Made it to another year!

Today I celebrate my birth as well as my life.

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Although I can still easily pass for a teenager, I’m actually 34 years old today! Crazy, right? And apparently this new diet that I’ve embraced also has the potential to reverse the aging process, so pretty soon I will look about 10. I might have to seriously consider tattooing my i.d. to my forehead.

I made it to another year! Yay me! (Insert happy dance right now.)

It’s now officially 31 years battling the cancer monster.

Who doesn’t like birthdays? I’ve always been a big fan of the birthday celebration. Any excuse to have people pamper you, to eat cake, and to receive awesome cards and gifts is always something to look forward to, in my opinion.

When you have cancer, birthdays seem to become much more meaningful though, and this takes on a whole new dimension when you have metastatic cancer. For instance, this afternoon I started crying a little, just out of nowhere really. They were both tears of joy and sadness (more like fear, I’d say). I was happy and excited to be celebrating another glorious year, but part of me was fearful of the future.

You begin to wonder will I be around to celebrate another year? How many birthdays will I see? So naturally you feel the urge to set mini milestones for yourself to reach.

I also began to think about all of those brave individuals that were my age or younger when they succumbed to this dreadful disease, and it begins to put life into perspective for me. Essentially life is a gift that is meant to be cherished and appreciated each and every day.

Which is why it sometimes irritates me when I hear people talking about how “old” they are getting each time another birthday rolls around. Seriously, you guys don’t know how lucky you are to be alive! You should feel proud to say that you are another year older. Being older means that you haven’t died yet. And not being dead is pretty cool. Definitely something to celebrate.

I look forward to growing old.

Since I’ve made it to 34, my next mini milestone is to reach 40! Seems like a lifetime away, but it’s something to work towards nonetheless. I don’t know how old I will be or whether I will celebrate the big 4-0. For now, I am going to content myself with being 34 years old!

I’m looking forward to some dairy and refined-sugar free cake. Hey, it’s better than nothing.

I feel great today and have nothing to complain about at this very moment, as there are so many people out there in far more unpleasant situations (or worse off) than me. I am so grateful to be alive on this very day.

Happy Birthday to me!

Love, health, and birthday cakes!
xo

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Daddy’s Little Girl

Given that Father’s Day weekend is this weekend, I thought it would be more than appropriate to dedicate a post to my awesome daddy.

Where do I even begin? Well, let’s start with the fact that my father is the best dad in the world. I may be a bit biased, but it’s true.

Beginning with being in the hospital room the night I was born, to being at virtually all of my doctor’s appointments over a 30 year span, to walking me down the aisle this past September, my dad has always been right by my side.

Five cancer diagnoses (six if you count my metastases) can produce not only a crap load of appointments (over a two month span a while back, I had a record 30 health related appointments), but also a crap load of fear, anxiety, and anger. My dad is the type of person that internalizes his emotions. He often doesn’t like to talk about distressing subjects and he has a hard time expressing his inner feelings. However, his demeanor says it all. Over the last 30 years my dad has been super stressed about my health and that of my brother.

Despite being overly anxious, stressed, and fearful, my dad has always been there for my family through every step of the way. Although I always tease him about his lack of patience (you should see him pace back and forth in hospitals, it will honestly make you dizzy), I must give him absolute credit because it takes an exuberant amount of patience to deal with an ill child over the course of 30 years. This is something no parent should have to endure. However, notwithstanding how difficult this must have been for him, my dad has accompanied me to almost all of my doctor’s appointments over the years, even now! What a princess I am, right? Although he looks like he is having a coronary at every appointment, his presence is very reassuring and comforting to me.

From the time I was born, I have always been such a daddy’s little girl. I stole my dad’s heart from the moment he first held me, and when I became ill at the age of 3, he has made it his life’s mission to protect me against this terrifying disease. And Dad, I can assure you that you are doing a hell of an amazing job!

I worry about my dad all of the time. He has always had a very troubling time coming to grips with my cancer, and I can assure you that this has dramatically increased since my metastatic diagnosis. He wants to save my life at all costs, and I cannot fathom thinking about what it would do to him if this doesn’t happen. It would ultimately destroy my dad. So I am going to make sure to put up a hell of a good fight. Don’t you worry, dad.

I’ve been pretty damn good at cancer ass-kicking over the past 30 years, so why stop now, right?

I wish that my parents did not have to go through so much. Sometimes life strikes me as so unfair. In the sense that some people are bombarded with obstacles and lead such turbulent lives, whiles others are in complete la-la-land and have no idea what a serious situation looks like even if it hit them in the head. There are people out there that actually create problems where there are none. This boggles my mind. And I realize that many people have their own cross to bear, but I kinda feel like ours is getting too friggin heavy. Come on, throw us a bone or something!

Despite countless challenges, my family seems to be getting through them all. And I am very fortunate to have such an amazing and supportive family. I’m also very grateful for having a wonderful second family – Garrett’s family. They are incredibly loving and always willing to help out in any way they can. And I have to say that my father-in-law is very similar to my own dad in many ways. They both fancy italian food, lemon meringue pie, Sons of Anarchy, and their families. Love you both 🙂

My dad can attribute his awesomeness (yes, that’s a word) to the amazing role model in his life – his father. My nonno (that’s grandfather in Italian, in case you are wondering) was a truly incredible man. I was so blessed to have been able to spend so much time with my nonno over the years, and he spoiled me rotten, of course. He was wise, witty, and genuinely good-hearted. My dad walks in his dad’s footsteps and he resembles him more and more as the years go by.

The dedication, support, love, and patience that my dad has provided cannot be adequately acknowledged with this blog post. It would take me an entire lifetime to truly thank my dad. And given the whole metastatic cancer thing, I don’t want to necessarily have to start considering what my lifetime is going to look like. So, for now, the best I can do is simply say THANK YOU dad for being there for me and being my hero, as well as being the greatest father in the world.

I love you so very much, and just like I said in my wedding speech, I will always be daddy’s little girl.

Love you, Dad!

Love you, Dad!

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all of the wonderful fathers out there!

Love, health, and fantastic fathers!
xo

Food For Thought

Now that the weather is warming up (well, sort of), barbecue season is fast approaching. And who doesn’t love themselves a good barbecue? Sizzling steaks, homemade burgers, and hot dogs all fired up on a hot grill makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? There’s also something to be said about eating outside that seems to heighten our senses, open up our appetite while also releasing endorphins (the “feel good” hormones).

I definitely enjoy me a good barbecue.

Although what I previously experienced as typical barbecue grub has over the last few months undergone a complete transformation. I was always a meat lover. A nice juicy steak was probably the closest thing to what I would consider orgasmic food. Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I could polish off a 20 ounce steak as well as finish my side order and the free dessert that I was always offered when waiters were in complete amazement that little old me could put any man to shame. In all sincerity, I was given free desserts on multiple occasions after being challenged by waiters. It always played out something like this, “if you can eat that entire steak, dessert is on the house tonight.” And I can assure you that dessert was always on the house in those instances.

In Florence, I once ate an entire “bistecca fiorentina” (which is a heavenly steak, I might add) that was meant for two people to share. So perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that I would later lose one of my kidneys. I guess it’s true what they say about hindsight being 20/20.

This was my former self. The pre-metastatic cancer Sabrina.

Me before my diet change.

Me before my diet change.

Nowadays a barbecue for me consists of either a homemade veggie burger or a Portobello mushroom burger as well as plenty of healthy salads and sides. Over the last few months I have adopted a rather strict diet. I don’t know if I would necessarily consider putting a label on my particular dietary regime as it is not completely vegan or raw. Perhaps I am more of a “cheagan” (a cheating vegan). Essentially I am currently abstaining from meat, dairy, refined sugar, gluten, as well as anything processed. Instead I am indulging on an organic, plant based and whole foods diet. Ideally I am trying to include as much raw organic food and juices as I possibly can.

It was quite difficult at first, especially in the early stages. The first few weeks were brutal. I was having withdrawal, cravings, and in essence, I was starving. Every time I saw someone eating a steak, sausage or chicken breast, I literally felt like tearing the individual’s arm off so I could yank that piece of meat from them. Or how I dreamed of putting someone in a headlock for that chocolate cupcake or bag of chips. Don’t worry, I didn’t actually resort to any violence during these first few weeks, but the thought crossed my mind.

Things have certainly become much easier, and all of the changes implemented have formed part of my everyday living. My closest friends and family are in complete awe of how dedicated I have been with my diet. I was always a rather healthy eater, aside from the excessive amount of meat and my love of cheese, that is. Admittedly, I miss my cheese. I was never much of a milk drinker (only in lattes and cappuccinos), but cheese was my weakness. However, having said this, I have really embraced and accepted this new way of life.

I realize that cancer patients are often bombarded with so-called “anti-cancer diets.” Many cancer patients have often heard of or even attempted a paleo, ketogenic, macrobiotic, vegan, raw, Budwig, or Gerson diet. There are always fads, trends, as well as news stories surrounding the latest anti-cancer “miracle food.” With the assistance of Dr. Google, it has been rather easy to fall prey to the overwhelming amount of information out there regarding cancer and nutrition. However, there is also a great deal of informative literature that when properly assessed can be highly empowering and helpful.

The key is to make changes to your diet and your life that work for you.

Sometimes this requires trying different techniques, approaches, or diets until you find something that you are able to adhere to. It is pointless to embark on a dietary regime that is extremely prohibitive or impossible to maintain. In addition, not all dietary changes or diets are suitable for individuals with cancer especially while they are undergoing treatment. For instance, “anti-cancer diets” seem completely irrelevant for individuals going through chemotherapy or radiation as certain foods are not tolerated and must be avoided for some cancer patients while in treatment. Therefore, I cannot stress enough that in order to fully benefit from any dietary advice or lifestyle change, one must not only be fully committed, but must also choose an approach that is suitable and manageable for the person. Each and every one of us is different, and as such, there is no one size fits all approach to treatment, lifestyle, or diet.

I have been dealing with cancer (on and off) for 30 years, and I am only 33 years old. So pretty much my entire life. Reflecting on this sparked an eyebrow-raising moment for me.

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Effectively, I realized that perhaps my body was just not accepting the diet and lifestyle that I had been engaging in over the course of my life thus far.

Each and every one of us has cancer cells in our bodies floating around at all times. However, these cells are typically controlled and prevented from abnormally dividing and multiplying by our immune system as well as other regulating mechanisms in our bodies. The foods we eat can tend to reduce our immunity. Our cells are put under stress from many factors such as: sugar, acidic diets, pollution, chemicals and additives, radiation, negative thoughts and emotions, low oxygen, and dehydration, to name a few. Many individuals cannot tolerate or process meat, as they cannot breakdown the excess complex protein, hormones, and chemicals. Additionally, the same can be said of processed grain products and dairy, which are very acidic and can produce allergic reactions that stress the immune system.

As with any lifestyle changes, dietary changes allow cancer patients to feel as though they have added some control back into their lives. Individuals with cancer experience a lack of control over their bodies, their illness, their treatment, and their life. Allowing myself to embark on this strict dietary regime has been working for me so far. I am not currently in treatment at the moment and therefore am able to experiment with various dietary modifications, alternative treatments, and supplements. However, this may not be suitable or tolerable to everyone. After intense reflection and research, I decided to make these changes in my life. I cannot say what impact these changes will have and whether I will remain this diligent forever. However, I can say that right now this new diet is working very well for me. I have embraced this new plant based diet, and am constantly finding new ways to transform my lifestyle and hopefully assist my body in healing. And I can say without a doubt that if the results are positive and I can help heal my body or at least keep the disease stable, I definitely will not be looking back. Sayonara steak!

So all you carnivores out there can rest assured that I will not be drop kicking you for your Angus beef burger at the next barbecue, but I may steal your organic, non-GMO corn on the cob when you are not looking 🙂

Love, health, and Portobello mushrooms!
xo

Hoping to be Chronic, not Terminal

Naturally I would love to consider myself cured. I would love to be given an N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) determination on my next CT scan. I would love the cancer to just disappear and never return. I also wish for a cure for each and every individual that suffers through this torturous disease.

Although I hope and pray for such “miracles” each day, the harsh reality of the matter is that this is not the case. At least not at the moment.

So the next best thing for me to hold onto right now is that my cancer will become chronic as opposed to terminal.

Essentially, there is a distinction between cancer survivors, terminal cancer patients, and those with chronic cancer. The definition of a cancer survivor seems pretty self-explanatory. You have cancer and you survive it. Plain and simple. I myself was a previous five-time cancer survivor. The more difficult concepts are the latter two: the terminal cancer patient and the chronic cancer patient.

There are different factors involved when labeling someone as having “terminal cancer.” Some of which are that the person is given only weeks or months to live, that the cancer is progressing and cannot be arrested, that the cancer does not respond to any given treatment, that there has been secondary metastases (for example, the cancer metastasizes to the lungs and then to the bones), or the cancer causes the compression of vital structures or organs, etc.

The more elusive concept is that of the chronic cancer patient. For these individuals the disease will never go away completely but it can be controlled. In effect, the cancer can be arrested, not eradicated. This is what is generally known as stable disease, whereby the cancer can be kept in abeyance. These are the stories we hear of patients who live many years with certain types of cancers. In most cases the cancer will eventually kill these patients, but this may take longer than statistically predicted. Chronic cancer patients typically engage in countless therapies. One combination of drugs may fail while another may work. Sometimes this lifestyle can take a toll on chronic cancer patients and wear them down. Imagine an arduous schedule of clinical trials, targeted drug therapies, follow-up appointments while all the while trying to maintain a positive attitude with the hope that the cancer will not begin to spread again. This can gnaw away at someone’s spirit, destroying the indivdiual little by little.

However, as difficult as it may be to live with chronic cancer it still remains superior to the alternative, which is terminal cancer.

It is extremely difficult to stop my mind from wandering into dangerous territory. I have to consciously distract my brain from the negative thoughts.

I begin to think that perhaps I will have to endure treatments as I did as a child that will cause hair loss, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, etc.

Perhaps the cancer will continue to further spread to places that will cause debilitating pain, seizures, blackouts, or organ failure.

Perhaps I will become terminally ill and will wither away in a hospital bed like so many brave individuals before me.

Perhaps my lungs will collapse.

Perhaps I will be faced with pulmonary effusion (fluid in the lungs), which can cause a number of complications.

Perhaps these are all likely realities in the near or distant future.

Perhaps this dreadful day will come, hopefully it won’t.

So today I find solace in hoping that my cancer will stabilize and that I too can consider myself chronic, not terminal.

Sadly metastatic cancer patients must content themselves with little milestones, knowing that their cancer cannot be cured but can be controlled. Seems pretty boring, I know. But nowadays I’m loving the idea of being boring.

As these demoralizing thoughts take over, I begin to visualize my meditation instructor’s voice telling us to retrain our brains into thinking that we are healthy and healed.

At this very moment I say to myself that I am fortunate that my cancer has not spread to other organs other than my lungs. I am extremely thankful for not being deemed terminal right now. I am very lucky that all of my organs are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, and my body is functioning as good as it can with these nasty little tumors trying tirelessly to slow it down. So ha cancer, take that! And yes, it’s very mature of me to taunt my cancer.

I pray that all those facing metastatic cancer will never have to face a terminal diagnosis, and for those facing one, I pray for a cure.

Today I find myself as healthy and healed as I can be at this very moment in time.

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Love, health, and the hope of tomorrow.
xo