Archives for posts with tag: cancer

Change.

When change happens what do you do? Do you shut your eyes tight and hope to get back to the world as you knew it before change happened? Do you keep your eyes wide open and work to manage the change, to learn, and to grow?

As many of you know, my life changed when my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and then changed again when he died last July. My eyes have been shut tight for some time as I’ve hoped against hope and tried to wish my way back.

It’s time to lift my lids and look around. It’s time to manage, learn, and grow.

I’m lucky to have people around me who can help me through this process, and I’m so glad to know Caryn Dugan and count her among my friends. You’ve probably heard of her and likely recognize her as STLVegGirl.

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Caryn is St. Louis’ most passionate vegan, in my opnion. She adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet after her dad succumbed to cancer and she won her own battle with the disease.

I admire her for managing her change right from the beginning. She dug in, and she found the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). What she learned changed her life. Caryn told me that she chose a vegan diet because, “…  science tells us that this is the best prevention for warding off chronic diseases and a whole host of other ailments.”

While she is the first to note that a vegan diet is NOT a fool-proof way to NEVER get sick, she is fortified by the idea that should she get sick, she’ll, “have done everything in [her] power to dodge that bullet.” Additionally, she has a better chance of a speedy recovery.

That’s powerful stuff.

Over the course of a few dinners and events, Caryn came to know my story and asked me to join her Food for Life class at the Cancer Support Community* (CSC). So I did. I didn’t know anything about vegan diets. I thought I was going to learn a few techniques and walk away.

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What I got from Caryn was information. She shared research gathered by PCRM that shows how meat, dairy, and fat contribute to cancer’s ability to grow. She shared information that shows how diets that are high in fiber, vegetables, and fruits work with our biology to strengthen our immune systems and rid our bodies of toxins. And Caryn showed me in a fun, approachable way how to create easy, flavorful, thoughtful meals that support healthy living (and appeal to a hard-core food lover).

What I found at the CSC was a group of people who were either beginning or in treatment; cancer survivors; family members; and people like me who are grappling with grief. In any event, each of us was trying to manage change in a positive way. The CSC offers a lovely, safe place for people who have been affected by cancer to come together. It’s lively and there’s laughter. When there are tears, there is real understanding and deep compassion.

I had no idea how much I’d value the community I found in those classes. I’m indebted.

My eyes are wide open and I have a lot to chew on as I work through my changed world. Cancer will be part of my life forever, and I know that the odds are not in my favor. There is a target on my back. So, at the very least, I need to make wiser choices.

While making a total conversion to a vegan diet is not what I’m likely to do (I have to be honest with you), I find that I am becoming more conscious of my food-based decisions. There are times – particularly when I’m cooking for myself – when I will be making vegan dishes. I am particularly fascinated by a soy-based ingredient called Tempeh, which I’d never before encountered.

Change doesn’t always have to be cataclysmic. Change can happen in baby steps. As I manage, and learn, and grow with my exploration of vegan opportunities, I will enjoy every bite while I Eat It, St. Louis!

As an aside, a popular question during our classes revolved around which restaurants offer vegan menus. Here is a short list of eateries around St. Louis where you can find vegan options (please feel free to let me know of others):

Black Bear Bakery
Café Natasha
Frida’s Deli
Gokul 
Green Bean
HotPot Smoothie Shop

Local Harvest Café
Pho Grand
Pi
PuraVegan
Rooster
Sweet Art Bake Shop & Art Studio

* Cancer Support Community of Greater St. Louis is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.  All programs are completely free of charge and offered in a comfortable, home-like environment. Cancer Support Community offers professionally-led support groups, educational workshops, nutrition and exercise programs, and stress-reduction classes to empower and educate individuals affected by cancer.  For more information,  call 314-238-2000 or visit www.cancersupportstl.org.

My dad died on July 2, 2012.

While I wish I could say I was prepared for it – he’d been diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer* three years earlier – or that I could rationalize a purpose for it, I can’t. Rather, I find that I simply want to eat my weight in ice cream.

We, my dad and I, always had ice cream. My earliest memories are of bowls as big as my head loaded up with vanilla or chocolate. If we were feeling edgy, we might even opt for chocolate chip. Hey, it was the early 1970s.

On special holidays, my dad and I would find ourselves sitting in my grandma’s robin’s-egg-blue kitchen with my grandpa and uncle. The four of us delighted in drowning our ice cream in chocolate syrup or floating it in Coke-a-Cola, Sprite, and Orange Fanta.

It’s so simple, but so good! Vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a dish gave us room to dish about most anything.

We laughed, and joked, and prodded, and plotted, and talked, and talked, and talked. My dad and I believed that we solved most of the world’s problems over bowls and pints and gallons.  Sometimes – when desperate times called for desperate measures and we couldn’t be bothered with conventions – we simply stood at the kitchen sink and passed the big container between us. When we’d get caught, we just exchanged a look and a snicker that said, “Oops! Oh, well.”

When I came home from college, I excitedly told Dad that I had something special for him. No, it wasn’t the post-college job he was praying for (and had paid for).  My gift to him was Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Momentarily he feigned disappointment. He rolled his eyes. He shook his head. Then he ate a spoonful of frozen joy. From that point on, there was no other.

Ben & Jerry were capable and trusted moderators of our discussions, debates, and the occasional heated argument.

Forays into different Ben & Jerry flavors left him vaguely disappointed.

Frozen yogurt was a sin.

Iced milk … well that was simply pure, unadulterated blasphemy.

I don’t remember a time that Dad and I didn’t enjoy ice cream together, which really just meant we were enjoying our time together. All I really want is more time. I’d trade all the ice cream for just five more minutes.

In the absence of time, however, I’ll keep my ice cream. It reminds me of my dad and the wonderful man he was. It reminds me that we were a pretty terrific father-daughter combination; we were two scoops of the same flavor. It reminds me of our sweet life together.

I’m going to need a lot of ice cream. I doubt my impending double-fisted ice-cream-eating bonanza will be pretty. But it will be comforting for me to Eat It, St. Louis!

*It didn’t have to happen to our family. It doesn’t have to happen to your family. Please, talk to your physician about your risk and a colonoscopy. It would have saved my dad’s life.

Lamb Chops, Roasted Asparagus, Bleu Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Balsamic, Rosmary & Garlic Reduction

Life is complicated and life is messy. For me, Sunday supper is a time, a day, and a place where I am able to carve out a simple and uncluttered port away from the storm. It has always been a time to reconnect with family and friends. Bringing everyone around the table affords us the opportunity to talk about the week past and plan for the next.

Unfortunately, even though 6:30 Sunday evening rolls around every week, Sunday supper can get lost. In the summer, random rounds of golf go a little long or what started out as a stroll around the neighborhood turns into a full-blown hike along the river. In the winter, it’s either a rush-hour show and big tub of buttered popcorn or the it’s-too-nasty-to-go-to-the-grocery argument that inevitably sink supper plans

Sometimes, however, I simply crave it. Yesterday was that day, and I needed the rigor and the work and planning and the escape that Sunday supper offers me.

As I mentioned, life is complicated. If you’re living a full life, how could it not be? I have a blended family, and I’m fortunate that I get along quite well with Mark’s (my husband’s) ex-wife. As a matter of fact, we spent a very pleasurable day together rooting on our son, Allen, while he competed in an equestrian event. It may not sound terribly complicated; but try writing it all out in a way that honors every relationship without overstepping boundaries. It’s complicated. And I’m not sure I did it justice.

But anyway …

It was a long day, and sometimes even routine life-management-activities leave me a bit drained and lacking focus. I left the event feeling like I needed a little comfort. When I say “comfort,” I really mean a good meal I prepare. Embarking on the nearly one-hour drive home, I started to flip through my mental recipe box to decide what Sunday supper should include.

Ah-ha! In honor of spring, lamb was the perfect choice. I took a short detour to Straub’s – a local gourmet-ish market – for lamb chops. I also picked up delicate asparagus. Things were shaping up nicely.

Once home, I prepared a lovely balsamic, rosemary, garlic marinade* for the chops, chilled a bottle of rosé, and checked in on my email. And then things got messy … emotionally.

Kathy, my step-mom, had emailed** to let me know that the new (experimental) chemotherapy treatment my dad*** is enduring is having the worst side effects of any treatment he’s had to-date. The bottoms of his feet feel like they are sunburned when he walks. He also cannot talk or eat without severe pain because of what chemo has done to the inside of his mouth.

My dad – a big, strapping, red-headed Irishman – has had sunburned feet before. (There was an unfortunate incident on a beach in Italy many years ago.) Ultimately, he can work with that. It’s rotten, but workable.

He’s never, however, ever had a problem talking or eating. That, my friends, is simply rotten.

Dad and Kathy are facing new challenges with regard to pain management and nutrition. And here I sit writing a food blog. (Irony, anyone?)

I was relieved to have the work of supper in front of me. The hustle and bustle of the kitchen allowed me to avoid talking. Rather, I simply asked Mark to read the note Kathy sent me. He did, and he granted me the space to continue to work quietly.

When everything was ready – lamb chops, roasted asparagus, bleu cheese mashed potatoes – we sat down to our Sunday supper and I was ready to talk: about my day; about my dad; about last week; about next week.

And I had a glass or two of wine.

Into every life a little wine must flow ... or something like that!

I’m thankful that my life isn’t any more complicated than it needs to be. While I hate the “messy,” I’m motivated to help Dad and Kathy find a fix for what I’m hoping is a temporary setback. And I’m glad I followed my instinct and created a proper Sunday supper.

Think about the meal you might make next Sunday and the benefits you and your family will enjoy. Perhaps you’ll create a great memory. Maybe you’ll give someone in your family the space he or she needs to talk. You just might find your own rhythm and focus that gets your week off on the right foot.

Regardless, just do it and Eat It, St. Louis!

*If you’re interested in this easy marinade recipe that works with pork and chicken, too, you can find it in Nick Stellino’s Glorious Italian Cooking, page 125, or click on the link. Until I understand all the copyright ins and outs, I’ll simply direct you to previously published recipes.

**Dad and Kathy live in Tampa, FL, so we rely heavily on email, Skype, Facebook, and texting. We are totally hip!

***Yes, my dad has cancer. No, I don’t talk too much about it. We, as a family, take it day-by-day and we are grateful for every single one. ‘Nuff said.

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