Monday, November 12, 2012

On the street where you live

Call the police, yo, two posts in two nights!

Ok, this one my brain can't quite process yet. When I was in my chemo fog, back in the cancer dancing days, I drove down my little street to drop the girls off at school one rainy morning and in a car coming the other way I swore I saw my oncologist, Dr. A. But the red syringe of death plays tricks on your mind, y'all, so I chalked it up to diminishing brain cells.

Then a few months ago, Pete said he swore he saw Dr. A. on our street, near this house at the end of the road with a gigantic yard and fruit trees galore that Pete steals from regularly to get some bona fide organic apples for juicing. Dr. A has a pretty distinctive look - jutting eye teeth, Olive Oyl height and weight and that tight, short Victoria perm of a certain vintage - so I was inclined to believe him, but not quite prepared to.

Then just this past Saturday we were driving the girls to swimming and there she was, standing on the edge of the street where I live, near the place where I saw her driving and across from the house that Pete suspected she lived in. She was grinning like an idiot at us as we drove by but I just stared at her all Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like.

I mean, seriously? My onc lives on my street? I die.

I have this back story about why we moved to Victoria... my mom had been seriously sick a couple of times and I wanted my kids to be closer to my parents while they were still young old people. But two years after we moved, I got sick and my mom and dad took care of me and my kids while the intake board at the Cancer Agency read out my diagnosis and Dr. A, who could serenade me from her balcony, put up her hand to take my file and save my ever-loving life.

I am the least religious, spiritual, kismet, karma, fatalistic gal you'll ever meet, but goddess if that ain't somethin' else. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Write what you know

I went to a corporate communications offsite last week in Vancouver and am just now dusting off the last of the family guilt from being away. Two things getting together with a bunch of professional communicators will do to you:
  1. Inpire you to write more.
  2. Make you feel guilty for not writing enough.
When I was off work for a year, I exercised my word muscle almost every day and it was glorious. It was more than a habit, it was the stuff of survival. Since going back to work my muscle has atrophied.

I write for work, yes, every hour of every day, but the creative process is a little different. And it all makes me feel like not writing anymore when it's late at night and I'm spent. I feel like Jerry's masseuse girlfriend who would rather do anything than rub another god damn back after a day in the parlour. So stop trying to force my hands on your shoulders, dude!

But if you ask me what it is I'm supposed to be doing, it starts and ends with writing. Not because I'm the next Margaret Atwood but because I don't know how to do anything else. I have no other special skills. This vegan thing has me in the kitchen more than ever, but I ain't no natural at it. I'm a slave to the recipe and an idiot at improvising. I'm raising daughters, but by the skin of my teeth. I can run 5k in a pinch, but still hate 75% of the experience and can't seem to make it stick. Not that I could actually make a living out of any of those things if I were half good at them, but at least they involve honing some kind of skill or making use of experience.

So the writing is because I suck at the other 9,999,999 things that humans can do.

Tonight I signed up for a 5-day webinar in December with a woman I've been reading for as long as the intertubes have been around: Penelope Trunk. She'll be teaching me how to find the thing in my life to write about, how not to be boring at it, and how to make money from it. I've read so much of her shizz over the years for free, that the $150 I'm spending on the webinar seems like chump change.

If it gets me nothing else than an excuse to quit work at 6 pm for a few nights, then I'll be golden. And it might just help me figure out what the hell I'm supposed to be writing about for the rest of my life.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Life as a 95% veg-head

Almost two months after the last post and about six weeks into the plant parade and I would say we're about 95% vegilicious. It's been an adventure.

Having already gone through the cheese and meat withdrawal helped big time. Introducing soy into our lives in a big way while we discover how to veganize recipes or just try what's out there has made me uncomfortable. The jury's still out on the lovely green bean's love affair with breast cancer but most docs seem to think the stuff in its purest/fermented form has health benefits (tempeh, miso, tofu, edamame) and to steer clear of the processed stuff that mimics meat or sneaks into other packaged foods. After six weeks of experimentation, I think we're done with the schmeat and cheeze products, but it had to be done.

Four foods that have saved me

Despite the growing knowledge that soy is a frenemy, with great experimentation has also come great rewards. These little suckers have made the experience worth it:
  • Field roast sausages - no soy, only veg and grains and perfect for a Sunday morning fry-up
  • Coconut milk - we have been feasting on the flesh of the coconut for awhile now, but I have a renewed appreciation for the good fat of coconut oil for high-heat cooking, coconut manna for frosting, and coconut milk for whipped cream, smoothies and ice cream
  • Beans - chock full of antioxidants, fibre and vitamins, we're trying our damndest to get these into our diet several times a week
  • Mushrooms - they give good bite when you're looking for something meaty and they boost your immunity in a big way, especially if you buy the non-button variety
Four habits/situations that have saved me

I could not have gone this far without a few rock-hard things in my life:
  • Juicing - I still do it every weekday for breakfast and still spend an hour every Sunday afternoon washing and bagging for the week. I couldn't live without it and it gets the green stuff into my blood at least once a day.
  • Meal planning - I have a shiteload of cookbooks now and I spend an hour every Saturday poring over them and planning every dinner for the week. My girls like about 5% of what I cook, but they get variety and they'll eventually appreciate all this, right? Ballz.
  • Living where we do - our local grocery store has everything, the best veg shop in the city is less than 10 mins away and there's a veg lunch place next door to my work. Opportunities to be good abound.
  • Ma famiglia - Pete and the girls have been soldiers. They're interested in the weekly menus, they try stuff and they're on board this crazy train with me no matter where we stop.
I've been less hardcore about gluten and various sugars during this experimental phase. I didn't want to scare my squirrelly self away. I've also been relaxed about eating out. There is egg pasta, the occasional parmesan lovefest and a titch of chicken, especially with the last month of psychotic travelling for work. But 95% of the time, I'm trying to be conscious of what I eat and our kitchen (save a chicken wing or two in the freezer) is vegan. I'm pretty proud of that. There's still more experimentation to do, especially with grains. At our last Whole Foods trip in Vancouver, we stocked up on things like farro and spelt berries and I haven't broken those babies out yet.

I'm still not sure where we'll end on the veg continuum, but I like figuring this shizz out. If I'm fighting off  reocurrence along the way, then blammo.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

going vegan in a meat-lover's paradise

I'm not sure what it was that finally convinced me that going vegan for a year was a good idea. It might have been the USDA/Cattlemen's brouhaha in July whereby the USDA endorsed Meatless Monday to help alleviate the national drought (veggies take less water than meat to cultivate) and was promptly put into a headlock and given a good wedgie by the Cattlemen. Or perhaps it was being in a big American city like New Orleans and getting my fill of flesh with the first taste of culinary abandon I'd had since being diagnosed two years ago.

Whatever it was, I've made the decision to forgo animal products for a whole (non) bloody year. And I'm dragging my husband and kids with me on the adventure. We'll call it quits when we go to Italy next July or August so I can stuff my gullet with fresh buffalo milk cheese and squid ink pasta.

I'm under no illusion that just because we don't eat dairy or red meat anymore that this will be a snap. I'm a lover of the tuna fish sandwich. I would mainline salmon, halibut, prawns, oysters, mussels and black cod if I could liquify it enough. And eggs and honey are staples round these parts.

But the thing is, I can't unread what I've read over the past two years. I can't truly call myself a girl determined to shit on cancer if I'm not truly willing to give this entire show a chance. Despite all the anecdotal and medical evidence coupled with the smack of intuition that came from the first few months of drinking green juice and reducing my meat footprint, I'm not 100% convinced that going 100% free of animal products is a recipe for a healthy life.

I think leaning that way is going in the right direction, but I've mostly been on the Michael Pollan side of the argument that you simply eat food, not a lot, mostly plants. The free-range chicken on Sunday night or the salmon pasta on Tuesday isn't drawing your entire picture of health. And plus, we live in a city that prides itself on offering the most pretentious and delicious, readily-available, local, natural meats. I'm being set up to be reasonable and measured about this stuff.

But I want to give this thing a chance. I'll likely emerge single and childless from the experience, but yo, I'll have done something I set out to do, right? Right? Ballz.

Here's a recipe for a super tasty quinoa salad I make most weeks to carry me through:

1 cup uncooked quinoa (any colour/kind is fine - I used red today)
2 cups water
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
1/3 cup of sultanas
1 teaspon toasted sesame oil (I use Eden)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about half a large lemon)
1/2 cup of raw, whole almonds
1/4 teaspon of salt

1. Cook the quinoa like rice, in a rice cooker or pot, with the 2 cups of water.
2. Put the cooked quinoa in a large-ish sealable container and let it cool a bit.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the quinoa and mix around with a spoon.
4. Pop it in the fridge - it'll keep for a week.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Change is afoot (and also, NOLA!)

I'm on my way back from a week in New Orleans and have a rather foolish plan up my sleeve. I'll tell you all about it when my pancreas and liver stop screaming at each other.

In brief: The food was off the hook and the city was madness. Plus, I'm 40 now.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I will teach you to be French

You know those people who seem to be good at everything? This is not me. In fact, the more I try to get my sorry life together post-cancer, the more I realize I'm crap at a lot of bloody things.

Feeding my children is one of those things I'm terrible at. Sometimes I feel like I'm one Cheerio away from letting them eat lollipops for breakfast. I mean, wouldn't it just be easier? Let me describe my troubles.

My girls are fussy eaters. You may be saying to yourself, "I hear you, sister," but you need to mutiply whatever fussiness you think you have with your kids and multiply it by 765.

The good? They love breakfast. They have happily given up cow's milk and all sugar-sweetened cereals. They can demolish two bowls of oatmeal or Shredded Wheat or that puffed rice jazz in a matter of minutes, asking for a fruit smoothie chaser to wash it all down. Also good? They're pretty good lunch eaters. Containers come home mostly empty and if there's a complaint, it's usually because I didn't put enough in or they didn't have enough time to eat. They also don't eat a shitload of sweets. They would if they could, but seem to be pretty resigned to the fact that they still have Hallowe'en candy up on the highest linen closet shelf. No biggie.

Here's the bad. And it's oh so bad. They eat nothing at dinner. Ok, when there's pasta, they eat a lot. When it's anything else, they eat mouse bites so they can get away from the awful table with their awful cranky mother and father as quickly as possible. We negotiate. We cajole. There's tears. I change the rules every week based on some shit I read. Pete and I look at each other across the table with a "remember Paris?" look in our eyes, even though we've never been there together. It blows.

If we rewind a tad, making the dinner itself is almost always a chore. We often have meal plans, but they're uninspired. Pizza on Fridays, pasta, stir-fry, soup and sandwiches, scrambled eggs, blah, blah, blergh.

So I got help. I've been doing that a lot lately, and I'll tell you more soon about the other areas of my life I'm cleaning up. With the food thing, a book caught my eye a few months ago so I ordered it for my Kindle. "French Kids Eat Everything (and Yours Can, Too)".

I was desperate to move away from buying useless vegetarian or vegan cooking for kids books and move toward a deeper change. I had to teach my kids to love veggies without cutting them into star shapes, dousing them in soy sauce or hiding them in brownies.

This book? Mon cherie, it has changed my life. Without going through all the food rules, here's the gist:
  • Cut out excessive snacking (or snacking altogether)
  • Make meal times enjoyable
  • Encourage, but never cajole (you have to try it, but you don't have to like it)
  • Never use food as a distraction, reward or punishment
  • It takes several tries to like most things - be patient
I'll be the first to admit these are not revolutionary rules, but when I read about the woman's experience raising her daughters in Vancouver vs. Brittany, it shed light on some shizz I've been doing unconsciously and reminded me that I can change anything whenever I want to, without moving to France. So I did.

I needed recipe inspiration first. I found a good cookbook - "You, Me, and the Kids, Too".

It's from the UK and it focuses on making simple food for kids at any age. I needed one cookbook to follow for a few weeks and decided this would be it, but I had to get over a mental hurdle first: although it focuses on healthy, whole foods eating, it isn't vegan or even vegetarian. I've been working on my own nutritional goals for so long, that I'd forgotten what it's like to think completely about the nutrition of my kids - to turn them into well-adjusted, healthy people who weren't afraid of vegetables. So I decided we would eat meat again for awhile and even a little bit of yogurt if I was going to go for this experiment 100%. I needed to not be hung up on my own rules.

We're now in week two of this Frenchified life and I am amazed at so many interesting changes. Limiting snacking was hard, very hard, at first. but now the girls regularly remind each other "it's almost dinner" or "you don't want to ruin your appetite!".  Every night we've been eating tasty meals with new flavours and every lunch time the girls get a veggie in their lunch (I'm embarrassed to admit they weren't getting that before - they didn't like anything, so I didn't bother putting anything in).

Stella is turning out to be my star in the "try it, you might like it" movie. Going away are the "yuck" or "I hate it" or the cringy face as a seven-year old tongue darts out to taste the tip of an unknown veggie. She's actually game for all this and plays waitress before dinner so we can all tell her we want what's already written down on the menu for that day so she can jot it on her notepad and tape it to the cabinet.

I've been painfully aware that I've been failing my kids in the food department. It's become even more painful as I get closer to finding my own nutritional bliss. Just because they don't eat fruit loops for breakfast or Lik-A-Stik for lunch, doesn't mean I'm doing right by them. I've been cranky and resentful that they aren't naturally taking to the vegetarian life I've chosen for us all instead of diving into the food education of my girls with passion and joie de vivre. I've had more fun cooking over the past week than I have in forever.

These are not 20 minute meals for the most part. I'm not looking for American-style time savers and processed shortcuts. But we aren't dining on Coq au Vin or creme brulee either. It's simple, tasty food that the girls look forward to every night, even if they only have one bite. It'll happen eventually. They'll love their veggies. Say what?!

J'aime le français.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Living like dad

Two years ago I was getting ready to go to a father's day picnic while in the hell of pre-diagnosis limbo. I didn't know but I knew. And I was experiencing life in a strange way. My friend Ashlyn described it best in a recent post on her own blog when she said that the pre-diagnosis stage is by far the worst part of cancer. Everything after - the treatment, the puking, the wretchedness - is completely manageable in comparison.

But getting a few hours that day to be with my family was good. Watching my dad approach the ne'er do-wells near our picnic with the faint scent of silverback on him and realizing that I didn't want to die before he did.

Here's the thing about my dad. Everyone says they have the best father in the world, but they're bullshitting you. Because mine was cut from a completely different cloth. He made it okay for me to grow up strange while still making me answer to stuff. He was the dad who brought home treats every time he went to the gas station and never complained when I asked him to get me something from the kitchen. I abused that service and he never complained about that.

He put up with my picky eating and sang "Angelina" to me when he served up the spaghetti. He put Saan flyers on my dresser when I wasn't looking and kicked my butt down the hall when I got snarky.

He watched me go out in hot pants and fishnets and bustiers, my mom's rosary around my neck and only balked when the hot pants had rips in them. If there were ulcers burning, he didn't say so.

When I moved to Vancouver, he cried in my new Kits living room.

And when I was diagnosed, he was strong and just there and starting juicing when I did. He still does today.

My dad has taught me that beyond food and supplements and running and yoga and meditation there is kindness and fun and a twinkle in your eye that can make you live forever.

I love you, Dad.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

I am not a mutant

Before I got french-kissed by the c-dawg, I thought what many people think who have cancer in their family: because my [insert family member here] had it, I could get it, too. Since then I've learned that the percentage of hereditary cancers is very low - ranging between 5-15% of all incidents of cancer, depending on the publication or research or full moon dipping behind jupiter.

When I was diagnosed one of my first thoughts was "wonder if this is genetic?". I mentioned that to my onc and she agreed that I had enough of a reason (young, family history, aggressive strain) to get the free BRCA1/2 gene test, but as I went through the carousel of treatment, we both forgot about it. Then, when it came time to begin deciding on one breast removed vs. two, I realized I was too late to get the wheels in motion (the test can take up to a year) and had to make up my mind on the prophylactic removal of rightie without all the information. I decided on the scorched earth route, and although the right came back clear, I've wondered since.

In January, I finally went for genetic testing and counselling - more for my daughters than anything. I'd read that having one of the genes, if they mutated, could increase the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer by five times (so from the usual 10% to around 60% likelihood). Ballz. I was hoping to be free and clear, but part of me still wanted a cold hard scientific reason for getting the unwanted visitor at 37.

Two weeks ago my results came in. Not guilty. No effed up genes. What I had is considered sporadic cancer. And yes, we don't know everything we need to know about cancer, but as it stands, the reason I got it is unclear. And if there's any pattern in my family, it's because of lifestyle similarities, not DNA. Which is terrifying and empowering and the reason behind everything I do now.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tonya Harding, Cindy Wilson and finding the inspiration to write again

It's been two months, yo. I've broken the golden rule of writing and have forgotten that 99% of it is just sitting down and doing it.

I could complain about work taking over my life, but that's a shitty excuse and I will not allow it. What's happened since is that I've run a 10k race with my cousin Tasha without puking:

I also visited Montreal for the first time in my life and although I traipsed all over old town with bloody stumps for feet, I did not find the Iron Chef-winning lobster poutine promised me. By the time I found the clichéd, unmarked building where it swam and squeaked, I had already downed some of the best sushi I've had anywhere. Who knew the St. Lawrence could compete with the Pacific? So until another day to try poutine for the first time evah. It's not exactly on my to-do-before-I-die list, but I feel a bit too virginal not having sampled the heart attack/cancer food on a plate. And yes, I plan to eat bull's balls one day, too.

I also had one of those 6-week TELUS stretches of madness that can make a grown woman weep. My body and brain rebel when I have those spells and I do the non-heroic thing and ignore friends, family and vegetables as I try to stay sane. The bright spots were the five-hour flights and 90 minute ferry trips where I got to have spotty or no wi-fi and a date with my Kindle or (egads) my thoughts. Nothing I'm ready to talk about yet, but I'm makin' some plans, yo, and I hope you'll come with me.

As I get closer to the anniversary of c-dawg madness, something I've completely realized in the past two years is that trying to live a balanced life is a different kind of crazy. It's impossible to give everything equal attention. You will shift. You will favour. And that's okay. The first year of cancerland I wandered the aisles thinking of food and how what I had been putting into my bod was creating a space for disease to live. I'm still working out what the grub on my plate looks like every day, but I know what I need and the rest is a process. I'm going in the right direction.

In the past six months it's been about the realization that not only is it ballz that I've been so sporadically lazy my whole adult life, but that it's stupid not to do something about it. So my energy has gone into finding time to run and make it a priority. I still don't love it all the time, but it's in my bones now.

Which is the perfect time to go all Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan on my trick skiing knee at Stella's parent participation field hockey practice this morning. I'm injured, and likely out of running for at least two weeks. And that licks.

So while propping up my knee, icing in 15 minute spurts, I've been contemplating turning 40 in about six weeks, my upcoming trip to New Orleans with my husband, cousin and her husband, and figuring out what I need to turn this mother around again. Because that is what it's all about for me now. Not being complacent and comfortable. I've also had more opportunity to think about my friend and cancer twin Sharon and she would have turned 41 this past week. We held a ribbon tying event in her honour in Burnaby for TELUS Day of Giving, and I actually felt her hanging around the cafeteria, with that interested smirk on her face and willing us all to just get on with things. I still miss her. And she drives me to keep doing.

In the end, I've decided that to keep doing, I need to do some stupid shit, too. Like sing "Give me back my man" by Cindy Wilson of the B-52's sometime in the next year. And I don't just mean into my living room karaoke mic. This strikes fear and love in my heart because I'm a crap singer and because the B-52's saved me from rock of ages hair band hell when I was growing up in le ghetto.

So it will be.

And while I'm planning all this 40-year old nonsense, I managed to find a wicked paleo cookie recipe. Vegan if you want them to be, grain-free, sugar-free. My kids loved these. Make them and think of me.

Guilt-free cookies

1 banana
1 apple, cored & peeled
1/2 c almond butter
3 tbsp softened palm shortening (or butter)
1 tbsp vanilla
1.5 c almond flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 c of anything else you want (chocolate chips, raisins, nuts - we added dark chocolate chips)
  • Puree banana and apple together in a food processor.
  • Add puree, almond butter, shortening, and vanila to a bowl and beat until combined.
  • In separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
  • Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until dough forms (my dough was quite wet, but it worked anyhow).
  • Form into tablespoon-sized balls and place on greased/lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes (mine took 15).
  • Store airtight for a day or two, but then you'll need to pop them into your fridge or freezer to keep them fresh.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Seitan, dinosaurs and never finding the right cookbook

I'm a girl who likes a good recipe book. Because I'm no natural cook (there, I said it), I like to have a few rules to back up my grub aspirations. With the number I've been gathering over the past couple of years, I could start my own bloody bookstore, but I've yet to find one that I can recommend or get more than a little warm about.

The vegetarian ones always have cheese as a main ingredient. The paleo ones, being dinosaur-friendly, focus on meat. And the vegan ones assume you want fake meat. Don't get me started on all the "eat right for your type" shite that fills up the diet section of the bookstore. Crap, all of it. Yeah, I said it. Calorie counting is for the 1980 you and has no place in 2012.

I got excited recently reading reviews for the Candle 79 cookbook, based on an NY vegan eatery popular with the snoberific veg-heads. I made the mexican chocolate cake in it, which was truly tasty. It also has some pretty decent looking pure veg ideas, but "Try the seitan piccata!!" is what I've been reading on every bathroom wall. So tonight we dined on said seitan, which is basically cooked wheat balls sliced into cutlets. It was as disgusto as it sounds. Who are these vegan liars? I want to meet them and shake them violently.

So I fall back to the clean eating philosophy, with my own modifications. You'll never see me reintroduce breakfast in my life on a regular basis after almost two years of being juicy. I feel heavy and unmotivated when I down food in the morning now and am fairly addicted to the green high I get at 10 am. But the rest of the philosophy - about eating whole, natural, unprocessed foods and eating smart and low-glycemic throughout the day - follows as closely to what I'm trying to achieve as anything else.

And the best thing is, I have zero clean-based cookbooks right now, so shove over wheat-meat recipes. If you have any good books you love that don't end in "and sprinkle cheese/scheeze over it before serving", please share, share, share.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

When I grow up...

The stupid and wonderful thing about cancer is that it makes you question everything. This is stupid because sometimes a cup of tea or a walk on the beach or a new Mad Men season after 17 freakin' months is just those things and nothing more. Wonderful because bloody hell that tea has never tasted so good, this beach reminds me why I breathe and Don Draper's face just might be the last thing I see before I die.

Some people call this strange existence "the middle place". I wouldn't wish the reaper-chasing part on anyone, but the moments of clarity and purpose would not come without the fear.

I'm still in a bit of denial that Sharon is gone. I feel like someone I was playing tug-o-war with stepped away for a moment for a break and I'm still standing there, holding the rope, waiting for her to come back like some child while the audience weeps at my naive stupidity. It just doesn't make sense to me. It wasn't meant to happen this way. And even thinking that feels indulgent when her husband is likely sitting in their apartment wondering how he'll go on without her.

For the last two weeks since her death I've waivered between being a hardcore vegan and being an unofficial mini-cupcake tester. Part of me knows what I want to be when I grow up - the mostly vegetarian, dabbling in paleo girl who does what she loves, runs, loves her kids, travels to Cinque Terre for mini breaks, wears yellow stilettos and rocks a short hair head for the man who loves her and still looks sexy even when he's carrying a poop bag for the dog. Then I think that can't be enough. I should be the girl who stays the latest, drinks the most, says whatever the fuck she thinks and just generally lives like next week she'll develop that dreaded cough that leads to the end. And I think about this shit all the time.

I know I'm not the only one. And I know cancer didn't give me some special card to allow me to muse more than others might. It's sometimes just wanking and often reeking of privilege. I could be wondering how to feed my kids or afford a haircut. I understand I'm coming from a certain place with this stuff. But still...

I've been on vacation for a week and like all vacations, it's only in the last couple of days that I've relaxed enough to start rejigging my brain on some stuff. I've changed the way I deal with my kids and food - I decide where, when and what and they decide whether and how much - and I'm trying to be more George-Costanza-do-the-opposite-of-what-I-usually-do to keep my mind sharp and ever-evolving.

I've been pondering the next stage of my life a lot, trying to envision where the path of least regrets lies. I'll get closer over the next year, but in the meantime, I need to get to Zara to buy these pimp shoes:
- Carissa

Sunday, March 11, 2012

We'll always have Paris

I haven't written for awhile because for several weeks now, the c-dawg has been launching an extra obnoxious offensive against the woman I affectionately call my cancer twin, and talking about the magic of probiotics seems ridiculous in comparison.

Last night, my friend and colleague and cancer trailblazer, Sharon North, passed away in palliative care, with her family loving her and her husband, Karl, who's a man of such good and lovely stuff, by her side. She was 40 years old.

It's ridiculously unfair. I'm angry about it. But I'm trying to force my head into Parisian thoughts. Sharon wanted to go there, but she never got the chance. So I'll cross the Pont-Neuf for her, sip a chocolat at Les Deux Magots and sail a little boat across the pond at the Jardin des Tuileries.

Sharon, you were part of the reason I was able to attack my own c-monster with such vigour and I could never thank you enough for that. You shared your story with such honesty, sharp writing, humour, and neverending spirit and I'll miss you and think of you always.

- Carissa   

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The kids are barely alright

I feel pretty good sometimes with the shizz I've figured out for my own bod and can even claim a few bragging rights to some changes in Master Pete. But when it comes to my offspring, I'm clueless. Hopeless sometimes. Frustrated almost always.

Ok, I can fess up to helping them make a fairly smooth transition from cow to almond milk (we called it snowflake water one Christmas - against my anti-cringeworthy law, but egads, it worked). And now even when Stella goes to friends' houses, she says a quiet no thanks to dairy in her cereal and eats it dry. Gets me all verklempt.

The other victory I wave the flag for is the switch from sugared cereals (even though is was only the classic 1g o' sugar Cheerios) to sugar-free cereal and oatmeal only in the mornings. This one took a long build up and multi-coloured warning system, but here they are now, every morning pouring quinoa puffs into a bowl and dropping handfuls of homemade granola into it. I seriously thought this was going to be a dealbreaker and I'd see them with stick and bandana hitching to nana's house for some frosted flakes.

And admittedly one more. My staunchly anti-whole grain bread seven-year old now loves the stuff. No more begging for baguettes. No more lunches arriving back home with untouched sandwich. Tres amazing.

But this is where the transition ends for my girls. I get the daily pre-dinner declaration of "eating vegetables makes you healthy and strong, right, mommy?" paired later with the equally fervent declaration of "I'm not a vegetarian so I don't eat vegetables!"

As lovely as the little ladies are at breaky, at dinner time, the performance is far from stellar.

"We like lots of stuff! Pizza, pasta and sushi." Well, let's call the diversity council and get you a medal. And when you're trying to go cheese, gluten and generally white stuff free, pizza, pasta and sushi become sad imitations of themselves.

I've tried to get help. I now have practically every kids cookbook under the sun - they get excited about cooking with me and following a recipe, but they want to pick all the sweet stuff in the book to try. And trying to find a vegan or even non-cheese based vegetarian cookbook for kids is impossible.

I've gone through stages of saying, what the hell, I'll just let them choose whatever recipe they want. So we've made pesto pasta (not a hit), eggs baked in ham cups (not a hit) and even something called pretend soup, with yogurt and fruit (a huge hit), but I want them to get excited about dairy-free stuff. I've also gone the Jessica Seinfeld route of hiding purees in brownies and such, but it's a lot of bloody work and doesn't really get me to a place of acceptance with these miniature people.

And if I see or hear about another kid happily eating salad for dinner every night, I may kick a puppy. I get a bite of broccoli on a good night.

So this is where I need help. Have you figured this out? Know people how have? I'll try anything once and thank you a million times.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My chemical romance

I have been a lover of all things girly product since the day I perfected the eyeshadow rainbow in grade seven and got sent to the washroom to "wash that garbage off".

I've been lovingly growing my arsenal of lotions, balms, gels, powders, and serums over the years, throwing out the starter sets from Shoppers and eventually graduating to Holt's and Sephora. If I still felt like a loser teenager sometimes, all I had to do was look on my bathroom counter to see that I'd grown into a big girl with big girl products.

Every once in awhile I'd look at those deodorant crystals in the drugstore and feel a bit intrigued but ultimately dismissive. And the beauty sections of health food stores were for hippies, man. All that rose water and patchouli.

When I was diagnosed, I read first about the stuff I was putting on my pits. All those side convos about the aluminum in deodorant and breast cancer came ringing back to my immediate consciousness and I decided I'd at least try the natural stuff while I learned a bit more. Here's what I read:
  • Deodorants that contain aluminum, which stops you from sweating, can act like estrogen and fuel cancer cells
  • Deodorants that contain parabens, which are preservatives to keep the product from spoiling, can also act like estrogen and fuel cancer cells
Depending on what you read, the evidence is inconclusive but leading. As it is with many things friendly with cancer. But it was enough to get me researching some decent alternatives so I didn't end up stinking like my fourth year of Women's Studies classes at UVic.

I tried a bunch of the hippie stuff - the Tom's, the Nature's Gate and such, but have found only two do the trick. Keep in mind, I'm not a heavy sweater (as opposed to a heavy petter) but I can work up a good one when I want to. The two jewels have been:

Avalon Organics Deodorant Spray

Lavanila Deodorant

Since my deodorant transformation, I've been purging the rest of my products bit by painful bit. Sometimes it's been hard. I spent some decent coin on some of that carcinogenic shizz! But mostly it's been freeing. And as of yesterday with my latest nail polish purge, I am chemical free in the lady product department except for a single Mac lipstick I haven't been able to part with.

When you start reading about formaldehyde in nail polish, silicon in primer and sodium laureth sulfate in your shampoo (see David Suzuki's Dirty Dozen or the Environmental Working Group's cosmetic database) and how these things are not doing good things (and are doing potentially super narsty things) to our bods, I hope you're inspired to purge, too, and put an end to your own chemical romance.

Other recos:

Korres makeup (I use the eyeliner and lip glosses as well as the body lotions)
Tarte makeup (I use the gel and powder blush, the eyebrow pencil and the Amazonian Clay mascara)
Boscia skin care products (I use the face washes and moisturizers)
Josie Maran products (I use the Argan oil)
Annmarie Gianni skin care products (I use the face washes and herbal oils)
Dr. Hauschka skin care products (I use the moisturizers)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It does a body bad

The thing I find most interesting about the wellness conversation in general is that most people are quite willing to adopt new things that "studies have shown" have health benefits, like green tea, kale and the gazillion other superfoods touted by all and sundry. But when it comes to really questioning some of the stuff we've been putting in our bods since babies that similar "studies have shown" are detrimental to our health, the willingness to change goes in the toilet.

The culture (or cult) of milk falls squarely into this category. Like cigarettes before it, cow's milk is gaining a bit of a bad rep and it's only a matter of time before it gets really bad, and not just according to the granola circles. But unlike cigarettes, we give the stuff to kids and to speak ill of it is still considered blasphemous, odd or just plain annoying. Most of us have fond memories (from our childhood or from just this morning) of drinking milk, eating yogurt, smothering cheese over every damn thing under the sun. It's tasty. It's calcium. It's just not something you need to mess with, thank you.

But more than meat, more than chemicals on my bod and in my house, more than the running and the guitar playing and the meditating to the Ramones, eliminating dairy consumption from my family is the number one priority. Have I done it completely? Shit, no. It IS hard to get it right out. It's everywhere and although I may not eat it myself anymore, getting it away from my kids has been a brutal challenge.

Other than the fact that we're the only mammals who drink another mammal's milk, here's why milk is messing up our lives:
  • Cow's milk is meant to fatten up calves - it has more than three times as much protein as breast milk
  • Beyond childhood, most of us stop producing lactase which we need to digest lactose
  • The protein in cow's milk is difficult for all humans to digest - most of us can't digest it at all
  • A high animal protein diet, particularly protein containing casein, is linked to cancer, Crohn's, allergies, eczema, asthma and arthritis
The other thing that dairy consumption gives you is mucus. Yeah, I said it. If you get sinus infections or have a regular date with other headcold symptoms every time you get sick, chuck the dairy and see what happens. I've got a man living in my house who's a walking advertisement for tossing the cow.

But where do I get my calcium? Because most of us can't digest milk, we're not getting all that lovely calcium we're promised. Also, there's a problem with us and calcium - it's not necessarily that we don't get enough intake, it's that we don't retain it properly, either because other things in our diets cancel it out (cola and caffeine are big culprits here) or we don't get enough vitamin D, which helps calcium absorption. There are plenty of things that have natural calcium, including dark, leafy greens and beans, and if you can pump a little iron, you're helping your bones and muscles out even more. Non-dairy milk is often calcium fortified, so you're covered there, too, yo!

Okay, okay, I rant. I know I do. We've all lived next to, grown up on or seen pictures of beautiful farms with dairy cows grazing peacefully in the meadow. Two things on that little image: the multi-billion dollar dairy industry and its agenda, and growth hormones. See where that cigarettes = dairy thing lines up on part one? And if you're happy getting an extra shot of hormones in your morning cereal, fill your boots. If you're happy with this additive, but are dead set against changing your milky ways, at least consider organic.

If you're ready to ditch the milk mustache, coconut, rice, hemp or almond milk are peachy keen. You can learn to live with black coffee. I know it's hard. I still have a block of parmesan in my fridge. I still buy yogurt for kids' lunches and give them ice cream for a treat. But we've switched to almond milk for everyone, Tofutti cream cheese for the girls, and I'm still experimenting with soy and coconut yogurt. The fake cheeses are atrocious, so don't waste your money.

I know it's everywhere, in everything and on every bloody food surface. But you won't regret weaning yourself.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Slowly but surely your senses will cease to resist

First solo run = 3k in 30 minutes (it's a start, yo!)

The recurring nightmare in all this is that I dedicate myself to a life of wellness and the cancer still has the nerve to come back. It happens all the time, so for me to think I'm different somehow requires a certain suspension of disbelief. I have to forget that NYC gang members don't dance around with each other and whistle between knife fights. That Bill Murray is just a foul-tempered, nasty-faced asshole without the IMDB listing.That J-Lo and G-Cloon didn't actually hate each other every stinking second of that bathtub scene in Out of Sight.

I'm quite good at ignoring the boom mics and puppet strings. And most of the time, I'm quite good at convincing myself that that living well, having a superhero immune system, and injecting greens into my veins will be enough.

Now that I'm running, playing guitar and trying to meditate on a regular basis, I also have to keep reminding myself that I won't always feel like a schlub in my trainers, a rube with my chord changes and delicate fingertips and an unenlightened ADD case during my ohms. I need to trust it will all come together and push everything in the same good direction.

So if you're juicing, eating more raw, joining a spitball team or just doing something a little different this year that's just for yourself, trust it's doing good. It's not a quick fix or a fast drop or a dramatic twist. It's evidence you have some control over your bod and your own outcome. And shit, man, does anyone really like being pushed around for very long?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Move your arse

I've become a bit of a lazy arse. I used to play team sports. I walked, jogged and ran. I kayaked, swam, rowed, yoga'd, pole-danced. Now I get up, work, eat dinner, work more, then go to bed.

Wow. That sounded a lot more depressing than I meant.

I thought a lot about this post before I sat down to write, because I'm ashamed I haven't found a good enough reason (cancer anyone?) to make exercise a regular part of my life. I'm a big believer that the "I'm too busy" excuse is bullshit. You either make something a priority or you don't. And right now I use any free hour to make Downton Abbey a priority.

But I've become too stupid about this and have to change. I can't expect to keep the c-dawg away for any good length of time if I'm on my ass for the better part of the day.

So here's the thing about exercise - and by exercise, I mean getting your heart going at least three times per week for at least 30 minutes. It jacks up your ability to heal, fills your bod with oxygen, and helps carry away the crap that builds up around your tissues. And this is in addition to what it does for your metabolism, weight control, mood, sleep pattern, bowels, and on and freakin' on.

Over the past 18 months, I've taken up and given up rebounding, tried to get out for a walk at least once a week, danced with my girls on the weekends and gone out for a couple of runs. Nothing except toting the laundry up and down the stairs has stuck. But it all changes tomorrow.

I joined a running clinic for the first time in ever and will run a 10k in April. So I'm forcing myself to get over my pathetic fear of being a pathetic runner and get on with it already.

I bought this great book a year or so ago: The Complete Book of Running for Women:

I've only tackled about a third of it so far, but it has great meditations on motivating yourself to run and breaks down the build up in a manageable way. It makes me want to be a runner. To call myself a runner. There's this and the fact that my old running partner, my cousin, has a life as full as mine and nary a speck of cancer to prompt her and yet manages to make exercise a priority almost every day.

And seriously, there's this 80+ year old woman who jogs up Cadboro Bay Road every day and makes me look even more the chump I am for thinking Downton Abbey (as bloody good as it is) is more important than setting aside an hour every day to move my arse.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brush my pretty tail and magic things will happen

A lot of what I do now just feels like good bloody sense when you think about it for a mo, but some things are a little strange, need explaining, or are, well, somewhat Swedish. No that there's anything wrong with the Swedes. They're a lovely people rather obsessed with bathing rituals and extreme temperatures.

Enter dry-brushing.

When I hopped on the cancer train, the first place I wanted to stop was lymphatic land to learn a few things. See, you come to realize quickly when you do any amount of reading that disease is good friends with an internal system that tends to get backed up or bloated or sedentary. No big news there. So seriously, if you get constipated regularly and aren't pregnant, you're on a path to danger... the shit is piling up, literally, and you need to work that shit out.

The point is, you need to keep things moving. Not just by working out your quads - although yay if you do - but by working out your lymphatic system. It carries all the garbage away from your cells, helps you fight off disease and delivers the good stuff where it needs to go. If your lymphatic system is broken, the raccoons get into your trash. And that's just plain stinky.

I had my sentinel node removed from my left side (there was cancer in there at the beginning), which means I have the full-time job of trying to keep my left arm in a bubble world. No paper cuts. No cookie pan burns. No thorn pricks when I'm lip-dubbing to Heart in my backyard. If any of these things happen, my lymphatic system rushes to the rescue without realizing there's not enough juice in there to fix the problem, everything shuts down and I risk getting a balloon arm that lasts the rest of my life. This could happen tomorrow or in 25 years. So rather than refrain from lip-dubbing, I've chosen to take matters into my own hands - and honestly, the docs tell you nothing about this shit.

There are a three good ways to keep your lymphatic land in tip-top shape:
  • Put a dash of cayenne in a cup of warm water and lemon in the morning
  • Rebound on a mini-trampoline
  • Dry-brush every day
I've been on the cayenne kick a few times (it hasn't stuck yet), and come and go with my rebounding (although I'm back to it now), but I dry-brush myself like a pretty pony every day of the week. Granted I don't have an infrared sauna to jump into after I dip into my freezing cold lake water, but I do feel rather Abba-like when I do it. Here's what it involves.

Get yourself a medium-handled, natural bristle body brush (I have two - one from HomeSense, one from Superstore) and keep it dry.

Strip down to your one-button suit before you hop into the shower and start brushing from your toes to your neck. Brush always toward your heart (so at your shoulders, brush downward) and do long strokes where you can. I go crazy on my feet and hands because chemo did a number on the circulation in my toes and fingertips, and give the numb parts on the back of my left arm a good scrubbing. Be firm but don't scrub like you're trying to forget a bad date. You want to feel invigorated.

I take 1-2 minutes max on this ritual - as long as it takes for my shower to heat up. Some added benefits? Dry-brushing removes dead skin, makes you glow all over and helps get rid of cellulite. Do you need a bigger endorsement than that?

- Carissa

Sunday, January 15, 2012

He ain't heavy, he's my dinner

I'm warning you ahead of time, but this post is a little bit about poop. Just a little, I promise. I can't talk about bods without talking about the end game.

The biggest thing that's changed my health and energy level over the past year and a half, other than the green juice, has been the switch to eating light to heavy. It was also the hardest to adjust to, mostly because it goes against everything I've been brought up on and still read about.

You've heard it, too: fill yourself up in the morning. It fuels you during the day. Don't skip breakfast, you idiot, it kills your metabolism!! I win no prizes with the traditional dieticians for juice fasting every day until lunch. But here's why eating your lightest meal in the morning and the heaviest in the evening just makes sense.

Your body works on a natural digestion and elimination schedule, and like animals, we like to sleep when our bods are doing the most work to process the kibble in our gut. Our nighttime sleep cycle gives us the best opportunity to do nothing else but breakdance on our food for a few hours.

Healthy choices aside, how do you feel when you have a giant breakfast - energized or sleepy? If you said sleepy, ding! Your body is working like a beyotch to blast through the eggs and bacon and coffee and toast and it's all you can do not to have a little lay down after, right? Let's move on to the healthier choices, like steel cut oats or muesli or sprouted grain bread and almond butter. All fantastic grains, but again, they take time to digest, which leads to that idea that they're sustainable fuel for the day. Not bad advice, but again, the energy your body is using to break down those grains could be used for other things, like exercise, creative thought or elimination. Yeah, I said it. Poop.

When your body emerges from its heaviest digestion period, it shifts into elimination mode. Which also requires energy. So eat a heavy grain or let my bod follow its natural cycle?

The big question there is, doesn't your body need something to eliminate in the morning other than water, tea and juice? Of course, lovely. That's where that heavy evening meal comes in.

When I say heavy I don't mean a plate of pasta from Anton's every night. I just mean you eat your hardest to digest foods (i.e. grains, meat, cooked food) in the evening so your bod doesn't get bored while you're dreaming of sharing a glass of whiskey with Bill Murray in your bathrobe (just me?). See, there's quick exit and slow exit foods. Fresh-pressed juice, raw fruit and veggies, some grains, like quinoa and millet, some lightly sauteed/steamed veg, soups are all quick/medium exit foods. Meat, rice, pasta, oatmeal, all slow exit.

So here's what I try to do on my ideal day:
  • water/tea/green juice in the morning
  • some kind of big salad at lunch (yes, Elaine, the bigger the better)
  • fish, veggies & brown rice for dinner (varies widely, of course and I almost always have seconds)
  • muesli (I make it myself, yo!) as an after dinner snack
The muesli I make has these things in it (I don't measure, just throw it all in a big glass jar and keep it in the fridge):
  • Bob's Red Mill gluten-free oats (I use the largest amount of these for the mix)
  • unsweetened coconut
  • hemp hearts (psychedelically good)
  • raw sunflower seeds
  • raw pumpkin seeds
  • raw whole almonds
  • goji berries

To make it, scoop about 1/3 cup into a bowl, just cover it with your favourite non-dairy milk, like almond milk (we'll get to why cow's milk is narsty unless you're a baby cow another time), cover it with something (I use a little plate or a piece of plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for at least 30 mins. The longer it sits, the softer it gets. When I take it out, I add a bit more milk and some fresh fruit (berries or half a banana) and eat it up.

I've eaten light to heavy almost every day (except for the occasional pancake or benny extravaganza) since I started juicing and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have gigantic energy during the day, never feel sleepy anymore, even when I've had a shitty sleep and can't remember the last time I've wanted a nap. And I'm a McCart, yo! My weight is stable, and when I go crazy over the holidays or when I'm on vacay, it's super easy to get back on the system without feeling like I'm denying myself anything.

If you need to read more about this kind of eating, I read Fit for Life and Detox 4 Women, both of which changed my bad self for goodz.

- Carissa

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Water: not just for sissies anymore

I have yet to find a detox program with prosecco on the menu, so this week, while in Vancouver at a conference, I had to abandon my fermented grape-free diet to partake for one evening. And when you consider the stats that show regular alcohol consumption (which is 3 to 4 bevvies per week) could increase a girl’s risk of breast cancer reoccurrence and eventual death by up to 50%, it means I really, really liked the people I was with drinking with.

But besides the lovely risk of it all, the drinking reminded me about the multi-talented ways of water. For every glass of wine I drank, I more or less downed a glass of water and had no Maori tattoos on my face the next day. So there. Need further convincing that water is the shits?

Besides being the stuff most of your bod is made up of and hydrating you inside and out, it helps even out your temp and acts as a river of gold to your cells for all the good nutrients you stick in your gullet. It cleans you out, removes the cobwebs, and makes your arms and legs work better. Some say it even kickstarts your metabolism. So basically, there’s nothing the big wa-dog can’t do.

How much is enough

I think most of us have grown up on the eight glasses a day rule, but many docs, dieticians and nutrition wizards, including Kris Carr, my cancer guru extraordinaire and author of Crazy, Sexy Diet, recommend consuming half your body weight in ounces of filtered water each day.

If you’re 140 lbs, drink 70 ozs or about nine 8-ounce glasses. But don’t down it at once like a circus freak or, well, you’ll die. Sip it, my lovelies. BTW - Coffee and black tea don’t count, but fresh-pressed juice and herbal tea do.

When I was looking at a way to transform my eating schedule to follow a light to heavy pattern (more on that another time) and start my morning without Earl Grey, cereal or toast or really anything at first, I rediscovered the wheel. Having a big glass of water (16 oz) first thing in the morning has now become the way I start every day, no matter where I am or how much crap I’m eating following that.

With the follow-up 16 oz of juice and 16 oz of herbal tea I drink every day, I’m only on the hook for one other big glass somewhere else in the day. Done and done.

I make it worth my while in the morning and take my 2,000 IUs of D with my first water, mostly because it’s the only vitamin I can take on an empty stomach without feeling wretched. Here’s why the 2,000 IUs of D:

·         Blocks breast cancer and colorectal cancer cell growth (esp. in pre-menopausal women)
·         Lowers risk of heart disease in men

I know 2,000 is 1,000 over the Canadian Cancer Society’s recommended daily dose, but I’m willing to risk it – the acceptable level has been going up quickly in the last several years and the daily tolerable upper level, according to Health Canada in 2010, is 4,000 IUs. The darker skinned and less sunlight-consuming you are, the higher your dose should be.

So, you know you’re not getting enough water, right? All you have to feel is thirsty at some point in the day and it's the biggest sign you’re not drinking your fair share. We can discuss the finer points of consumption, like what the temp of your water should be, when we have time to get side-by-side manis and pedis (I drink it room temp from a reverse osmosis system - not as fancy as it sounds) but honestly, just getting enough is the bigger deal.  So let’s instead talk about creating a detox program built entirely around Italian bubbly. We need to start a revolution, people!

- Carissa