Monday, March 10, 2014

A Pound of Flesh

It felt like March 5th would never come and then when it was close at hand I wanted to do anything to postpone it. I spent that morning at the gym trying to work out any anxiety that I could then met Jeffrey on the Upper West Side at Holy Trinity Church for Ash Wednesday service. We were the only ones in there at the time and I really appreciated that we could sit alone and pray. During the imposition of ashes it is customary to say "remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Message heard loud and clear!
We went home to spend a little time together. Jeff managed to lull me into a cat nap much in the way a parent puts down a reluctant toddler, wrapping himself around me so that I could melt into him. It worked brilliantly and we made our way to Lenox Hill Hospital in as calm a state as possibly could be expected.
The day prior a rep from the hospital had called and told me that I'd be checking in on the first floor then would be sent to the 3rd floor to Nuclear Medicine before heading up to Surgery on 10th.  Instead I was told to go straight to 10th to check in (despite my assertions to the contrary) and upon arriving at the surgery check in I repeated that I should go to N.M. Instead I was told that I needed to answer some questions then Jeff could join me.
I thought I was being led into an office room to answer medical questions but instead was shocked to be led into a large room with outdated curtains serving as "rooms" for patients all dressed in hospital gowns awaiting surgery. I sat there in what I now refer to as my Cancer Dress ( it is perfect for quickly undressing for these endless appointments) staring at old men. I've never felt like I didn't belong somewhere with more conviction.  I'm healthy, young, happy....why am I in this glorified holding area with sick old men and Croc wearing hospital staff? It was a lot of reality to process and there o was left alone to stare it right in the face. Finally after more than half an hour someone seemed to take notice of me. I told her I was told I had to answer questions before I could have my husband. She said that wasn't necessary and would get him. Having him sit beside me made every difference.
Nurses popped by to check vitals, ask me to pee in a cup, glamorous stuff like that. Then one finally came and was giving me the speech about what to expect in the O.R. She said it'd be just a few minutes more
Um, I still haven't been to Nuclear Medicine!
This seemed to be revolutionary news even though I'd been repeating it to anyone who would listen to me for 45 minutes.  They called down to the 3rd floor and exclaimed that the staff down there was waiting for me and I needed to hurry down.....this is disturbing. Had I not done my own research and known what to expect, they'd have taken me into surgery without any idea of which lymph nodes to biopsy!
Down in N.M. I met Dr.Sharf and his technician. They injected me with a radioactive dye directly above and below my melanoma site. Dr.S then massaged me to get the fluid going. There was a risk that because of my cancer's location it might not pick a direct route. Everyone drains to different lymph nodes,there is no hard and fast rule. This fluid is injected to show where my melanoma would have drained to in my body if it has indeed left the primary site. The idea is to isolate those specific lymph nodes and biopsy them to detect if spreading has occurred. Luckily the technique worked and the juice made a beeline for my right armpit. Dr.S held a wand up to me that beeped like a metal detector as it got closer and closer to the correct lymph nodes. I have to say it was pretty cool stuff and for at least a moment I was enthralled with modern medicine and my body's new Geiger counter skill.
Back up to 10th and we met with the anesthesiologist. He listened kindly to my concerns about intubation and also gave me a patch to help with nausea front the anastesia . He promised me he'd been doing this for 22 years and only he would insert and remove the tube. Then I handed my glasses to Jeff and kissed him goodbye.
I was led down a dark hallway into the bright, open OR. I could see the two tables I knew my body was meant for, since I'd be flipped from back to stomach and then on to my back again in order to operate on my head (basal cell),  under arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy), and back (melanoma).  Two men had their backs to me and one said hello, the Eastern European accent helped me determine that was my anesthesiologist. I stood there feeling small and scared. I remember a nurse taking my wrap off and guiding me to the table, politely holding the back of my dressing gown closed (though I was actually breaking the rule and was determined to keep my underwear on so no one saw my bottom when they flipped me). I layed down and Dr.Glasberg pulled my right arm out and started trying to locate the beeping lymph nodes. My left arm was pulled by the anesthesiologist as he looked for a vein. I realized I was flayed out in a cross and suddenly scenes of Passion of the Christ started running through my head! Someone was strapping my body in while another man was taping monitors to my chest. No one acknowledged me or spoke to me, I felt like a lab animal or a piece of meat waiting to be processed. So many strangers were touching me and yet no one saw me. It was horrible. I tried to muster out some words to my surgeon so at least he'd have to look at me but it wasn't very successful. Then the burn of the sleepy juice invaded my arm and an oxygen mask was put on my face. I began to cry and suck in air, refusing to close my eyes so they wouldn't mistake me for being out before I really was...
...and then someone was calling my name and I knew it was over. I reached my hand down to make sure they hadn't cut off my underwear and was happy to discover I'd beaten the system :).
I was freezing and my legs were shaking but no one noticed me. My arm hurt and I eventually started to groan to try and get a nurse to come over. It took a frustratingly long time to accomplish this task. I was given morphine and asked for my husband. Poor Jeff hadn't even been notified my surgery was over. The OR staff had just left and he was sitting in the waiting room worrying until I was able to get my bearings to request him.
A few hours later and I was dismissed and have been home since. The Scop patch proved a Godsend as I never got nauseous and the Vicodin was enough to manage my pain. My arm is a bit useless for the time being and I can't wait to properly wash my hair but recovery has been better than expected. The worst was actually my sore muscles. It felt like id been hit my a crosstown bus. Perhaps this was from being flipped repeatedly? I dont know.

Tomorrow we meet with the surgeon for a follow up. Most importantly, we should be told the results of the biopsy. This is a crucial step in staging my melanoma. If the biopsy is negative then I am indeed Stage 1. If the cancer has spread then a much scarier, more treacherous road is ahead of us. I'm frightened out of my mind. Jeff will be with me and I'm so grateful for it. This is our diagnosis, it is our life together that could be ravaged. I can't really prepare myself but I will be grateful for this night where I am suspended halfway between hope and fear since tomorrow could bring a new awareness of weights we do not yet carry.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My dermatologist went on vacation and all he brought me back was cancer

J and I went on a vacation down to Florida to play like children at Universal Studios and visit family and friends along the drive. We had the most magical time together. I was practically teary-eyed our last night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We'd laughed and run through lines to ride roller coasters and see cheesy shows. Standing in the cool evening air with a Butterbeer in hand and HP music drifting all around I did not want to leave. All my cares had been tabled for the week, we were consumed with each other and our happiness. I can't remember so many days in a row of being filled with so much gratitude for the life I share with my husband.

As we drove from Orlando to Savannah for the last evening of our private getaway, my dermatologist called.  I had been referred for a skin screening by my PCP in the Fall and had finally made an appointment for 2.12.  The derm removed a spot on my head that he said was most likely just a patch of rough skin as well as a mole on my back that he said was a bit darker than the others. "don't wait for bad news, I don't  think they'll turn out to be anything." Now I was suddenly being told that my biopsy results were not as assumed, "You have melanoma. You need to call Dr Glasberg to schedule surgery."

Less than a week later and I feel like I've aged 15 years.  Since that initial call I have also been informed that the spot on my head is a Basal Cell Carcinoma.  That's right, I've got TWO forms of skin cancer. I guess they were having a BOGO deal at the pathologist's office?  I've met my surgeon and will be going under general anesthesia for a 1.5 hour surgery that will include two Wide Local Excisions to remove the cancers and surrounding healthy tissue as well as a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy.  Basically radioactive blue liquid will be inserted to determine which lymph node(s) my melanoma would most likely have been able to infect with cancer cells. They will be biopsied during surgery and removed if cancer is found.

My heart is broken. How did we get here and what will come next keeps rolling through my mind.  Surgery risks, scaring, recurrence, mestasis....death.

This day last week I was laughing with my husband on the Popeye water ride, today I'm trying to figure out what I want out of my life if there are only a few years left to us together.

If the surgery is successful and there is no mestasis to the lymph nodes then the percentage of Stage 1 melanoma survivors at 5 yrs is 98%.   That is such a better number than so many others have, and people keep saying "you'll be okay."  I don't feel okay. In my mind is the knowledge that for every 100 Emily's who are being told they will be okay there are two being buried in the ground and that 10 years  out more will join them.  I will do everything in my power to be healthy and proactive, but what if it isn't enough? How can I leave the love of my life when I've only just found him?  This can't be real. Other people get cancer. People who use tanning beds or smoke, people who don't respect their bodies and fill them with crap food or dangerous drugs. And now people like me, because melanoma is merciless. Every 8 minutes someone in the US will be diagnosed with melanoma and one of us will die every hour. GET.SCREENED

My surgery will take place next Wednesday and then we will have more information.  I will have another skin screening and biopsy more moles for  good measure. For now it is a waiting game and trying to measure my tears with reassurance. I will continue to share this journey in hopes it helps me process what is happening and that it might spurn others to have their skin checked.

If you'd like to leave comments of encouragement or helpful advice about surgery and/or skin cancers then please feel very welcome.  Stories of bad results and tragedy are not needed, it's hard enough to smile as it is right now.  Thank you

Friday, January 10, 2014

Little tweeks, big results

Little more than a week into my super clean committed eating and the results are quite impressive. In my early forays into Paleo the changes were slow to come. The scale didn't move much and although there was body composition changes (combined with CrossFit) I was frustrated that I wasn't seeing results akin to those vile 2AM infomercials. You know the ones...

This time around the scale is moving quickly. After 8 days I've seen a 5 pound loss. Now, I know this could be water weight and is definitely related also to hormonal fluctuations that we women are all blessed with but hey, somewhere in there is some unhealthy crap leaving my body and that is wonderful. #happycamper

Having been to the Paleo rodeo before is probably helping my pursuits. This time around:
 Fruit is in no way a regular item. I bought some medjool dates but am treating them like rare gold nuggets. I allow myself to eat one and savor every bite. My goodness, with making fruit a rarity these babies taste like the best French pastry! It's an awesome consequence. 

Also, veggies reign supreme. Many folks confuse Paleo as a spin-off of Atkins/Low Carb/Meatapalooza diets. Vegetables should be taking up way more room on your plate than anything else and we're really trying to make that a priority. Pack your freezer with organic frozen veggies and toss them in any stir-fry/grass-fed ground beef cookup on days when prepping multiple dishes for a meal just feels overwhelming. 

Those 2 tweeks plus lots of water and tea is really helping me. Being at home most days I would usually succumb to constant grazing but so far I'm really able to keep it together. I'm so motivated to meet my first goal of getting back into the 150's and that is just a few days' clean eating away :)

Have an awesome weekend and enjoy this photo from our Polar Vortex weather:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Are you snowed in tonight? Join me in the Frozen Apple.

It is very late here in Manhattan and so my sweet schoolteacher hub is fast asleep but I am gazing out at the white haze that is "Winter Storm Hercules." So far it isn't too bad. Although i'd like to share one of this city's many oddities: The Governor of NY has declared a State of Emergency due to the weather. 3 highways in the area have been closed due to hazardous travel AND YET: school is still in session! Our new mayor has told the citizens to stay inside during the storm but he wants teachers and students on their way tomorrow morning at 6am. Logical, right???  I'm hoping for a last minute dump of snow in the early morning so that maybe J will be allowed to stay home and play in the flurries with me. Snow in the city is a Godsend after all, everything is quieter and lovely. I'm looking forward to a long walk in Fort Tryon Park tomorrow to really enjoy the scenery. If you are ever on the island of Manhattan I suggest taking a stroll in this park that is often forgotten in comparison to the more centrally located (is that where they got the name?) Central Park. Tryon is much lovelier with grand views of the Hudson River and tons of small winding paths to follow.

ALSO, if you're ever in Manhattan check out HU KITCHEN.
New York City's 1st PALEO RESTAURANT!!!!!!!!!! Hu's team does a great job of really following Paleo food values. They even make their own almond milk so you won't find dairy or even carageenan anywhere. Their enchiladas are fantastic and they've got a great Thursday night Happy Hour with some pretty awesome beverages on tap including blackberry kombucha, which I have yet to try. It is pricey but the quality is there. If you need to eat clean and don't have time to prepare a meal then Hu Kitchen will keep you on the right path. I'm really proud of what co-owner Jordan (great guy, super fun to tweet at so give it a try) has done with this place and look forward to their growth both in popularity and in expanding their hot menu offerings. Hu's success is a great sign that Paleo is becoming mainstream and we are going to make true and effective change to the health of so many.

Today's noms included:
Brunch of 2 organic eggs with 2 pieces of uncured bacon plus half a cup of coffee with some grassfed milk.
Another organic orange and some dark chocolate.
Dinner was an awesome melange of grassfed beef with onions, turnips, small organic potatoes from our CSA and so many awesome spices.  Be well~*

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

The winter holidays are coming to a close. For J and I it has been delightful. We spent almost 2 weeks fully together enjoying Manhattan in its glorious Christmas season. We also decided, somehow, not sure when the train buy a bag of flour (a first for me in YEARS) and do some baking.


We made biscuits with fried chicken and gravy.
Blondies for a holiday party.
Sugar cookies for Santa.
Scones two ways with lemon curd and clotted cream.
Traditional meat pies.
More biscuits....

Not Paleo. Not even remotely healthy but oh so fun. Baking with traditional wheat flour is comfortably familiar to me. It's inexpensive, easy and for me serves as a creative outlet. Some people sketch. I bake. Hey, did I ever tell you that I won THE Bake Off contest for the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast in 4th grade? Cuz I did and it was a huge deal. Every year your age class would have a category (muffins, cookies, cakes, pies, etc) and each individual troop would have a baking contest. Those 1st place winners would then be entered into the annual bake off which included the winners from each troop in our whole region. Every year I wanted to win so badly but never seemed to make it. How my brown sugar topped blueberry muffins lost out to another girl's mealy yellow corn muffins still eludes me but I think it may have to do with the fact that the judges thought my mom was doing the baking for me and passed my Martha Stewart-esque creations over for a more believable entry *conspiracy*. But finally cake year ended up being my ticket to elementary school stardom. Everyone knew the cake category was THE one to win so when they called my name and I walked down that long auditorium to get my ribbon and gift while all of the girls cheered, damn it was good stuff. I was a very tall, very fat, very loud little girl. People don't give you standing ovations when you're that kid.So being the belle of the bakeoff for an afternoon meant everything to me. All that to say: I love baking. I'm good at it, my treats make people smile and give me compliments.
 Too bad WHEAT = DEATH
I was such a chubby Brownie GS that the uniform fits in adulthood. Check out my badges!

2013 was the first year I made no weight loss resolutions. I was the thinnest I'd ever been thanks to the wedding stress (literally, pounds DROPPED in the months up to the big day thanks to my Hell on Earth nightmarish wedding vendors at The Obici House and Ava Clara Bridal. Yes, they were that bad. But before I go down that rabbit hole: No weight loss goal was a great feeling. I was 100+ pounds down and I could find my size in any store. I even planned to gain a bit of weight. People close to me felt I was a bit too small and my once buxom bosom was a thing of the past. A little bump up the scale wouldn't be such a  bad thing. Trouble is I took way too much liberty and tasted my way around the 5 boroughs. It has been an awesome way to explore the city but I am feeling the consequences of the SAD diet and am all too happy to clean it up from now on.

OKAY, so, I'm up 25 pounds in 2013. Ouch. Oops. Did it to myself.
What am I gonna do about it? Eat the way my body needs me to.

So today we shared organic eggs, avocado and uncured bacon for brunch.
An organic orange was an afternoon snack.
Dinner was wild sockeye salmon with peas and rice mac.
Yes, rice mac n cheese is not Paleo. It is faileo. But it was in the cabinet so we used it as sort of a transition item/to get it out of the house. No more rice pasta for the rest of January, promise.

So that's me on this first day of the new year. Aiming for transparency, honesty about my feats and failures along the road back to ideal health and hopefully a few tasty food finds. Be well~*


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Savory Slow Cooker Short Ribs

Living in Manhattan isn't easy. You work A LOT so that you can afford the crazy sky high rent  and then by the time that and the basics (student loans!) are paid there isn't much left with which to indulge. I'm primarily in charge of grocery shopping and menu planning in our home so this is an area I look to for conservative spending. We eat a LOT of grass-fed ground beef ($6 per lb) as well as some chicken, bacon, canned salmon or maybe a filet of fish to shake things up. If it's clean and cheap it's getting served for dinner. This being the case, we don't get to eat much steak these days. When the Food Emporium was going out of business we stopped by the usually overpriced "gourmet" shop on the Upper West Side to snag a bargain. Happily, everything was discounted including meat so I grabbed up the last of the lamb as well as a pack of beef short ribs. Originally these were intended for a recipe from Well Fed but I got tired of waiting to amass the various ingredients and just went for it!

Now, as tends to be my style, there aren't exact measurements going on. Truth is, I didn't expect this to be a recipe worth sharing so I was just doing a quick cook up before rushing downtown. Honestly, you just don't need exact measurements for most recipes. As I was discussing with Stupid Easy Paleo, baking may be scientific but cooking is ART. It's a creation, unique, subjective to taste and almost entirely without rules (except, you know, don't get food poisoning). So here's what I did, a scoop here and a dash there. Bonus: the ingredient list is everything that you're sure to have in the pantry or fridge! Try it out  the next time you happen upon a sweet meat deal:

You'll be using two dishes for this one. The first is a skillet where the seasoning and browning is accomplished. I used a hefty scoop of Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil, got it nice and hot, then placed the ribs in, Salt and Pepper the raw sides before their turn in the oily hot tub. This process took about 10 minutes as I gave each of the 6 sides of the ribs a chance to brown. Towards the end of the process I sprinkled on Red Pepper Flakes and dried Thyme leaves. 

Fun Fact: heating herbs and spices helps release their full spectrum of flavor

Next comes the slow cooker. I covered the bottom of the basin with a small sliced Onion as well as a few peeled and cut organic Carrots. Place the short ribs on top of this veggie bed and make sure to pour all of that gorgeous coconut oil and newly rendered fat into the mix as well. Using half of a can of organic Tomato Paste and 1/2 cup Water that have been stirred together, pour it on top of the ribs. Toss in two Bay Leaves and a few Garlic Cloves, I had 6 left so that's what went in to the melange. 
Now for the easiest bit! Set the timer for at least 3 hours to as much as 5 hours and walk away. When you come back all of those herbs will have mixed together to create a heavenly smell in your kitchen, the fat and tomato sauce mix will be dancing together and the ribs will be in a state of thoroughly cooked-ness. At 3.3 hours our ribs were falling off of the bone but the meat was firm yet tender. If you want it to melt away in shreds then leave it be for a few more hours. Personally, we enjoyed being raucous cannibals with the chunks. I'd been liberal with the red pepper flakes so there was a nice warm burn that came at the end of each bite without being super spicy and the defining character of the dish. All of those carrots will be delicious so make sure to eat those up as well. To increase the veggie load these will be great with smashed cauliflower or maybe a sweet potato with some melted ghee. Since J had made some spicy. Eastern seasoned cauliflower we used that as a quick side plus an organic green salad of spinach and kale. Twas YUMMY, easy and a fun mix up from our routine. Let me know how this one works out for you and what modifications you made for your family's dinner. Eat well~*

Ain't she a beauty

Thursday, February 14, 2013

V-Day Quickie

Ok, I have less than an hour to get prettified for my sweet husband who is about to whisk me off for an evening of romance. BUT I just HAVE to share this with you:

                                                 PALEO CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

I realize this is already out there 100 fold in the blogosphere but for whatever reason I didn't know about it so maybe you don't either.  If you're dealing with some serious cravings for an indulgent dessert and you're trying to be a goo dlil cave person and not even dip in to dairy then this is it.

No measuring necessary, just eyeball it to your taste and how much you want to scarf down. And this is yummiest when eaten cold.

Take the thick mass of coconut awesomeness from a can of full fat coconut milk (like Thai Kitchen).

Sprinkle in a bit of quality cocoa.

Drizzle a teensy dab of honey and mix it up.