A Mother and her Two Daughters

05 October 2011

Never Lose Spirit at UAMS

Last night was another wonderful evening celebrating more hope for cancer patients at UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute. 

My first contact with the Cancer Institute was in the mid-90s, when Dr. Suzanne Klimberg hired me to help Rep. Josetta Wilkins pass the Arkansas Breast Cancer Act.  And after almost two-years of working on that project, I thought I knew everything there was to know about breast cancer.  But in February 2010, I found out I was wrong. 

Not long after my own diagnosis, I quickly figured out that the diagnosis of cancer and the aggressive treatments that follow oftentimes wreak havoc, not only on your body, but on your psychological and emotional state as well. 
  • There’s anxiety and fear that can often transcend into depression.
  • Depletion of normal energy levels along with erratic sleep patterns.
  • Pain management issues often associated with different treatments.
  • Drug therapies with powerful side-effects, like Neutropenia, neuropathy, bone density loss, dehydration and more. 
  • Major weight change and total loss of hair, which can definitely impact the body image.  It’s difficult to feel physically appealing when you look less like a human, and more like a naked mole rat. 
  • Some patients experience a change in appetite, or can no longer tolerate their usual diet after surgery or during treatment.
  • Difficulties at work, maybe even with family.  And for parents with cancer, we worry about our children, and then worry about the worries our children have about us. 
  • Some of us realize permanent changes to our bodies post surgery, changes that will be with us forever. 
  • Mounting bills, health insurance disputes and tough financial issues.
  • Well-meaning friends who advise us about cancer-fighting foods, spices, vitamins, supplements, organic teas, and miracle elixirs found online. 
  • But certainly the greatest challenge is our fear of dying, and quite possibly having to make peace with leaving this earth before you had planned. 
  • And for survivors – there’s the constant worry about relapse and having to go through this all over again. 

 The bottom line is this:  Fighting cancer is not for the faint of heart.  It can be overwhelming, all encompassing.  We find ourselves involved with so many physical and emotional issues that are new.  And most of the time all we need is some medically sound advice; someone to answer our questions, new coping skills that will give us strength and renew our spirit of hope. 

Of all the issues mentioned, the good news is this.  There is a professional at my cancer center, UAMS, who can help with every one of them.  But for a patient at a huge medical facility, sometimes it can be difficult to find them

The initiative launched Monday night is called Never Lose Spirit – a renewed focus on patient support services intended to address the emotional, physical and lifestyle changes associated with a cancer diagnosis.  Through the sale of a beautiful glass sculpture designed by Hendrix graduate and Pine Bluff artist James Hayes, hopefully we will accomplish two very important things:
  • Re-package existing services found at UAMS to help patients better navigate themselves through the many services offered.  UAMS is more than a multi-disciplined health care center, and all patients have the luxury of a plethora of medical and psychological resources.  We just need to make sure that patients know how to find them. 
  • Offer even more patient services that deal with the whole being.  I envision this Institute soon employing patient navigators and offering classes on nutrition, meditation, relaxation, journaling and more – all of them complementary therapies that can help us maintain emotional health during the fight. 

Here’s a link to the initiative, including the ability to purchase one of these lovely glass sculptures to support our efforts. 

The UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute is a powerful force when it comes to fighting cancer.  And with many thanks to the financial underwriting of this initiative by Judy Tenanbaum, Vince Insalaco, UAMS and the Rockefeller Cancer Institute will soon become known not only as the very best in terms of cancer treatment, it will become known as the very best in patient support services, as well. 

With many thanks to UAMS and the Rockefeller Cancer Institute leadership team.  Here’s to their vision for treating the whole patient!  

01 October 2011

A Survivor’s Update

Wow, it’s been such a long time since I posted on this blog. Many friends and family have mentioned it to me, some have even been a little scolding.  However, all has been well, and I’ve become re-engaged into my more normal world, meaning I just haven’t made the time for this blog.  But today I have a few things to share. 

First, about my health – it’s good!  I continue to battle side effects from the medicines I take, but who’s complaining.  I don’t have cancer.  Tolerating fatigue, pesky leg bones, some vision problems and dry mouth is nothing compared to cancer treatment.  And with a few adjustments to my lifestyle, I’m tolerating all of them just fine. 

Second, my girls are good.  In fact, I am proud to share with you my oldest daughter Allyson’s recent accomplishment in the world of breast cancer advocacy.  Last year after Little Rock’s Runway for a Cause, Allyson said to me, “I can do that in St. Louis.”  And she did, and has been working on this event for over a year.  Already a volunteer with the Siteman Cancer Center in STL, Allyson and her sorority sister Hannah Vargon presented the idea “Celebrate Style”, a high-energy fashion show to benefit their Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program. This inaugural event, held on Friday, September 16, welcomed over 200 guests in a night of connecting fashion and philanthropy in the ultimate celebration of survivorship. Here’s a photo of three generations of “Sells women” celebrating style and cancer survivorship.  But more than anything, we were absolutely celebrating Allyson and her penchant for community service.  Cousin Paula even flew in from San Antonio and attended with her daughter Cousin Casey who now lives in St. Louis.  It was a very successful event, a wonderful weekend for sure. 

Speaking of my cousin Paula Callaway, when we returned, I received an email from her about a plea from Women’s Health magazine asking breast cancer survivors to share their story.  Paula encouraged me to send mine, so I did.  And guess what – my story was selected and now I’m in it.  Who would have ever thought I would be in a magazine about health.  But I love this photo with my girls, and honored to be in this breast cancer feature with so many other strong women who are fighting the good fight.  Thanks Paula!  Here’s the online link.  Also take a minute to read the other stories too.  They are inspiring. 

And finally, this coming Monday marks the launch of a new program at my beloved UAMS, at the Rockefeller Cancer Institute.  Working with the leadership team and other volunteers at the Institute, we will bring enhanced patient support services that will address the emotional, physical and lifestyle changes associated with a cancer diagnosis. Classes for patients and caregivers, in addition to consultations with nutritionists, pharmacists and social workers are part of the program in development.  Fighting cancer is multi-faceted, so it’s very exciting to work with a team of cancer specialists so dedicated to the whole person.  More about this come Monday or Tuesday. 
I’ll close with this quote from one of my favorite women in history – Eleanor Roosevelt.  Indeed what a strong woman she was, a full of character and love for mankind. 

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences. 
I’m living and loving and tasting life these days.  While my body may be slower and my days shorter (due to more sleep), I’m no longer afraid.  Instead, I feel blessed that I have learned much and loved more as a result of this cancer experience. 

What was it that Nietzsche said?  What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?  Well, I am stronger, and more grateful.  Thank you friends!  Love you all . . .

12 June 2011

Blogging The Journey, or just Blogging About Life

Another friend has been given a breast cancer diagnosis.  She spent the better part of last week at UAMS, in conference with her new medical team.  She’ll spend the next several months battling this nasty cancer – a disease that has taken the life of her mother and her sister.  My friend is definitely taking this unfortunate battle very seriously. 

A few nights ago we were visiting about what lies ahead in terms of treatment, side effects, timelines, logistics of care, and more.  My first piece of advice to her – get your home and life as organized as possible as the next several months you will only have the energy to battle cancer.  Home maintenance, yard care and deep cleaning will definitely be put on hold for a while. 

We then moved to the topic of keeping family and friends informed.  She’s trying to make that decision now about how to do that. 

There are several options including electronic mail to a designated list.  After my diagnosis, email updates seemed like the most sensible way to go – that is until I began to think about who to include on the distribution list.  If email becomes the communications tool, there is the very real potential of leaving people off who really care, and including others who would rather not be bombarded with regular email updates.  I quickly moved from email to social media. 

There are many advantages to using a social media network:
§  It eases the burden of the patient, eliminating time-consuming phone calls and emotional conversations.  With social media, one post can communicate with an unlimited number of family and friends. 
§  Loved ones far away feel much more connected during the serious illness of someone they love. 
§  It allows those who want to keep up with your health updates to voluntarily go to your online site.  There is nothing intrusive about your blog whatsoever.  Engagement is strictly voluntary. 
§  Blogs and other social networks allow friends to leave a message.  New research shows that verbal support from loved ones, connecting with family and friends is extremely important for those dealing with a serious illness.  It lifts the spirits, relieves stress, and creates a compassionate community that brings hope and a sense of healing.  

Creating my own blog was the option I chose.  Being in the public relations field, it seemed only natural that I should use the same communications tool I recommend to many of my clients.  There are also other online alternatives to creating a blog that make it very easy – like CaringBridge and CarePages.  Both of them are free website blogs that connect friends and family during a health challenge. 

When battling cancer or any other compromising disease, the primary consideration is what is most comfortable for you.

While there are those who will choose to keep their health battle private, I for one am convinced that there is power in the connection with and love from friends.  Blogging also helped me find my voice, and allowed me to express my thoughts about the struggles cancer brings to all those affected.  It served as a soul cleansing for me. 

But remember – blogging is not just for the sick.  There are several blogs I follow from very healthy family and friends who’ve created a blog for different reasons.  Family friend Lindsey keeps a blog about her current adventure - studying abroad in London.  My daughter Allyson keeps a blog about transitioning from college into the world of work and adult life.  Heather’s blog, Sunshine Dreams to You, is about discovering a life of dreams fulfilled with our authentic selves.  And a friend from Hendrix, Mr. Bobo, varies his posts from nostalgia to humor, my favorite being his suggestion of friends gathering to help write one another’s obituaries, with martinis included.

Blogging is becoming more and more popular each day.  It’s fun, a creative outlet, an avenue to be heard, and a way to stay connected, or sometimes create new connections.  Why not give it a try.  There are many reasons good reasons to join the blogosphere. 


Seek magazine is a publication of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.  And during this last year, I’ve found the stories and articles published to be not only informative but very inspiring too.  This month Seek has a story about patients who share their cancer journeys online – Coping One Keystroke at a Time.  WARNING:  Yes, the story mentions my blog, but there is also the story about another blogger, a husband from Atlanta, who found comfort during his wife’s struggle with multiple myeloma.  


06 June 2011

Treatment Side Effects • More Treatment • More Side Effects

The cancer is cured, but the physical and mental burden of treatment side effects continues.  And that’s the reality for a cancer survivor. 

The long-term side effects of chemotherapy can be many, including, heart & kidney failure, infertility, liver problems, lung disease and cataracts.  For me, chemo’s side effects have mainly been continued fatigue, chemo brain and osteoporosis.  Dealing with fatigue is simple – more sleep.  Adjusting to chemo brain – well, it’s the hope that it will disappear in time.  But the loss of bone density has been uncomfortable, sometimes even painful.  And in my case, I’ve also broken a few bones in my feet.  It’s not been pleasant. Bone density loss is not only caused by the chemotherapy but also by the hormone inhibitor that I take daily – Arimidex.

But today I’ll begin a new treatment that should improve my bone density levels, where my legs, hips and lower back have experienced porous and brittle bones.  I call them my paper bones, very fragile and not so strong.  Hopefully this will be another new wonder drug in my life.. 

Reclast is an intravenous infusion that I’ll take annually – yes, once a year.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could take our drugs only once a year?  The Reclast will hopefully strengthen by bones and protect them from broken bones and fracture for an entire year – and then I’ll receive another infusion of Reclast next year, and the year after, and the year after.  It’s that simple. 

And there’s good news about Reclast. In fact, the news is so good that I’m almost happy that the various drugs have given me arthritis.  For women with aggressive breast cancers who’ve received aggressive chemotherapy treatment, who have then developed osteoarthritis and received Reclast as a treatment drug, researchers are recording a reduction in cancer recurrence.

Did you say a reduction in recurrence?  I’m all over that!  Another notch in my belt to hopefully never see this cancer again!

Researchers are not certain as to what it is about Reclast that is attributing to a reduction in cancer recurrence.  That’s why I’ll also join a research study at UAMS to hopefully discover the connection.

Oh yes – there are side effects of Reclast.  Short-term side effects at the time of infusion include flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle and joint pain, and headaches.  Long-term side effects can include atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) and increased risk of stroke. 

Oh well, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.  I’m ready to get these bones back to where they were, strong again, no pain.  And when the bones are repaired, I have a beautiful new bike waiting for me in the garage, a gift from dear friends, and I’m anxious to get these legs back to work, get back on my bike and ride! 

Here’s to Reclast!  

04 June 2011

BReast Friends Forever

I’ve long had my best friends.  But during the past eighteen months, I have built a cadre of “BReast Friends.”  It’s my new sisterhood, women like me who are battling, or have fought the battle of breast cancer.  This morning I have made added a new sister, a new BReast friend into my life.  Her name is Denise.

Denise found me on the Internet, through this blog, researching her doctors at UAMS.  We have the same medical team – Klimberg, Makhoul and Yuen – which is excellent news for her.  And because Arkansas is one small town, we figured out through social media that we have several friends in common.  That’s all we needed to know to legitimize a visit by phone this morning. 

Like me, Denise is a mother and a professional woman, as well.  And like many of us, and another 560 women each day in the US, she has been given the devastating news of breast cancer - Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  Some will say IDC is the most common type of breast cancers.  But for those of us who are survivors, we know there is nothing “common” about any kind of cancer.  It’s all terrible, none of it good!  And that’s what Denise and I talked about this morning by phone.  This week she will put on her boxing gloves and begin her wrestle with the alligator, the first of eight chemotherapy treatments.

We talked about the miracle potion called chemo, losing your hair, wearing hats versus wigs, learning to receive rather than to give, the tough road for our children, and the all-powerful love of family, friends and colleagues.  We visited about food, not tempting the nausea Gods, eating stomach friendly protein foods like chicken and eggs.  And then we talked about UAMS and our medical team, and I assured her that she was in the best hands. 

My new BReast friend feels like all of us at the time of our diagnosis – the Jekyll &Hyde dilemma, I call it.  One minute you feel incredibly empowered, filled with all the courage needed to kill the beast.  And then, without any warning, a wave of fear consumes your soul, the vulnerability of a daunting disease that has invaded your body and turned your life upside down.  But in the end, Denise will be fine, as she has found spiritual peace in the words of Joshua 1, verse 9:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Denise and I have not yet met, but we’re already fast friends, BReast friends, women connected through the unfortunate journey of cancer.  But she will join our sisterhood and will be blessed by the love of so many good feminine souls – friends like Ellen, Kathy, Frances, Paula, Kelley, Meredith, Liz, Robin, Carol Ann, Mary, Mare, Barbara, Angie, Coco, Penny and so many more.  Some of these strong women I have known for almost a lifetime; others I only met this year.  Most have had breast cancer; some have experienced other types of cancer.  But they have all blessed me with their strength and perseverance, courageous spirit and inspiration.  And yes, they have all survived this nasty cancer. 

Welcome Denise, to the BReast Friends Club.  It’s not a club any of us wanted to join, but we’re here for you.  Rest assured, your BReast friends will love you, care for you, serve as prayer warriors and be by your side when you need us.  We’ve faced this journey before and have all landed on the other side.  Yippee!  We’ll stand by your side as you walk down this tough road called cancer, and we’ll be there to celebrate when you cross the finish line too. 

Prayers for you Denise – for hope, faith, courage and healing. 

02 June 2011

Me, and millions of others, pondering Heaven

One of the things I have always liked about travel is the ability to be without the distractions of home and read a good book.  And that’s what I’ve done on this trip to DC.  I’ve actually read two books and now reading my third. 

The first book I read my mother recommended, even though she’s not yet read it. She shared with me a book given to her on Mother’s Day by my nieces, Emily and Olivia.  As Mom began to share the story with me, I was immediately captured.  For you see, like so many who believe in God, I have been forever curious about what awaits us at death.

If you haven’t read Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, I highly recommend it.  It’s short, an easy read, and to the point – and the amazing story of a 4-year-old buy who entered into heaven when he went into unconsciousness during emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.  Months later, the young boy, Colton Burpo, begins to share bits and pieces of his brief visit to heaven, thus the book seven years later written by his father, author Todd Burpo. 

I recall the time many years ago when Anna-Lee was about the same age, a little younger.  It was a Saturday afternoon and the girls and I were napping.  Long story short, Anna-Lee woke me up to tell me there was someone in our house, downstairs in the kitchen.  Once the police arrived and confirmed that we’d had an intruder, they also confirmed children at this age can’t make this stuff up. 

And while children at this age have little capacity to relay much beyond their own experience, I began my reading with a critical eye for an embellished story by a pastor-father looking for a book opportunity.  I never found it.  Instead, I found Colton Burpo's childlike descriptions to be a refreshing depiction of what awaits each of us whose destiny is Heaven.  Colton confirms that Jesus really does love children, and he encounters his great-grandfather “Pop” who he has no knowledge of since the man died in a car accident thirty years ago, when the author was only six-years-old.  He also meets a young child who he says was a sister he didn’t know about – Colton not knowing that his mother had miscarried a child before Colton was born.  There is much more. 

Colton’s story helped me revisit a nagging question I’ve had for many years: If we know we’re going to die, why are we so afraid of it? 

Let me be clear.  I’m not saying we should give in to death, throw in the towel at times of life threatening accidents or disease.  Oh no, not at all.  Life is good, and our obsessive nature to prolong life with ordinary means is what brings about recovery, a patient’s turn for the better, survival and a renewed sense of living.  But if what Colton experienced is for real, and because Christ invited us to come to Him and receive the promise of heaven, then what is there to be afraid of? 

If the promise of heaven is not something you believe in, this book is probably not for you.  However, if you mourn the loss of someone special in your life, if you wonder if you will be reunited with those who have passed on, if you are looking to find comfort in the finality of death, this Colton Burpo’s story IS for you.   Like me, I hope you find a sense of calm and reassurance from this inspiring story. 

Another thing you might want to know – this book, Colton’s story, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the past 27 weeks.  Click here for a great NY Times review.  No doubt, I’m not the only one curious about heaven.  

31 May 2011

My Dr. McCool

Last night the local television station obviously was in need of a health story to use for the holiday weekend.  And while I’m out of town and missed it, several friends sent me a message that KTHV used a story from last year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month package, an interview with my Dr. McCool – or as they spell it at UAMS, Dr. Issam Makhoul. 

Here's the link.  It’s actually an interview with both of us.  And while the story gave too much credit to the spirit of the patient, I will always know that it was Dr. Makhoul who cured my cancer.  As I shared with friends this weekend, if I had chosen to receive cancer treatment from a dentist in Booger Hollow, I don’t think my spirit of resolve would have taken my cure very far.  While the spirit of the patient is important, it’s the brilliance of the doctor and the medical team and the clinic that delivers the cure. 

Watching the clip via the Internet reminded me about so many things about this wonderful physician of extraordinary ability, and I must share, wondering if you agree.

Today, there’s a real buzz about being an active or informed “health care consumer” with some going so far as to mention “consumer-directed health care.”  While I agree that being an informed patient is a wise move, I own a B.A. degree in social science!  It would not be in my best interest to try to be the director of my cancer care.  What a disaster – which is why the credentials of the physician and the doctor-patient relationship are the crucibles of quality health care.  

In the eyes of UAMS and Dr. Makhoul, I have always been a patient in need of medical care – not a health care consumer.  And I never believed their patient care and treatment services to be a commodity.  Far from it! 

I’ve always been amazed at how much time Dr. Makhoul spends with each patient, never rushed, always explaining in detail the science of the disease, the pros and cons of treatment options, side-effects and obstacles.  I could read all day about Inflammatory Breast Cancer and never be a step ahead of this man. It would not be long before I began to ask him one question:  “If I was your sister, what would you recommend for me?”  He would then share his suggested course of treatment, and that was ALWAYS the choice I made. 

(A note of humor:  For those of you who know Tim, you won’t be surprised that one day we were leaving UAMS and he said to me, “I sure hope Dr. Makhoul likes his sister.”  It would be Tim’s humor that surely got me through some tough times.) 

Dr. Makhoul and Nurse B and Nurse Michelle – they will forever be my medical caretakers (along with Drs. Klimberg and Yuen) and I will always be their patient.  And that’s the kind of relationship I want with my health care provider.

Thank you Dr. Makhoul.  It’s now May 30, 2011.  It’s been 468 days since I’ve been in your care.  One year, three months and 14 days later, I still feel an incredible sense of faith in your abilities, and UAMS too.  And for that, I am very grateful.  

27 May 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Other than a few car trips to Missouri to see Allyson graduate or visit her in St. Louis, the last real vacation I had was in June 2009, a wonderful trip we took to Springfield, IL, and then several days in Chicago.  Before that, Tim and I took my parents and their friends John & Nancy Anthony on a Blue & BBQ road trip through the Mississippi Delta.  But it’s been over two years since I’ve been on a plane trip.

Today I feel like a kid in a candy store, as in a few hours I’m boarding a flight to Washington, DC – my very favorite place in America!  I’ll attend a conference on America’s competitive workforce Wednesday through Friday.  But between now and then, I’m looking forward to several days of rest and great fun with longtime friends from college. 

Used to for me, living meant traveling.  I’m kind of like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life when he said that the three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.  But travel hasn’t been in the cards for me in quite a while.  So I’m very excited about getting on a plane and taking off for a new adventure. 

Traveling in my new normal world is quite different.  Anytime I get on a plane, it now requires wearing a lymphedema sleeve on my right arm.  The sleeve reminds me of a wet suit for the arm – a very tight compression garment to prevent the onset of lymphedema. 

Most people don’t know what lymphedema is until they have it.  For me, it's something I'll hope to prevent the rest of my life.  Lymphedema is caused when there is trauma caused to the lymphatic system – in my case, cancer in the lymphatic system that required surgically removing 17 lymph nodes.  Lymphedema, or lymphatic obstruction occurs when there is blockage of the lymph vessels that drain fluid from tissues throughout the body and allow immune cells to travel where they are needed.  Cancer patients who develop lymphedema do so usually in the first four years after surgery.  It's another post-cancer complication I certainly hope to avoid. 

The physical discomfort is usually fluid retention and swelling in the arm, and sometimes the swelling is constant and horrific.  But the really bad news is this . . . Once you have lymphedema, it’s very difficult to get rid of it.  So, the secret here is PREVENTION. 

Today I have my house sitter well supplied, the dogs fed, bags packed, my ticket in hand, and I’m wearing my very important lymphedema arm sleeve that will be my new companion every time I board a plane. I sure hope this thing works. 

After landing, I’m ripping this sleeve off to enjoy several days in my safe place –  with very best friends who allow you to share your most personal self and not feel afraid.  Our plans are simple – good food and wine, updates on our lives, and mentally traveling on our time machine to recall special days gone by. 

As Thoreau said, true friends cherish one another’s hopes and are kind to one another’s dreams. 

I’m very excited about boarding this plane, but even happier about spending the days ahead with cherished friends.  

I hope you enjoy a very memorable holiday weekend too.  

14 May 2011

Cooking Kale – A Super Food (Can I post twice in one day?)

Keeping with my new venture for eating most things local, this morning was another day at the Farmers Market.  I attended two – the new Hillcrest Farmers Market and the Certified Arkansas Farmer’s Market.  Both of these markets only include local farmers with local meats and produce - fresh, clean food from small family farms.  Last spring and summer I was only able to get to the market one time.  But this year is different.  Saturday mornings have become my time to shop each market for the foods I want for the meals I’ll prepare throughout the week. 

Today I bought some lovely chickens from Cove Creek Acres, a local poultry and pork farm located in Clarksville, AR.  And the pork chops we cooked this week from Farm Girl Natural Foods – well, it was simply the best pork I’ve ever tasted.  So, I bought more chops, a pork loin and some sausage.  I also bought sweet onions, kale, mushrooms, more English peas, fresh lettuce, green onions and Arkansas strawberries.  In the meantime, I’ll have to buy out-of-state but organically grown tomatoes at the market.  I sure will be happy when the Arkansas tomatoes are ready for harvest.  There’s nothing much better than Arkansas strawberries and tomatoes. 
Yesterday a good friend asked me about my new love for that leafy green vegetable known as kale.  I really didn’t know anything abut kale, never ate it until cancer.  My friend Leslie brought a big bunch of it to my house and showed me a very simple method for roasting it in the oven.  Since then, I’ve discovered it’s an uber-nutritious vegetable full of vitamins A, C and K, and the all important anti-oxidant vitamin E.  Kale is also a great source of manganese, calcium and iron, has no cholesterol, and offers a nice serving of fiber and protein.

I think the reason I never cooked with kale is that it’s much tougher than other leafy greens compared to turnip greens and spinach.  So you’ll seldom find anyone using it to make a salad or cream sauce, even though I’ve since found several recipes for kale used with soups and stir fries. 

But the recipe below is about as easy and good as you can get and only requires three ingredients.  I’m sharing it with you in hopes that you’ll also discover this fabulous vegetable continues to be listed as one of the Super Foods.  Super Foods are only good if you know what to do with them. 

Roasted Kale with Sea Salt
4 cups firmly-packed kale
1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (I sometimes use Sesame Oil for a different flavor)
1 tsp. good-quality sea salt (I’ve been using lemon sea salt)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and trim the kale: Peel off the tough stems by folding the kale leaves in half like a book and stripping the stems off. Toss with extra virgin olive oil. Roast for five minutes. Turn kale over. Roast another 7 to 10 minutes until kale turns brown and becomes paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.

I’ve seen a few other recipes that add some minced garlic, ground black pepper and toasted sesame seeds.  Everybody’s palate is different so do with it what you like.  But today I bought two sacks of kale and plan on enjoying its wonderful flavor throughout the week. 

If you want to buy local, the Farmers Market is where you want to be.  And if you can’t get there on Saturdays, then try shopping at local food markets such as Argenta Market in North Little Rock, or Terry’s or Hestand’s in the Heights.  All of these locally owned markets do a terrific job of buying from local farmers too.  

Eat healthy, and eat local when you can.  It's really not difficult, just requires changing a few old shopping habits.  

Single Parenting with Cancer takes a Legal Hit

A recently decided custody battle has been getting a lot of attention recently, especially inside the cancer community.

On the losing side: A North Carolina mother with stage 4 breast cancer whose two children, ages 5 and 11, were taken away because of her terminal illness. On the winning side, the healthy father who divorced his wife, Alaina Giordano, after her diagnosis. Several months ago he decided to move to Chicago, and now he wants his kids.  Essentially, the judge said, a healthy dad is better than a sick mom.  

Make no mistake – this divorce was replete with accusations of physical and mental abuse, extra-marital affairs and mental illness.  But it was the father who chose to leave North Carolina to pursue a job in Chicago, and it was the judge cited breast cancer as the deciding factor. Custody agreements, in theory, are based on what's in a child's best interest, but moving the children away from their friends, their schools and their mother at a time when her life expectancy is uncertain is incomprehensible. 

In her ruling, Judge Nancy Gordon cited forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Brantley: "The more contact [the children] have with the non-ill parent, the better they do. Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent."

This issue isn’t over and will long be debated in the court of law and the court of public opinion.  In the meantime, Alaina has started a blog and well-meaning friends have begun a Facebook page: Alaina Giordano Should Not Lose Her Kids Because She Has Breast Cancer. 

On her blog, Alaina writes this:

I am Alaina. I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2007. I am not cancer.
I am a mother of two remarkable children. I am not cancer.
I am a daughter to loving parents. I am not cancer.
I am a sister to two amazing women. I am not cancer.
I am a friend to so many wonderful people. I am not cancer.

I plan on staying on top of this issue.  It’s difficult to imagine that this kind of child custody ruling could become the norm, that we could begin to see laws passed that suggest effective parenting is contingent on being in optimal health. 

Medical update:

Last week I went to see my oncologist Dr. Makhoul for some blood work and my regular checkup – and the news is good. 

First, my vitamin D levels are finally normal and I’ll soon begin the Reclast treatment to increase my bone density levels.  This is good news, especially since I had an accident last Friday with my toe and a big piece of furniture in the den.  I went online to find out what can be done with a broken toe, and most articles said there’s not much you can do.  So, I did nothing, until yesterday.  With pain and swelling moving into my foot, I got worried – this wasn’t getting any better, only worse.  Sure enough, I went to see my neighbor/friend and local podiatrist Dr. Richard Bronfman, and I have a nice clean break across my toe.  Eeeeks – no wonder it hurts.  I’m now wearing a beautiful black boot, my toe wrapped up in gauze and tape.  I need to get my bones back to where they need to be.  They are as frail as paper right now. 

Second, my tumor markers came back negative.  I have long heard the phrase “tumor marker” but had no idea what that meant until last week. This will be a test I’ll have every three months for who knows how long.  Tumor markers are substances that can be found in the body (in my case, the blood) when cancer is present. Tumor markers can be used to identify hormones, proteins or parts of proteins to determine if cancer is present.  My tumor markers should always remain below a 31.  Last week my tumor marker test – 16!  What a fabulous kind of test to see if cancer is trying to stir itself back up in your body.  While there still is no cure, there are some remarkable tests and procedures that continue to amaze me. 

I continue to move along and feel better all the time.  Yes, my resistance is down and I seem to pick up all kinds of infections that used to not be an issue.  Ear infections, a fever virus – you name it, I can pick it up right now.  But I’m not going to let this get me down.  Life’s been fun – an evening cruise down the Arkansas River, a French dinner party where Tim and I were the “celebrity chefs,” floating the Buffalo National River, a day at the horse races, a reunion celebration with Hendrix College friends, a decadent dinner and beautiful evening at P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, and now regular visits to the Farmer’s Market to keep my 80% plant diet on track.  Life is good and I’m enjoying every day. 

I hope you’re enjoying the spring weather as much as me.  
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