Let me tell you about my birthday. When my birthday is coming up, EVERYONE KNOWS. I make sure of it. And it’s always been that way.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
It’s a pungent yellow powder. You can buy it at just about any grocery store. It’s been around for thousands of years. And it’s cheap. The bottle I bought two months ago was $5.99, and there’s perhaps still a quarter of it left.
I use it every single day without fail. It’s a spice called Turmeric and it’s been used liberally in Indian cuisine for milleniums.
I consider it a miracle in both the prevention and treatment of cancer. And I’m in good company.
My close friend Scott Orwig, who is a prostate cancer survivor, turned me on to this powerful spice a few months ago. He and I trade recipes and articles on the latest developments in cancer treatments like two kids with a stack of baseball cards.
Over the weekend, he forwarded me an article straight from the research laboratory at the world’s most renowned cancer institute: M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas. That’s where researcher Bharat Aggarwal has been studying the medicinal use of spices, like the turmeric he grew up eating in his native India. Much of his research has focused on curcumin, a substance used to make turmeric and a chief ingredient in curry sauces.
Turmeric has already proven itself in studies several times over — and it continues to do so. “There were at least a half a dozen clinical trials that appeared last year alone on curcumin, where as little as 100 milligrams is enough to down modulate all the inflammatory biomarkers in people,” Aggarwal said.
Yes, people. We are not talking about animal trials that have not yet reached the testing stage on humans. We are already there.
I’ve never been particularly fond of Indian cuisine, so until recently, Indian spices haven’t been a part of my regular diet. But they are now — particularly Turmeric. I eat it every single day, 1/2 teaspoon mixed with black pepper and thrown into a bowl of very healthy minestrone soup. (In order to be assimilated by the body, turmeric must be mixed with black pepper).
I make a batch of Classic Minestrone once a week, then put it into my fridge so it’s easy for me to grab a bowl every day. Here’s the recipe for the one I make — quick, delicious and extremely nutricious:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow sweet pepper, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 14-oz cans beef broth
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
8 oz. green beans
1 C dried mostaccioli
1/4 C coarsely chopped fresh basil
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 C fresh baby spinach leaves
In a 4-quart Dutch oven, cook garlic and onion in hot oil until tender. Add sweet pepper, zucchini, broth, and 2 cups water. Bring to boiling. Rinse and drain beans. Add beans and pasta; return to boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 10-12 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in basil, tomatoes and spinach, heat through. Season with salt and pepper. (Recipe courtesy of Better Home and Gardens, October 2007.)
I’m not saying that any single spice is a cancer cure-all. But I do believe in the philosophy offered in the international bestseller, Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph. D. We need to take a multi-faceted approach to cancer treatment — which includes the most effective chemotherapy paired with the best spices, foods and supplements nature has to offer. Schreiber outlines just how to do that and I’m on it. I’ve already made major changes in my diet in the past two months, and will continue to do so.
“Turmeric (the yellow powder that is one of the components of yellow curry) is the most powerful natural antiinflammatory identified today,” Schreiber writes. “It also helps stimulate apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells and inhibit angiogenesis (the formation and development of blood vessels that feed tumors). In the laboratory, it enhances the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduces tumor growth.”
Need I say more?
I cannot and would not point to any one thing that I or my doctors have been doing since my January 2011 Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis as the “miracle.” But I can say that I’ve been dedicated to using every available tool out there to bring myself closer and closer to remission — be it chemotherapy, trial drugs like the PARP Inhibitor, foods, spices and supplements.
And something — perhaps all of it, together — is working. My most recent scans were the most dramatic, showing shrinkage of some of my tumors by 3 or 4 millimeters — in just six weeks’ time. That’s a major victory. I also feel dramatically different in the last few months. And time and again, people who have not seen me for two or three months remark that my skin is glowing. I look healthy, not pasty like I did following my diagnosis.
I continue to read everything I can get my hands on in relations to cancer fighting foods, spices and supplements. I also listen to every expert out there. That’s what I’ll be doing this weekend, when I will be attending The Pink Fund Annual Luncheon. Keynote Speaker Kris Carr, New York Times best-selling author and Stage 4 cancer survivor, will be talking about how she radically changed her diet to save her own life — and how all of us can follow her lead in living longer, healthier lives, preventing cancer, and fighting it, if that is among the cards we are dealt.
There are still a few tickets left for Saturday’s event. If your debate is over the ticket price, keep in mind what someone once told me: You can either learn how to take good care of yourself right now and buy and prepare better quality — and likely more costly – foods, or you can pay it out in medical bills later.
Hope to see you there!
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
Theo woke up on the morning of his sixth birthday, August 22, 2011, threw open the heavy room darkening curtains and the whisper light sheers behind them, and peered out the window in awe and amazement.
Twenty-three floors below, the city of Chicago was wide awake and had been for hours. Tourists and city dwellers alike were bustling to and from their destinations. As for us, we, too, had things to do, places to go, and yes — even people to see!
Our plans for Theo’s birthday were to find an awesome breakfast spot, hop on a water taxi and spend the day at the Navy Pier. Check, check and CHECK! We learned of a breakfast place just a few blocks from our hotel called The Yolk. I LOVED it — from the bright, mustard-colored decor to the outside terrace where we were seated, and yes, of course, the MENU! Think cinnamon roll french toast with a side of fresh blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. I also had the best glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice of my life – so good I ordered a second! And I’m not even a big fan of orange juice.
Next, it was off to the riverfront a few blocks away to catch the water taxi. How cool that in Chicago, you can travel by foot, car, traditional taxi, or water taxi! Theo wanted to sit on the top deck of the boat, where the summer breeze rippled through our hair and the sun warmed our faces.
We got off at the first stop and began wandering the Navy Pier. There’s the famous Ferris Wheel — which I happily rode by myself, as both Don and Theo are wary of heights. A miniature golf course on which each of us had a hole-in-one! The Children’s Museum and Store, where Theo spent his birthday money.
Though I have had the privilege of traveling across a good part of the globe, Don and Theo are newbies. Neither of them had ever been to Chicago. For Don, the biggest city he’d ever seen was L.A., many years ago, when he was there on business, not pleasure. He spent most of his time in buildings, rather than outside, taking in their enormity and majesty. So, truly, they were both new to Big City Life.
But why the quest to share places near and far with my family? Couldn’t we accomplish many of the same goals closer to home?
Yes. And no.
Yes, because we live in a beautiful place where opportunities to embark on an adventure and enjoy family time together abound. And we consciously take advantage of that on a regular basis, be it a trip to the Cider Mill, a boat ride, a board game on the family room floor.
No, because there’s nothing like being away from home and the daily responsibilities and distractions of dishes, laundry, pet care, and discovering, together, all this wondrous planet has to offer. That’s how I grew up, and it’s what I want to share with both Don and Theo.
Some of the best memories are the times I traveled with my family when I was growing up – my parents and my sisters, Julie and Lisa. We saw the Grand Canyon, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (I still have a piece of black lava from that trip), New York’s Central Park from a horse-drawn carriage, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
But perhaps just as important as the what we saw is the why we saw it.
My Mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1973, when I was four years old. My Dad, who, along with two of his brothers, owned Rauch Brothers Paving Co., often worked long hours in his quest to make our family’s life easier than the one he’d experienced alongside 11 brothers and sisters in the years following the Great Depression.
There was nothing more important in the world to my Dad than his family. And so, when my Mom was diagnosed, he took a serious look at the long hours of work he put in to build his company. Then, one day, he sat us down and told us this: No matter what, from this day forward, we are going to take at least one family vacation a year, every year, no exceptions.
And we did.
That’s been my philosophy and my intention for my own family, even before my first breast cancer diagnosis of Stage 1 in March 2006. After that diagnosis, it became even more imperative to me. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out how the news of my recurrence this past January accelerated my desire.
I have the desire to share the wonders of the world with my family, sans the panic of doing it just because I’m currently undergoing breast cancer treatment. I believe from the very core of my being that God has work for me to do on this planet, that I’m going to go into remission, and that I’m going to be here for a long time to come.
Still. Time passes quickly, and if we don’t set intentional goals for ourselves, too often, we look back and see the missed opportunities. Our goals for ourselves, for our families, have to be intentional and conscious.
When Theo was born, Don and I decided that every year, at the very least, we would plan a family get-away. Now that he is in school, our tradition is to plan at least three nights away together as a family in the weeks before the first school bell rings.
Some of the people in our lives asked us why we would do such a crazy thing — travel to Chicago the day after Theo’s big birthday bash — with my cancer diagnosis and tough chemo regimen. I think it’s also safe to say that though others may not have articulated it, it was on their mind. Why now? Is it safe for Amy’s health? Isn’t it just going to wear her out? Can you really afford to be off galavanting in another city, with the financial responsibilities of medical bills on top of Amy’s reduced ability to work?
The real question is: Can we afford not to?
My Dad, although a good steward of our family’s finances, also used to say that you can always make more money. But time spent and experiences together — those are priceless.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
This is Week 2, Round 8 of chemo. That means I’ve now sat through 30 infusion days — and 120 total infusions — since chemo began Feb. 1, 2011.
Ugh. Yuck. Blech. Ewww. That’s how I feel after today’s chemo. I often have trouble with word retrieval in the hours following my infusions. My Chemo Buds notice this on Tuesdays — my hard chemo days — as the second infusion, Gemzar, makes me go pale and honestly, a little loopy. I sometimes slur my words and feel like a drunk who never had the pleasure of the cocktail — the chemo cocktail, yes, but not the Whiskey Sour that’s my standard order.
It feels like a bout of the flu coming on — headache, body aches, nausea. But I slept for a couple of hours this afternoon after I got home and it recharged me enough that I could eat a few slices of bread and a couple of peaches along with the antioxidant green tea that is super good for me and that I am drinking by the gallon daily. This little hiatis won’t last long — I need to hit the sack shortly. But first, some silver linings to share with you. A few of my favorites:
1. Support of Friends and Family. I keep waiting for chemo to be fun (I’m the eternal optimist), but so far, it’s disappointed me. I CAN say that it is really reassuring and supportive to have the many loving family and friends in my life who show up on time, drive me to chemo, sit there beside me, drive me home and tuck me into bed. Today, my Chemo Buddy was my bff Elaine Schultz. I enjoy the conversations with each of you and treasure you and your friendship. Not only that, studies PROVE that cancer survivors who are surrounded by a loving network of their peeps have much higher rates of long-term survival. Thank you.
2. Positive Test Results. My tumors have remained stable and/or shrunk every time since February that I’ve had a CT Scan. The latest one taken in the hospital mid-July showed the same results. That’s a LOT to be happy about!
If that isn’t enough, the way I FEEL is! The coughing linked to the tumors in my lungs stopped two months after chemo began; three months later, Don noticed that my stamina had dramatically improved, and honestly, I am feeling terrific. People have been noticing — people who haven’t seen me in two or three months. They’re surprised.
“You look really good,” they say.
I shrug it off and say, “Maybe it’s the tan?”
I mean, that seems like a reasonable explanation.
Nope. They’ve already taken that into account and they are sure I look better, healthier than just two or three months ago. Waaahhoooo!!!!!!!!
3. Amazing Blood Counts! This is a biggie. For the first time in many, many months, my blood counts were SO good today that I don’t have to do those awful, painful Neupogen (white blood cell booster shots) this round! They are worse than chemo, as I’ve said many a time. Very painful side effects in my bones (think rib bones that THROB) that last for 24 hours per shot, and the regimen calls for five days of shots. So, hooray for a small victory that is actually quite BIG!
My doctor attributed it partially to my changeover to a more healthy diet. It’s a slow but sure process, but I’ve already whacked most of the refined white sugar from my diet — replacing it with natural Blue Agave (available at most health food stores and quite good) that does not cause blood insulin levels to spike. I’ve got to keep my glycemic index in check. (For more on the glycemic index and cancer fighting foods, etc., see David Schreiber’s book, Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.)
I’m also eating tons of fresh peaches now in season from our local orchard, raw veggies, whole grains, tomatoes and fresh green beans (raw) from my garden, and EEEK! I ate a mushroom yesterday. For those of you who know me, I’ve had a lifelong hate-relationship with mushrooms. They are one of the only foods I cannot stand to eat.
But they are extremely beneficial cancer fighters — lots and lots of great, healthy properties. So, I’m gonna find a way to get them down. Eww. Ick. My close friend and Theo’s godfather Ken Bagnall tried to lessen the pain of my palate yesterday by covering a raw mushroom in spinach dip.
Still yuck. I nearly hurled. I compare it as being on equal footing with the one time I ate a huge, garlic and butter sauted escargot. That was 20 years ago and I swear, I need to bring it up in a counseling session sometime.
4. Back on Track. It is a victory in and of itself that I was finally able to get through a full round — four sessions — of chemo after all these weeks. I’d been off since the end of June due to low blood counts and the infection that hospitalized me. I am so grateful that I am back on my regimen. That really is a silver lining!
5. The End of Chemo is Near. Nope. I’m not holding out on you. I still don’t know when the end of chemo will come. No one but God knows that. But I do know that getting back on schedule means that I’mmmm bacccckkkk and heading in the right direction, AKA The Finish Line.
Let’s get this chemo thing over and done with ASAP so I can return to my regularly-scheduled life, shall we?
Copyright 2011 Amy Rauch Neilson
I’m just now back from a day of chemo. Tuesdays are always the long day of the week, with three back-to-back-to-back infusions. My blood counts were well within range, no fever, all vital signs were good. Whew!
I’m so very pleased that I was able to return to my chemo regimen and get back on my schedule of fighting and beating this beast. I’ve been off/unable to have chemo since the end of June. We are back on track!
My bff Jennifer Amprim Wolf just dropped me off at home. She sat beside me all day and I shared a new-found secret with her: there’s a room in the chemo infusion center with heat/massage chairs…today was a “slow” day, so we were able to snag that room — and the chairs! Score!
Jennifer is walking the Susan G. Komen Three-Day for the first time this weekend in my honor as well as for others who have fought or are currently fighting the breast cancer battle. Go Jennifer! She has trained long and hard for this weekend. Please send prayers of sustanance and good fellowship her way. What a trooper!
Someday very soon, I hope to be at a place where I can do the Three-Day alongside her and my many other friends who take on this challenge every year. I will be touching base with Jennifer over the weekend to see if I can pop in and walk beside her for a short distance. Seeing a sea of pink is always uplifting and inspiring, if not downright euphoric!
But until then, it’s off to bed for me so I can recover from today. If I get a few hours in, I may feel well enough to spend some time with Don and Theo this evening. Low-key time. Maybe Theo and I will be able to watch the second half of Scoobie Doo and the Lake Monster, which we began watching last night.
Thursday’s chemo will also knock me down, but not quite as hard. Rest, as difficult as that concept is for me, is what I must do now.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
There was blood, sweat, and tears yesterday, but not in that order.
First came the tears.
Friday was Parent/Teacher Conference Day at Theo’s school. I pride myself on being organized and efficient. I claimed our slot the first day the sign-up sheets were posted. Then, I came home and marked it on our family calendar. I’m sure somewhere in my subconcious, this thought lurked: I may be fighting breast cancer, but I can still manage our daily life with the best of ‘em!
I thought our conference was at 10:20 a.m. I would have bet money on it. Big money.
So, when we arrived at 10:15, I thought we were right on schedule.
There was another parent waiting awkwardly in the wings as Theo’s teacher explained that we were late; our 20-minute conference slot had been at 10 a.m.
There was a perfectly reasonable solution to this problem — 11 a.m was wide open and in the meantime, we could meet with Theo’s music teacher. But I broke down sobbing anyway. Right there, in the school lobby.
That should have been my first clue.
I pulled myself together — well, mostly — and we met with Theo’s music teacher and then his classroom teacher. They are both terrific and, despite my earlier breakdown, it went well.
Next, the sweat.
My bff Anita Griglio Kelly chauffered me to yesterday’s chemo infusion. I was feeling pretty weak when we arrived, but I was determined to get my treatment. I had chills, then sweats, then chills again. That mystery was short-lived after the lab results of blood drawn when I arrived at the Infusion Center came back. Although I’d had an infusion of Procrit on Tuesday in an effort to raise my red blood cell counts, they had continued to plummet. I needed two units of blood, asap.
Finally, the blood.
Following my chemo infusion, I went straight to the ER, where the doctors and nurses prepared me for the first blood tranfusions of my life. I’d been on the giving end many a time. It was a bit surreal to be on the receiving end.
My blood was sent to the lab to confirm and reconfirm that my blood type is indeed A+, then “cross-matched” for other markers that would indicate which packets of the donor blood available were the least likely to be rejected by my body.
Finally, two units of the most beautiful crimson liquid I’ve ever seen in my life arrived in Room 8 of the ER. Might as well have been liquid gold. The nurse accessed my port and the tranfusions began.
During the next six hours, as I watched the blood slowly drip from the bag and travel through clear plastic tubing to the port in my chest, I wondered who it was who had been kind, generous, and selfless enough to donate blood for a complete stranger. I would never know.
But if I could, I would tell that person that their gift restored and rejuvenated the Mom of a little five-year-old boy named Theo and the Wife of a loving husband named Don who just yesterday told me that he is treasuring every day we have together on this planet. I’d tell them that I went from a woman so low on “fuel” that she could barely sustain a simple Parent/Teacher conference earlier that day, to one who cooked a breakfast of french toast and bacon with her family the very next morning. Most of all, I’d say two simple words: Thank you.
Several times last evening I looked up at that donor bag of blood and thanked God that there was someone out there who was willing to give it, destination unknown.
So, although I am humbled and grateful for the many people who are stepping forward to donate blood on my behalf, designated specifically for me should I need it in the upcoming months, I also have another request.
Whether or not you are A+, whether or not you can help me specifically, please give blood.
There are lots of “Amys” out there who desperately need it. Go to The Red Cross website and make an appointment. There are convenient donation sites all around, it takes but a few minutes, and it is truly a life-changing gift.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson