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This is what breast cancer looks like

enlightenedsocialworker

I’m actually starting to feel normal again…my brand of normal.   I listened to my doctors and rested for the most part.  Over the last few weeks, I gradually started doing housework, cooking, getting organized, primping myself with mani/pedi’s, and have completed a week at the office.  I’ve been exercising for a week via DVD’s from my vast exercise DVD collection.  The desire to do more things has been a sign that I’m getting better…stronger. It’s been 4 weeks post breast reconstruction and I am healing beautifully.  I have to admit that I am beyond pleased with the results…stitches and all.  My breast cancer is Stage 1 and I’ve gotten test results indicating that chemotherapy would not impact my survival rate very much.  Therefore, I will not take part in that treatment.  I’ve since met with the radiology oncologist and had a CT scan last Monday.  It’s just a matter…

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Brave in Sunny San Diego

I’ll never forget this place!

enlightenedsocialworker

San Diego…what a beautiful place! I’m here for a few days to attend a behavioral health business conference. It’s been a positive experience. I generally love conferences because I walk away inspired and energized. I needed this considering I’ve been drained.

I admit the first day, preconference, was rough: a 3 hour flight and then I couldn’t figure out where to enter the hotel due to construction. I drove around several times. There was a slight problem with my hotel reservation, but it was resolved. My ears were plugged up for the rest of the day. I was tired and irritable. My nose was congested.

I felt better when I woke up Thursday morning at 3:14 a.m. My body was thinking it was 2 hours ahead in Texas, so I woke up on time. On Friday, I woke up at 3:48 a.m. I’ve still been getting a little less than…

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It’s Finally Here!

Hi all! It’s finally here! Yippee! Fall in Texas finally came…even if for just a few days! See what I mean below. We’ll be hot again before you know it, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts. The weather unpredictability factor is pretty high this time of year. But I’m so happy the season has finally caught up with my meals because I’ve been cooking comfort foods for a while now. You can read more about my favorite comfort foods here and here.

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I was so excited to find canned organic pumpkin on sale for $1.50 at my local grocery store last week. I bought several cans so I can make my delicious pumpkin green smoothies. I’ve already enjoyed a batch of pumpkin/pineapple/spinach and pumpkin/mango/super greens. In all of my green smoothies, I add some power foods depending on my preference such as flax, chia, and/or hemp seeds. I choose a liquid depending on what I have a taste for such as brewed green tea, coconut water, coconut milk, almond milk or plain water. I wrote a post about my love of green smoothies a while back which you can read by clicking I love green SMOOTHIES.

In Chicago, I didn’t grow up eating pumpkins. Everyone I knew ate sweet potatoes, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Over the years, I’ve become more interested in the nutritional benefits of certain foods. I’ve learned that pumpkins are very nutritious and have a high amount of Vitamin A, so when they are available at a reasonable price, I purchase them for smoothies.

I don’t remember eating sweet potatoes all year around in Chicago like I do now. I enjoy a plain baked sweet potato with a pinch of salt whenever I want – no butter and no sugar. On occasion, I also enjoy a sauteed sweet potato and onion hash as a breakfast side.

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Hardy breakfast: sauteed sweet potatoes, quinoa, eggs, & bacon. LPC

For the holidays in Chicago, family and friends made sweet potato pie and sweet potato casserole, which usually included marshmallows. We didn’t eat pumpkin pie. I do believe this is cultural because my inner circle consisted of Haitians and black or African American friends.

Sweet potato pie

My Sweet potato pie-LPC

In my first few months living in Texas as a new bride, I bought a Texas holiday cookbook. If the book weren’t so worn out, I’d share a picture. I never learned how to make the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. My sister, Gina, makes a fabulous sweet potato casserole. I’ve had many a delicious sweet potato casserole. They tend to be really sweet as you can imagine. It’s almost like eating a dessert.

There is a recipe for mashed sweet potatoes in my Texas holiday cookbook that I’ve been making for 22 years. It’s so good, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE! I always get compliments when I prepare it for potlucks or for my guests during Thanksgiving. It’s so simple, it’ll blow your mind. The secret ingredient that takes it over the top is brandy. Yes, indeed – ALCOHOL. The brandy allows the sweet potatoes to SHINE. Therefore, no marshmallows needed.

Thinking about my wonderful holiday recipes is making me excited for Thanksgiving, but we have a little ways to go before we get there. In the meantime, my weekends are spent prepping delicious meals for the upcoming week. I work to please my family’s palate as well as my own. Cooking is soothing for me. It is also gratifying knowing I’m doing something beneficial for my body by preparing healthy meals.

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Love, love, LOVE my simple salads. LPC

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The best mess. LPC

I had a taste for cashew cream, which is a versatile, vegan substitute for sour cream or whipped cream. It can be used for sweet or savory. I’ve come to really love cashew cream and have gotten quite good at making it. This last batch was the fluffiest I’ve ever made. I used it in my vegan Waldorf salad with apples, roasted walnuts, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cashew cream. I omitted the celery because I’m not a fan of it in the salad.

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Cashew Cream. LPC

I bet the cashew cream will taste delicious with my sweet potato pie and a dusting of cinnamon. I may try it this Thanksgiving. What do you think?

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I usually reserve stir fry for during the week because it’s quick to put together, but last Sunday, I made a scrumptious chicken stir fry with fresh pineapples and brown rice.

Mid week, I made crock pot chili before work. Here’s a funny story. I tasted all the ingredients before I left for work, so I knew it was going to be delicious after a 10-hour simmer. My trick is to layer the flavors. I was only missing the chili seasoning packet. I left a “honey do” list for my husband, Bryan, to pick up a packet at the grocery store along with hot dog buns for their chili dogs. Before I left the office, I had asked him to put a baked potato in the oven for me. I was looking forward to my chili cheese baked potato.

Of course, the chili was delicious. I grabbed my plate and loaded up my baked potato. I noticed the chili seasoning packet on the table. I asked Bryan if he bought more than one seasoning packet. He said no. I asked if he’d put the packet in the crock pot. He said no. He said I only told him to buy the chili mix, but he didn’t know I meant for him to put it in the chili. Really???

I have to admit my chili was seasoned so well I didn’t need the chili seasoning packet, but REALLY, Bryan!

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Sometimes a vegan

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.

Homemade hummus.LPC

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.

Red beans and Rice. LPC

I purchased this book at the recommendation of my green smoothie Facebook group members. LPC

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.

Burger with cheese, sauteed onions, arugula, fermented pickles on naan bread.LPC

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.

Mushrooms getting ready for the air fryer. LPC

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!

Breakfast: sauteed sweet potatoes, quinoa, eggs, and bacon. This hardy breakfast held us for hours as we toured two museums on Saturday, 9/21/19.LPC

Blanton Museum of Art, 9/21/19. LPC

Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas..LPC

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It’s that time again

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.

D-Day

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!

The Mess

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
  • Pray

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.

Light Lessons

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.