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.