Monday, July 3, 2017

The Tell Tail Signs

Steve calls them phantom pains and I had them often over the last year or so. My most frequent pain was in my rib cage around the kidneys on the left side (which we now know is extensively involved in cancer). I would normally end up at Patient First complaining of kidney pain and diagnosing myself with a UTI. Inevitably, I would always have the beginnings of a UTI, but no explanation for the pain I was experiencing. Finally, after showing up at Patient Frist one too many times with the same symptoms, they recommended that I see an Urologist. On occasion, I would discuss my symptoms with my doctors, but the recommendation was always to try some ibuprofen and to reconnect if the pain didn’t subside. The pain ALWAYS went away within a few days. It was only in February of 2017 that I started to experience longer lasting pain. This pain started stopped me from doing normal tasks at work and at home. The pain was most prominent in my lower back, but I still had those “phantom pains” in my ribs. I had been working out and jogging regularly up until February when the pain became more intense. Despite my family doctor recommendation that I schedule an appointment with my Oncologist, I decided to look into chiropractic care for my pain. I had scheduled an appointment to see my Oncologist in April, so I figured I would give it a few months to see if chiropractic care helped.

The pain seemed to come and go despite the chiropractor adjustments and at times it was still quite intense pain. I started having issues sitting for long periods of time, standing, lying down, carrying groceries, and bending to pick things up. I was constantly icing my back, but nothing really seemed to help with the pain. I ended up in the ER one day during work because the rib pain was off the charts. I again was still thinking I had a kidney infection. The CT in the ER cleared me of any kidney stones, but guess what? I had the start of a UTI. I got an antibiotic and was sent on my way. I stayed in contact with my Urologist, keeping her updated as the pain was not getting better. She switched to a different antibiotic and scheduled a CT with contrast to get a better picture of what was going on. This ended up being the CT in April that showed the initial abnormalities that would lead to my new diagnosis.

My pain continues to be very intense at times and can quickly get to a level 10 in a short period of time. We are hopeful that treatments of chemo, radiation, and alternative therapies will help to elevate the pain soon.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Stage 4 Cancer

Hearing the words “you have cancer” a second time is just as devastating as the first time you hear those words. Nothing really prepares you, not even a week of knowing they saw something on a CT scan. It was a Thursday afternoon in April and my girl Emily and I were loading up the car to head to South Carolina for a girls weekend when I received a call from my Oncologist’s office. They had reviewed a CT scan that had been ordered by my urologist (I had what I thought was a kidney infection that was not getting better with antibiotics) and they wanted to see me that day. Because I was heading out of town for the weekend, they said they would touch base with me Monday to discuss my scan and to enjoy my vacation. Around this same time, my CT scan was released to me via the online medical record system, which allows me to review all of my tests and communicate with my doctors. The scan showed some abnormalities within the lower lumbar and included a recommendation that further evaluation was needed to rule out metastatic disease. My heart dropped as I read the scan, but I thought the recommendation could just be super proactive, and I was hopeful that other scans may rule out cancer. The weekend flew by and we had a great girl’s weekend. I was still in a lot of pain around the kidney area (T11) the entire weekend, but was still able to have fun even with the scan in the back of my mind.

First thing Monday morning I received a call from my Oncologist who requested I come in right away to discuss the CT scan. I went by myself on my way to work, which in hindsight was not a good idea. He discussed the scan and the findings with me and we lined up an MRI and a PET scan to confirm metastatic cancer. The MRI was scheduled for that night and the PET scan was later in the week. I knew deep down that these additional scans would show cancer, but I was hopeful that it wouldn’t be extensive. After a teary call to my husband Steve, he immediately went and picked up Charlotte (our 5 year old) from school and met me at home. There were a lot of tears as things began to sink in and the reality of what we may actually be facing took over our thoughts. My mom and sisters showed up shortly after we got home and we spend a few hours just talking and trying to maintain normalcy.

Friday of this same week Steve and I met with my Oncologist to discuss the results of the MRI and PET, which had not been released to me yet so I didn’t know what they showed prior to going in for this appointment. My Oncologist explained that both scans showed extensive cancer throughout my entire skeleton, primarily in my spine. My T11 was very advanced which explained the pain that I was experiencing in this area. The PET also revealed there was cancer in the lymph nodes across both sides of my chest and the nodes in my collarbones. Basically cancer had taken over my body with the exception of any organs or the brain (which is a good thing considering). I actually have cancer in the bones of my face, how crazy is that? A lymph node biopsy done the following week confirmed that my recurrence was ER/PR+ HER2- (the same breast cancer I had fought 5 years earlier)! This was hard news to hear and digest as we sat in the little exam room on a Friday morning. To say we were devastated is probably a gross understatement. To be 36 and facing a second cancer diagnosis in just a few years just didn’t seem real, and this diagnosis meant a lifetime of stage 4 cancer. Cancer in the bones and lymph nodes was a game changer for us.

And so begins this new cancer journey. My biggest fear has been a recurrence of cancer and most especially bone cancer. I watched my Dad deal with prostate cancer that spread to his bones and the pain that he endured was so hard to watch.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Shh, Don't Tell Mommy

This all started with a pink cupcake when Charlotte was 2.  During breast cancer awareness month, Charlotte's daycare had a bake sale to raise money for charity.  They displayed yummy treats for the parents to purchase as they picked up their child(ren).  Char asked her Daddy if she could have one, and because Daddy is the best, he said "yes, but don't tell your Mommy".  That same month, I had been doing a sugar elimination challenge with PPE, so I was in full on NO SUGAR mode.  As I entered the door from work that day, Charlotte greeted me with a big hug and whispered "I had a cupcake, but shhhh, don't tell Mommy".  We laughed.  It was cute, and I really wasn't mad.  "Don't tell Mommy" has become a little joke.  Although, Charlotte doesn't quite get the concept of a secret just yet.  Steve and Charlotte periodically (hopefully not that often) enjoy treats together when I am not around.  I try not to be a crazy "NO" parent when she asks for things, and it's honestly getting harder and harder to keep all those unhealthy treats out of her life.  She sees kids at daycare eating Munchkins for breakfast and Lunchables for lunch.  I try to explain the difference between healthy and unhealthy snacks so that one day she can make the distinction on her own.  She knows she can't have the fun kid yogurt at the store, because it has too much sugar.  Every time she goes to the store with us, she picks them up and says "these aren't healthy right"?  I think she secretly hopes one day I will have a different answer.  She knows she can't have candy, and she handles that pretty well (although M&M's did get us over the potty training hump).

During a family holiday get -together, someone was handing out Ring Pops to all the kids.  She didn't actually ask if she could have one, but watched as the kids ran around with theirs.  After a little while, she did ask what they were eating.  I explained how it was candy and that she couldn't have any right now.  I get so annoyed when people offer her candy, but honestly I was that person.  I wouldn't have thought twice about giving candy to my nieces and nephews a few years ago.  Soda, candy, desserts, donuts, you name it, I offered it and even went out of my way to buy it for them.  About two years ago, I showed up to my parents' house early one morning, and one of my nephews said, "you didn't bring donuts?  How disappointing!  You always bring good stuff".  Although I have made a full 180 when it comes to foods, not everyone feels the same, and I get that.  The best I can really do is make sure Charlotte understands the difference without feeling left out when it comes to treats.  And look out if there is a birthday party, because she knows that means cake or cupcakes, and she is totally allowed to have one :o)    

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jar Salads

Hello!  What's new with you?  Are you busy working through your New Year's resolutions???  I, for one, got a later start than originally planned.  I am among the many people who had that holiday cold/flu/sickness.  Mine hit on New Year's Eve, and my body took some time to recover.  Now that I am finally on the mend, I have to hit the ground running on my resolutions starting with my new meal plans.

Have you seen the Ball jar salad pictures on Facebook or Pinterest, or from my favorite organization Super Healthy Kids?  As I was thinking about healthy lunch options for myself and hubby, I remembered seeing these in passing.  I am in LOVE!  These are so incredibly easy to assemble, and the best part is, you only have to do all the chopping once.  I picked up six large Ball jars at Wegman's, and for the last couple of weeks, I put these salads to the test.  I chopped and assembled them on Sunday afternoon and by Thursday they were still fresh and delicious.  It's actually quite surprising how big the salad can be.  You can pack a lot of spinach and all your favorite veggies.  I throw in chia and sunflower seeds, and pack some homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing to go (in a separate container).  It's great to just grab and go in the mornings, which keeps me and my hubby healthy and happy.

Salads are a great way to get in the vegetables your body is secretly craving.  They don't have to be boring.  You can have a lot of fun with salads.  I, personally, love to add in sunflower seeds, avocados, and hard boiled eggs.  If you like sweeter things, you can add in some pears, apple slices, or even dried cranberries.  Change it up with some homemade, healthy salad dressings, and you are well on your way.  It is SO easy.

My all time favorite salad dressing is from  It is super easy and tastes delicious.

3/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3/4 C balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 pinch salt (I don't add salt)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!!!!  I hope this post finds everyone excited and ready for a brand new year.

New Year's is a perfect time to take a step back and evaluate your life, goals, priorities, health, and fitness.  It's a great time to think about an elimination cleanse, adding a green smoothie to your morning routine, cutting back on some of the processed foods in your pantry, or starting a workout routine.

For me, the new year marks the start of a fresh, new 12 months full of endless possibilities and fun things to fill the days, weeks, and months with.

The last few months have been a little stressful, and although I try hard to separate work from my personal life and keep my stress levels low, it's not always doable.  Keeping things in perspective helps, and sometimes I just take a mental step back and think "This is not a big deal.  Just take a deep breath and switch gears."  I have little conversations with myself (hopefully silently :o)) as a way to stay in focus.

I don't usually set New Year's resolutions, but for 2015 I think I will work on a few ones for myself. I would love to hear what your resolutions are, and hopefully one or two are health related ones.

  1. Continue the Body Beast workout challenge with my husband, but commit to 4 consecutive days each week for at least 90 days.  This has been something really fun we have been doing together.  We started in November and are somewhat slowly working through all the workouts.  It's hard to carve out time that works for both of us.  Some days we start at 5am and others days we end with a workout.  We have to be flexible by fitting it in where we can in between sore muscles.  Even on days we don't really feel like it, we need to do it.  I absolutely love strength training and am excited to see myself getting stronger.  I never thought I would be able to hold a plank or work on push-ups after my mastectomy surgery.  But I am slowly getting there, and it's great to feel strength and endurance.
  2. Complete a sugar elimination challenge for 21 days (an initiative that PPE will be doing that will eliminate "added" sugars from your diet).  I have done this before, and it's a great sugar awareness initiative.  It's amazing to see just how many food products have added sugar when you start looking at the labels on your foods.  
  3. Be more organized at home.  At work, I am a list maker, and I am typically on top of my game.  At home, not so much.  I tend to be scatterbrained and forgetful.  Chemo brain takes over, and I am not so on my game at home.  I find procrastination isn't good for a chemo brain person.  I need to be better at doing things in the moment when I think about them, because procrastination turns into forgetfulness.
  4. Start and maintain a dinner meal plan.  Planning my meals with any regularity is so not my personality.  I know there is a benefit, and I know my entire family would benefit from a more organized meal plan.  I have gotten away from my Sunday meal prep, which means dinners are last minute and quick.  Not planning makes it easy to pick up the phone for take-out, which is not ideal when you are trying to eat a clean and healthy diet.  Plus, properly planning dinners will ensure we have leftovers for lunches or other days of the week.
  5. Take time to really just be in the moment.  Some days I feel like all I do is run around, or maybe I physically am not running, but my brain is constantly thinking about other things I should be doing.  I am a person who sits when I am tired, but rarely just sits and enjoys a cup of coffee at home without opening my laptop or checking emails.  It's like I have an inability to relax and just enjoy a good movie or TV show without feeling guilty that I am not doing something else.  I need to enjoy life more, and embrace a guilt-free, relaxing time.  I am pretty lucky I have time, because there are things like cleaning and laundry that I don't have to do myself.  And I will be honest, I rarely go grocery shopping since my husband assumed that responsibility back when we had our daughter and never really gave it back to me :o).  So, you would think that all this would free up time, which it does.  I just fill it with other things that probably shouldn't take priority to family things I could be doing.
  6. Start oil pulling at least 5 days a week. I have read and heard all about the great health benefits of oil pulling and I even tried it a few times. If this is something new for you read more here.   
Let the fun begin!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Musical Fruit

My weekend goal is to make 2 or 3 meals, so we have plenty of quick options during the week.  We typically rotate between these options for lunches and dinners during the week.  As someone who comes from a large family, I do not know how to cook for three.  If I make a soup or stew, it can feed us for weeks.  This works out to our benefit, and we invite over friends for dinners or store the extra in the freezer for later.  Since I am not the best at meal planning, this keeps us eating good foods during the week without the everyday question of what’s for dinner.  I am rarely home in time to make an entire meal while still being able to eat together as a family.  This weekend, I made a delicious healthy chili from Two Peas & Their Pod.  It was the perfect meal for this cold winter weather. 

Since my cancer diagnosis, we have really amped up on our beans.  I add them to so many recipes now and garbanzo beans are a personal favorite.  Although I would say I am a seasoned chef and know my way around the kitchen, cooking with dry beans is a whole new experience for me.  With all the BPA controversy in the canned products today, I try to allow time for dry beans in my recipes whenever possible.  If I need to use the canned versions, I always make sure the label indicates BPA free, and I rinse these puppies well to wash away as much of the salt as I can.  Using dry beans can be a great $$ savings in your wallet, as well.  
This recipe calls for 2-15 oz cans of black beans and 1-15 oz can of kidney beans.  We had some dry beans sitting in our pantry, and since I had the time to soak them overnight, I decided to put them to use.  Both bags were 16 oz bags of dry beans.  Had I bothered to google the proper conversion, I might have seen that a 16 oz bag of dry beans does not come close to equaling a 15 oz can of beans.  Looking back, I really should have realized this, but in the midst of my weekend rush to get things done, it totally slipped my mind to question the difference.  I ended up making the two entire bags of dry beans.  As I was mixing all the ingredients together, I kept thinking, wow this is a lot of beans!  The last time Emily made this, I don’t remember it having so many.  This would be because I added entirely too many (8 cups to be exact) to this recipe.  This was a valuable lesson to learn in my newfound experience with dry beans.  You may find the conversion helpful yourself, so here it is thanks to a blog I came across.  1 - 15oz can of beans equals ½ cup of dry beans, which equals 1 ½ cups of beans after cooking.  I have found that dry beans have a little crunch to them after soaking and cooking for the recommended time.  Personally, I like the crunch, but if you are not used to it, you may want to cook a little longer than what’s recommended.  I also read in Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet book that adding a strip of kombu (sea-weed) can help make the musical fruit easier on your digestion, but I have not given this a try yet.  
When we first cut meat out of our meals, we noticed the hearty feel and satisfaction seemed to be lacking.  Adding beans is a great way to add some heartiness, fiber, and protein to your recipes.  Plus, they are digested slower than meat, and you stay satisfied longer.  Low in sugar, beans keep our insulin levels from spiking and are a great source of energy to fuel our bodies.  
This recipe also calls for quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah).  If you have not tried this fantastic grain, look for it the next time you are shopping.  Quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and can be used to replace rice, couscous, pasta, or thrown into stir fry or soup.  The first time I made it, however, I missed the part about rinsing.  Make sure you rinse out the grains before you put them on the stove to cook, or you many notice a bitter taste.  Quinoa gives you some great added benefits including amino acids, fiber, protein, and iron.  It cooks very similar to rice and is so easy and can be ready in as little as 20 minutes.  I like to add fresh garlic and onion (powder works too) to my quinoa while it is cooking for some additional flavor.  I often make quinoa on the weekends to throw in the fridge.  I pull it out and add veggies for a lunch option or quick dinner.                 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Quest for Homemade Pancakes

Today is a beautiful snowy day here in Maryland.  We are literally snowed in together staying warm and cozy.  I love snow days.  They bring back fantastic memories of my childhood and all the fun times my brother, Daniel, and sister, Kelly, and I had with the neighbor kids.  Snow days were filled with sledding for hours, snow forts, hot chocolate, and a lifetime of memories.  Brynn, Mere, and Greg, if you are reading this, I am missing our fun times growing up together with all this snow outside :o)    

Pancakes are one of my all-time favorite breakfast foods.  They were a regular in my house growing up.  We probably had them at least three times a week.  As a teenager, I would often make them for my brother, Daniel, when he came home from the neighbor's farm for breakfast.  We always used the Aunt Jemima original pancake and waffle mix.  This is the kind that you add milk and eggs to before pouring the deliciousness onto the griddle until they were a gorgeous golden brown.  They really are delicious!!!  However, in my quest for healthier alternatives, I have realized that pretty much anything you buy that comes in a box is not really nutritious.  Homemade, from scratch, with “real” whole wheat flour is the best way to go.  My friend, Emily, recently shared a vegan pumpkin pancake recipe with me that I have been dying to try.  Since I have this snow day to thank for the opportunity to make a homemade breakfast for my family, I decided today was the day to give it a try.
 My first time ever made from scratch, non-Aunt Jemima pancakes.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the success story I was hoping for.  I could not get them to cook all the way through, and they were gooey in the middle.  It could be that I mixed the batter too early before I actually cooked them.  Charlotte decided that today was a day she would sleep in late, so the batter sat for quite a while before I actually poured them out.  Charlotte loved them, but Steve and I were not big fans.  I was very disappointed, but I will try again.  I am on a quest for a better recipe, which I will hopefully share with a raving review.  Although I strive to find vegan recipes, whenever possible I am still a big supporter of the chicken egg.  My next go-round with pancakes will probably contain some great ingredients, including the egg.  We only buy free range or cage free organic eggs unless we know where they come from.  One of my older brothers gives us eggs from his chickens during the summer months, and we love them.  Nothing compares to an egg from a chicken that has had the freedom to roam the fields and has not been confined to a small space.  The difference is in the color and taste.  I will warn you, eggs from free range chickens tend to have blood spots in them, but don’t panic.  It’s not going to hurt you.  But if they bother you, just scoop them out before you add the eggs to recipes or fry them up.  I know growing up, when we would chase the chickens around, we were always told to stop, because it would cause blood spots in the eggs.  When you see those little spots, just think about all the fun those chickens had running around or being chased by crazy kids.  What a life :o)
In addition to the Aunt Jemima pancake mix, I also grew up on Log Cabin syrup.  It is made with several different ingredients (including sugar), which seems odd when you think about maple syrup.  By its very nature, maple syrup should be straight from nature.  S,o why would it contain more ingredients other than 100%, straight up, sticky goodness of pure maple syrup?  Aunt Jemima is another one of the syrups I grew up on, which also includes many added ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup.  I have transitioned us from these very processed syrups to straight up, 100%, no added ingredients maple syrup.  I also have a bottle of organic maple agave syrup sitting in my pantry.  If you are making the switch to a pure syrup, this might be a good transition for the kids as they get used to less of a sugary sweet tasting syrup and a more natural tasting one.  Agave has its own critics, but if you are using it to transition your family to a pure maple syrup, it’s much better than the alternatives out there, and I say go for it.  Just get to that pure 100% maple at some point.