Hi. Wow, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? When I typed “On Vacation” on this page all those months ago, I never imagined that I would be away from my blog for so long, but so much life has happened, and I haven’t really had a choice but to take a break.
The final three months of 2013 were the most difficult and emotionally challenging that our family has faced in a long time. Normally, difficult life situations are easy for me to discuss– I’m one of those people who is not afraid to lay it all out on the table, but this took me by such surprise and rattled me so much that I sort of clammed up. When I woke up on October 1 my horoscope said: “This month is really going to stink; you are going to spend the entire month caring for a very sick loved one”. I absolutely did not believe that nonsense. However, at noon that day as I was chopping some vegetables that I planned to use for dinner, our beloved nanny of ten years came to me and said that she had found a lump in her breast. A year ago. She went on to say that it had grown significantly in that year, and then my ears suddenly stopped hearing and the room started spinning. I completely shut down and went mute. An entire year had passed without treatment. I excused myself to my bedroom and burst into tears. You know. You just know. And, in that moment, I just knew. It was not good.
Between October 1 and December 1, our lives were a whirlwind of trips to Queens for doctors’ visits, biopsies, meetings with social workers and eventually oncologists both of the medical and surgical varieties. The lump was, indeed, malignant, and it was 7 cm. That falls between the size of an egg and a lemon. Of course, we all feared the worst, and it was eventually staged at level 3, which I never realized could actually be great news. Stage 3 sounded horrible until the possibility of stage 4 was posed, and then it sounded a whole lot better. The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes but, by some miracle, nowhere else. I held our dear C’s hand and just remember saying when we found out that it was stage 3: “This is such good news. This is a miracle. You are going to make it”. We cried. I have cried every day since October 1, at least once, sometimes more. I know that she has, too.
Chemo began in December, and C, the woman who has been my assistant in raising our children, my sous chef for each of my three books and with whom I actually spend more time with than anyone else in my life (she is here all day and so am I, so it just works out that way), has been the most amazing power of example for me. She is strong. She is sick but she takes her son to school every single day, does not complain, does not wallow, says repeatedly and decidedly “I will make it”. I am overwhelmed by her grace. The third week of December marked her first chemo treatment, and while C was so ill, I really underestimated the difficulty of watching someone you care about so deeply, someone who is 100% a part of our family, suffer so terribly. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a total control freak, and this is a situation that I simply cannot control. It is scary, very scary. I would like to expand on those feelings, but it’s too much for me to even access at the moment.
I, on the other hand, have not coped as gracefully. I ate a lot of cookies to prop me up in between doctors visits, because the only thing I could think about was C dying. Over and over again, I thought about her in a coffin which was not very productive. Three years ago I witnessed a three year old pass away, and I am terrified of losing someone else that I care about. The possibility made it such that I just walked through the last 3 months shellshocked. I don’t remember much of what happened beyond those doctors appointments. I haven’t run more than 5 times or even cooked much since she told me. And then the holidays happened, and, well, you know how much I love my native Ohio’s Buckeye candies. On January 5th I woke up and thought: “Self, you need to snap out of this and get it together. Cancer is a marathon, not a sprint, and you have to put your sadness aside and show up for this life. C is counting on you. Her son is counting on you. Your children and husband need you, and there are a lot of treatment details that are now your responsibility. You’ve got to put down that cookie and take care of yourself”.
Oh, but that is so much easier said than done. As you may have guessed from my books, I REALLY LOVE COOKIES. They just make every situation, except putting on a pair of jeans, better.
Funnily enough, my friend at Reader’s Digest, texted me the same night that she was sending me a copy of their newly redesigned magazine. When the Reader’s Digest arrived, I immediately noted that the editor-in-chief, Liz, had an article inside about changing her eating habits. My interest was piqued. I do not like diets, but I do enjoy reading about successful lifestyle changes, and my lifestyle, at that moment, really needed an overhaul.
I read the article, and I was impressed with what Liz had to say. It was all really sound advice, some of which I already followed, and I liked that, for once, there was an eating (I don’t want to say the “d” word) article that wasn’t radical but just practical. Other parts of the article seemed more challenging because, well, let’s just say that realistic portion sizes and Buckeyes candies don’t really go hand in hand. Anyway, it all resonated with me, and I thought I’d give it a try, so I got Liz’s book, The 21 Day Tummy.
Like I said, a lot of it was easy for me. Because of my allergies, I already eat a very healthy diet, and I even eat things like sardines! Yes, it’s true. They are gross, but they have a ton of calcium, and it’s important as I get older. So, the over all plan was really easy for me. I just had to cut down on the amount of healthy food that I was eating. I didn’t even have to cut back very much. I just had to stop eating my dinner plus all of my girls’ leftovers and a dessert. Every night.
At first, I wondered how I was going to pack all of Liz’s suggestions into my daily menu, and then I thought: “Oh. Wait. I write cookbooks. I guess I could write some new recipes or even, how novel, consult my latest book, Simply Allergy-Free“. After all I wrote this book for everyday living and most of the recipes in it are healthy. So, I went to the book, and I have started eating this easy recipe on page 32 for breakfast. I love that I get vegetables, fruit, high-protein quinoa and even yams in this one. The best part is that I feel full until lunch, even with just a 1 cup serving. If I’m extra hungry, I might have a couple of ounces of leftover salmon or roast chicken with it. I really enjoy the notion of a savory breakfast, and since I’m allergic to eggs, I can’t eat an omelet. This is the perfect solution.
So, life marches on, and I continue to show up for it in jeans that aren’t quite as tight any more. I’m thrilled to report that the past two chemo treatments have been much easier on C and that the tumor appears to be shrinking. I ask for your prayers and positive thoughts for her. She is a single parent with a wonderful son who we also love very much. No one tells you when you are a young mother embarking on a PhD and in need of childcare that that caregiver will become a part of your family. My family lives far away, so C was so important to me when my girls were really little and I was still learning how to be a good mother. She helped me, and for that I am forever grateful. I will keep updating you on her treatment progress. Please keep her in your prayers.
In the meantime, I leave you with a delicious, gluten, dairy, soy, nut and egg-free recipe that will whittle your waist and (hopefully) fight off cancer with its high dose of healthy antioxidants. Enjoy!
One Pot Quinoa With Spinach, Pomegranate and Yam
1 (4-ounce) yam, scrubbed
2 cups quinoa
4 cups cold water
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3 ounces baby spinach, about 2 cups loosely packed
3 tablespoons pomegranate arils
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and bake the yam in its skin for 45 minutes or until it is tender. Remove from the oven and let the yam rest until it is cool enough to handle. Remove the skin and cut the yam into cubes.
- Pour the quinoa into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse it with cold water until the water runs clear, about 2 minutes. After the quinoa is rinsed, pour it into a pot, cover it with 4 cups water, and add the salt. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the quinoa for 12 minutes and then stir in the baby spinach. Continue to simmer for another 3 minutes. Drain the quinoa and spinach in a fine-mesh sieve and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Add the cubed yam and pomegranate arils.
- In a small separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to create a vinaigrette. Pour the vinaigrette over the quinoa salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the dill and serve immediately.
- Leftovers may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.