Monday, January 31, 2011

Today's recipe post - a salute to Mark Bittman

Check it out at my recipe blog.

Monday's health links

  1. Fatty foods increase risk of depression.
  2. Nudging people towards better eating habits.
  3. Anti-depressants found in fish. Good lord, what are we eating?
  4. Understanding what nutrition labels are telling us
  5. Related to the above...from the LA Times, two guys trying to lose weight discuss what they are learning from these labels, including how manufacturers define portion size.
  6. Study associates body fat with increased risk of estrogen-negative breast cancer.
  7. Using hormone replacement therapy to deal with menopause symptoms in young women linked to elevated risk of breast cancer.
  8. Sadly, 20-year old Vancouver singer Megan McNeil succumbed to cancer after a 4 year fight.Megan put her heart and soul into the effort to raise awareness of childhood cancers. To say she was inspirational is an understatement. Click here to see her perform the song she wrote in tribute to the children she met going through cancer treatment. It is available for purchase on iTunes; proceeds go to childhood cancer organizations including BCCCPA, a group that provides support to families of children with cancer, and the James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

For my new friends in Texas

Texas has just the nicest people. And in their honour, thought I'd share the first reason I fell in love with Texas, at least with the idea of Texas...Lyle Lovett and If I Had a Boat.


The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. 
~ Barbara Kingsolver, US novelist

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cool diversion

I used to be quite a reader. I love books. But when I was going through cancer treatment, I just could not focus on a book. The thought of reading was exhausting. So I turned instead to my other guilty pleasure - the Internet.

In the interest of sharing the love, and on the off chance I might help someone going through a difficult time, I'm going to start featuring my cool diversion of the week. The focus will not be cancer, though health and wellness will probably pop up a lot. I will also be mining the web for sources of humour, good news and, well, things that are just plain cool.

First up: urban explorer Steve Duncan. Cinematographer Andrew Wonder followed Steve Duncan as he showed off his guilty pleasure, exploring the underground of famous cities. In this film, he takes Wonder on a tour of the hidden underground world of New York City. Now, I am claustrophobic so some of the footage makes me queasy, but you will be amazed at what they show you. Even better is watching the enthusiasm Duncan has for this world - that kind of passion is a beautiful thing to see. Here's another link to the video at YouTube.

Final bit of advice: I first heard about this team on an NPR Story of the Day podcast. In this podcast, Duncan and Wonder lead an NPR reporter on a mini-tour, and this is another fascinating trip. My advice: if you like to listen to the radio but find yourself missing your favourite shows, most of them are available as podcasts. To find out more go to iTunes or directly to the podcast area of NPR's website.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Today's recipe post - slow cooker recipes

Check 'em out!

Bunny makes me laugh

Summer memory on a cold day - Bunny doing what he loves to do - playing with bugs!
This morning, Bunny woke up with a sore throat and, on examination, swollen tonsils. Today was going to be his special day at kindergarten; on special days the kids get to bring something for show and tell, and be special helper. :-( No school for you, kiddo. OK that isn't funny at all. Keep reading. While my husband has the wee bairn off at the clinic, I thought I'd share a funny Bunny story from last week.

(Note: because I don't mention my children's actual names in this blog, I will be using Bunny instead and will adjust the story slightly to fit with his alias.)

To set the scene, Bunny is downstairs playing a game (non-violent, educational!) on the family computer.

What I hear: bang, bang, bang. "Uhr!" bang, bang, bang, "Aarrr!"
Me: "Bunny? What's wrong?"
Bunny: bang, bang. "Come on!" pause "Oh, come ON!"
Me: "Bunny? What's wrong?!"
Bunny: "Come on! Where is it?"
Me: "Bunny?!"
Bunny: "Mom. I'm trying to spell my name!" Long pause followed by a very exasperated voice, "Aren't there ANY 'N's in the alphabet?!"


Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday's health links

Good morning, all!
  1. Purdue researchers develop a "breast on a chip."  They hope it will help them test the use of nanoparticles to detect and target cancer cells within the breast's ducts. Past efforts to access the ducts through the nipple have had difficulty getting past the first third of the breast. The idea here is that nanoparticles with a magnetic core can float through the fluid in the ducts, pulled by a magnet, all the way to the back of the ducts where it is believed most breast cancer start.
  2. The loss of an American fitness legend - Jack LaLanne dies at 96. Thanks, Jack!
  3. Lowering the exercise standards for Canadians.  I get it - the new standards are minimums and the idea is to encourage people to do SOMETHING. But if you need any more evidence in favour of lots of vigorous, regular exercise than the long life of Jack LaLanne I don't know what it is.
  4. Positive emotions linked to improved health and quality of life as one ages. Really?! This is news!?
  5. And finally, a list of ten super foods that includes some I haven't seen highlighted before: walnut oil, quinoa, black beans, sweet potatoes, cabbage, oats, flax seeds, avocado, kale and strawberries. In praise of this, I'm highlighting recipes for each of these powerful little buggers over on my recipe blog today. Quick - go there now!

Friday, January 21, 2011


There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.
~ The Dalai Lama

Cauliflower Couscous under Moroccan Lamb - new on my recipe blog

I have posted a new recipe on my recipe blog. Haven`t made it yet but it is next up for this weekend (but with chicken thighs instead of lamb - I have to work up my nerve for lamb!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My new LIFE

Weekend before last, we joined our nephew/godson Finn for birthday tubing at Cypress Mountain. There were 8 of us, two sets of parents, two sets of kids and a whole bunch of strangers, tromping, sliding, laughing, trudging, and doing it again. It was a lot of fun. A lot. So much so that we were organizing the next trip before we were finished the first! Always a good sign.

But all day I was so cold. Cold through the four or five layers of fabric that wicked and fabric that insulated. That is not normal for me. I'm the warm one in my family - my sister is the one always reaching for a fleece and complaining about cold feet. And it drove home some of what my new life is like, post breast cancer. It didn't even occur to me what the problem might be, until my husband reminded me. Oh, right, cancer treatment may have changed the way my body reacts to the environment. It`s just part of my new life.

Another example - every night the hot flashes wake me up and I kick off two layers of covers, desperate to feel something cold, the air, a new section of sheet, against my skin. Then, half an hour later, cold from the sweat once the hot flash has dissipated, I am yanking the covers back over me again. My diet has changed, too. It used to be I didn't think much about having a plateful of chicken wings with blue cheese dip, a big beer and piece of cheesecake for dessert. I mean, I knew that wasn't a great way to eat but I always knew that I could just eat less over the next few days to offset the calorie overload. Now, I think about the nutritional composition of everything I eat with an eye to the impact it may have on tumours in my body. I still eat chicken wings with blue cheese, but I have a handful instead of a platter. Instead of the occasional multi-vitamin and the daily calcium, I take three turmeric pills, two fish oil, two vitamin D, one vitamin C, one calcium, one green tea extract, one tamoxifen, a smattering of aspirin, 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed, 2 tablespoons of wheat germ, half a cup of low fat yogurt, half a cup of green juice, 4 cups of green tea, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Don't even get me started about how my body has changed. The other day my husband said to me, "So, what are we thinking about doing with your hair?" OK - I'll take a moment now to let everyone who knows my husband stop laughing. Yes, Jon is concerned about my hair - in the most lovely and supportive way. But this is a man who, normally, cares not what my hair looks like. During chemo, he actually complimented the way my head looked and remarked on how great it was that I could get out of the house so much faster now that I didn't have to worry about managing that long hair I used to have. (He's a retired tank commander and has fond memories of the ease of life that comes with very short hair.) So, the fact that he is wondering if maybe I shouldn't be getting someone professional to look at my hair gives you an idea about the way the puff ball is taking over my northern hemisphere. Luckily, my face is slimming down but that's all that is. In spite of the hours I am putting in Walking it Out and watching what I eat, I am not losing any weight. At least not quickly enough for me.

OK - enough whinging. I`m really not complaining. If you are not quite as far down the cancer road as I am and you are scared about how you will cope, I'm here to tell you that you just will. You will adapt and you will be fine. Cancer changes your life and you adapt. Here`s how I see life now: I will continue to try to lose weight but I will understand that it may take longer than I want; I will look for better and more bullet-proof hair products to keep my hair closer to my skull while I wait for it to grow another few inches; I will continue to eat better and take my supplements but I will understand that doing so is no longer about having more youthful skin and some abstract, down-the-road, longer life, it is about staying alive; I will be cold and I will be hot and I will simply remember to wear layers and sleep in natural fibres. Because this is my new life.

New recipe fit for a plant-based diet

Today I posted a new recipe that Cook's Illustrated editor Chris Kimball prepared on the Today Show. Greek-style Skillet Shrimp with Feta. Check out my recipe blog for the 411. No, not the 911, the 411. Jeeze Louise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My favourite new Macaroni and Cheese - with Spicy Tomato Jam!

Check it out in my recipe blog. The key to enjoying mac and cheese while trying to lose or maintain weight, portion control! Serve with steamed or roasted cauliflower and broccoli, big heaping piles of it. :-)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday's health links

  1. Well there you go - today is the most depressing day of the year.
  2.  National Butt Out Week. If you smoke, please use this as an opportunity to try to stop. If you don't, don't look like an idiot by starting.
  3. Researchers identify Alzheimer's and Down Syndrome gene. One more step towards finding a treatment.
  4. More steps taken to regulate use of tanning beds in Canada.
  5. The cost of treating cancer in the US.
  6. The health risks of being overweight.
  7. The side effects of some cancer treatment drugs.
  8. Leadership is the key to disease prevention, with a British Columbia focus. Hallelujah.
  9. Canadian advances in the treatment of brain cancer.
  10. The Canadian Paediatric Society is calling for a national vaccination strategy.
And a little medical humour from Mr. Bean (thanks for the reminder, Debby!).

Check out my recipe blog

Today I have started a new series of weekly posts - and because it's on my recipe site its about recipes! Every Monday I will continue to provide health links here and recipe links there.

And, as always, please feel free to add your own two cents. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Laughing your way through crappy days

When I was first diagnosed, my dear friends Karen and Parker gave me, amongst other thoughtful things, a classic Bill Cosby CD. I didn't even need  to listen to it for it to help me - it was a sweet reminder that humour has the power to heal and, frankly, distract. Some days distracted is the best state of mind you can hope for.

There is also a lot to be said for simply being cheered up. Recently I went through a bit of a blue spell. To help me cope, I turned to some of my favourite comedy podcasts. They certainly don't fix me, but they relax my mood and give me a bit of a break from the re-lent-less gloom.

So, in the spirit of paying it forward, I'd like to share a few of my favourite current chuckle stops:
  1. The Sound of Young America. Host Jesse Thorn introduces you to much of the best new comedy, as well as people elsewhere from the world of arts. I get the podcast via iTunes and yesterday embarrassed myself by laughing out loud, too often, while waiting for my kids at the playground. Current fave - Paul F. Tompkins - "Sir, You Have Fooled Me Twice" from the Best of Comedy 2010.
  2. Laugh Out Loud from CBC Radio. Every week Craig Norris and producer Tracy Rideout bring us comedy-lovin' Canadians the best in comedy from around the world. One of my favourite moments from recovery - I was walking around the pond at Minoru Park here in Richmond BC, and I had to stop, doubled over, tears streaming down my face as I laughed at the stand up set from Big Daddy Tazz. The reserved, eldery Chinese-Canadians who frequent the park for their morning constitutionals looked very puzzled by this odd, bald, white girl, convulsing against the park bench. Note to self: save comedy podcasts for home listening.
  3. Doug Loves Movies Doug Benson loves movies and so do I. This is what you get when a bunch of comedians who love movies get together. Warning - explicit language.
  4. Old Jews Telling Jokes. I'd tell you some of them now, but it would take me a while to sort through the ones that are NSFW (not suitable for work - for those of you over 30).

I'll keep updating - check here or in my sidebar to see what I am listening to (usually a mix of comedy, news and music). But I'd love to hear what you are listening to!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two boob or not two boob

People, my oncologist included, keep asking me if I am going to get reconstructive surgery. It's been almost a year since my mastectomy and I still haven't decided. Not that I've been dragging my feet or anything. I wasn't allowed to get it done until recently because we had to let my radiated flesh (ewwww) recover. But I'm fully recovered now and, cheese and crackers, I still haven't decided.

Why is this so difficult? I am profoundly divided. Sorry, I don't mean that literally. Perhaps I should say I am of two minds. Part of me really doesn't want to do it. I can't stand the idea of voluntarily setting myself up for the pain and recovery time. I also can't stand the idea of facing the possible complications that arise once you start dealing with implants. Someone dear to me has had a very bad experience with implants. And her judgment is something I would never question.

But part of me wonders if surgery will help me begin to feel more whole. I don't like what breast cancer has left behind. I don't like the scar. I don't like the new topography. I don't like catching a glimpse of my sunken chest when I look down at a book, at a computer, at my child. And I really hate my breast form - it's not that it's uncomfortable, but it is not part of me and I find myself poking at it and banging my forearm against it as I go about my day. Then there is its, well, substantial presence. You know what, when you drop your bra on the floor, it shouldn't go thud. Not sexy.

People keep trying to help me. One of my nurses said, "Go for it - get the breasts you've always wanted."  My doctor weighed in, "Oh you should do it - you're such a good healer." (At last, something I'm a natural at; it certainly isn't sports or navigation.) Then from someone in my family, delivered with a laugh and a shake of the head, "You can't be serious. You aren't going to do that are you?"  

Let's be real. Since the cancer, I don't see the world the same way. Anything that smacks of vanity feels I have learned to accept my puff ball hair and puff ball face because, well, I know they represent a small price to pay for killing my tumour. Eventually my hair will grow and straighten, and my face will slim down. If someone is going to judge me based on my appearance, I get now that it doesn't have to mean anything to me. But what happens when the judge is me? I know I have not accepted what I look like.  I'm 45, and it breaks my heart to think I will feel this way about my body for the rest of my life. And I honestly don't know what will change this feeling other than reconstruction.

Odd isn't it? In a world where 16 year-old girls are begging their parents to buy them new breasts, I have spent more time agonizing over this surgery than the one that took my breast away.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New recipe up as we begin our new plant-based diet

First up? My take on Mark Bittman's Simplest and Best Shrimp Dish over at my recipe site. The verdict? Simply delicious.

Monday's Health Links

Good morning!
  1. Gillian Deacon, some of you Canadians will remember her as co-host with Jay Ingram of as well as a host of a few shows on her own, has written a book about toxins in our beauty products. It's called There's Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins in Everyday Bodycare and How to Avoid Them. Four months into writing the book, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she says her first response was almost a sense of shame. Been there. Did I get this disease because of something I have been doing? Now stop beating yourself up and start doing something positive for your health. I've flipped through the book and there is a lot of good advice backed up by solid science. This is next up on my have-to-buy list. Here's the link and one for Chapters.
  2. Second on my have-to-buy list? Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook. The only reason it is second on my list is I just bought the Pink Ribbon Diet book and have used up my cookbook quota for the month. Seriously, my cookbook habit has to be managed.
  3. Exercise cuts risk of prostate cancer-related death. Boys - get up and move!
  4. Drs. Oz and Roizen on taking aspirin as a weapon against cancer. Their advice? Talk to your doctor first, but they give it 2 thumbs up.
  5. Two more studies tout the benefits of eating plant-based, Mediterranean-style diets, rich in olive oil, whole grains, seeds, vegetables, fruit and fish.
  6. Measuring quality of life in cancer trials.
What I'm watching instead of reading more health - an ever updating compilation of pictures taken from Google's Street View cameras. Check it out!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Slings and arrows

From xkcd

On the days when I was my most terrified, when my mind reeled with the fear that I might die and leave my kids without a mom, I prayed to God and asked for strength. I never once asked to be fixed. Even when looking at my own mortality, it felt wrong to ask for anything beyond strength. I mean, I have lived a pretty rich life, full of love and wonderful people. Right now, someone is praying to God for something I have taken for granted. How could I ask for more. But it felt OK to ask for a little help keeping it together, so I could face what I would face in a way that would not scare my kids. So, if I did die, I would have left my kids with happy memories right up to the end.

So I found my courage in my spiritual beliefs and in the knowledge that I had good people praying for me and keeping me in their thoughts. And right now, I am keeping others in my thoughts. Too many others. And so it will continue, as we look for bigger, better and more accurate slings and arrows against this and all the other nasty diseases.

Here's to finding courage wherever we can...and to finding weapons in science.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday's health links

Welcome to 2011!
From Baldie's Blog.
  1. A blood test for cancer. I know - right?! HOLY CRAP! Now, before we get too excited, I saw a doctor on TV this morning say that this is going to be most useful as a tool during treatment to assess how it is working. So, not necessarily something you can march into your doctor's office and request - but signs of important new developments in diagnosis and treatment.
  2. Live Right Now - the CBC, our national broadcast company, wants us to get healthy. And to do this, they are encouraging us to start making small manageable changes that we are most likely to stick with. It's a great idea. Baby steps to help us start the journey. It's a very comprehensive initiative that combines an online community where members can get healthy living tips, recipes, health care advice, and physical activity challenges with a range of promotions suited to Canadians of all ages. Some of the highlights: the Million Pound Challenge where Canadians can pledge to lose a combined total of one million pounds; Village on a Diet, the television program highlighting Taylor, BC and its attempt to achieve smaller bodies and better health; and Run Run Revolution, a documentary that will follow a group of middle school kids as they prepare to run the youth section of the Boston Marathon. Click here to go to the official website. My favourite part is the Challenges section where you can sign up to participate in challenges.
  3. Need more incentive to quit smoking? Do it in Ontario and you could win a car.
  4. January is cervical health awareness month. Make it a priority this month if you have neglected it the rest of the year.  I am making an appointment to get a PAP smear this month.
  5. Coming soon to the US, nutrition fact labels on meat products.