Surgery Update

It has been 6 days since my neck dissection-originally my surgeon thought he would be removing just the cancerous node and one muscle from my neck. During surgery he discovered the cancerous node was wedged between two muscles (don’t ask me their names). He removed both muscles, the node, and a large nerve (again-don’t ask me the name).  In addition, one of the muscles removed had a lot of scar tissue between it and the jugular vein, so my surgeon removed it.

I had no idea a person could live without a jugular vein-my surgeon said it’s absolutely no big deal, our bodies adjust.

Only part of the pathology report is finished, but it looks good. The cancerous node shows no signs of the cancer spreading. Clear margins, as they say. It should be another week before the full and final report is finished.

Fortunately, I have not been in a lot of pain. I’m very sore and stiff, but not much pain. I came home with some antibiotics but no new pain medication. I still have a full bottle of pain meds from radiation so I declined a new one. Recovery has been fairly easy, at least compared to the last surgery. The last one involved removing a small part of my tongue, so it was swollen larger than my mouth for a few days making eating and drinking extremely difficult. This time around my mouth was untouched. I was able to drink and eat right after I was out of the anesthesia fog. It’s amazing the difference food and water make during a recovery.

Because a large nerve was removed, my left arm has some limited range of motion and strength. My arm is functional but it’s very difficult to lift my arm at all. I can start physical therapy in another week or two to re-train my muscles.

I also have a bit more swelling in my neck this time around. Because the jugular vein was removed, the other veins in my neck are being used more than usual, causing some swelling. It’s nothing major and has been slowly going down. I’m mostly noticing the swelling in my left eye-I suddenly have a very heavy upper eyelid. I can see normally, but it feels like my eye is always half closed.

This will sound pretty obvious-but it really feels like I’m missing part of my neck. Unless I’m really focusing on it, I’m leaning more to the left than before. I really notice it when I need to cough, swallow, or talk. I literally can’t cough. I can only make a really awful old-man-like throat clearing sound. I can’t speak above a loud whisper, and I need to really focus on swallowing to avoid everything going down the wrong way. My surgeon said it should improve, especially as the swelling goes down. I’m giving it another week to improve. If it doesn’t I think I’ll make an appointment with my speech/swallow therapist.  Yes, those exist.

Another major difference for this surgery is the fact that I have my medical marijuana card. I hadn’t even started the paperwork for my last surgery. And sadly, the process where I live takes so long I didn’t even have the card until the day after I finished radiation.

I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding medical marijuana, but I have had a very positive experience with it. It’s not for everyone, I understand.

I relied heavily on an opioid pain medication after my last surgery and during radiation. I took it for roughly 2.5 months. It was horrible on my stomach and I definitely felt my body needing higher doses to feel the effect. This time I made sure to visit my dispensary before the surgery. My oncologist wants me to stay away from smoking, as smoking anything can increase risk of oral and throat cancers. Thankfully there are tons of options for me.

I have fallen in love with an infused lotion. It was the first thing I bought when I got my card and I felt it working within minutes. I have been rubbing it on my neck every night and it really helps loosen the muscles. This week I have been re-applying every few hours on my neck and my left shoulder and I definitely notice if I forget.

The other [product I’ve been using is a highly concentrated oil. It is mostly CBD oil-the non-psychoactive oil that reduces pain and inflammation and a small amount of THC oil-the form that simply makes you a bit drowsy. I just add it to a small cup of coffee and drink it, it tastes awful so the coffee hides the taste! My favorite part of this oil is that a full dose is only the size of a grain of rice and it lasts up to 12 hours. It is the only reason I have slept through the night the past few days. It noticeably removes the soreness from my neck and relaxes me enough to make me not think about it.

Aside from reducing my pain and swelling, the oil has made me hungry! The opioid pain medication I was using caused so much nausea and stomach pain that I never wanted to eat. I lost a lot of weight and let’s face it-food makes everything easier. This time I have been eating every few hours. I had every intention of taking pictures and writing about what I was eating post-surgery, but I have been in such a fog. Just the fact that I could get my own food felt like an accomplishment.

Thankfully I can remember everything I’ve been eating. My husband made a big batch of mixed lentils and cooked bulgur. He’s been adding lots of sautéed veggies-peppers, tomatoes, spinach, kale, etc.. and adding a quick tahini-olive oil dressing. He also made me a big batch of oatmeal-quinoa porridge and I’ve been adding bananas, strawberries, and peanut butter every morning. I’ve also been chowing down on pasta with marinara, garlic bread, bean quesadillas, fruit and kale smoothies, and applesauce. Some family brought over some delicious and sugar-free banana bread and strawberry shortcake. I’ve pretty much eaten them all by myself. I think it’ll take me a few more weeks to get back into cooking mode. But now that I’m more out of the surgery fog, I’ll be able to take photos of what I am eating.

 

Tonight I have an appointment with my oncologist, I’m guessing to talk about the next steps. I’ll keep you updated as I get new information. Thank you all for your support and kind thoughts 🙂

 

 

 

 

Oh, Cancer

Last week I got good and bad news on the cancer front-

Good news: my current team of doctors only want to do surgery this time around and no treatment. 

Bad news: surgery only because they believe my cancer is resistant to radiation. What does this mean? Well, that throwing more radiation at it is pointless. And it turns out chemo is not effective on it’s own for my type of cancer. Very bad news. 

The worst news: because it is radiation resistant, because I have no known cause, because I am so young, they have no one to compare me to. That means they can’t tell me my chances of recurrence again in the future. 

More good news: my medical oncologist trained under an oncologist that is leading research in re-radiation therapy (radiation on an already radiated cancer) After pathology comes back from surgery I will be heading to see him for a second opinion. 

Is it weird that I really want treatment to happen? Surgery alone feels incomplete to me. Like, really? It wasn’t enough last time-how is it enough this time?? 

 Surgery this time will be a bit easier though. My scans all show the cancer is only in my neck so my tongue will be left alone! This means I can EAT after surgery! However, in addition to the cancerous lymph node, they are also removing a chunk of muscle and a section of nerves from my neck. I’ll have fairly good range of motion with my neck and arm, but I will have weight restrictions for a bit longer this time and my shoulder will be really sore. I’ll start physical therapy a few weeks after surgery to get my strength back.

Because of all this new information I decided it would be best for me to quit my (just started 6 weeks ago) job and find something that I can do from home. With the complete uncertainty of possible treatments this time around and no idea of my chance of recurrence-I need something in can do throughout all of it. This will mean I can still earn an income (cancer is expensive in the U.S., guys) and get to my doctors appointments. Some friends have recommended looking into transcription work and virtual assistant jobs as they tend to be fairly flexible. 

Honestly, I’m looking forward to working at home. I miss being home all day. I loved being at home with my animals and getting to stay in comfy clothes all day long. More importantly though, I forgot how much I hate commuting!

Also, I’ll have more cooking time! Good thing since all of my doctors have ordered me to put on as much weight as I can in case I go through treatment again. Stay tuned for everything I eat post-surgery. Lots of stews, smoothies, and snacks! 

I’m buying a lot of kale, frozen fruit, and beans this weekend to prepare you guys. And I mean, a lot!

When cancer comes back…

You’ve been told your chance of recurrence is very low. They really did get all of it. Yes, you’re definitely cancer free. For just 4 months. And then it’s back. 

I was at one of my normal visits to the oncologist and he felt a lump in my neck. The same side as last time. He examined my mouth but found nothing. Off he sent me to my surgeon for a biopsy. Four days later…cancer again. Well, fuck. 

I meet with my team of doctors to this week to talk about surgery and treatment options. They’re going to be referring me to a team at a local university who is doing work on second rounds of radiation for head and neck cancer patients-evidently it’s extremely risky to do radiation again in the same area and they’ve found a way to reduce the risk. On top of re-radiation I’ll be having chemotherapy. 

I’ll be completely honest here: I was sobbing when my oncologist called me. I fell apart. I felt like I was going to die in that exact moment. But I’ve had a week now to process and try to find the positives:

  • Radiation will not be on my tongue this time. Eating will be possible!
  • Many people have told me when their hair grew back after chemo their hair was curler than before (mine has gotten more wavy than curly over time and I miss the curls)
  • Lots of awesome binge-worthy shows are coming out right around my surgery. I’ll be home with plenty of time to watch. 
  • I’ll have more time to finish knitting the blanket I started last time.
  • My cats and dog will be with me all day again. 
  • I have mastered knitting hats. I will need many!
  • It’s almost summer and I won’t need to shave at all.

I did it once and I know I can do it again. It’ll suck just like last time, but I’ll do it. 

Sugar-free Berry Jam

When I found out I had to cut sugar from my diet because of tongue cancer, many foods were suddenly off limits. To distract myself from the stress and anxiety I experienced during treatment, I researched sugar free alternatives for my long list of foods I could no longer eat. 

I never really ate or bought jam. But what if I wanted some? What if I suddenly had a recipe that called for jam or wanted a pb&j? I was really fixated on finding a sugar free jam. (Cancer does weird things to a person) All jam I’ve seen (homemade and store bought) has sugar or artificial sweeteners. Neither would work for me. 

In came the wonders of the internet and chia seed jams. I looked over dozens of recipes and they all required some kind of sweetener-sugar, maple syrup, agave, or stevia, etc. Of course stevia is sugar free, but it leaves me with an awful after taste. 

I decided to make up my own just using fruit and chia seeds-what was the worst that could happen? (Nothing, nothing happened except delicious jam 😀)

To make this you need any kind of fruit (maybe not banana)-frozen, fresh, mixed, you get the idea. Today I made one of my favorites, mixed berry using frozen raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. I used a 12 oz bag but feel free to make more or less. 

I put the berries in a small sauce pan on medium heat and stir (about 5-7 minutes) until they look like this:

Now you can turn off the heat. This part is totally optional: I put the berries in a blender so the jam isn’t too seedy. If you have an immersion blender that would work even better. But I’ve also skipped this part depending in the fruit.

After blending, put the berries back in the saucepan. Now just mix in the chia seeds. For 12 oz of berries I used about 2 tbsp of chia seeds. It should look something like this:

Pour the jam back in the pan and cover with a lid. Let the jam sit for about 1 hour. After the hour passes the jam should be thick and goopy. If you want it thicker, add a tbsp more of chia seeds, mix, and wait 10 more minutes to thicken.  It will look like this:


This will keep in the fridge for a week or so. I plan on using this to stir in my breakfast porridge this week. It’s also great on toast and in a pb&j. 
Enjoy!

Breakfast 4/18

It finally happened-after eating my quinoa-oatmeal porridge for a month straight (even weekends) I got sick of it. I started craving something savory for breakfast instead. On weekends if I’m craving savory, I’ll make some kind of tofu scramble with veggies and sometimes beans. But on work mornings I have neither the time or energy to make a scramble. In comes the breakfast sandwich. 

I used a marinaded tempeh recipe from Oh She Glows.  It included balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, fresh minced garlic, maple syrup (I had to skip) and a bit of water. I sliced a block of tempeh in 6 pieces and marinaded them for a few hours on Sunday. Sunday evening I fried them with a little oil so they would only need to be reheated in the mornings.

In the morning, I tossed an Ezekiel English muffin (only ones I’ve found that are sugar free!) in the toaster oven while I reheated the tempeh in a pan along with a bit of spinach. I sliced a tomato and then put it all together. Had the avocados been ripe at the store I would have put a few slices on as well….maybe in a few days!

In addition to my breakfast sandwich I made a smoothie. I found a new mixture of frozen fruit in was excited to try-mangoes, blueberries, cherries, and currants. I also tossed in some kale, spinach, flax seeds, and water. Everything was really tasty! 

And of course there was coffee and a kitty 🙂 

Farro bowl with mushrooms, spinach, and tofu

My husband was in charge of dinner last night and he decided he wanted to use the new Vegan For Everybody cookbook he got me last week. He’s not really one to cook but he was really determined to cook something for dinner other than pasta and a pre-made sauce. He picked something that looked somewhat easy and it turned out fantastic! I did help him out by cooking the farro the night before-which I think I may do more often as it really saved time and stove space. This dish looks really simple but it is packed with flavor and interesting textures. It was so good I packed the leftovers for lunch the next day!

Bowl Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups whole farro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sherry vinegar (We only had red wine vinegar and it worked great!)
  • 14 oz firm tofu sliced crosswise into 8 equal slices(We used extra-firm since it was on sale)
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 10 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tbsp. dry sherry (we skipped this-we never use sherry and didn’t want to waste it)
  • 10 oz baby spinach
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin (We forgot to buy scallions but I think they would have been great added on)

Sauce Ingredients (Simply whisk all together in a bowl or mug)

  • 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp red miso (we used white miso because we already had some)
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1.5 tsp sherry vinegar (we used red wine vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp. grated fresh ginger

What to do:

  1. Cook the farro- they recommend pouring it into 4 quarts boiling water and letting it boil for 15-30 min. If you’re used to cooking it in the boil then simmer method-go for that. Once it is cooked stir in the sesame oil and vinegar. Cover it up to keep it warm.  (I cooked the farro the night before and just drizzled a bit of sesame oil and vinegar in each bowl after i warmed it up-I wanted to reserve more farro for other meals in the week!)
  2. While the farro is cooking, spread the tofu on a baking sheet lined with clean tea towels or paper towels. Let it drain for 20 minutes. Gently press it dry with another clean tea towel and season with salt and pepper.
  3. While the farro is cooking and tofu is drying, heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, and 1/8 tsp. salt and cook until they brown. If using sherry, stir in now and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. (We used a bit of water) Cook for 1 more minute and put mixture into a bowl.
  4. Spread the cornstarch in a shallow dish and evenly coat each slice of tofu. Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil on medium-high heat in the same skillet you cooked the mushrooms. Add the tofu and cook until both sides are crisp, about 4 minutes per side. Add more oil if the pan becomes dry. (We had to add about 2 more tbsp of oil) Transfer the tofu to a plate.
  5. Add 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil to the same skillet. Stir in the spinach and steam over medium heat. Once the spinach is wilted you are ready to serve and eat!
  6. Serve with a generous amount of sauce and sliced scallions.

 I promise the farro is in there somewhere!

Breakfast on 4/11

This past Sunday I made another big pot of porridge to last me the week for breakfasts. This time I made it with equal parts quinoa, millet, and oatmeal. I cooked it with a half soy milk and half water. I also added in some vanilla extract, 2 tbsp of chia seeds and 1 tbsp of flax seeds.

For this morning I added a sliced banana, a few sliced strawberries, and a spoonful of peanut butter. This porridge is still keeping me full for hours! Hopefully I don’t get sick of it anytime soon!

20170411_063024~2-2

A New Cookbook

For those of you who live in the U.S. and know of Americas Test Kitchen-they have a new vegan cookbook- Vegan For Everybody”   My husband bought it for me this week and was very excited for me to look through and start trying the recipes. 

For those of you not in the U.S and have never heard of America’s Test Kitchen, they are a cooking show in which the chefs try countless variations of recipes until finding the absolute perfect one. I constantly hear non-vegans talking about their recipes and how absolutely amazing they are. I have watched a few episode (ones that seemed like they would be less meat centered) and I always wished they would start including vegan dishes. I haven’t had live t.v. in many years so I can’t say whether or not they have started featuring vegan recipes on the show-but I’m delighted they have created an entire cookbook full of vegan food.

Normally when I buy cookbooks I want to support vegan authors and vegan chefs. We are still a minority in the world and I think it is very important for vegans to support other vegans and vegan businesses. I knew “Vegan For Everybody”   was coming out but I didn’t consider buying it. After my husband bought it for me I got to thinking. Yes-we need to support vegan authors and businesses. But, the fact that America’s Test Kitchen (truly one of the most trusted cooking shows in America) is recognizing that vegan food is so delicious and versatile that they are willing to write an entire cookbook about it-I want to support the book! 

I’m excited about how many more people might be willing to try vegan cooking. It’s frustrating for me to say, but I feel like this might validate vegan food for people who are resistant and unwilling to think of vegan food as edible. I really love the last sentence on the back of the book:  

These aren’t just vegan recipes-they’re dishes everyone will get excited about. 

I feel like I frequently need to remind people that vegan food is just food-and everyone can eat it. That’s why I’m so excited that a mainstream, non-vegan cooking show is standing up to highlight this concept. 

As soon as I get a chance to cook something from the book I will definitely share my thoughts and photos. 

Fast and Filling Breakfast

After 7 long months of treatment and recovery for tongue cancer I am finally back to work! I was ready in February but unfortunately for me my previous employer (who told me my job would be there when I was ready to come back) informed me my once full time position was now only part time-as in less than 20 hours a week. Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. So, I had to find a new job and I finally did! I’m really excited to get back to work. I told my husband last night that although I’ve been cancer free for 3 months, only now that I have a job again do I feel like cancer is “over”. 

But this also means I can no longer hang out all morning and eat breakfast whenever I feel like it. I also need to make sure breakfast is fast and will keep me full for several hours! Because I have to brush my teeth after every meal, snacking has become rather annoying. It’s no longer quickly shoveling some food in my mouth and getting back to work-nope, it means eat faster and go find a bathroom to brush my teeth. Not worth it sometimes. 

I know that oatmeal is a popular go to breakfast for many people. It’s cheap, delicious, fast, healthy, and can be made in tons of different flavor combinations. But, whenever I eat oatmeal I’m starving within an hour. No matter how much oatmeal or what I mix in, it just does not fill me up.

I started experimenting with quinoa porridge about a month ago. Not only is it delicious, but it has kept me full for about 5 hours (yes, I timed it). Even better, I can cook a giant batch on Sunday evening and it keeps in the fridge all week! You can make this as a sweet or savory dish-whatever you crave in the morning.

And for the record, at work this kept me full for 7 hours before I had a chance to eat lunch.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 3.5-4 cups water (you can also sub 1-2 cups for your favorite milk or broth)
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal (I used quick-cook)
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • Optional add-ins: vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder-you get the idea. 
  • Topping ideas: fruit (fresh or frozen) avocado, maple syrup, hummus, seeds, chopped nuts, nut butters, etc..

    How to make it:

    • Combine the quinoa, water, (and milk or broth if using) and the add-ins of your choice.
    • If using regular oatmeal (not quick-cooking) add in now.
    • Bring to a boil and simmer covered on low heat for 15 minutes. 
    • Turn off the heat.
    • If using quick-cook oats, add now. Also add in the chia seeds. Mix everything together. If the mixture seems dry add a bit of water, milk, or broth (you choose)
    • Cover the pot and let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes. 
    • You’ll know it’s ready when the chia seeds have absorbed the liquid. 
    • Serve now with toppings or store in a container in the fridge. 
    • For breakfast microwave and add all your favorite toppings. 

      This week I added in vanilla and cinnamon while cooking. I mixed in a chopped banana and a big spoonful of peanut butter.


      I also made a smoothie made with frozen mangoes, strawberries, 4 kale leaves, water, and flax seeds. I’ve been making smoothies with lots of kale for the past few weeks and have noticed a slight boost in energy. I’ll let you know after 2 weeks of working again if it’s still giving me an energy boost 😉

      Big Bill’s Nachos

      I have to give my father-in-law a lot of credit. To paint a picture for you-he was a college football player, first generation American-Swede, and a third generation carpenter. He is tough as nails and as his nickname suggests, he’s a big guy. He always jokes that since he has pure Viking blood, he has to be big and tough. He is exactly what you imagine a “meat and potatoes” guy to look like.

       He also loves to cook. Now that he is retired he cooks all week long. He watches cooking shows, studies the recipes, and puts his own creative spin on each dish. We are always blown away with each new creation.

      When I decided to become vegan I became his ultimate “challenge.” Like many, he is accustomed to making meat the centerpiece of a meal. He has accepted the “challenge” of cooking vegan meals for me and has never created a dish less than spectacular.

      My husband and I were going to stop by their house in the middle of a very busy day and he offered to make us some nachos. On the phone he made it seem like my nachos would be nothing more than some chipe, beans, and salsa. My expectations were really low. As soon as I saw the massive tray of vegan nachos he created, I was blown away. 

      Homemade refried bean mixed with his own spicy tomato sauce, roasted sweet potato, tomato, and corn, and homemade salsa, shredded lettuce, homemade corn salsa, and fresh limes for garnishing. This is his version of “throwing something together last minute”. I mean. It was glorious. My husband ate a bit of my vegan nachos and the meat and cheese version-he admitted the vegan ones were WAY better. 

      I was, of course, so excited to devour them I completely forgot to take a picture. Luckily he gave me a run down on how he made them so I could recreate them at home. It was easier than I thought and just as delicious! 

      Below are the ingredients I used in my version, feel free to get creative and make adjustments based on what you have and your own preferences.

      Ingredients 

      • Tortilla chips
      • A bit of oil for roasting veggies
      • Sweet potato, peeled and chopped
      • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered with insides scooped out
      • Can of black beans or refried beans
      • 1/4 cup of crushed tomatoes if using black beans (you could also use a few scoops of tomato paste with some water to thin)
      • Seasoning for the beans (I used ~1 tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder)
      • Frozen corn (however much you like on nachos)
      • Garnish ideas-salsa, finely chopped parsley (or cilantro if it doesn’t taste like soap to you), sliced avocado, vegan sour cream, freshly squeezed lime juice, shredded lettuce, green onions, fresh tomatoes, really anything you like!

      What to do

      • Coat the sweet potato in a bit of oil and roast at 400 until it is cooked to your liking (for me ~30 min)
      • Coat the tomato and corn in a bit of oil and roast on a separate sheet (may roast faster) (for me ~20 min)
      • Pour the black beans into a pot with the spices and the crushed tomatoes. (I only buy canned beans that are only soaked in water, so when making refried beans I don’t drain or rinse.) 
      • Heat the beans over medium heat and crush with a potato masher. Turn heat off when the beans are as thick as you like. 
      • Place the chips in a baking dish (I used a pie dish)
      • Layer with the topping in any order you’d like.
      • Place in the over for 5 minutes.
      • Garnish with your choice of toppings, enjoy!