Aware

Well, I made it to the end of October without talking about Pinktober, aka breast cancer awareness month. I have to admit that this month didn’t bother me as much as in other years. Were the pink ribbons not that noticeable, or have I become immune?

I fully understand the point of Pinktober, but many survivors get frustrated that the message has been pink-washed. I mean, how much “awareness” does one need? Is there anyone out there who isn’t “aware” that breast cancer exists? And what of those companies that don the pink ribbons, and yet, sell products that contribute to cancer? I won’t even get into all of the awareness messages that are all about “saving the ta-tas” and what not. Shouldn’t we be focusing on saving the person? I just ask that you be sensitive to survivors on some of these awareness campaigns. While good intentioned, just consider them from the point of view of survivor… who may not actually have been able to save her ta-tas…

Anyway, soapbox done.

Instead of continuing my rant, I thought I would share some facts to help improve your awareness. You know breast cancer exists, but do you know….

  • We lump (pun intended) all breast cancer into one category, but there are actually many different types, depending on where they are located (ductal versus lobular), sensitivity to hormones (estrogen/progesterone positive/negative), genetic makeup, etc. Some have better success rates than others, so be mindful of this when talking to your BC friends. For example: I had invasive lobular carcinoma, ER & PR positive.
  • There are multiple stages of breast cancer development, depending on size, lymph node invasion and metastasis. I was Stage IIIA, T3 N1 M0.
  • There are ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer! (Wouldn’t you rather prevent it in the first place? Or at least try?) These include: nutrition, exercise, weight management, not smoking, watching alcohol intake, and avoiding environmental toxins).
  • The best foods to stave off cancer? Greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. (Known as “G-BOMBS” by Dr Fuhrman).
  • Mammograms do not find 1 in 5 cancers and do not improve mortality. (I went faithfully and mammograms completely missed my tumor, which was stage III / 8 cm at removal.)  Read: Limitations of Mammograms
  • There are alternatives to mammograms, such as ultrasounds (it was an ultrasound that eventually found my tumor), MRIs, and thermograms. Do your homework to determine which is best/safest for you, what your insurance will pay for, and the benefits/risks of each.
  • Men can get breast cancer, too — about 2100 cases a year, with almost 500 deaths.
  • There are also alternatives to breast reconstruction. More and more women are opting to “go flat”, but many women are not presented with this as an option at diagnosis and regret it later. I’ve been lucky to connect with women across the country as part of the My Flat Friends Facebook group. Here are a few articles about how many women are trying to spread the word about this option!
    CBS News: A Matter of Choice
    NBC Today: Living Flat and Fabulous

Hopefully you learned something new and are more aware as we close out Pinktober!

Peace!

IMDb: Aware (2016)

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Volunteers

Just when I think I’m on a roll with blogging… poof! It’s 37 days later.  You would think lack of employment would give me some free time on my hands, but I continue to be as busy as ever. Doing what, you may ask?

I am working my way through my list of home projects (slowly but surely), cleaning like a fiend, and purging “stuff”; doing a lot of volunteering, especially with my son’s marching band (and yet that is not the reason for today’s title); trying to do many of my hubby’s household chores to minimize his stress; working my way through 7 seasons of Game of Thrones (finally done!); working on my business plan; and continuing to pursue my health coaching certification (and herein lies the reason for today’s title).

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As part of the health coaching program, we are encouraged to start practicing our coaching skills with family and friends. And so I am seeking volunteers!  The time commitment is about 90 minutes (preliminary paperwork plus a 60 minute-ish conversation). The intent is to practice the initial assessment of potential new clients.

A few things to note:

  • While you all know I am plant-based, the desire to eat a plant-based diet is NOT a requirement for this. I anticipate working with people of all dietary preferences.
  • Integrative nutrition health coaching is focused on more than just nutrition and encompasses many areas of wellness.
  • All information shared will be confidential and sessions are non-judgmental.
  • While I prefer working with people in person, it does not have to be so. I can do phone calls or FaceTime/Skype, whatever your preference.
  • You don’t need to have major issues to do this; even if you’re pretty healthy and happy at present, that’s still a scenario I’d like to try out!

If you are interested in helping me out, please email me at race588@yahoo.com for more information. Ideally I’d like to schedule 1 or 2 a week for the next few months (and beyond), so the more, the merrier!

Thank you in advance!!

IMDb: Volunteers (1985)

Comfort Zone

I very clearly remember the first time I had to do a legit, grown-up, professional presentation. My manager and I had just completed leading our team through re-engineering our processes, consolidating functions with another business unit and converting to a new system. We were pretty proud of our work and it was noticed by the powers-that-be. We were asked to present our work to a leadership conference of about 200-250 managers, directors and vice presidents. We completely panicked!  We tried VERY hard to get out of it — begged, pleaded, offered alternatives — but deep down, we knew we had to do this, and we finally agreed.  This was big time out of our comfort zones!

We spent probably 100 hours (only a slight exaggeration) writing, rehearsing, stressing and getting pep talks in preparation. I recall there was a whole lot of swearing going on.  (How the &#$*^ did we get ourselves in this???) Right before the talk, we both thought we would be sick! In the end, it went fabulously well (those 100 hours really helped prepare us!), and we ran to the ladies room screaming with excitement!

That experience made me realize that, if I wanted even more of a leadership role in the company, I needed to figure out this public speaking thing. It couldn’t be an anxiety attack every time I needed to speak in front of people. I really needed to push myself out of my comfort zone.  And so I started looking for every opportunity to stretch.

I volunteered for business resource groups and offered to do introductions or even present. I accepted an invitation to speak to 400 people at the grand opening of the Philadelphia Hope Lodge (and even ended up on the Philly news). And I even agreed to make a commercial for the Philharmonic’s 4th of July show. Each one of these steps brought a bucket of nerves, self-doubt and self-consciousness. But I pushed through it each time and it got a little easier with each successive push.

Fast forward to present day…

This weekend I had the privilege of presenting at two wonderful plant-focused events as part of the community group, The Scranton Beets. First was a session at the local library (“The What, Why, How and Wow of Plant-Based Eating). As part of that presentation, I actually did a cooking demonstration, and my friend, Jean (www.theplantbasednurse.com), even put it “live” on Facebook (video is my next challenge to overcome). And then in the afternoon, Jean and I got up on a stage at the first (hopefully annual) NEPA VegFest to talk about plant-based eating for health and demo a wonderful kale salad.

Both were wonderful experiences that I would NEVER have done in the past. And I would have missed those experiences if I didn’t keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone — over and over and over again. It did get easier over time, and now I don’t even sweat it (much!). Public speaking has a big part in my future plans, so I’m glad I kept at it!

So what’s that one thing holding you back? What’s that one obstacle that requires you to keep pushing forward to achieve your dreams? Just take it one step at a time, one opportunity at a time — and go for it! Pretty soon, this new skill will start to feel pretty comfortable!

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In case you are interested:  here’s the Creamy Kale Salad (from Plant Pure Nation) we demo’d at VegFest. I loved it so much I made it for dinner tonight — with kale, carrots, peppers and a few remaining green beans from my garden!  (You can really use whatever veggies you want!) The dressing reminds me of that wonderful ginger dressing you get at hibachi restaurants!

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Enjoy!

IMDb: Comfort Zone (2013)

 

Five Years Later

When I received my cancer diagnosis in 2012, my second such diagnosis in 4 years, I was devastated. My son was only 11 years old; my marriage only five. I worried that I wouldn’t see either get older and I wasn’t sure I would survive cancer the second time around.

But here I am, five years later.  Thriving, loving, and looking into the future with a new perspective. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t worry from time to time, but cancer has taught me many things over the years and I do worry less.

On this, the 5 year anniversary of my double mastectomy (and the date that I count as my cancer-versary), I thought I would share some random thoughts on how cancer has changed my life for the better. (Perspective is everything.)

  • While none of us knows when our time will be up, cancer survivors face mortality head on. This gives us a unique opportunity to cherish each and every day as the gift that they are.
  • What we do to our bodies — or put into our bodies — matters. Whether it’s food, stress, negative thoughts, or too much alcohol or caffeine, we can either nourish or damage. I’m not perfect, but I choose to nourish with healthy, plant based foods, sufficient sleep, stress management, meditation, and yoga.
  • The little things don’t matter; and what my definition of “little things” is has changed. In general, “things” don’t matter. People and relationships do.
  • Trust your instincts and be your own advocate. Our healthcare system is broken and flawed. Don’t assume that everyone is looking closely at your case. Follow up, ask questions, challenge the status quo, get a second opinion and do your homework. I’ve said “no” a lot more times in the last five years than I would have previously. No, I won’t reconstruct. No, I don’t want to take a drug that makes me feel 102. No, I won’t do that procedure (CT scan, chest x-ray, etc) because I don’t want more radiation. No, I don’t want steroids.  Listen to your body and your intuition to do what is best for you.
  • After being afraid of dying, so many other things seem less fearful. Like starting a new career, making new friends, putting myself out there in this blog, challenging a doctor, asking for what I want/need, trying something new.
  • Nothing is a guarantee in life, but you can persevere. Always have hope.

Breast cancer recurrences “usually” recur within five years, so this anniversary is a big deal. Depending on what charts you look at, I had about a 72% chance of making it 5 years for Stage IIIA.  Overall breast cancer rates, for my age, were in the 85% range. So I am very grateful to be here.

Does five years mean I’m off the hook forever?  No.  But it does mean that what I’m doing to keep myself healthy is apparently working, and I should remain diligent in my self-care.

Thanks to all of you who have been by my side — physically and virtually — through this journey.

Here’s to the next five!

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IMDb: Five Years Later (2010)

Festival Express

The summer is completely zipping by! It’s been a full 4 weeks since my “retirement” and I wonder how I ever found time to work. It feels like I’ve been gone even longer than 4 weeks and my life is as full as ever. The list of household projects sits barely touched, with only one room (my son’s) having been ripped apart thus far. At this point, I think most of it will have to wait until school starts at the end of August.

Yesterday was one of those very full days… a fun day of festivals (“fests”).

The day started with “Elite Fest”. This was a health-focused event at the fitness center (Elite Fitness, hence the name) where my step-daughter is a personal trainer. This event started at 10:00 a.m. with an hour-long metabolic workout. Ethan and I participated and  both thought we would die about half-way through — but we were proud of ourselves for having completed the challenge and doing ALL the exercises!  We did exercises on equipment that I didn’t even know existed!  (TRX machine… air assault…?) There were also contests and a relay race, but I was pretty much done by that point. The event ended with a super healthy lunch with lots of veggies and whole grains! I am a little sore today, but in all, I really enjoyed the work out.

After running home to shower — and drink another large coffee (I was exhausted!)… we were off to “Jazz Fest”.  This was the 13th annual Jazz Festival in Scranton and my son was participating. Ethan had a prior gig Friday night where he was allowed to play with the professionals at a coffee shop. I was so proud of him stepping out of his comfort zone, sight reading and improv’ing on his trombone.  Yesterday was the official event where the students of Marywood University’s Camp Crescendo were the opening act of the evening’s performances. Ethan had two improv solos during two of the pieces and I was one proud momma (complete with tears in my eyes). He did fantastic and I’m so glad we opted for this camp this year.

Following the concert we were off to “Corn Fest”!  (Seriously… these are the legit names!)  Friends of ours have an annual party, complete with lots of corn cooked on the fire and free-flowing adult beverages!  It’s always a great time and this year was especially nice, because I got to see so many of my (former) co-worker friends. It’s nice to be missed and all the hugs made me feel loved!

The night had one last stop… to drop Ethan off at a camp-out at a friend’s house. I’m not sure how he still had the energy to stay up late, but I guess that’s the benefit of youth.

So here’s to a great day of celebrating fitness, music and friends! May we have many more festivals to celebrate in our future!

IMDb: Festival Express (2003)

The Recovery

After a week of less-than-healthy eating on vacation, it was time to get back on track this past week. We were all feeling the effects of being off plan — bloated, fatigued, and fat! We all gained a few pounds while on vacation (truth be told, I think I’m still carrying 5 pounds from LAST year’s vacation). Off plan included “meat” (lots of lobster), butter, fried, eggs, alcohol, caffeine, sugar…  I know… you are all thinking “sounds great”!  🙂

But when you eat only plant based 99% of the time, these things definitely take their toll and we needed a week of recovery.

In order to go hard core on the recovery, I went immediately to the Forks Over Knives website.  It so happened that they were featuring an article with a week of recipes and I actually used that for my menu plan for the week.  So here are the recipes along with my adjustments/commentary (note, all recipes can be prepared in 30 minutes or less):

Easy Thai Noodles – I doubled this recipe because, let’s face it, 8 ounces of noodles is not enough with 2 big eaters in the house.  What I liked about this recipes was the ease — it says “ready in 30 minutes” but it took much less than that. I couldn’t find “mung bean sprouts” so I just used a mix of sprouts that I found at the grocery store. Everyone enjoyed this, but I think if I made it again, I would use more veggies and I would triple the sauce. Leftovers were a bit dry, so I think a little more sauce would be good.

Mediterranean Vegetable Spaghetti – We also enjoyed this dish (who doesn’t love pasta).  I used whole wheat pasta instead of the brown rice spaghetti, but any pasta will do. I didn’t have “herbes de Provence” so I just used thyme, a favorite seasoning, and a bit of oregano. You could really use any herbs you prefer. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of tomato puree but the smallest can I could find was 28 ounces! I did add more than the 2T to the recipe, partly because the recipe calls for 10 ounces of pasta (can we just make all recipes = 1 pound of pasta???) and I used 16 ounces.  So it definitely needed more of the puree; I froze the rest.

Orange Black Bean Taquitos – This was another tasty recipe. My only gripe was needing the food processor to do two separate tasks (making the filling and making the spiked sour cream). It required making one, cleaning the food processor and then making the other. While the sour cream recipe says to use the blender, my blender didn’t work for this and I ended up with lots of extra dishes to wash. But we loved the citrus combination with the kick from the adobo chiles. I served this with brown rice flavored with fresh lime juice.

Burrito Bowl — I didn’t use bowls, but plates. I served everything separately and let everyone make their own combinations. This dish definitely needed salsa to give it more flavor and interest, and I used the leftover spiked sour cream from the taquitos. I made bulgur, for something different than just rice, but any grain will do.  I used a mix of pinto and cannellini beans, but would flavor them next time (tamari, perhaps?). I did use steamed kale (from the garden), but didn’t love it. I would definitely use fresh lettuce next time, or fresh/chopped kale. And yes, I made my own tortillas — much preferred over store-bought.  This was the only picture I apparently remembered to take this week… IMG_1690

No Tuna Salad Sandwich – I’ll be honest, this wasn’t my favorite recipe of the week.  I have other similar recipes that I liked much better. This one was a little bland and I’m not a big fan of tahini. Plus, the bread I bought (a whole grain) was a little too doughy.

We did have one night where we ate out because our lovely Mikayla was in town from NYC, and another night we had grilled portobellos and my favorite kale salad. I did make this “oil free” by eliminating all oil, and increasing the lime juice.

As a result of this week’s eating, I am back to my pre-vacation weight. Yay! And I think everyone has otherwise recovered!

Hope you enjoy the recipes!

IMDb: The Recovery (2011)

The Bucket List

I was never one to have keep a bucket list and I always thought the concept was silly.  Why would you need such a thing? Just enjoy your life!

And then I had cancer. Twice. And I really started thinking differently about the whole bucket list concept. If I was living on borrowed time, what were the things I really wanted to do and see?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling pretty healthy these days but the idea of a bucket list seemed more appealing. I don’t have anything formal or written down; it’s all just in my head.

One of the things on my list is whale watching. We just returned from vacation in Maine where whale watching was part of the plan. Alas, Mother Nature was not cooperative and unrelenting dense fog resulted in excursion cancellations multiple days in a row. This was the closest I got to an actual whale (we were on the lookout everywhere!):

 

Better luck next time. While disappointed, we did find other great things to do in Maine and we had a fabulous trip. Maine is truly gorgeous and, if you’ve never gone, you might want to add it to your bucket list!

Most of my list is made up of experiences and trips — and are family-focused. None of it involves acquisition of stuff (quite the contrary, if you know me!). And maybe the idea of writing a book!

How about you? Do you have a bucket list? What’s on it?

IMDb: The Bucket List (2007)