Pizza Friday!

When it’s colder outside, my husband and I (almost) always have pizza for dinner on Friday’s. It’s one of our favorite comfort foods and at the end of our busy work weeks, we like to treat ourselves with some delicious homemade pizza. We use our bread machine to make the pizza dough. We make enough dough for each of us to have our own large pizza. This way, we always have enough for lunch on Saturdays (or sometimes breakfast)

Since summer hit, we have not been wanting to turn the oven on. We have a fairly old oven and it heats up the house so quickly. Great in the winter, not so much in summer.  Today, we had a cold front come in. So, pizza Friday!

I made my sauce with just a can of diced tomatoes, raw cashews, garlic powder, nooch, and a bit of olive oil. I threw it all in the blender to make us extra creamy. For my toppings, I had caramelized some onions, garlic, mushrooms, spinach, and some Daiya. I would have put some fresh tomato slices on too, but they’re not quite ready yet in the garden.

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Before baking…
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After baking 🙂

 

 

 

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Loaded Potato Waffles

I watch a lot of vegan YouTubers. And recently a ton of them did a collaboration where they all came up with breakfast for dinner recipes, or brinner. These loaded potato waffles from Two Market Girls caught my husband’s eye so we made them for dinner! What’s even better, we had most of the stuff already! Because we were missing a few of the ingredients for the toppings, we kind of did our own thing. But, we followed the waffle recipe exactly. It was really, really good!

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For our toppings, we stuck with a corn salsa. It had (thawed) frozen corn, chopped red onion, chopped cucumber, and lime juice.

For the sauce, I threw some kale, hemp seeds, raw cashews, lime juice, nooch, 2 cloves of garlic, some onion powder, and water into the blender–This would be delicious salad dressing to, very creamy and flavorful!

We topped it all off with some freshly chopped chives. This waffle was so filling, I was stuffed after just one and so was my husband! We had some leftover for dinner the next day and it was just as delicious!

Also, go check out Two Market Girls on YouTube, they have really cute videos and really yummy looking recipes!

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It was so good my kitty tried to steal my last bite. (He did.)

Dinner with geese.

One of the things I love most about a summer vegetable garden- fewer trips to the grocery store! We have a small garden growing this summer (next summer will be much larger!) We have cucumbers, kale, spinach, tomatoes, and lots of herbs growing. For this meal, I literally looked through my pantry, found some quinoa, lentils, and tahini. Then went to the garden to see what was ready: grape tomatoes, spinach, parsley, and chives. I cooked the lentils and quinoa. I added the chopped tomatoes and spinach towards the end so they didn’t turn to complete mush. I mixed some tahini with water, finely chopped chives and parsley and a bit of minced garlic , salt, black pepper, and nutritional yeast. It was delicious warm, but even better the next day cold! So simple, and no need to take a trip to the store for dinner!

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And here’s some geese out for an evening swim on our lake.

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Oatmeal with freshly (ish) picked cherries

 

My husband and I just got back from a road trip to Michigan. I can’t tell you where-it’s still mostly untouched by tourism and we don’t want our spots taken 😉  While we were there, we went on lots of hikes with our pup. She loved pouncing on the waves in Lake Superior! The cabin we stayed in had an awesome cherry tree-and we took advantage! We had cherries every day for breakfast.

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On the shores of chilly Lake Superior

 

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My favorite hike

 

 

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Sunset from the cabin.

 

I finished the very last of the cherries this morning for breakfast. I threw them on top of oatmeal with half a banana, and some sprinkled chia seeds. They were sweeter than any cherries I ever bought in a store.

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My breakfast attempt to bring me back to vacation.

Cancer Update

It’s been a while…

It’s been six weeks since I had surgery to remove the recurrence in my neck. The recovery from this surgery has been a lot slower than the last one. A lot slower than I had expected, at least. Because the surgery was in the same location I had radiation and surgery last time, there was a lot of scar tissue already present in the area. Despite having muscle removed, my neck doesn’t appear all that different. Once the scar has completely flattened out, I doubt anyone will even notice.

Moving forward, my team of oncologists has recommended no further treatment. Based on the pathology, they believe the surgery removed it all and it showed no signs of moving from the one isolated area. As a precaution they removed the tumor, two muscles, a huge nerve, and my jugular vein. But, they really believe there is a good chance the surgery got it all and that more treatment would just cause me significant harm while providing very little good. Obviously, no treatment is good news. No way in hell I want to do radiation again. I did get a second and third opinion, however.

The second opinion was at a major university hospital two hours away from me. They are known to be one of the best hospitals in the country, known for their extensive research. Their opinion was to move forward with higher dose re-irradiation and high dose chemotherapy. Afterwards, if I qualify for the trial, immunotherapy. At first, I thought I would do it. Yes, it would be beyond painful. For anyone who has never experienced or witnessed radiation to the mouth or neck-imagine having all the skin inside your mouth and neck burned away. And then stay like that as it gets worse for a month. No medicine exists to make it feel better. The pain is just always there. But, if they said that would make my cancer go away, really go away, I was ready to do it.

But-They were proposing this idea based on maybe my cancer still being present. They admitted that the cancer may be gone. But, they still wanted to blast my neck anyways because that’s their protocol. To make matters worse- the medical oncologist (who is in charge of chemo and immunotherapy) was trying to convince me that of all chemo drugs he wanted to give me, not one has a high chance of causing fertility issues. He didn’t recommend I waste the time and see a fertility specialist before starting treatment. (I’m 29 with no kids. This is bullshit. Chemo drugs are literally designed to destroy rapidly dividing cells, so, uh, what do we think my ovaries make?)

What scared me even more is that the radiation oncologist kept telling me that re-irradiation would cause me little side effects. Bullshit. I asked my radiation oncologist, she said it would essentially kill my thyroid and any remaining lymph nodes in my neck. One tonsil was already killed from radiation last time, I could say goodbye the second. There’s the possibility of significant and permanent vocal chord damage and damage to my spinal cord including paralysis. The scariest part, which, yes is a risk for any radiation to the neck. But, because this would be a second round of radiation the chances are much, much higher-a carotid blowout. Meaning, my carotid artery could literally explode open in my neck, killing me instantly.

The worst part-they said it would absolutely not change my future chance of recurrence. So, what’s the point???

I’m done with that place. Never, ever will I step foot in that place again. I felt like a lab rat. Like they were willing to risk anything, including my life, just to have another patient to research.

I got a third opinion from another major hospital near me. They agreed with my current team of oncologists. More radiation and chemotherapy does not change my future chance of recurrence-so why cause all the damage and risk death?

From here, I’m going to focus on staying healthy. I’m in physical therapy to strengthen my shoulder and hopefully break up some scar tissue in my neck. I start speech and swallow therapy in two weeks to regain control of my throat. (It’s not too bad, but swallowing liquids can be tricky and I constantly cough like an 80 year old man who has been smoking since 10) My PT says I can start doing yoga again in a few weeks-as soon as he thinks my shoulder can handle weight.

I have a garden planted for the summer with lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, spinach, and lots of herbs and flowers. I started doing some work from home. And more exciting, I’m looking into starting school again in the spring. I’m looking into programs to become a registered dietitian. Unfortunately because I have a Bachelor’s of arts, I will have about 2 years of science pre-requisites to take. But, I’m looking forward to one day helping cancer patients get through treatment a little easier, with the help of good food.

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Spring Rolls with Thai-Almond Butter Sauce

I think I may become addicted to this sauce, you guys. Seriously. It’s the most incredible sauce I have ever made had. I got the inspiration from Oh She Glows. My husband volunteered to make it, so you know it’s super easy to make 😉

All you need is:  1 cup of almond butter (we chose to make our own with 1.5 cups of almonds), 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. of red Thai curry paste (we used the Thai Kitchen brand), 2 tbsp. of maple syrup, and some water.

If you are making your own almond butter, toss those almonds in a food processor (I find it works better than my blender) and let it go until it turns into almond butter! It’s that easy! (You will have to scrape the sides on occasion) After you have the almond butter, toss in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until everything is combined. Feel free to add extra curry paste, extra garlic, and even some more ginger! (Our curry paste has ginger added)

If you are using store bought almond butter, you can still use the food processor to make sure the garlic is completely mixed it. But, you can also just mince the garlic and mix everything in a bowl.

Now for the spring rolls…I decided to use carrots, green onion, cucumber, lettuce, tofu, and avocado. I sliced everything as thinly as possible.

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To assemble the spring rolls, you need a shallow dish to allow the spring roll wrapper to soak in water (one by one) and a clean, flat surface to roll them up. Soak them for about 30 seconds. You’ll know its ready when it loses it’s stiffness and becomes clear when you lift it out of the water. Put it on your work surface and add whatever fillings you have chosen. Be careful not to overfill it-they rip pretty easily!

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After that, wrap it up like a burrito and get ready to make another! It can be a little tricky at first because the wrapper is so thin, but you’ll get the hang of it.

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Don’t be ashamed if you start eating the sauce with a spoon, I definitely did 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled Veggie Salad and Tempeh

Nothing better than springtime weather! This weekend we finally had decent weather–no rain and lots of sunshine! We set up the grills (I have my own vegan-food-only-grill) and patio furniture…..Ok so maybe my husband did all the work while I sat back and watched. My surgeon said to take it easy for another week or so…yep that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it 😉

I decided to make one of my favorite grilled veggie salads and marinated tempeh. Just look at all the delicious veggies we got…sweet corn, zucchini, and bell peppers. Not sure about you guys, but growing up in Illinois, there was nothing better than fresh sweet corn in the summers. I could seriously eat fresh corn on the cob every single day of the summer…hmm…I feel a cooking challenge coming on.

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To start, I marinated the tempeh-it needs to marinate in the fridge for at least one hour-overnight is best, but, uh, I forgot. For the marinade I just threw the tempeh into a Ziploc with some red wine vinegar, water, and fresh parsley (yay, herb gardens!) After about two hours.

While the tempeh was marinating I grilled the veggies. I like having the salad cold so I typically get the veggies cooked a while before everything else so they have a chance to cool completely. But, you can definitely have the salad warm. I cut the zucchini and peppers into large strips so I could cook them directly on the grill and easily flip them over. I coated the grill plates with a little oil to prevent sticking and sprinkled some salt over them while cooking. They were on medium heat for about 20 minutes. They had a great char on both sides. My apologies for no photos on the grill….the camera lens had a constant fog from all the heat!

To cook the corn, I leave the husks on and put them on the upper rack of the grill (it’s propane) This allows the corn to steam cook. It takes about 30 minutes on medium heat, flipping about halfway through. You can also de-husk the corn to cook, this will give it more char. But I’ve always found I like the taste better when I leave the husk on.

After the veggies were cooled, I cut them into smaller, bite-size pieces. I squeezed some fresh lime juice on top with a bit of olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

To cook the tempeh I used a cast-iron skillet directly on the grill. This was my first time grilling tempeh and I was a bit nervous it would fall between the grill plates. I cooked them on medium heat for about five minutes on both sides. To top it off, I blended a bit of fresh lime juice with some parsley and olive oil.

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While we are enjoying the warm weather, our pup is hating it. Instead, she naps inside under a fan like this….

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Breakfast 5/28

Ah, finally out of the surgery and recovery daze enough to make myself breakfast! For the last week I’ve been eating tons of oatmeal for breakfast-nutritious and safe for me to make while groggy (no knives!) Today however, I didn’t feel the need for any pain medication when I woke up, which means I won’t be in the pain medication fog today.

I went with a savory breakfast-toast with sliced tomato and avocado with a bit of salt and olive oil. I think a drizzle of balsamic vinegar would have been really tasty also, but I ran out. I also had a giant bowl of applesauce, it’s one of my comfort foods when sick. I ate it too fast though to take a photo 😉 20170528_093132

 

 

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!