, feeling Benadryl-dopey. Until I'm sharp and peppy and focused enough to write a real blog post, allow me to entertain you with two videos: last week's musical revue and my most recent Breast Cancer video Diary. Happy weekend everybody!

PS. Don't forget to order your t-shirt if you want one. Orders close April 17th.

The Edna Project: Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay set to music.
The band is a mother, father, and son. How old is that kid? He's good!

After Chemo #8. More of my videos here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Resistance and the Power of Intention

J~'s royal Sunday breakfast: A castle built of buckwheat pancakes, tahini, plain organic yogurt, sliced banana, and raspberries, surrounded by a moat of maple syrup.

My more humble fare: green apple, celery, radicchio, and ground flax. Nothing more. Just right.
(Not that I don't like pancakes.)

When it comes to energy these days, I am on a budget. It used to be that a night's sleep was all it took to restore the bottomless well. I never had to parcel it out, never counted out the coins, reckoning, If I do this, I won't have energy for that. It's been a big adjustment and not always a graceful one.

The worst is when fear takes over and, though I've got energy to burn, even a thrifty walk around the block seems extravagant, perhaps outside my means.

I love how David Allen puts it: "Whatever has your attention needs your intention engaged." Lately my attention has been snagged on my own procrastination and the resulting sense of frustration and overwhelm.

I am happy to report that engaging intention works. As promised in my last post, I spent ten minutes before bed in management mode, nailing down my priorities for the coming day. Though the priorities shifted dramatically when I remembered a more pressing deadline, the self-manager perspective remained, and the day went well.

J~, a friend and admired fellow-swimmer urges me to pace myself, not to push push push. She has Multiple Sclerosis and credits the disease for this lesson, relearned again and again. But don't you ever have to push yourself to get to the pool? I asked.

Sometimes I resist for healthy reasons, I just don't have enough fuel in the tank. Other times the resistance is based on fear or some such dampening emotion. Often I can't tell the difference.

In asking, it occurred to me that perhaps there is a gentler way. Perhaps I can get to know my resistance, befriend it, diffuse it, address its concerns rather than barrel through. I'll have to think about this some more.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Just Like the Old Days

More of my videos here.

Just like a typical off-kilter day pre-cancer, today I felt frustrated, unable to quite harness my time. The weather was restless, blustery, warm, spitting rain. I had surprisingly good energy but no trust that it would last, nor a clear trajectory in which to burn it off. Rather than plan, I drifted from one "I should do this" to another. Yes, I was crossing chores from my list, but not the ones that required real concentration or determination, not the ones that mattered most, and with good hours squandered along the way thanks to procrastination and indecision.

I rode the spin-bike instead of risking the run I craved in a downpour. Hours later, still no real rain in sight, I took the dog for a walk, only to get caught out in a downpour after all.

I even woke up wrong, to Millie barking in the yard and a bad dream fresh in mind, in which both my husband and I had taken up cigarette smoking. I became aware in turn that his smoking, unlike mine, was more than occasional, and that he was unwilling to address the stress underlying the habit. In fact, he wouldn't even look at me. I began to think maybe I couldn't stay in the relationship, and then it occurred to me that perhaps, unable to tell me he didn't want to be with me anymore, he was trying to drive me away. I saw myself in the mirror as this realization washed over me. My face was gray, my eyes were desolate, and my right breast, the one that no longer exists, was encrusted with boils.

Late this afternoon I bought chocolate, ate too much, felt sick, and had a big, long, overdue cry with one of my counselors. I also talked to my husband, who assured me he is not smoking and does not want out.

Lessons learned:

1. Make a plan. As an artist and a self-employed person solely responsible for structuring my days (almost), this is especially important. Tonight I will take ten minutes to think about tomorrow, to make some notes about my goals and priorities for the day.

2. Reassess, revise, and release the plan. Regularly. As a cancer patient, I need to do this more than ever. Something may sound right tonight, but tomorrow, the energy may be different.

3. Have fun. An old friend wrote on Facebook recently that she finally figured out how to get everything on her To Do list done: only put fun things on the list. This may not always be practical or possible, but it's worth striving for!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Shock and Garlic

Eight down, eight to go. That's what I keep telling myself about chemo now. Eight weeks remain of twenty, eight treatments of sixteen. Radiation looms sinister on the horizon, but lately I am daring to believe that—barring the dreaded specter of recurrence—the worst may be behind me now.

It's a happy thought, but also disconcerting, because once I am done focusing one-step-at-a-time on cancer, I will have to reemerge into a world where most everyone around me has not been through this ringer, where life goes on undisrupted. It must be something like surviving an earthquake and never quite trusting the ground beneath your feet again. You stumble unsteadily forward while the crowds dance nimbly by.

Perhaps this feeling will fade?

While dressing this morning, I caught a glimpse of my chest in a mirror and was surprised at how pale the scar is now. It hit me yet again that I've had a mastectomy, that it is permanent, that this is, indeed, really happening.

At this point, I'm still entirely shell-shocked. Hell, the shelling hasn't stopped yet, though the intensity has diminished.

Little by little, I am reclaiming my life. 

Exhibit A: After chemo on Friday, J~ and B~'s grandmother went to B~'s choral performance – a three-hour dinner cabaret I didn't think I'd have the stamina for. Instead I stayed home alone and made this meal of garlicky scallops with red onion, black-eyed peas, zucchini, tomato, kale, and nutritional yeast.

It was a big deal that I dared stay home alone after chemo, a surprise on top of that that I cooked for myself, elaborately no less, and a real shock and pleasure to note, I can once again eat garlic!

I don't know if it's a common reaction to Adriamycin/Cytoxan, my first chemo regimen, but for a while there, I couldn't touch anything garlicky. Toxic chemical mouth burn, loyal readers and vlog-watchers, you've heard me complain about it enough. But, like I said, little by little, I'm reclaiming my life, and what better place to start than my taste buds?

So bring on the garlic, I plan to indulge. Those of you who may see me in person, consider this your fair warning.