Category Archives: Health

Food & Fitness

Remember when this was a food and exercise blog?

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Well I still do those things! Just on a much, much smaller scale.

Even though I whine about getting cancer despite all my healthy habits, I must say, it hasn’t all been for naught. My chemotherapy side effects haven’t been that bad. Not nearly as bad as some of the horror stories I’ve seen and heard. I credit my pre-cancer lifestyle for my ability to stay strong and withstand the powerful chemo poisons. I also hope my healthy body will be able to help the chemo work its magic faster!

Everyone told me to rest during treatment, but eventually my body started getting weak from lying around all day. I decided I wanted to try to stay active in order to keep my body strong. Then I read this New York Times article which says:

For those who can handle it, though, a light or moderate exercise regimen could help reduce some side effects of treatment, the new report stated. Studies have shown, for example, that arm extensions and other range-of-motion exercises can help relieve lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm stemming from breast cancer surgery. It can also help patients who gained weight during treatment slim down and regain some physical function, and combat some of the exhaustion stemming from chemotherapy.

On top of that, the study showed that exercise could reduce a breast cancer patient’s risk of dying by 40 percent and 30 percent for a person with prostate cancer. They’re not kidding around!

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Honestly, when I first read that I realized that there really no longer exists any excuse not to do some kind of exercise. Then, I promptly hopped on my dad’s recumbent bike.

For over a week now I’ve been taking care to get 30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise almost every day. The usual mix of cardio, strength, and stretching. Cardio has to be monitored because the most active part of the cancer is around my superior vena cava, the main vein that goes into my heart. So nothing more than 65% of my max heart rate. Strength on the other hand is difficult because I’m recovering from surgery on BOTH arms now. One side is my elbow, the other side from getting a lymph node removed (with mild lymphedema as mentioned in the excerpt above).

It may seem counter productive to exercise when my biggest side effect is extreme fatigue (think run over by a mack truck x1000). However, working up a little sweat helps me bust through the fatigue and provides a big boost of energy!

In terms of food, I’m finally making the switch to organic.

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I’ve always been too cheap to do this in the past. Especially when I couldn’t measure any concrete benefits from doing so.

Well it’s no longer a matter of preventing myself from getting cancer when I’m 64. It’s matter of getting rid of cancer today and making sure it neverever comes back. I now know I’m one of those people who are more susceptible to developing cancer. Suddenly the extra dollar for a can of garbanzo beans doesn’t seem so steep.

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On top of going organic, I’m attempting to cut back to one serving of dairy and one serving of meat a day. Experimenting with some new products for fun!

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Fresh fruits and veggies may sound like the easy go-to, but chemotherapy actually makes this the difficult part. I am a bacteria-free zone, and produce is crawling with it.

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I joined an organic CSA before I was diagnosed and without it, I probably wouldn’t feel the pressure to eat any vegetables. So for this, I’m thankful.

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I know a lot of people praise the benefits of raw vegetables, but I’m instructed to cook them down to kill any nasty stuff that may be lurking on them. And thanks to chemo deteriorating my stomach lining, green mush is a lot easier to digest.

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Stir-fry with a blackened chicken breast. Sauce made with goat yogurt. It’s what’s for dinner.

Suddenly food and exercise aren’t just for my general health anymore, they’re for my LIFE.

Sick Body, Healthy Body Image

Yesterday I stepped on the scale for the first time since being discharged from the hospital. Over the four weeks I was in hospital, I lost around 7 lbs. Not an unhealthy amount for the time I was in there, but a lot for a person who spent the majority of their days lying in bed. The nurses and doctors weren’t concerned. When you have cancer, weight loss happens. Yesterday I noticed I’d lost even more weight, bringing my total up to 10 lbs. And I’ve been eating a lot since being discharged!

I’d been trying to shed a few spare pounds for months. One would think this would come as a pleasant side effect of being in the hospital and on chemo. But it’s not. I don’t want to lose weight. I am terrified of looking sickly.

Over the years, I have worked really hard at improving my self-image. Throughout my original weight loss and efforts to eat well and exercise more, I really learned to love and appreciate my body. Even when I gained some of that weight back, I could still look in the mirror and like who was looking back at me. Not a lot of women can do that, and that ability was one of the qualities I was most proud of. It took many years to get to that point.

But cancer has thrown my self-image for a bit of a loop. I’ve learned it is one thing to look out of shape, and something entirely different to look in the mirror and see a legitimately sick person looking back at you. Thinning hair, tired eyes, dull skin, shallow cheeks. That is an image I am not ready to deal with.

Mind you, after only two weeks into treatment, I definitely don’t look sick. Hell, I probably won’t ever look that sick. Because, you know, the cancer is shrinking, and I am technically getting better.

This will certainly be a new challenge for me. To learn to love my body even when it’s full of bruises from the needles and blood thinners. Even when my nails are flaking, my skin is dry, and the inside of my mouth has sores. To still want to treat it well when the room is spinning and it feels like someone is taking a jackhammer to my skeleton. To still appreciate everything my body does for me, even when the cells inside insist on growing at a rapid and deadly rate.

Never did I think I’d be upset to watch the scale go down when I once tried so hard to fit into my skinny jeans. It’s hard to resist from thinking that my body has failed me, even after all the work I put into it. But really, it’s all just a learning process of how to work with it, and still love my body despite all it’s been through. I can’t say I’ve tackled this hurdle entirely yet, but do know that I don’t plan on giving up on it.

This is why one of my big goals for the month of August is to increase my level of physical activity. Walking, light indoor cycling, stretching, light strength training. Nothing strenuous, but all things that will help my body prepare and stay strong for treatments. The other goal is to get dressed, do my hair, and put on make-up as often as possible. Even though I technically can, I prefer not to lay around in my peejays all day.

And just to prove to you that I am still eating well, behold, my Monday dinner:

That would be Spanish rice with chicken and veggies, and homemade cornbread with cheddar cheese. Who knows what sort of cravings I’ll have after my second chemo treatment today, so I wanted to make sure I got a good meal in beforehand.

For the Spanish rice, I used this recipe as the base. I also added smoked paprika, garlic scapes, broccoli, beans, leftover roast chicken, and subbed some of the rice out for quinoa.

Now, let’s talk about the cornbread.

I’ve been looking for a good cornbread recipe for a while. Most of them are too sweet for my taste. Many recommend adding creamed or frozen corn, but honestly, I don’t like the whole corn kernels in the bread. Others just have too much flour.

Instead I followed this recipe from Chef Michael Smith. I not only love him because he’s a Food Network host based out of the Maritimes, but also because none of his recipes have ever steered me wrong. Instead, this recipe has you cook the cornmeal in a milk mixture first. No flour, just a bit of brown sugar, and no clumps of vegetables. It was perfection!!! Oh, and clearly I made it in a loaf pan as opposed to a cast iron skillet.

After an amazing weekend of family, friends, good food, and feeling great, I am off to the hospital for chemo #2. Definitely scared, but today I’ve got my big girl pants on. With a bit of eyeliner.

 

How To Make The Sick Sicker

Hi! I’ve written a few important posts lately, so if you haven’t caught up yet you can start here first, then here, and finish here.

Today’s post is all about a very serious aspect of staying in the hospital.

The food.

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Now, I know hospital food is notoriously bad, but I feel like the stuff they serve at the Moncton Hospital is exceptionally bad. I’ve never seen anything like it. Me, who will eat pretty much anything, won’t even go near some of these dishes.

As a long-term patient, I get to choose my food in advance from a menu. On paper, it looks like some pretty decent options.

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But then it arrives and it’s the worst piece of shit I’ve ever seen. Most of the time unidentifiable and empty of any taste, texture, or nutrients.

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These are the scrambled eggs I got on Sunday. Made in a cup maybe? The were really spongey and I didn’t eat them. My sister Jane says it looks like it came from a can. Is that possible? If it is, the hospital would probably do it.

The serving sizes are also incredibly small. I think it’s because they are geared toward the sick and elderly. I mean, I know I am a 25-year-old who still has the metabolism of a personal trainer, but I also know my 88-year-old Nana could not survive on these portions.

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Saturday, my sister whipped the lid off the plate to find one lonely boiled egg. A piece of cheese and orange on the side. We laughed and decided the hospital must be trying to starve the cancer out.

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This is what I get for coffee with my breakfast. About 50ml filled in a 125ml cup. A splash of coffee, essentially.

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Thankfully, they offer unsweetened hot cereals, but the cream of wheat is more like cream of wheat soup.

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Yesterday’s supper: I’d ordered a sub sandwich and received unidentified lunch meat on a white bun. At first I thought it was bologna, and then I tried a nibble of it, and I think it was spam!!! Barf.

Sometimes though, something edible will come up.

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My jaw dropped when I saw fresh vegetables on the plate. With a little scoop of egg salad, a piece of bread, a little bit of (gross) potato salad and some (good) apple crisp. It’s hit and miss. 97% of the time a miss.

Thankfully, my family has been showering me with food everyday. To the point where I’ve had to order them to stop bringing me food, because I am only one person and can only eat so much! So far, I’ve just been picking at the edible stuff on the hospital food trays, and supplementing it with food people bring me.

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Soupy cream of wheat made better with fresh blackberries.

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Homemade veggie pizza from good family friend Mary (who will also be acting as my advocate).

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Dad’s been bringing me big tupperware containers of greens and I throw random things on top with balsamic or hummus.

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Homemade red quinoa salad with black beans and asparagus from a family friend.

Now that I know I’m sick, I’m taking extra extra care to eat better. Nothing that will feed the cancer. It’s an issue we all take seriously after my uncle had brain cancer.

I’m cutting waaaaay back on processed sugar, no artificial sweeteners (byebye Diet Coke), and washing my fruit really well. I’ve upped the anti-oxidants with things like green tea, goji berries, acai, etc etc.

And yes, I’m giving up coffee for green tea.

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Okay, so I’m still drinking one cup of coffee a day. But going from 3-4 cups to 1 cup is huge! I only had one day of really bad caffeine headaches, but now seem to be okay with just the one cup. And then 15 cups of green to compensate for the caffeine ;)

Honestly, I am kind of horrified by the kind of food sick people are served here. It’s not even food. The ingredients are canned, frozen, or come from a powder. All high in sugar and salt, low in protein and whole grains. Eating good quality food so far has been key in keeping my energy levels up, I can’t imagine how sick I’d feel if I was left to subsist on just what’s available at the hospital. The Globe and Mail just this weekend had an article on changing the way hospitals serve food. I couldn’t agree more.

Of course, there are some things I must ingest that I have no choice over.

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A giant dye smoothie for a cat scan. It actually wasn’t too bad. I mean, compared to some of the other things the nurses have brought me ;)

Bone marrow exam and meeting with my oncologist again today. Scared for both but keeping happy thoughts!

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