Week 1 of the Elimination Diet

We’re almost through the first week on the elimination diet, and we’ve survived! Using lots of creativity and LOTS of prep, I think I’ve also made this week as easy (and belly-filling) as possible.

I really thought the first week would be filled with random cravings and terrible hunger pangs to make me want to stray. I’ve always found it hard to say ‘NO’ to cheese and bread. And tomatoes. And chocolate. But I’m surprised to say that the only thing I’ve REALLY craved is a glass of wine with dinner. I’m sure my liver could use a little detox, so I’m OK with holding out for another couple weeks. 🙂

So far, the absolute hardest thing about the elimination diet is finding food while traveling. I’ve learned that I can ‘pack’ a breakfast to take with me – a chia seed and powdered coconut milk premixed in a jar that I can carry onto a plane. The night I arrive at my destination, simply add water and refrigerate and voila! Chia seed pudding! Most hotels also have fruit in their breakfast buffet, so add in fruit for a protein and fiber filled breakfast that’s pretty darn tasty.

Chia seed pudding after soaking overnight

But lunch and dinner are difficult to find on the road. I can’t carry food into the OR with me…and most foods on the list need to be refrigerated. So I’m looking into the best options for me while traveling and I’ll report back.

And my husband is happy to report that in the first week, he’s lost 4 pounds! I never even THOUGHT about weight loss with this diet – I was much more concerned with getting his acid reflux under control. His weight tends to fluctuate normally, but he’s never lost 4 pounds that easily in 1 week before. All these good-for-you fruits and veggies apparently are helping his waistline AND his esophagus.

As for the MOST IMPORTANT symptom that we’re hoping to help…his cough…I’m super excited to report that it HAS decreased in number per day and intensity!! When we started the elimination diet, he was on Prilosec twice per day. He’s down to 1 per day in the morning and we will take it to 1 every other day as of tomorrow.

Weaning these medications can actually cause even MORE acid production, so we have to take it slowly in order to let his body adjust. I’m hoping he’s completely weaned from the meds with no cough by the time we start to work foods back into the list.

I want to warn you that I’m not being AS strict as some lists out there. Since we’re doing this for acid reflux rather than a food allergy, I’m allowing some seeds and nuts (specifically chia and flax seeds and almonds) and some vinegars (apple cider and balsamic) as well as maple syrup. I’m also allowing green tea because – really – green tea is nothing but good for you!!! I know that some studies show that caffeine may cause reflux, but really, I just KNOW that no matter WHAT we do, my husband will never give up caffeine. So honestly, cutting the caffeine down to just green tea is practically like cutting it out 😉

Download this cute meal planner here

I’ve attached our meal plan for the week with the shopping list. Most meals take less than 30 minutes to cook (not the roasted chicken, obviously, but the leftovers are well worth it!) I’m hoping to make a meal planner involving less chicken next week because I think we’re both about chickened out this week. And I’m writing up some of my favorite recipes from the week – so stay tuned!

Measuring my Growth

Hello everyone! I’m so so SOOO terribly sorry that I’ve been absent from my blog for such a long stretch of time. I just recently started back to work in a new career (woohoo!) but that transition was tough. So I really had to take some time for myself to focus on my career and my future. Delving into a new job is always tiresome, as I’m sure everyone can relate to, and I really needed to focus my efforts in that direction. So I apologize to you all for being MIA!

But starting down this new path was such a relief. Having been so focused on treatment and healing and cancer this and cancer that…I relished the fact that I could take this other path and stray from the one that had been under my feet for so long. It’s nice to pretend to be normal, you know? I get up, go to work, have lots of things to keep me busy during the day and try to avoid thinking about the past.

Like all of this was a bad dream and that I never had cancer. “Mela-what? Not here!! No siree, absolutely no mela-whats-its in THIS neck of the woods!”

But the truth is that cancer has changed my life. No matter how hard I try to pretend like I’m the same ol’ me, I’m a completely different person. I’ve become much more introspective. I care more about people, and I care more than ever before about my patients, family, and friends. I know that every second I’m on this earth is a second to be cherished.

So mentally, I’m very different. But what about physically? Yes, I still have the scars, although I swear they’ve faded dramatically since I’ve been putting a special essential oil mix on them every day. And my leg still has lymphedema so I’m wearing a compression stocking daily. I’m flying a lot for work, and on travel days I wear 2 stockings…not super pleasant, but it sure is better than letting my leg swell up.

And I also have been VERY excited to notice something else that’s been changing.

 

Slowly, every so slooooooowly, my hair has been growing back in!

Look at all that new growth!

 

 

Can I get a HECK YEAH!!

I noticed all these little fuzzies (yes, I call them my fuzzies) when I was blow drying my hair a few weeks ago. I couldn’t get them to sit down – it looked like I had put my finger in an electrical socket. (I think the static electricity of the winter months made it worse, but even today they’re straight up!) And look at all those little baby fuzzies!! It looks like I have a whole new head of hair growing in!

All my new fuzzy buddies

Aren’t they the cutest??

So for all of you out there going through treatment – it gets better. What you’re going through is incredibly hard. I know some days I didn’t make it off the couch. When I had the energy to take a shower, my hair came out like I was molting. I lost so much weight that my husband got super worried and actually talked to the nurse about it.

But after treatment, it gets better. Just hang in there. Your body is an amazing thing. And you WILL heal. You may not ever be the same, but you will heal.

And that which does not kill us can only make us stronger.

Mindfulness in the Garden

When I moved back to New Hampshire after being diagnosed, I really wanted to change my lifestyle. I knew I needed to decrease my stress level (a proven primary cause of inflammation) and boost my immune system. Before the move to New England, I was living in Florida, with organic fruits and vegetables everywhere you looked.

But in New Hampshire? Not so much!

Growing up, we always had a garden and I used to LOVE LOVE LOVE eating tomatoes and beans and strawberries right off the vine. There is something so delicious and satisfying about growing your own food. Taking a seed, seeing it sprout, and nurturing it to flourish gives you a new perspective on life and what living really means.

I don’t always wear gloves. But when I do, I’m in my happy place.

So a greenhouse and three raised beds later, we have a garden! It has been such an awesome learning experience. My garden is my happy place and a great place for me to practice mindfulness meditation. Every moment I get a chance to play in the dirt is a moment well spent.

What the heck does gardening have to do with mindfulness? Everything! I’m a tactile/kinesthetic person, so getting my hands in the dirt is incredibly relaxing for me. Getting my hands in the ground is like becoming one with the earth. I don’t need to think about anything…I can just be.

I never see the garden as work. I see it as a place to relax. A place I can absorb the beauty around me from every angle. A place I can breathe.

My happy place
My happy place. And yes, those are tomatoes growing out the vents of the greenhouse!

My tomatoes don’t care that I’m not wearing makeup. My beets don’t judge me or cause any drama. It’s a place I can put my hair up and let it all go. I can be myself, flaws and all, and create a beautiful world to surround me.

My garden, just like life, is what I make it. The more effort I put in, the more it grows. And the more it grows, the more I grow…emotionally AND spiritually.

Plus I get to reward myself with strawberries 🙂

How do you practice mindfulness meditation? Let me know in the comments below!

Weight Bias in Healthcare

Healthcare is an amazing field. Every day is unique, filled with different people and exciting things. Some days are interesting and filled with stories to be told later over the dinner table. Others are sad, filled with tears that you hold inside until you reach your car, and then can’t help but let them roll down your face and weep. There are days where your heart goes out to your patients as though they were your own family. And others where you’re practically running out the door to get away from the craziness.

People in healthcare have these highs and lows daily, weekly, yearly. As we have more experiences, we gain the ability and intuition to read a situation quickly. We become immune to the mundane and weird and wacky things become the norm. We develop the ability to quickly judge a patient based on our experiences and, in some cases, we develop a biased approach. Some say with only 15-20 minutes per patient, we’re almost forced to pre-judge people in order to save time.

WAIT, what?! This is a HUGE problem! Healthcare providers should NEVER forget that people are people, and everyone is unique. We cannot let ourselves develop biased attitudes towards ANY group of people. Doesn’t everyone deserve quality care?

Well, according to research, overweight and obese patients bear the brunt of this bias. A recent article out from the New York Times suggests that doctors blame many health conditions on excess weight, even when weight is not the culprit of the problems. The article even gives examples where doctors did not investigate other causes for serious symptoms (such as sudden shortness of breath) due to the patient’s weight.

Graph showing world obesity rates by country.
World wide obesity rates by country.

The article goes on to explain that many specialized bariatric hospitals don’t have the necessary equipment to fully care for obese patients. Surgeons can refuse to do surgery on obese patients due to safety concerns and higher risk to the patient. Many hospitals and surgeons are reluctant to perform surgeries due to quality markers needed for reimbursement from state and federal agencies such as Medicare and Medicaid. Higher risk patients lead to more complications and lower quality scores, leading many hospitals to turn people away. But how can this be justified?? Again, doesn’t everyone deserve quality care?

Another article by Anesthesia LLC  shows that anesthesiologists are not immune to this same bias. In a survey by Medscape, 62% of emergency medicine physicians and 44% of anesthesiologists reported having biases towards certain groups of patients. These are physicians who are WILLING to admit they have biases! Think about how many more physicians who actually HAVE biases who aren’t willing to admit it!!

According to these articles, obese patients are less likely to trust their doctors due to fear of bias. They feel as though they are not being “fat-shamed” and treated unfairly, and studies show doctors are 35% less likely to treat obese patients with empathy and concern. How are you supposed to trust someone who doesn’t treat you like they actually care about your wellbeing?

Courtesy of DrLinda-MD.com
Courtesy of DrLinda-MD.com

Many doctors understand that obesity increases a person’s risk for other health concerns and increases the cost of healthcare. If this is your argument for a bias against obese patients, then you have it all wrong. You should be biased TOWARDS helping those who are overweight regain their health. Shouldn’t we, as providers, do MORE to help people regain their health and wellbeing? Let’s start by seeing the person inside the body. Let’s start by listening.

Let’s start by caring!!

Please…for your own wellbeing…find a provider who cares! There are lots of duds out there (I’ve definitely had a few of my own!) but there are also thousands of doctors who truly care about you and your health. If you don’t like your doctor, if you can’t tell them all your health concerns or feel as though your concerns are being brushed aside, please…keep looking. Find a provider you are comfortable with who treats you like family. Find a provider who listens. You are putting your health and your life into someone else’s hands…make sure you can trust them before you do so.

5 steps to getting more out of your doctor’s visit

Being a patient is hard for me, as I’m sure it is for many of you. Beyond battling a disease, we have to battle every hurdle possible with the healthcare system. Every office visit is a battle of stress and endurance. I hate it. I hate the stress. The waiting. Sitting on a piece of paper mostly naked. Feeling invisible when the physician is looking at the computer screen more than they look me in the eye. I hate the whole thing.

But I also know that I have an edge when it comes to being a patient. I have worked in healthcare (specifically the operating room) for my entire career. I know how the system works, and I know how to work the system. I know how to speak to doctors so that they listen, and when they listen, they tend to share more information. Over the years, I have gained plenty of insight into the role that communication plays between those being cared for and those providing care. And I want to share some of these insights with you so you have a leg up in your battles.

5 steps to getting more out of your doctor’s visit

Step 1. Do your homework!

Do you truly understand your illness? What stage are you? What treatment is available? What is your prognosis? What does the word ‘prognosis’ even MEAN?

When you are diagnosed with an illness or a disease, every office visit can be completely overwhelming. The poking and prodding, the scans, the anxiety, all the information jammed into a 15 minute discussion – it can easily be too much to handle. But you can help yourself TREMENDOUSLY by doing your own homework beforehand.

Why does this help? Think of every visit as a college exam. Better yet, think of every visit as a Major League Baseball game (Baseball is a serious weakness of mine. And I have no shame. Go Sox! 🙂 No MLB player goes into a game without studying up on the opposing team. Every player has an amazing amount of talent, but they don’t rely solely on their talent alone. They do their homework. They study the pitcher, the pitches, the team, the coach. They study previous games and know what strike zone the umpires like. They know what they need to focus on for every game BEFORE the game happens.

Great seats + watching my favorite team = AWESOME
Great seats + watching my favorite team = AWESOME

So study the opposing team. Research everything you possibly can about your illness. Make it your JOB to understand your health and every possible option you have in treatment. No, it’s not fun and your brain is going to hurt with all that information. But wouldn’t you rather do your homework (like the pros) and show up to the game ready to win? I know I would!!

Now, you might ask, “WHERE in the world do I start?” Well, keep reading!

1 – Basic research

First, make a list of the things you need to know. What is my illness? What is the prognosis? (Meaning, how does this diagnosis look long term). What are the treatments for my disease? What happens if I DON’T treat this disease? Any questions you may have, write them down. THEN start your research.

Almost all illnesses have a society or organization that provides information and public support. For cancer, for example, the American Cancer Society has a great site with lots of information. For diabetes, there is the American Diabetes Association. For heart disease, the American Heart Association. The list goes on. Always go to these sites first.

Take notes and if you don’t understand any words or language, look them up. Get familiar with the language these websites use and take notes. For example, high blood pressure and hypertension are the same disease, so begin to use these terms interchangably when talking with friends or family. When you get familiar with the medical terms, they don’t sound as scary. This comes in VERY handy if you are usually overwhelmed in a doctor’s office. If you familiarize yourself with the vocabulary, you can speak their language and have a better experience.

2 – Extend your search

Next, visit the other sites mentioned in the first website that pertain to you and your situation. Take MORE notes. If these websites mention other information sources, check THOSE out. And take more notes. Use the internet like the web it is – all sites lead you to other sites. Just make sure you can trust the websites you visit. Many hospitals and medical centers have their own websites and research into specific diseases which list other sources. And Wikipedia, for example, has gotten much better over the years at listing their sources. Visit those sources and, again, take notes. (Have I mentioned taking notes? You should definitely take notes!)

If you seem bogged down with all this research, then try and make it simple. If you have a diagnosis or a care team already, call them up and ask to speak to your doctor’s nurse or PA. Most of the time, your doctor’s support staff has access to a wealth of information (hand-outs, websites, and articles) that are specific to your condition and they also have more time to answer questions than the doctor. Let them know you are trying to educate yourself, and 100% of the time, they are happy to lead you in the right direction because 1) it makes THEIR life easier and 2) an educated patient is more likely to be compliant (meaning they actually follow their treatment plan and lead a healthier life). Just like a coaching staff, your healthcare team should guide you when you’re lost or need help. If your healthcare team makes it difficult to educate yourself, then it’s time to find a new team.

Love your nurses, people!
Love your nurses, people!

Any blog or discussion board website you visit, please take the information lightly as many of these sites can have subjective info. These are great places, however, to gain insight into different treatment plans and specific side effects. These are also great places to get the help and support you may need to mentally prepare for your treatment plan ahead. I have made many an internet friend who can understand the stress and frustration of treatment more than my “real life” friends. These people will help you through the tough times, and if you have cancer or a serious health condition, I highly suggest you become a part of these boards for mental support.

3 – Keep up-to-date on the info

If you have all (or most) of your questions answered, then you’re doing great! The more you understand, the better you will be at communicating with the doctor at your upcoming visit. If your research has opened up MORE questions than answers, then you need to dive into the nitty gritty and read the research. Try google scholar or pubmed to read free research articles pertaining to your health. There are literally thousands of articles for free on the Internet! Read to your heart’s content!

The treatment arena is CONSTANTLY changing in the field of healthcare. One day, your information is state-of-the-art, the next day there are 10 more treatments on the horizon. To easily navigate the newest research, set a google alert to send you emails with new articles as soon as they hit the Internet. Set as many (or as few) keywords you’re interested in, and Google does the hard work for you. You can even set the frequency of emails you receive. Gotta love the internets, right?

The more you know and understand about your health, the healthier you become. Do your research as preparation for the hurdles down the road. Just as Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” It’s hard, you WILL hit brain and information overload, and there will be some VERY confusing information out there, but the preparation is well worth having an easier time at the doctor’s office and throughout treatment.

Stay tuned for Step 2 of ‘Getting more out of your doctor’s visit’