Saturday, July 13, 2019

Integrated care.

The first person I met with following my diagnosis last summer was my breast surgeon. She said, during that initial discussion, that cancer has physical, emotional and spiritual repercussions. She stressed the importance of tackling all aspects of care. Cut to a couple months post-chemo, and I was sitting in this soothing office, meeting with the integrated care doctor. I went in knowing he was vegetarian and encourages a plant-based diet. I was pretty stoked to tell him about my changed diet and he was really pleased with it. But the tweaks he urged on me were surprising. Eat more fat. Increase the amount of fatty fish I'm eating. Lay off the raw vegetables and salads. When I do eat salads, load them up with fats like avocados, nuts and fish.
Him: "And you need to eat more than you probably think you do."
Me: "I already eat more than my husband."
Him: "That's good, keep doing that. If he ate as much as you need to, he'd gain weight. You're a hummingbird."​

So there you have it, my diagnosis is "hummingbird."
My personalized wellness plan started with "Great job on your super healthy pescatarian diet." Based on my Aryuvedic body type, he wants me to eat a "vata pacifying diet," which means eating and drinking things hot or warm as much as possible. I'm supposed to eat warm, moist, heavy, nourishing meals. Even water should be no colder than room temperature. Obviously I will make an exception for beer. Veggies and greens should all be cooked. Will that make a difference? I'm skeptical. But it turns out I actually like having a cup of warm water in the afternoons at work and I figure it can't hurt to try it.

I'd told him I wasn't interested in taking a bunch of supplements, so he suggested I add a teaspoon of spirulina 3-4 times a week. I struggled with how to take that with something warm. I'm here to tell you that you do NOT want to mix spirulina into oatmeal. That's just nasty. Finally, after some experimentation, I discovered that if I dissolve a little miso in hot water and mix in the spirulina, it makes a tasty broth. Spirulina is blue-green algae and jam-packed with nutrients, apparently. And also, I'm to eat a sheet of nori seaweed every day, to help lower estrogen. No problem there, I love seaweed. And for lifestyle, he gave me a handout and then wrote in my plan to also "Continue your awesome PMA (Positive Mental Attitude)" and "Keep Living out your Mantra :)" I'd shown him my appointment book where I'd written this years mantra for me: "I am fierce. I am strong. I am healing. I am grateful for this day." He LOVED that. And at our second and final visit, he hugged me, and said he loved me. He has a real young hippy vibe but you know what? It's sweet and you definitely leave feeling cared about.
As I was researching something for a friend, I read a huge NCBI meta-analysis about environmental links to breast cancer. When I was first diagnosed, I used to joke that maybe it was caused by running in the mist of the DDT truck spraying our neighborhood when I was a kid in Boston in the '60's. According to the article, DDT exposure has been definitively linked to breast cancer. Oh. It got me thinking about other carcinogens I might be exposing myself to. In particular, I was taken aback by the research about phthalates and parabens in many cosmetic products. I went through everything I owned. See the little set with three items? That's what passed. Everything else got tossed, along with a bunch of shampoos, conditioners, lotions, sunscreens, and anti-perspirants, It was a little sobering. Now I use coconut oil and olive oil as moisturizers, baby shampoo, and zinc-based sunblocks. I have very limited cosmetics, all of which got safe ratings from the Environmental Working group. It's exhausting being careful about what you are exposed to! Of course, I can't control the environment, but since the effects of carcinogens are cumulative, I will control what I can.
I think community is also vital for recovery and well-being, and I've taken advantage of two groups in town. One is the Cancer Support Community where I attend various programs. In one, we made gorgeous silk scarves. I picked out sea-like colors and a wave pattern for mine. And best of all, every program is free to people with cancer and their families/support people.
Pretty cool, huh? My husband and I have also gone to a cooking demonstration, live music, and various talks. The informative programs count as continuing ed credits for me, which is a sweet bonus.
Additionally, I go to survivor hangouts with Breast Connect, a local breast cancer group. They provide dinner and a speaker at get-togethers every couple of months. In the last one, we heard about breast cancer research and had wine and appetizers (really good bread with hummus and salmon spread). The dinner was chicken so I took the option of requesting their vegetarian meal. I had a really great salad when I waited for it, and then was thrilled when they brought me roasted butternut squash with caramelized onions and spinach. It was so good that I came home a re-created it for my husband a few days later.
It's not that I'm focused on cancer all the time, but I figure I might as well do what I can to minimize my risks. Or at least, to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can. And it's hard not to think about it.  For one thing, my crazy hair is a daily reminder. Lately, my husband has been calling me Mrs. Heat Miser.
And he has a point. I know it will go back to being straight eventually, but for right now, my hair just gets wilder by the day. Rather than fighting it, I've decided I'm just going to ride this train wherever it takes me.

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