I’m always pleased to hear that my blog has reached people. Especially those on their own versions of this journey.
Today, I heard from Alex in London, England. She asked if I had any advice for post-treatment life. I thought I’d share my response here…
Congratulations on completion of your treatment and thanks for your very kind message.
Hmmm. Advice for life after treatment? I guess my advice would be: lower your standards, enjoy each day, face your fears, exude gratitude and try not to stress about prevention.
It seems easy to find tonnes of advice on how to try to prevent recurrence and I made a tonne of lifestyle, food, habit changes during my treatment. But the best advice I have for myself (or you) is probably to be good to myself: and that can mean to remember to be moderate about the anti-cancer stuff. Not to beat myself up because I go weeks or months without eating brazil nuts or almonds or ginger or green tea or flax meal. To accept that I drink coffee and red wine etc. That I have the occasional run of late nights.
Oh, and unsubscribe from all cancer blogs! (I do check in on my cancer-friends from time to time, and catch up on their stories, but getting a steady stream of daily cancer-news was not having healthy results for the post-treatment me)
And here‘s a great bunch of advice.
Wishing you many years of great health and happiness.
Posted by Andrea
June 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm. 4 comments
I’m often asked for tips for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, their family and friends. But every situation is different — and it’s tough to tell which of or whether my choices have actually helped.
The best I can do is offer personal reflections on my various decisions.
So, here is a rambly whack of them…
The Good: I’m glad I chose to…
||Insist on a Port-a-cath
Although I was fairly terrified leading up to it, the port-a-cath installation procedure turned out to be a total breeze — and well worth the cyborg result. My port-a-cath saved a good length of vein from chemo-induced damage and allowed me unrestricted, convenient use of both arms for my 18 weeks of chemo.
Mark’s pretty eager to have it removed, but as long as I have blood-work to be done, I’m thrilled to have this built-in valve.
||Look to real-life role models
This journey would have been lonely and dismal were it not for the brilliant examples and support of friends like Caroline, Laurie, Derek, Gloria and Eden, whose dignity, courage, resilience and generosity showed me that life is what you choose to make it.
I am so immensely grateful to these shining lights.
I’m convinced that getting up and out of my PJs each morning, doing breakfast and walking to school with Luba, sticking to a fairly demanding exercise routine and taking care of household chores helped my body and mind cope with the rigors of treatment.
Chemo threw my emotions into turmoil one week every three, and staying active kept me myself and helped me climb out of that trough again and again.
||Enjoy Energy Therapy
Throughout my treatment, I benefited regularly from the talent, generosity and skill of three energy workers. I’m sure the resulting insight, healing and optimism played a major role in minimizing my treatment side-effects, improving my outlook and speeding my well-being.
I am so grateful.
||Ask for and accept help
I’ve never been comfortable doing either, but asking for and accepting help not only solved the many logistical problems posed by hectic medical schedules and diminished physical abilities, it deepened friendships, introduced our young family to the beauty of community, filled me with healing gratitude, nurtured my always-battered self-esteem and left me longing to pay-it-forward.
||Capture and share our story
We broadcast my diagnosis as soon as it hit us. Right from — and especially at — the very beginning, we audio-recorded and snapped photos of our journey: sharing the news with Luba, attending appointments, celebrating milestones and living life in between.
I believe capturing our journey gives me a sense of moving forward, of anticipating the victorious sense of looking back, and at the very least preserves precious memories for Luba.
Sharing our journey, specifically and authentically, allows me to help those who may, unfortunately, follow. And distilling overwhelming situations to web-sized chunks helps me get to and focus on their vital core.
As gag-inducing as these morning concoctions are, the ritual of selecting, chopping, juicing and somehow ingesting a whack of fresh vegetables every morning makes me feel like a healthiness hero.
My daily juice includes beet, carrot, celery, ginger, swiss chard, lemon and, if I have it, bok choy, broccoli or cauliflower. Powerful veggies but possibly more powerful superstition.
Daily juicing of fresh cut wheat grass is a salubrious luxury that I only wish I could afford to keep up forever.
||Embrace temporary baldness
Our head-shaving party (video) helped me take control of my impending hair loss and enter temporary baldness with a resounding sense of support, victory and even joy.
Choosing funky, friend-infused hand-made hats over wigs and baring it all when temperatures permitted, gave me the comfort, freedom, acceptance and playfulness that I don’t think hiding under a wig could.
||Supplement Vitamin D3, Curcumin, Vitamin C, Resveratrol and Green Tea Extract — and drink lots of Matcha
I’ve tried a tonne of supplements during this journey, but after reading numerous books and articles (and not retaining the details of any) this is the handful I’m left feeling starve cancer best.
This feeling is far from scientific. I’m sharing it, anyway.
I’m so grateful that I have taken this time to examine my life, my thinking, my habits, relationships, choices and outlook — trying to toss out what wasn’t working and deliberately striving for new patterns.
My daily practices of gratitude and forgiveness have been far from perfect, but I feel lighter than my old self, and I feel much better about myself and my world.
||Celebrate every victory and milestone
Ever since that lump turned up, we’ve been pulling our way through time by anticipating the celebration of milestones and victories, big and small.
When there is something to look forward to, life is good.
I’m so grateful that, as a family, we look for and find these things.
The Bad: I’m glad I chose not to…
||Regularly consume sugar, white flour and other simple carbs
Research shows, high GI foods, such as sugar, white flour, potatoes and white rice, trigger hormones such as insulin and IGF growth factor which, in turn, lead to inflammation and cancer growth.
Since sugar, unlike dairy, offers close to no nutrition, I ended up deciding to mostly do sugar socially. Way easier than giving up coffee (which also raises insulin levels). I’m glad I did.
||Work during chemo, radiation and hormone therapy ramp-up
Yes, I probably could have worked during a good part of my treatment. And, yes, a lot of people do it.
I’m glad I decided not to. For me, the personal benefits of focusing completely on healing far out-weighed the financial benefits of working. I’m thankful for Mark’s job and that we all made adjustments to make it work.
||Hide my situation from our daughters — or myself
None of us know what’s ahead of us.
And we always hope for the best.
But we’ve been honest with ourselves and our girls since the very beginning of this journey. And I’m glad of that.
||Venture into public places during chemo
It was inconvenient, isolating and not absolutely essential, but avoiding public places for 18 weeks was a tiny price to pay to avoid the colds, flus or H1N1 viruses that may have stretched out my treatment — or worse.
My chemo-cocooning gave me time to exercise, reflect, create and, most important, heal. And it protected me from the world I had yet to find my new spot in.
||Choose the attitude of fighter or invalid
I didn’t choose cancer. But I do get to choose my attitude.
There are lots of options.
I’ve been happy with mine.
The Ugly: I wish I hadn’t…
||Fought so hard for bilateral mastectomy
I left my first post-diagnosis appointment absolutely adamant to remove both breasts. I remained so for three full weeks.
After several late night phone calls, and just days before my long-awaited surgery, my fabulous surgeon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I reluctantly agreed to a lumpectomy.
Turned out cancer had reached all 3 sentinal lymph nodes and recurrence could be anywhere. Removing my breasts wouldn’t have helped.
I am so grateful for Dr. Lorimor’s perseverence and care.
||Wasted energy on impossible relationships
My diagnosis and publicly shared journey gave me opportunities to reconnect with long lost friends and relatives, near and far. Those renewed relationships have enriched our lives.
My diagnosis also gave me an excuse to work on some very broken family relationships. But after wasting precious energy and effort, they’re right back where they started — or worse. I should have put that energy into worthwhile relationships and healing.
||Bothered with daily Flor-Essence Herbal Tea
During much of my treatment, I bought this pricey powder, followed the 24hour brewing and straining procedures then woke up earlier than I otherwise would have each morning so I could prepare it, drink it and wait 30 minutes before I could eat or drink anything else.
I have no idea whether this or any of my practices did me any good, but this one was inconvenient and costly and I eventually gave it up.
||Neglected my protein intake
Chemo eats away at muscle mass but I had hoped that by jogging, walking and doing strengthening exercises throughout my treatment, I would keep my muscles strong.
Turns out, my plan should have included more protein.
I ended up with two sets of tennis elbow and a brutal case of plantar fasciitis, which worsened after chemo ended and has prevented me from jogging ever since. Live and learn.
||Deprived myself of coffee and dairy
I did not sleep one wink the night I received my diagnosis. And I guess, at that time, I figured I’d never sleep again. So, I cut out coffee. Cold turkey.
Four months later, I realized delicious coffee was a treat I deserved. No great loss, I know. But enjoying a delicious coffee treat makes me feel like me, so I wish I’d relented sooner.
As for dairy, it has a pretty bad reputation in certain circles, but with chemo-induced menopause and bone-robbery, skipping dairy was one of my stupider choices.
Sorry for this absurdly long post. I wanted it to be a one-stop shop for anyone who may need it.
Posted by Andrea
September 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm. 7 comments
Just when I thought it would never be safe to go back in the kitchen, look what arrived last night — out of the blue:
A review copy of The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery by Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson.
I am so thrilled, I barely slept.
After seven months of bad food news and giving up favourites, this beautiful and brainy book brings me and my family 150 brand new science-based and scrumptious-looking recipes in more than 200 pages packed full of meaty and easily digested nutritional know-how.
Recipes are indexed by symptoms, from anemia through weight loss. A “Culinary Pharmacy” sings the specific praises of 98 common cancer-fighting foods. Tips for shopping, cooking, storing, reheating and customizing recipes are sprinkled generously throughout. Mouth-watering photos and inviting, informative preambles join prep time, cook time and fascinating facts for each carefully crafted recipe.
Soups, salads, pilafs, roasts, filets and chick pea burgers. Smoothies, salsas, creams, compotes, dips and drizzles. Custards, cookies, puddings and macaroons. All built to build bodies that give bad cells the boot.
Can you see why I couldn’t sleep?
I’ll be lugging this hardcover treasure to radiation, soaking up every word.
And drooling in the waiting room.
You can view a webcast of the Cancer-Fighting Kitchen Workshop online on specific dates in late April. Check the schedule here.
Posted by Andrea
May 6, 2010 at 6:06 am. 7 comments
My friend Caroline was kind enough to loan me the fabulous book Anticancer: A New Way of Life, by two-time cancer survivor and researcher Dr. David Servan-Schrieber, M.D., Ph.D.
I’m not much for radical changes, discipline or complicated formulas so I was pretty leery.
To my delight, though, the book is an absolutely engaging true tale of doctor as patient, researcher, survivor and teacher.
Dr. Servan-Scrieber breezily explains how cancer can hijack our bodies’ natural healing abilities for its own evil purposes, and how, by making simple changes to our diet and habits, we can keep greedy cancer cells small and powerless.
I’m pretty sure that even I can tweak my habits to disarm cancer without feeling like I’m on I’m-Sick Planet.
(view the original list here)
1. Veg up: Make your main course 80% vegetables, 20% animal protein.
2. Mix it up: Vary the vegetables you eat from one meal to the next, or mix them together — broccoli is an effective anticancer food, and is even more effective when combined with tomato sauce, onions or garlic. Add onions, garlic or leeks to dishes as you cook.
3. Go organic: Choose organic foods whenever possible. But remember it’s better to eat broccoli, for example, that’s been exposed to pesticide than to not eat broccoli at all.
4. Spice it up: Add powerful anti-cancer spices turmeric, black pepper, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, mint, etc. to your meals each day.
5. Skip the potato: Potatoes raise blood sugar, which can feed inflammation and cancer growth. They also contain high levels of pesticide residue.
6. Go fish: Eat fish two or three times a week – sardines, mackerel, and anchovies have less mercury and PCBs than bigger fish like tuna. Avoid swordfish and shark.
7. Choose organic, omega-3 eggs: Or don’t eat the yolks. Most hens are fed corn and soybeans, making their eggs 20 times higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than in cell-growth regulating omega-3s.
8. Go canola or olive: Use only olive and canola oil.
9. Stay whole: Eat your grains whole and mixed (wheat with oats, barley, spelt, flax, etc.) and choose organic whole grains when possible, since pesticides tend to accumulate on whole grains. Avoid refined, white flour whenever possible, and eat white pasta only al dente (who’d a thunk al dante would matter?)
10. Sweeten low: Cut down on sugar. Avoid sweetened sodas and fruit juices, skip dessert or replace it with fruit (especially stone fruits and berries) or a few squares of 70% cocoa dark chocolate after most meals. Read labels carefully and steer clear of products that list any type of sugar in the first three ingredients.
11. Go green: Instead of coffee or black tea, drink three cups of green tea per day.
12. Enjoy life. What matters is what you do on a daily basis, not the occasional treat.
But enough about food…
1. Get physical: Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week.
2. Grab some rays: Try to get at least 20 minutes of daily sun exposure to boost your body’s natural production of Vitamin D. Or discuss with your doctor the option of taking a Vitamin D3 supplement.
3. Boot bad chemicals and vibes: Avoid exposure to common household contaminants. Air out your dry-cleaning for two hours before storing or wearing it; use organic cleaning products (or wear gloves); don’t heat liquids or food in hard plastics; avoid cosmetics with parabens and phthalates; don’t use chemical pesticides in your house or garden; replace your scratched Teflon pans; filter your tap water if you live in a contaminated area; don’t keep your cell phone close to you when it is turned on.
4. Invite hugs: Reach out to at least two friends for support (logistical and emotional) during times of stress.
5. Breathe: Learn a basic breathing relaxation technique to nip stress in the butt.
6. Get involved: Enjoy the bliss of helping someone else.
7. Cultivate happiness: Do one thing you love every day.
Grocery shopping just got a whole lot easier
Dr Servan-Schrieber even provides detailed lists of common and delicious anticancer foods as well as lists of pesticization levels for common fruits and veggies.
If you’d like the easily digested reasoning behind these suggestions, or you just really want to be inspired, be sure to read the book.
Thank you, Dr. Servan-Schrieber. Thank you, Caroline.
Posted by Andrea
February 25, 2010 at 4:58 am. 5 comments