… And Then Cancer Moves Up On My List Of Health Concerns (and why I’m ok with it)

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Two years ago I figured out that a severe gluten intolerance was the culprit of my ill health (as a side note, I’m still awaiting determination if it’s Celiac Disease). By strictly modifying my diet, my ill health improved drastically.

Just over a year ago I suffered a mental breakdown and began treatment for clinical depression. Again, huge results in my mental and physical health after I started on a low dose anti-depressant.

Now, Cancer is on the forefront of my list of health concerns that I need to keep an eye out for. Warning: This is a bit of a long story.

Remember the kids’ story “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day“? The particular day in question wasn’t quite as bad as that … but it was the start of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

I woke up the last Monday of March and it was just one of those days. It was one of those days where I just feel like all I want to do is sit down and cry and there was absolutely nothing that I could think of that had set it off. Once upon a time it was a regular occurrence. Now, it only happens from time to time. I’m not sure what exactly it is that spurs it on … it could be that my anti-depressants were taken too close together or too far apart. Perhaps it was related to my monthly cycle. Who knows what triggered it. I just knew that if I got up and carried on that it would likely pass at some point throughout the day and if not, my mood/state would be reset the following day after waking up after a long nights sleep.

Later on that day I had a message from my mom saying that my dad had went for an ultrasound and something had shown up. The next day, he returned for a CT scan and the results indicated that most likely one of the polyps in his stomach had turned cancerous.

This was not 100% entirely unexpected. My father has a condition called Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP). If left untreated, growths (called polyps) can form in the colon and turn cancerous over time. A regular colonoscopy can check for these growths and if present, they can be removed at that time. My father had his first polyp show up at the age of 40. By the time that he had turned 50 the number had multiplied so rapidly that there were hundreds of polyps in his large intestine – too many to “burn off”. As a preventative measure, he had all but a few inches of his large intestine removed. The following year polyps began forming in his stomach. And similarly, they multiplied to the hundreds. At first there were talks about removing his entire stomach, connecting his esophagus to his small intestine, a process referred to as a gastrectomy . But it would be such a huge impact to his body considering that there was only a few inches left to his large intestine, and in his particular case they expected him to be on a liquid diet and probably have to use a feeding tube. They decided to monitor at 6 month intervals with the intent that they would be able to do the surgery the minute (figuratively, that is) that the polyps started to turn. He was due to go back in a few weeks for his 6 month “inspection” but over the Fall he wasn’t feeling well, having a lot of pain, and that past week he was starting to get nauseated, in addition to the other new symptoms that he was experiencing. That’s when they put him on the fast track for the ultrasound and CT scan.

I ended up calling in to work that Wednesday and said that I wouldn’t be in. I had a lot to process.

My first thoughts were just getting him through his surgery and treatments. Then I started to think about what was to come next. I thought about how his life would be affected by no longer having a stomach (I suspect I inherited my ‘foodie’ personality from him). And then it occurred to me that if I ever do get my restaurant idea off of the ground, that my dad would not be able to enjoy the food that is prepared there. And it made me sad. My dad has always been super proud of my accomplishments and I would hate for him not to experience it in its entirety.

And then my thoughts started to shift from my dad … to my eventual fate.

I, like my dad, am gene positive for AFAP. I’ve known that I’ve had the condition since I was little, due to genetic testing. Screening for polyps started for me while I was still in high school. My dad didn’t get his first polyp until he was 40. By age 50, he had the majority of his large intestine removed. I had my first polyp at age 26. The next year I had my first polyp in my stomach. So I worry, if it progresses at the same rate as my father, will I be looking at the removal of my large intestine by age 36? Or, like with his stomach, could the polyps in my stomach multiple so quickly that I have to deal with cancer and/or have my stomach removed before I hit 40? It was a lot to take in.

Then I started to wonder “What if I get cancer and/or have my stomach removed? What happens to my restaurant dream then??”

This blog has been a component of that dream and I’ve been having so much fun doing it. My blog and dream restaurant is my passion right now. It’s what drives me.

It’s funny. That Monday morning when I woke (before any light had been shed on the extent of the worsening of my dad’s health), I had read an interesting post on Offbeat Home, “I caught that dream that I was chasing. Now what?“. I could relate to the post because: 1) the writer deals with “Imposter Syndrome” and 2) I’ve also been wondering that exact same question. Despite waking up that morning feeling bad from the start, this post was just what I needed to make my bad day feel a little brighter. I felt encouraged that morning to continue after my dream.

Despite reading that post and feeling better about my bad day, after receiving the news of my father’s predicament, it fast-tracked my future-fears of battling cancer myself. In addition to that, I started to worry about what would happen if I had to have my stomach removed. Would I even want to continue to develop this blog and/or my restaurant dream if I were unable to partake in the pleasures of food? Or, if I did achieve my dream restaurant, would I come to resent it??

Then I started to wonder “What if I can no longer enjoy food? Will I become a social hermit?”

I thought about how we love to entertain and its always based on food. True to Newfoundlander form, we’ve always been known for our “kitchen parties”. For this reason, our new home is being designed with our kitchen as our focal point of the house. It’s where we will spend the majority of our time. What if I start to despise those kitchen parties because I would feel out of place because I can’t enjoy dining with my friends?

My not-so-final thought: “Should I give up on my dream?”

This was a lot to digest for one day. I felt lost and I felt like I should give up on my dream rather than face the possibility of my dreams eventually being crushed. I had an overwhelming feeling of “what’s even the point?“.

Then I received an email response to a previous request to do a guest post on my blog. They said that they wanted to do a post on Celiac Disease and Depression, and that they had found my blog by doing a Google search. I think it was what I needed to snap me back out of the funk that I had found myself in. I started this blog as a means to help others through sharing my experiences. By labelling my blog “Food Allergies Etcetera”, the etcetera portion has allowed me to delve into the topic of mental health. And I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who have read my posts related to mental illness because they could truly identify with what I had experienced, and they found that they now had someone else who knew what they were personally experiencing. So what, if at some point I may not be able to enjoy food and share in foodie experiences. Perhaps this blog will morph into something else that is useful to others … perhaps it will serve as a connection point for others with AFAP/FAP, or perhaps it will be a vessel to share my future story of cancer prevention and/or survival.

On the first Friday of April (funny how April just happens to be cancer awareness month), my dad received confirmation that, since his last 6 month inspection, he had cancer in his stomach. His GI surgeon advised that he would not be doing  the gastrectomy at this time and that chemo was the better treatment option. A referral was made to see an oncologist, to discuss chemo. Things have moved very fast and it’s already been just under three weeks since he started treatment and he is doing well with it. Other than being fatigued, he’s not felt sick, has no pain, has stopped losing weight, has regained his appetite and is able to enjoy food just as he always has. And best of all, he still has a full head of thick hair that any 58 year old would be envious of 😉. Hopefully this is an indication of the effectiveness of the treatment!

It’s been a month since that horrible, no good, very bad day … but since then, I’ve stumbled across this article about a young woman in her 20s who decided to have a gastrectomy, and it was quite positive. I also found the No Stomach For Cancer website which has a lot of valuable information, including this overview of a Gastrectomy (You’ll find a lot of useful info related to life during and after a gastrectomy. Just hover over “Gastric Cancer” at the top menu, then hover over “Life Without a Stomach” and you’ll find 4 subpages). In addition to this, I was connected with someone (who I’ll be meeting in the coming weeks) who also decided to have a gastrectomy because she knew that stomach cancer was imminent (due to genetic markers) and she claims that the surgery saved her life (in addition to many other of members of her family). I think she will be a huge resource should I ever decide to go that route in the future. As a result, I’m starting to feel that although having a future Gastrectomy would be life altering, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

My final thought: “You know what? … this situation isn’t as bad as it sounds”

I know the information that I’ve laid out in this post is a bit much to take in … and it sounds like a sad story. But I’m not letting it manifest that way for me. I know our family can beat this. I had a bit of an epiphany moment and its really helped me to deal with the whole situation:

Everyone has their expiry dates. If my eventual fate was to be hit by a bus and killed in a months time, I’d have no idea … And would go on living as if I had years to accomplish what I want to accomplish in life, only to be cut short of those accomplishments. Now I get to live as though I don’t have all the time in the world, it will motivate me to be healthier, appreciate life more and make the best of it.

I wouldn’t come out and be as cocky to say “bring it on!” to cancer … but if it happens to me I’ll be ready for it. I live a relatively healthy life, and am consciously aware of my physical and mental states. I’ve learned over the years that I need to listen to my mental and physical needs. If something seems to be wrong, I’ll immediately arrange to have it checked out. Perhaps in the years to come I’ll be pro-active and have a partial or full gastrectomy, if it looks like it will reduce my risk of developing cancer. I’m upbeat and positive and have an amazingly huge support network in my life, including a fantastic local-gone-national Non-Profit Organization called Young Adult Cancer Canada. I’ve been supporting this group since I’ve discovered it in 2009 and take comfort in knowing the fantastic support that they give to young adults dealing with cancer. I’m not in despair by the recent series of events … I am motivated and I am ready for whatever life has to dish out to me! 🙂

Have you, or someone close to you, had a gastrectomy, been affected by stomach/colorectal cancer, or are a cancer survivor? If so, care to share any advice?

Thanks for reading. As you may or may not have noticed, I recently took a short hiatus from blogging. I have a feeling that for the time being I might continue with this break or at least not blog as actively … although there is potential for some guest posts to pop up from time to time.

Also, positive thoughts are appreciated for our family at this time.

xo

Krista

How To Add More Passion Into Your Life, Today!

Hot off the press: How To Add More Passion Into Your Life, Today!.

This is a great blog post from Around & About with NLOWE. You may be wondering what this has to do with Food Allergies …. ? Well, nothing actually. Mental health and wellbeing is an important topic to me and I thought this was a great post on finding more passion in your life. For me personally, exploring my passion in life is one of the key factors that has allowed me to regain control of my emotions and thoughts … it’s helped me to become more mentally fit. And most importantly, happy.

I added the term et cetera to the title of my blog so that it wouldn’t just restrict me to food allergies and dietary restrictions, so that I could explore other topics and share my life experiences and what I’ve learned along the way. Sneaky, huh? If you want to understand a little better about what my hopes and goals are for this blog, you can find various posts under the “Origins” category which will help paint a better picture.

If you feel like your life has been lacking passion lately, check out the above blog post link 🙂

Gluten-Free Ginger”dead” Men + Fraggle Rock Shenanigans …

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If you’re either bit quirky, like me, chances are you also love and have a small collection of Fred products. When I stumbled upon this Fred item (while visiting Toronto for the Gluten-Free Expo and to see one of my BFFs, Jenny), I thought that it would be the perfect present for my friend, Ryan, who is born on Halloween and who throws one kick-ass Halloween party every year for his birthday…. and not only was I right, I now want one for myself 😉

Speaking of that Gluten-Free Expo … you may recall the recent blog post that I did about it. One of the delicious products that I sampled, purchased and brought back with me was 1-2-3 Gluten Free’s Chewy Chipless Scrumdelicious Cookie Mix. I’ve been holding off on using the mix for just the right time, and with Ryan’s birthday just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to not only give him the awesome cookie cutter-stamper for his birthday, but to also use it to make delicious (gluten-free) cookies to bring to his party (so that I’d know that there would be at least one thing at the party that would be safe for me to eat)!

I thought it was only appropriate to use the mix to make the Gingerbread Cookies recipe that was listed on the inside of the box (and available on the 1-2-3 Gluten Free website) …. although there are 6 different recipes available on the inside of the box (which includes one egg-free version).

It doesn’t hurt if he’s already dead, right? …

I found that it was best to roll the dough thick, cut the men out first, transfer to your baking sheet and then stamp …. otherwise, you’d end up with the poor soul in the above photo. The recipe suggested that you use a rolling pin on top of the plastic wrap but I found that my rolling pin would move the wrap around and leave indentations so I just smoothed out the dough by running my hand on top of the plastic wrap.

I also failed to heed the suggestion of spacing the cookies at least 2″ apart … As a result, the men sandwiched together and cracked when they didn’t have anymore room to expand. They didn’t look as good as I had hoped, but at least this way i didn’t have to be as particular when filling in their bones with royal icing …. which was a big time saver considering that I still had to finish off my Halloween costume for Ryan’s party (which was taking place the following evening).

I sampled one cookie that evening and it was delicious! I couldn’t wait until the next evening to have another. I think the cookies went over well with the “regular people” at the party and I bet that they had no idea that they were gluten-free. Ryan texted me the day after the party and said that they were amazing even a day later 🙂

And now on to the costumes (i.e. the Fraggle Rock Shenanigans)!

Ryan was a good friend from university and although we still live nearby, we don’t see/hang-out as much as we use to. With that said, we do tend to make a huge effort to make up for this at Halloween (i.e. his birthday) and we all put a LOT of effort into our costumes. A few of us who are more craftily inclined tend to partner up to work on group costumes. One year my friend Susanne and I went as Mickey & Minnie Mouse, another year as The Blue Man Group (in company with my Guy), not to mention Papa Smurf & Smurfette. Last year Susanne’s boyfriend Jon joined us when she went as Darkwing Duck, I went as Darkwing’s girlfriend Morgana McCawber and he went as LaunchPad McQuack. This year Susanne decided that she was going to be Red from Fraggle Rock and she suggested that I should be Mokey because she felt that I fit the part 🙂

Susanne is beyond resourceful every year when she plans out her costume. This year she found a template for a Muppet puppet and had the template enlarged so that it would fit our heads. Once the template was sorted, it was just a matter of finding all of the right materials.

This was the inspiration photo that I used when gathering items for the costume. The pink material in the second photo above was material that I actually picked up while in Toronto for the Gluten-Free Expo. The top right photo is of the template for one half of the Muppet head and I also included a close-up of the 4″ foam … as I beg to differ on the “Easily cut” statement 😉

I’m fairly certain that my dog, Jax, was convinced that the material that I had picked up was a mat. On three separate occasions when I had my back turned, upon turning around I found him perched on the material. Perhaps I’ll use the leftovers to make him a dog bed 😛

I was surprised to find that the material was incredible heavy. So heavy … that when I cut the small hole in it for my head, I discovered that it had stretched and was hanging too far out on my shoulders. I had to sew in a drawstring in the back to pull it together to close it up somewhat. And once I cut off the “sleeves” it was like I had a ton weight lifted from my shoulders. It was so incredibly heavy. I found the perfect sweater at Sears (that was actually on sale) and it even had two pockets in the front in a similar fashion to Mokey’s sweater.

Next was the hard bit … the foam cutting! Actually, it wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was trying to slice the 4” foam down to 1” but I’ll get to that in just a sec. I pinned down the pattern to the foam and did the outline in permanent marker. Sus had said how difficult it was to trim down the foam using a bread knife so I thought to myself – “I have an electric knife that’s been in my cupboard for (most likely) about 10 years … perhaps I’ll try that to see how it works”. The ironic thing was that it was just a few weeks before that I had been looking through my cupboard and I thought, “I haven’t used that thing in years. I should donate it to good will.

I’m glad that I didn’t because the thing worked like a charm! And the funny thing was that it was the first time it was used, it was used to carve out 4” foam for a Halloween costume … I know this for certain because when I took it out of the box, it still had the plastic protector on the plug and a twist-tie still around the cord. Yep, hadn’t been used since it was purchased!

Ok. Next was the really hard part! Trimming four inches down to one. I decided that because the pattern was for half of the head, and I’d need to carve out a second shape for the other side, that I’d use the top and bottom of the piece that I cut out so that I would minimize the amount of foam needed and would have a smooth edge for each half of the head. I marked out the perimeter and connected the dots to make a solid line and then started cutting with the knife. It was surprisingly easier than expected, but I started to notice that little particles of foam were flying everywhere. Having a HUGE eye phobia (called Ommetaphobia – these 3 clips from Friends pretty much sum me up: 1 2 3), and being terrified of getting the foam particles in my eyes, I decided to put on my safety glasses …. Only to realize that they were at the office. Remembering that my Guy sometimes goes to the dockyards when they have chartered vessels come in, the following conversation occurred:

Me: “Rob, do you have any Safety Glasses here??”

Rob: “(short pause) … I have onion goggles ….”

Me: “(short pause) … That’ll do”

And with that, I put them on, and got cracking ….. errr, I mean slicing.

The next part was time consuming but it really helped define the shape – sewing the foam to form the head. Sus had used a glue gun to glue hers together but she said that you had to hold it for a long time to get the glue to bond well. I have been used to sewing most of my costumes in the past so I decided to sew my head together. I held it all in place with A LOT of safety pins. Then I sewed … and sewed and sewed … until finally it looked like the head that you see in the photo. I then cut out some pink fleece material that I had picked up from Fabricville and also sewed that to the head. I couldn’t wait to get the eyes on it because at this point it looked like I was making a pink Barney costume :S

I was really pleased with how the eyes turned out – they really made the costume come to life.

I had found 3 different shades of wool to use for the hair and it was a different type of yarn that is really stringy so it really gave it the look I was looking for. I randomly made multiple stands of the different colours and tied them in a knot at the middle to make a section, which I glued to the head with a glue gun. It didn’t take long to fill out the hair.

The next task was to cover the inside of the mouth with red. I made a flap with red felt on the bottom lip and attached a red sheer material to the top so that it was see-through for me, but difficult for people to see my face inside the head. I then used Velcro to secure the felt to the sheer material and this was used as an opening for when I wanted to eat or if I got too warm. …. Which I did. When the head was off, you could put your hand in the head and just feel the heat come off of it. But it was worth it 🙂

Susanne’s boyfriend, Jon, decided to join in on our costumes again this year and he went with us as Marjory the Trash Heap. Everyone got a kick out of us and the highlight of the night was when Ryan downloaded the Fraggle Rock Theme Song and the 3 of us danced our hearts out to it. I have no idea how we will top these costumes off next year! 🙂

Oh, and the easy-access hatch that I made came in handy …. especially for eating the gluten-free Gingerdead Men (I bet you didn’t notice Mokey stuffing her face in the right-hand photo above)!

Halloween truly is one of my most favourite times of the year! Happy Birthday Ryan!! 🙂

Cheers!

Krista.

How Our Wedding Indirectly Inspired Food Allergies Etcetera

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In a nutshell:

Wedding. Depression. Medical Leave (for said Depression). A Restaurant Idea. A trip to Winners. An online Business Plan Course. A Blog.

So exactly how are all of these related, you may ask?

Up until we got engaged, I dreaded the thought of getting married – I would shutter at the thought of a traditional wedding. I like being unique and true to myself ….. a real roadblock when it comes to a traditional event. Once I realized that I was ready to get married, I decided that I would plan the wedding just the way that we wanted it: relaxed, fun, bright and colourful – and just as much about showing others a good time as having a good time ourselves.

I had so much fun planning our wedding. And the day turned out perfect! It truly was an awesome day, not only for us, but for everyone who attended. It was so awesome in fact, that OffbeatBride.com did a feature on our wedding story. Please read our story here so that you get a bit of the background story of how our wedding led to Food Allergies Etcetera. As you would have come to learn from the “What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?” section, it was after our wedding that I realized that I need to be more creative and be able to work on something that I’m truly passionate about. At the time I realized that my current job wasn’t igniting a passion in me like I had come to realize that I needed. For a while I felt quite lost…. To the point that I stooped into a deep depression. Realizing that I had a very comfortable life, a well paid job with security, and the fact that I wasn’t satisfied with it made me feel like I was being a spoiled brat who couldn’t be grateful for what was placed in front of me. And these negative, self-defeating thoughts (which were fueled by the depression) only caused me to sink even further into depression. It was a very nasty cycle. But a secretive one at that. There were few who I had let in on my dark little disease, until it got so bad that I had a severe enough mental breakdown to make me not mentally or physically fit enough to continue working (I’d had many mini-breakdowns almost annually for the past several years, but none were of this severity). My doctor had written me off on medical leave for a month. I hadn’t dreamed that I would have lasted for two full months.

While I was on sick leave my doctor had started me on a mild anti-depressant. I had no idea what I was in for in that first month. I knew there would be side-effects but didn’t realize that I would have zero energy during the day while unable to sleep at night. Sleeping was one of those things that I said that I did best. Now, all of a sudden I wasn’t even good at that anymore. But I was told that I would feel worse before I felt better while waiting for my body to adjust to the meds. In the beginning I could barely pull myself from the couch I felt so bad. I’d spend my days alternating between playing iPhone games, scanning through Facebook, and imagining a restaurant where I could go to eat that catered to people with food allergies so that I didn’t have to worry about getting sick. What a wonderful place that would be! If only it existed 😦

Once I hit the 1month mark, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor. I figured she was going to suggest that I was well enough to return to work (I was starting to adjust to the medication, after all). To my surprise, she said that I was only just starting to adjust to my meds and that it’s not until week 7, 8 or even 9 before I could expect to feel the full effect of the medication. I walked in feeling a bit stressed about the idea of returning to work, but walked out more relaxed because I knew I still had more time to adjust to my medication, as well as focus on some self-awareness/self-help reading. One of the books that I read while I was off was “Be Your Own Life Coach” by Jeff Archer. I found this book to be very helpful.

One day when I was feeling a bit better I decided to take trip to the mall to do some errands. I decided to pop into Winners to check out (what I jokingly call) the “Freaky People” aisle (the one with all the Gluten-Free, natural/organic products). Once I was in the store and was on my way to my aisle, I happened to walk past the kitchenware section. My eye caught a glimpse of a “Happy Blue” metal stacked dessert stand and I thought “That would look fantastic in a restaurant ….. I should buy that”

…… I could swear that I heard a record needle fall off of it’s record at that exact moment. I didn’t have a restaurant!! What was I thiking?!?

It was like I had an epiphany. That idea that I was dreaming up in my head for that restaurant that I was dying for to open, the one that catered to people with food allergies – maybe this was my sign that I was meant to be that person to open it! And with that, I found my passion. My drive. I couldn’t stop talking about my idea. And people were starting to notice how excited about it I was. My hair stylist once commented to me, after going on and on about it for a half hour, that “I haven’t seen you this excited since you were planning your wedding. And your eyes light up the same way when you talk about it!” Her comment not only made me smile, it also made me feel warm and tingly on the inside …. Like a sign that this is the direction that I am supposed to move in. When I think of my future restaurant, I see a world of colour and happiness. And content. 🙂

So, knowing that I couldn’t just jump into the restaurant business, I decided to take my leave from work to complete an online course on writing a successful business plan. And also to learn what dietary restrictions local people have and the challenges that they are faced with when trying to eat out – ergo, the Food Allergies Etcetera blog. 🙂

At the end of the 2 month leave, I returned to work on an ease-back period. My responsibilities were altered after it was realized that it was the area of work that I was previously doing that was causing such a personality clash for me. I could do the line of work, but it was such a stretch for my personality and natural line of thought that it was draining the life out of me. I was so good at hiding what I was going through that no one at my place of work had the slightest idea of how much I was suffering, mentally. After my leave I was honest with them and they were able to modify my scope so that I was working on projects that came more naturally to me. As a result, I’m back to working full time and enjoying it, but I’m still working on my blog in my spare time. Eventually, I hope to develop my restaurant idea, find someone to manage it for me, and put my plan in motion. Until then, I’m going to continue blogging and help those around the city find places that give them delicious options, despite having dietary restrictions. And I’ll continue to dream up colourful ideas for my restaurant, “Etcetera”! 🙂

Copyright: Charla Maarschalk – Charla.ca