Monday, April 29, 2013

Why I Changed My Diet

I have been thinking about and working on this post for a while now. I honestly consider this to be one of my most important posts yet, and hopefully the beginning of a series of posts discussing my current lifestyle. I will warn you now, this will be long!

Most of you probably know that I now eat a vegan (plant-based) diet. This means that I choose not to eat meat, dairy, or eggs. Now I won't lie, I do allow myself some indulgences every once in a while, but they have become quite infrequent.

Before I was diagnosed I felt that my diet was fairly healthy, but overall I was eating the standard American diet. Once I was diagnosed I decided I wanted to eat healthier and more specifically, I wanted to eat a low fat diet. There are several studies that have shown that breast cancer survivors eating a low fat diet have a decreased risk of recurrence.

One year ago today I watched the movie Forks Over Knives. You can find it on Netflix. I have actually watched it a few times now. This movie was so incredibly powerful that once I finished it I decided that I needed to start eating a plant-based diet immediately, and starting with dinner that night I did.

I don't suggest trying such a drastic diet change during chemo. It probably wasn't the smartest thing I have ever done.

I get several questions when people find out I eat a plant-based diet:
1. How do you get enough protein?
2. Why?
3. How do you get enough protein?
4. How do you get enough calcium?
5. How do you get enough protein?
6. Isn't it expensive?
7. How do you get enough protein?

Can you tell which question I get the most?
I want to begin by saying that like with any major lifestyle change, switching to a plant based diet was hard at first. Giving up meat was not a big deal to me, but giving up cheese was HARD! I used to add it to everything! Just like with any other addiction, the longer I went without it the easier it became. I honestly don't consider this way of eating difficult anymore, and I actually have come to love it. With the exception of B12 it is still possible to get all of the nutrients my body needs without having to take supplements. I still get enough protein and calcium (and my blood tests prove it). It can be easy to be so-called "junk-food vegan" because you can still eat french fries, Oreo's and potato chips all day long. There are also a lot of vegan substitute products like cheese, butter, cream cheese and "meats". I ate a few of these products to help me in  the transition but I avoid them now. I believe in eating whole foods instead of processed foods loaded with chemicals.

There are so many reasons why I believe in eating a plant-based diet, but the main one can be summed up by watching this short video clip. It shows that the blood from someone eating a vegan diet suppresses cancer cell growth nearly 8 times better than the blood of someone eating a standard american diet.

Eight Times!

Animal protein has been shown to increase levels of something called IGF-1 in the blood, which has now been proven to be a significant cancer promoter (something that feeds the growth of cancer cells). Plant protein does not increase IGF-1 levels.

If after treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, and Herceptin there still happen to be a few cancer cells left in my body, I want to create an environment that is incredibly healthy for me and inhospitable for them. A whole foods, plant-based diet seems to be the best way to do that. I am not naive enough to think that eating this way will be a guarantee that I will never experience a recurrence, but if that happens I want to be able to say that I did everything I could.

If you have the time I HIGHLY recommend watching this video as well. It is about 55 minutes and discusses the leading causes of death and how most of them can be prevented with a plant-based diet.

This is also a great study that was published earlier this year discussing the link between increased fruit and vegetable intake and decreased risk of breast cancer. You can also check out this video about breast cancer and meat consumption. If you have time take a look at some of the other videos on this website. I find them all fascinating.

While I would absolutely love it if all of you switched to eating a plant-based diet, I know it won't happen. I have Derek eating plant-based at home with me during the week, but he won't give up his meat and cheese for good. What I do hope is that a few of you will consider it, and that even more will consider at least decreasing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet.

If cancer and heart disease prevention don't motivate you, I'm hoping this might; I average 17-18 pounds less than I was when I was first diagnosed. Some of the weight lost was muscle that I had put on right before diagnosis and some was from stress, but the vast majority has been related to changing my diet. I am the smallest I have ever been and am down 2 pant sizes. I no longer count calories, carbs, or fat grams (although I still pay attention to the fat). I eat a lot of food. GOOD food. I have never had an easier time losing weight or maintaining the weight loss. I sleep better than ever before. My skin is much clearer. I feel fantastic. My relationship with food has completely changed. I used to see food and instantly think about how many calories I would be consuming. Now I look at food and think of all the nutrients and health benefits I will be gaining. I keep a quote from Hippocrates on my desk that states "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food".

As a side note I have also been eating gluten-free since October when I discovered I have a gluten sensitivity. For the past several months I have also been trying to eat very low sugar (other than fruit).

If you ever have questions PLEASE feel free to ask me. Nutrition and plant-based diets have become a passion of mine and I could speak about them for hours. I do try to never get preachy about it. You don't have to feel bad if you eat a cheeseburger in front of me. My goal is to educate and hopefully inspire.

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My final treatment and the trip of a lifetime

I am very happy to report that I had my final treatment with Herceptin on Monday!  I haven't had any side effects from this medication so continuing the treatment hasn't bothered me, but it is a really great feeling to know that I am done. My chemo nurses have always been fantastic and I will definitely miss them. I actually teared up a bit as I was leaving the clinic and reflecting back on the past year.

My port removal is scheduled for Tuesday, April 30. It will be a simple procedure done under conscious sedation (I will be awake but pretty out of it). I have a follow-up with my oncologist in a few weeks and will continue to see her every three months for the next several years. I also have a 6 month follow-up with my dermatologist and will most likely have at least one more mole removed.

I won't be posting updates as often anymore, but I still have a few lifestyle posts planned out.

I also wanted to share that Derek and I recently took a 12 day vacation to New York City and Italy (Rome, Florence, and Venice). We had originally planned to be there for my 30th birthday in May but we found a deal for March that was too good to pass up. It worked out to be the exact same 2 weeks that I spent at home recovering from my mastectomy last year. It was a fantastic trip and a great way to celebrate turning 30 and 1 year cancer-free.

I want to thank everyone for all of your love and support over the past year. It is hard to truly express my gratitude in words. I also want to thank everyone who has donated for the breast cancer 3 Day walk in August. So far I have raised over $1600, but am I still short of the required $2300. You can click on the link below to donate. Any little bit helps!

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Sunday, February 24, 2013

One Year And Counting

It is really hard to believe this, but exactly one year ago today I found out about the cancer (I guess I wasn't officially diagnosed until 2/28, but I didn't need the biopsy to know what it was). The past week has been quite emotional and I have had a few breakdowns, but today I have actually done well. I really am OK with everything, but all of the emotions and memories from one year ago are still so vivid that it really feels like yesterday.

As I reflect back on the past year a few things come to mind. One is how kind and generous you have all been. Everyone's kind thoughts and warm wishes really blew me away throughout the year. The other is strength. I believe we are all stronger than we think is possible, and this year I discovered my own inner strength. I often find myself saying "if I can make it through chemo, I can make it through anything". Once I am done with treatment in April I actually plan to get the word strength (with a pink ribbon) on the inside of my left foot.

I would like to switch gears now and let you all know that I plan to do the Susan G Komen 3 Day Walk in the Twin Cities this August. For those of you who aren't familiar with the event, my teammates and I will be walking 60 miles in three days in order to raise money to find an end to breast cancer. In order to participate in the event we each have to raise $2300, and we are asking for your help. Any donation is incredibly appreciated! You can click on the link below to see my site and make a donation. All I ask is that if you see that I have met my goal of $2300 then please donate to one of my team members (Julie Hatfield and Maureen Papciak). I have already started some of my training and I have a feeling my strength will really be tested in August!

(If you are friends with me on Facebook, we will be hosting a fundraising event this coming Tuesday so feel free to donate then if you are able).

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

6 Month Checkup

I am so sorry that it has been so long since my last post. The holiday season is stressful enough so I decided not to add anymore to my life by worrying about the blog!

Last week I had my 6 month follow-up with my oncologist. It's really hard to believe that it's been 6 months since I finished chemo. Fortunately it was a very good appointment!

With the exception of my platelets my blood counts are all still normal. The platelets seem to bounce between normal and low, but she said that is not uncommon after chemo. She also checked my liver function tests and a tumor marker and they were both normal as well. My last Herceptin treatment will be scheduled for April 1, which means only 3 left! I have my port removal scheduled for Tuesday April 30. I have one more echocardiogram of my heart at the end of this month, but since the last one looked good I am not worried about that anymore.

We have been waiting to do one last genetic test and it sounds like my insurance company has started covering the cost now! I have to wait and hear from the genetic counselor to confirm but hopefully I can have that drawn sometime soon.

I was a little nervous because recently I felt a small lump in my left "breast". Deep down I knew it was something with the implant, but it felt good to know that my oncologist agrees. We talked a lot about recurrence at the appointment. My highest risk is in the first 5 years, and more specifically in the first 3. Unfortunately if a recurrence happens it is more likely to be metastasis instead of local (which means the cancer is more likely to be found elsewhere in the body, upping me from stage 1 to stage 4). I was not expecting that and it does have me bummed out a bit, but more than anything it reaffirms my decisions to eat and live a very healthy and clean lifestyle.

Here is a recent picture of my hair. It is growing very slowly, but it's definitely growing! I have been much happier with it lately and while I want to grow it out more yet, I do plan to keep it short for at least the next few years. It was getting very wavy in the back, which is no surprise since it was like that before. It is a little darker than my natural color, but I am happy with that! I actually had my first haircut last week, just in the back to clean up some of the waves.

I have several posts in the works talking about my eating habits and lifestyle, so look for those soon. Until then I hope you all have a fabulous night!
Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why I am thankful this holiday season

Nine months ago I wasn't exactly feeling thankful. I wasn't feeling much of anything besides fear and devastation. To say that this has been a hard year would be an understatement.

I never would have imagined myself saying this after getting a cancer diagnosis, but I can honestly say that I am happy. I am extremely happy. Probably the happiest I have ever been.

I will not say that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me, because it is a terrible disease that I wish upon no one. What I will say is that I am grateful for the lessons I have learned from having cancer.
These will all probably sound cliche, but they are so very true.

I value my relationships so much more; my husband, family, friends and co-workers. Having wonderful, caring, and compassionate people surrounding you makes life so much more enjoyable.

I notice the world around me more than ever before. I take the time to really appreciate the beauty I see in everyday life.

I focus on experiencing as much of the world as I possibly can. I have always loved to travel and look forward to it even more now. I am much more open to new experiences. I am sick of saying "we should do this or we should do that". No more "shoulds". Now I do.

Oddly enough, cancer has cured my anxiety. I used to have so many to do lists running through my head that I would develop anxiety thinking about getting everything done. Now I realize that life is too short to spend so much time feeling worried, anxious and rushed.  I slow down. I breathe. I let go.

I appreciate my body. For a while I felt betrayed by it. Now I try to treat it like the temple it is. My experience with cancer has created a new-found passion for health and wellness. I truly believe that eating terrible food and loading our bodies with chemicals is not a healthy way to live. It's no wonder they rebel with things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

I am thankful for hair :) Never again will I allow myself to complain about a bad hair day. As long as I have hair, I consider it to be a good day!

I want to leave you with a quote I have been loving recently:

"Be calm. Be Strong. Be Grateful" Abdul Baha

I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday filled with family, friends, and good food. Please fill your plate with vegetables :)

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Another Lesson To Be Learned From Me

One of my main hopes for this blog is that along with the updates on my progress, people will also learn to not take their health for granted. Obviously I hope that you are all now doing regular breast exams (and it makes me so happy when you tell me you are!)

Now we can add one more lesson to the list.

Don't use a tanning bed. EVER. Wear suncreen. Protect your skin.

Most people who know me well know that I have had problems with abnormal moles for several years. I have had several removed and many of those have come back either moderately or severely atypical, requiring excisional procedures (either 3 or 5 mm of tissue in either direction has to be removed from the area of the mole and sutures are placed). I usually see my dermatologist every 6 months for a full body skin exam. I was due to see her in July but delayed it because of chemo.

During my most recent visit I had 4 moles removed (FOUR!) and we are watching another one. This brings my total mole removal count to around a dozen (that I can recall). Two of the moles came back just mildly atypical, but two were moderately atypical. Out of those two, one had positive margins, so two weeks ago I had yet another excision (that brings the count for that procedure up to 5).

 *Picture1: Two of my previous scars (I have had problems with them not healing well on my back)
 *Picture 2: My newest excision. In the upper left hand corner is another one of my scars.

I'll be honest, I never really wore sunscreen until the past few years. I lived in the sun when I was younger, and lived in tanning beds at the end of high school and throughout college. Who doesn't like to be tan, right? Before Derek and I got married I was in a tanning bed twice a week for 6 months! And I tanned quite a bit before his sister's wedding the following year.

Let me just say that being tan is NOT worth melanoma. I wish I would have told my younger self that.

Because of tanning beds and not using sunscreen, melanoma is becoming more and more common in younger women. If it is caught early there is an extremely good prognosis, but once it has spread the 5 and 10 year survival rates usually aren't as high.

If you have a family history of melanoma, have a lot of moles, have a history of multiple sunburns, or have used tanning beds in the past then you should be doing monthly skin exams along with your breast exams. Here is a helpful guide to what to look for when looking at moles (from the American Cancer Society)

The ABCDE Rule:

A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

You should also see a dermatologist once a year for a head to toe skin exam. Call now, because it will probably take several months to get the appointment!
Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

Monday, November 5, 2012

No more drains, my first oncology follow-up and HAIR!

Hey everyone!

Since my last post I am happy to report that my drains from surgery did get to come out after just one week!

It has been just over three weeks since surgery now and I really feel great. I get some occasional soreness here and there but it will usually just last a few minutes and then resolve.

I had my three month follow-up with my oncologist last week. It's really hard to believe that it has been three months since I finished chemo. Fortunately I got all good news. My blood counts are now all back to normal with the exception of my platelets. She said it might take up to one year before they go back to normal after chemo.

My follow-up from here on looks like this: I see her every 3 months until it has been 2 years, then every 6 months until 5 years out, and then once a year until I am 10 years out. I won't have any routine scans performed. Instead I have a tumor marker checked at each visit. If that levels starts to significantly increase then we get worried about a recurrence and a PET scan would be performed. I also have to monitor any symptoms I experience. The most common places for breast cancer to spread are the liver, lungs, bone and brain. If I start to have any symptoms related to those organ systems then I will have further testing. People often joke about having a brain tumor when they have a headache, but unfortunately I don't ever find that funny anymore. Luckily I don't get headaches often, but now if I do my first thought is of recurrence. I have been losing weight since the end of chemo and realistically I know it is related to diet and lifestyle, yet until I had my liver function tests last week there was a small part of me that worried about having cancer in my liver. This is unfortunately what cancer does to you. Especially for the next several years I will always have some level of anxiety and paranoia. I have heard that it decreases over time, and can only hope that is true.

I had another ultrasound of my heart last week as well. The pericardial effusion is still there but from what I could see it does appear a little smaller. I am still waiting for the final report from the radiologist. My oncologist feels that if it was related to the cancer then the fluid should be growing, so as long as it is either remaining stable or (hopefully) shrinking then we will just continue to monitor it every few months.

Now for the fun part: my hair! It has really been getting thick lately. I seem to be the only person who hasn't thought that it is coming in fast until this past week. The pictures speak for themselves!

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Twin Cities 3-Day