A recipe for living with cancer.

Archive for June, 2012

Reminder-Day 10 White Blood Cells Down–DO OVER!!

Yesterday was an awful day. Day 9 after chemo and I woke feeling tired and worrying about a blood test I needed. Not worried about the needle but about the results of the test. This is the point at which the chemo has wiped out lots of good cells, especially the white blood cells which protect the body from infection. But never fear Neulasta is here, the magic drug that kickstarts the bone marrow into producing new white blood cells faster. Downside of Neulasta is bone pain. But I was golden, I’d gotten the Neulasta 9 days ago and not a twinge of pain. The expression “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”, well it’s a lie, what I didn’t know about Nuelasta HURT me.

I had a meeting with Kelsey and made it through fine and did a few errands, my mistake. The few errands which normally were no problem proved to be over the top during chemo.
I took a nap and was awakened by a painful sensation starting in my hips feeling like waves flowing up my spine to the base of my neck and radiating around front through my ribs and up to my chest.
It was a painful massage flowing bottom to top, continuously.

Long story short after a few hours Tom got me pain meds and got it under control. I get mean, obstinate and nasty when in pain, really –ask Tom.

Talking to the doc today we got some strong prescription pain meds, found out my white count is seriously low and discovered that the Neulasta kicks in when the white count is at its nadir. I wouldn’t have bone pain UNTIL my white count was down. Now I need to hunker down, not get any infections and monitor my temp so I don’t need to make a trip to the hospital.

Today was my DO OVER day. My nephew is visiting, I’ve been resting, visiting, doing oral histories of my family for him (he is an Archivist and recording it and he loves to do transcriptions) and not going anywhere. I will get another blood test to see if my counts are good and can do the next round of chemo July 12.

Sometimes Life is Just Vanilla

I have been making vanilla cupcakes for 45 years, I’ve used the “Hurry Up Cake” recipe from the Joy of Cooking with my variations. I use organic all-purpose flour,  vegan smart balance, organic non fat milk, organic eggs and vegan or organic cane sugar.  The “organic” label has been within the last five years, before that it was regular everything.  I use organic in the hope  I am helping the environment in some small way from the dumping of more pesticides and herbicides on the already battered earth, maybe prevent a few toxic ingredients from creeping into our bodies and cause more wildly divided cells and as a message to the big corporate machine that I will not support their dirty, greedy ways anymore. I know organic is becoming part of the greedy machine, but I need to believe in something.

I have deviated from my recipe and tried the “best vanilla cupcake”, the “lightest vanilla cupcake”,  the “perfect vanilla cupcake”,  a “white cupcake”, a “yellow cupcake”, made it with butter, cake flour, full fat milk, egg whites, but my family always comes back to me and says “we like the old recipe better.” I know the ingredients by heart, but always turn to the page in my cookbook to have it visible like a comfort or reassurance that I am doing it correctly.  I will make chocolate cupcakes, pumpkin, carrot, raspberry, cupcakes with fillings, hostess cupcakes…but they always say “we like the old recipe better.” So here is my recipe, because sometimes life is just VANILLA!

Barb’s Hurry Up Cupcakes     Preheat oven to 350

  • 1 3/4 cup organic all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegan or organic sugar
  • 1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt (I use Kosher)
  • 1/2 cup smart balance-room temp
  • 1/2 cup organic non fat milk-room temp
  • 2 organic eggs-room temp
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Place flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl of mixer.  Break eggs into bowl, add milk and vanilla and whisk.  Add smart balance to flour mixture and with paddle attachment blend on low until well blended no chunks of fat appear.  Add liquid ingredients scraping down sides of bowl.  If doesn’t look smooth not to worry, crank mixer up to medium and let mix 2-3 minutes until smooth and well blended.

Place paper cups in muffin tin and fill two-thirds with batter.  Bake at 350 16-18 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

I can get 12-16 cupcakes out of this recipe depending on how high I fill them.  I have ice cream scoops, one of which gives me 12 cupcakes, the smaller 16.  I do not know the scoop sizes.  I also have three different muffin pans, each slightly different size then the next.  So try this with your pans, your scoops, your methods.

Changes you can make to this recipe, for a richer cupcake, use butter, use full fat milk.  For a lighter cupcake use cake flour.

Icing:  In the top of a double boiler place two handfuls of a really good dark chocolate, I use El Rey 70%.  Heat slowly until chocolate melts, remove from heat and add a third hand full of chocolate.  Stir until melted.  I turn the cupcake upside down and dip it in the chocolate and voila it’s iced.  I freeze the cupcakes and according to my hubbie, 20 seconds in a high-powered microwave and you are good to go! If you have chocolate leftover, dip some pretzels in it for a snack, or apricots, or pour it over a cut up banana for a treat.  Chocolate never goes to waste in our house.

The Colorado River is Drying Up

I have breast cancer and the Colorado River is drying up. Two terrible things seemingly unrelated yet in the vast scheme of life totally related and possibly caused by similar issues, the abuse of nature.  Water usage in the West has increased over the century with farming of animals, plants, population increases and other stresses on the environment.  Today natural gas fracking takes clean potable fresh water, fouls it beyond use with a hundred toxic chemicals and returns this fetid mixture back into the earth, damaging whatever it touches. Millions of gallons of water wasted in an endeavor which will make some rich, others sick and a few able to continue on this path of use and abuse while the Colorado River is drying up.

Breast cancer is caused by some unknown environmental scourge and or genetic error that causes cells to wildly replicate and threaten the life of the individual.  Much the way the loss of the water in the Colorado River is a wake up call threatening the life of people, animals and the environment surrounding it cancer is the bell weather of the body saying it is broken and we need to fix it.  We can fix breast cancer through a toxic mix of chemicals, surgeries and long term drugs to kill the cancer cells and prevent their growth.  Fixing is relative in the process of fixing the cancer cells, we also kill good cells, make the body susceptible to infection, compromise the immune systems, reek havoc on the hair, the taste, the skin, and the psyche.  In the end the body heals itself and gets back to normal, although it really is not normal.  Much as the Colorado River is forever changed, so is the body with breast cancer.  A body surviving breast cancer no longer has its original parts, the breast are gone and changed, the original hair is gone and changed, for those on continued medication, the original make up of the body is gone and changed forever.  We can survive breast cancer but we are never the same.

Fixing the Colorado River is a more complex problem involving not just one body responding to a care plan but hundreds, thousands of bodies, all with different genetics, demands, desires, needs, and entitlements.  The Colorado River Basin will never be the same, the beauty and grandeur has changed, it’s majestic flow averted, the life giving waters drying up.

As I move through the process of killing cancer, chasing the thief robbing my body of its original footprint and legacy at least I know I will survive, as opposed to the Colorado River, which is drying up.

The Best Baked Apple Ever

My sweet daughter came over last night after her children were in bed.  She came after a long day at work, picking up the kids, making dinner, dealing with all the days excitement and disappointment, she came over to be a wonderful daughter after being a working Mom.  She came over to help me.  I reached out to her when feeling really punk yesterday and she responded without a second thought…I’ll be over tonight after the kids are in bed to make you a couple of things to eat.  She made me vegan chili and baked apples. When she suggested making baked apples I immediately said yes and a flood of wonderful memories came over me.

My Mom and I loved baked apples, usually Rome apples carefully cored and placed in a baking dish, the holes filled with raisins and then filled with diet black cherry soda spilling over into the pan to fill the sides 1/2 inch up.  Then a sprinkling of cinnamon and in the oven.  The timing was dependent upon when we put them in the oven.  If done late at night as most of our baking was done, we would fall asleep in the living room and awake to the sweet smell of caramelizing apple on the bottom of the pan.  We’d run in and remove the steaming mass and the soda usually completely evaporated had formed somewhat of a fruit leather on the bottom of the pan.  A dripping hot fingerful was always a late night treat, sweet, sticky and gummy, just what teeth do not need before going to sleep for the night.

If it was earlier in the day we’d take them out of the oven, each take an apple in a bowl, scoop up some of the sauce and pour cold buttermilk over the top of the apple.  There is nothing quite as delicious as the warm soft sweet apple juxtaposed against the sweet cool sour buttermilk.  If I tell people about the buttermilk they usually say…really…no ice cream or whipped cream…no– cool luscious thick buttermilk. 

This morning I got up feeling better than I’d had in a week, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and I knew there were baked apples in the frig, what a great day to be alive.  I don’t know what kind of apples were in the frig, I don’t know if they’d been made with sugar or honey (I fill the holes with raisins and honey now) and I didn’t smell the caramelized apple aroma as they were baking, I just knew they were down there.

The sight of the tan sagging raisin speckled apple made me smile, baked apples are not pretty, but this book needed no fancy cover.  I plopped one into a bowl and pulled out some non fat fage yogurt and dolloped  a thick spoonful right on top setting aside my vegan diet for the moment.  I drizzled a thin stream of honey on the yogurt to thin it down and dug in.  It was the best baked apple ever, it was cool, sweet, the skin was chewy with a thin layer of apple left to give it just the right amount of flavor, the yogurt tart and balanced, playing against the sweetness cooked into the apple. I finished every last drop, skin, raisins, yogurt, scraping the bowl with the spoon for every last morsel.

I thought of Mom, I thought of my daughter and I thought not only am I the luckiest person ever, but this is definitely the best baked apple ever.

Do You Know What Your Spouse Likes?

The answer to this question seems simple, of course we  know what our spouse likes.  My husband eats a specific type of cereal with non-fat milk, every morning for breakfast.  He then cuts a grapefruit in half, carefully cuts around each wedge and eats it.  Some mornings he will make himself a latte with same non fat milk, heated in the microwave for a minute and pours two times through the same espresso grounds.  Lunch is a banana, a non fat fage  yoghurt (honey is his fav) and a homemade cupcake from the freezer.  Vanilla cake (recipe below)  with chocolate icing made from melted dark chocolate, nothing else added just chocolate forming a hard shell.

Does he know me as well?  He thinks he does.  I am no where near as predictable in my food habits so I give him direction when he asks what I would like.  These last two days have been doozies, tired and bone pain and just plain out of sorts.  When he offered to go to the grocery store I readily accepted and asked him to pick up a couple things.  Two in particular, a carton of egg whites so I could make egg white omelets and some Inari for dinner.  The Inari was perfect and I saw a container of something in the frig and he happily told me he had gotten the correct container of Almond Milk  this time.  The last container was not organic and although I prefer to use organic ingredients, especially now during cancer treatment, I told him not to worry.


For some bizarre reason I wanted cornmeal pancakes this morning so I headed downstairs to make them.  I took out the container of eggwhites and the almond milk.  I started to pour the eggwhites into the measuring cup when I realized they were yellow and reading the package  saw they were egg replacements.  I picked up the almond milk and saw Vanilla, but no unsweetened anywhere on the package.  Checking the ingredients the second was corn syrup.  I put them back and separated an egg and used rice milk in the recipe and it was fine.

When I mentioned to him the error he swore he had gotten the right things and when he came home carefully and thouroughly checked each package.   I had to laugh to myself at how often I am in the grocery store and how easily I navigate through it and hardly have to think twice about what I am picking up–  I could probably go through blind folded and come out with most of my items.  My hubby probably spent a lot of time trying to pick out those eggwhites and almond milk,  and I love him for taking the time to get what I like.


Yes, I know what my spouse likes and he knows what I like too, a man who tries hard and loves me, even if I am tired, grouchy and just out of sorts.


Egg replacement omlete anyone?






What is Fatigue? Apparently Making Homemade Sauerkraut!

Today is day four the day ” fatigue” is supposed to set in. I awoke to a bluebird sky with sun streaming in my window. As I lay in bed I thought I felt pretty good, the drugs are handling the nausea, no vomiting and the Zyrtec is handling the bone pain from he injection of Neulasta. That is the drug that makes your body kick in the production of white blood cells to stave off infections but causes bone pain. To combat that the Zyrtec. It really is amazing they have figured it all out.

I went down stairs and my sweetie Tom made me a smoothie to take some of my meds. I looked around the kitchen and lurking in the corner were three cabbages, fresh from the CSA begging to be made into homemade sauerkraut. This is easy peasy so I decided to go ahead and make it– fatigue , naw.

It’s simple:
Take a large pottery or glass vessel with a wide mouth about a gallon size. Clean with hot soapy water, rinse and dry.
Take 2-3 medium cabbage, peel outside damaged leaves and rinse.
Cut in quarters and remove core.
To cut/shred the cabbage use a knife or a mandolin. I use the mandolin because it goes so fast. Make the shred thin as you would for cole slaw or kraut.
Every half cabbage you shred, place in bowl and toss with a heaping tablespoon of kosher salt. Keep shredding and salting.

Once shredded toss well and let sit 15 minutes to draw liquid out of the cabbage.
With clean hands start packing cabbage into crock or glass. Pack it all in and pour any liquid in the bottom of the bowl in with the cabbage.

Weight done the top with a plate or a plastic bag filled with water. The objective is to make sure you form a seal to avoid anything growing on the top or it drying out and to keep weight on the cabbage as it ferments. Check after a day or two and make sure there is liquid up to the top of the cabbage. If dry, add a bit of water to cover.
Make sure your crock or glass is sitting in another bowl in case there is to much water and overflow.
I taste the kraut after a week to see if it’s to my liking. The more sour you want it –just leave it longer. Two weeks usually gets me the finished product I like.

The beauty of homemade sauerkraut is the crunch that is missing from canned or packaged kraut. My daughter who was never a fan of kraut, LOVES homemade.

The leftover leaves and pieces I chop up to make a chunky coleslaw with a creamy dressing. I will add in whatever fresh veggies i have around, today, red pepper, carrot and fresh snow peas from the garden. The dressing:
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 cup white beans (more if you want it creamier)
Put all in blender and taste for seasonings.

Ordinarily this would be the beginning of a very productive day, but after finishing I am exhausted. I guess this is fatigue!

When Chocolate Tastes Funky

Last night was not so bad, headache, queasy very uncomfortable and nervous that I wouldn’t fall asleep.  I took a Zyrtec and miraculously fell asleep.  I woke up feeling somewhat normaL.The issue seems to be food, yup food.  When I eat even small quantities it makes me queasy and I ate some chocolate and it tasted funky (the chocolate chip cookie Cory!).Chocolate my go to comfort food that I love, love,love and it doesn’t taste good.

Hope this goes away the third week after the injection when I am supposed to be feeling normal so I can have some.  I have this therapy for the next 24 weeks, then it takes a while for everything settle back to normal. Can you even imagine not eating CHOCOLATE for all that time.

Actually I can, I didn’t eat chocolate for 25 years.  I started having migraines at 12 years old.  My Mom had them, my brother had them and if you are lucky enough to never having experienced one be very, very happy.  I have the classic migraine starting with a spot of light in the center of your visions that shimmers in a zigzag pattern.  It spreads and you can’t see, and when it finally expands out of

your vision the pain starts, immediately.

Chocolate was always considered a culprit in the triggering of migraines, as was red wine and certain cheeses.  At 25 after a few bad bouts with migraines I gave up chocolate…for the next 25 years, one of which was spent in Switzerland, land of cows, cheese and chocolates.  They have a dedicated aisle in the grocery store just for chocolate.  I spent a year in Switzerland and did not eat one piece of chocolate, lots of wine and cheese, but no chocolate.

I still had migraines over  those years…but I stayed away from chocolate until I was 52 .  After  a crushing two year period of cluster migraines and almost killing my liver with massive doses of Tylenol and Advil, a brilliant Neurologist got me through it.  The first appointment he informed me I’d spent the last 25 years avoiding one of the things they had absolutely proven do not cause migraines, chocolate.  I left the office and went out and bought a chocolate bar and have not looked back since.

My mission, find chocolate that tastes gooduring chemo, a tough job but someone has to do it!

The Evil First Drug


Here is the evil first drug which is pushed through the IV by hand.  Very very red, like Koolaid, I am drinking the Koolaid, OMG. Red used to be my favorite color, I may have to amend that. They do this by hand so they can carefully monitor it as it goes in and make sure there is no leakage at the site of IV insertion.  That’s because this stuff is so corrosive it will eat away at the tissue and make a terrible mess!  They repeat multiple times…if you feel a burning sensation at the IV site tell us immediately…how good could this be for my poor little cells that don’t have cancer!!  I was lucky it went in without incident and I was on to drug number 2.  An innocuous small pouch of clear liquid that flowed in smoothly over the course of 30 minutes. BTW said the nurse, this one can cause terrible sinus congestion after a couple of doses but we have ice packs to put on your face.  So much for innocuous.

Before I even started they gave me anti nausea medication and some steroids to help with any side effects.  Without batting an eye I popped them all in my mouth and took a slug of water to wash them down.  I now have four different drugs running around my cells doing good things and bad things and hopefully the right things.  Tomorrow I get a shot of another drug to help my bone marrow produce more white blood cells as they are being destroyed by the chemo drugs.  Science is amazing, a little scary and complicated. Do they really know what they are doing, hence the phrase, Doctors PRACTICE medicine!

The only discomfort I had today was the IV insertion oucha magoucha and the cold.  The liquids going through your arm are so cold it is actually painful, hence the lovely heated blankets which they will replace as often as you like. Tom said in the dialysis units they warm the fluids before using them, hey, cancer center, got that…WARM the FLUIDS!

At the moment I feel OK, tired, a little weird which I cannot explain, and a bit nervous for what the next week will hold. The women sitting in the other chairs in the pod, since you sit directly across from one another, are chatty and sharing and at different stages.  It was good to hear what to expect from someone going through it and be able to laugh and commiserate. 

With any luck the first meds will keep the stomach issues at bay for three days just in time for the fatigue to set in on day four. 

Ah, the anticipation of things to come.




Waiting for the first drug

Waiting for the first drug

The room or pod as they call it has 6 chairs, three on each side separated by partitions. The chairs are recliners (my Dad would be so happy, he had an intimate relationship with his Barcolounger!) with setting for massage and heat. There are heated blankets too.

If you are sqeamish don’t look…

Tomorrow I am going to post some pictures getting chemo, the room, the “chair 2” I have been assigned and the bags of stuff going into my hand.  If this bothers you, I apologize in advance. 

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