Dark Clouds, Yes — But Don’t Overlook the Silver Lining

16 08 2011

Photo courtesy of: jittajack.blogspot.com

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.

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

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Meltdown in the Grocery Store Parking Lot

9 08 2011

We're about to have some fun, you and me. Remember that Sesame Street game titled, Which One Doesn't Belong Here? Here's your chance to play the adult version. Pick the one that doesn't belong in our everyday diets. I went easy on you this time. No guarantees for next time. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

Last Saturday morning began easy and laid back. All of us slept in til about 9:30 — quite unusual for Theo. We three then snuggled up on the couch and watched the World Premiere movie of Phineas and Ferb in the Second Dimension. I’d tivo’d it the night before. By the time the movie ended, the decision as to whether it was breakfast time or lunch time was a bit nebulous. We decided to move on to lunch.

I opened the fridge. Not a lot to choose from as I’d only dashed into the grocery store once that week, after returning from our trip to Indianapolis, to pick up some basics. Today was going to be the Big Grocery Shopping Day. But first, lunch.

Ewww. The contents of the fridge were not an appealing sight. Not because there was anything wrong with the food that was in there, but because of the type of food that remained. Our best option for sustenance was hot dogs. Don opened the package and threw them on the outside grille. Usually, I find them quite tasty. Today, the thought made my stomach turn. All I could think about was the nitrates they contained and how bad those nitrates are for my body.

He brought them in and fixed them in white buns. I tried to save the day (or at least, the meal) by slicing up some peaches. They were mealy and inedible. Don and Theo wolfed down their dogs. I squirted mustard on mine, took a bite, and couldn’t go any further. I had an aversion to hot dogs and pretty much everything else left in our kitchen.

“Is there something wrong with your hot dog, honey?” Don asked.

“Nope. It’s me, honey. Sorry.”

The “something wrong” was a culmination of months of reading various opinions by holistic and traditional Western medical doctors alike, finally coming to a head that morning in our kitchen. I had nearly finished the book Anti-Cancer, the one that of all the books I’ve read since my diagnosis, truly makes sense. It’s well balanced. It doesn’t pooh-pooh Eastern Medicine or Western Medicine, but illustrates how each of us can tap into the benefits of these different approaches to healing as complements to one another.

The author of Anti-Cancer, who is both a biochemist and an MD, figured out how to heal his own brain cancer through a combination of chemotherapy, supplements, and nutrition. The book not only follows his journey back to health, but he describes how he’s never been so healthy in his life.

I can’t do this book justice in six blog posts, let alone one. But I will say this — the changes in our food production and the increasing incidence of a wide variety of cancers, striking people who are younger and younger, is a major problem that we need to address in our country’s food supply. And if we can’t at this point address it on a national level, we can certainly start at the grassroots level — our own food choices.

Some of the changes that have brought us the most harm post World War II:
1. The staggering amount of refined white sugar in our diets, which grows every year;
2. The processed, bleached foods and preservatives we eat, like the bleached white flour that we can find on the ingredient panel of so many of our foods;
3. The changes in how our chickens are fed and treated (think egg supply), as well as how our sources of meat are fed and raised.

When you read about this and the long-term studies that back up how these changes are affecting our health, it’s not only staggering, it’s nauseating. This is the very same message that the doctor from Indianapolis is sharing with me. If I want to get healthy, I’ve go to change my diet, take the supplements that my specific body needs, continue chemotherapy (the diet and supplements dovetail nicely with my chemo regimen), and walk 30 minutes a day, at least six days a week. That’s for starters.

Sound like a lot to take on? It’s not. As I explained it to my friend Jennifer Amprim Wolf today, it’s all about the source of your motivation. For example, following the above protocol might be a passing thought if I was looking to drop 10 pounds for an upcoming wedding or high school reunion. But when it literally is a matter of life and death, well, it takes on a whole new meaning.

That brings me to what happened in the Meijer Parking Lot last Saturday morning. I drove in, parked, and began sobbing out of frustration and confusion. What am I supposed to be eating? How will I know when I get in there what to choose and what not to? Where’s the hidden refined white sugar, bleached flour, nitrates, poorly fed beef and poultry, eggs from caged chickens, organic vs. non-organically grown fruits and veggies? I was overwhelmed.

So, I called my cousin Lori Parker. Sobbing uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong, Aimers?” she asked.

And I’m quite sure that my response was anything but what she was expecting.

“I’m afraid of food!” I told her. And I went on to explain, as rationally as I could, that what I was about to put into my cart felt like a matter of life and death. Yet, I’m new at this and I’m not sure how to go about it.

We had a long chat there, me sitting in the Meijer Parking lot. And when we were done, I’d calmed down considerably and felt I’d gained back a little of my control. We brainstormed some ideas for good choices I could make in each department. With a new sense of confidence, I got out of the car and headed into the grocery store, where I found that I naturally gravitated toward the “good stuff” about 80 percent of the time.

I’ve never been a junk food eater, so it was no problem to pass up packages of Chips A Hoy, pastries, potato chips. I found myself naturally reaching out for fresh strawberries, organic peaches, blueberries, a seedless watermelon. I also craved green pepper, cucumbers, organic carrots. Mushrooms would also be of great benefit to me, but I loathe them, always have. So, we’ll work on that aspect of my diet some other day.

As I made my way through the store, I realized how many good choices I could make and how easy it really was. Whole grain pasta. Grass-fed beef. Organic eggs from free-range, properly fed chickens. Whole grain bread. Organic milk. I checked out and left the store feeling a bit more confident that slowly, I will learn how to choose and eat the foods that nourish my body, build my immune system, strangle off the blood supply to my tumors. I’m on a roll.

But you just can’t learn enough about this life change and how important it is to each one of us, whether we’re fighting cancer, another disease, or are enjoying a healthy part of our lives. That’s why I can’t encourage you enough to consider, really consider, attending The Pink Fund Luncheon on Saturday, October 1. I’ll be there for the full sha-bang, from the yoga class in the morning to the luncheon, the premiere showing of The Pink Fund national awareness and donor video that I was a part of last week, and the book signing by Kris Carr in the afternoon.

Author Kris Carr, a NY Times best-selling author of the Crazy, Sexy Cancer series, wellness warrior, filmmaker, and an irreverent foot soldier in the fight against cancer, will be the featured guest speaker. She has kept Stage 4 cancer at bay for many years and if you have not yet read her books, check them out. She has acquired an amazing knowledge of food, diet, nutrition, the mind-body connection — you name it — and the impact on the short-term and long-term health for each and every one of us. She is spunky and beautiful, and she’s put a whole new face on what it means to have — and live an amazing life with — Stage 4 cancer.

I urge you to attend. For more information, check out The Pink Fund event info. Tickets are going fast, so don’t dilly-dally.

P.S. The answer to the question posed in the photo caption is the bag of pure, refined white sugar. But you probably already guessed that.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson








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