A Mother and her Two Daughters

26 April 2011

Cooking Cancer

As one oncologist said to me, “Once cancer has invaded your body, the potential for recurrence is always present.  Stay emotionally calm and healthy.  Remember, stress cooks cancer.” 

And he was right. 

For those of us in the cancer survivors club, we are all too familiar with regular references to relieving stress during and after treatment.  And while a little bit of stress can do us good from time to time, chronic stress can define our overall health and is a widely known to adversely effect the immune system, increasing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression. 

For a number of years, almost 30 to be exact, researchers have also tried to determine the impact of stress on cancer.  Now comes research released only a few short weeks ago from M.D. Anderson Cancer Institute. 

M.D. Anderson has been examining how stress might promote cancer in order to better understand the role of stress in cancer patients to reduce its negative influence.  And here is what they've discovered:
  • Stress is a normal function of life.  In fact, occasional stress can actually be good in terms of improving cognitive function and the body's immune system.  However, chronic stress can and does negatively impact every system in the body. 
  • While stress has not been proven to initiate cancer, there is ample evidence suggesting that chronic stress can promote tumor growth, progression, and metastasis.

You can read more about the details of the study by clicking here.

Future research by M.D. Anderson will delve into a stress ranking system; in other words, how to rank what are called “stressors” based on how individuals respond psychologically, physiologically and behaviorally to various challenging events.  And that’s what makes it complicated.  We all have our different stress thresholds, similar to our pain thresholds.  So each of us has a different “breaking point” in terms of stress.  What may feel like stress for one woman could likely feel energizing for another. 

Hans Selye (the father of stress studies) once wrote of the rabbit and the turtle. Some of us approach life more like a rabbit, running from place to place, nibbling when we can, shooting off in all directions. Others approach life more like a turtle, proceeding methodically from point to point with careful attention to detail, taking things one at a time. Both extremes are healthy. What is unhealthy, or stressful, is trying to be different from our nature. For example, the rabbit says to his or her turtle spouse, "You never want to go anywhere or do anything." The turtle, feeling guilty, decides to become a rabbit for the night and go barhopping with the rabbit spouse. That, Selye says, is what causes stress- being untrue to our nature.

I admit - I’m the rabbit.  Competition, multi-tasking and risk-taking have long been a big part of my normal day.  The constant life of a turtle would be very difficult for me.  Take for example my job – public relations.  Just last week my daughter sent me a CNN article that names PR as the second highest stressful job, a career she is now pursuing.  Really?  For me, the world of public relations feels like healthy competition, the challenge of deadlines, and the ability to conquer tough assignments.  I just really like what I do, but I'm also wondering if maybe I’ve just become accustomed to a stressful lifestyle.  Yes, I’m a risk taker, never been accused of avoiding harm if the stakes are high.  But is this good for me long-term? 

With all of that said, I’m working to eliminate stress from my life, and it seems to be agreeing with me.  
  • I’m finding Saturdays and Sundays to sometimes be good “turtle days” – never leaving the house, piddling with projects here at home, enjoying the peace and quiet and solitude.  
  • I'm getting better at saying "no" - not to my children or my clients, but to all the worthy community projects that call my heard.  If not "no", at least I'm getting better at explaining my limitations
  • I'm settling in to the best use of me and my talents at CJRW.  I've long enjoyed strategic planning with clients, and PR writing too.  So, I'm spending more time with these client projects, and it's suiting my lifestyle very well.    
  • And just today, I’ve decided to join a course long overdue – yoga.  Years ago my meditation training introduced the practice of yoga.  But not wanting to take on too much at one time, I just stayed focused on the meditation.  But more and more research continues to show that yoga provides both physical and psychological support for breast cancer survivors, and other cancers too – creating a calmer existence, relieving anxiety, reducing depression and strengthening the body from the side effects of treatment.  So, I’ve signed up and looking forward to a 6 week introductory class at Barefoot Studio.  And what a lovely place – they give breast cancer survivors a discount.  Wahoo!

If you have OR have had cancer, what’s your plan?  Don’t waste a minute - put STRESS RELIEF on the top of your pile.  Do it today!   Stop cooking cancer.  

17 April 2011

Cancer Repellent: Good Meds, Healthy Foods & Exercising with Friends

Some random thoughts on a beautiful Sunday afternoon . . .

My physical condition remains the same – feeling better each day with a slow but steady increase in energy.  I’m not where I used to be, and probably never will, especially due to the side effects of daily medications required for the next several years – specifically bone and joint pain, weakness and fatigue.  But I’m sold on Arimidex, (versus Tamoxifen) and here’s why: 

Studies show that 5 years of Arimidex is better than 5 years of tamoxifen for two main reasons:  (1) Arimidex increases the time before the cancer comes back for those who experience recurrence, and (2) Arimidex reduces the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. 

For me, dealing with bone and joint pain is a far better alternative than dealing with cancer.  I think anybody would agree with that. 

This week I will complete my regime of 100,000 units of Vitamin D each week.  Hopefully I will soon begin Reclast, an infusion treatment for women like me who are experiencing thin, weak bones due to the absence of estrogen and chemo-induced osteoporosis.   Oncologists are finding great success with Reclast as cancer survivors on this treatment, for some unknown reason, are experiencing a reduced rate of recurrence.  Woohoo!  Another notch in my insurance belt – and I’ll take it!  And I’ll also participate in one of many cancer studies conducted at the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Institute. 


I’m looking forward to the leg pain hopefully going away soon as exercise has been somewhat tough for me.  Heck, just walking across the parking lot or down stairs can be a real stretch most days. 

Some very dear friends gave me a bike last week, a very good and cool bike, too.  These folks are huge bike enthusiasts, and I mean the serious kind, complete with bike racks, the proper clothes and hours long bike trips.  As my friend upgraded to a better bike, I got her leftover.  But let me put this in perspective.  It’s like if your friend bought a Mercedes Benz G-Class SUV and gave you her Lexus sedan.  It’s real nice!  I’ve ridden it a few times in the neighborhood and look forward to more bike excursions after my legs get stronger.  What great friends.  And speaking of good friends, I did enjoy a walk over the Big Dam Bridge this week with a new cancer survivor friend, a very special lady indeed.  We’re both young widowed breast cancer survivors – what a combination.  But we’re strong as steel survivors on both fronts. 


About food – I’ve gotten myself on a new food regime, and it seems to suit me well.  I’ve lot 8 pounds, very slowly, but it will take time to shed this unwanted weight from a year of steroids and a sedentary lifestyle.  No diets for me!  When you love to cook and eat, diets are like living in prison.  But I have made several switches to my food habits 

§  More of a plant-based diet, hoping to ultimately get to an 80-20 combination . . . . 80% plant-based food, 20% meat.  Some of the best anti-cancer vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale (try a little roasted kale in the oven – delicious!), peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, red onions, squash, carrots, cauliflower and green beans. 
§  Less red meat, more seafood.  And I’m only buying certified humane meats, which has limited my meat suppliers but it’s worth the trip.  Healthier meat, better tasting and I know that these animals, from birth through slaughter, have been raised humanely. 
§  Lots more fruits.  I’m especially grown fond of having a sweet piece of fruit each night before bed. Some of the best anti-cancer fruits include blueberries, strawberries, oranges, peaches, apricots, grapes and tangerines. 
§  I’ve added a consistent increase of fiber to my diet with a helping of granola (stay away from the sweet kind) that tops a bowl of yogurt every morning.  Yogurt is a new power food added to my diet at least once each day.  It’s one of the very best sources of calcium, and has proven to slow tumor growth by 75% when tested with animals. 
§  Green tea has been added to my diet.  I have to say it’s still taking me some time to get used to the “green thing” – especially switching from the standard Chai Tea Lattes to Green Tea Chai Latte.  It’s very green!
§  In addition, I’ve added a daily intake of fish oil. Click here for an new development about fish oil possibly helping breast cancer survivors successfully battle the loss of muscle tissue.  As clinical trials will begin soon, I'm all about going ahead with a fish oil supplement as it's rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and can be attributed to aiding in the treatment of many diseases - heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, low immunity, arthritis, diabetes and more.  Here's a good web site for a high quality fish oil product that is without contaminants.  
§  I'm trying hard to add lots of 64 ounces water to my diet, but it's been a struggle.  I so enjoy coffee all morning, iced tea in the afternoon, lemonade and pomegranate juice in the evening and a hot chamomile tea before bed.  I'm a creature of habit and it's difficult to change.  But I'll keep trying.  

 Does all this healthy food living mean I can no longer be a gourmet food gal?  No way!  I’m simply learning to prepare foods differently, using alternative ingredients, to make the final dish a bit healthier. Though occasional, there will still be the traditional favorites still prepared for my family and friends.  No kitchen of mine will go without the lovely smell of braised short ribs on top of a dollop of rustic mashed potatoes, shrimp & cheese grits, and Spanish Paella.  But tonight we’ll be cooking braised chicken with creamy leeks. 

I’m almost certain I’ve never purchased magazines like Weight Watcher’s or Cooking Light.  For a cook and gourmand like me, the recipes just don’t cut it in the tasty category.  But I have found a new magazine that I’m quite fond of . . . Eating Well.  The subtitle says it all:  Where Good Taste Meets Good Health.  I highly recommend it for all you cooks who want great flavor along with good nutrition. 

We are enjoying beautiful days in Arkansas.  Friday at Oaklawn was a little piece of heaven – corned beef sandwiches and all.  And the Farmer’s markets will soon open over the next several weeks.  That means lots of opportunities for fresh produce and cooking on the grill.  I love spring with all the signs of new beginnings, and this one seems to be even more special.   Both of my girls will be home this weekend for Easter so I’m anxiously getting ready for their arrival, and anticipating some good “girl time” together. 

I hope the spring season is off to a good start for you, as well. 

03 April 2011

Embracing Gratitude


I’ve begun a new habit – a good habit this time. 

While doing some spring-cleaning, I found several journals purchased that have never had the stroke of a pen touch the paper.  A stack of three beautiful journals sat on top of the bookcase for several days until the idea came to me as clear as day. 

While this blog has been my journey of cancer and my personal experience of getting to the other side, I have now begun to write each night before sleep my list of what I’m grateful for.  Naturally the list is ever changing based on the events of the day.  But it’s a habit that I hope to keep doing for all the days ahead, to maintain my attitude of gratitude for all of my blessings.  As one friend shared with me recently, feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. 

So, while I will continue to periodically write in this blog, I wanted to pass along this new habit, maybe something you might consider doing yourself.  Honestly, it's an uplifting way to end the day, and the entry need not be laborious.  

After this long year of fighting cancer, and now fighting the after-effects of cancer treatment, I’ve come to believe that attitude is actually a form of medicine too.  When trying to define it, I think attitude is simply your approach to life, your general demeanor or disposition, your overall life mood, your response inclination to daily life events.  

What is your thought life?  And if it’s not what you want it to be, how can you change it? 

There are so many things that can influence our life thoughts. 
  • Spiritual life, such as the belief in and worship for a higher power, spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, a feeling of heart and soul. 
  • Connections to the human community, such a family, friends and even strangers who we encounter each day.
  • A sense of purpose or a life mission that allows us to give back, make the world a better place.    
  • An overwhelming body blanket of peace, calm and comfort with the world.  

 But there is one thing I know to be true.  We are in control of how we view the world and our lives, how we react and respond to life happenings.  Positive life circumstances do not come from negative thoughts or action.  I’ve often told my girls to remember that nobody makes you happy or sad or angry.  These are choices that we make ourselves.  By taking control of our own emotions, by pursuing a path of emotional health and abundant joy, the quality of life improves tenfold. 

Last night I wrote into my gratitude journal five things I’m happy about, five huge things that I was especially grateful for yesterday. 
  1. After an evening at Moss Mountain Farm, my college friend P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, I am grateful to live in Arkansas, among such natural beauty and splendor only minutes from my urban dwelling.  
  2. I am grateful for longtime friends who have been in my world, as Dickens said, through the best and worst of times, friends like Dennie who's come back home to Arkansas, which has made life even more of an adventure. 
  3. I’m grateful for puppies that lick you in the face each morning, their kind and gentle way of asking for breakfast. 
  4. I feel blessed that my life has allowed me to know and spend time with philanthropic and community giants like my friend Mr. Maurice Mitchell, who passed away yesterday.  His was a life that was a sermon unto itself.  
  5. I’m grateful to be healthy again this spring, especially after planting my herb garden yesterday.  Last year’s herb garden didn’t happen and the anticipation of abundant basil and mint and cilantro and the rest . . . well, it's kept a smile on my face all weekend. 

The number of cancer survivors in the United States increased by nearly 2 million from 2001 to 2007.  There were 11.7 million survivors in 2007, up from 9.8 million in 2001.  If attitude is truly a powerful medicine for mind and body, we’re all going to need new habits to keep our spirits high, and our days filled with gratitude. 

“In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but gratefulness that makes us happy.” 

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