Sunday, January 27, 2013

Favorite Recipes This Week

The weather has been colder recently (still not January weather, but colder).  Cold enough to make me crave comfort foods, including soup.  Here are a few of our favorite recipes of the past week or so, all vegan and healthy and YUMMY:

Cashew Mushroom Risotto
Believe it or not, this photo is actually of the food I made, taken by Jason on his iPhone.  To me, risotto is a pure creamy comfort food!  And this one is awesome!  Loads of mushrooms with cancer-fighting power, nutritional yeast (optional) for B12, and creaminess courtesy of ground cashews, believe it or not.  I can eat this stuff for a meal, it's so good!

Good Morning Delight Juice
For the days when I want a break from green juice, this is a great treat with carrots, strawberries (I defrost frozen ones in the microwave) and apple.

Before I dive into soups, a word about broth...

I miss chicken broth.  And every veggie broth I've tried is awful.  Therefore, I've been having some trouble with some soup recipes since going vegan.  Recently, though, the clouds have parted, the light has glowed and the angels have sung!  I share with you, BETTER THAN BOUILLON!  I love this little product.  It has made me love soups again!  Any recipe that calls for veggie broth has now had broth made with this.  And chicken broth?  Oh yeah, there's a vegan version of that, too!

Uncle Bill's Vegetarian Minestrone
I don't know whose uncle he is, but he makes damn good minestrone.  Throw in all the veggies you want, including tomatoes, which are a great source of lycopene (cancer-fighter).  Whole grain pasta plus beans to round out your proteins equals one big bowl of healthy!

Chickpea and Rice Soup with a Little Kale
This is the mother load of comfort soups!  My MIL, who does not like kale and does not like chickpeas, ate this two nights in a row and asked for the recipe!  Anyone who has had a conversation of more than 15 seconds with her this week has heard about this soup.  Full of chickpea protein, whatever rice you'd like, and superfood kale!  Love love!

Enjoy some healthy yums from my kitchen to yours!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Retirement Plan

This is something I've been holding off writing about for a while now because it was in the works and until some plans were made, I didn't want to freak out my colleagues/friends at work.  They are aware now of what's going on, so I can come clean...

I'm retiring.

There, I said it.

At 41 years old, I'm retiring.

My employer has been AMAZING through all this.  I truly believe we came to St. Louis because it was the place for us to be as we went through this crazy cancer journey.  A huge part of that "right place-ness" was for me to be working with the people I do and at a place that has taken care of me since Day One of my diagnosis four years ago, which happened to be only about three weeks after I started working for them.  Last July/August, I decided to cut down my hours to about 18/week and they were very supportive.  Technically I was on what's called "Intermittent FMLA", which means I had 12 weeks of job-protected leave,which I could use here and there to total 12 weeks, which lasted from March until Oct.  My FMLA time ran out in Oct, but I wasn't ready to come back full time.  I was headed into the clinical trial and didn't know what that would look like for me or what I would soon need.  My employer offered me an extension of job-protected time of 12 calendar weeks, which I took, though any time I took off was now unpaid since I had used up my vacation and sick time.  In the meantime, Jason and I started looking at our long-term plan.

Last year after my diagnosis I met a couple of other metsters (women with metastatic breast cancer) at a conference who said they had stopped working and were off on disability and were incredibly happy with this decision.  I had no idea what they were talking about, but called one of them later to ask questions.  I'm so thankful I did!  (Thanks, Jen!)  I had no idea that metastatic breast cancer pretty much automatically qualifies you for long term disability (LTD).  I called my HR department and found out that my employer offers LTD with a much shorter application time (6 months) than Social Security (2 years!).  Financially it's a no-brainer.  I can take care of myself full time without the stress of work while trying to arrange doctor appointments, tired days, etc. and still get a % of my salary every month. We did the math and figured out that we could live on it.  I might not get my daily Starbucks fix, but that would be OK.

Psychologically, I wasn't comfortable with this at all at first.  I wasn't ready to not be working at 41.  However, after talking with my boss and team about it, and giving it a week to grow as an idea in my head, I was really ok with this idea.  In fact, I'm excited!  Let's be honest... we are all replaceable at our jobs.  I love what I do and the people I work with, but I will keep busy, and those people aren't going out of my life, even if they tried!!

I don't have a date yet for my retirement, but I'm expecting it will be in a handful of weeks, maybe around early- to mid-March.  I'm waiting to hear some eligibility determination info from the LTD company, and then we will make plans within my team at work.  The good news is that if I make a huge health leap and feel like going back part-time or full-time, LTD allows me that option if my employer and I want to give it a try.

When I retire, I'll be asking for some assistance keeping my feet to the fire to be using my time to take the BEST care of myself every day.  But that's another entry for another day.

Now it's time for this near-retiree to be going to bed!  Good night!

Clinical Trial Update

I'm three weeks in and going strong.  For the month of January I get to see my doc and his team every week, just to get this party started right!  So far, all blood tests look very good.

Just to clarify... the purpose of this clinical trial is to take the approximately 10% of the original cancer that is left and just KEEP IT WHERE IT IS.  No playing. No leaving the yard.  No inviting friends to join the party. You're grounded!

If it chooses to shrink, all the better, but a good outcome is to keep things stable.  No news is good news here, people.

Every month I have to get an EKG, because it's required for the trial.

Oh, and here's the newest additional to my medicinal arsenal:
Yeah, nothing makes you feel young and sexy like a weekly pill organizer!  Since I now have some meds I take once/day and some I take once/week and one I take 3 times/day, I couldn't trust that I'd get it right every single day, so this way I only have to get it right once/week when I lay it all out.  Plus, I got a handy app for my phone that has reminders and a med log (Med Helper, in case anyone is interested).  

So, we are very happy with things so far!  Thanks for all your well-wishes, hugs, prayers and support!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Power of the Present

This is for all of us, regardless of our state of health.  From "Practicing the Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle:

"When you are ill or disabled, do not feel you have failed in some way, do not feel guilty. Do not blame life for treating you unfairly, but do not blame yourself either. All that is resistance.

If you have a major illness, use it for enlightenment. Anything "bad" that happens in your life - use it for enlightenment.

Withdraw time from the illness. Do not give it any past or future. Let it force you into intense present-moment awareness - and see what happens."

By the way... I found a link today on YouTube that has the entire audiobook of "Practicing the Power of Now" (7 1/2 hours!). Here it is.

Metro - Going vegan in 2013

Metro - Going vegan in 2013

Great brief summary article about health benefits of going vegan.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Open Letter to The Me of 4 Years Ago

When I started drafting this post, it was titled "An Open Letter to My Survivor Sisters".  As I wrote, however, I realized that in fact, I was writing a letter to the version of me four years ago, after completing treatment the first time.

To My Survivor Sisters,

Congratulations! You are a SURVIVOR.  Whether or not you like that term, you have survived.  You have gone through a very difficult ordeal, mentally and physically, and you made it through!  The pats on the backs, hugs of congratulations, and looks of admiration from others at what you have survived have helped to heal a part of you that felt tired and vulnerable.

Now that you are healing, I have some advice I'd like to share.  For I've been where you are.  And I'm now where you don't want to be, ever.

Four years ago, at 37 years old, I had completed chemo, surgery and radiation.  I had an entire bachelors-degree's worth of knowledge (it seemed) in Cancer 101.  I learned about the benefits of exercise in warding off recurrence.  I knew the effects of stress and sugar on the inflammation of these little rogue cancer cells.  I kept up on the debate about soy.  I shared my research with others in conversations about cancer, hoping others could benefit from my experience.  I continually was reading more to learn about my body and about how this disease operated inside it.

It wasn't enough.  Apparently, you also have to CHANGE in response to what you've learned.

Going through it all the first time is exhausting.  You just want some sense of normal again.  The last thing you want to do (or at least the last thing I wanted to do) was to figure out how to overhaul my lifestyle.  I was still working full-time, still raising a little girl, still trying to find time for a date night here and there with my wonderful hubby!  And even having gone through all that treatment, coming out on the other side can give you the feeling of being invincible.  It had to be a fluke, right?  There is comfort in thinking that this was the one time the odds were not on your side.

But that is NOT the truth.  Getting cancer was not the flip of a coin or the roll of the dice.  There is something in YOUR body that is built that way.  Something in YOUR body likes to make cancer cells.  It's in your physiology somehow. Science.  And if you don't make changes in your life, there is a good chance that your body will do it again.  Science is somewhat predictable like that.  You might still be taking medications to help prevent recurrence, but please don't rely on them.  They are not guaranteed.   Years ago when I was taking birth control pills, I remember thinking how odd it was that I was taking them to be sure I wasn't going to get pregnant, and yet I didn't even know for certain that I COULD get pregnant.  I'd never tried, of course.  Failing to prevent recurrence is the same thing, in my eyes.  By the time you find out that cancer was NOT a one-time thing for you, that the odds were against you, it's too late.  Once you have a recurrence, or like me, once your disease comes back and has found multiple other new places to create homes in your body (metastatic), the stakes are different.  Making changes at that point doesn't have the same effect.

If you receive a diagnosis of cancer, whether for the first time or not, mourn your mistakes or regrets only briefly.  Don't get weighed down by the "should haves" or "could haves", as they can be very heavy.  Guilt is natural, but unproductive.  It does not create the healthy energy you need right now, right down to your cells.  Find a way to focus on making changes in your lifestyle.  The doctors will help you deal with the critical needs, but your health and wellness are in YOUR hands.  Every day you feed your body with what you eat, how much oxygen you breathe, the positive energy you create and fill up your space and life with.  THAT is your job.  The hardest part, at least for me, is to FIND A WAY TO ACTUALLY DO IT.  Our lives are busy and we are tired (who isn't, right??), but this is THE most important thing to do every day.  More important than our schedule, piano practice, clean dishes, watching a TV show or returning something to a store.  And if you find those things happening every day, and things like juicing, exercising and meditating happening less frequently, make some changes.  WAY too much is at stake.  Get friends and family to help you stay motivated.  Find walking or yoga buddies.  Get up (and this one is VERY tough for me) just 15 minutes before your family to start the day with some stretching and quiet.  Whatever it takes to remember what your priority for the day is.  Every day.

The state of science right now says that I can't win this game.  But I can keep playing for a while.  And as many of you have heard me say, right now my job is to do anything I can to stay here and play this game because the state of science when it comes to metastatic breast cancer is changing every day.  There are young whipper-snappers out there discovering new things all the time, and I'm sticking around and hanging out with smart doctors who are keeping me engaged in this fight at cutting-edge levels.

To those of you who have fought this fight and won, I applaud you!  Like everyone else, I give you hugs and admiration and wish you continued health and happiness!  And with my arms around you in a big hug, I will then turn you around and give you a kick in the ass to get moving to continue to do everything you can to stay healthy.  Please return the favor.


Your Sister Jill

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ready, set, GO!

My labs look great today so we are about to begin the full clinical trial!  Just waiting for injection to arrive. Jason decided to nap on my bed. He asked me not to post a picture "because this won't look supportive", but how can I pass it up???

Awesome wishes for all of us to have a happy, healthy 2013!