Monday, April 14, 2008

Uncertainty and creativity

Last night we watched a wonderful movie, Rivers and Tides, about Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates art in nature using elements of nature: twigs, rocks, ice and flowers. Much of his work is ephemeral, disappearing or transmutting as the tide comes in and out, ice melts, and the river flows. Other works, such as his stone fences and cairns, is longer-lasting but changes as the seasons change.

There is a sensuous appreciation of the materials of nature: the very nature of rock, for example, or sheep's wool, an attempt to get down to the very essence of things. There is also a willingness to fail, which I found as charming as the successful creations. It manages to be very thought-through, but also in the moment. Goldsworthy said he liked the sense of taking a work to the edge of collapse, of living with the uncertainty that things will hold together or fall apart.

That was the true gift to me of the documentary movie, because I seem to be living in such a time, not knowing whether I will gain some traction against this cancer, whether it will bide its time and decide to strike again later, or whether the treatments will not do what they are supposed to do. Whatever the reason is, I have begun making some small works of art again. It feels quite wonderful to be working with materials again, and to try through self-expression to capture the sense of hope that seems to be coming with the spring.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I am still here

I am still fighting the cancer beast, have been to faraway doctors and back, and am recovering from a roller coaster of an experience with surgery and more.

I have learned tons about the health care system, but am not ready to draw any conclusions yet from my experience.

My attention recently has been turned in two directions (beyond my own healing):
The Oprah and Eckhart Tolle connection: visit to learn about this on-line learning experience that helps us live in the present moment (always good when the future looks scarey).

Also, as I recover, I have been thoroughly delving into favorite magazines. The latest issue of The Sun features an interview with Van Jones, an activist who believes environmental issues must be linked to issues of race, justice and poverty. As I have thought about environmental issues lately, it seems they must be linked to issues of economic empowerment. This is the only way the environmental movement can go beyond the white middle class "green" consumer in my opinion.

I much appreciate the friends and family who have been supporting me through my journey with cancer, and I look forward to the time when it is not front and center in my consciousness. Maybe with Eckhart Tolle's help, this could be soon!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A powerful mission statement

I have finished my last chemo treatment for cancer and am now awaiting a scan which will find out if the chemo did what it what supposed to do. I am keeping my fingers crossed for no evidence of disease (NED)!

As is evident from my other postings, my healing journey has been aided and abetted by my interest in alternative and complementary care. A healing that I put at the top of my list in terms of its benefits is the Chinese energy therapy called qigong (or chi kung). Many people will have heard of tai chi, which is related to qigong in terms of its emphasis on working with the human energy field, which flows in meridians through the body. Qigong features simple hand movements, breathing and physical exercises which unblock energy logjams. Chinese medicine teaches that these energy logjams lead to disease.

In late October I went up to Chaska, Minnesota, to take a Level One class at the Spring Forest Qigong Center. Master Chunyi Lin, an international Qigong Master, started this center and offers learning opportunities and healings. Lin has written a book, Born a Healer, that recounts his tumultuous early life in China in the midst of the cultural revolution, how he became a healer, and the miraculous healings (including of cancer) that have resulted from qigong. The book also provides examples of some simple exercises for getting started at qigong. In my own case, these exercises help cure the depression caused by my diagnosis. I now do qigong exercises every day. The exercises help calm my frantically busy mind, and as a result I have been able to get a daily meditation practice going as well.

One of the things that I find most powerful and appealing about Spring Forest Qigong is its mission statement: "A Healer in Every Family and a World Without Pain." In these days when so many of us are facing middle age health issues, when health care costs are rising, and we wish to be more self-sufficient about our own health care, this mission statement really resonates.

Cancer is a disease which effects the total body as a system. In my case, I have thought it best to rely on a multi-faceted approach that combines Western medicine with many other treatment modalities. Qigong has been a positive step in my healing process.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eckhart Tolle

I certainly have much to be grateful for. Many people have offered advice and resources that have been very helpful in my new life as a cancer survivor. A friend of mine has been going through chemotherapy at the same time as I have. She found that the words of the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle spoke to her powerfully during this difficult period. She loaned me a CD of his latest book, A New Earth. At first I was put out by the Tolle's melancholic tone as he narrated his own audio book. And, I found his voice made me sleepy. But in the moments that I have managed to attend to Tolle's words, I have found much that is worthwhile.

At random, several weeks ago, I opened Tolle's book The Power of Now, to these words: "Observe how the mind labels it [the present moment] and how this labeling process, this continuous sitting in judgment, creates pain and unhappiness... Allow the present moment to be. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life."

Do you need to have a cancer diagnosis to deeply appreciate these words? I don't know how many times I have started to worry about the future, and have found myself returning to Tolle's advice. What is happening in my life right now is mostly good. I feel almost normal, my spirits are good, my attitude is positive. I'm not always in the present moment, and I am still quite interested in strategies and solutions that will support my positive outlook, but Tolle's world view has been a powerful adjunct therapy, day after day.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The problem with fats

I am always thrilled when I find out that someone is actually reading this blog, and when I get an actual request to cover a subject, I feel I should hasten to the task. So when a friend asked me what I had learned about the various fats and how they contribute to health/disease, I thought it would be a good subject for a little research. The more I looked into the topic, however, the more difficult I found it to synthesize a response that could govern my use of fats at home. But here is my attempt.

Our bodies need fats to maintain our skin and hair, to protect cells, to transport vitamins and protect our organs. However, there are three main problems about the types of fats featured in the Standard American Diet (SAD). 1. We eat too much saturated fat. These fats raise our LDL cholesterol and contribute to heart disease, among other things. The fats are found in butter, lard, dairy products, coconut oil, meat, and some prepared foods.

2. Our fat consumption is too skewed towards Omega 6 fats. Check out the Wikipedia definition of Omega 6, which refers to the fatty acid portion of fats. Omega 6 fats are found in nuts, cereals, vegetable oils, eggs, and poultry. High consumption of Omega 6 fats has been linked to cancer, heart attack, high blood pressure, and depression. Over-consumption of Omega 6 fats has an inflammatory effect on the human system, which makes it a culprit in all of these disease conditions. Immunologist Stephen Martin says: "Currently, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in our diet is about 15 to 1. We are drowning in pro-inflammatory oils such as corn, soy and safflower oils. These oils are precursors of arachidonic acid, the substrate for pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. The high level of omega-6 oils in our diet is killing us...literally. "

Research is showing that Omega 3 fats, the kind found in flax oil, fish and fish oil, green leafy vegetables, and walnuts, can reduce these health risks. Science Daily reported on a terminal cancer patient who reduced his Omega 6 fat consumption to a bare minimum, and took mega-doses of fish oil to shrink his tumors.

Here is a handy table that indicates the mix of omega 6 and omega 3 fats in oils in everyday use. A friend asked if walnut oil was a good oil to use instead of some of the other more popular oils. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in walnut oil is 5:1, whereas it is 83:1 in corn oil!

Another good resource for investigating the nutritional qualities of foods is Nutrition Data. From this source, I learned that cheddar cheese is high in saturated fats, but has an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of about 1.6 to 1. So organic cheddar cheese in moderation, seems to be a good protein. Also, cottage cheese has some redeeming qualities. We need our healthy calcium for bones, too.

3. We are eating poor quality, chemically modified fats. Many agree that trans fatty acids are the worst type to eat. These are fats that are chemically modified so that they will be solid and have a longer shelf life. They are found in packaged cookies, chips, crackers and margarines. These fats increase your bad cholesterol. We should avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. In addition to the dangers of trans fatty acids, many of the fats we eat are rancid, genetically modified, and damaged through the cooking process. The refining process we subject oils to uses solvents and high heats, changing their chemical constitution, creating "free radicals" that can cause cancer and other diseases.

So, what does all this mean for our everyday life of preparing food at home or eating out? Here are my suggestions:
  • For cooking or salad dressing, use extra-virgin olive oil, or clarified butter. Better yet, make a simple salad dressing of balsamic vinegar and flax oil.
  • Use less oil for cooking and sauteeing. For example, saute onions in a tablespoon of broth and a tiny amount of olive oil.
  • Eat more foods with high Omega-3's: fresh, deepwater fish, flaxseeds, flax seed oil, and fish oil. Buy water-packed tuna and sardines in tomato sauce.
  • Avoid french fries, deep-fat fried foods, and processed foods.
  • Buy organic milk and dairy products, which are higher in Omega 3's.
  • Eat nuts in moderation. Walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds all have redeeming qualities. I am down on peanuts because I am somewhat allergic to them. Here is what Dr. Andrew Weil says about nuts: "I... prefer almond butter and cashew butter, because they have a better fatty acid profile. And for snacking, I tend to choose raw, unsalted cashews, almonds or walnuts (an omega-3 source). If you do go for peanut butter, look for brands containing only peanuts or peanuts and salt (such as Laura Scudder's and Adams). Avoid those with hydrogenated oils, sugar and other additives."
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables! Consider lowering your animal protein to 4 oz. per day.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ginger and other good foods and resources

I have been working away to upgrade my diet to support my fight against the cancer beast. I am investigating a broad range of culinary ingredients that will make my taste buds sing and my body get healthy. The latest thing to come to my attention is ginger. Ginger has a long history as a home remedy for nausea. Since chemotherapy and radiation can be nauseating, ginger ale, and ginger tea have been recommended to help sooth the stomach.

There are lots of good sources of information on how to incorporate more ginger in your diet. I buy the big lumpy fresh ginger, and cut a thin coin of ginger off to spice up my green tea in the morning. Go to, and put "ginger tea" into the search engine to find a recipe to your liking.

But it gets even better when you consider that ginger could help kill cancer. The University of Michigan did a study that found powdered ginger caused cell death in human ovarian cancer lines. Here is what the press release says: "Ginger is effective at controlling inflammation, and inflammation contributes to the development of ovarian cancer cells. By halting the inflammatory reaction, the researchers suspect, ginger also stops cancer cells from growing.
“In multiple ovarian cancer cell lines, we found that ginger induced cell death at a similar or better rate than the platinum-based chemotherapy drugs typically used to treat ovarian cancer,” says Jennifer Rhode, M.D., a gynecologic oncology fellow at the U-M Medical School."

Ginger has also been studied as a therapy for Alzheimers, and for colon cancer. I am ramping up my ginger consumption. On the same recipe site I found an awesome recipe for Sesame & Ginger Carrots that I'm going to try tonight with fresh carrots I bought at the farmer's market. It is chok-full of healthy ingredients!

Since I write here so irregularly, I'd like to mention one of my new favorite blogs. It is called Grouppe Kurosawa, written by Stephen Martin, who has 2 Ph.D.'s, at least one in immunology. This is a guy who loves research! The Grouppe Kurosawa Blog is dedicated to a discussion of how natural medicines and easily obtainable over the counter medicines can be used to effectively and inexpensively treat a host of serious acute and chronic diseases, including HIV, hepatitis, asthma, allergy, arthritis, cancer, leukemia and diabetes. What makes me trust this source of information is not only Martin's expertise, but the fact that he is not also hawking supplements and expensive reports. This is truly medicine in the public interest. It is amazing that I have searched around and not found another site that is devoted to such a practical and essential subject. If anyone knows of another one, please let me know.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Some cancer care recipes

The internet exerts a siren call to people like me, so I'm back, despite my last bleak entry vowing not to return until my paradigm shifted. I guess a shift has indeed occurred. I have shifted my focus from changing the world to healing myself. And the results of that process? So far, so good. I am suffering from a rare type of ovarian cancer and am half-way through my chemo treatments. Who knows what the months ahead will bring? All of you, dear readers, are living with uncertainty, but most of you just don't know it yet. I can report that uncertainty is not an impossible thing to live with; there is still time for everyday joys and lots of learning.

I am very grateful to all the people who have communicated with me by phone, email or in person. Changing and healing myself is clearly a group venture, and I have benefited from the wisdom of many. I have been spending a lot of time trying to make sense of this whole new journey, attempting to discern what gives me pleasure and what offers the opportunity for healing. Conventional medicine doesn't have a great deal of experience with my particular form of cancer, and it can be overwhelming sorting through all the information out there on complementary and alternative forms of treatment.

Nutrition and healing has been an interest of mine for at least ten years. This interest has grown since my diagnosis. There are many different cancer diets out there, and I have also discovered at least one good cancer cookbook. Some people have reported great cures from macrobiotic cooking, while others swear by juicing. Cancer diets seem to be long on general principles and short on tasty specific recipes, and tasty and healthful food really contributes to my quality of life. So I am going to share 4 tasty recipes, all of which have potential cancer fighting benefits. I'll share my sources for this assertion. All these recipes have been tested by me and are extremely tasty.

Fettuccini With Shiitake and Garlic Butter

Click on the recipe title to view this recipe on the recipezaar website. This recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms, found fresh in some parts of the country, otherwise available dried in stores with oriental cooking supplies. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website has information on the research that has been done on shiitake mushrooms as a cancer cure. These mushrooms are a staple in certain oriental recipes, and substantial research has been done on their healing properties in Japan. If you use dried shiitake mushrooms, I would rehydrate at least 10 of them overnight in water. We found some fresh shiitake mushrooms at an area farmer's market, and thought the flavor in this recipe was out of sight!

Bran Flax Muffins

I found this recipe on the All Recipes site, where it was positively reviewed by 190 different reviewers. It uses an ingredient vital in any cancer fighting arsenal: freshly ground flax seeds. There is lots of discussion in user-oriented cancer groups about cancer preparations using flax seed and flax oil. Sloan Kettering's take on flax is here, but Stephen Martin, blogger at the Grouppe Kurosawa Natural Medicines blog, comes right out and says a flax muffin a day can have wonderful benefits. I'm not capable of sorting out the science on this, but Martin's credentials and orientation are impressive. Most important, these muffins, which I made for the first time today, are delicious!

Add-on note: where to find flax seed? I found flax seed at my local natural foods grocery store. If you don't have something like that nearby, you can check it out at your favorite online store. For example, and both carry flax seed. It's best to get organic, and then store what you buy in the freezer until you use it.

Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage Slaw

1/2 C. Cranberry Honey Vinegar (or substitute some other light vinegar)
1/2 C. Olive Oil
1 1/2 tsp. coarely cracked pepper
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 medium head red cabbage, cored & thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Directions: Combine vinegar, pepper, thyme, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well. Add cabbage and onion. Toss until coated. Salt to taste.

Cabbage is one of those cruciferous vegetables everyone has been telling you to eat. Cabbage is loaded with anti-oxidants, and red cabbage is loaded with vitamin C. The American Institute for Cancer Research has another red cabbage recipe on their website, which I view as a endorsement for the health benefits of red cabbage.

Lime Sorbet

2 cups sugar
3 ¾ c hot water
2 ¼ c lime juice (abt. 15 limes)
3 t. lemon juice
1 ½ T dark rum
2 drops green food coloring
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Dissolve sugar in hot water, add ingredients .Freeze. Before serving, process in food processor, then put back in freezer. This gives it a nice texture.

This recipe makes a ton of lime sorbet. A couple of days after my surgery, a friend of mine brought some of this stuff over. I swear the sorbet VIBRATED, it had such a dramatic effect on my taste buds. Man, this is good stuff. It is extremely high in vitamin C, and my system must have been calling out for this elixir. There's lots of controversy about whether vitamin C helps cancer; all I know is that my body LOVED it. Here is how Sloan Kettering describes the studies, debates, and some of the evidence about vitamin C.

My opinion is that science is not the answer to everything! Happy eating and abundant love and good health to one and all.