Road to Recovery

My road to recovery, and my battle against cancer started one year ago today. At this time last year, I was recovering from a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. When I woke up from my five hour surgery, I was surrounded by my husband, my parents, and my dear friend Katie. Katie, a nurse at the same hospital, pulled some strings to get me a large, private room at the end of a quiet hall so I could rest peacefully through the night.

Here’s a brief excerpt from my book, The Journey of My Jugs.

~

Waking up from surgery was a blur. I remember opening my eyes to find my family sitting in a large private hospital room at the end of a hallway. The surgery lasted five hours, two more hours than they planned. While my plastic surgeon was finishing his handiwork, the pathology report came back from the lab with devastating news. There were trace amounts of cancer found in three lymph nodes. The lab insisted on removing more lymph nodes so they could be tested.

As I looked around my room, I reminded my mom of the three magic questions I wanted her to answer when I woke up from surgery. Was I alive or dead? Did they go straight to implants or did they use expanders? Did they find cancer in the lymph nodes? I was alive, and they were able to go straight to implants instead of having to go through the pain of expanders. (Expanders are temporary fluid sacks filled weekly so the skin can stretch slowly. Apparently, I had ample skin leftover to stuff and sew.) I was so happy to hear this news, but she had saved the worst news for last. The cancer was found in my lymph nodes. They removed several nodes; the surgeon wasn’t able to guess how many were taken. The news crushed my spirit for a moment. I couldn’t find any tears to go along with the disappointment, so I smiled and reminded myself to be grateful for another day on this planet. I am sure the anesthesia helped bring a smile to my face as well.

~

Thank you for stopping by and reading a part of my journey.

Nicole

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False Hope

Last Friday, I received several more edited chapters from my friend and editor, Allison Roe. It’s been a few weeks since my last post, so I’m sharing a few paragraphs from The Journey of My Jugs. The following excerpt takes place a few of weeks after I was diagnosed. There was a brief moment when we thought my cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes, and I was given good news for a change.

I am also posting this excerpt as a reminder to myself that as I try to get back into shape, I need to be kind to how I look and feel, and to go slow as I build muscle strength and stamina.

~

Chapter 9: Good News

While I waited for the biopsy results, I tried to continue living a normal life. I tried to exercise and go to work and pretend my life was perfect. I received the phone call around 3 p.m. on a Friday. It was good news for a change; the first good news in four weeks. There were no traces of cancer in the lymph node they biopsied. I let out a sigh, smiled and started to cry—finally, some tears of joy.

That weekend, my thoughts were spiraling. I imagined the pain I would suffer after the double mastectomy. I realized the importance of having a grateful heart. I saw the importance of rest; working seven days a week wasn’t healthy. Most importantly, I realized I needed to start paying attention to my husband, who some days I wondered why he stayed with me.

I learned so many valuable lessons early in my journey. I learned to be grateful for the body I had because it could change in a heartbeat. I needed to stop criticizing my plump and dimpled rump, my short legs, my saggy boobs and my squishy tummy. Instead of criticizing her, I needed to love my beautiful body because it was merely housing my soul. I needed to spend more time creating a more beautiful soul.

A part of my body was about to be banished forever, and I wanted to hold on tight and tell her how sorry I was for treating her so poorly. But, it didn’t matter. She didn’t care. She was going to change whether I liked it or not.

~

Unfortunately, when I went in for surgery, cancer was found in my lymph nodes. I had 18 nodes removed at the time of surgery, which subsequently led to 25 radiation treatments. I am still undergoing physical therapy because of this.

A big thank you to all of you who continue to follow my journey and who continue to support me. You are all loved and appreciated more than you know.

Have a great week!

~Nicole

Finding Strength

The latest excerpt from my book, The Journey of My Jugs, is an account of one of the many post-diagnosis appointments. When I received the dreaded diagnosis, I sat alone in the doctor’s office and promised myself I would have someone by my side for as many appointments as possible.

~

I went into the clinic at 11 a.m. I had to fast before this procedure, and I was completely parched by the time the appointment started. Adlai sat next to me, and I realized how important it was to have him there. I almost started bawling in the waiting room. Tears welled up in my eyes as they have done many times since I was diagnosed. I wondered if tear ducts dried up.  Maybe I have an overactive tear-maker. There was a large, wheezing woman who sat across from us. I wondered if she had to fast. I wondered if she was just as thirsty as I was.

The phlebotomist called my name and asked for my birthdate. She took me back to a small private room. The chair was so high my feet barely reached the floor. She started asking what the weather was like probably because she could sense my fear of needles. “3-2-1 little stick,” she said.

Little stick my ass. That hurt. How big was the needle? It was less of a pin prick and more like a burning gouge. Maybe my veins were upset too. My whole body felt ravaged, so I imagined my veins were affected too. Every fiber of my being was trying to hold it together, still trying to grasp the devastating news and the positive in all of this.

I walked out with a small, white, gauze bandage around the gouge. Adlai was sitting alone. The plump woman was gone. He noticed the tears running down my cheeks, so he played a cat video on Youtube. I stopped crying, and started giggling at the kitties doing silly stunts. I looked at him and smiled. “Thank you,” I said softly. “I love you.”

“We’re going to get through this. Be strong. I know you have it in you, but you have to be the one to find it,” he said.

~

Throughout my journey, he always had the right words, or the right cat videos to help ease some of the pain and the stress.

Does anyone else use cat videos for a laugh?

 

Breast Cancer Diagnosis: A Wave of Sadness

When I was diagnosed at age 42 with stage 3 breast cancer, I knew I wanted to write a book about the journey. I knew the writing process would be cathartic for me, and I wanted the end result to inspire others tackling breast cancer or adversity of any kind.

One in eight women will develop an invasive form of breast cancer in their lifetime, so another goal I have for this book is to bring more awareness to younger women. It’s so important to do your monthly breast exams and to make that appointment for your first mammogram when you turn 40.

Many of you may have followed me on my CaringBridge site for the weeks following my diagnosis. I mused about my double mastectomy, the strength and courage I was given from family and friends, shaving my head, and a few other milestones.

As of today, I am nearly finished writing the book, The Journey of My Jugs, and I have been working with my editor, Allison Roe, on the first seven chapters. I wanted to share a brief excerpt from the first round of edits. The next few paragraphs are from chapter one, moments after I received the dreaded breast cancer diagnosis.

~

There was still no fighting the tears and the ugly cry that had taken over me, so I called my husband Adlai, and I heard those famous words, we’ll get through this together. Another wave of sadness hit me. One deeper than anything I have ever felt. I haven’t been giving our relationship the time it deserved; instead I have been working full-time and picking up freelance writing jobs to grow my byline. My weekends were filled with writing assignments while my week nights were filled with teaching fitness classes or preparing for 5k and 10k races. I made my husband entertain himself. I felt like a terrible wife. Now, I was a terrible wife with cancer and a pity party was already in progress.

What would I say on my deathbed? I would tell him to find someone else, to remember me, but find someone else to love. I would tell him to find someone who will share a hunting experience with him, someone who loves to ride in boats that go really fast, someone who is a better wife than me.

I sobbed the entire way home. I felt like there was no hope for a new life after cancer even though my doctor was positive about my prognosis. My doctor drank from the glass that was half full, while I was drinking pulp at the bottom of a glass.

~

I hope you enjoyed this passage from The Journey of My Jugs. Be on the lookout for future posts that include more excerpts from my book. If you want to read more, please check out my CaringBridge site for longer passages.

The Diagnosis

Flowers from Mom_2

On Monday, July 3rd, the day before my 8th wedding anniversary, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The devastating blow left me speechless. I didn’t have my husband beside me, nor did I ask friends or family to join me at the doctor’s office on this fateful day. Although my gut feeling was right, I didn’t think I needed anyone by my side until minutes later when the flood gates opened. I cried walking out of the hospital doors, I cried sitting in the car calling my mother, husband and friends. I cried the entire car ride home. And finally, I cried as I fell into my husband’s arms when I arrived at home.

There’s nothing that can prepare a person for the start of this journey. But the love and support I have seen over the last several weeks has been astounding. It’s truly amazing to see and feel how many people love you and want to help you.

Terrific Turkey Chili

I finished week two of the Whole Life Challenge. It hasn’t been very easy. I took a few hits on my nutritition score at the end of week one because I caught a cold, and two I was so hungry. It’s difficult to remember when you eat really clean, your body needs more calories. All those healthy salads I was eating didn’t provide enough carbs.

I started baking muffins using oat flour to replace wheat or white flour to give my body some carbohydrates. However, I am unable to use honey, maple syrup, agave or any other natural sweetner (stevia is allowed). That’s where I took a hit. I deduct one point for using honey when I bake. It was worth it. I’ll share my muffin recipe in another blog post.

Last night for dinner I made turkey chili, one of my favorites. I added a twist to the chili, and for those who know me, adding a twist is unusual because I am not the best chef, but I love healthy food so I gave it shot. I added roasted eggplant to my chili.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 ½ lbs ground turkey
  • 1 t coriander
  • 1 t oregano
  • 2 small cans of tomato paste (organic)
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can crushed tomatoes (organic)
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can kidney beans
  • 1 fresh jalapeno
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 purple onion, finely chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, (finely chopped)
  • ½ c fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium eggplant

Heat one tablespoon of oil in large stock pot over medium-high heat. Crumble ground turkey into pot while adding coriander, oregano and tomato paste. Mix until thoroughly blended and turkey is browned.

Pour in broth and simmer to reduce liquid slightly, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeno, kidney beans and tomatoes and continue cooking at a moderate simmer for ten minutes.

While chili is cooking, preheat broiler on the lowest setting, then heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion, garlic and orange bell pepper, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent and bell pepper is lightly browned. Add onion, garlic and bell pepper to the chili and continue cooking at a very low simmer.

In the same skillet, heat the remaining oil and cook mushrooms. While mushrooms are cooking, peel (optional) eggplant and slice into 1/4 in. slices. Lay slices of eggplant on a cookie sheet, brush on olive oil and salt and pepper. Put pan under the broiler for 10 minutes on each side. Each side should be slightly browned.

Eggplant for chili

Sometimes the peel is too tough so I cut off small sections all the way around, that way I am still getting the nutrients of the skin, but I don’t have to eat all of it.

Add the mushrooms to the chili and cook another five minutes. I put three to four slices of eggplant in the bottom of my bowl. Add turkey chili on top and one more slice of eggplant on top of the chili. If you aren’t doing the Whole Life Challenge, you may want to garnish with cheese or sour cream.

I enjoyed my chili with a glass of lemonade. I squeezed one lemon in a glass, then filled it with water. I added 1 teaspoon of stevia to sweeten it. It makes a great replacement for water, which I drink a lot of every day.

Turkey Chili with homemade lemonade

If you have a picky stomach, leave out the jalapeno and kidney beans.

Today’s Haiku:

turkey chili
simmering over a hot stove
grumbling stomach

For more recipes, visit my Just Eat It page! Have a great weekend!

~Nicole

 

 

 

 

Breakfast Delight!

Hello Friends!

I survived day one of the Whole Life Challenge, and day two is shaping up nicely as well. Yesterday, I completed a workout, stretching session, stayed hydrated, wrote in my journal and managed to eat very well.

For those interested in a tasty, but healthy breakfast, I have a recipe for you. I made Yellow Squash pancakes courtesty of the blog, Baker by Nature. Before you turn up your nose, I am here to say they turned out quite well. I too was skeptical as I mixed all the ingredients together. I had to substitute a few things because of all my restrictions, you’ll find those in italics.

Healthy Greek Yogurt Zucchini Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (Oat Flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt (unsweetened plain)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (Stevia-here’s the conversion chart)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional, but if you don’t add it sub in an extra tablespoon of brown sugar) (I had to omit honey, so I added a bit more stevia)
  • 1 cup coarsely shredded zucchini (yellow squash because I had it on hand)
  • Butter, for the pan (I typically use 2-3 tablespoons for one batch of pancakes)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk together the egg yolks, Greek yogurt, vanilla, brown sugar, and honey.
  3. Add flour mixture to the wet mixture, and stir just to combined; do not over mix! The batter will be thick, so don’t worry if there are a lot of clumps left.
  4. Add egg whites to a large bowl or the body of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks begin to form.
  5. With a rubber spatula fold egg whites into flour/yogurt mixture, stirring until fully incorporated. Stir in zucchini, mix until just incorporated. Always be sure to watch your mixing, as over-mixed batter = rubbery, tough results.
  6. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  7. Ladle 1/3 cup scoops of the batter into the skillet, only cooking a few at a time so they don’t blend together.
  8. Cook pancakes until the edges begin to brown and the top of the batter bubbles, then flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Repeat for all pancake batter.
  9. Top pancakes with honey, syrup, berries, or anything else your little heart desires! Serve at once.

 

Squash pancakes

Yellow squash pancake with a drizzle of butter and a few blackberries on top. Yummy!

 

 Today’s Haiku:

a breakfast delight
moist squash pancakes and berries
to please my palate