Taking Nutrition Seriously in the face of Illness

Introduction

Nutrition plays an important role in our overall well being and is many times overlooked when a person is feeling unwell or is facing illness.I know that I personally found a huge difference in my level of energy and my overall health when I changed my eating habits and learned to be in tuned with my body when feeding it. Thank God being healthy and well I can only imagine what the benefits of proper nutrition can be for someone suffering from a life altering illness such as cancer.

Jillian Mckee

Which is why I was so pleased to receive an email from Jillian Mckee one day out of the blue. Jillian, a Complementary Medicine Advocate, blogger, and outreach coordinator at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance since June of 2009 spends most of her time on outreach efforts and spreading information about the integration of complementary and alternative medicine in  conjunction with traditional cancer treatment. Jillian really touched me deeply with her openness and generous nature so when she asked me to guest author a post on my blog, I of course said yes!

She wrote:

I stumbled across your blog…I am wondering if you allow guest posts because I recently have been researching and writing about how beneficial eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle is for someone going through the battle of cancer… This is an important message to get out there….Thank you for all you do in making a difference.

I was so happy to see that my personal story was reaching out to people and giving them strength. Once we had worked out how we would go about this, I eagerly awaited Jillian’s response until yesterday when I saw her name in bold my inbox:

…The article attached, which I recently completed, is about the benefits of eating healthy during and after a diagnosis of any kind of cancer. Each different cancer has its limitations, but if one can keep a healthy body, they can have a better chance to overcome this awful disease.

Jillian, your work is inspiring and I am honored to have your post here on my blog.

Nutrition Plays an Important Role in Cancer Treatment

By Jillian Mckee

Being diagnosed with cancer is probably one of the most difficult moments in a person’s life. Unfortunately, millions of people hear this horrible news each year. Thankfully, there are successful ways to improve your quality of life besides simply going for regular treatments or surgeries for mesothelioma cancer or any other types of cancer. While a healthy diet is not a cure for your cancer, it can definitely help your body heal faster and gain more energy to get you through those difficult treatment sessions. How can a healthy and nutritious diet can aid you in the healing process and how does one incorporate this into his/her own life?

Food can successfully act as a medicine, a healer of sorts, when dealing with chronic illnesses.  As stated before, a healthy diet will not cure your cancer, but it does have a number of benefits that your body will enjoy.  The first benefit of eating a healthier diet is the amount of energy you can gain.  Fresh fruits and vegetables all have a variety of vitamins within them.  When eaten, especially during treatment, these vitamins can replenish energy that you may otherwise be lacking.  You will find that it is a little easier to get through your day when you have enough energy to make it through.

Another benefit of having a healthier diet is your body’s increased ability to heal itself.  During cancer treatment, you may find that you are tired and in pain all of the time.  Your body needs to heal itself between treatments so that you can feel better and face the net treatment.  With a poor diet, you are not introducing any of those much needed vitamins into the body, which is definitely not good when it comes to regular living, let alone healing.  A healthy diet will help you to heal faster so that you can feel good between treatments and get on with your life instead of focusing solely on your cancer.

For those who are seeking treatment for mesothelioma or another form of cancer, it is imperative that you speak with your doctor before doing anything to your diet.  Your doctor may have already put you on a very strict diet that is high in calories.  Before making any changes, you need to speak to your doctor and let them know what you want from your daily nutrition.  Your doctor will tell you whether or not to make these changes in your life.

Living with cancer can be incredibly difficult, but you can improve your well-being with the right diet.  Living on junk and processed foods does nothing for your confidence, energy, and health. You need a healthy diet in order for the body to heal itself and be provided with sufficient vitamins each day. Only your doctor will be able to tell you whether a diet change is within your best interest or not.  If you do go through with a change, you will begin reaping the benefits within a few short days.

Salsa dancing in Jerusalem

Before I talk about Salsa dancing, let me just thank Dudu Almodi for letting me use his photographs for this post. He is very generous with his art.

Ok now back to me and Salsa….this is me:

Me and Dudu Nahari a Salsa instructor

I happened to discover Salsa by chance and it was at the Candela Salsa club that I started to dance regularly. I wont tell the story here because it’s too long.

Eti Amzaleg a sexy & talented Salsa instructor

Eti Amzaleg a sexy and talented Salsa instructor

Suffice it to say that over the last 4 months I have persevered with level 1, 2 and 3.  This week my instructor, Eti Amzaleg, who is a patient, talented and amazing person all around (as are all the instructors in the Candela club) basically said to me, “Devora motek (you always have to say motek or mami to be taken seriously), the time has come for you to move on to the Masters level!” Woo hoo!

Of course, my usual hesitation when moving up a level is that I will be the worst in that level as opposed to being the best at the current one and then it will annoy people who have to dance with me. It’s always tough to have to dance with someone who is too slow for you….even if people pretend otherwise. It’s a fact. I console myself with the fact that dancing with someone a bit below your level is nothing compared to having to dance with someone who just applied half a bottle of Brut cologne or who hasn’t used any personal hygiene products at all that week, so it cant be that bad!

One of the experienced dancers, Elinor, told me that she doesn’t dance with someone if she doesn’t feel like it and yet she always looks like she is having a good time. She just says no! She’s my Salsa hero! The amazing thing about so many experienced dancers is that they enter the club looking like regular people out on the town, and then when they get on the dance floor it is just a miracle to behold.

Eddy is always a great dance partner

I myself find that there are some dancers who I love to dance with regularly. For example, this bachurchik Eddy, a sweet  guy who is a great dancer and is never pushy but always quick on his feet. Whenever I would make a mistake while we are dancing I would see him make a sort of discreet face sort of like “whoops” in face language. I would call him on it by saying, “Eddy, you are doing it again!” and he would laugh. Some of the instructors make me laugh over and over again. For example, Moran the DJ and a master dancer always yells at me when I start leading, “Where do you think you are going Devora??? In Salsa the man leads, leave your life at the door!”. Tomer would tell me that he is losing circulation in his fingers from me holding on so tight, hee hee. (I am sure there is a lesson in here somewhere if I just look hard enough.) Dudu and Yonat are able to have fun at all times.

Moran DJ/instructor and Yonat Instructor

Moran and Yonat twisted up an smiling

The Salsa club offers levels from beginner, never danced before in my life level classes, to masters “I really didn’t know our bodies were made for that position” classes. Thursday and Saturday nights start off with line dancing at 9:15 and then at 9:45 they divide up into groups for your lesson. Afterwards is some practice time and then the floor opens up for the rest of the night. Married couples come, singles, people of all ages and even couples who have met at salsa and are married now not to mention my favorite: the pregnant women.

Things I usually worry about are non issues like theft since there are 14 closed circuit cameras in the club, the bathrooms are actually clean, the wood floors are nice overall, and there is always fans and fresh air with no smoking allowed inside the club. There is a bar but since I am almost always driving I stick to my diet coke and water.

I think there are some events coming up soon as well like the Salsa winter ball mid January and and at the beginning of February there will be a Salsa event at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem, can’t wait!

Eti and Dudu instructors

Yonat and Tomer Salsa instructors

Self Healing

Healing yourself

Self healing

There are many times where you have no choice but to rely on conventional medicine to heal you. This is usually in times of great emergency where a homemade tincture and a kiss from your mother won’t help. I have had many, many times in my life where as a rambunctious, accident prone child, teen and adult I needed the services of the emergency department.

Let’s see, if I had to list it chronologically it would include: running into the corner of a door, almost cutting my finger off, having my teeth knocked in, falling down a hill and breaking my tailbone, barreling down a hill on my bike at full speed and flipping over at the bottom, twisting and breaking my ankle repeatedly, carrying a wooden canoe alone and hurting my back, being in a terrible car accident, pouring a pot of boiling hot chicken soup over my body, having an allergic reaction from a medicine, gall stones, and five births…all of which left their mark on my body and my overall well-being. There are way more incidents of injury, but I can’t even remember them all.  Yes, I know that this list might remind you of a medieval torture chamber but that’s just me! My mother was always on constant Devora injury alert.

For these types of injuries, the medical profession is well prepared. The things they can do with a half severed finger these days is miraculous! The problem seems to be when conventional medicine fails and you need to consider that another type of healing may need to be sought out.

After giving birth to five babies and having many side effects from the pregnancies and births, carrying around extra weight, the leftover back pains from my car accident and constant digestive problems from my gall bladder surgery and from ongoing suffering from heartburn I realized that the time had come to heal myself. The only solution conventional medicine could offer me at this point was pain killers for my back, pills for the heartburn and some possible physiotherapy.

I completely changed my lifestyle. I changed my eating habits completely: no eating when you aren’t hungry (unless there is ice cream or donuts to be had, of course), no eating until you are too full, no foods that upset my stomach, lots of healthy foods, fresh fruits and veggies, and exercise. I started walking every day and eventually after 8 months of walking I started to run a bit here and there. Eventually I reached a point where I could run for an hour straight or even more without feeling overexertion. I do my stretching, push-ups, sit ups, and squats at the end of every run and I am done.

Two and a half years later and 50 kilos lighter, I feel great and so much healthier than if I had medicated my symptoms or if I had dieted (diets don’t work, by the way). I never feel hungry or deprived. I live a high quality of life because my body and my being are in sync. I am grateful that I have the health and energy to maximize my time.

Another runner once said to me, “We won’t necessarily live any longer than anyone else, but our quality of life will be better.”

Running My First Half Marathon

 

Jerusalem Half-Marathon pictures

Pre Marathon with Family

I was near the end…I knew that nothing would stop me from getting to the finish line… 

And there it was, in front of me. I felt my feet move from the hard surface of the asphalt to the cushioned turf of the race track. I kept running. I was almost there. I saw the finish line ahead of me. People all around me were socializing, basking in the glory of their newly achieved victory, wishing their loved ones and friends congratulations. And I would be there soon. 

I DID IT! Two hours and fourteen minutes later, I crossed the finish line. I looked around me. My body was totally drained. I had no energy to even stand anymore. I sat down on the grass. I looked around but I couldn’t find anything to quench that unbelievable thirst I was feeling. No popsicles, no water, nothing! I lay down and looked up at the sky. What had started off as grey and gloomy that morning was now blue with white fluffy clouds above me. I didn’t stretch. I would definitely pay for that later. I was feeling this great high and terrible low all at the same time. My sister stood over me, not exactly sure what to do or how to help…feeling helpless. Someone brought me a sugar drink and a muffin; I don’t know who it was but it was a definite act of kindness on their part. Mental note to self: Next time bring food, drinks, toilet paper and lots of courage.

This was my first time running a half-marathon. The Jerusalem half-marathon is a stunning and inspiring run. We ran through ancient valleys, parks, through the Jerusalem forest, to the top of the hills of the neighborhood Bayit Vegan, down towards the Malcha valley and back to the University. It was breathtaking.

I have been training for this event in a truly committed way from my home town, Efrat. It is hilly in my home town so it was definitely a familiar thing for me to run on uneven terrain when I ran in Jerusalem. It was so beautiful to look out onto the hills and the beautiful views Jerusalem has to offer while listening to Matisyahu’s song about Jerusalem. And even when I was listening to 50 Cent (he’s such a poet) I felt this burning determination to do this thing. 

I said to me, “Self, you are going to finish this run! Not because you are in better shape than anyone here running with you, not because you are stronger or even because you are more fit. You are going to finish this race because you are determined to do so. And that was that!”

Me finishing the race

Me crossing the finish line

The will of man/woman coupled with opportunity is a sure fire recipe for success. Thank you God for the opportunity and thank you to myself for not giving up! This post was written in honor of the children of Shalva and their families who have the will. May God give them all the opportunities they need to make their lives truly beautiful!

Exercise and Injury

Balance Beam

One, two, three...plop!

I have always been athletic. I love exercise in all shapes and forms: in water, on land, with wheels, running shoes, barefoot, jumping, bounding, stretching and more. In addition to my love for exercise, let me just mention the blunt fact that I am a klutz. A feet tripping, bench missing, pole bumping, flat on my face, klutz.

I started young.

I think it was at the age of 2. My sister and I were playing tag, while waiting for mom to give us a bath. I was running around with remnants of that night’s supper of spaghetti and meatballs in my hair. My sister ran out the door first and closed it slightly behind her. Without noticing…crash! My forehead collided with the door and off we went to the ER. A few stitches on my forehead and no hair washing for a week!

My mother thought (hoped) that this was a lone incident but as I grew things only got worse. I remember the time I had a gymnastics recital after a year of hard work and practice. I was so excited because my balance beam routine was so cool. I was already doing handstands on the beam and my dismount was a cartwheel doo-hicky that ended in a handstand-landing-feet-together.

Unfortunately, that day I was destined for another injury. At school, we were playing belts during recess. I backed up and started to run with great speed and gusto to jump over the two jump ropes lying far apart on the ground. I made it! The victory was short lived because the grass on the other side of the ropes was wet from the rain. I slid on my rear end down the slope. I could not move. I broke my tailbone and it has bothered me ever since.

But on that day I was determined, or should I say, I was stubborn and I refused to let my mother keep me from my gymnastics recital. I went. I told everyone in my group to let me stand up first, so that it would look like I was okay, and once I was standing, they could too. I didn’t want my mother to worry and to take me home. I did not do my beam routine that day, or the parallel bars, or anything for that matter. I paid the price later that day and I was not sorry one bit. I love gymnastics.

How does a person deal with the fact that most exercise may come with one sort of injury or another? When my great grandmother would hear of someone injuring themselves, she would always say, “Sports! They were doing sports!”. And she was almost always right. We hated that. My mother would always warn us not to tell her when we got hurt doing something athletic because she would look at us with her I told-you-so stare and say, :”Sports, that’s what happens when you do sports!”

If I see someone with a cast on their leg and they tell me that they slipped at work I look around quickly, pull them aside and whisper to them, “Skiing! Tell them it was skiing. I’ll back you up. It’s your pride at stake.”  There is a trophy-like feeling to walking around with a sprained ankle after going for a lay-up in basketball. When people ask you how you hurt you ankle, you can respond with your head held high. You were being a hero and you are paying the hero’s price. It is almost worth it to, always, be doing something exciting so that you have a news-breaking story to tell.

I will be the first to admit that there are people who have been injured while merely being spectators of some form of athletics or another. I am not only talking about being trampled by a soccer mob. For example, a good friend of mine, who has always been an avid cyclist and runner, was standing at the bottom of a ski slope and was hit in her calf by a snowboarder.  She has not been able to walk normally ever since. The pain of the injury is coupled with the agony of not being able to return to the activities that have been an essential part of her life for decades!

What would my great grandmother say if she heard about that? She would probably ban sports altogether.

Sometimes, the unfit people in the world benefit from good health. Take my Uncle, who worked in an accounting office with middle-aged men. They all seemed to cycle, run etc. and they were always talking about their aches and pains, knee replacements, muscle relaxants and so on. One day, he was sitting there listening to them complain and it occurred to him that although he didn’t exercise regularly, he didn’t have anything severely wrong with him and he felt fine, maybe even, dare he say, good.

I have started to jog again.

After 5 babies, and 10 years of being out of shape. I love the feeling of running far and long. I love to push myself to the limit and then to push myself that little bit more. I sometimes feel stiff the next day. I wake up with an intense need to stretch myself out before starting my day. I know that the chances of injuring myself (God forbid, ptooie, ptooie, garlic on my neck and all the rest) are greater when I choose to exercise. But I also know that I will lower the chances of other ailments, have better bone mass, muscles, energy, strength etc.

I have war wounds and I am a survivor. I stretch my leg and see the scars on my knee, the swelling in my left ankle, I flex my arms and I notice the scars on my middle finger. I bend forwards, my back creaks and cracks, I move my head and my necks tenses up. I feel alive!

I am woman. Hear me roar!

Hold the Bus!

I was walking down the street with a million thoughts going through my head. Just strolling along (lah dee dah) enjoying my day in the city. When suddenly,  I feel this nip at my leg. A dog! He almost bit me! And now this mangy mutt is barking his head off at me! I yell- Aaaah! Now what? I know I shouldn’t run, he will chase me, but what else can I do: Fight or flight? I am a Canadian for goodness sake! RUN!

And as I am running and trying not think about Rabies and my own funeral, I see the bus coming. Yay, the bus! I lift my knees up and run, damn it, I run! I am quick!? I even shock myself. Even when a person is running for the bus yelling, “Hold the Bus” they are usually ignored as the bus drives away. My theory is that if you look like you are moving quickly, then sometimes the bus driver has the patience to wait. That old woman with the heavy grocery bags has very little chance of making it. Trust me.

This time, the bus driver sees me coming and actually keeps the doors open for me.  Was I fast? I get on the bus and go to sit down. And that’s when I notice that I am barely out of breath. I am comfortable and I don’t have pains in my sides and everywhere else in my body. Wow! Am I in shape?

I used to run every day.

I am not talking about the kind of running people pretend to be doing because they are busy, like when you are talking on the phone and you have to hang up so you say, “I have to run”. I am talking about exercise. The good, ol’ fashioned, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-and-move-your-butt, running!

And then there was this large span of time, let’s call it life, that came between me and the world of exercise. I wouldn’t say that I became a couch potato since I was busy doing things like going to school, raising kids, community service, moving etc. But exercise was one of those things that I always planned to do as soon as I had a free moment, which by the way, never came.

Until now.

Today I played Frisbee with two of my boys. It was such great fun and it brought back memories of my years as a kid playing Frisbee tag in the school courtyard. We were good! We could slice someone in the calf with a Frisbee like nobody’s business. And here I was running back and forth, shooting the Frisbee, catching it, laughing with my boys, and not feeling even the littlest bit like I wish I were back at home lying on my couch. I am physically tolerable (I try not to use expletives when describing myself).

I am slowly trying to build up my stamina to be able to run a half marathon in January for Chai Lifeline. It’s not easy but I am working hard to succeed. I even set up my profile in order to get donations and I am determined. But people, you should know that no matter what the world of athletic wear and power drinks tell you, there are still some advantages to not exercising which are  sometimes overlooked.

You don’t sit around complaining about knee pain and joint stiffness.

You sleep more hours.

You don’t have to replace your running shoes very often if they spend most of their time in your closet. Between the time I bought running shoes in the 90s until I replaced them this year, so many things had changed in the world of running shoes. You cannot buy a plain running shoe anymore.  I found myself in the Nike store being told by the salesperson about all of the advantages of buying a shoe like the Pegasus or Arch Fit (which all, by the way, looked the same to me except for the price tag on the sole of the shoe.). I tried to justify my purchase by figuring out how much money I was saving on chiropractors and podiatrists by buying these shoes.

But the real truth is that getting in shape is liberating. I want that freedom.

I run, therefore I am.

 

Shopping With Pride at the Drugstore

So there I was, in line at the Pharmacy in Toronto with a cart overflowing with Gold Bond Extreme and Always Ultra Maxi Pads with wings. I mean it! My cart was packed to the brim! Other people in line with me were pretending that they didn’t notice anything unusual. They would eventually start rummaging through the large variety of breath mints available to them, anything,  just not to notice me or my cart filled with very personal hygiene items.

At some point customers start to watch me closely out of the corner of their eye to see if I am gushing blood or itching my body uncontrollably. When that doesn’t seem to be an issue they move on to the second stage which is pity. Their eyes take on this glazed, puppy dog, I-wonder-how-she-lives-with-herself, sort of look. And through it all I pretend to be a totally normal, not caring, happy-go-lucky, no problems here, sort of gal.I might even try skipping out of the store (for the effect), although being burdened with many bags of maxi-pads doesn’t make it easy and I end up looking injured.

Shopping at a pharmacy can be a very unnerving experience. Sure they load the front of the store with perfumes, shampoos and makeup, but those things are there to disguise the real purpose of a drug store…and I won’t tell you what that is, because it’s personal!

It is so hard to leave the pharmacy with your self respect still intact. Whether it’s because most pharmacists are hard of hearing and you eventually end up yelling in their ear the exact item you were blushing about privately in your doctor’s office the day before. Or maybe because you meet the Rabbi of your synagogue in the checkout line or your nice innocent grade 1 teacher while you are trying to improve your overall “lifestyle”. I mean, you can hide the item in your sleeve but eventually that thing is going on the conveyor belt and everyone sees.

When my family first moved to Israel in 1990, there was no Super pharmacies. The only pharmacies available to us were those little mom and pop stores. I mean, there were sanitary pads, but no Always with Wings!!! So when I would travel back to Canada every summer I was the one responsible for stocking up on all of the items that my family back in Israel would need for the coming year.

Unfortunately, I just got sick of explaining it to anyone (since it inevitably would lead to follow up questions like: You live in Israel, ay? What’s that like, ay?) so I decided to be strong and to withstand the pitiful glances.

Is there a solution? Not really. I highly recommend just getting through the store and paying as quickly as possible. Wear large baggy sleeves and try to buy lots of other small colorful items that you don’t really need to distract people from the thing you really came for. And last but not least, remember people, you aren’t the only ones buying it!