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
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
I was crying when I called my sister-in-law Carrie the other day. A couple of months ago, she made me a CD mix to get me through the toughest moments. The very first song is Katy Perry’s Fireworks. Carrie picked that one because she knows the Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. And she loves the lyrics.
When I called her the other day, I said, through sniffles and sobs, “What if there’s only a hurricane for me, and no rainbow?”
Without hesitation, she said, “The rainbow is already out there, sweetie. You just can’t see it yet.”
She knew I was referring to these lyrics:
After a hurricane comes a rainbow
Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
We talked a lot about that rainbow, the one that will appear after I make it through the hurricane-force winds that blew into my life following my Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis in January.
My fear, I told her, is that after the hurricane, there isn’t going to be a rainbow. Just devastation.
But Carrie won’t hear of this. She doesn’t tell me there’s a rainbow out there because it’s what she thinks I want to hear. She tells me this because she believes it to the very depths of her soul. Never, she says, has she been so certain of something.
This calmed me and after a few minutes, I was able to pull myself back together. I had to. Theo was at summer camp and it was time to go and pick him up.
As I was backing out of our driveway, our neighbor, Dave, walked up to my car. I rolled down the driver-side window, offered him a handful of Cheez-Its. He looked at me and said, “I saw you the other day. You weren’t looking very happy.”
We share a narrow, one-lane road with three other houses, a straight path that leads to the lake like a spoke on a wheel. It’s a private road, which means our mailboxes are at the end, where our street meets the service drive. So, getting the mail means a tenth of a mile trek to the end.
As I was scrolling through the moments when Dave might have observed me, I thought about a day last week when it was dreary and drizzling and I’d made the trek for the mail. The neighborhood was quiet; the kids inside doing puzzles or watching movies on a rainy summer day. A few tears on my cheeks could easily be mistaken for raindrops, should anyone cast a glance out the window.
I was just having a moment. And Dave, who has lived next door for the dozen years since we moved in, reads me well.
“You weren’t looking too happy when I saw you last week,” he said.
I looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m afraid…” But I couldn’t finish. I waited a minute, then tried again.
“I’m afraid I’m going to die,” I said, this time staring straight at the steering wheel.
“You’re not going to die,” Dave said. “You’re going to outlive me.
“You have changed the way I think. You don’t realize how much you influence people, how what you say and do changes the way they think. That’s really powerful.”
I thought about that for a minute, trying to figure out what I do or say that makes that big of an impact. Then I took his words and deposited them into my heart.
Earlier in the day, I’d come across this little box filled with shark’s teeth at a gift shop. I thought of Theo and knew it’d be two bucks well spent. I gave it to him when I picked him up at camp. He was ecstatic and for the rest of the day; it was like nothing else existed save this little, tooth-filled clear plastic box.
Then the strangest thing happened. I was making dinner and Theo called me into the family room.
“Look, Mommy,” he said, pointing to the lid of his little box. “There’s a rainbow.”
Indeed there was. The plastic lid of this tiny box was acting as a prism to the light streaming in through the windows, reflecting the colors and shape of a rainbow. What were the chances, on this day, at this moment, in this way? If the conversation with Dave, the observation by Theo, are not Instant Messages from God, then what are they? Dave said my words and actions are powerful, but they pale in comparison to the messages coming from above.
Maybe all the doors closed so God could lead me to the perfect road.
And yes, I do believe there will be a rainbow.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
Lake Michigan sweatshirts — one each for me, Don and Theo — to keep us warm. A package of Be Well Red Teas, chocked full of antioxidants and herbs to help me detox my body after chemo. And on their way? Some moonstones from my new bff, brilliant author and fellow breast cancer survivor, Laura Kasischke. (We’ve got big plans on tap once I’m all better. But that’s all I’m gonna say about that for now.)
One afternoon, the postal carrier brought a red and white Staples box to the door. I thought, What in the world did we order from Staples?
Nothing, as it turns out.
And that was a good thing. A very good thing.
Because in the package was a beautiful, hand-crocheted blanket like the one in the picture. Like the one, but not the one. I love you all, but I’m not giving up MY blankie!
It was a surprise from my cousin, Mary Dougherty, who not only made it by hand, but also prayed over each and every single stitch. Now that is powerful! (The new blankie up for auction wields that same power!)
It quickly became the item to swipe and run off with at our house. I’d be looking for it, thinking I absentmindedly set it someplace, and then I’d come across Don or Theo, snoozing happily beneath it. Sigh. How can you take a blankie from a Little Man, or a Grown One, for that matter? I can’t do it. So, I waited my turn. I also had a refresher course in Playing Nice and Sharing. We’ve settled for using it together on the nights when we don’t have quick access to a referee.
The colors are fab — the hot pink stripe gives it some kick. It’ll be there on March 18, at the Bowling Benefit and Silent Auction. Wonder who will be taking it home?
Don’t forget — you can get all the info you need about the Bowling Benefit and Silent Auction under the “Events” Tab on my blog. If you still have questions, please contact my bff Kristi Rugh Kahl, at email@example.com. She’s officially In Charge of this Event — not to mention, the fabulous and talented Bean Counter for Team Amy!
Don’t like to bowl or don’t feel like it? No worries! You are welcome to come and hang out, chatter, laugh, catch up, peruse the Silent Auction items.
Oh. And the T-9? Yeah. About that. That’s how many days you’ve got before you MUST be registered to bowl!
More later, right here. For now, I’m off to nap. Yesterday’s chemo was nothing short of BRUTAL and I promised my hubby I’d rest this afternoon. I’m off to make good on that promise.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
I love snow days, except when they fall on Monday, Tuesday or Friday of a chemo week. Like this one.
Sunday morning, 8:30, the meteorologists were predicting a total snow accumulation of 1.3 inches for our area. They were off by a shade. We got 10.
I’m a bit of a weather buff myself — hey, I completed my Sky Warn training through the National Weather Service last Spring and I’m an Official Weather Spotter. I watch the radar. I saw this one coming. I knew.
So, I began making some calls. Snow Day means Theo doesn’t have school means I need to find coverage, as I have a 1:30 p.m. appointment with my oncologist. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t do these appointments alone. There’s so much information coming in so rapid-fire in the fallout of January’s intense testing schedule that I never know what I’m going to get. Like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. Just ask my cousin Christine, who had to pick up the pieces of a sniveling, hysterical me when she came along for the ride to a “routine” appointment — and unexpected test results were in. That was the day I learned I was a Stage 4. Imagine if I’d been alone.
Snow Days — especially those that bring nearly a foot of snow with a quarter inch of ice as frosting on the cake — mean Don is going to be out all night plowing. He plows on the side for extra cash. We need that right now. He has steady commercial accounts that usually take him about four hours total. But after a storm like this, he’s out for 12 or 14 hours. Too much snow for one “push.”
He was supposed to take me to my appointment today. The best laid plans… He left last night at 8:30 p.m. and just came in at 10:30 a.m. He needs his sleep. Those are my direct orders. Because just think of the chaos that would ensue over here should he get sick. I am back on chemo this week. One of us needs to be healthy.
So, I called my friend Shirley. She’s going to take me. I’ll drop Theo off at our neighbor Kathy’s house and he’ll play with her kids. Shirley will pick me up at 12:30. Don is already in bed and trying to get in a “full night’s sleep” in before I get home from the doctor’s later this afternoon.
Snow Day Scramble.
There’s not much that’s easy about being a cancer patient.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson