Thursday, January 31, 2013

Let's try this again--Tomorrow will be my last day of chemo!

I came to the chemo infusion room today ready to celebrate my last chemo infusion again!  But, I got my cbc lab report back to see my ANC is still 1.1.  I don't understand how the ANC didn't come up from that, because my bone marrow felt like it was seriously working hard to produce those white blood cells last night.  I had some very intense (worse than labor pain) bone and hip pain last night, that I finally decided to try to resolve at 1am by taking some ibuprofen.  I knew I needed some sleep since I didn't get any the night before.  It was the neupogen-type debilitating pain, so I know it has to be from the injection on Tuesday.  The doctor didn't want to give me another neupogen injection yesterday, because I had a localized allergic reaction on Tuesday at the site of the injection.  My arm got warm, was in serious pain, felt numb and swelled up at the site of the injection.  This was so strange, because I have never had this reaction before to the neupogen, with all of the pre-medication I receive (steroids and benadryl).

Anyway, we are going to try the neupogen injection today and I will come back tomorrow to see great white blood cell counts and have my LAST DOSE OF TAXOL!   Hooray.  I know God has a reason for the delay in treatment, and it is all in his control.  So, I will just sit back and enjoy this ride.

We are praying for a boost in my white blood count for my last chemo tomorrow.   (I know I look extremely tired--because I am.  :-)  These steroids I have received three days in a row give me insomnia.  Please pray that I can get some rest today and then sleep tonight.)   

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tomorrow will be my last chemo day!

Unfortunately, my ANC (neutrophil count) was too low for chemo today.  It was 1.1 and needed to be at least 1.5.   It was so close.   But, I didn't get an ounce of sleep last night and the body needs sleep in order for the immune system to function properly.  So, I am sure the lack of sleep is the culprit.

My ANC count was so close to the low end of the normal range though, so I am expecting that I will receive my last dose of Taxol tomorrow.  It will be a very happy day.  :-)

We did get to meet with my oncologist this morning though.  I asked her whether she felt my response to the chemotherapy was just as she expected, better than expected, or not as good as she hoped.  She replied that she was very pleased with my response.  She was especially pleased because I have an estrogen receptor positive cancer.  She normally sees that estrogen receptor positive tumors tend to plateau on chemo at some point in their response to the drugs.  But, I had an early positive response to chemo and it has never plateaued.   This is great news.  We are still all hoping to see great results on my PET on 2/4/13.  This will probably be a big indicator of whether I will receive more chemotherapy treatments following my surgery.  She said that if the PET shows no evidence of disease, it will be extremely difficult to justify the benefit over the risk of adding more chemotherapy.  So, following reviewing the PET results, she is going to have a discussion with my MD Anderson oncologist so they can determine how to proceed.  I love that I have not just one amazing oncologist treating me, but I get two amazing oncologists discussing my treatment plan.   God is good!

God's timing is perfect.  He is in control.  I was concerned that if I didn't receive my chemo today I would be too close to my surgery date for my body to heal and my counts to come up.  Well, I received a call yesterday from the surgeon's office.  They needed to move the location of my surgery due to the surgical facility being out of network for insurance coverage.  So, it was rescheduled form 2/11/13 to 2/13/13 (a surgical date that was not available before).  This gives me a couple of extra days for healing.  Hooray!

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Please pray that tomorrow will be my last chemo because my cancer is gone!   Thanks!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nourishing Bytes: Cruciferous Veggies

I have mentioned in previous posts that I was not much of a veggie-eater prior to my cancer diagnosis.   I knew I was supposed to be eating them.   I also attempted to eat veggies daily, but I know I did not consume nearly the recommended amount.  My favorites were always sweet potatoes, spinach, arugula, and corn.  Those are the ones I consumed fairly regularly.  I would typically only eat broccoli if it were included in my chinese food meal.  Otherwise, I didn't go out of my way to include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or brussels sprouts in my diet.  Confession:  the first time I ate a brussels sprout was when a friend, Sarah S., brought us a delicious meal that included roasted brussels sprouts.  They were delicious!  I had no idea that they could be so tasty!  I really wished I knew what I know now though about the various veggies and how each one has a different, specific health benefit.  I mean, if you were to tell me cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage were good for me, I wouldn't argue with you.  I knew they were very healthful.   But I didn't know just how amazing these veggies are for one's health.  Can you believe that scientists at Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered that a substance in broccoli and brussels sprouts specifically blocks the growth of breast cancer cells?  I wish I would have known that before--I would have made sure to make these a very regular part of my diet.  All of the cruciferous veggies though are thought to lower your risk of getting cancer.
I am going to share below an article from titled, The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables.   I figure, why write it myself, when an expert already wrote the information so eloquently?  Later though, I will share in a separate post a few delicious ways (recipes) for you to include them in your diet.  You know the recipes must be good when you manage to get both your 3-year old and 1-year old to consume brussels sprouts and broccoli in the same meal.  And, might I add, I got them both to eat ALL of their veggies.

So, here is the article describing the benefits:

The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables have it all: vitamins, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. Here's how to get more of them.
What do broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy have in common?
They're all members of the cruciferous, or cabbage, family of vegetables. And they all contain phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, and fiber that are important to your health (although some have more than others.)
In fact, health agencies recommend that we eat several servings per week of cruciferous vegetables -- and for good reason.

Lower Cancer Risk?

One of the big reasons to eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables is that they may help to lower your risk of getting cancer.
A review of research published in the October 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that 70% or more of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer.
Various components in cruciferous vegetables have been linked to lower cancer risks. Some have shown the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells for tumors in the breast, uterine lining (endometrium), lung, colon, liver, and cervix, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. And studies that track the diets of people over time have found that diets high in cruciferous vegetables are linked to lower rates of prostate cancer.
Lab studies show that one of the phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables - sulforaphane - can stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they damage cells, says Matthew Wallig, DVM, PhD. Through different mechanisms, two other compounds found in cruciferous vegetables -- indole 3-carbinol and crambene -- are also suspected of activating detoxification enzymes.
Further, research suggests there is some important synergy between the various compounds in cruciferous vegetables. Wallig, professor of comparative pathology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discovered that crambene is more active when combined with indole 3-carbinol.

Oxidative Stress

Another way cruciferous vegetables may help to protect against cancer is by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the overload of harmful molecules called oxygen-free radicals, which are generated by the body. Reducing these free radicals may reduce the risk of colon, lung, prostate, breast, and other cancers.
In a study funded by the National Cancer Institute, 20 participants were encouraged to eat 1 to 2 cups of cruciferous vegetables a day. After three weeks, the amount of oxidative stress in their body was measured. Then, after a three-week wash-out period, the study participants were told to take a multivitamin with fiber. Again, the oxidative stress was measured three weeks later.
And the results? Oxidative stress in the subjects' bodies dropped 22% during the period when they were eating lots of cruciferous vegetables. But the change during the multivitamin segment was negligible (0.2%), says lead researcher Jay H. Fowke, PhD, an assistant professor and cancer epidemiologist for the Department of Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
More study is needed, but Fowke feels the evidence is pretty strong that eating cruciferous vegetables is a particularly healthful choice.
"There's no harm to it and consistently, across the line, it's associated with improved health and a reduced risk of various chronic diseases," he says in an email interview.
It's best, he says, to eat these veggies raw or only lightly steamed to retain the phytochemicals that make cruciferous vegetables special in terms of health.

Cardiovascular Disease

Diets rich in fish and vegetables (including cruciferous and dark-yellow veggies) may also help to protect against cardiovascular disease. A recent study found that such a diet was linked to lower levels of markers of inflammation in the body. These markers may signal an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
In another recent study, diets low in cruciferous and yellow vegetables, wine, and coffee but high in sugar-sweetened soft drinks, refined grains, and processed meat were identified as possibly increasing chronic inflammation and raising the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Comparison of Cruciferous Vegetables

Which cruciferous vegetables have the most vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid? The answers are:
  1. Kale (vitamin A)
  2. Broccoli (vitamin C)
  3. Brussels sprouts and broccoli (tied for folic acid)
Brussels sprouts have the most vitamin E (about 9% of the Daily Value) and vitamin B-1 (15% Daily Value). And it’s broccoli and Brussels sprouts again that have the most healthy plant omega-3s: A cup of broccoli contributes about 200 milligrams, and a cup of Brussels sprouts about 260 milligrams.
Here's a comparison table of cruciferous vegetables, including the nutrients for which they contribute at least 10% of the Daily Value. Keep in mind that about half of the fiber in cruciferous vegetables is super-healthy soluble fiber.
Per 1 cup:
B. Sprouts
Bok Choy
(steamed)(frozen, cooked)(raw)(cooked)(cooked)(cooked)
Vitamin A33% DV1%2%16%62%137%
Vitamin B-216%9%3%11%10%8%
Vitamin B-617%12%7%21%22%14%
Vitamin C165%75%38%129%59%71%
Folic Acid23%18%10%23%17%4%
Omega-3s200 mg140 mg60 mg260 mg100 mg100 mg

Tips for Enjoying Cruciferous Vegetables

To maximize taste and nutrition, here are some tips for buying and cooking cruciferous vegetables:
  • Don’t overcook cruciferous vegetables. They can produce a strong sulfur odor and become unappealing.
  • You can buy several types of cruciferous vegetables ready-to-go in the frozen or fresh packaged sections of your supermarket, including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
  • No raw veggie platter is complete without dark green broccoli or snowy white cauliflower florets.
  • Add raw broccoli or cauliflower florets to your green salad to give the nutrients a big boost.
  • Add chopped cruciferous veggies to soups, stews, and casseroles.
  • When buying fresh broccoli, look for firm florets with a purple, dark green, or bluish hue on the top. They're likely to contain more beta-carotene and vitamin C than florets with lighter green tops. If it has yellow in it or is limp and bendable, the broccoli is old -- don’t buy it.

Cruciferous Vegetable Recipes

Here are two simple side dish recipes featuring cruciferous vegetables. (I have not tried these yet--these are from the WebMD site).
Brussels Sprouts Sautéed with Pecans and Shallots
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 cup "vegetables with 1 tsp fat"
I kept it light by using just a little canola oil, plus crisp turkey bacon to make the little crumbles that top off this dish. I love that this dish is easy to throw together, but looks elegant on a holiday or celebration table.
8 cups Brussels sprout halves (trim off end of each sprout and cut in half)
4 strips Louis Rich turkey bacon (or similar)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup sliced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 cup pecan pieces, lightly toasted in a nonstick frying pan
2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • Micro-steam the Brussels sprouts with a couple tablespoons of water until just barely tender (about 6 minutes, depending on your microwave). Watch carefully so they don’t overcook. Drain any excess water.
  • Meanwhile, cook the turkey bacon strips over medium-high heat in a large nonstick frying pan coated with canola cooking spray, flipping them often, until crisp. Let cool on a paper towel, and then break them into small pieces.
  • Add the canola oil to the same pan and heat over a medium-high flame. Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. Add the minced garlic and saute another minute or two or until the shallots are golden. Stir in the Brussels sprout halves and saute a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, to char part of the sprouts.
  • Sprinkle pecans and brown sugar over the top and stir to blend. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook and stir for another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and sprinkle turkey bacon bits over the top.
Yield: 8 servings
Per serving: 165 calories, 6 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat, 5.2 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat), 6 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 110 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 49%.
Broccoli With 3-Minute Lemon Sauce
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 cup of vegetables without added fat
This lemon sauce has a lot of flavor, so you only need a little drizzle to dress up your broccoli florets.
6 cups raw broccoli florets, rinsed well
2 tablespoons lemon curd (available in jars)
2 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half
Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Add the broccoli and 1/4 cup water to a microwave vegetable steamer container and cook on HIGH until broccoli is just tender and still bright green (about 3 minutes, depending on the microwave).
  • Meanwhile, add lemon curd and fat-free half-and-half to a small, nonstick saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring often, until blended and hot. Add pepper to taste, if desired.
  • Drizzle sauce over broccoli and serve.

Yield: 6 servings
Per serving: 57 calories, 3 g protein, 9 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat, 0.4 g saturated fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 34 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.

In Warrior Mode!

Today I am having labs drawn and getting a neupogen injection. (It is also my sister's birthday--Happy Birthday, Holly!)  Neupogen helps boost my immune system (white blood counts) so that I can hopefully stay on schedule and get my chemo treatment tomorrow.  TOMORROW IS (hopefully) MY LAST CHEMO TREATMENT!  Did you hear that?  I just yelled it by putting it in all caps.  There may be a big celebration in the infusion room tomorrow if I can stay on schedule and get my treatment.  I shouldn't use "if"s.  I WILL stay on schedule and get my treatment tomorrow.  I am in warrior mode right now!

Today, I donned my "warrior" scarf.  
This has been the toughest week of all of the Taxol chemo weeks.  I have no idea why, other than I started out with a fairly low white blood count.  You know how you feel when the flu knocks you down?  That is how I felt this week, except I had no fever.  Instead of fever, I am afflicted with numerous hot flashes throughout the day from my body being forced into menopause from the toxic drugs in my system.  I pushed through though and just kept telling myself I was well, doing my normal routines in hopes that if I kept moving I would stay moving. I did try to lay down every afternoon to get some rest.   Okay, go ahead and cue the "wah wah" sound.

So, enough about the tough week that I had last week.    No need to call the "whambulance", I am moving on.  My counts HAVE to be high enough for chemo tomorrow.  My surgery is scheduled only 12 days from tomorrow, which is really cutting it close.  My body needs some "recoup" time so that it can heal well from surgery and not be at greater risk of infection.  I just found out my white blood count is 1.3 and my ANC is .3.  No wonder I have been feeling so wiped out.  My ANC (neutrophil count) needs to come up quite a bit (to 1.5) tomorrow so that I can get my treatment.  Prayer warriors, can you fight with me and pray for a "SUPER" immune system and boost in time for my treatment tomorrow?

Hopefully tomorrow, you will be seeing a very happy post about me receiving my LAST chemo treatment.  Hooray!

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Capturing" Everyday Moments

Prior to cancer, I was having a lot of fun with our camera.  I had so much posing the kids for impromptu photo sessions in our home.  But, over the past 4-5 months, I really haven't taken that many photos with our good camera.  Most of my photos have been taken with my smartphone, because that is what is always handy.

But today, as Luke and I were enjoying a beautiful morning in our backyard, I decided I didn't want to forget some of the simple things that are part of our daily routine.  I don't want to forget watching our son run around the backyard, pretending, playing soccer, baseball or golf, or just blowing bubbles.  So, instead of settling for the nearest camera, my smartphone, I took the trek upstairs and grabbed our good camera.   Today was probably the toughest day for me of all of the days I have been on Taxol.  I have absolutely no energy, my entire body hurts, and I have been very dizzy.  So, making the trip upstairs to get the camera was actually a chore, but I am SO glad I got it.

It may not have been a professional photo session, but I was happy to capture some of our typical everyday moments on photo.  These kids are truly growing up too quickly right before our eyes!

We found some bubbles to play with outside.
Raindrops on his nose.

Taking a break.
Perfecting the bubble blow
Enough of the bubbles, time for a little putting practice.

Oh yeah--yes, it is January and yes, Luke is wearing shorts.  We haven't really had any kind of winter here.

Then, when Abbey awoke from her morning nap, it was time for lunch.  So, I decided to take some photos of something that I never capture photos of--Abbey enjoying her meal.  She has REALLY been enjoying her meals lately.  She doesn't turn down much, and we're really not sure where she is putting all of the food she is devouring. Often, she eats more than me and Drew!

Still waking a daze

The girl drinks SO much water too!  I guess she needs to ingest as much water as she does food!
Oh mommy, what are you doing with that camera?
And now for the many faces of Abbey that we enjoy every day...

And last but not least....

Friday, January 25, 2013

My First Surgery is Scheduled!

I can't believe I am nearing the end of one chapter of this cancer journey and moving right into the next already.  Over the past two days, I have been scheduling many appointments.  Here is what my upcoming schedule looks like:

Tuesday, 1/29: Labs at 1pm.  If my white blood count is low, receive a neupogen injection.

Wednesday, 1/30: Appointment with oncologist at 9:15am, followed by labs and then hopefully my last chemo! (My last chemo was actually on Friday, 2/1/13, due to low wbc on the previous days of the week)

Monday, 2/4: PET/CT at 9am--this imaging study will show any cancer remaining in my body--hopefully it shows none!!!!!

Friday, 2/8:  AM: Labs to ensure by blood counts are high enough for surgery on Monday, 2/11
12:15pm:  Pre-operative appointment with my breast surgeon.  We will have lots of questions here, because Drew and I really don't know at this point what to expect from the surgery.

Monday, 2/11:  8:45am, left mastectomy  (This is scheduled for less than 2 weeks after my last chemo.  Our original goal was to have surgery around 2.5-3 weeks following my last chemo to give my body plenty of time for healing from chemo.  But, there wasn't a date available in that range).  Updated!  My surgery is now scheduled for Wednesday, 2/13. Updated Again--My surgery is currently scheduled for 2/27.

Tuesday, 2/19: Post-operative appointment with breast surgeon

When I receive my pathology results from the surgery, I will know whether I will need to complete two additional rounds of AC chemotherapy before moving into 33 radiation treatments.  I should begin radiation treatments 4-6 weeks following my mastectomy.

We would appreciate your continued prayers:
  • Please pray that God provides all of the physicians wisdom and guidance in treating me. 
  • Please pray I can receive my chemotherapy on schedule this coming week.
  • Please pray that all of my blood counts look great following my last chemo.  My body needs to be well going into surgery.
  • Please pray that the surgery goes well and that I heal well from it.
  • Lastly, please pray for miraculous healing--that I will be completely healed from this cancer and that it will never return to my body again!
Thank you so much for your prayers!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nourishing Bytes: Berries

I am going to leave the remaining "power greens" for another post and blog about one of my favorite healthful food categories:  berries.  Berries are amazing little fruits.  Besides being extremely tasty, they are superfoods that contain some of the highest level of antioxidants known to man.

I am going to step back a minute, before going deep into a berry discussion, to talk about antioxidants.  I am going to use that term a lot in these "nourishing bytes" posts, so it is probably a good idea to talk about them a little bit.  Just as the name sounds, an antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules.  Why is oxidation bad?  Oxidation is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals. Free radicals start chain reactions in cells, which can cause damage or death to that cell.  Thus, free radicals are believed to play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

So, as I mentioned above, berries have a ton of antioxidants.  This is a very good thing.  Pasted directly from the berry health benefits website, below is a list of some of the superstar contents of berries.  For those of you who don't care about the scientific terms, just skip past the definitions to learn more about berries.

Anthocyanins:  Color pigments in berries that are powerful antioxidants. Blue, purple, and red color has been associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, urinary tract health, memory function, and healthy aging.
Antioxidants:  Substances that protect the body by neutralizing free radicals or unstable oxygen molecules, which can damage the cells and are a major source of disease and aging.
Catechins:  Catechins are flavonols that support the antioxidant defense system.Catechins found in caneberries are very similar to those found in green tea which studies show may contribute to cancer prevention. The catechins content found in 100 grams (about 3 /4 cup) is as follows: red raspberries, .83 milligrams and Evergreen blackberries, 1.4 milligrams.
Dietary Fiber:  Found only in plant foods, fiber helps maintain a healthy GI tract, lowers blood cholesterol, reduces heart disease and may prevent certain types of cancers.
Ellagic Acid:  A phenolic compound known as a potent anti-carcinogen which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Scientists feel ellagic acid plays a major roll in cancer prevention and tumor reversal.
Fiber:  A carbohydrate-like substance found only in plants. Dietary fiber helps maintain a healthy
gastrointestinal tract and may help prevent certain types of cancers. It can also help to reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease.
Gallic Acid: A potent antioxidant also found in black tea and red wine, shown in tests to inhibit cell proliferation and cell death in prostrate cancer cells.
ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity):  ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values are a measure of the antioxidant activity. Specifically, it measures the degree and length of time it takes to inhibit the action of an oxidizing agent. Antioxidants inhibit oxidation which is known to have a damaging effect on tissues. Studies now suggest that consuming fruits and vegetables with a high ORAC value may slow the aging process in both body and brain. Antioxidants are shown to work best when combined; the presence of fiber and other plant compounds enhance the health benefit. For this reason, a nutraceutical source is a more viable antioxidant option than that of a dietary supplement.
Single servings of fresh or freshly cooked fruits and vegetables supply an average of 600-800 ORAC units. Scientists believe that increasing intake of foods that provide 2000-5000 units per day may be needed to increase serum and tissue antioxidant activity sufficiently to improve health outcomes.
Phytochemicals:  Phytochemicals are naturally occurring antioxidants in plants that add flavor, color pigments and scent, and they are abundant in all types of fruits and vegetables, particularly berries.
The pigments that give berries their rich red to blue, black and purple colors are a type of phytochemical that has been shown to have significant disease-fighting, cell-protecting antioxidant capacity.
Quercetin:  A flavonol that works as both an anti-carcinogen, an antioxidant and protects against cancer and heart disease.
Rutin:  A bioflavonoid that promotes vascular health, helps to prevent cell proliferation associated with cancer and has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic properties.
Salicylic Acid :  The salicylic acid found in Oregon caneberries may prove to have the same protective effect against heart disease as aspirin. Aspirin is a closely related compound know to pharmacists as salicylic acid acetate. The therapeutic successes of small daily doses of aspirin to inhibit atherosclerosis suggest the possibility that salicylic acid consumed in foods may provide a similar benefit. A 100-gram serving (about 3 /4 cup) of red raspberries contains around 5 milligrams of salicylic acid.
Vitamin C:  A water soluble vitamin that functions as a powerful antioxidant.

For those of you who are not interested in the scientific terms, how about this:  If someone offered you a pill that helped you feel full, lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight) and prevent disease would you take it?  Well, you don't have to rush to your doctor to get a prescription.  Just go to the supermarket and purchase some (organic) berries.  

Some of the easiest to find and eat berries include strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries.  Of course, there are so many other amazing berries available, but they are harder to find.  For example, the acai berry is packed full of nutrients, but they aren't available at all supermarket produce departments since they are native to the rain forests of South America.

We always have berries at home.  If they aren't in season, you can easily buy frozen berries.   We use the frozen berries in smoothies, in healthful pancakes, as a side fruit salad and we even defrost them and put them atop salads.  My favorite way to eat berries is on top of salad.  

Strawberries, blackberries and cranberries atop a spinach, kale and arugula salad.  (Paired with a mushroom and wild rice casserole and a little bit of chicken).  I love this meal and made it for our family a few nights ago.
We keep a TON of fresh fruit at our house.  The key is to keep the fruit in sight.  So, we have a huge bowl of oranges, apples, bananas and pears on the kitchen table.  We also make sure we keep the berries in the front of the fridge so we can see them each time we open the fridge door. When we get hungry for a snack, the first thing we think of is fresh fruit.  We eat fruit and veggies literally all day long.  You can eat fruits all day long and never feel badly about your decision to do so.  In fact, you will be feeling great physically and mentally with a daily dose!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why Reality Television is Appealing to Me

Chemotherapy has really limited my ability to participate in some of my previously normal routines.   A lot of these routines involved being around a lot of people.  They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Well, I have come to realize that the old adage is even true for routines and social interactions.  I am realizing more and more that I am such a social person.  I thrive on social interactions.

As I was watching ABC's The Bachelor on Monday night (yes, I admit I like that show), I was trying to figure out why I enjoy watching it.  I know it is a waste of my time.  I also like watching American Idol--another reality television show.  The truth is that I enjoy reality TV so much because it shows people, with their true, raw personalities, interacting with one another.   I love the psychology behind the Bachelor.  I enjoy watching how the social interactions transform over the time-period of the show.  I love people and relationships!  No wonder I enjoy(ed) my career in human resources (HR) so much!  I am looking forward to getting back involved in HR when this cancer thing has run its course.

This may sound strange, but I look forward to going to the infusion room each week.   And, it has absolutely nothing to do with the lovely concoction they are dripping into my artery.  Rather, it has everything to do with the social interactions that it provides me.  I get to meet new people and get to know them each week.   It is interesting to see all of the different personalities and how they are coping with chemotherapy or whatever infusion they are receiving.  I love hearing their stories and sharing mine. I get to converse with the friendly, caring nurses each week, who I have truly grown to love.  I will really miss them.  These times during the week are my primary source of social interactions with adults (outside of my family).  But, I also realize that the culmination of chemo means that I will soon get to return to my old routines, which involve being around lots of people!  So, that makes me super happy!

With that said, here are just a few of the social interactions that I am looking forward to doing once I am again able:

  • Taking Luke to school and picking him up each week.  (I currently just drop him off, because we decided he has too many germs after school.  We actually have an entire cleaning routine for when Luke returns home from school.  It is quite a process with washing down and changing clothing.)
  • Taking Abbey to the library for story time with other kids her age.  Abbey hasn't left the house much since the cancer diagnosis.  This has been a huge chunk of Abbey's life to date.   I think she is going to be a very social person as well, because she literally vibrates (flaps her arms and legs with excitement) the entire time we are out of the house and around other people).   
  • Working out in a gym.
  • Going to the mall. (I love being around lots of people, even if in a shopping setting).  This is a great people-watching place and an easy place to take your kids when the weather doesn't allow outside play time.  
  • I am so excited about going to church and meeting regularly with our small group.  
There are so many social activities that I get to return to when this stage of treatment is complete.  This is something to look forward to!  And the good news is that I am getting so close to the return of those activities. Today, I am receiving my 11th infusion of Taxol.   That means I will only have one more (hopefully next Wednesday).

My white blood count came up just enough for allow chemo today (ANC of 1.9--needed it to be at least 1.5).  Hooray!  This is my third straight week to stay on schedule.  God is good.

Even though I am blogging right now about how much I miss social interaction with adults, don't get me wrong.  I realize I get to enjoy plenty of social interaction with my kiddos daily.  I enjoy that as well.  And, our children are extremely entertaining:

Luke, hiding in the leaves.
Abbey, pushing her duck book "quack" button.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I Can't Stop Smiling!

You know that you had a great weekend when you used the phrase, "I can't stop smiling!" several times.  I love my family.  No, I LOVE my family.  I love that God blessed me with Drew.  He really is way more than I could have even dreamed of for a husband.  But then God wasn't finished.  He, in his timing, decided to give me so much more than I had even expected or dreamed and blessed us with two amazing little children.  I hope that doesn't sound boastful.  I really am not trying to boast, I am just SO thankful.  But, I also completely understand that apart from God, even with these amazing gifts, I would not have joy.  I know it is the relationship that I have with my Heavenly Father, which grows stronger daily, that gives me pure joy.  I am so weak, but He is strong. 

I know that my joy comes from the Lord.  You see, I am a young woman and mother who has been diagnosed with (but praying I will soon be saying "healed from") an advanced cancer.  I feel like if I were fighting this cancer battle solo (without a close relationship with my Heavenly Father), I would be joyless.  Where would my hope be?  Remember Job from the bible? He was a righteous, wealthy man (maybe the richest man on earth at the time), who was stripped of everything (his wealth, his sons and daughters, his sheep, his oxen, his camels and his servants).  He lost everything except his faith in God.  In fact, Job even made the following statement after losing everything:   "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21).   He praised God in his despair.  Job said that, if we pray and remember our blessings, God will restore us to joy and righteousness (Job 33:26).

After Job's trials and tribulations, God blessed Job even more than he had it in the past.    Job 42:10-15 (message version) says:  “After Job had interceded for his friends, God restored his fortune—and then doubled it! All his brothers and sisters and friends came to his house and celebrated. They told him how sorry they were, and consoled him for all the trouble God had brought him. Each of them brought generous housewarming gifts.  God blessed Job’s later life even more than his earlier life. He ended up with fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand teams of oxen, and one thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first daughter Dove, the second, Cinnamon, and the third, Darkeyes. There was not a woman in that country as beautiful as Job’s daughters. Their father treated them as equals with their brothers, providing the same inheritance."  (If you want to read a good summary of Job story, click here.)

I use the illustration of Job as a reminder that we should pray and remember our blessings daily.  We should praise God in all things at all times--during times of happiness and times of despair (1 Thessalonians 5:18).   Doing so has given me such great joy and I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience this!  Cancer schmancer!

Below are a few of the many reasons I could not stop smiling this weekend:

On Saturday, Luke told me he wanted to build a skyscraper and wanted to use some of Abbey's "megablocks" to do so.  He asked me to assist him, but apparently I wasn't quick enough to approach the task with him.  When I was finally ready and able to assist him, I saw that he had already brought his step stool from the bathroom (that he uses to wash his hands at the sink) to help him place the blocks higher.  This made me smile.  He had already accomplished quite a bit by himself and I was amazed how tall the skyscraper was and at just how resourceful he was.  The skyscraper was significantly taller than him.  But, I got involved and helped him build it higher.  We built a pretty impressive skyscraper.  But on Saturday night, daddy, the ultimate block architect, assisted Luke in building the "skyscraper of all block skyscrapers".  The final product was taller than my 6 foot 3 inch Drew!  (sorry for the poor photo quality--bad lighting and taken with a phone camera):

Drew with the skyscraper--Luke is placing a few more blocks at the base.

not sure what Luke was saying in this photo.  My guess is he was yelling, "Look at the huge skyscraper!"

On Sunday, we aired up the tires in our bikes and the bike trailer and set out on the trails for a biking adventure.  

This was my view on Sunday afternoon.  It was a perfect day--perfect weather, and the trail was so pretty with the trees hovering over.  Pure bliss!   It was the first time that Abbey rode in the bike trailer (kids can't ride in it until they are at least 1 year old.)  As we were riding, I told Drew, "I just can't stop smiling!"  It's a good thing there weren't any bugs flying around or my teeth would have been covered in them!

We all enjoyed the ride and the weather was beautiful.   Abbey giggled loudly each time we went over a bump.  She was not fond of the spiderman hand-me-down helmet from Luke though.   We need to get one for her that fits a little better.

Lastly, here is my little gal "chillaxin" and enjoying the beautiful day today!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Music in our Home

Our family loves music.  I grew up around music my entire life.  I did the whole 6 years of piano lessons thing, I was (and always will be) a band geek who played flute and piccolo (Go BA Pride), and also enjoy playing guitar.  I loved having a piano in our home growing up and I have always wished for Luke and Abbey to grow up with that opportunity and music in their home as well.

Music is a gift that you can literally use your entire life.  My paternal grandparents are a perfect example of that.  My dad's parents were musical evangelists.  Music was a gift they they really did literally use their entire lives.  My dad's mom played trumpet and piano and his dad played violin and mandolin.  My grandfather was afflicted with Alzheimer's in his 80's.  I recall visiting him in the assisted living facility in his old age.  My siblings and I would bring our musical instruments (I brought my flute, my brothers brought their trumpets and my sister her french horn) and we played hymns for him.  His face lit up with joy and he knew every song.  Although his memory faded in so many ways and he didn't even recognize us, he could still pick up his mandolin and play songs from memory up until the day he passed away.  Although when we are old we won't be able to do some things physically, like play certain sports, musical talent is something we will be able to carry with us no matter what our age.  I want to make sure that Luke and Abbey are exposed to music so they have this opportunity to cherish it all of the days of their lives.  Playing the piano has so many cognitive benefits as well.  Pediatric researchers have found evidence that when a child begins learning to play the piano, or takes up any type of musical instrument, this stimulates certain areas of the brain that controls their fine motor skills, memory and speech.  The mental exercises involved in playing the piano and hand-eye coordination tasks appear to help strengthen a child’s academic performance particularly in the areas of mathematics, science and reading. I strongly believe it assisted me in my academic success.

My Grandma and Grandpa, playing and singing hymns together in the 1950's
 Before Christmas when Drew and I were watching all of Amazon's lightning deals so that we could purchase Christmas presents, an amazing lightning deal popped up for a full-size electronic piano.  After reading through the reviews and looking at comparable prices, we decided it was something we couldn't pass up since we knew we would be in the market for one eventually.  So, now our family has a piano.  We love it.  Although it has been a long time since I have played, it is amazing how so much of your musical memory comes back.  After sitting down and playing for over an hour, I realized that playing the piano is an excellent brain workout.  Playing the piano is certainly not an easy task.  Music notation written for the left hand (bass clef) is written entirely differently for the right hand (treble clef).  This requires some additional memorization and a great deal of concentration to develop not only the proper hand-to-eye coordination from staff paper to piano keyboard, but also the physical coordination to play two differently written lines of music in either hand at the same time.  I could literally feel the results of my brain workout after sitting down to that piano to play for an hour.  I decided that this was SO good for me right now.  It is going to take a while though for me to be back up to the skill level that I used to be.

Luke absolutely loves playing the piano.

Our kids LOVE music and always have since birth.  So, the piano is really a perfect addition to our family.  Luke loves to sit at the piano, put it in demo mode (which automatically plays some pretty difficult and beautiful songs) and then pretend that he is playing them.  He adds his own notes and so proudly says, "Look at me mommy!"  Drew and I hope to be able to get our guitars out (we have an electric bass, and two acoustics) soon and play along with the piano (which can record as you play and playback, so we can play along with other instruments) and have some family jam sessions.  We love that our church has a great resource on their worship website,, that provides all of the lyrics, chords and even instructional videos on some of our favorite praise and worship tunes.

Abbey loves the piano also.

Here is a fun video of the kids "playing" the piano together:

Luke's own first musical instrument:
Luke came home from school on Tuesday with a kazoo.  He was rewarded for being a good helper to others that day and was able to visit the treasure chest to select a prize.  The kazoo was his choice of prizes.  He demonstrated his musical ability to us that night before bed with a few performances.  I got one on video:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

We have a domain!

We have been wanting to register a domain for our blog for quite some time.  It is just sort of annoying to type in the long "" into one's address bar.  Also, when folks ask for the blog address, it is so difficult explaining it to them: "don't put 'www' in front of the address."  We have never thought of a good simple domain name that fits our blog. 

However, since changing the name of our blog from the cheesy, "The Dubbs" to a new cheesy, "His Building Blocks", the name has begun to stick a little.  So, we decided to register the domain, "".  This means that you can now visit our blog site by simply typing "" into your web browser. 

Just in case you are wondering why we changed our blog name to "His Building Blocks", I published a page a while back that explains the name.  It is listed at the top of the blog along with the other pages and is titled, "Behind the Name."  Perhaps it is cheesy, but it is really the only thing that we could think of to call our blog that will be fitting long term. 

Of course, you can still visit our blog by typing in the full blogpost name,  Hopefully everyone will enjoy the easier to type in address. :-)

Nourishing Bytes: Power Greens-Spinach & Arugula

My diet prior to cancer wasn't rich in anything green.  I actually really enjoyed salad.  It's just that I didn't consume salad daily prior to cancer.  Today, I make it a point to consume a generous amount of greens daily. I most frequently consume my greens in the form of a delicious salad.  But, if I don't eat my daily salad, I make sure to hide some greens in a smoothie or by juicing.  The latter, drinking options are excellent, tasty ways to consume greens daily if you have difficulty eating greens.  This post is devoted to the many reasons why I now make sure I consume greens daily and some simple ways you can add a little green to your diet.

Here is the lineup of the all-star, nutrient-rich team of power (leafy) greens:

  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Mustard, Collard and Dandelion Greens
  • Broccoli

I am going to focus today's post on Spinach and Arugula and will do later posts on the remaining greens.


I despised spinach growing up.  The only way I had seen it on a plate was opened up from a can (or in the frozen creamed version).  Do you remember those cans with Popeye on them?  They looked like this:
Well, apparently they are still around.  I don't visit the canned vegetable aisle very often, but after a quick Google search I found that Wal-mart still sells the stuff. I have a memory of being around 9 years of age (my twin brothers were 11 months younger than me), and my brothers were challenged by my maternal grandma and grandpa to eat some spinach from this can.  They were told they would be as strong as Popeye if they ate the spinach.   I vaguely recall some of us trying it and then running swiftly to the restroom to immediately remove it from our mouths. For those few people who don't know who Popeye the Sailor man is, he is the cartoon character who got bulging muscles each time he ate the superfood, spinach.  Anyway, the stuff in the can looked disgusting: it was slimy and green.  Who eats this stuff straight out of a can?  Well, it wasn't until I was much older and had eaten a fresh Spinach salad with a delicious balsamic dressing at a nice restaurant that I realized that spinach is really tasty.  And, Popeye had the right idea.  Researchers recently found that eating just one bowl of spinach a day makes your muscles profoundly more efficient!  But spinach isn't just great for your muscles.  Few sources offer more vitamin K than spinach.  Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, bone health, preventing calcification; it improves brain function and serves as an antioxidant.   Actually, research shows that it also may decrease inflammation, which is linked to many diseases such as Alzheimer's, arthritis, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.  The list of spinach's health benefits doesn't stop there though. It is rich in carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These help protect against heart disease, some forms of cancer and may guard the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration.  Lastly, spinach has high doses of vitamins B6 and c, as well as magnesium and folate.  Spinach is truly one of the most nutrient dense foods in existence.

Did you know that one cup of spinach contains your daily requirements of vitamins K and A and almost all of the manganese and folate your body needs?  It also provides about 40% of your daily magnesium requirement.  It is a great source of over 20 different measurable nutrients: these include fiber, calcium and protein.  That one cup only has 40 calories, so it is excellent for those who are trying to lose weight.

My favorite way to eat spinach is by coupling it with Arugula (also called salad rocket) and making it into a delicious salad.  Arugula is a delicious and nutritious peppery green that belongs in the same family as mustard greens and cauliflower.  From the site,, arugula provides an immense amount of health benefits:

  • As in other greens, arugula is one of very low calorie vegetable. 100 g of fresh leaves provides just 25 calories. Nonetheless, it has many vital phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can immensely benefit health.
  • Salad rocket has an ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of anti-oxidant strength) of about 1904 µmol TE per 100 grams.
  • Rocket salad is rich source of certain phytochemicals such as indoles, thiocyanates, sulforaphane, andiso­thiocyanates. Together, they have been found to counter carcinogenic effects of estrogen and thus help benefit against prostate, breast, cervical, colon, ovarian cancers by virtue of their cancer-cell growth inhibition, cytotoxic effects on cancer cells.
  • In addition, di-indolyl-methane (DIM), a lipid soluble metabolite of indole has immune modulator, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties ( by potentiating Interferon-Gamma receptors and production). DIM has currently been found application in the treatment of recurring respiratory papillomatosis caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and is in Phase III clinical trials for cervical dysplasia.
  • Fresh rocket is a very good source of folates. 100 g of fresh greens contain 97 µg or 24% of folic acid. When given to the anticipant mothers during their conception time, folate helps prevent neural tube defects in the newborns.
  • Like kale, salad rocket is an excellent source of vitamin A. 100 g fresh leaves contain 1424 µg of beta-carotene, and 2373 IU of vitamin A. Carotenes convert into vitamin A in the body. Studies found that vitamin A and flavonoid compounds in green leafy vegetables help protect from skin, lung and oral cavity cancers.
  • This vegetable also rich in B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and pantothenic acid those are essential for optimum cellular enzymatic and metabolic functions.
  • Fresh rocket leaves contain good levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful, natural anti-oxidant. Foods rich in this vitamin help the body protect from scurvy disease; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
  • Salad rocket is one of the excellent vegetable sources for vitamin-K; 100 g provides about 90% of recommended intake. 
  • Arugula leaves contain adequate levels of minerals, especially copper and iron. In addition, it has small amounts of some other essential minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus.

I love adding arugula to the top of a piece of Ezekiel bread, along with a cage-free farm fresh or organic egg. It is such a delicious combination! Arugula's flavor is zesty and is one of my favorite toppings on a Mediterranean-style pizza.

My favorite salad is one made of spinach and arugula, topped with berries (strawberries are my favorite), and lightly dressed (with a mixture of balsamic vinegar and oil from home, or my favorite Fuji Apple Panera Dressing, which has just a few, completely natural ingredients).  I add a few dried cranberries and it is ready to eat! Yummy!  These salads are so delicious to me that sometimes when I am hungry for a snack mid-day, I make one.  Why not?

A typical lunch for me....yum yum!  (A strawberry and power green salad, with an organic egg/arugula/hormone-free chicken breast combo atop Ezekiel bread).

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God Owns All the Chips

I absolutely LOVE this video!  One of my friends, Stefanie, shared it on Facebook yesterday and I enjoyed watching it so much that I just HAD to share here.  Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the popular book, "Purpose-driven Life", was on Oprah's Lifeclass recently and shared how to "maximize the hand you're dealt with." He explains, "The cards we are dealt are the things we don't have control over. I didn't choose where I was born, when I was born, I didn't choose my gender, my parents, my race, my natural abilities, my natural weaknesses, but a wise player can even play what seems to be a weak hand, and win the game. There are ways to take what you are given and make the most out of it." 

One guest that was present in the audience was a perfect example of how to deal with the cards you are dealt.  He was dealt a pretty bad hand with the first 4 cards, but was able to to turn the hand into a pretty great one with the wild card.  Watch here or below and be inspired:

A summary of the five cards we are dealt (from
The first card represents the body people are given and the chemistry that makes up their physical characteristics. Warren said we have no control over how we were created physically by God.
The pastor said we were made to be in relationship with others. We are wired to be connected together with others.
We have no control over who our parents are or where we were born. Warrens said we give this card way too much power. Circumstances are what we can't control.
This is the card you have when you talk to yourself. It is the story you tell yourself. When it comes to this fourth card, Warren explains:
"Your consciousness is the story you tell yourself. All of us have things we want to change in our lives. If you want to change the way you act, your start back with your thoughts. If I'm acting depressed, it's because I feel depressed. You can't change a feeling – but you can change a thought."
Oprah reacted when the pastor said the key is not to resist temptation, but to replace it. Warren further explained:
"Not to resist, but to refocus. You have to renew your consciousness. If you want to break a focus, you need to refocus."
This fifth card is the only card that you can control. It is the card that can either make or break the entire hand. It is the wild card in the deck.
Only you have the power to change the direction of your life.
Nick Vujicic has such an inspirational story.  After watching this, I was so thankful that God chose me to be born of such wonderful, caring, God-fearing parents who are, to this day, so encouraging.  It was also an excellent reminder to me to glorify God in all things.  If I glorify God in all things, the choices I make (which are the only things in my control) will keep me on the perfect path.  My favorite words on this video are the ones that Nick used when he said, "God owns all the chips!".  God is sovereign.  He is control.  How can you not be at peace knowing that?   
It reminds me of one of my favorite Psalms, which popped up again in my devotional Bible-reading app:
New American Bible version of Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is beyond me, far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too. If I fly with the wings of dawn and alight beyond the sea, Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light"—Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity.
If only you would destroy the wicked, O God, and the bloodthirsty would depart from me! Deceitfully they invoke your name; your foes swear faithless oaths. Do I not hate, LORD, those who hate you? Those who rise against you, do I not loathe? With fierce hatred I hate them, enemies I count as my own.
Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns. See if my way is crooked, then lead me in the ancient paths.