Archives for posts with tag: food

IMG_4205Ah, the definition of happiness: Soft-boiled eggs and toast soldiers with the papers on a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining outside.

You may not think that sounds that great, but anyone who’s ever lived with me knows I like nothing better than a pair of boiled (or poached) eggs of a weekend lunchtime and I’ve been deprived of this pleasure for FIVE WHOLE MONTHS. Why? Because chemotherapy is like pregnancy – you can’t drink (much) alcohol, you can’t eat soft cheese, raw fish, live yoghurt or soft-boiled eggs, because of the risk of infection. Anyway, nobody told me at what point it’s ok to start eating foods off the banned list again, but it’s been 6 weeks since my last chemo, so I figured I would allow myself the pleasure on this otherwise joyless weekend. And I haven’t vomited yet, which is promising.

Anyway, back to radiotherapy. Week two is officially done. Eight (sessions) down, 25 to go. This week during my daily blasts of radiation I was treated to the likes of Alicia Keys, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and even Fairground Attraction (“It’s got to be-e-e-e-e-e-e per-fect, yeah”) – I can’t say these are my favourite musical artists, but fortunately the radiation sessions were short and sweet and I didn’t have to listen to Coldplay’s warblings for long.

The major development of the week is that I went back to work – after five months off. I’m working in the mornings and going for radiation sessions followed by rest in the afternoons, which is a perfect set-up as I think I’d go stir-crazy if I was at home the entire time, but I do need the rest. Some people work during radiotherapy, while others don’t, depending on the side effects, but the tiredness hasn’t really set in yet so I’m happy to be able to go to work. Fortunately, I also work at a place that provides the most magnificent catering, so I’ve been treating myself to delicious healthy breakfasts of scrambled egg, grilled tomato, spinach and mushrooms, and they’ve even provided me with rice milk to help me along with me no-dairy crusade.

IMG_4206On Tuesday I arrived at the hospital a little early, so I decided to visit the breast care nurses who were there when I was first diagnosed, at this very hospital (St. Vincent’s, Dublin), more than six months ago.

As I approached the second floor of the hospital where the breast care department is, I could see the women sitting in the waiting room outside the very room where I was diagnosed. Some of them would be waiting there for their loved ones, others might be just about to get diagnosed – just about to walk into a room and be told the news that shakes up their entire world and changes the rest of their lives. Needless to say, it was quite emotional for me, returning there. I even went into the room where I received the shocking diagnosis on June 22 last year, and I just about managed not to cry.

Aside from being back at work, being back in Dublin after six months is quite strange for me, as I had only just moved here when I was diagnosed. It’s like the City That Stood Still. Basically, everything that was happening in my life before I left Dublin was frozen in time and it’s all hit me all over again now that I’m back, as if the last six months never happened. Only I know they did, because I only have to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror to see the hairless face and I know I’m still a cancer patient. That said, it’s great to be back in my apartment and back at work, living a semi-normal life.

On Wednesday I had the bright idea that I would start cycling to work. It’s only a 10-minute walk so I figured cycling it would be even quicker. My bike has been babysat for the past six months by my very kind colleagues and my aim was to eventually be able to cycle it to the hospital each day (a 50-minute walk).

Bad idea. Whereas I thought I was regaining my fitness pretty quickly and have been walking around at my usual pre-cancer pace, it seems I am far from fit and have lost all the muscle mass in my thighs. The 10-minute cycle to work almost killed me. Not only because I nearly had to stop in traffic I was so puffed out, but also because I have forgotten everything they taught me in my primary school Cycle Safety course. So the bike is now firmly parked once again inside my apartment and will gradually be taken on further outings once I start feeling fitter.

On the hair front, I have been wearing wigs all week because I am still looking horribly patchy and bald. While I cannot wait for the day when I can stop wearing wigs and just go out with my bare head with an even layering of hair, at least I can say the wigs don’t give me headaches any more. Plus, even though they all know I’ve had chemotherapy for the past five months and am bald as a baby, that didn’t stop one of my closest colleagues from saying he didn’t even realise I was wearing a wig. So at least I’ve got a few people fooled!

Oh dear. I’ve had a very mild, tickly cough for about a month and yesterday it escalated into a full-blown, nasty choking, phlegmy cough. During the night I developed a painful sore throat and woke up this morning having largely lost my voice, so I am now on the antibiotics. So much for having a super-sonic immune system with 39.7-level white blood cells! Pah!

So, the nutritional therapist. I had a 1 1/2-hour consultation on Friday with Liz Butler, founder of Body Soul Nutrition, with a view to getting some advice on what I should be doing to keep my cancer away, and finding out whether any of my eating or lifestyle habits could have developed a better environment for the cancer to grow in the first place. One of the things she said was that many people have their cancer treatment and then go back to living their lives exactly as they did before – continuing to eat the same things, maintaining the same stress levels and doing the same amount of exercise, thus preserving the same body conditions in which the cancer initially thrived. It’s vital, according to Liz, to make drastic changes, both emotionally and nutritionally, to keep the cancer cells from growing again.

Her main recommendations were that I cut out dairy altogether and avoid sugar as much as possible. She also gave me some nutritional plans and talked to me about how each meal should be ideally composed, i.e. 50% vegetables and fruit on each plate, 20% starchy carbs (but only whole grains – no white rice, white pasta, white bread etc), 20% protein (eggs are allowed – phew!) and 10% fats (including nuts, pulses and butter, which is the only dairy allowed).

All of the above seems largely doable, apart from the giving up of dairy products and sugar, which is difficult for me to envision for the rest of my life. Two weeks, as I proved before, is easy peasy, but a life with no pizza (cheese), tea and coffee (milk), cheese and biscuits, cake, chocolate and many other tasty things is hard for me to get my head around. On the positive side, she did say I’m allowed red meat (once or twice a week, max), as long as it’s the best type of meat I can get my hands on – i.e. organic, free range etc (because the lower quality the meat, poultry or fish, the more likely it is to have been injected with antibiotics, hormones, etc).

One thing to stress is that the nutritional therapist didn’t say I have to give up all these things entirely – she said it’s fine to have a little of what I fancy, when I fancy, i.e. a couple of squares of dark chocolate every couple of days or a slice of cake or a dessert once a week, which is also fine. But I will struggle more with dairy because I eat a lot of it.

I decided for my last chemo I would be good to myself and let myself eat what I wanted, because often you feel so miserable and your tastes change so much, I didn’t want to punish myself like last time. So I’ve been eating something sweet most days, though not going overboard. And Christmas is coming up, so I’m not going to punish myself then either. But it’s important during radiotherapy to eat well to minimise the side effects, so I will definitely start being a little more strict in January.

I plan to take Liz’s advice to the extent that I can manage, cutting out dairy and sugar as much as possible but essentially allowing myself what I want in moderation. I am still very much aware that the oncologists don’t recommend any specific dietary changes and they certainly don’t recommend giving up sugar and dairy, and there is no proof or concrete evidence that doing so would guarantee my cancer never recurs, but at the same time changing what I eat to some extent will at least allow me to have a little more control over the situation. Nevertheless, I thought I might as well start as I mean to go on…

I started off well. Saturday morning, I had my first ever black coffee, and I quite enjoyed it. (I forgot to mention she told me to give up caffeine, but I may have to do things gradually!) Then I had a ginger steeper (fresh ginger in boiled water) at Leon. For lunch at Giraffe, I ordered a fresh fruit smoothie and a brown-rice sushi salad consisting of spinach, smoked salmon, mango, avocado and various seeds. But because I didn’t quite have the 50% veg/20% carbs ratio quite right, I ordered a separate side helping of sauteed veg (green beans, peppers and the likes – delish). Which brings me to Nutritional Problem #1: eating better is way more expensive. The better quality and the more organic the meat or the veg, the more the price increases. And the more veg portions you order to try and get the right balance, the more you end up paying. And Nutritional Problem #2: The better you want to nourish yourself, the more you have to plan what you eat, where you eat, when you eat, etc.

And then it all went down hill. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, Saturday night I went to Bubbledogs and ate two hotdogs. I am not convinced the pork sausage was the most organic meat in the land (largely because I do not know its origin) and I can take an educated guess that barbecue sauce and ketchup both have a fair amount of added sugar. That said, at least I didn’t have a pudding, and the jalapeños on the Mexican dog would have been good for me. But I did have a glass of champagne.

Sunday, it went further down hill, with a bacon sandwich on white, a cheese toastie and sausage, chips and veg for dinner. And Monday, a decent lunch of Eggs Florentine (bit of spinach, decent amount of protein) and a handful of Niki’s fries, then fish and chips on the train home (free first-class food, I could hardly refuse, could I?) I suspect the quality of the fish on East Coast Trains may not be the best in the world, which brings me to Nutritional Problem #3: It’s particularly hard to change your nutritional habits when you’re away from home. But, like I said, I’m not being strict on myself at the moment as a) I’m still under the wicked spell of the last chemo and within the three-week cycle, b) I’m sick and c) it’s the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la.

Thank you all, though, for adhering to my request not to send me any more junk food. Alice very kindly oven-roasted me some assorted nuts in fennel and honey and they are amazing – I’ve been munching my way through them as only a gannet would. I since found out that honey is on the no-no list of sugary foods (Sorry, Mr Curado, I misinformed you), but I’m happily munching through them anyway (see points a, b and c). Thanks also to Beth for the lovely tin of personalised soup, as pictured at the top of the page (don’t ask why “Bobr”).

So, that’s (the very much abridged version of) what the nutritional therapist said. I still have a lot of reading and researching to do, and I confess I am slightly skeptical that following all this advice will keep the cancer away for good, because I have always eaten so healthily and it’s most likely my cancer was caused by a gene fault (just not the one I tested negative for). However, I have to do something to take this into my own hands, and improving my diet seems to be a good place to start (she says, while slurping through a cream-heavy tin of chicken soup…)

Barely a day goes by without a trip to the hospital. The occasion yesterday was my five-month check up after my surgery.

“Five months?!” I hear you ask. Yes, really, it’s been five months since diagnosis, five months I’ve been sitting on my bum getting fat and being frequently stabbed by needles while the seasons have changed and you’ve gone from wearing your summer frocks to winter woolies (or vice versa, for those in the Southern Hemisphere.)

To offset the unpleasantness of a trip to the Christie Clinic (lovely though it is), we decided to treat ourselves to a three-course lunch at Jamie’s Italian in Manchester, which opened in February. I thought I’d take some of you (namely Fe, Linz and one or two others) up on the suggestion of food-blogging, since writing about my life online has now become second nature and replaced my 20-year habit of writing a private diary, so you can read the first post of my fledgling food blog here.

For those of you who can’t be bothered to click the above link, or simply don’t have enough time in your day, I hope you will instead enjoy these pictures of a burger and – the pièce de résistance – the Thomas Crapper loo.

I digress…

I thought the check-up was just to see if my boob scar was in order, but in fact it was also a breast cancer check – to see if any new lumps had emerged. They haven’t, thank God, but it turns out I have to have these appointments every four months for the first couple of years and then have checks (probably mammograms) at least once a year for the next 17 years until I actually hit the age where they start screening women routinely – 47. (And after that, presumably more of the same…)

This really made it hit home just how much cancer is going to be with me for the rest of my life. Talking to the surgeon and hearing about how important it is to keep checking whether the cancer has come back just reinforced how rare it is to have breast cancer at my age and how it could return at any time. I’ve gone from never going to hospital up to the age of 29, to making it practically a second home. Hey ho…

My gene test result is due any day now and will determine whether or not I have a bilateral mastectomy, so Mum and I saw the consultation as an opportunity to grill the surgeon, who I will most likely choose to perform my operation in the event that I need one.

He explained that muscle would be taken from my back in order to reconstruct my breasts after they are lopped off.

“But do I even have enough muscle in my back for that?” I asked, imagining two great chunks missing from my shoulder area…

“It’s the biggest muscle in your body,” he said. “But we would use implants as well.”

Ahh, I thought, thank God for that! They would also normally take fat from my stomach, he said, but (un?)fortunately, even after putting on 3kg, I’m pretty sure I’m not fat enough to produce a pair of 32Ds from my tummy flab.

“Are you managing to eat ok?” asked the surgeon.

“Oh yes,” I said, “In fact, I’ve put on weight.”

(I didn’t feel the need to tell him I’d just wolfed down an enormous cheese-and-red-meat-based lunch at Jamie’s.)

Meanwhile, I’m fast becoming a local celebrity, with the Huddersfield Examiner contacting me yesterday for an interview. I’m not sure exactly how they found my blog with just one obscure mention of a nightmare taxi ride from Huddersfield to Manchester, but nevertheless I shall endeavour to give them some kind of exclusive. I am as yet undecided as to whether to wear hot pants for the photo shoot, like I did last time I appeared in the Examiner, in 2004 (see link).

Happy weekend!

After spending the previous weekend quarantined in my little hospital room and attached to a drip, it was like the best thing ever to be able to spend last Saturday and Sunday in London, relishing in the joys of freedom and 360-degree arm movement.

I had planned the trip to London for my friend Karen’s birthday lunch, but a few days earlier I was invited to take part in a mini-photo shoot for the Stylist magazine 2012 census – a form I delighted in filling in with my cat on one of my many bed-ridden sick days recovering from chemo. My photo was to appear in tiny version alongside many others in an upcoming issue of the magazine, so I decided I would go wigless for the following reasons:

a) to be a bit brave and unashamed of my bald head

b) to be 100% myself

c) to be a little bit original

I had planned to wear earrings and false eyelashes to accentuate my better features and distract from my bald head because my eyebrows and lashes are now wearing thin (more of this in a later blog post). However, I forgot to pack the fakies and, unfortunately, every single chemist and supermarket around the Holborn area was shut on Sunday morning. And so it was that my friend Sophie and I rocked up to Stylist magazine HQ false eyelash-less and au naturel.

Unfortunately, the Stylist photo booth didn’t take such flattering photos as my iPhone, I felt really self-conscious and hated the final result, but it was a great experience all the same and I’m glad Sophie came along to support me in braving the Sinead look! You’ll have to wait til the magazine comes out to see my individual photo but here are the fun shots of Sophie and I for the time being. (Apologies that it’s a photo of a photo but scanning it would require getting out of bed.)

Sunday afternoon I had a wonderful time catching up with old colleagues and friends at Karen’s birthday lunch and very much enjoyed my lamb roast at The Brownswood in Finsbury Park, before catching the train back up North and sleeping for more than 12 hours, such was my exhaustion from the weekend.

Saturday was spent mostly eating my way around London with my old housemate Beth, who almost succeeded in giving up sugar with me for two weeks, but for a few momentary lapses. Our gastronomic tour began at the Mexican restaurant Wahaca in Covent Garden, with tacos, quesadillas and Mexican soup. Unfortunately one of the things I am most craving is ceviche and sashimi but the chemotherapy means raw fish is forbidden, so I had to make do with the cooked stuff.

In the evening, for want of a better film to see, we ended up watching The Sapphires, which was amusing and entertaining, though far from being one of the best films I’ve ever seen. After two weeks on a no-sugar diet, I am still surprisingly not craving sweet things at all, but I can never resist having sweet popcorn at the cinema.  We were also offered a free dessert at Wahaca and you’d have to be a fool to turn down a free dulce de leche pancake, right?

Finally, we tried to go to Bubbledogs, the new hotdog-and-champagne place, but the queue was too long and I was too tired to wait by this point so we ended up at Roka, a Japanese restaurant on Charlotte Street that reminded us of La Huella in Uruguay, where we’d been together in February. It was a shame my rice and asparagus came 10 minutes before my seabass main course but, other than that, I couldn’t fault it and will definitely be going back to try the black cod.

I’m safely back up North now for another week of resting and a hospital visit on Thursday before THE FINAL CHEMO next week.

Well, would you Adam and Eve it? A whole two weeks have passed since I decided to give up sugar. I know it may not seem like it because I stopped posting my daily consumption after I had my last chemo, but today is in fact the last day. As of tomorrow morning, I can eat chocolate again – yay!

So how did it go? Well, besides being rushed to hospital for a few days, the no-sugar diet itself went just fine. The chemotherapy had already altered my tastes and meant that I’ve been eating strangely for the past few months anyway, so the shock to my system wasn’t as great as it would have been. I have definitely wanted to eat sweet things, but funnily enough with the withdrawal of hard chocolate, I’ve been left desperate for the simplest and actually quite healthy things – for instance I would kill for a dark-chocolate-covered rice cake, and I almost cried last week when I could only eat the raisins out of my Graze box but had to leave these chocolate-covered apricots. I mean, apricots, for God’s sake! I don’t even like them that much! But they’re still sitting here, ready to be eaten tomorrow.

I haven’t especially noticed any effects – whether good or bad – of giving up the white stuff, but that is probably mainly because of the chemo. I have had lots of headaches, but again, probably the chemo. And I can’t say I am brimming with energy but that’s also most likely because I’m still on really strong antibiotics and and the after-effects of the chemo.

My Mum, on the other hand, was probably a better guinea pig for this experiment and I could tell she felt miserable a few times not being able to have chocolate. She also had a lull around day five or so where I thought she didn’t have any energy and was fed up having to eat bananas and nuts all the time. So, cutting out chocolate can also make you a bit miserable. (We didn’t really have to do this experiment for two weeks though really, did we?) My Dad is also doing the diet and for some strange reason it barely seems to have affected him. I’m not sure whether he’s secretly sneaking in loads of cakes, but I do know he had a can of lemonade when I went to hospital because he was worried about me. (We let him off).

The outcome of all this is that I still believe all the hype about how bad sugar is for us and how it’s one of the causes of cancer, so I’m definitely cutting down on it long-term. Though I believe going completely cold-turkey can make you much more tempted to eat sugar, so I’ll be allowing myself small amounts from now on.

Here’s the report on the minor cheating incidents:

1 glass of apple juice at home because Mum forced me to drink it (it would’ve been wasted otherwise)

1 glass of orange juice in the hospital because it was the only thing that could quench my thirst after the first night in the most stuffy, tropical room with a 38.6-degree temperature

Quarter of a tin of beans on my jacket potato in hospital out of sheer deperation

Clandestine sugar sprinkled on my porridge by the hospital

1 cup of Horlicks in hospital to try and help me sleep/get rid of the yucky chemo taste in my mouth

That’s it. I swear. I am too honest, really I am. No chocolate, no sweets, no packet food, no crisps, no hot chocolate, nada.

In case you have nothing else to do of a Thursday afternoon, here’s the list of stuff I ate for the last two weeks – some of it has been forgotten as I wasn’t writing it down every day but you get the rough idea. I think I ate an unhealthy amount of nuts to replace the chocolate…

DAY SIX (Wednesday)

6am pre-breakfast: A banana and four steroids.

9:30am actual breakfast: Porridge with blueberries, nuts, cinnamon and a cup of tea.

Lunch: Bowl of homemade cauliflower and almond soup with one slice of grain bread and butter. A flat white coffee.

Snacks: One cup of tea.

Dinner: Lamb chops, veg, mashed potato with an actual sprig of mint in it because I didn’t think I was allowed mint sauce.

Now that’s commitment! Bowl of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and Greek-style yoghurt. Mint tea.

DAY SEVEN (Thursday)

Breakfast: Porridge and banana, one tea.

Snacks: One flat white coffee.

Lunch: Two boiled eggs on toast with some salad. A fruit tea.

Snacks: A punnet of black-pepper pistachios and one of savoury biscuits/cracker snacks. Ginger-lemon tea.

Dinner: Fish, potatoes, veg, 1 slice of bread. Several pancakes with fruit, cinnamon, lemon and Greek-style yoghurt. One tea

DAY EIGHT (Friday)

Breakfast: One slice of brown toast and Marmite. One tea.

Lunch: Minestrone and bacon soup with one slice of bread.

Snacks: A load of seeds and raisins and one green tea.

Dinner: Mushroom and bacon pizza with salad. One banana with Greek-style yoghurt. One tea.

Then I got rushed into hospital… And stopped taking track of what I ate quite so much.

DAY NINE (Saturday) – in hospital

Several hours and litres of saline through a drip.

Breakfast: A bit of porridge and banana and some mandarin segments. A cup of tea. A clandestine half-glass of orange juice.

Lunch: Half a tuna sandwich and a bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Jacket potato with cheese. More fruit.

Snacks: Cup of hot milk.

DAY TEN (Sunday) – in hospital

Several more hours and litres of saline.

Breakfast: Full bowl of porridge with clandestine sugar. Bowl of mandarin segments.

Lunch: Cod mornay with rice and broccoli. Bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato sauce. And a cheese board.

Snacks: Half a bag of pistachio nuts, unsalted, and some more nuts and raisins. One cup of hot milk, one clandestine cup of Horlicks.

DAY ELEVEN (Monday) – in hospital

Loads more saline.

Breakfast: Full bowl of porridge with clandestine sugar. Bowl of mandarin segments.

Lunch: Some toast with chicken and bacon and a jacket potato with cheese and some clandestine beans. Bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Chicken in white wine sauce with rice and veg. Another cheese board.

DAY TWELVE (Tuesday) – in hospital

Breakfast: A slice of brown toast and butter and a bowl of porridge with a banana. Cup of tea.

Lunch: Beef bourginon with rice and sweetcorn and a bowl of fruit. Cup of tea.

Snacks: Flat white coffee.

Dinner: Chicken and mushroom pie, chips and peas.

DAY THIRTEEN (Wednesday) – back at home

Breakfast: Bacon sandwich with brown bread and fresh tomato. Cup of tea.

Snacks: Flat white coffee.

Lunch: Tomato and basil soup.

Snacks: Nuts and raisins.

Dinner: Fish, potatoes, veg. Mint tea.

DAY FOURTEEN (Today!)

Breakfast: One slice of brown toast with Marmite. One cup of tea.

Lunch: One boiled egg, one pitta bread, houmous, salad, balsamic vinegar, salmon.

Snacks and dinner: Nothing as yet, but I promise I won’t eat any sugar!

 

Has anyone else managed to do two weeks? Or almost two weeks? How’d you get on?

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