My Top Ten Favorite Things About Breast Cancer

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

 

10. I now have that Brazilian bikini wax I’ve always wanted…and no pain!

9. I’m saving a ton of money on haircuts and highlights.

8. I weigh 3 pounds less every morning post-mastectomy.

7. I work at the hospital, so I get my pick of chemo chairs!

6. I get to try all kinds of new drugs…and it’s legal.

5. No boobs, no hair = super aerodynamic runner

4. Having foam boobs means I can take them out any time they irritate me. Hey, I’ve kind of gotten used to that. There’s a lady at the oncologist’s office who has fake boobs with adhesive on the back. She likes to stick them on the wall in her chemo room to shock the nurses when they walk in. Now that lady knows funny!

3. Not only do I get a fabulous new pair of perky C’s when this is over, but come to find out they might throw in a tummy tuck as part of the surgery! It would have taken years to save for all that.

2. I won’t have to buy a Halloween costume this year; I’ll just take off my hat and go as Mrs. Clean.

1. I get to laugh and share this experience with all you fine people, some of whom I might never have known otherwise:)

And now..in a really awkward segue, I’m going to present you with my second healthy and easy meal of the week:spaghetti with bison 

SPAGHETTI WITH GROUND BISON 

Yes, I do love pasta! I used whole wheat spaghetti, but I have used rice noodles and they are good if you’re going wheat-free. I buy an organic portabella cabernet sauce and add some fresh herbs from the garden. You can certainly make your own sauce if you have time. I’m lucky to have local bison available at the grocery store. If you prefer a meatless sauce, bulk it up with some extra vegetables. They take on the flavor of the sauce. Add a salad and you’re done!

Advertisements

Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine

80S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” 
― Julia Child

no cow

DIET CONFUSION

With all of the conflicting opinions out there about what one should or should not eat after a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s easy to just throw in the towel and curl up in a little ball of self-doubt and disgust. Okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top:) You have the vegan camp, which is where all the popular kids seem to be going this summer. You know, if it has a face or a mother, avoid it. No dairy, no meat, no eggs, no fun…sorry vegans, that was rude.

no sugar

Then you have those who believe that a vegan diet is a disaster because it encourages the consumption of fruits and whole grains and makes it difficult to obtain certain vitamins that are readily available in animal foods. The crux of their argument is that cancer cells are “glucose guzzlers” and carbohydrates readily break down into sugar, thus feeding the cancer. They propose that protein, fat, and low-carb vegetables should be the main focus of the diet in order to blunt the insulin response that funnels the sugar into cancer cells.

I believe that each side has some valid arguments. There is a lot to be said for trying to incorporate as many organic vegetables as possible into anyone’s diet, not just those with a disease. I also see the merits of eliminating any food sources of hormones, i.e. traditional meat and dairy products. What I haven’t seen is research exploring health outcomes of those who consume grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free dairy, meat, and eggs. These products actually have a very favorable ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids, which is one of the goals of an anti-cancer diet.

THE BEST DIET IS THE ONE THAT WORKS FOR YOU

The bottom line is that we are all unique, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to diet.  If you listen carefully, your body will tell you which foods bring you closer to health and which ones detract from your well-being. Symptoms such as bloating, tiredness, and irritability are the body’s way of letting us know that the ratio of protein, carbs, and fat in our last meal was wrong, or that we have hidden food allergies. Pay attention for a few days and see what your body tells you after each meal. For a good basic nutritional type test, click here (test link is at bottom of page). I’ve taken this test 3 times, and each time I come up as a “protein” type, meaning that my body will probably never be happy in a vegetarian lifestyle.

MY EASY (MOSTLY) DISHES TO SUIT VEGAN OR CARNIVORE

All this talk about food has made me hungry, so I’d like to share a few recipes with you that I’ve been trying out lately. They are easily adapted for our meatless, faceless friends and have turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. I have to admit that my diet is a work in progress, so come along on my journey. Any recipes or suggestions are welcome, just no tofu, please:)

MONDAY MEAL OF THE DAY:

2012-07-18 18.37.26

THREE CHEESE TORTELLINI WITH VEGETABLES AND PESTO CREAM

This meal can be as easy or as complicated as time allows. I get refrigerated tortellini and boil it along with some frozen broccoli stir fry vegetables. I then mix in 8 oz of plain greek yogurt and some basil pesto (jarred or homemade). When I want to have meat, I fry some ground bison or grass-fed ground beef and add it to the mixture. Garnish with grated parmesan. Add a salad with some chopped walnuts and feta cheese. My favorite dressing is olive oil and lime juice (when the tummy allows). Voila! You have a healthy weeknight meal in a snap. P.S.- Vegans can substitute soy cheese:)

Let me know what you think. I’ll have more recipes through the week.

And Round #2 Goes To Taxol

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY (this one goes out to Taxol):

First for the good news. So far, the things I’ve been doing to stave off the worst side effects of Taxol have been working. Icing my hands and feet during infusion seems to have kept the peripheral neuropathy at bay, despite my doctor nearly laughing in my face about it last week. Our conversation went something like this:

Highly Educated Doctor: So, any numbness or tingling to report in the fingers and toes?

Small, Unimportant Me: No, none yet. But you know I’ve been icing my hands and feet.

Highly Educated Doctor: (with a dismissive sneer) And you think that’s going to work? Ha Ha Ha.

Small, Pissed Off Me: I don’t really know, but I’ll be glad to try your alternative. Just tell me what that is so I can write it down.

Highly Educated Doctor: silence

Nuff said.

Photo Jul 28, 11 36 30 AM

In addition to the icing, I read a tip on several forums about keeping a nourishing base coat of polish on the nails of the fingers and toes for the duration of Taxol treatment. It seems to protect the nails from discoloration and splitting. I did try to find a polish without the usual set of carcinogens in it. Look in a a natural foods or makeup store. I just use clear polish, and the nails are in good shape (yep, that’s me).

And I also have very good news to report on the bone pain front. As you may remember, I likened my last encounter with Taxol chemotherapy to being tied up and worked over by Lilliputians. I felt like a 90 year-old woman all weekend. I read about the virtues of Claritin to help with this very unpleasant side effect, and it seems to have worked. I didn’t take it early enough last time because I had no idea it was coming. This time, I took a dose the morning of my Neulasta shot, the day after chemo. I am now 3 days out, and I’ve only felt the slightest tug here and there, very manageable.

headacheUnfortunately, this was me on Saturday. I woke up at about 3am with a splitting headache. I took a hot bath and managed to keep some ibuprofen down, only to find, when I woke up again at 6:30, that this was only the tip of the iceberg. It felt like my skull was literally going to explode. I tried to get more pain pills down, but then the nausea began. At 7am, I told my husband to call the doctor, which is huge for me. I am not a whiner, and I rarely ask for help. I have probably only taken half a dozen anti-nausea pills through this whole ordeal. The doctor must have been thrilled to hear from us bright and early on a Saturday, but he was very nice (different doctor, I might add). He told my husband to crush the anti-nausea pill and let it dissolve under my tongue. Then I was to take 2 ibuprofen and 2 Tylenol after 15 minutes. If that didn’t work, the doctor told my husband to take me to the Emergency Room to get a migraine injection. Yeah, right, because riding in the car in bright sunlight and then waiting for 6 hours to be seen would probably do the trick!

dog with headacheI kept the anti-nausea drug down but didn’t manage to swallow the pain pills without vomiting. So, I kept up the cycle of headache, vomiting, and occasional relief for several hours. Needless to say, I was in bed for the duration yesterday. I never saw our downstairs. I was able to eat exactly one half of a piece of toast and half a bowl of ramen noodle soup before bed last night.

I feel much better today, just tired and weak from being in bed all day and not eating or drinking much. My new mission is to either figure out how to prevent this scenario from ever happening again or to drop down my Taxol dosage. I really don’t want to do that because it might mean several more weeks of chemo, but being completely debilitated is not an option. Back to my research….I’ll keep you posted. You know I don’t give up that easily!

Lessons In Dying From Breast Cancer

CANCER JAM OF THE DAY: (not from the 80’s but haunting and beautiful- please listen anyway)

 

image

Today was the kind of day that rocks you to your core and makes you question everything you think you know. Here you are, coping so well with cancer, taking it all in stride, laughing at your disease, and suddenly a sucker punch lands squarely in your gut and levels you. That happened to me today.

I went for my second round of Taxol this morning. I brought all the usual gear: tablet, bags of frozen vegetables for icing, powdered glutamine, and ginger ale.  We got to the doctor’s office at about 10am and checked in. They took me back almost immediately. They were behind today, so things were a little rushed. I saw the doctor first, and we discussed my blood counts, which were much better than last time. He mentioned again how he can’t believe that I still have hair. He’s grown on me. Another patient referred to him as “her little doughboy” and I think that fits him perfectly, being a kind of short, round cherubic fellow.

The next stop was the chemotherapy room, where the nurse accessed my port and started the Benadryl that makes me feel drunk. There was a plump older lady sitting next to me wearing a pink turban with delicate strands of white hair peeking out. She finished her chemo right after we sat down, and the nurse helped her into her wheelchair. Suddenly, there was a sound of water hitting the floor. I thought she had spilled her drink; then she said, “There it goes again” and hung her head in shame. My heart hurt for her when I realized that she had wet herself. The nurse gave her a blanket to put around her waist and waited for her to leave before cleaning up the mess.

Already slightly shaken up, I was very relieved not to have a roommate for the rest of my treatment. It wasn’t to be. About 20 minutes later, a couple who appeared to be in their 60’s entered the room. The man was tall and tan with salt and pepper hair, and he had a nice physique for an older man. He was pushing his wife in a wheelchair. She was a bony, frail looking woman with dark sunglasses and a silver wig, and she had very thin lips that wore no expression.

The woman stood slowly and carefully while her husband held her hands. She looked like a baby learning to walk, timid and unsteady on her feet. She finally made her way to the chemo chair and the nurse hooked up some IV fluids. I was mesmerized by her and found myself staring at her quite frequently. She moved in slow motion, as if she were heavily medicated. Her husband chatted with her about everyday things any couple might discuss. Kids coming to visit, neighbors on vacation, her missing cell phone. He ignored the fact that she could only give him very short labored answers. Her brain used to know the words she wanted to say, but now they were lost.

Her husband went out in the hall for a while, and she tried valiantly to stay awake. In her more lucid moments she talked to me. She told me that she and her husband had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March, and that they had liked each other 51% of the time. She joked that she was having a hard time picking out his second wife. .We also discussed her disease, of course. She told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years prior, probably very close to my age. She had been through chemo, radiation, Tamoxifen, and Femara. She was in remission for 10 years, and then it came back. She had 3 rounds of chemo in all, but the doctor had just recently ended any further treatment. Since I am struggling with how much more medical intervention I want, this did not make a good case for going ahead with radiation and drugs.

While I was lost in thought, her husband returned with a man I had met at my last chemo session, a chaplain. He obviously knew the woman well, and they greeted each other warmly. I was keeping it together until he pulled his chair right up to the woman, took her hand in his, and began to speak. “Gail, I understand that you’ve called in Hospice”. She nodded. “I want to tell you that you’ve fought the best fight I’ve ever seen, and if you’re tired, it’s ok for you to let go. Don’t worry about Ted. He’ll be fine; he has a lot of love around him. And don’t be afraid. I want you to remember these words ‘Trust in God. He’s always with you’.”

Before the chaplain got through the first sentence, I felt my throat tightening and the tears welling up behind my eyes. I couldn’t hold them back; they ran hot down my cheeks as I stared at the wall beside me, hoping that no one would see me crying. I didn’t want to ruin their moment. As I turned, I saw that everyone in the room was crying silently. I had just seen something fairly close to last rites. This made the Taxol allergic reaction I had witnessed on another occasion look like a walk in the park.

Soon I finished my treatment and got my things ready to leave. As I walked by the woman, I took her hand and just held it for a minute. I had no words, but I think she understood. It struck me that this must be what it looks like to die with grace and dignity, not feeling sorry for yourself…and with your sense of humor still intact despite it all.

 

Why The Hospital Cracks Me Up..Tales of Poop and Trauma

Aside

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

CAN I PUT POOP IN HERE?

lab

Well, enough mindless chatter about supplements and all things geeky. It’s time for a little humor. As you may know if you’ve been reading my blog, I work part time in a medical laboratory. That’s right, I touch really gross stuff to find out what ails you. You’re welcome. But sometimes my job leaves me wondering what the heck you’re thinking. To the man who delivered a stool sample in a strawberry yogurt cup, “What’s the thought process there?” Was it “Hey, I’m done with this yogurt..the cup will just go to waste. I think I’ll poop in it.” I wonder if he’s friends with the person who brought the poo in the McDonald’s bag. I guess his Big Mac was clamoring to get out before he could make it home. No, I don’t want fries with that! And then there’s my personal favorite, the guy who brought a semen sample in a butter dish for a sperm count. Awesome! Because I want to suck semen out of a butter dish with a pipette at 8am. I don’t think he should reproduce, do you?

IF YOU BUILD AN EMERGENCY ROOM, THE IDIOTS WILL COME

ERAhh, the Emergency Room. Now this is where the true comedy happens in the hospital. Hard to believe, I know, with all that trauma and death going on. But the funniest things always happen here. It’s as if God thought that of all the hospital employees, the ER staff would need the most comic relief.

When a person walks into the ER, the first stop is the registration desk, where they explain in their own words what their chief complaint is. This becomes part of the permanent medical record. Let’s just say, some of these are hysterical, and we keep a list of them taped up in the lab when we need a good laugh. So I’m going to share just a few of these gems with you. Enjoy!

1) spider green (???)

2) patient had a vowel replaced in heart (can I buy an “E” Vanna?)

3) food allergy: doesn’t like tuna

4) non-hodgkinlymphomath fever

5) dehydration and sins

6) left side numb; peed on self

7) shitzophrenia

8) pain in my balls

9) I think I got the smilin’ Mighty Jesus (translated to spinal meningitis)

and..my very favorite

10) from a psych patient: “My landlord put magnets in my floor and now my tits are sagging”

I love my job!

Supplements That Have Let Me Live Well During Chemotherapy, Part 2

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

As promised, I am going to outline the supplements that I have used specifically for chemotherapy and why I chose them. If you missed the first part of this post, you can catch up here. I am undergoing Adriamycin/Cytoxan/Taxol (ACT or ECT) chemotherapy for breast cancer, but I feel that these supplements would be helpful to anyone needing immune or antioxidant support during a period of chronic stress.

I can see your eyes getting big when I mention antioxidants. It is a very controversial topic when it comes to chemotherapy. Some doctors discourage the use of antioxidants for fear that they might lessen the effectiveness of drugs that work through oxidation. However, there are many scientific studies showing that antioxidants actually increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs while reducing the side effects. Click here to take a look at an article that is really well done and explains how each drug category is affected by a specific antioxidant.

Just a note of caution here. Most of the following supplements are plants, so if you have strong allergies, proceed slowly. If you are allergic to ragweed or daisies, be aware that Echinacea and Astragalus are in this family. Also, if you take a large amount of prescription medication, it would be wise to do some research and see if there is any interference with these substances. If you feel like you want to talk to someone about it, your best bet would be an herbalist or a Naturopath. Your MD will probably look at you like a deer in the headlights.

Astragalus by jrdnzASTRAGALUS (photo by jrdnz)

Astragalus is a fantastic product for deep immune support. It inhibits tumor growth, increases natural killer cells, protects the kidneys and liver, and reduces fatigue. The product I take is from Gaia Herbs and is called Astragalus Supreme. This is from an organic farm right here in Asheville, but it is available online. I take 2 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Echinacea Purpurea by Jonathan BillingerECHINACEA (photo by Jonathan Billinger)

Echinacea is another fantastic immune support product. It is helpful in preventing illness with decreased white blood cell counts and also instrumental in stimulating new cell production. This is the magical herb among Sioux Indian tribes both for healing and for health maintenance. I use a Mediherb product called Echinacea Premium. Once again, this company has a wonderful reputation for quality, and they grow all of their own herbs on a large organic farm. I alternate this product with Astragalus; when one runs out, I take the other, etc. I take 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Milk Thistle by H ZellMILK THISTLE (photo by H Zell)

This is the ultimate in liver protection. And when your liver is being bombarded by chemo drugs, pain killers, steroids, and God knows what else, you need some protection. Milk thistle also protects the kidneys, lowers LDL cholesterol, and decreases intestinal damage. I read some research showing that silymarin, an ingredient in milk thistle, may have an estrogenic effect. But other research showed that it inhibited metastasis. I probably will discontinue this one after treatment, just to be safe. But for now, my liver is in tip top shape. I use a product called Liver Health, also by Gaia Herbs, 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Turkey Tail Mushrooms by BuckeyeinTriadTURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM (photo by BuckeyeinTriad)

Also known as Trametes versicolor, the turkey tail is the “mack daddy” of mushrooms. As a matter of fact, it is used as standard of oncological care in Japan and China, where 9600 clinical randomized clinical trials have been done on disease-free and overall survival. Improved immune function seems to be a key in prevention of primary and secondary breast cancer, and medicinal mushrooms shine in this area. I use a product called Chemo/Rad Support by Dr. Kang Secret Formulas. You can Google this and order online. I like this fomula because it has other ingredients to help with the toxicity and side effects of chemo and radiation. It says to take 2-3 three times per day, but I can’t do this many pills. So I take 1 in the morning and one in the aftenoon. After treatment, I may move strictly to a mushroom extract.

So far, all of these supplements have been basic support formulas for any kind of stress/disease state. The following are more specific and I took these when I couldn’t stomach anything else in those days right after treatment.

ESSENTIAL FOR AC/EC:

COENZYME Q10- One of the most devastating side effects of AC/EC is cardiotoxicity. I am a runner, and this doesn’t work for me, so I got serious about protecting my heart. Adriamycin works by damaging DNA in cancer cells. Unfortunately, the mitochondria (or energy plants) in the cells of your heart are very susceptible to the inflammation that this creates. CoQ10 is an anti-oxidant that protects healthy tissues in your heart. Not only that, but COQ10 has been shown to stimulate the immune system, allowing it to “fight back” against cancer cells. I take 100mg twice per day.

ESSENTIAL FOR TAXOL:

L-GLUTAMINE- I know you’ve heard me talk about an L-glutamine cocktail to drink during infusion and for a few days after. In addition to that, I take L-glutamine capsules every day. They can help prevent destruction of the GI lining and peripheral neuropathy. As a bonus, they can enhance your mood, and who doesn’t need that right now? I take two 1,000mg capsules twice per day.

For infusion days: mix 15mg of L-glutamine powder in ginger ale or fruit water and start sipping about 15 mins prior to Taxol. I keep sipping throughout. That day and for the next 2-3 days, I have one of these cocktails twice per day.

pills

 

HOW CAN I TAKE ALL THESE?

 

I know this seems like a lot of pills, and I’m not gonna lie. It is. But you do get used to it, and you have to remember that it’s for a very good cause, you! I break it up so I’m taking pills 3x/day. It’s just a habit now. Write down everything that you choose to take, the dosage, and how many times per day you need to take it. Then build yourself a dosing schedule that works around breakfast, lunch and dinner. I find that it’s easier to remember to take pills if I’m sitting down to eat. The only exception is L-glutamine: try to take it on an empty stomach, at least in the morning.

I’ll be posting additions as I go along in treatment and beyond. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found supplements that helped with chemo, radiation, or general health. Good luck!!

 

 

 

 

Supplements That Have Helped Me Live Well During Chemotherapy, Part 1

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

LIVING WELL WHEN YOU’RE BEING POISONED…AN OXYMORON?

Well, I’m down to 3. Three more rounds of chemo to go. All in all, it has not been as bad as I anticipated (I’m knocking really hard on some wood here). Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been pleasant by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve managed to live life without major changes and with very little downtime. I have worked 3 days per week without calling in sick. I’ve been able to run/walk through it all, allowing myself more rest on chemo weeks. I’ve shuttled kids back and forth, cooked, shopped, gone out with friends, and kept my sense of humor. The only major casualty has been cleaning, but honestly, if you had looked at my house on any given day since…well,.forever, you would have thought that I was born with a disease that didn’t allow me to pick up a rag.

dirty-house-3

CHEMO IS TOUGH, BUT THERE ARE THINGS THAT CAN HELP

I know that all this may be a matter of sheer luck, and that chemo affects everyone differently. But I think that there are things we can do to stack the deck in our favor and get through it with more strength and fewer bad days. As you know if you’ve been reading some of my previous posts, I have been using a few tricks here and there to minimize the toxicity and side effects of chemotherapy. If you missed it, you can see a picture of me icing my hands and feet during my last Taxol infusion to prevent nail discoloration and neuropathy. And you can check out my recipe for an L- glutamine chemo cocktail here.

SUPPLEMENTS I TAKE AND WHY

Since I started chiropractic school 10 years ago,the field of nutrition and supplementation has been a passion of mine. The idea that we can alter body chemistry and possibly disease states through natural means is amazing to me. I have attended hundreds of hours of seminars on these topics, and I never tire of reading about them. Yesterday we went on a family trip to Gatlinburg, TN, about a two-hour drive. Just for fun, I read notes and research studies from a cancer symposium put on by the Institute of Functional Medicine. Can you say “science geek”?

nerd girl

What follows is a list of supplements that I have taken during chemotherapy with Adriamycin/Cytoxan and now Taxol. Some of these are just part of my everyday program, and I will continue to take them after I have finished treatment. Others are especially important for each type of drug. I’ll point this out as we go along.

REQUIRED DISCLAIMER

I am very happy to share what I have learned with you, but I completely respect your decision not to use any supplements if that’s what you have decided is in your best interest. This is a very individual decision. I’m not telling you that this regimen is a cure for cancer or that it will help everyone. I’m just telling you that I feel that it has made a difference for me, along with other lifestyle choices, which I’ll go over in a future post.

EVERYDAY SUPPLEMENTS:

Fish Oil- 2400 mg per day, but may double- very good for cardiovascular health and may help with depression- Bonus: eases constipation if you are prone to it

Cranberry Extract- 950mg/day- as estrogen levels drop in menopause and/or during chemo, women are more prone to UTI’s; I haven’t had a UTI since I started taking this 18 months ago- Bonus: high in anti-oxidants to reduce inflammation

Multivitamin- Go high quality here- you want the serving size to be at least 4 caps/day because you can’t absorb the nutrients all at once. I choose no iron because it is tough on the GI tract and I have read studies about cancer cells utilizing iron at a higher rate than regular cells. Also, choose one with “methyl” before the name for folate and B12. Some people can’t absorb regular forms. Bonus: you will make up for a crappy chemo diet and get some extra energy

Magnesium- 500mg before bedtime or less if you get loose stools- most people are deficient in this mineral and it is a required co-factor for countless chemical reactions. Bonus: eases constipation and helps you sleep better

Note: I take Cal/Mag/Zinc occasionally but only every 3rd night or so. I have read that Calcium is not as beneficial in supplement form as once thought, but I am still researching this one. I’ll get back to you.

Vitamin D- ***6,000mg/day (need to do a baseline level before dosing) This is the holy grail of supplements in my book. Get your level tested ASAP. If you are fighting cancer, your level should be at least 50 ng/mL and preferably around 70. I could write an entire post about the functions of vitamin D, and I think I will in the near future.

Probiotics- Did you know that a large percentage of your immune system lives in your gut? Probiotics keep that gut healthy by providing beneficial bacteria and preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This is a crucial supplement for chemotherapy. Adriamycin is an antibiotic which will destroy the normal gut flora. Buy a high quality, refrigerated probiotic. I am using Jarrow “ultra Jarrowdophilus” with a 50 billion colony count. This has been a lifesaver for my GI health and regularity.

Stay tuned tomorrow for supplements that I have incorporated specifically for chemotherapy.