Solo Tahoe Hike. Bucket List. File Under “Not Dead Yet.”

I’ve always wanted to hike the Lake Tahoe mountain range.  It’s been a dream of mine to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail. According to the link, it’s considered one of the most scenic hikes in the world, and I can see why. Starting from the Tahoe Meadows Trailhead, the valley views are incredible.

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Altitude: 8, 740 feet.

I went alone. I was a little nervous – not about safety, but more about my health. I’ve had a large number of lymph nodes removed due to cancer metastases, and one of the side effects of this (not mentioned in the “happy pink” and “you’re a survivor” positivity ticker tape) is the lifelong risk of permanent arm swelling, cellulitis, risk of cuts, bites, and possibly permanent manual massage and pumping and physical therapy that comes with lymphedema. After my breast cancer surgery, the list of “things to avoid to prevent lymphedema” included: high altitudes, vigorous exercise, pet scratches, dehydration, weight lifting, vigorous and regular movement of the right arm, saunas and hot tubs, and so on. The list was a devastating litany of losses.

The physical therapist told me, “You might want to think of getting rid of your cat. Also, avoid air travel.” More than the cancer, I felt like my life had been taken away. How much more of my body would be carved, how much more to lose? I went home and wept. I hated it all – the cancer, the lost tissue, the loss of activities I loved. Life.

But, as we must do to continue living, I regrouped. Such gratitude to my support group, to include online ladies, a hallelujah chorus of friends, family, writing group, community, my husband and daughter and wonderful colleagues. This pool of support buoyed me, kept me grounded, prompted (and prompts) me to get back out and live.

And so this hike, 6 miles in high thin air, was more than walking. It was a kind of milestone, a kind of fuck you to the limitations of this disease. It’s not the 10 miler I’d hoped, or the full 15-day outback trek I’d dreamed of, but it’s a start. A small victory.

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And afterwards?

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The best, sauciest, crab cakes EVER. With wine and a sweet lake breeze.

Cheers.

 

The Ice Cream and F*%k it Diet.

I’ve had it with cruciferous vegetables.

I’m sick of brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, watercress, and other vegetables like artichokes and garlic and peppers and beets. I’m tired of walking the Green Mile for produce and minding each health-conscious bite.

close up photography of cat
One more cup of green tea and “kitty” will puke.

When you are not a cancer patient (and I am impatient, wanting this to be over, which perhaps it never will be), food is an ally, a benevolent companion. You buy and eat, and cook and eat, in a set of light, repeated gestures that do not cause much pause.

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These are actual paws.

Cancer shifts the scales.  Food becomes more fraught. It becomes more heavily weighted with meaning, assessed on a scale of its antioxidant values and not of taste or flavor. I have found myself looking up food names and “cancer” many times during the course of a day in order to reassure myself that my meal is fighting free radicals.  Searching for “maitake mushroom” and “cancer,” for example, brings up a list of products, research, and formidably-medical sounding articles that paves the way for each reassuring bite. I have felt, at times, a zealous worshipper at the secular altar called “health.” Too much.  A person can become obsessive or worse, self-righteous.

Certain foods can become “good.” Some “bad.” And these judgements can extend to ourselves. You are a “good eater.” (Healthy, weight-conscious, working hard to resist with produce.) You are a “bad eater.” (Steak, chips, soda, sugar. Meh. Pass the beer.)

Well.

To. Hell. With. That.

I am starting a new diet called the Ice Cream and F&*k It Diet.

person holding ice cream with cone
Hold that mother high.

Because, sisters and brothers, you’ve lost enough. You’ve worried enough. You’ve googled and read enough. Stayed up late through the night, scrolled through your phone, lost a body part or tissue, reeled through waves of nausea, stayed in while your friends played, lost a sure future, and wondered-what-you-did-to-cause-it enough. You know what? Here’s the answer: We don’t know. People who jog and do yoga and eat vegan get cancer. People who smoke and drink live long lives. This isn’t an excuse to chuck all effort, but it’s a way to give yourself a break.

In that spirit, which is the spirit of  We Don’t Know, So Go Ahead and Live, here are the essential principles of the Ice Cream and F*%k it Diet:

  1. There are no essential principles.
  2. Eat what you want.
  3. Cruciferous (which means, by the way, “of the cross,” as in crucifix, a cross to bear) vegetables are great, but they will not save you.
  4. Because:
  5. We will all die. (Don’t say this at parties.)
  6. Is there syrup on it? Frosting? Fat or sugar? You know what to do.
  7. I know I know– “not every day.” Of course.
  8. Popcorn with butter first, then the seats. Bonus if you scarf it before the trailers end.
  9. I am so tired of caution.
  10. What is the food for danger? The Carolina Reaper? The Naga Viper Pepper?
  11. Read Derek Walcott’s poem.

And do what he says, and live. With culinary and sensual abandon, in whatever forms those take.

I wish you a great feast.

 

 

 

 

My Relationship to Food #2

I love food.

I love fresh, homemade waffles, coffee, shrimp scampi, big piles of fresh greens with a light, tart dressing, peaches on the cusp of leaking, sushi, garlic bread, creme brulee.

I love a hearty burrito, melted cheddar, and the fresh combo of strawberries and cream.

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In lieu of champagne, which I currently cannot have. Not a bad swap.

Before cancer, I ate healthy foods, mostly, but I did not worry as much. Before the cancer diagnosis, eating carried less weight, less urgency.

Not anymore. For the past two years, it’s been a pretty strict regimen of cruciferous (and other) veggies, beans, fruits, eggs/fish, occasional bread and/or meat. I’ve limited sugar. I’ve sipped green and graviola teas with regularity, and taken a host of supplements: Turkey Tail, turmeric/black pepper, Vitamin D, aspirin, etc. I’ve exercised 5 hours a week, sometimes more, and I’ve kept my BMI low. All in the name of preventing a recurrence.

Which happened anyway. And while this local tumor continues to shrink, thank you Taxotere and Xeloda, I have begun to ease up on my food restrictions. I feel ambivalent about this. For example, instead of my usual morning  Amla powder smoothie (with berries, sprouts, ginger, greens), this morning I ate a waffle with jam. Carbs and sugar. Another: Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday, and I ate an ice cream sundae (bubble gum ice cream and caramel sauce). It was heaven! Then, like a culinary schizophrenic, I went home and had a brussel sprout/kale salad with a small serving of salmon. This is turning into a pattern of inconsistency.

Part of me thinks: What the hell. Cancer has taken so much already. Must I give up favored foods? Another part: Keep the discipline, keep the habits. You never know if it’ll be the “nudge” that stamps out the tumor for good. It’s a pendulum of “good eating” and “bad eating,” mitigated and slowed by the fatigue of trying so hard.

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I do not want to go grocery shopping.

Because it does take effort. Eating a healthier diet requires more intention and thought into food purchases, food preparation, and food keeping. To add this to the cognitive and physical load of a person with cancer is asking a great deal. It means added tasks, money, time and energy devoted to health. This is not terrible, can even be joyful, but it is more.

How do you manage eating, food, cooking, shopping, and staying healthy?

My Relationship to Food

Show of hands if cancer has made you re-think your relationship to food?

Me, too. Not that I was ever an unhealthy eater. Au contraire. For the last two decades, I’ve prioritized fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins (mostly fish, chicken, eggs), and lots of exercise. I was running 5 and 10k races, lifting weights, and I kept my weight healthy. In talking to others, I hear this story frequently: “I did everything right, yoga, ate vegetarian, meditated – and I still got cancer.” I stand 100% with you, and am truly sorry.

We do so much to bat back mortality. Skin creams, reps at the gym, another helping of kale. Green tea and running. We “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Like Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, we’re looking for Daisy’s green light across the water, the one that says you’ll stay young and healthy forever. It’s as if we’re under some collective delusion that we alone will avoid the final drop off and if only we find the right combination, the right cream, the right treatment — well, we’ll be all right then. And we keep on, going on, butting against the inevitable.

Cancer mocks that. Cancer is a skeleton who knocks on the door and refuses to leave. Cancer says, “Whatever,” shrugs and smirks at the next helping of broccoli. But I do it anyway, eat better anyway. It’s the one thing I can control, one of the few parts of the radar blip where I can say: “I’m here. I’m going there.” The  shadow side of this is that some people, and I’ve met a few – who become so obsessed with food and unproven cancer cures that it borders on an eating disorder. (Steve Jobs’ decision to follow elements of the Gonzales regimen, to include coffee enemas and taking an enzyme from pigs, may have contributed to his shorter life span.) But there is one, emerging practice that seems to be supported by scientific research, and it’s a big reason why I’m writing this post today. It’s about fasting.

The evidence?

  1. Fasting-Like Diet May Turn the Immune System Against Cancer
  2. Fasting Might Boost Cancer Busting (Scientific American)

 

I’ve decided to do a modified, 24-hour fast prior to chemotherapy, and a 12-hour fast after my infusion. Fasting for 48 hours prior – the recommendation for chemo –  is too much of a stretch for me, and even now, heading into 20 hours of no food, I am beginning to dream of cakes, pasta piles, cream cheese frosting, sushi, and banana splits. My body is screaming for carbs. I’ve been poring through recipe magazines and books and staring at the butter sauces, pancakes, battered fried prawns.

And cake. Did I say cake?

 

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This photo is from a fabulous cake website. Not that I’ve been looking. https://livforcake.com/blueberry-banana-cake/

I am going to bake this cake tomorrow. And eat it.

Alone. Heh.

And oh my God I miss bacon.

I miss bacon and fries and burgers and pizza and candy. I miss chocolate shakes. I miss a cool mojito – alcoholic thank you very much- with cussing and dirty-joke telling friends around a table in suburbia. I miss steak, I miss fried chicken, I miss Coke – my cans of Coke and Diet Coke – and I miss Swedish fish. I never ate much of these – always in moderation – but the casual nonchalance – the not-fretting – is what I miss the most. Always there is a second guess now with my meal, always more pressure. It is another price to pay for this disease.

And so, this Friday, it’s 22 hours of fasting now and an infusion in a few hours. After the Taxotere, I’ll go home and probably nap, read a bit, wander and not get much done. But it’s ok, it’s ok. Food is coming.

And I’m here. You’re here. Thank you. And love out.