Friday, February 20, 2015

More about the hair

Sooo, I shaved my head. And it's been pretty great so far. But let me back up.

The doctor said that my hair would start falling out after about 2–3 weeks. OK cool. About 2.5 weeks in I noticed that every time I touched my head, a single hair would fall out. I was finding and removing hairs from my laptop keyboard more and more often. This was enough to signal to me that it was time.

My dear friends Maude and Emma hopped over and helped document this once-in-a-lifetime moment, which was pretty cool. I mean, when in your life does the husband get to shave his wife's head?

We planned out how we wanted to make the gifs (check out the ones Emma made here), and then started shaving! Periodically we stopped the clippers to take photos. So fun. I got to try a bunch of sweet hairstyles as we chop-chopped our way down.

Things are significantly more chilly without a head full of hair, but that's what hats are for. And I'm covered (pun) in that department.

While some of my hair follicles are closing up because of chemo (that's what causes the hair loss), not all of them are kind enough to close up shop. I still have to shave my legs and armpits, although my pubic hair is falling out like crazy (sorry if that's TMI, but it was something that I wondered about before we started chemo). I still think it would be so awesome if chemo only affected your leg hairs...but maybe that's just too dreamy.

Shaving my head is probably the thing I got asked about the most when I would tell someone I had cancer. "Are you worried/anxious/fearful that shaving your head will be hard/scary/make you not feel or look pretty?" And for a lot of men and women this can be a pretty traumatic event. But my friends and husband were so supportive! We made it into a fun event (photoshoot = always fun), and I know that I'm not gonna have a shaved head for the rest of my life. Hair grows back. My body will heal. This is not forever.

What we eat

FOOD! I love food! Usually. With cancer and Crohn's and chemo, sometimes I really don't like food and it makes me sick just thinking about it. But in general I do absolutely love food.

Currently we focus on eating fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and healthy fats. We avoid sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains.

So that's the general rule of thumb. There are some exceptions and I'll tell you about them! But if you are going to make us food (thank you!) just go with the above statement.

We love vegetables! We like them in soups, salads, raw, steamed, baked, mashed, the list goes on and on. There are so many different types of vegetables out there too! It's fun to experiment or find new ways to cook old favorites. Vegetables are usually the main dish, but this can be hard to stomach sometimes when my body isn't feeling great.

We also are trying to juice more often, and the best juices for your body have tons of vegetables! Again, sometimes I can't deal with drinking juice, but when I can I do!

We have switched to buying organic produce as much as we can. One reason is because while I'm on chemo my immune system is shot, and pesticides can actually get me sick. Another big reason is GMOs—just look into them and maybe you'll change your mind.

Derek loves fruit! And I do too (but not as much as him). But, sugar in any form is cancer's favorite source of energy, so I've cut back to 1 or 2 servings of fruit a day. Again we're on the organic train here, and we also like dried fruits like coconut, mango and dates.

Meat and fish!
We do eat meat and fish! And a fair amount of it. Especially chicken, because that's what my body feels like it needs and can usually tolerate eating. We don't eat too much red meat because of the high iron content, which is another favorite for growing cancer cells. Any meat we do eat we choose to buy organic: grass-fed for the cows, free-range for the chickens and eggs. This makes a huge difference! Not only in flavor, tenderness, and deliciousness, but in quality. There is a major difference between the rotisserie chickens at Costco and the ones at Sprouts (our local health food store).

There are so many reasons why buying organic meat is so important (ethical, health, common sense) so look into it and try to make an effort to buy good meat and fish.

We also are into making bone broth from leftover bones! It is so delicious and full of good nutrients and gelatin. Just google 'bone broth' to learn about the benefits.

Healthy fats!
Fats are not bad! Your body needs them. For real. So cut the margarine and read the first chapter of Nourishing Traditions. It's about fats. We eat and cook with extra-virgin olive oil (but never heated), coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and lots and lots of grass-fed butter (for me especially). Not all fats and oils and created equal, but these ones are awesome!

Nuts and seeds!
We do also eat some nuts and seeds. We've been making our own almond milk, which is amazingly delicious. We'll snack on nuts every now and then (mostly Derek) but if they aren't soaked it can irritate my gut.

Now, here's what we avoid, and why:

As soon as I was diagnosed with cancer we cut this guy out. And it's gonna stay out. We haven't really missed it, to be surprisingly honest. We still eat naturally-occurring sugar from fruit, and we do occasionally nibble on dark chocolate or raw local honey, but other than that we are pretty sugar-free (and by "sugar-free" we're definitely not eating products that say they're "sugar-free" because there's usually aspartame in them which is way worse for cancer). I get headaches from drinking a bottle of Gatorade (to stay hydrated with them electrolytes, which is super important while on chemo) and tummy aches too. So sugar in nearly all forms is out of our diet.

Milk and I are not friends. You can read more about this on Derek's blog. Other than our homemade raw milk yogurt and the occasional high-quality cheese, we currently have no dairy in our life.

Pretty straightforward here. We don't eat beans. I don't feel good when I eat them, so we don't eat them. I'd like to experiment with soaking and sprouting in the long run, but right now we are just doing without.

Total avoidance of gluten due to gut irritability. So no white or wheat flour for us. We actually do eat some grains. It's so important that I don't lose weight, and sometimes that means nothing sounds good except rice and butter. We occasionally eat rice, quinoa, rice noodles, and corn tortillas. But many meals are totally devoid of even those grains. It's not hard to have a delicious vegetable-heavy meal.

Please note:
None of these foods are inherently "bad" or "good." Moderation and balance are key, and right now we are listening very intently to my body. This diet works for us because we've done a lot of research about foods that are the least inflammatory for my Crohn's, while maximizing calories and nutrients to help keep me strong enough to fight cancer.

Why we eat what we eat

Many of you know that I love food. I love to cook (thanks Mom!) and I really love to feed people. I'm sure many of you reading this have been over to my apartment/house for a meal/party/dinner/etc. at some point. This is the story of how Derek and I ended up eating the way we do. If you just want to see what we eat, go to this post.

Understanding what foods are good for me started my sophomore year when I accepted a challenge to be vegan for a month. That was life-changing, because I ended up accidentally going off sugar for that month as well. 

Here's what I learned from being vegan:
1) I was not eating nearly enough vegetables
2) how much free food is actually just crap
3) My body felt really different after a month of this change, so 

After that month I thought about returning to being vegan, but I knew that I wasn't doing it right. I knew I still needed protein, and definitely more vegetables. But how do you cook vegetables other than like, salads and carrotsticks?! So I reintroduced meat, eggs, and some dairy (I stopped drinking milk and stuck with almond milk from here on out), though I made an effort to not eat meat every day. 

About a year later, my roommate Laura started eating "paleo." It was a very odd diet, and I didn't really understand why anyone would want to live a life without pasta. I was interested, but skeptical. Eating like a caveman, really? No thanks. 

I head out to Europe and that opens the doors to amazing food. 

Things I learned while living in Europe:
1) Fresh produce and food is best! It really does make a difference
2) Eat local. In Sweden especially, so much of the food is grown/raised/caught not too far from where it's sold. Plus, you can always go berry and mushroom picking in the forest. Always.
3) Americans are fat. Ask any European what they think of America, and bingo: fatty. And if you compare Americans to the Europeans, it's no wonder.
4) Bigger is not better. I could probably write a whole post about fridges in Europe. They are tiny! Which is actually amazing! It starts with urban design: most people use public transport to travel, and because of this usually choose to grocery shop several times a week (if not every day) as opposed to once a week. The quantities of food that they bring home are smaller and fresher, and there isn't a need for a huge fridge to store tons of food. So fridges and freezers are small, and the food is fresh. I love it.

Come my senior year I start following some people on Instagram who are talking about this "Whole 30" thing. It was some sort of diet challenge that lasted 30 days, or something. Not really sure. During this time Derek and I start dating and falling in love. Derek is keen to say that he fell in love with my cooking, as well as me. We were avid farmer's market attendees and cooked dinner together almost every night. We loved green smoothies, yogurt with homemade granola, pasta with zucchini sauce, quinoa vegetable pilaf and mexican chicken soup. We got married, moved to New York, lived in 100 square feet of love with a mini fridge and two burners and a sink, and loved it. We made all kinds of curry (too often), fresh summer salads, and melty tomato cheese sandwiches. 

On subway trips to and from work that summer I read It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. It was the introduction to understanding good principles of nutrition that I needed. These were the creators of the Whole 30 Challenge, which challenges you to cut out all dairy, legumes, sugar, and grain for a strict thirty days as way to better understand how your body reacts to food. After those thirty days, you slowly reintroduce each of the aforementioned types of food and see how your body reacts to them. It's amazing how poorly we listen to our bodies and how powerfully our bodies react to food. I also love that this program does not count calories or restrict how much you eat. Eat until you are full and satisfied. Listen to your body. Feed it nutrient-rich, good foods. I loved how this book explained how your body works in regards to breaking down  fats, proteins and carbs, and why a diet (lifestyle, really) of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and healthy fats gives your body energy and nutrients that you otherwise might be deficient of.

I thought about doing a Whole 30 challenge when Derek and I returned to Provo and settled down a bit, buuuuut needless to say things came up. Like cancer and stuff. 

SO, once I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, more research began. There are some people who have been able to fight and heal cancer through drastic diet changes. I found their stories very interesting, and a fairly common tenet is to blast your body with nutrients via green smoothies, freshly juiced vegetables and a raw vegan diet. I think healing through nutrition is wonderful, but after prayer and many, many talks with Derek we didn't feel like that was the road for us. For many of the people who heal their cancer through nutrition, the lifestyle change was huge. From pizzas, sodas and fast food to the green smoothie and vegan diet was a drastic change. For Derek and I, it would have been a different change, but not drastic. We felt like my body needed something else.

Aaand when we found out I had Crohn's just a few months later we saw the wisdom in that earlier impression. With my gut so sensitive and an underactive stomach, my body would not be able to handle a raw vegan diet, at all. Also with the extreme weight loss that I've had over the past few months (nearly 40 lbs, which is not bueno at all) a diet of pure vegetables wouldn't help me maintain and gain weight. 

And so, I read the following books, compared information, prayed about what foods we needed to be eating at this point in our lives, and have gleaned a diet that works for Derek and me right now. I wanted to share the best sources of information that I've gathered together, and in the next post detail what we actually eat.

So here's what I've been reading the past few months in regards to food:

Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D. 
This book rocks. If you have cancer, you should read it. Pretty much by juicing, including lots of vegetables in your diet, and taking certain supplements can help your treatments be more effective at killing cancer cells, as well as reduce nasty side effects of said treatments.

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
My favorite. I am in awe with how thorough and well-researched this book is. The first sixty pages are a heavy-duty crash course in nutrition (like why some fats are good, breaking down myths about protein and carbs, etc.) and then the rest of the book is recipes. Fallon looks at what cultures have been eating for centuries, and using food science explains why preparing food though soaking, fermenting and sprouting helps make food more digestible and nutritious.

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
Cool book right here. (And yes I like to draw on books) This is the bible of food science and chemistry. Not only is everything is this book totally fascinating, but everything in this book is so applicable. I like comparing what I read in other books or online to what this book has to say.

If you are wanting to learn more about food and change your eating habits, I would strongly recommend you read Nourishing Traditions and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. If you need a program to stick to, read It Starts with Food. These books offer a great introduction to real food and give sound nutritional knowledge. Once you start to create your own base understanding of food, you can then customize your diet to fit your needs. The way Derek and I are eating now is not the way we will be eating in a year. Our diet fits our specific health needs, as should yours! Maybe paleo is right for you, maybe vegan, or maybe some combination of the two. Be smart and informed about the way you eat.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox now. Let's talk about food!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

01 Chemo

Here's what chemo looks like!

That's me in a nice reclining armchair, watching some Studio Ghibli, covered in warm blankets (they deserve a post all to themselves) and snacking on gluten-free almond crackers. While .9% Sodium Chloride (or something...) drips into my veins. Whee!

Arrive. Weigh in, have vitals taken (I consistently have low blood pressure, if you were wondering) and then choose a seat! There are like 10 armchairs, 3 or 4 of which face the windows. I prefer the seat closest to the warm blanket incubator. From my seat I have a really nice view of Mount Timpanogos, plus tons of natural light. I like it.

Nurses come over and sanitize my port, then poke it which is a little uncomfortable, but over in literally a second. They have to flush out the port (keep things sanitary and infection-free) with a saline solution which immediately gives a gross taste in the mouth. Nasty crap. Thankfully we try to remember to bring mints. After that they take some blood to check my white blood cell count, as well as other tests.

Then I get to drip through a bag of anti-nausea (which is really chilly!) and then my ABVD chemo chemicals. (Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, Dacarbazine)

In total it takes about 2.5–3 hours. I watched a movie, talked with the chemo patient and his wife who were sitting across from me, and checked Instagram.

I felt fine (and was craving baked potato) through the chemo. When we got home the exhaustion hit. I ate a little bit, and then watched another movie. I was nauseous too, and took some of my anti-nausea meds. But mostly just exhausted. I went to bed at 8 pm.

A few days after chemo I was a little nauseous and pretty tired, but this past week I've had much more energy and no nausea. Mostly we're gonna be fighting weight-loss and constipation.

But overall, it was a REALLY good way to start! They say everything just gets gradually worse with each round of chemo, so if that's true, this is a greaaaat place to start. Derek and I are really optimistic and just plain happy that we are one round of chemo closer to finishing! Just eleven more and we are done with this cancer thing!