Archive for the ‘healthy living’ Category

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese!

July 3, 2013

A few weeks ago, “Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen” authors Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott gave us some tips on how to use healthy foods to help boost our moods and ease anxiety and depression. Now, in perfect timing for 4th of July celebrations, these two regular LBBC blog contributors are back another with a calorie saving and heart healthy version of a traditional comfort food: Macaroni and Cheese.

In terms of cravings, pasta was on the top of our list during cancer treatment (well, come to think of it, pasta is really an anytime-craving!). We wanted a way to have our mac-n-cheese without feeling terrible afterward. This dish will satisfy your carb craving and — check out the ingredient list —  is literally packed with nutrition. Not like we always care – just give us our mac-n-cheese–pronto!

Squashy Macaroni and Cheeze

brown rice mac and cheese

Yield: 8 cups

Ingredients:

1 pound brown rice macaroni

1 medium butternut squash

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup walnuts

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1 cup rice milk

¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes

1 tablespoon miso paste

1 tablespoon tahini

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tablespoon dulse sea vegetable flakes

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350º F. Slice open the squash, scoop out seeds and cut squash into 2-inch pieces. Place in steaming basket in a pot with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Steam until soft; about 15-20 minutes.

While squash is steaming, cook macaroni on stove top according to package instructions for al dente pasta.

In a blender or food processor place the sunflower seeds, walnuts and parsley, and blend until crumbly. Reserve for later use.

Add about 21/4 cups of the steamed squash, along with the rice milk, nutritional yeast, miso, tahini, garlic, dulse and sea salt and pepper to blender or food processor and mix until smooth. When pasta is done cooking, drain water, rinse and combine with squash mixture. Mix until pasta is well-coated, then pour into a baking dish.

Sprinkle sunflower seed crumble over top of macaroni and bake for 30 minutes until crumbs are lightly browned.

Enjoy!

Be sure to check back soon for another lightened yet delicious recipe from Annette and Kendall! Remember, you can purchase “Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen” on amazon.com  and as always, be sure to check the LBBC website often for upcoming webinars and community meetings and have a happy 4th of July!

 

 

Surprise

June 28, 2013

crashRonda Walker Weaver continues her series for the LBBC blog by discussing the three major challenges she faced after being diagnosed with cancer: Rise, Surprise and Adventure. Here she discusses the surprises she faced including a more recent, non-cancer related surprise (photo)…

My life has been filled with surprises – those gifts that show up on my back porch, uninvited, asking to stay. I usually have to choices with surprises – accept in awe and learn, or reject with a whine, “That’s not what I wanted!”

Learning I had cancer came as a huge uninvited surprise. I was in shock for months and in some ways I am still shaking my head in disbelief. Nothing I’ve ever felt – surgeries, pregnancies, or illness could have prepared me for the assault on my body – from cancer. That’s where the surprise came – nothing, nothing prepared me for my treatments and the side-effects. But I quickly stopped my whining and began to see it as a gift filled with surprises – the beautiful surprises that were, still are, a part of my journey. The Surprise is in the Goodness that holds my hand along this journey. The goodness in knowing, and in not knowing -

Knowing I didn’t cause this, and I acted quickly – I am healthy, and my healthy choices made this process more simple than otherwise – no “wish I would have” for me.

Knowing I have insurance. As the bills are still rolling in, we hit our individual out-of-pocket max in one week, I am blessed with healthcare. I give to the roadside panhandlers, and I’ve joked that one day perhaps I’ll stand on the side of the road with a sign that says, “Need boob job,” to see how much money I can make. But medical care is a necessity of life, and I count my blessings.

Knowing I can trust those who are providing my medical care. This has been such a comfort – they have a proven track record, are the kindest folks, they are proactive, and they are happy to work with me and my requests. As well, I have friends who are circling around me to hold me up when I’m falling, to lay beside me when I am alone.

Knowing I have emotional and physical support. I am so blessed to have family and friends and colleagues who care about me – I have so little to give right now, and they are giving so much (two types of soup in the fridge, a loaf of homemade bread, and warm apple cake, e-mails, cards, messages, music, a book).

Knowing Scott (my husband) is devoted to me. Oh he is a good man, he serves me gently, lovingly, patiently. I vacillate between tears of gratitude and tears of frustration and pain, and Scott holds me close. He is my rock. Even with the death of his father during all of this, he stands strong.

Knowing there is a plan – there has to be a gold lining in all of this – and I am hyper-aware that I need to be learning and growing from my experiences, so they are not in vain. While I have counted down my treatment calendar, I have not wished this time away. Writing, as a way to sort things out has been great therapy for me. This really is an “age of miracles and wonder.”

Goodness also comes in the not knowing as well:

Not knowing who or where I’ll be nine months from now, or even tomorrow – that’s part of the adventure and risk I’m willing to take on this journey. It’s part of the surprise – it is the excitement, even in the thick of things.

Not knowing what the plan is – I don’t believe “God must really love you to give you this,” or “God only gives you what you can handle.” Nope, not gonna buy this, there’s too much pain and hatred in this world, and knowing these statements, well, that’s discounting agency, choice, beauty, reality. This is not the God I believe in.

Not knowing has forced me to live in the moment, and this is something I must learn – I must learn it is good to not know.

 ***

A week post radiation my husband and I bought ourselves a post-treatment gift – hybrid bicycles – for road and trail riding. We put them in our pickup and headed to Southern Utah for a week of rest and relaxation and riding. I have fallen into materialistic love with my bike, and I have enjoyed the freedom it allows me, and the knowledge that this exercise is goodness for my mind and spirit. Until . . . two weeks ago I crashed on my bike. My bike flew one way; I flew the other, landing on my left side, elbow first. I am writing this post with one hand. I had emergency surgery to reassemble my elbow. I have stress fractures in my wrist, my hand, and my right foot. I also have some nice bruises! Crashing is the surprise, the goodness comes in the knowing that heck, I’ve had cancer; I’m not going to let a boot and a cast ruin my happiness. But I am going to rest! And no more surprises – right now I prefer “knowing.”

Ronda is 54 years old, she eats right, exercises daily, and there is no history of cancer in her family, yet she was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. She teaches folklore and writing at Utah Valley University and works for an online education company, LearningU. She loves reading, listening to music, gardening, walking and riding her bike, traveling, and spending time with her grandchildren, children, and her dear husband – who has been her pillar of strength through her journey. She also writes her own blog called Folklady’s Adventures. Be sure to check back soon for the 3rd installment of her story!

The staff at LBBC would like to wish Ronda a speedy recovery!

For more information about Living Beyond Breast Cancer please visit www.lbbc.org or like us on Facebook.

Lightened Up French Fries!

June 4, 2013

A few weeks ago, “Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen” authors Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott gave us some tips on how to use healthy foods to help boost our moods and ease anxiety and depression. Now these two regular LBBC blog contributors are back with a calorie saving and heart healthy version of a traditional comfort food: The French fry.

Sweet Potato Fries with Peanut Dipping Sauce

When looking to “upgrade” your food choices, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. It might be too much to make a huge, 360 degree change overnight. That’s why we love to keep it real and talk about doing it step-by-step. Every step counts and will make a difference! And guess what? Eating well can be delicious, too! Believe us, we are foodies and we want what’s on our plate to make us smile and make our taste buds happy!

One favorite comfort food many of us have is French fries. Here’s an idea, based on the “Poor, Better, Best Picks” concept in our book, Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen, for satisfying your craving while upping the nutrition in your food!

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Give LBBC Your Feedback About Peggy Orenstein’s New York Times Article, “Our Feel-Good War on Cancer”

May 3, 2013

2012JeanSachsHeadshotVer2WebBy Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s chief executive officer 

Journalist Peggy Orenstein ignited a debate when she explored the limits of mammography screening and the dangers of overtreatment for breast cancer in her New York Times Magazine article, “Our Feel-Good War on Cancer” (April 25, 2013).

For many in the breast cancer community, Ms. Orenstein’s observations come as no surprise. We know survival rates for women with metastatic disease have not changed, despite the widespread adoption of breast cancer screening. That women with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, often receive the same treatments as those with invasive disease—along with the related side effects and emotional distress. That more and more women choose prophylactic mastectomy after a diagnosis of DCIS or early-stage disease. And that our sisters with stage IV breast cancer remain silenced, isolated and underserved.

Still, the article introduced thousands of people to the realities of breast cancer today. As we talked about it at the LBBC office, we had many questions. How did this piece impact you and your loved ones? We want to know:

  • What is your perspective?
  • What questions does this article prompt for you?
  • What are your concerns for your health or well-being, based on what you learned?
  • Which issues deserve more discussion?

Based on your feedback, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will design a program to help further discussion. Please post your comments below, and our staff will review them.

I Talk To Strangers, You Should Too!

March 28, 2013

randi rentz

Long time LBBC blog contributor, RANDI RENTZ, graduated with honors from The Johns Hopkins University with a Masters degree in Special Education. She was an editorial assistant for a publishing company in suburban Washington,DC before becoming a special education teacher in a school district outside Philadelphia, PA. Randi currently is an Asperger’s Support Teacher for grades kindergarten through fifth. Presently, Randi has her own consulting company for children on the Autistic Spectrum where you can see her work at   www.helpforaspergers.com. She is a proud member, supporter, and blogger for many breast cancer organizations and never leaves the house without diamonds. Visit Randi at her web site at www.randirentz.com. Be sure to check out the teaser for her upcoming book “Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!”

***

Call me crazy, but I look forward to waiting in line, and just about any opportunity to shoot the breeze with people I don’t know. I’m chummy with the guy who pumps my gas, (the only gas station nearby where they still pump gas for you), still exchange holiday cards with my 4th grade elementary school teacher, and the other day I spent a solid hour gabbing with an 81-year old woman I met at the tailor’s while having my pants hemmed.

I’m now a life-long, die-hard people person. I never used to be, though. In fact, I never enjoyed chatty encounters with people I didn’t know…until cancer. I wasn’t hostile before breast cancer.  Every day I had pleasant exchanges with strangers and acquaintances—an enthusiastic “Morning!” or a friendly “Have a great day!”  Such moments continue to be life-affirming, yet, prior to breast cancer, they were blessedly brief.

On-the-fly updates from people I’ve barely met used to drain me. Seriously.  I always felt obliged to respond with genuine emotion, to pay real attention. I would fake outrage or concern, with a performance that was definitely Oscar worthy. That meant stopping whatever I was doing, and force myself to focus. Since my laser-beam concentration was always sensed by the people stopping me, their details got longer and longer. Oy, vey! I felt trapped like a mouse in a maze.

Did breast cancer make me a people person? Well, I think it made me more aware of the little moments in life that make up the big moments. I now enjoy being a true people person—even though I’m inclined to dislike anyone who describes himself/herself this way. Go figure. I digress, sorry. Anyhoo, hear me out. Lifting your head and engaging with whoever happens to be standing next to you is worth the effort. It’s nice to see people smile and to genuinely smile back. It really feels good and refreshing. You should try it.

For one thing, you never know when you will receive priceless advice.  The 81-year-old cautioned me to get in good with my son’s future wife and to always take the dog out for an evening walk to do “its business.” Little did she know, I have no children and own two cats which use a litter-box. Needless to say, I felt it worthy to file away her words of wisdom. Maybe a stepson and a dog are in my future. Who knows? I digress. Sorry. When I left the fitting room, fiddling with the waistband of my pants, she said, “With posture like that, who needs Spanx? Coming from a stooped octogenarian, her words felt like a wake-up call to enjoy my youthful existence.

I believe my world is bigger with my random encounters. My brushes with strangers bring me the thrill of the unexpected, to glimpse a world I used to brush off and otherwise never see or appreciate. In the frenzy of life, with intense money, work and time pressure, I honestly didn’t have much conversational energy to spare.

Now, I think of it as a habit as “meeting new people,” even if I never see them again. My encounters with strangers bring me back to a place where I long to be. I never had grandparents, because they died before I was born.  But now I cherish chance meetings with people of all ages, especially older people. I find their perspective to be rather eye-opening.

Instead of rolling my eyes, I appreciate the interruption. I am so grateful for the little things in life. I now understand what being a warm person means.

And now, onto the Spanx…

LBBC Introduces New Guide To Understanding Breast Cancer

March 25, 2013

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) has announced the release of Hormonal Therapy, the newest title in this national nonprofit’s library of Guides to Understanding Breast Cancer. It joins nineteen other LBBC publications available in print and electronic formats designed to address the needs of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

 

The guide provides insight and answers about the complexities of hormonal therapy, treatment that reduces estrogen in the body, for women with breast cancer. Hormonal therapy for breast cancer is sometimes referred to as endocrine or anti-estrogen therapy. Breast cancer hormonal therapy can reduce the risk of disease recurrence, prevent new breast cancers and improve survival. Approximately 70% of breast cancers are hormone-sensative¹ and many women are likely to receive hormonal therapy as adjuvant therapy – treatment given after primary therapy.

 

The Guide to Understanding Hormonal Therapy was co-authored by Janine E. Guglielmino, MA, LBBC’s director of publications and strategic initiatives, and medical writer Robin Warshaw.  “At Living Beyond Breast Cancer, we know women face many choices when it’s time to begin treatment for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer,” Guglielmino states. “This guide was developed to help women ask their providers informed questions about how hormonal therapies and their side effects may impact their day-to-day lives.  And since hormonal therapy lasts for many years, the guide aims to address the questions women have today – as well as those that may arise tomorrow – as those concerns may very well change over time.”

 

In addition to Guglielmino and Warshaw, a committee made up of more than a dozen oncology professionals, LBBC staff and women affected by breast cancer reviewed and contributed stories to the sixty-six page guide, which is divided into eight sections and written in clear and easy-to-understand language.  Section topics include hormonal therapy options, common questions about treatment decisions, coping with side effects, what to expect when treatment ends and additional resources.

 

The guide focuses on hormonal therapy for early-stage (ed. note – stage 0-II) or locally advanced (ed. note – stage III) hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Hormonal therapy is also used to treat recurrent and metastatic (stage IV) hormone positive disease and to prevent first breast cancers in women at high risk for developing breast cancer.

 

“We believe women can play a powerful role in their treatment when they have the resources to help them make informed decisions and be full advocates for their own health,” say LBBC CEO Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP. “In addition to this guide, LBBC has additional resources at lbbc.org.”

 

Free, individual copies of the Guide to Understanding Hormonal Therapy are available online or by calling (610) 645-4567. Larger quantities may be ordered for a small shipping and handling fee.

 

¹National Cancer Institute

Fear of the Unknown

March 19, 2013

Vallory Jones Blog Photo

LBBC blogger Vallory Jones is a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor living in Austin, Texas.  A self-professed Zumba “freak” and fitness “fanatic,” she has taught middle school English for 19 years and enjoys mountain biking, singing, writing, and playing guitar.  She recently celebrated a milestone – her first “cancerversary.”  You can read her personal blog at victoriousval.wordpress.com.

I received my diagnosis on Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday morning, I was en route to the oncologist. Dr. Patt came highly recommended, and I felt lucky to score such a last minute slot. The receptionist mentioned the doctor would be leaving for the airport immediately after our meeting, and after having gone to the wrong address already, I frantically punched it back into my GPS, racing to beat the clock. My Kia Soul was a black blur as I zipped in and out of Austin traffic. I couldn’t allow this cancerous tumor to stay in my body any longer than I absolutely had to, and the thought of missing my appointment brought on waves of nausea. I tried to will the tears to stop, but they streamed down my face until I was sobbing full force. I pulled into the parking garage and collected myself. “Wow, you’re a mess,” I told myself, but looking back, I was just a cancer newbie. I wasn’t properly equipped to process this turn of events.

Things sure changed in a hurry. One minute I was planning parties and social hours and the next I was sitting in a doctor’s office gearing up to beat breast cancer. I looked around the waiting room. There were other women who had no hair, and I trembled. “We all have cancer,” I realized. It was an unnerving feeling, and though I physically felt fine, I realized for the first time that something inside me was actively trying to kill me. Words can’t describe that realization. It changed me.

The meeting itself was pleasant enough. My doctor entered the room clad in a grey tweed skirt and jacket. I looked down, and my attention settled on her fashionable, black leather boots. Though I wasn’t aware of her credentials yet, her ensemble impressed the heck out of me. Kelsey, one of my friends, took notes, and I was glad she came along because it was amazing how little information I actually retained. Every time Dr. Patt spoke of the cancer, I felt a rush of heat overwhelm me, and it seemed like maybe I should lie down or at least fan myself. A couple of times I swore I was going to vomit, but that never came to pass.

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Most likely Stage 1. Fast growing. ER+/PR+. Lots of medical jargon made way into Kelsey’s notes, and at that moment, it was quite clear that there was no mistake. I really did have cancer, and no amount of disbelief could ever change that. Dr. Patt’s demeanor was reassuring, but my anxiety worsened when she uttered acronyms like MRI and CT scan. Then the words “bone scan” tumbled out of her mouth and slapped me hard in the face.

“Bone scan?” I squeaked. “What? This could be in my bones?” She seemed to think that was unlikely, but talk of these tests put me on pins and needles. I remember clearly the one thought I had for weeks, “I hope that I have a chance to fight this. What if it’s spread and I’ve missed the window?” Now, as a more experienced survivor, I realize that even at advanced stages, one can still live and fight cancer, but as someone who’d never even had anyone close to me diagnosed, I feared the worst. Add to my fears the possibility of chemo, which couldn’t be known, of course, until further testing. My head threatened to explode. Part of me was ready to jump off the table and get started while the rest of me wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend this wasn’t real. I knew I couldn’t, though, because every day I waited, I feared my tumor was growing, or even worse, spreading to other places.

There aren’t adequate words to capture how I felt during those first weeks. I waited. I wondered. Would I see another birthday? Would I get another Christmas? My days were filled with tests and alternated between moments of strength and desperation. The poking and prodding made me feel like a science project, and if I never see a hospital gown again, it will be too soon. Like every other survivor will tell you, any modesty I had prior to cancer was certainly lost within the first week of my diagnosis. Getting up each day, putting one foot in front of the other, and making myself go to appointments was harder than anything I’d ever had to face.

I’m sure that’s why 16 months later, I feel invincible and like I should wear a cape every day to work, the grocery store, or the gym. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had role models. Now here I am, my own hero. Quite honestly, that feels pretty good.

YOGA ON THE STEPS: WASHINGTON, DC REGISTRATION NOW OPEN

March 13, 2013

 

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Registration is now open for Yoga on the Steps: Washington DC, the signature education and fundraising event for Haverford, PA-based nonprofit Living Beyond Breast Cancer.  The event is scheduled to take place rain or shine beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13 on the northeast quadrant of The Washington Monument.  The highlight of the event is a one-hour yoga class for all ages and skill levels designed and led by Yoga Alliance certified instructor and founder of Yoga Unites® Jennifer Schelter, MFA with Kirtan accompaniment by Yvette Pecoraro and other local area musicians. After the class, participants can enjoy refreshments while visiting a Healthy Living Expo where event sponsors, local area businesses, yoga studios and nonprofit organizations will feature products and services promoting health and wellness.

“While Yoga on the Steps is similar to other nonprofit grassroots fundraisers it really is a one-of-kind event,” explains Jenna Jackson, LBBC’s special events manager.  “People are asked to register as a team captain or participant at yogaonthesteps.org and then fundraise for LBBC by asking family, friends and colleagues for donations. But instead of using a walk or run as our event’s centerpiece, we feature a yoga class.  Jennifer has designed the class so that anyone, regardless of skill level or body type can participate. Yoga on the Steps is a unique and powerful education program in its promotion of yoga as an important part of a person’s overall wellness plan.” t is scheduled to take place rain or shine beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13 on the northeast quadrant of The Washington Monument.  The highlight of the event is a one-hour yoga class for all ages and skill levels designed and led by Yoga Alliance certified instructor and founder of Yoga Unites® Jennifer Schelter, MFA with Kirtan accompaniment by Yvette Pecoraro and other local area musicians. After the class, participants can enjoy refreshments while visiting a Healthy Living Expo where event sponsors, local area businesses, yoga studios and nonprofit organizations will feature products and services promoting health and wellness.

What has grown into LBBC’s signature education and fundraising event began after Schelter’s friend and student, Courtney Kapp, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Kapp wanted to use her home as a place where women with the disease could form a support network through the practice of yoga. She asked Jennifer to teach the class and also introduced her to LBBC’s executive director (now chief executive officer) Jean Sachs, MSS, MLSP. Together, the three women founded Yoga on the Steps.

“Now,” says Sachs, “thousands of people, most with no formal training, annually attend Yoga on the Steps in different cities to raise awareness of LBBC’s resources, stand in solidarity with women diagnosed with breast cancer and honor the memories of those who are no longer with us.”

Studies continue to indicate a correlation between yoga’s stretching exercises, controlled breathing and relaxation techniques with stress reduction, lower blood pressure and improved heart function. “More and more studies we’ve been seeing, especially over the last few years, really confirm the relevance of Yoga on the Steps,” states Sachs.

 

A study conducted by UCLA researchers suggests that yoga can help women overcome post-treatment fatigue which is estimated to affect as many as one-third of women currently in breast cancer treatment. The research, which was published December 16, 2011 in the journal Cancer, discovered that after three-months-worth of twice-weekly yoga classes, “a group of breast cancer survivors in California reported significantly diminished fatigue and increased vigor,” Andrew M. Seaman of Reuters Health said. Cancer, Volume 118, Issue 15

In addition, at the 34th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium held in 2011, a study presented findings that women with metastatic breast cancer might benefit from the practice of yoga, as well. A small randomized trial was collaboratively conducted by yogis and physicians, including S.K. Gopinath, MD, from the Department of Surgical, Medical and Radiation Oncology at the HCG-BIO Super Specialty Center in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. The researchers found data that suggest the practice of yoga might reduce psychological distress and modulate abnormal cortisol levels as well as immune responses in patients with stage-IV disease. Medscape News Today

In 2011, LBBC began the implementation of a national Yoga on the Steps expansion initiative developed by the organization’s Board of Directors and senior staff as part of LBBC’s 2011-2015 strategic plan.  “Yoga on the Steps is a low-cost, high-return way to introduce LBBC resources to communities that may not know of their availability,” explains Sachs.  “We’ve established annual events in Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Denver with Kansas City, Missouri recently named as our fourth Yoga on the Steps host city.”

“The increasing popularity of yoga is a big factor in the growing success of the event,” she continues. “But more than that, it’s LBBC’s reputation of sound fiscal management and the trust our supporters have in us that energizes Yoga on the Steps participants to fundraise for LBBC at the grassroots level. We maintain the lowest overhead possible for the event ensuring our resources are always available to anyone in need.”

LBBC’s most recent annual report, released in July of 2011, shows that 86 cents of every donated dollar is used to fund services. For eight consecutive years LBBC has been awarded a four-star rating by Charity Navigator, the  country’s leading organization that evaluates American nonprofits, signifying it exceeds industry standards and outperforms most other charities within its cause. LBBC 2011 Annual Report

Businesses wanting to learn more about national and local sponsorship opportunities and benefits are asked to contact LBBC’s associate director of marketing and corporate relations Kevin Gianotto, at kevin@lbbc.org. General Yoga on the Steps and Healthy Living Expo questions should be directed to Jackson by emailing jenna@lbbc.org. 

About

LBBC provides services designed to help improve quality of life for women who are newly diagnosed, in treatment, recovery, years beyond their diagnosis or living with metastatic breast cancer as well as resources for family, friends and caregivers.  National conferences, monthly teleconferences, regional community meetings, the Guides to Understanding Breast Cancer and a toll-free Survivors’ Helpline are examples of the services that are provided to help them make informed decisions for themselves and their families. 

If you are or someone you know is living with a history of breast cancer, regardless of stage of diagnosis, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or ability to pay, LBBC can help. For more information, visit lbbc.org to download a free copy of Empower, LBBC’s general information brochure or call (610) 645-4567.

Alysa Cummings: Yearly Check-Up

February 27, 2013

Alysa Cummings, Group Facilitator for LBBC’s writing workshop series Writing the Journey, shares a seasonal excerpt from her recently published cancer memoir, Greetings from CancerLand,  in February’s second submission to Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s Writer’s Corner.

LBBC_WritersCorner

Yearly Check-Up

Excerpt from Greetings from CancerLand: Writing the Journey to Recovery

Fourteen years later and not much has changed. Not much. Not really.

Starting with the oncologist’s grand entrance.

He knocks twice, opens the door and hurriedly strides into the examining room. His energy speaks volumes (Places to go; patients to see. so many patients; so little time). I am sitting there, a veteran oncology patient, already changed, sitting on the edge of the examining table, a salmon-colored cotton robe wrapped around me.

Welcome to my yearly check-up.Cummings-Alysa_medium

As always, we begin by shaking hands. That’s our ritual. Then it’s my turn to smile and recite my opening line: so how’s my favorite oncologist?

Your only oncologist, to the best of my knowledge, Dr. C replies. There he goes – correcting me, reminding me of our running gag about his need for precision, his attention to detail. In CancerLand, Dr. C is a living legend with hundreds of patients’ medical records stored right in his head.  He won’t take any notes during the exam and somehow never forgets a date, dosage or chronic complaint. Maybe that’s why I’ll never complain about any quirky personality traits of his. An oncologist who’s a bit obsessive is a good thing, don’t you think?

Any lumps, bumps or bruises? Dr. C asks, moving briskly into Act One: The Physical Exam. I lie flat on my back. He modestly opens the gown, uncovering one side at a time, keeping the opposite side hidden, and presses the tips of his fingers in a circular pattern. Then he says the word I’ve been patiently waiting for (perfect) as he finishes with the left side and moves around the table to begin his exam of the right. Twelve years of exams later and like an addict hungry for a fix, I inhale the word (perfect), and savor how good it feels (I’m okay, I’m okay).

But honestly, is this ironic, or what? After all, there might be a short list of politically (and clinically) correct terms that could be used to describe my post-treatment upper body (altered? revised? reconstructed?) But perfect? Hardly.

Does this doctor who deals with so many breast cancer survivors know the impact of his word choice? Or is “perfect” the word this particular oncologist has decided to use with his patients to indicate that there’s no sign of disease? All I know is that perfect is a lovely word, and I can’t wait to hear him say it.

The exam comes to a predictable conclusion with light banter about our personal lives and those acquaintances we have in common, and that’s when I suddenly think of a word that I have to add to our yearly check-up script.

So, tell me, Alysa, Dr. C asks, moving towards the door, ready to conclude the exam. Overall, how was your year?

I’m ready with the perfect answer.

Unremarkable, I say, my year was unremarkable. And I see the doctor cock his head with interest. I have never used this term in our conversations before. Over the years, he has, of course. To describe my CAT scans, bloodwork and Breast MRI results. To report that everything is normal, that there is nothing out of the ordinary.

An unremarkable year, I repeat. No surgeries. I’m hoping that next year turns out to be another unremarkable year. Unremarkable totally works for me.

It certainly does.  And now that I’ve said it out loud, I need to step up to that challenge and day by day make it real until I’m in this examining room again, twelve months from today.

A disease-free reality; in my mind that’s the most remarkable thing I can imagine.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host another Writing the Journey Series this Spring, hosted by Alysa Cummings. And the good news is that there will be two different Writing the Journey groups in Spring 2013 – one in Cherry Hill, NJ and one in Haverford, PA.  Check back to the LBBC Blog for more insights from Alysa and future Writing the Journey creations.  You can purchase your own copy of Greetings from Cancerland, on Amazon.com!

Alysa Cummings: Spirit of Spring

February 13, 2013

Alysa Cummings, Group Facilitator for LBBC’s writing workshop series Writing the Journey, shares a seasonal excerpt from her recently published cancer memoir, Greetings from CancerLand,  in February’s first submission to Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s Writer’s Corner.

LBBC_WritersCorner

Spirit of Spring

Excerpt from Greetings from CancerLand: Writing the Journey to Recovery

Six brown paper bags, stuffed almost to bursting, sit at the bottom of my basement steps. Long empty of groceries, each bag is filled with another sweet necessity entirely. I inspect these bags every time I pass by – even as I struggle with armloads of laundry on my way to the washing machine. I confess I just can’t help myself.

I think about what’s inside these bags and it always makes me smile.

These six brown bags have been hiding in my dark unfinished basement since early November. I remember packing them the night of the first fall frost, using sections of the Sunday Inquirer as insulation from the basement dampness. I look at the bags in my basement day after day, week after week, through the cold winter months and think the same thought over and over again: spring is coming.

It’s all about time, actually. Time passing. Looking forward in time. It’s quite intentional on my part. Ritualistic, even. You see, I look at the six brown paper bags and mentally project myself to springtime.

Maybe it’s just that time of year right now. All these months of cold, grayness and snow; oh yes, I’m more than a little winter weary. Somehow this brown bag ritual serves me, gets me through. Keeps me upbeat and hopeful, believing that spring will arrive and that I will be here to celebrate the season again.

Cummings-Alysa_mediumDuring the third week of March, these six bags will make the trip up the stairs, out of the dark, into the light, through the house and outside to the turned over and weeded perennial beds in the backyard. For the occasion, I plan to eagerly break out a fresh pair of gloves, slip into my most comfortable stained and well-worn gardening sneakers and (drum roll, please) break open the bags.

By mid-March it’s high time to check on the health of my collection of canna bulbs. Some will have rotted, unfortunately, but the majority will be pushing out pale green shoots; ready for planting in my garden. Early spring is the time to get these bulbs back in the ground so that, come July, there will be an amazing field of five foot plus high plants with wide tropical fronds and enough brilliant tomato red colored flowers to stop traffic.

I started this cycle of planting and digging up canna bulbs the summer after my cancer diagnosis. Now (happily) heading into year fifteen of my cancer journey, this bulb-in-the-basement routine is a conscious part of my survivorship strategy. I recommend it highly to my fellow green-thumbed survivors!

Until the buds start peeking out on the trees, until temperatures creep above 32 degrees, keep your heart and spirit as warm as you can. And as we all wait for the official arrival of spring on March 21st, please keep in mind the wise, often quoted words of Hal Borland, “No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn. April is a promise that May is bound to keep.”

Living Beyond Breast Cancer will host another Writing the Journey Series this Spring, hosted by Alysa Cummings. And the good news is that there will be two different Writing the Journey groups in Spring 2013 – one in Cherry Hill, NJ and one in Haverford, PA.  Check back to the LBBC Blog for more insights from Alysa Cummings and future Writing the Journey creations.  You can purchase your own copy of Greetings from Cancerland, on Amazon.com!


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