Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting back in the Groove

My new exercise attitude is still holding steady. Thanks very much to those of you who offered encouragement and advice. Music was an especially good piece of advice (thanks Leslie!), and I don't know why I ever stopped using my ipod when I exercised. But once I incorporated it back into the picture, it really helped a lot!

So far, my tally for exercise this week is:

Tuesday: 60 minute yoga class
Wednesday: 20 minutes on the rebounder and 10 minutes of yoga
Thursday: 40 minute walk
Friday: 30 minute bike ride and a 25 minute walk
Saturday: 75 minute yoga class
Sunday: Mowed the lawn (does that count?) and 30 minutes on the rebounder.

The rebounder, for those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, is a little mini-trampoline. It's actually really fun to use (Jasper likes it too) and is much easier on the joints than running or jogging. I've read that it is also one of the very best exercises you can do for your immune system because it really gets your lymphatic system going. Ready for a quick biology lesson? This was all news to me, so I'm betting it might be newsworthy to some of you as well.

The lymphatic system is a little bit like your circulatory system. But unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system is not closed and has no central pump (a heart) to keep things moving. It only moves because of exercise or muscle contraction. Within the lymph system are lymphocytes like white blood cells (which if you remember anything at all from biology are great little disease fighters). They consume metabolic waste, bacteria, and dead cells. One type of lymphocyte known as T-cells enters cancer cells and destroys them. Yes. Destroys them. Moderate exercise not only helps to increase the number of lymphocytes in your body, it keeps the lymph system moving and unplugged, so those little buggers can get busy and do their thing. And the lymph fluid also helps bring nutrients to your cells while taking away their waste. It's like a combined sanitation system/grocery delivery system for your cells. But you have to move your body to make it work.

I don't know about you, but I sure didn't remember anything about the lymph system from high school biology. It's not like you get a primer on body systems from the doctor when you get cancer either. It seems like this would be a useful thing to tell people, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kicking it back into gear

I haven't posted a blog entry for awhile because, well, frankly I sort of lost steam after my mother-in-law passed away in June. I originally started this blog as a means of, hopefully, providing her with some inspiration and ideas for staying healthy through cancer treatment, but she got sick so quickly that, I really don't think she even saw more than one or two of the posts, and I really didn't have much heart to keep writing.

I also lost some steam in other ways. Two years ago I was walking every day despite being robbed of energy from chemo, and I was downright enthusiastic for awhile about going to yoga three times a week as soon as I was healed from surgery. But it's funny how you can let those things slip away. This summer, I've been lucky to make it to yoga once a week. And as for walking? Well, lets just say that the dog gets ecstatic if I bring out the leash. Why do I let exercise fall by the wayside when things get busy? Why don't I make the time for it? I have seen and felt what a great cost cancer has. I know from all the research that I've done that exercise is one of the key links in keeping my own cancer from returning. I know I feel great when I do exercise, and when I don't get frequent exercise, all the little back pains I've experienced over the years start coming back!

There really is no excuse for it other than pure laziness. So, earlier today, I decided that I needed to be excited about exercise again. Maybe by putting my goal in writing for all the world to see will be the motivation I need to keep myself focused and kick myself back into gear. They say it takes about 3 days for something to become a habit. So lets see if I can make this a daily habit again. I'll let you know in 3 days!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vegan Ice Cream!

I used to love ice cream. But I have to really watch out for added hormones in my diet. And cow's milk definitely has hormones. But I won't miss it at all thanks to a fabulous discovery that I have recently made. Coconut Milk ice cream from Purely Decadent. And this stuff lives up to that name. Yum. Yum. Triple Yum. And it isn't even made with sugar! It uses agave syrup for sweetener, so it's low glycemic. And most are gluten free too(probably not the cookie dough version, though). The truly important thing, however, is that it is rich, smooth, creamy, and ultra tasty and just as good, and, I think, even better than regular ice cream.

Of course, I will allow for the possibility that not having eaten hardly any regular ice cream for two years may not qualify me to make a comparison, but I can for certain assure you that it is a thousand times better than soy or rice ice cream.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Everything's Relative

Sunday I went for a bike ride. A really, really long one (for me anyway). About 26 miles or so, according to Lanny. I haven't done 26 miles on a bike for at least 5 years. Maybe more. I probably haven't done that much riding since before Jasper was born, come to think of it. Of course, getting home was all uphill, and I lagged way behind Lanny. My poor little butt hurt a heck of a lot by the end of the ride, and I was really wishing I had worn the biking shorts with the cushy inserts. I was pretty creaky and feeling a little rough around the edges and out of shape.

Today, however, I went to yoga. I go to yoga two or three times a week, and I've been doing that for a couple of years now. It's a tough class that, four years ago when I first started taking classes from this instructor, I would almost black out from lack of oxygen. Now I think it is pretty easy.

Just goes to show that everything is relative. Some things you are good at, other things maybe not so good. Don't expect to be great at everything. You just keep trying and eventually you reach the top of the hill.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sharing the Journey

When I was in cancer treatment, I lost all my hair, but was so very curious about when it would come back and how long it would take. What would it look like at 4 weeks? How about 3 months? 5 months?

I found a few pictures here and there, but I wanted more. When my hair started to grow back, I decided to document the progress so that I could share it with others. A friend of mine helped me to put together an interactive photo gallery, and it became something more than just a series of pictures. It's really a walk through my whole cancer journey, using my hair as benchmarks. I wrote and recorded a song to accompany it, and I hope that one day, someone just like me will be able to find these pictures when they need them and get the hope and strength they need at that moment in time.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Greens, Greens and More Greens!

When was the last time you ate raw collard greens? How about chard or kale? Two years ago, I would have answered "Um, how about never." I actually did not think I liked greens very much. We would get huge bags of greens every June with our CSA farm share, and some would, inevitably, go bad because we just didn't cook a whole lot with greens. We'd occasionally saute them up and put them in some kind of dish, but I never would have thought to eat them raw. Maybe a little spinach in my salad, but that was the extent of it. I knew they were really good for you, but I just didn't see them being a huge part of my diet.

Then, I discovered green smoothies! Yes, this nuclear waste colored drink is my daily breakfast. It may look like some kind of pond algae, but it is actually quite delicious. This one was made with banana, pear, fresh orange juice, pineapple, and big handfuls of baby spinach, plus a little water to make it blend up smoothly. When I first heard about green smoothies, I was quite skeptical. But I was assured that they were very tasty, so I gave it a whirl. I was delighted to discover that I could not even taste the greens. In fact, my first smoothie was this very combination described above (minus the banana), and it was so good I wanted to lick the glass clean.

My nutritional research has underscored the importance of getting daily greens (preferably raw) into your diet. Greens provide essential vitamins and minerals that are very difficult to get through other foods. I've seen recommendations that we should eat as much as a pound (yes I said a pound!) of raw greens per day. That's far more chewing than I'm interested in, and most greens are too tough to eat as salads, but cooking them makes them lose a lot of their nutritional value. The green smoothie is the perfect way to load up on greens easily.

You can use almost any greens you like. Spinach is the most mild flavor, but I also use kale, chard, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, arugula, romaine, parsley, mint, and other interesting greens I might happen to find. I'll even throw some broccoli, sprouts, cucumber, or asparagus in sometimes. I blend about 40% greens to about 60% fruit. If I'm using bitter greens I'll use a little less, and I'll add some lemon juice to counteract the bitterness. With spinach, it's so mild I can go about 50% spinach to 50% fruit.

I now go through more greens in one week than I used to eat in a whole year. We all know that eating more fruits and vegetables helps to prevent disease, and with one green smoothie, I get at least four servings in one easy package, and my energy level stays high all day. I love them, and I highly encourage you to give them a try. So far, everyone I know who was willing to trust me on this has agreed that they are actually very good! Personally, I think the green is really quite an appetizing color, but if it turns you off initially, just throw in a lot of berries!

Pretty much any combination works. I haven't found any that were really awful. All measurements are simply guesses. I just sort of throw stuff in by the handful. If it's too thick, I add more liquid. If it's not sweet enough, I throw in a banana. If it's too sweet, I squeeze in little lemon or orange juice. It's hard to get it wrong. You'll find loads of ideas doing a google search, but here are a few of my recent combinations.

cherry juice & water

kale (strip the kale off the stalk unless you've got a super powerful blender)
I had a few asparagus stalks I threw in too.
orange juice and/or water

juice or water

juice or water.

If you like the really frozen shake type of smoothie you can use ice instead of water. Personally, I hate using ice because it give me those brain-freeze headaches. Plus, it makes me cold! I even run warm water over the frozen fruit (which is a smoothie maker's best friend, by the way) to thaw it out a little bit. But, you can do whatever makes you happy. Any blender works, but it helps if you have a decent blender. Unless you don't mind "chunkies" instead of smoothies!

Think Spring!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Almost Springtime in New York

This week, my husband, Lanny, had to travel to Manhattan for business, so I flew out to join him for a long weekend in the city. It was the first time that I've stayed in a really nice hotel in Manhattan, and it turns out that really good linens do make a difference. And not worrying about the hot water running out is another nice little perk.

We only had 3 days, but we managed to see parts of the city that I've never seen before, and they are really beautiful parts! If you've never spent much time in New York City, you definitely get the idea that it is a very dense, packed place of buildings, upon buildings. And while there are definitely lots of places like that, it is is amazing how many beautiful open spaces there are! Central Park, is, of course, legendary, but we discovered a few other gems as well. On Friday, we took the train all the way up to the Cloisters. The Cloisters is a separate branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that houses their medieval artworks. The building and artworks are beautiful, but just as beautiful is the setting. It's in Fort Tryon Park along the banks of the Hudson River. There are, what will soon be spectacular gardens amid winding walking paths, and the tiny crocuses and lilies of the valley were already all in bloom. Across the river were high cliff walls, and large boats cruised by them at regular intervals. It was all supremely picturesque. This picture does it no justice, as this is just a teeny slice of the park, but you can kind of get a sense of the setting. The big building in the background is The Cloisters.

On Sunday, the weather warmed up to all of 45 degrees, so we rented a couple of bikes for the day and made another new discovery (aside from the fact that biking on New York streets is a little nerve-wracking). Hudson River Park is a waterside park that extends down most of the western edge of Manhattan all the way down to Battery Park. It's a fairly new development, apparently, and there are bike and walking paths all the way through the park with piers for the public, open lawns, basketball courts, playgrounds, launch sites for boats, and just lots of places for people to hang out. The bike rental place was right on the bike path at around 44th St., so we followed the path down to the Staten Island Ferry. Took the ferry over to Staten Island and did the obligatory ogling of Lady Liberty, then biked all the way back up the island to Central Park.

On weekends, Central Park roads are closed to cars, so bikes rule the road. (Actually, that is false. The pedestrians rule the road, but they seem to have the good sense to stay off of it for the most part.) It is a very freeing thing to bike on the street in New York City, with no worries about a car clipping you from behind. It was a truly spectacular thing to do. Lanny is smitten with all things cycling, and is generally chagrined that I do not care for biking as much as he does. But if biking on a spring day in Central Park can't give you a bit of the cycling bug, I don't know what would. I believe I've been bitten.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Taste of Spring

I'm afraid I've become a bit of a nutrition geek over the past year. The cancer and diet connection is huge, so I've researched it pretty thoroughly since my diagnosis. It's become very difficult for me to shop in regular grocery stores and go to mainstream restaurants because I'm starting to see how little food value there is in so many of the items that are sold. Just today, I was at Mayo Clinic with my mother-in-law to consult with an oncologist there, and we stopped in at the cafeteria for something to eat. The Mayo Clinic is world class in every respect...except for their cafeteria. I looked around at all the food choices and thought to myself "Sheesh! No wonder we have so many sick people in America. If you can't get a decent, healthful meal at Mayo Clinic, where can you get one?" So, I guess you have to take matters into your own hands. How, you ask? Read on!

Warm weather is slowly returning to the Northland, and we've had a hint of spring in the air. It doesn't take much in Minnesota to feel like spring. We get a few days in a row of above freezing weather and see a little snow-melt, and we quickly start fantasizing about apple blossoms and backyard barbeques, and wondering if it is too early to unearth the sandals. Unfortunately, we're still a long way off from real spring, but that hasn't stopped me from having fresh spring greens! I've been enjoying some gorgeous sweet pea shoots, and the best part is that I grew them right on my kitchen counter.

Growing pea sprouts is ridiculously easy. You just soak some pea seeds overnight, then just rinse and drain them for a couple of days until they sprout a little root tail. Stick them on some dirt, water them a little, and, voila! In two weeks, you've got a little mini-crop of sprouts ready to harvest. I throw them in salads, on sandwiches, in green juices, and green smoothies for a fresh, sweet taste that makes winter just a little bit easier to bear.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the fact that sprouts are jam packed with vitamins, minerals and enzymes, so they are little nutrition factories. You can even grow some types of sprouts in a glass jar. Alfalfa sprouts, radish sprouts, and broccoli sprouts are just a few that are super simple to grow. They're even easier than pea sprouts. You just soak some seeds for a few hours in a jar. Put some cheesecloth over the top and just rinse and drain them a few times a day. In about three days, you've got sprouts! It all makes me rather giddy to grow my own salad components on my kitchen counter! I feel like such the uber-gardener!

Ciao! I'm off to soak some broccoli seeds!

P.S For those of you reading on Facebook, the actual blog address is if you want to visit the actual site.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Love my Neti Pot

This winter, I have been plagued by one cold after another. Chemo and radiation really wiped out my immune system to the point that I feel like the equivalent of a two-year-old in daycare for the first time! I'm catching everything!

All the antibiotics I had to take after my various surgeries didn't help either. We all know that overuse of antibiotics creates resistant strains, and guess what? I seem to have created an ideal environment for them to flourish and build up one heck of a lovely sinus infection. A visit to Minute Clinic got me a prescription for some scarily large pills of Ambutin which I hope will take effect soon, but in the meanwhile, I am managing to stay relatively comfortable thanks to this.

This goofy little teapot looking thing is a neti pot, and you use it clean out your nasal passages. I've known about neti pots for years and natural health practitioners frequently recommended them as a great way to keep colds and allergies under control. But I could never get over the "gross" factor. It just seemed way too nasty to attempt to shove salty water up my nose. But when my head started to feel like it was stuffed with cotton balls, and my ears and jaw started to ache from the pressure, the lady at my natural foods co-op talked me into it. I am so very extra glad that she did!

It is, dare I say it, quite nice. You clear out all the toxic junk, you breathe easier, and I'm told that regular use will help you keep from getting colds in the first place. I am sold. And you don't solely have to take my word for it. It seems that even Oprah recommends them.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stepping out of the Shadows

Welcome to my blog! I've been thinking about doing the blogging thing for a long time, but I never really had a focus for it. It seemed a bit narcissistic just to ramble on about my worldview, and I realized that if I didn't have a purpose for it, it would just become a boring diary. And who wants to read that? But I ran across the sunlight and shadow quote from Emerson the other day, and it immediately hit home for me. I figured I better save that blog name right away. (It is amazing how many good blog names are taken! If I hadn't acted fast, I probably would have had to settle for "Standing in the Non-Darkness" or something.) So, here I am, jumping right in.

Most anybody reading this probably already knows my recent story, but for those of you who don't, I am a breast cancer survivor (stage III cancer, diagnosed in June 2007.) I did the whole mastectomy, chemo and radiation thing, and I've got one real breast left, and one fairly reasonable facsimile. It wouldn't fool anybody on close inspection, but on a cloudy day from a distance, you'd probably never notice the difference. I learned a heck of a lot about myself, about health and nutrition, and about the mind-body connection during this journey. I learned that I couldn't control everything, but I could control what I put in my body, on my body, and my attitude. I learned to turn my face away from the shadow of cancer to the sunshine of life that was there all along.

My mother-in-law is now facing lung cancer, and I hope that I can help her step out of the shadows. I guess that's what this blog is going to be all about; the things I do that make me feel good. Maybe they'll make you feel good too.

For starters, I can't help but smile looking at the picture of these two little cousins, in their matching pjs, having way too much fun to sleep.