My breast cancer journey began here…3 years ago. This is one of my most read posts of 2016.
I borrowed the title for this post from a colleague at an office birthday party coordinated for our boss. I brought homemade “herbalicious” hummus and organic carrots and cucumber slices. She asked me if I was vegan (I often prepare vegan dishes for work events). After a moment of reflection, my response was, “Sometimes!” She said that should be the title of my next book…”Sometimes A Vegan”. I like it.
I paused when responding to her because I prepare and eat vegan dishes often. I do love meat, but I crave vegetables. I started off on my vegan journey with various detox cleanses that I would do a couple of times a year. What I loved about my vegan cleanses is that the food was filling. I was not hungry on any of the cleanses, plus I learned how to make amazing recipes, got the added benefits of improved sleep, mental clarity and glowing skin. I’ve written several posts about my cleanses.
When I think about it, my love of vegan food has progressed from an annual cleanse for a specified duration, to participating in cleanses a few times a year, to incorporating vegan dishes into my meal rotation regularly. I have even modified some of my Haitian recipes like beans and rice to make them vegan.
For example, my mom taught me to fry a few pieces of salted pork in my beans. I’ve even tried simmering my pot of beans with smoked ham hocks in the past. However, for the last couple of years, I’ve completely omitted meat from my beans. This happened organically over time, especially after my breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve learned to load up with flavorful spices and herbs. I don’t miss the pork.
I’ve been doing research lately on perimenopause and the best food choices to help manage it. I’ve been reading about how this is the time in a woman’s life (my time) to be really vigilant about nutrition and being active. As you get older, it’s not as easy to lose weight, or maintain it, for that matter. I can attest to the fact that it’s harder for me to lose weight. I can tell my body composition is changing without much effort from me. I don’t need my butt or stomach to get much bigger than they already are, but they’re trying.
Is a vegan diet sustainable as I go through perimenopause? I don’t think it is for me. One issue is I developed anemia due to heavy blood loss during my periods. Just a few weeks ago, I think I hit a milestone in how much blood I lost during just the first two days of my period. It doesn’t happen every month, but when it does, it’s significant.
I’ve read that a vegan diet may be lacking in iron, which is what I need. Don’t get me wrong, it’s true: leafy green vegetables, lentils/beans, and other vegetables have iron. However, the best type of iron absorbed by the body is “heme” iron, which is found in meat sources. Since I learned about the anemia about 6 months ago, I’ve been focused on eating more iron rich foods.
So what diet is the best diet for perimenopause? I’ve found compelling research that a low glycemic diet is the best diet. This is consistent with what my primary care physician told me in December 2018. She told me to replace the bad carbohydrates with good ones and to abstain from white rice, white floor, and sweets. Now, she made the recommendations because my glucose was getting a little high, but this diet seems to have multiple benefits. I’ve gotten my glucose down. I think my apple cider vinegar tonic helped.
Now, I realize I just used the words “good” and “bad” to describe food, which I prefer not to. It would serve us all better if we looked at food with a healthier mindset such as focusing on the nutritional benefits. Also, I’m not a “dieter”. I’m working on what food choices will be the most beneficial to me. I will work on my food narrative.
My food journey has evolved over time and I’m ok with that. My main goal is to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit. I want to have a great relationship with food and it is getting better. Ideally, I don’t want to look at certain foods as bad. I’ve always adopted the mindset that moderation is the key. Over the years, I’ve become more mindful of the types of foods I put into my body.
What are your favorite foods? I’d love to hear from you!
It’s that time of year again. I have a 3-D mammogram appointment in the morning, just in time for breast cancer awareness month in October. I’m a little terrified; therefore, I’m utilizing the coping skill that has never failed me…writing. I’m also taking you with me for the ride. This post will serve a couple of purposes: 1) to give myself a pep talk and 2) to give you some light lessons on how to cope with life’s beautiful messes.
Three years ago on 9/28/16, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (breast cancer) and my life changed forever. Some beautiful and strange things happened in 2016. We had to forego a trip to Jacksonville, FL for my cousin’s wedding in May because my husband came down with an illness we had never heard of (hydrocephalus) that resulted in brain surgery.
In July, I spent my 25-year high school reunion in Ocho Rios, Jamaica with 60 of my classmates, but more EPICly, with two of my dearest friends. Then, my friend and I’s departure flight was canceled so we had to stay in Jamaica an extra night. That SNAFU ended up being the best part of the trip because the airlines arranged for us to stay at a 5-star luxury hotel and we spent quality time together.
My mom visited me in September for two weeks and she didn’t seem to be doing well in that she was very agitated. Later in the month, (the day she flew back to Chicago, IL), I was diagnosed (D-Day) with breast cancer. The treatments in the form of two surgeries that occurred a week apart were in November and included a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy and breast reconstruction. My mom (my biggest supporter) came back to Austin, TX, a month after she left, for my surgeries. By December, I had started radiation therapy. What a year!
You’d think that was the worst part, but it was not. I was prescribed an intense radiation regimen for a truncated time frame because the math said my body could withstand it. I attribute it to how healthy my body was prior to diagnosis. I was very healthy…oh, with the exception of the breast cancer and my compromised immune system (see below). My breast cancer was Stage 1 because it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and the tumor was small…about an inch, but almost two inches by the time I had surgery (rapid growth per my oncologist). I took my radiation treatment daily, over 3 weeks, like a CHAMP. Radiation treatment is like a slow cooking process. The worst part of the treatment are the days following the last treatment because the radiation has built up over time. The burning was deep and painful.
I slowly got better. My kids seemed to be okay. They didn’t seem too affected. My husband was still recovering from his brain surgery, but seemed to be getting better. However, he got laid off work. My dear friend took me on a rejuvenating spa weekend retreat, which you can read about here. A few months later, I received a promotion. Two months later, my mom passed away. By the fall, I could really see my husband’s health was declining. I tried to work with his doctors, but they weren’t listening to me. The day after Christmas, I took him to the ER and he subsequently spent 17 days in the hospital. Shortly after, he underwent 4 months of cognitive, physical and speech therapy. He couldn’t do much, not even drive.
The Come Back
Despite my husband’s brain condition, he is a fighter. Who am I kidding? I’m a fighter too. In the midst of taking care of everyone, I maintained my appointments with two oncologists, two surgeons, my primary care physician, my endocrinologist, my gynecologist, and my urologist. I did have to let my neurologist go. He treated me for optic neuritis, which is an autoimmune disorder that happens to be a precursor to multiple schlerosis. I had been seeing him, but he never diagnosed me with multiple schlerosis. He had me on a regimen of a high dose of Vitamin D. I had more pressing health issues anyway…cancer. I also maintained all my husband’s appointments with his therapy team and doctors (neurologist, neurosurgeon, and primary care physician). Not to mention our kids appointments with doctors and school.
My husband has been slowly getting better, but his symptoms fluctuate. He was eventually released to drive again. He’s taken more control of his health by exercising every day and eating better. I’m not the only health guru in the house anymore, which I like. My number one priority is to keep my health in top shape because I have people depending on me. I can’t afford to get sick and I rarely do. I now even get flu shots (please don’t send me articles).
Although I still see my oncologist every 6 months, my primary care physician annually, my gynecologist annually, and my endocrinologist (just saw her today) annually, I no longer see the radiation oncologist (no longer required) , surgeons (no longer required), or urologist (she was a luxury in the list of priorities). As you can imagine since our diagnoses, we have incurred massive medical bills, so I’m only seeing doctors who are absolutely necessary.
Again, our kids have been TROOPERS! My son did have some difficulty his senior year, but he graduated high school. We’ve all been through so much and we have each other. Just by writing this post, I can appreciate our progress because things are getting better.
So how do I manage my beautifully messy life. Here are a few pointers that I think you will find useful:
- Rein in
- Lean on your support
- Don’t be so hard on yourself
- Ask for what you need
- Eat and sleep well
- Move every day
- Do things that bring you joy
- Do nothing
These are my go to strategies that immediately come to mind. You may have more or others.
Something about cancer is that once it’s in your life, it never really goes away despite the treatments. There’s always the underlying fear of re-occurrence, no matter how positive of an outlook you have on life. Once you’ve had cancer, you become more susceptible to other cancers and illnesses. I take an oral medication to prevent the re-occurrence, but there are risks.
Going through the mammogram exam takes me right back to the day I learned of my diagnosis. It was traumatic hearing the words from my doctor. I had a scare in 2017 where they found some scar tissue on a mammogram they weren’t sure about, so I had to get not one, but TWO biopsies! I was mortified, but got through it.
My faith tells me I will be fine. For reassurance, I’m leaning on my support and have asked my husband to accompany me so I won’t be alone. I’ve also mentioned to at least two other people that I’m nervous about it. I’m also sharing my story with you.
The light lesson here is life is a beautiful mess. Joy is interwoven with pain. Life is also short. It’s too short to spend time worrying about things that don’t matter. It’s too short to not enjoy the little things. It’s too short to not fulfill your dreams. It’s too short to wish you had somebody else’s life. It’s too short to spend trying to be perfect because there is no such thing. It’s too short to not take charge of your health and demand the best care for yourself and your loved ones. It’s too short to not love on yourself and the people you love ALL day, EVERY day.
What tools do you use to manage life’s beautiful messes? I’d love to hear from you.
If you haven’t already, feel free to follow my site to learn more about how I navigate life’s beautiful messes.
I’m tackling my health one issue at a time. I definitely have some perimenopause issues. This Friday I have a date with a 3D mammogram machine.
If you’re curious, read more in the link below. 😉
Where did the time go? My trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) occurred over 3 months ago. Upon our return to Texas, it didn’t take my son, Caleb, and I long to get back to our busy lives. However, the experience is implanted in my heart forever. This may be my most compelling blog post yet in my DR Chronicles series. You can read 4 other posts here, here, here , and here.
This DR trip was very personal for me. After my mom, mummy, passed away two years ago, I felt even more compelled to visit the country where she was born. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents, extended family, and siblings were all born in Haiti. As the youngest of four, I’m the only one in my immediate family who was born in the United States. I’ve always wanted to visit Haiti. I’ve asked mummy many times if we could go together, but she would say every time that she never wanted to return. She said there was nothing left. Mummy took her final trip when I was about 12 years old.
You may be wondering how we ended up in the DR when Haiti has been (and still is) the destination. Well, as it was approaching a year of mummy’s passing, I learned that my church, LifeAustin, was leading a mission trip to Haiti. I HAD to go. Caleb said he wanted to go. We had just a couple of months to gather the funds. Then, BOOM! Riots ensued in Haiti after a hike in gas prices. The U.S. Secretary of State eventually put Haiti on a Level 4 travel ban. My son and I had just gotten our malaria vaccinations. Shortly after, the trip was canceled. No trip to Haiti in 2018 although the travel ban was lifted later in the year.
Another Level 4 travel ban occurred in the beginning of 2019. At this point, the nonprofit organization, Mission of Hope, had expanded their reach to Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic, as Haitian populations in these areas continue to grow. LifeAustin decided on the DR. I was excited to go although with all of the rioting, I was beginning to see why mummy never wanted to return.
“Lost in Translation” is a fitting title for this post because most people don’t know I have 3 half-learned languages swirling around in my head. I grew up with Kreyol (I’ve also seen it spelled Creole…maybe that’s the Louisiana version-I’ll research later) and French, took 3 years of high school Spanish (I preferred French, but couldn’t take it…long story), and took 2 years of college French. Mummy told me I only spoke Kreyol until I was about 3 years old. Here lies the complication of attending a mission trip in a Spanish speaking country with Kreyol, French, and Spanish speaking Haitians.
I attempted to use some of the language I knew while in the DR, and at times, I was so tongue tied. For example, at one of the women’s meetings, most of the women spoke Spanish and a few spoke Kreyol. As more women joined, I found myself not responding in the appropriate language or not knowing what to say altogether. The language barrier was definitely frustrating. I think it’s even more frustrating to comprehend what is being said, but not be able to respond. This is me.
Despite the language barrier, what I do think was translated was respect and love.
The experience of being in the DR and not knowing the language reminded me of the judgement I’d felt growing up in Chicago, which has a relatively large Haitian population. I didn’t feel judgement from anyone in the DR (except from probably my own self-judgment), but the memories resurfaced. Was it my fault I couldn’t speak Kreyol or French? Was it mummy’s fault? How do I hold onto the Haitian customs and language, and not be too American, although I’m American. These are not pleasant memories. Growing up, I had a constant feeling of inadequacy.
I lived in multiple worlds: the American world, the Haitian world, the African-American world, the white world, the Catholic world, and the Jehovah’s Witness world. Each world had its own rules and norms. I never felt like I was fully accepted into any of them. Yet, I was expected to navigate in and out of each world seamlessly. I know now it was an impossible feat.
It wasn’t until I met a Haitian nurse in my early twenties at my doctor’s office that I started feeling less inadequate about not speaking Kreyol or French. She knew I was Haitian by my name and encouraged me not to feel bad about myself because I didn’t speak the language. She said there are many Haitians like me. When I looked in her eyes, I saw acceptance.
My absolute favorite part of the DR trip was getting to know the Haitian translators hired by Mission of Hope. They were the closest I got to speak, for an extended period of time, to Haitians. I wanted to hear their thoughts on Haiti – the people, country, politics, and poverty. I was so impressed that they each moved to the DR, learned Spanish and a new culture while maintaining their native languages. In a way, I was envious.
I’m proud of each of them and admire their resilience. I come from a resilient people. I’ve witnessed this resilience in my family. I’m resilient. I particularly bonded with Pierreson (cover photo). If I had a little brother, it would be Pierreson. Both Pierreson and Robert have a protective presence. They’re strong and confident. They have families of their own to support. They’re admirable men.
The whole experience of the DR had me vowing to make steps to learn Kreyol and French more fluently. I don’t know where to begin. When do I find the time? I welcome suggestions from my readers. I haven’t given myself a timeline, but this is definitely a goal. I’ve done a little bit of exploring, but haven’t committed yet. Writing this blog post has served as a reminder.
I’m eternally grateful mummy made a way for her children to experience a better life in the United States…not without a lot of help. I knew of her experiences of hunger and trauma in Haiti. Yet, she made a way for us. How do you translate that feeling? Even though I’m here in the United States and have never been to Haiti, my heart is with my people in Haiti. I may not speak the language, but Haiti is in my blood. I will always be a proud Haitian.
I debated about what to title this blog post because I know a provocative title attracts the readers. In recent months, I’ve been working on my goal of being more consistent with blogging. I’ve also been experimenting with my content, thereby showing my readers the other sides of me that contribute to who I am such as my love of cooking. In the process, I’ve noticed more traction to my site, of which I’m grateful.
There are many layers that contribute to me being …ME. At the end of the day, this site is an extension of me being a social worker, in an administrative leadership role, who wants to share wisdom with you. Social workers are change agents, help fight social injustices, and are advocates. I’m my biggest advocate. So as is true in life, it’s not all fun and games. This post isn’t about food or a recent adventure. I want to share some points that came up for me this week regarding leadership. I hope you pick up some light lessons as you go along this blog post journey with me.
I’ve been told (and have heard) that I’m viewed as calm, sharp, a person that can have hard conversations, I have good ideas, I’m a person of few words, I’m the voice of reason, etc. This week in particular, the “calm” characteristic came up because I’ve had to have pretty poignant discussions with some of my team members. So my mentee asked, “how can you be so calm?”
I’ve learned to harness my anxiety over the years. When I tell people, I struggle with anxiety, they don’t believe me. The first thing they point to is my calm demeanor. Yes, I’m an anxious person, and as I get older and learn more, through working in public health, about trauma and its impacts on people, I can appreciate my early life circumstances contributed to my anxiety. I have self-compassion. I’ve been working through my issues, but it’s a lifelong process. You can’t necessarily foresee triggers, or may not even be aware of specific triggers, as is the case with me. Yet, these triggers can set the stage for some much needed work to get through issues that seemingly pop up randomly.
One major way I harness anxiety is exercising 6-7 days a week. I exercise mostly for the brain boost of endorphins and not be slim. I’m a healthy, albeit fit, size. (I almost typed my size, but didn’t to keep you in suspense). I’ve been an avid exerciser for over 20 years. I absolutely love my cardio, dancing. and free weights. And core exercises…not so much. My blood pressure is a “dream” for many as I’ve been told by my doctors for years. In addition to calmness, the other fruits of my exercise are peace, contentment, confidence, happiness, and ARM MUSCLES.
In terms of calmness as it relates to my leadership, one particular class in graduate school made a significant impression on me. In this class, our instructor invited a different leader to speak on a regular schedule. One particular leader was the head of a major federal department, and during his leadership, a major catastrophe occurred that resulted in the loss of life….many lives. It was mind blowing. It was an unrelenting mess for years. What he said got him through was an expression I had never used before. He said his biggest lesson in that circumstance was to “stay above the fray”. It was a phrase he’d learned as a result of being a pilot in the military.
“Staying above the fray” means to stay above the chaos. Don’t let the chaos seep inside of you. Don’t contribute to the chaos. Otherwise, you may lose your objectivity and problem solving sensibilities. The leader should have the level head. The leader should have the calm demeanor. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotion or empathy, but you’re not taking it in. There is strength in being calm, especially for people you are leading. Calmness means not overeacting, which may contribute to someone else’s anxiety. Calmness allows for quick and nimble thinking.
My calmness doesn’t mean I’m going to blow up once I get through whatever it is either. You may have heard the expression “calm before the storm”…? That’s not me. My calmness doesn’t mean I’m not anxious on the inside. Again, I intentionally harness my anxiety, so I can operate in calmness.
The light lesson here is to protect yourself from taking on other people’s anxieties, problems, etc. You have your own stuff. For whatever situation is going on…”stay above the fray”. Invest in doing the mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical work needed that will allow you to function at optimal levels.
Be your biggest advocate and do the work.
Do you know that feeling when you have the first taste of a delectable item you’ve been craving? And every bite that follows proves to be more and more pleasurable…? Then, you finish the dish completely satisfied and might even shout, “That hit the spot!” Well, I had this very feeling tonight after having dreamt about my meal all day. This post is just a little taste (pun intended😁) of my enjoyment.
On Sunday, 9/1/2019, I embarked on a 7-day vegan cleanse of all plant-based, vegan meals/snacks along with green smoothies. I’ve been craving ALL produce lately. Sunday seemed like the best day to start. I planned my meals and have been prepping my heart out. Read about it in my previous post here.
This is my 3rd day on the cleanse and I had a bit of a headache. It’s not uncommon to have some detox symptoms initially. The headache went away after I took an Alleve.
My main goals for this cleanse are:
- Better sleep
- Better digestion
- Feel lighter
- Eliminate sugar cravings
- Clearer skin
- Partake of as many vegetables as I want
- Lose a few pounds
My main goal for this post is to inspire you to cook and eat more healthier foods at home because it does your body and wallet good. It’s easier than you think, especially when it becomes a habit.
I hope you enjoyed a little taste of my Tuesday evening. Ciao!