Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Release Day: The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation

If you're on the fence about whether or not the primal lifestyle is right for you, today might just change your mind.  I know this post is long, but it's worth the read.  It's a special post from Mark Sisson, of Mark's Daily Apple.  His new book comes out today, and I think it has the possibility to affect real change, not only in your life, but in the lives of people around the world.  Hopefully this book with get the exposure it needs to go mainstream and expose more people to the positive changes the Primal Blueprint can make in their lives.  So, give it a read, and please, consider ordering this week.  Let's get this book to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list!!

I’ve got a special announcement today. Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, has a brand new book out called The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body TransformationClick here to order on Amazon.com!! It’s a practical, action-oriented guide for how to eat, exercise and live Primally – a step-by-step, “cut to the chase” resource to make a smooth and quick transition into a Primal lifestyle. In it he tells you exactly what to do every day for 21 days to take control of your health for the rest of your life. Mark explains what this new book is all about, what’s in it and who it’s for here. Click here to order on Amazon.com!!
Mark is looking to score this book on the New York Times best-seller list to gain exposure for the Primal Blueprint message, so he’s put together a loaded special offer. Basically, you order 1 or more copies between October 18 and 24, email your receipt to a special email address and Mark kicks you back a bunch of freebies. It’s a win-win. You get a great book for less than 15 bucks, and a bunch of free gifts, and you and Mark both get to help take the Primal movement mainstream. Check out the details of Mark’s special offer below and pick up a copy of the book today. Click here to order on Amazon.com!!

What Do I Win for Helping Put This Book on the NYT Best-Seller List?

Order 1 Copy and You Get:

MDA Advice 3D cover
1. Access to the exclusive, password-protected ebook – “Primal Living in the REAL World”: In this 130-page eBook, hundreds of Primal enthusiasts share their challenges, solutions and practical tips for how they get – and stay – Primal. It’s like having the advice of 300 coaches. In it you’ll read hundreds of answers to these and numerous other questions: What is the first thing a person should do to kick start their Primal life? What do you think is the most important thing one should understand as they attempt to go Primal? What was the biggest hurdle you experienced when going Primal and how did you overcome it? And of course, the most important one, What do you usually eat for breakfast?
podcast grok 2
2. Access to the exclusive, password-protected audio interview – “21-Day Total Body Transformation”: Download a 60 minute, free-wheeling Q&A podcast in which Mark discusses the 8 Key Concepts that everyone needs to know to go Primal. Among many other topics covered, Mark discusses why your body prefers burning fat over carbohydrates and how you can use this knowledge to become a fat-burning beast instead of a sugar burner. Also, listen to Mark riff on why grains are totally unnecessary and why 80 percent of your body composition is determined by how you eat.
Grok 10 dollar bill
3. $10 Gift Certificate to PrimalBlueprint.com: Spend it like cash and order whatever you want, perhaps a cookbook to go with the 21-Day Transformation book? This means for a net 5 bucks you can grab a copy of Mark’s new book today. (The coupon code is good for any single product at PrimalBlueprint.com and expires on 11/30/11.)

Order 3 (Or More) Copies and You Get:

1. All the aforementioned benefits – the $10 Gift Certificate, the exclusive eBook and podcast, plus…
final audiobook web left mp3 2
2. Audio recording of the original Primal Blueprint (released in 2009) - Listen to The Primal Blueprint on your phone or MP3 player with this abridged, digital (MP3) audio book voiced by Mark Sisson. The audio book is four hours long, and covers all 10 of the Primal Blueprint Laws and then some. This is the book that started it all and retails for $26.99. Grab 3 or more copies of the the 21-Day Total Body Transformation and you’ll get it for free.
3. Plus an additional $10 Gift Certificate to PrimalBlueprint.com, bringing the total to $20. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to try a PEK, Primal Fuel or Master Formula on for size!(The coupon code is good for any single product at PrimalBlueprint.com and expires on 11/30/11.)

Order 8 (Or More) Copies and Help Change The World!

Buy 8 or more books through mainstream channels and Mark will send you one book for every two books you buy! Buy eight and he’ll send you four more. Buy 80 and he’ll send you 40 for free – seriously…and he’ll autograph each one of these promo books! And, of course, you’ll get all the aforementioned freebies.
Do your holiday shopping early. One common frustration from Primal enthusiasts is how to get friends and loved ones on board. This book is the perfect calling card to introduce someone to the Primal Blueprint. Why not reduce the hassle of holiday shopping and give each of your deserving friends and loved ones the gift of life transformation?
100 copies – Personal Touch: A 30-minute private phone consultation wherein you and Mark discuss anything you want. (Well, almost anything.) Mark doesn’t one-on-one coaching anymore so this is a rare opportunity. Yes, you also get the 50 free signed books and all the aforementioned freebies!
1,000 copies – Executive Decision: Could you co-workers use some guidance and motivation to get in shape? Mark will fly out to your location, present his Primal Transformation seminar and spend the day helping get your co-workers/employees Primal!

How Do I Win?

1. Order your book(s) online or at your local bookstore before midnight Monday, Oct 24. Here are some online ordering options:
Click here to order on Amazon.com!!
Click here and order on Barnes and Noble.com!!
2. Email your receipt to the appropriate email address:
  • If you purchase 1-2 copies email your receipt to 1book@primalblueprint.com
  • If you purchase 3-7 copies email your receipt to 3books@primalblueprint.com
  • If you purchase 8 or more copies email the confirmation that your order has shipped to 8books@primalblueprint.com
To reiterate, for 8 or more books, please email Mark the confirmation that your order has shipped (not your initial email receipt) to the appropriate email address above. Also, please include your shipping address so Mark knows where to ship your free books. Please allow 30 days for processing and shipping of your free books. Mark’s going to have a lot of books to sign!
Low-techies can fax receipt copy to 310-317-4424.
3. You will receive your e-gift certificate, eBook download instructions, podcast download instructions, and all other freebies by reply email. (Please be patient. The Worker Bees will be reviewing receipts and sending you instructions on how to access all of your freebies within 24 hours.)
If you have any questions about ordering, or this promotion, please call 888-774-6259 (or 310-317-4414).
Fine Print:
  • Unfortunately, Kindle and other digital books don’t count toward the NY Times best-seller list, nor this promotion.
  • Books purchased in physical locations (e.g. a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble) count, too. Just scan and email your receipt to the appropriate email address above, or fax it to 310-317-4424.
  • The 8 book offer only applies to book orders placed in the United States. While international orders won’t impact the New York Times best-seller list Mark will extend the 1-2 and 3-7 book offers to anyone around the world.
Order Your Copy of The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation Today! Click here to order on Amazon.com!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me :)

You know those commercials on TV where a celebrity sings happy birthday and says something like, "Here's to less cancer, and more birthdays."...they make me cry every time they come on.  Thanks, American Cancer Society.

I turned 29 on July 8th, and I can honestly say that every birthday I have had since my Thyca diagnosis is more special than the last.  I absolutely LOVE birthdays now.  It's not about the presents--although the new Cuisinart 9-cup food processor, mandolin slicer, stovetop-to-oven cooking vessel, and silicone grippy mitts and pads (so I don't lose a hand moving said vessel) are all fantastic! What I love most is being able to spend time with my friends and family, and somehow trying to express to them how important they have been over the past year.  Without the support system I have, I would not make it.  End of story.  I love you all more than you can possibly imagine.

This birthday was special for a number of reasons.  First, I tried to take some time for myself by having a mini-vacation at my parents' house.  I was off of work for almost an entire week and it was  nice to shut my brain off for a few days :)  Second, my birthday happens to coincide with Summerfest this year, and I just happen to love music.  More importantly, my favorite band, The Gufs, played on my birthday!  It was a fantastic show, and I got to share it with my sister and cousin.  Third, I got to relax and eat tons of primal food, most of which was cooked by my wonderful Mother (who is also going primal after seeing the success I am having).  In between concerts, I spent a ton of time in the pool or relaxing around the house.  I also had an absolutely brilliant afternoon at a fabulous bridal shower/picnic at a small park that overlooks a stream and rolling hills.  Did I mention it was catered by the Underground Food Collective?  Fantastic.  Add to that meeting fun new friends, and it was a perfect day.  I even got in my "Lift Heavy Things" (see number 3 in the link) workout by hauling a ridiculously heavy picnic table across the park with 3 other amazing women :)

I somehow managed to find a balance between doing the things I wanted to do and regaining the energy/spoons that I need during this week off.  I feel more grounded than I have in a long time.  I really enjoyed my time outside, whether it was in the pool (suits optional!  this is primal living after all...), at the park, or on the Summerfest grounds overlooking Lake Michigan.  There is something I find very peaceful about adding other primal aspects of life to my daily routine.  I've been so terrified of my allergies and asthma my whole life, that I kind of forgot to enjoy nature.  That needs to stop.  I'll be visiting that park again soon.  And probably many others.  Madison is a gorgeous city, and I need to see more of it!  Who wants to come with me?  :)

Here are a few more killer recipes I've tried recently:

Lemon Basil Squash and Kale Ribbons with Chicken from Eat the Cookie!

I want to eat this recipe all day every day.  The sauce is to die for.  I didn't think steaming the ribbons in cream added anything.  Also the chicken was a little salty using the amount of salt in the recipe.  I might cut back in the future.

Rutabaga "Faux-Tato" Salad from Stuff I Make My Husband

Really great potato salad substitute.  I actually like it better than potato salad.  I'm not a huge fan of dill, though, so I left that out.

Gyros from Stuff I Make My Husband

These are delicious.  We ate ours with cucumber yogurt sauce in romaine lettuce leaves.  Yum!

Pork Chops with Grilled Beets and Apples in a Balsamic Reduction from PaleOMG

The marinated grilled beets were really outstanding (I used golden beets).  Everything tasted great together--no side dishes needed.

Maple Bacon Ice Cream from Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations

The title says it all.  Just make it. :)

Peppermint Patties from Elana's Pantry

These have always been one of my favorite treats.  I'm so excited to have found a recipe that makes them primal :)  In moderation, of course.  Read the comments after the recipe for helpful tips on how to make these properly!

I just have to say that I love eating this way.  All of the recipes are so good!  The combinations are endless, and I'm so happy that there are so many wonderful bloggers out there who are making such fantastic food.  Hopefully I will have some recipes of my own to contribute in the near future!

Until next time,
Check Your Neck!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Quest for Energy: Achievement Unlocked!! (and more recipes!)

Awake Early?  On a Saturday??  Yes, I am as puzzled as anyone about this.  I can't remember the last time I woke up, on my own, before 6am.  I figured this would be a fantastic time to give a short update on my progress thus far, and to include some links to more fantastic recipes. 

As my quest for more energy continues, I find myself going to the doctor more frequently.  It turns out, I have a severe vitamin B12 deficiency on top of everything else going on with my body.  If you were to look up the symptoms of B12 deficiency they would go something like this: "Fatigue, inability to feel rested upon waking, insomnia, easy bruising, etc."  I wonder why this was never brought up during any of my myriad appointments to discuss possible causes/treatments for fatigue...

I've been supplementing with Methyl-B12 for a few weeks now, and I really do notice a difference.  I hope it continues improving over time.  I also went in for an upper endoscopy to rule out pernicious anemia (a nasty autoimmune disorder that causes low B12) and celiac--I don't have either :) 

I guess the big picture here is that things are improving.  Slowly.  I have more energy than when I started this primal journey, I'm sleeping better, and I've lost almost 20lbs.  I can't envision a time in my future when I go back to the way I used to eat.  On that note, here are some more great recipes!

Primal Toad's Pumpkin Banana Bread Smoothie

I added a little extra pumpkin and cinnamon.  Yum!!

Moroccan Orange Salad and Moroccan Grilled Salmon from The Clothes Make the Girl

These are 2 of my new favorite recipes.  I get to grill, which is awesome, and the flavors here are outstanding.  I added an avocado to the salad, as per Mel's suggestion on the recipe page.  So good.

Rutabaga Fries from The Functional Foodie

Nom nom nom.  Rutabaga is slightly sweet, and while these don't crisp up the same way french fries do, I find them even more satisfying.

Lemon Kale Chips from Elana's Pantry

Eat these.  Love them.  They will completely remove your need for potato chips.  With or without the lemon, they are fantastic. 

Portabella Mushroom Caps with Spinach and Goat Cheese from The Food Lover's Primal Palate

I substituted feta for the goat cheese, but I will be making these with a million types of cheese over time, I'm sure.

Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream from This Is So Good...

I used raspberries because I had them on hand.  This is delicious, and kind of tastes like a smoothie, but warning:  this stuff freezes up harder than you can imagine.  I did a little research and next time I plan on adding about a tablespoon of alcohol to help with keep it a little more scoop-able.  Vodka is most often recommended. This picture is what it looked like right out of the ice cream maker.

And, because I miss baked goods a little bit...
Elana's Chocolate Chip Scones

I used honey instead of agave, and added orange zest to mine.  The batter was a little sticky, but the scones turned out great!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Doughnuts Are STILL Evil--More Delicious Recipes

They're back.  Doughnuts are a pervasive office breakfast/lunch/snack, and, as I may have mentioned before, they are evil.  I did some "research" by eating a piece of cake with frosting last night as a comparison.  I can only conclude that it is equally as evil as the doughnut.  Don't do it.  I feel terrible today.  All of that refined sugar in the frosting really did me in, and on top of that, I was starving this morning--a sensation I have not experienced in months.  No more frosting for me.

That being said, I did go out for a lovely dinner on my sister's birthday a few days ago.  I ate a few things I shouldn't have (wheatberries, homemade pasta, a bit of a crepe), had a few beers, and overall I felt okay the next day.  Not fantastic, mind you, but okay.  No carb crash, no grumpiness.

What I can recommend to you are the following delicious recipes.  Make them!  Love them :)  I do.

Shepherd's Pie from Mark's Daily Apple

I have made this at least 3 times in the past few months.  I keep going back to it because I love the mashed cauliflower on top so much.  I may or may not dream about it...  Chef's note:  cauliflower doesn't exactly mash.  The best method is to use a food processor.  The second best is to chop it, throw it in a bowl and then smash it first with a pastry cutter and then a potato masher.  Don't bother trying a hand mixer--it just throws florets all over the kitchen.

Zucchini Pizza Boats from Budget Bytes

These are very simple and surprisingly delicious.  You can adjust the filling to suit your taste.  I have made them once with veggies and once with ground beef.  I replace the bread crumbs with almond meal/flour, but I think you could leave it out altogether and be fine.  I topped mine once with green olive havarti and once with aged white cheddar.  Use a small spoon to hollow out your zucchini.  I owe my sister a huge debt of gratitude for figuring that out and saving me from mangling the first batch of zucchini any worse than I already had.

Radicchio Salad With Lemon and Olives from In Erika's Kitchen

Don't be afraid of radicchio.  Its slight bitterness is balanced by the bright lemon juice and salty parmesan and green olives. 

Clean Eating Tomato Soup from The Gracious Pantry

For one of my lower energy nights I needed a quick meal.  This was perfect.  I used pasta sauce (with no sugar) because it was what I had in my pantry.  I also replaced the chicken stock with water, and the soy milk with heavy cream (since soy, rice and lowfat milk are no-no's).  It was creamy and delicious comfort food.

Healthy All-Natural Ice Cream from A New Bloom

Make this now.  It is seriously amazing.  Pure alchemical kitchen magic!

Scotch Eggs from The Clothes Make The Girl

She isn't lying when she calls them protein pellets.  I used some grass-fed ground beef seasoned with salt, pepper and italian seasoning to wrap my hard boiled eggs.  Yum!

Coconut Almond Pancakes from Eat Love and Train

I've been trying pancake recipes on the weekends since I started eating primal.  This one finally works!  I needed patience to let the pancakes set enough to flip, but other than that they are very simple to make.  I will be adding some additional seasonings next time I make them, sweet or savory.  Cinnamon and nutmeg, garlic and rosemary, the possibilities are endless.  They will make a quick bread substitute as well.

Enjoy these recipes, and please tell me what you liked and if you made any delicious alterations! 

Until next time,
Check Your Neck

Monday, April 11, 2011

Selfishness vs. Self-preservation

It is a gorgeous night.  The wind is blowing, lightning dots the sky ahead of the coming storm, and I can smell rain on the breeze.  This is my favorite time, and I intend on savoring it.

Still, even with all of this beauty around me, I find myself troubled.  I find myself constantly plagued by guilt (I blame my Catholic upbringing).  There are these nagging thoughts in the back of my mind.  "I should be working."  "I should be cleaning."  "I should have gotten more done on Friday."  "I should have gone to the party."  "I should have been more productive."  All negative thoughts.  The more I think about and analyze this, the more troubled I am about that fact.  Never do I find myself thinking, "I should relax."  "I should take a bath."  "I should go to bed early."  "I should rest."

"I should take care of myself."

On Friday, I had plans to attend a party.  It was my friend's birthday and I was finally going to get to meet some new people that I had heard a ton about.  On Wednesday, I wasn't feeling great.  My whole body felt like lead.  Every motion took an enormous amount of effort.  I couldn't pinpoint why it was happening.  Maybe it was allergies.  Maybe I was getting sick.  I have been adhering strictly to my diet, so I wasn't convinced that was the problem, but anything is possible (I did eat pasta 2 weeks ago).  On Wednesday night, I didn't fall asleep until 4am.  Getting that little sleep almost paralyzes me.  Thursday was a little bit better--I still wasn't feeling great, but I felt like I was on the right track.  Friday finally came, and I was still feeling crappy.  I told my friends I would be there as planned.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to get my work done, and found myself getting more and more anxious as the day progressed.

As I went through the mental list of what needed to happen for me to get to the party on time, I was completely overwhelmed.  I needed to leave work by 2:30 so I could go to the store to get food for dinner and get home to take a nap.  Then I had to shower and get ready.  Then, I had to make myself dinner (my friends were nice enough to inform me that they were having pizza and I might want to eat beforehand).  All of this needed to happen by 7pm so that I could get to the party in time.  At that point it was already 3:30, so I knew I wasn't going to get the sleep I needed.  I completely broke down.  I knew what I had to do, and I hated it.

I texted my friends and explained that I was exhausted and wouldn't be able to make it to the party because I was simply too tired.  I apologized profusely and said that I felt like a bad friend.  And then I cried.  At work.  Which I hate doing.  I was so frustrated, angry and overcome with gut-wrenching sadness.  I called my mom to vent, and she was amazing.  She let me get it all out, and reassured me that they would understand.  Soon after, I got texts from both of them saying they weren't mad, and urging me to take care of myself.  I cried some more.

I plopped myself down in my coworker's cubicle, shut the door and sobbed.  I explained what had happened and she said the same kind words that the others had.  "Don't be upset, they will understand, you need to take care of yourself, if it were me I would want you to stay home."  Still, I couldn't shake the anger and disappointment in myself for not being able to do this one simple thing.  I felt so selfish.

I managed to stop crying long enough to walk out to my car with one of my best friends who works in the building next to mine.  I told her why I was upset and she comforted me as well.  She said something as we were parting ways that helped me understand why I was so mad at myself.  She said, "It's hard for me to see because you're still walking around, but I know you're going to go home and crash."  A few pieces fell into place. 

Just because I look fine on the outside, doesn't mean that I am.  In fact, I'm never okay.  "How are you?" is such a common question, and people never stop to think about what they are actually asking.  I'm forced to reply, "I'm alright," when I'm not.  All the question serves to do is remind me of how horrible I feel all the time, and no one wants that answer.

I needed to stop at the store to get food, but I couldn't stop crying long enough to do so, and I just went home.  My sister welcomed me, as I knew she would, and offered to help me in any way she could.  We scrounged through the pantry and adapted a recipe so that my cooking would be minimal.  I barely finished dinner.  I fell asleep at 8:30 and didn't wake up for 12 hours.

The next day, I knew I had made the right decision, but I still felt guilty.  To try to get rid of that guilt, I went to work and finished things I had been unable to complete during the week due to lack of energy and focus.  It helped with the guilt, but I overdid it, as usual, and expended too much of the precious energy I had restored the night before.  I emailed my chronic illness/primal blueprint friend and explained to her what was going on.  What she wrote in her email back to me put the final pieces into place.  I'll paraphrase.

Ultimately, we (those with a chronic illness) are ruled by spoons.  The whole point of this diet and my energy management practices is to try to get more spoons.  She explained that getting more spoons isn't what changed her life.  What changed her life was fully accepting her limitations.  Getting to a place where she felt good about saying no to things when she knew she couldn't do them, and instead taking care of herself.  My therapist has touched on this with me in the past and she explains it as switching from thinking of my actions as selfishness and starting to view them as self-preservation.

The other thing my friend wrote that really hit home was that she could see that I was starting to grieve the loss of the person I used to be.  I want so much to be "normal" and because of that, I push myself and try to behave the same way I did before my diagnosis.  I don't listen to my body.  I feel broken and act whole.

The trouble is that so many of us suffering in this way don't appear sick on the outside.  We hide how terrible we feel underneath a meticulously cultivated facade.  We have to make a conscious effort to do things that most people take for granted, like showering or picking up our socks or brushing our hair.  Cooking and cleaning and laundry become mountainous tasks.  I have known this for five years, but am just now coming to terms with it emotionally.

My friend is right.  This grief is very real, and I have no idea how long it will take me to work through it.  I don't know who I will be in the future, or if I will ever feel whole again.  What I am absolutely sure of is this:  I would NEVER have made it this far without the amazing support system I have right now.  There are people around me constantly that love me and accept me as I am--something I am not yet capable of.  I hope that you all are as lucky as I am to have friends and family like mine.  Friends who say, "Take care of yourself!  I love you!" instead of being angry at you for being 'selfish' when all you are trying to do is exercise a little self-preservation.  Hold on to these people, and show your gratitude.

The storm rages.  Inside and out.

Until next time, Check Your Neck.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Doughnuts Are Evil--Try These Recipes Instead!

They are.  This has been confirmed by multiple sources.  (All of them are friends of mine who are trying to encourage as I try to maintain my primal diet.)  I'm choosing to leave bakers, pastry chefs and the rest of the general public out of my polling group.  It's bad science, I know, but I need that right now.  There are doughnuts sitting outside of my cubicle as I write this.  And they're evil doughnuts. 

Temptation is everywhere, but the longer I choose to eat primal, the easier it becomes.  All of the recipes I have made have been delicious, and when I do cheat, I physically feel terrible the next day.  Usually, I am sleepier, hungrier and a little grumpy the day after I cheat.  That alone helps me with the cravings for carbs (have I mentioned the doughnuts yet?).  I'd like to share some of the recipes I have made.  I highly recommend that you try them, even if you're not eating primal.  They're amazing!  If you do make them, please leave a comment and let me know if you liked them as much as I did.  Even better, comment on the original site I link to tell the creators of these wonderful meals how much you enjoyed them.  I know I have a few vegetarian readers, so if you find that you can alter the recipes to suit those needs, I'd be interested in hearing about that as well.  Comments are fun :)

Chicken and Vegetable "Lo Mein" from The Food Lover's Primal Palate

I added red peppers,  used an exotic mushroom medley and, since I have no idea what coconut aminos are, I just added a little coconut oil to the sesame oil for cooking.  I also made a sauce from lemon juice, lime juice, sesame oil, garlic, stone ground mustard, salt, pepper and a little honey.  The result was fantastic!

Crock Pot Pork-Stuffed Peppers from Mark's Daily Apple

These tasted wonderful, and were so easy.  The one thing I will point out is that the peppers were very soft by the time they were done cooking, so they fell apart.  The result was more of a goulash than a traditional stuffed peppers dish.  Next time, I think I will precook the meat mixture in a large frying pan, stuff the raw pepper, and bake them to heat the peppers through.

Garlic Pulled Pork from Mark's Daily Apple

Surprise, surprise, I altered this one a bit as well.  I cut up an onion and put it in the bottom of the crock pot, topped it with the seasoned pork roast, some minced garlic, and then cut up a few leeks and put those on top as well.  I cooked it all day on low heat.  It took a good 10 hours, but was so worth the time.

Pork Tenderloin with Cilantro Pesto from Mark's Daily Apple

I loved this recipe.  It was one of the first ones I made, and I was so impressed!

Paleo Butternut Squash Lasagna from Health-Bent

I have made this twice in as many weeks.  Super simple and delicious.  Don't be afraid of the squash, even if you're not a squash lover.  It is perfect in this recipe.  Also, I used locally raised/processed italian pork sausage--amazing!!!

Check out The Foodee Blog for more amazing recipes.

Try them all!  Let me know what you think :)  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. 

Until next time, Check Your Neck.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ninja Cancer and Amos Lee

I've been having trouble figuring out how to write this post.  I knew I needed to post an update after my various doctors appointments were finished, but the more I discuss everything the more real it all gets.  Frankly, I was finding myself overwhelmed.  Then, I went to see Amos Lee tonight at the Vic Theater in Chicago, and everything changed. 

As I had mentioned earlier, I was preparing for my every-6-months endocrinology visit as well as a sleep study.  The sleep study went well, and it turns out I don't have sleep apnea, but I do kick my legs a lot when I sleep.  The technician said that I kicked over 100 times during the 2nd half of the night.  Once I even woke myself up.  I have absolutely no recollection of this during the sleep study, or any other night for that matter.  I'm guessing we will address this during my follow up appointment in April.  If I can coax a little more energy out of my sleep by not attempting to swim (what else could I be doing given my swimming history) during the night, then I'll take yet another medication.

The endocrinology visit yielded very little in the way of actual data, but the discussion was extremely helpful.  I did get my TSH checked again and I am at 0.35 which is technically perfect.  I don't feel any worse or better than normal, so I see no reason to change it.  Hopefully I can stay stable for awhile.  I discussed disease management at length with my endocrinologist.  Usually, I would go in for a neck ultrasound within the next few weeks, but we have decided against it for the time being.  Lymph nodes can swell for a number of reasons, and there is no specificity with the ultrasound.  Most times it worries us for no reason.  In the future, there might be a reason to do it again, but not right now.

The biggest thing that needs addressing right now is my Thyrogen stimulated thryoglobulin (Tg) level.  It should be undetectable since I don't have a thyroid, and it had been undetectable until recently.  The fact that it went up tells us that something is growing.  All of my scans are negative, so it is too small to see, but it is there.  Ninja cancer.

I'm going to have the Thyrogen stimulated Tg blood test again in May to see what's going on.  Most likely it will have gone up a little bit more.  Thyroid cancer grows slowly.  Our best educated guess is that I will have to have surgery and another radioactive iodine ablation in 3-6 years.  Until then, we wait for it to grow into a mass we can locate and get rid of.  Stupid ninja cancer.

As I tell more people about this, I get a little upset.  I will admit, I get caught up in the "this isn't fair, why me" of it all from time to time.  It's a lot of emotional energy that I don't need to be expending.  I am so very grateful that everyone I tell is supportive and willing to listen.  My sister assures me that whatever happens in the future, it will be better because she will be there.  I believe her.

I was happy to be going to my cousin's house this weekend for good times, good beer (inevitably) and good music.  Now that I am sitting here in this amazingly comfortable bed and have gotten to spend time with my cousin and her husband, including an un-freaking-believable Amos Lee concert, I'm downright thrilled.  This is a welcome distraction from all of the drama.  I was excited to get semi-dressed up, put on my DNA bracelet (yes, I am that nerdy) and go out in downtown Chicago.

Music has always been a powerful thing for me.  Spiritual and emotional energy in--"in a big bad way," as Kevin Smith would say.  This Amos Lee show is definitely one of the best concerts I have ever seen.  In addition to having the best voice ever, he interacted with the crowd, was funny and told great stories to go along with the songs.  He also talked about a program he participates in called Musicians On Call(Here is more on MOC in Amos's own words.)  Basically, they bring music to the bedsides of patients who can't leave the hospital.  Amazing.  His songs were fluid and resonant and powerful--and he had strep throat.  Sometime during Street Corner Preacher I felt something in me change.  Have a listen.  The performance from tonight is remarkably similar to the one in this video.  He even had on the same shirt.

I felt a little calmer.  A little better.  A little more whole.  Yes, music can do that.  It can change you fundamentally.  It can clarify things.  It can give you perspective.  It can give you strength.  I don't think it was the words to this particular song as much as the passion that had been so apparent the entire night overflowing at this one moment.  It continued for the rest of the set.  The lights were bright yellow during Windows Are Rolled Down and everything felt warm and wonderful.

Somehow things make a more sense to me now.  This is my life.  My lifeMY life.  Only I can choose how to live it.  It can be sad or beautiful, boring or wondrous, frantic or calm.  Whatever it is on any given day, I claim it as my own.  Tonight I choose amazement, wonder, acceptance and peace.

Until next time, Check Your Neck.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Managing Energy and Living Primal

The thing I struggle with the most since my diagnosis is my low energy level.  I'm not sure there is a way to convey how it feels to wake up every day for five years and feel exhausted, the whole time knowing you have a life that needs living.  Someone else has already explained this far better than I can hope to, so please, read this story before you continue.  The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino from www.butyoudontlooksick.com.

As a scientist, I wish I could lay out my spoons each morning, count them, and meticulously plan when I am going to use them throughout the day.  Ideally, I'd have the same number of spoons every day and I would know how to manage them.  No two days are exactly the same for me.  Sometimes the actions of the previous day weigh heavily on me the next day.  Sometimes I feel just fine.  Sometimes there are repercussions for a week.  The bottom line is, there are never enough spoons.

I have learned a lot recently about managing the energy I have.  Much of this knowledge has come to me from my therapist.  What I have found most helpful (surprise, surprise) is collecting data.  More specifically, taking stock of my energy levels on a daily basis.  Energy In/Energy Out.  Physical, mental, emotional and sprirtual.  If I'm consistent with my journaling, then it is easy for me to see where my energy has gone and, as a result, I don't get as frustrated when I am tired.

Even after I started tracking my energy levels, I still felt pretty tired.  I understood it better, but I didn't notice any overtly careless uses of my energy.  This left me with one option--increase my daily energy pool.  I needed more spoons!  There were ways to improve my "energy in" for each of the four groups I track.  I find spiritual connections in nature, so I have been spending more time outside admiring the world and its beauty.  I get a tremendous amount of emotional energy in from spending time with friends and family.  The fact that I live with my sister is amazingly helpful to me.  I was surprised to find through my data collection that I hadn't found a way to recharge mentally, even though all I do at work is expend mental energy.  I have started meditating and it has been surprisingly difficult, but wonderful.  

Finally, physical energy.  My exercise routine was fairly non-existent.  I walk occasionally when my friends take their dogs out, but other than that it is just standard everyday exertions.  I rarely feel that I have enough spoons left at the end of the day to ride my bike, go for a walk, or hop in the pool.  I was a competitive swimmer for almost 10 years and would love to get back to that.  I've tried a few times in the past five years, and I overdo it so badly that I can hardly get out of bed for a week.  It's hard to figure out where to put exercise when I often find myself trying to decide whether to use my last spoon of the day (or one of tomorrow's spoons) for doing laundry or eating dinner.  It seemed to me that I had two options for increasing my physical energy:  sleeping more/better and changing my diet.

I mentioned in my first post that I wanted to use this blog as a way to hold myself accountable as I start living primal.  If you're not familiar with that phrase, I get most of my information from two related sources: www.primalblueprint.com and www.marksdailyapple.com.  The simplest way to describe it is "eat like a caveman."  One of my friends told me about the websites.  I had shared a lot with her in the past about my disease, and since she suffers from a chronic illness as well, she knows a bit about where I'm coming from.  She went primal months and months before I did.  I kept getting emails from her about how much better she was feeling.  Her disease symptoms were reduced greatly.  She had more energy.  And when I saw her in December she looked happier and healthier than I had ever seen her--and I had worked with her for 4 and a half years.

I should have jumped on board right away, but I was hesitant.  How would I be able to manage this lifestyle with such limited energy?  It seemed worthwhile to me to invest some extra spoons (and money) in purchasing and preparing quality food.  I started living primal 2 weeks ago.  I think it is still too early to tell how it will affect me.  There is a phase called the "carb flu" that happens as the body goes through withdrawal from all of the sugar it is used to receiving from all of the processed foods that are part of the standard American diet.  Also, I've cheated a few times.  I have no willpower when the bad foods are sitting around the house.  Luckily, they're almost all gone.  Everything I have cooked so far has been delicious and I am beyond excited to continue eating this way.

I have a sleep study on Tuesday night to evaluate the quality of my sleep.  It will be interesting to go from the one doing the experiments to the one being experimented on.  If I do end up having a breathing issue, I welcome the cumbersome C-pap.  Anything to give me a little more energy.

T-minus 2 days until the endocrinology appointment.  I'm definitely getting nervous about it, which is nothing new.  What has changed from 6 months ago until now is that I have the tools to calm myself down.  I'll be meditating shortly :)

Until next time, Check Your Neck.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My ThyCa History

Welcome to my little island on the interwebs.  The purpose of this blog is threefold for me.  First, I want to chronicle what I have experienced living with thyroid cancer up until now, and what I will experience in the future as I continually work towards accepting my disease.  Second, I want to hold myself accountable as I embark on a new chapter in my life--living primal (more to come on this in future posts).  Finally, if there is anyone out there in the vast ether of the internet who is going through what I am going through, I want them to feel slightly less alone.  Try to bear with me on this first post.  It's going to be a long one.

Let me start by saying that I am a very lucky person.  I try hard to never forget that.  My thyroid cancer was found completely by accident--by my dermatologist, no less.  I went in to see him because I had a rash on my legs after I had returned from a trip to Europe.  I am very fair-skinned and he wanted to check me for skin cancer as well.  He did a cursory thyroid exam that was more thorough than any I remember having before the cancer was found.  He said to me, "Your thyroid is kind of easy to feel.  Have your primary care doctor check it out at your next physical."  That was December 6, 2005. 

I followed up with my primary care doctor at my scheduled physical.  He agreed with the dermatologist and scheduled me for an ultrasound.  Shortly thereafter I met Bob the Nodule.  He was approximately 1 inch in diameter and located on the left lobe of my thyroid.  I was continually reassured that the likelihood that Bob was cancerous was very low.  I had many factors in my favor.  I was female, and only 23 years old.  How could it be cancer?

Everything else happened very quickly.  On January 16th my endocrinologist performed a fine needle aspiration biopsy.  I would be lying if I said it was a pleasant experience.  He had trouble getting enough cells, and had to repeat it five times.  I should have taken someone with me to that appointment.

I got a phone call the next day while I was at work.  It was my endocrinologist calling to inform me that the results were in, and it appeared to be cancer.  He said a lot more than that, but I honestly can't remember what it was.  I tried to write down a phone number so that I could schedule an immediate consult with a surgeon.  I failed.  My endocrinologist could tell that I wasn't functioning and offered to set up my appointment for me.  I gladly accepted and hung up the phone.  He called back in a few minutes to tell me the time and location of the surgery consult.  I know I called my parents that day.  I remember calling my sister too.  I don't remember much else. 

The next day I saw my surgeon for the first time.  He explained to me that the surgery was very straightforward and we needed to schedule it ASAP.  I hesitated a little, and he questioned that.  I just wanted to make sure my family could be there on the date we had chosen.  I felt a little better after he had explained things to me.  The fixed schedule of appointments that had been laid out before me appealed to my scientific nature.  We had a plan.  I liked that.  He said that they would only take the half of my thyroid with the tumor.  While I was in the operating room they would stain a cross section of the lobe with the tumor to determine, finally, if it was cancer.  If not, they would leave the other half of my thyroid so that I would have some natural thyroid function left.  If it was cancer, then they would take the whole thing out and I would go on replacement hormone for the rest of my life (Synthroid).

On January 24, 2006 I went in for my thyroidectomy.  The day started before 5am--I was the first surgery of the day.  Once I was settled in I said goodbye to my mom and the nurse came to wheel me in to surgery.  She made small talk on the way to the OR.  "Where do you work?" she asked.  "I'm in the cancer biology graduate program at the university," I replied.  "Oh, that's ironic," she said.  Nice, right?  The only other thing I remember is having trouble breathing right before they put the mask on me.  Then, nothing.

I woke up in recovery.  It was too bright so I asked for something to cover my eyes.  I remember having to go to the bathroom very badly, which I announced to everyone in recovery.  I also related that story to my mom as we went by the waiting room to get her.  Everyone there heard me too.  I had no idea there were other people around since my eyes were covered.  Something funny had to happen along the way, I suppose!

After awhile, a doctor came in to tell me that the Bob the Nodule was, in fact, cancer.  The surgeon had found three positive lymph nodes as well.  When I asked how he knew which lymph nodes to take out, he informed me that they had turned black.  The next steps had already been explained to me.  I would be put on replacement hormone for a short time while I was recovering.  Then I would go off my meds to prepare for my radioactive iodine (I-131) ablation.  The goal of going off meds is to raise my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) extremely high so that any remaining thyroid tissue/cancer will more readily absorb the iodine.  Once the tissue has absorbed the I-131, my body's immune system will destroy the cells.  Then, the cancer would be gone, and I could go on with my life.  I can say now, that it isn't quite that simple.

I  had to stay overnight in the hospital so my parathyroid function and calcium level could be monitored.  The parathyroid glands are very small and basically buried in the thyroid, so it is not uncommon for them to be accidentally removed during surgery.  I was by myself, and it was the loneliest night of my life.  I couldn't wait for my mom to come back in the morning.  The waiting was so difficult.  My surgeon had done a fantastic job and my parathyroid function and calcium levels were stable the following day.  They released me to go home, and I had no idea how draining that process would be.  I could hardly hold my head up.  My roommate had to brace my head from the backseat to keep me from crying.  Every move I made was excruciating.  I remember sitting at the pharmacy while my mom picked up my pain medication and thinking that I should be embarrassed because of the iodine all over my neck and chin.  I didn't even consider the fact that I had a giant, red slice across my neck as well.  I was too tired to be embarrassed anyway.

I didn't allow myself to recover as long as I should have.  I felt an obligation to get back to work.  I suppose I was a little bored as well.  The longer I was off my meds, the worse I felt.  By the time I went in to have my TSH checked one week before the ablation it was at 146.  A healthy person should have a TSH between 1 and 5.  The higher you go, the more hypothyroid you are, meaning your thyroid is underactive, or in my case, gone.  I had my 2mCi tracer dose of I-131 on March 14, and a whole body scan the following day.  The scan showed minimal uptake in the thyroid bed, meaning the surgeon had done a great job removing my thyroid.  There were no additional positive nodes on the scan, or any other metastases.  We could proceed with the ablation to get rid of any thyroid tissue or thyroid cancer left anywhere in my body.

I took my 96mCi pill of I-131 on March 16, 2006.  That's five years ago to the day.  I was isolated for about a week at home.  I didn't interact with my roommates or my cats.  I ate off of disposable dishes, used plastic silverware, drank through straws and had a separate bathroom.  I played a lot of World of Warcraft.  I started feeling worse and worse.  I had been started on Synthroid immediately after the ablation, but it takes 6-8 weeks for the levels to stabilize in your body.  I felt terrible.  This phase is known as "hypo hell" for a reason.  I was cold all the time.  I was sleeping for about 20 hours a day.  My hair was falling out.  I was pretty much non-functional.   I slowly regained some energy as the replacement hormone started to stabilize in my body.  I lost my sense of taste for awhile after the I-131.  Luckily, it came back.  By May 26, 2006 my TSH was down to 20.  Still a long way to go, but we had to make adjustments in dose in small increments since the relationship between Synthroid dose and TSH is not linear.

I had started working on a regular basis again.  The most frustrating part about being hypo was realizing that my brain was not functioning how I wanted it to.  I couldn't trust my brain to tell my hands to do the right things, and my science was suffering.  I knew if I waited long enough for my TSH to get down to where it should be, then I would be able to do my job well again.  It was a long wait.  In July my TSH was 13.  In September it was 1.73.  I was starting to feel human again. 

As a cancer patient, we were shooting for a TSH of under 0.3.  If the TSH gets too high, it signals the pituitary gland to tell the thryoid to grow and make more thyroid hormone.  If that pathway is activated in a ThyCa patient, the only thyroid tissue that could be left is cancerous.  The last thing we want is for the cancer to grow, if there is any.  So my goal for the next 3-5 years was to keep my TSH low.  To keep myself hyperthyroid.  To prevent that signaling pathway from being activated by taking a high dose of Synthroid.  Being hyper comes along with its own fun set of side effects.  I had heart palpitations, muscle pain, fatigue, trouble falling asleep, and trouble regulating my body temperature.

For the past five years I've been in a state of semi-controlled chaos.  I see my endocrinologist every 6 months.  We adjust my dose of Synthroid often.  My body seems to use it differently in different seasons.  I started having neck ultrasounds every six months about a year and a half ago to monitor my remaining lymph nodes for changes in size or appearance.

When I hit the four year mark my endocrinologist and I discussed how I was feeling.  Basically, I had been exhausted for four years.  We decided that we would back off my dose of Synthroid a bit and try to let my TSH come up to approximately 1.5.  That is where I had been before diagnosis.  It is a reasonable number for someone four years out.  We dropped my dose down and my TSH went up to 3.5.  Way too high.  We have been working on bringing it down ever since.  Last time we checked I was at 2.14.  I have had a combination of hypo and hyper symptoms for about a year now.

On September 21, 2010, I had my most recent ultrasound.  My doctor called while I was vacationing in northern Wisconsin to tell me that my lymph nodes had grown since the last ultrasound.  He was worried about this result and wanted to look into it further.  I went in for a PET/CT on September 30th.  My mom went with me to the appointment.  It was a long appointment, but the results were almost immediate.  The scan was negative.

We continued with two more tests.  First, I had a course of Thyrogen to artificially raise my TSH so that any remaining thyroid tissue/cancer would be more able to absorb iodine.  Then, a 2mCi tracer dose of I-131 and whole body scan.  Then, blood work to check my thyroglobulin levels.  The scan was negative.  However, my thyroglobulin levels are slightly elevated.  This means that something is growing somewhere, we just can't see it yet.  So, we wait.

Am I upset?  Yes.  Am I devastated?  No.  All I can do is get through it.  One day at a time.  I can be as proactive as possible.  I can make my life with ThyCa what I want it to be.  I've been seeing a therapist since September, and she has helped me in more ways than I can possibly explain.  I'm finally starting to feel like me again and not just a cancer patient.  I hope I can hold onto that throughout whatever happens in the future.

I go in for a visit with the endocrinologist on Monday.  I'm having my TSH drawn in a few days.  After the office visit we will set up another Thyrogen stimulated thyroglobulin blood test, as well as another neck ultrasound.  Once the results are in, we decide if more scans are necessary.  I'll update soon.

Until next time, Check Your Neck.