January 20, 2011

To Color or Not to Color

Posted in Breast Cancer, Family, Women tagged , , at 8:01 am by Liliana

My sister Branka

My sister Branka

I am fifty one years old. I have streaks of gray hair.

My hair is naturally dark brown, almost black. It has reddish overtones. Streaks of gray appeared when I was in my late thirties and without really thinking much about it, I started to color my hair. No matter what color I used, it always turned washed out red. I didn’t like the look, but coloring one’s hair seemed to be the thing to do.

Every woman my age colors her hair, right?

After my breast cancer diagnosis, I decided to let the gray grow out. And I have. For the last five years, I have not colored my hair.

My hair is very fine, very straight, and does not have much body. If I could choose any type of hair that this world has to offer, this would not be the type I would choose. But it is what it is

The fact is, even thought I have lots of gray, it really isn’t that obvious. The black, brown and reddish overtones seem to camouflage it naturally. So, people hardly ever bring up the topic, and I have been able to stay under the radar.

My sister, two years younger than I, always had thick, wavy, gloriously rich honey brown hair. When we were young girls, Branka had long, thick braids that I pulled mercilessly because I was jealous of the admiration they incited.

Now, Branka’s hair is still thick and rich, but it is also gray. Last year she decided to stop coloring. She got a short, snappy, modern haircut.

Wherever she went women complimented her and thought that she looked fabulous. Women admired her courage.

The men thought she looked old. They didn’t like it. They told her she looked better with her hair colored.

Our family from Europe was relentless it its assault. “You look old and sick,” was the consistent message buzzing over the ocean.

She resisted for months.

My sister works as a part time interpreter and patient advocate at a large university hospital. She is hoping to get a full time job and she goes to a lot of job interviews.

She felt that people talked to her differently and that her chances of getting a full time job diminished with her hair gray. Tired of all the fuss and all the commentary the topic fermented, she finally capitulated.

She colored her hair.

She claims that her hair will be gray again the moment she can do what she really wants to do.

I think she looks fabulous either way.  I just wish the choice of whether to color her own hair, or not, was left entirely up to her.

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January 6, 2011

My New Year’s Resolution

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Friendships, Good people, Health, Hobbies, Quilting, Women tagged , , , , , at 8:02 am by Liliana

The healing quilt

The healing quilt

I was never one for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like to make a promise (to myself or to others) that I pretty much know that I won’t keep.

But this year, I have made a resolution. I want to finish a large, king size quilt that I started for my friend Nancy three years ago.

When Nancy’s husband Ken died, Nancy didn’t want to part with his clothes. I volunteered to make a quilt out of Ken’s shirts, ties and pants. To make the quilt representative of their life together, I took a few of Nancy’s colorful blouses and added them to the mix.

I made a simple design, something that would work for a disparate collection of colors, tones and materials. Then I bought creamy and burgundy floral fabrics to tie everything together. And when I started quilting, I chose different colors of thread – neutral beige, deep burgundy, emerald green and burnt orange.

This quilt has been an evolutionary enterprise. I started with a vague concept in mind, but the project has evolved into something with a life of its own.

I have done all the sewing and quilting by hand. From the beginning I felt, but didn’t understand clearly, that the idea was not to finish the quilt quickly, but to go through the process of  slow, meditative healing. I couldn’t rush this project.

Ken and I were suffering from cancer at the same time. He had incurable esophageal cancer, I was sick with breast cancer. The last time we saw each other was at our children’s piano recital. He was at the end of his treatments, I was in the middle of mine. We made a sad sight – both of us gray and weary, with no hair and our eyes hollow from nausea and fear.

We said nothing but looked at each other with compassion and understanding. We embraced and cried.

So, when I work on this quilt for Ken and Nancy, every stitch is a gift of tenderness and love. And gratitude that they have given me the opportunity to spend hours slowly pulling silky thread through fabrics that they have marked with their presence. They have given me a chance to mend and heal.

This winter I feel that the time has come to complete the quilt. It feels right. Every evening I work on it for hours.

When the longer days of spring arrive, I will be ready to hand it over to Nancy for safekeeping.

September 17, 2010

Nana

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Children, Family, Food, Good people, Health, Home, Weather, Women tagged , , , , , at 6:59 am by Liliana

Liliana, Nana, Branka and our father

Liliana, Nana, Branka and our father- June 2010

In early January of 2005, I was undergoing intense chemo therapy for breast cancer.

It was a bitterly cold and snowy winter. The days were heavy, dark, gloomy and depressing. My physical and emotional state reflected the weather perfectly.

In a few short weeks, I had lost close to twenty pounds. I had no appetite and felt nauseous all the time. I was weak and dizzy. I could not sleep. I developed a blood clot in my arm and then one in my leg. I had no energy. I could not take care of myself, much less my husband and children.

My sister, Branka, tried bravely to take care of our two households. She ran between her work, her children’s schools, her house  and my house. I worried that she too would get sick. We needed help.

Our father had remarried a few years earlier and lived in Florida. We were friendly with our stepmother (Nana), but didn’t know her well. She offered to come to cold, frozen Michigan and take care of us all. We said yes.

Nana came and took over the running of the house.

Mornings were my worst time of the day. After chemo had been working its magic all night long, I felt sick, exhausted and unable to eat. I had trouble getting out of bed. Nana would bring me a cup of tea and hot oatmeal with honey, then leave as I struggled to swallow a few teaspoons at a time.

Mike was already away at college, but Nena and Sam were at home. Jeff had a responsible and difficult job. They were all disoriented and frightened. Nana made them breakfast every morning – fancy stuff like pancakes, bacon, eggs. It made me happy to know, sitting in my bedroom and trying to swallow oatmeal, that Nana took care of them.

After everyone had left for work or school, I slowly gathered my courage and stumbled downstairs. Nana and I sat for hours – she talking and crocheting; I trying to survive another day.

Hours spread before us like decades.

Branka came every day, and the two of them tried to think of ways to cheer me up and get me to eat. It was essential that I not lose any more weight as my oncologist threatened to stop chemo treatments; but I had trouble swallowing and had no appetite. Nana and Branka would go into my kitchen and start concocting high calorie delicacies limited only by their imaginations. I never knew what combination and surprises I would find camouflaged inside my smoothies – boiled chicken with chocolate milk, roasted vegetables with honey, etc. etc. I lived in fear of the next offering.

Evenings were merciless in a different way. Nana and Branka made wonderful dinners and the entire family (mine and Branka’s) would gather around our dining room table. Everyone except for me. I sat on a sofa nearby, and tried not to smell the aroma of food or think about food. Our usually rowdy dinner conversations were no more; everyone ate quietly.

We all waited for the day to end.

Nana stayed with us for six weeks, through the worst part of my chemo treatments. She talked to me about things that no one else had the courage to talk about. She was honest and made no light of my situation. I didn’t have to pretend to be brave. But this tenacious, determined woman exuded strength like a rock – strength I could touch with my hand and hold on to tightly.

She cajoled me to eat, to find courage in simple things and not give up. She advised me to take it one minute, one hour, one day at the time. When I could not walk myself, she pushed me forward.

By the time Nana left for Florida, winter was winding down. Snow was still laying deep on the ground, but the first whiffs of spring were in the air. I was done with the first chemo regiment, and starting the second round. I responded to this one much better, and my appetite showed those first early signs of life. I started going for walks outside. My strength came back slowly.

Now, when I think of those cold, dark, despondent days, I think with pride of my family’s ability to endure and survive. And I think of Nana’s strength and love that, like a beacon, pointed the way towards better days. On day at the time.

September 10, 2010

The Best Years

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Family, Women tagged , , , , , , , , , at 6:33 am by Liliana

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

My grandmother lived to be ninety five years old. Throughout the years, whenever she talked about people who happened to be her age at that particular moment, she would make a comment – “they are enjoying the best year of their lives!”

For my grandmother, every year of one’s life was the very best year.

It took me a long time to understand what she meant, but I think that I am getting there.

Many years of my life were painful and difficult and did not seem enjoyable at the time. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. My sister almost died from pulmonary embolism. My family in Yugoslavia  lived through tragedy, violence and hardships. I was sick with cancer.

But when I look back on all this, all these misfortunes, together with all the joys, construct a picture of my life. I would not be who I am without them. I hope that I have learned from them to be a better person.

One thing I do know – I am much more compassionate, accepting and kind. To my family, friends, strangers, the world around me. And to myself.

Today I am fifty one years old. Happy birthday to me!

July 29, 2010

Oil Spill in Michigan

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Health, News tagged , , , , , , , at 6:41 am by Liliana

Detail Map of Michigan

Detail Map of Southwestern Michigan

A state of emergency has been declared in southwest Michigan’s Kalamazoo County.

Last Monday, July 26th, 2010, more than 800,000 gallons of oil have leaked into a local creek when an oil pipeline sprung a leak. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge Energy Partners, of Houston.

The oil is now heading downstream the Kalamazoo River.

Kalamazoo River flows into Lake Michigan only 60 miles away in the town of Saugatuck.

The pipeline has been shut down, but the damage is already done. Officials are fearing contamination of local water supplies. Residents of the area have reported strong noxious fumes, and wildlife soaked in oil.

My daughter Nena and her fiancé Peter have been staying in our cottage near Lake Michigan, not far from the spill. They had planned to move to New Orleans in the fall, but I was trying to dissuade them.

Worried about health effects from the oil spill, I believed it would be much safer for them to stay in Michigan.

Source:  Kalamazoo Gazette

Source: The New York Times

July 25, 2010

Chocolate Blueberry Cake

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Food, Health, Recipes tagged , , , at 7:05 am by Liliana

Michigan blueberries

Michigan blueberries

Sweet, plump blueberries are all the rage in Michigan at this time of year.

I eat them every day. Most mornings, I have a bowl of blueberries with plain yogurt or kefir for breakfast.

But what can be more delicious than blueberries with chocolate?

Try this light cake with your afternoon tea or coffee.

  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (white whole wheat preferred)
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground chia seeds or flax seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup date syrup, maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener
  • 1 cup blueberries (for serving)
  • additional syrup or agave nectar to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, chia (or flax) and salt. In blender, combine water, 1/2 cup blueberries, and balsamic vinegar and blend until smooth.

Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add the syrup and the blueberry mixture. Stir until completely mixed.  Pour into an oiled 9-inch round cake pan.

Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before inverting onto serving platter.

Serve with blueberries on top, drizzled with additional syrup or agave.

Source: FatFree Vegan Kitchen

July 11, 2010

I Think I Might Be Winning!!!!!

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Good people, Health, Holidays, Women tagged , , , , , at 7:35 am by Liliana

Cheers to Bridget!

Cheers to Bridget!

It seems like we have been hearing a lot of bad news this year, so I thought it would cheer everyone up to hear some undeniably excellent news.

I wrote recently about a young lady whose spirit and resilience have moved me deeply. Her name is Bridget Spence. She writes a wonderful blog that I recommend you visit often: My Big Girl Pants.

This was her latest post:

“I Think I Might Be Winning!!!!!

I wanted to start everyone’s holiday weekend off on the right foot. Get the champagne out, people. Put away the Big Girl Pants and put on your prettiest pair of Party Pants because I am winning this battle.

That’s right, you heard me. After months of set backs and pain and side effects and trying oh-so-very-hard to keep a smile, I finally got one piece of good news!

Yesterday, my scans showed that the cancer in my liver had SHRUNK!!!!!!!!!

This TDM1 really might be that silver bullet I had hoped for. Now, it isn’t a cure, but it is clearly working.

For the past four years, one liver spot had been there, lurking. It hadn’t changed size or shape in four years. It hadn’t grown, but it certainly hadn’t shrunk. Then, a few months ago, a second little bugger in my liver showed up. The scans yesterday showed that, after only two rounds of TDM1, both tumors had shrunk visibly. One went from 2.8mm to 1.3mm. The other had shrunk from 1.6mm to .8mm.

My Doctor was gleeful and I take my cues from her. I’m not planning for dozens of little pants babies quite yet, but I could have the year of quiet that I had hoped and prayed for. I might even have a couple years of normalcy and quiet. The goal is that these suckers keep shrinking and that the side effects remain manageable. My heart function dropped slightly, but it was still above the 50% mark, so we are not going to worry about that today. I am going to exercise and try to keep the ol’ tinker in Lance Armstrong-style shape so that this drug can continue working its magic.

My cancer had been humming along in my body for the past four years and now it’s been hit with a new drug and it doesn’t know what hit it! Here’s hoping my little silver bullet keeps killing and keeps shrinking. But let’s not hope for too much.

Today, I am going to take this news and stick it in my back pocket. I am going to enjoy a fabulous Fourth of July weekend. Big Man and I are going to let our hair down and let our breath come out in a big sigh of relief. We are going to start planning our futures as all 26 and 30 year olds should do. The world is our oyster today, and I must say, we earned it.

Cheers!”

Cheers, dear Bridget! I drank a glass of wine in your honor. I wish you all the best in this world.

July 7, 2010

CSA Box of Treasures

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Family, Food, Garden, Health, Home, Recipes tagged , , , , , , at 6:46 am by Liliana

CSA produce

CSA produce

Every Wednesday morning, someone from my family makes sure to stop at the farmer’s market and pick up our CSA box of treasures.

What is CSA?
CSA or Community Supported Agriculture, is a program that allows small farmers to market their own local, seasonal produce directly to their immediate community.  I joined the membership of our particular farm last winter, and paid for the entire season by last May.

Now, from early June through the middle of October, all we need to do is show up and pick up a box of fresh, organic produce. Every week is a surprise, and we are never sure what will be for dinner. All produce had been picked the day before and is at the peak of its ripeness and nutritional value.

We have been eating all kinds of greens and a number of plants we hadn’t tried before. But everyone agrees that the experiment has been a huge success so far. We all gather around the box and marvel at the beauty, color, flavor and fragrance of various vegetables, herbs and flowers.

This is what we found in our treasure box today:

  • Genovese basil – an herb with sweet, spicy, shiny, green leaves perfect for flavoring salads, soups and stews; making pesto or freezing for winter.
  • Fava beans – resemble large lima beans with a tart, pungent flavor; can be cooked or eaten raw in salads.
  • Green beans – Maxibel French Fillet are very slender green beans with firm texture and delicate flavor; we usually eat them steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, or in a delicious green bean soup.
  • Beets & greens – Red Ace beets are round, smooth, deep red roots with sweet flavor and red-veined green leaves. Chioggia greens are an Italian variety with green leaves and pink-striped stems; root has cherry red, candy-striped color and a sweet flavor. Both are delicious steamed in salads, soups or stews.
  • Broccoli – deep emerald green, tiny buds that are clustered on top of stout, edible stems.  Delicious steamed with a bit of salt, olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
  • Napa cabbage – crinkly, thick, cream-colored leaves with celadon tips.  Unlike the strong-flavored waxy leaves on round cabbage heads, these are thin, crisp, and delicately mild.  Use raw, sauté, bake, or braise; common in stir-fries or soups.
  • Italian dandelion greens – bright red stem with a jagged, dark green leaf. Not a true dandelion, but rather a chicory with darker green and slightly larger leaves with a tangy, slightly bitter taste. Refreshing as a salad green or cooked as a vegetable.
  • Fresh garlic – a bulb of several papery white cloves. Can be eaten minced raw in salad dressings, sautéed and added to stir-fries, meats, vegetables. As garlic butter (1/2 cup of softened butter mashed with four minced cloves of garlic). Also, try roasting garlic by cutting off tops of garlic bulbs, so cloves are exposed, brushing with olive oil and baking for 1 hour at 350 degrees; squeeze garlic out of skins and spread on good, crusty bread.
  • Lettuce – Red/Green Leaf, Romaine, and Oak.
  • Green onions or scallions – young shoots of bulb onions with long green stalks and milder taste than large bulb onions.
  • Summer squash –  intense yellow color, straight neck squash with buttery flavor and firm texture.  Delicious sautéed, roasted, in stir fries or soups.

What a glorious bounty! Call around for your own local CSA farm information.

This directory might help you get started: www.localharvest.org

June 27, 2010

The Oil Spill

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Children, Cleaning, Health, Money, News, Travel, Weather tagged , , , , , at 6:46 am by Liliana

http://www.oilism.com/oil/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/oilspill0.jpg

"Make my hands respect the things you have"

There is a great environmental tragedy happening in the Gulf of Mexico and it affects our entire planet.

I wanted to address the issue, to acknowledge the unprecedented affliction, torment and suffering, but my words feel inadequate and shallow.

What can I say that hasn’t been said? What wisdom can I offer?

I will let this beautiful Native American Prayer speak for me. It says everything, and much more, that I wanted to express.

Native American Prayer

Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.

(translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887)

Source: http://www.sapphyr.net/natam/quotes-nativeamerican.htm

June 26, 2010

Blueberry Parfait

Posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Food, Health, Recipes tagged , , , , , at 7:27 am by Liliana

Blueberries are in season

Blueberries are in season

Blueberries are in season.

One of the most nutritious and delicious fruits, blueberries can be eaten in an infinite variety of ways.

You can make this easy-to-prepare recipe with blueberries or any one of your favorite fruits for a quick and elegant dessert.

Indulge yourself or impress a guest.

Prep and Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 4 oz low-fat yogurt
  • 1 TBS chopped walnuts
  • 2 tsp grated dark chocolate

Directions:

  1. Layer yogurt and blueberries in 2 wine glasses.
  2. Top with chopped walnuts.
  3. Sprinkle grated chocolate

Serves 2

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