There is wisdom in the old adage to trust your gut. It tells us when something is off – be it a person, situation, or our bodies. It has been quipped as our second brain and more and more people believe the gut plays a role in our emotional health. I think it’s wise to listen to your gut. I dealt with IBS symptoms for years prior to a cancer diagnosis. Forgive me if I share too much. True, there were trigger foods and emotional triggers that caused issues. I saw many specialists that only ruled things out and never could explain why my stomach and digestion were such a mess. Other than a colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer, no one ever thought cancer was truly at the root. And it may not have been, but my gut was certainly working hard to tell me something was wrong. I made minor changes to my diet, but wound up just trying to control symptoms since I never got a real explanation.
Interestingly, after the diagnosis, the IBS symptoms all but disappeared. Sure, my diet is much different now, but I find it a very interesting correlation. Trust your gut. Perhaps it’s bringing your attention to something physical or emotional. Listen.
I am not a dietician, a nutritionist, or a health coach. I just want to share a few things I’ve learned over the past few years. Please follow-up with research of your own and consulting health professionals before making changes to your diet.
Eating a plant-based diet is one of the easiest ways to naturally change your gut environment. Many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain prebiotics that keep the large intestine happy. Plants that are higher in fiber content help the gut. It has something to do with the fructans found in fiber rich foods. Fructans are a type of prebiotic. The higher the fructan level, the happier your gut biome. Fresh, whole foods are the recipe for a healthy gut biome. If you choose fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, beans (pinto, kidney, white), and whole grains, you’ll have it covered. Artichokes, raspberries, and asparagus are also good sources.
Legumes typically are low in fat, have no cholesterol, and contain insoluble and soluble fiber. They are high in potassium, iron, magnesium, and folate. General foods in the legume family are lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, and peanuts. Your gut likes legumes. I personally steer clear of soybeans and therefore any soy products due to associations with estrogen production, but I leave it to individuals to research and make their own decisions regarding soy, beans, and any of the suggestions I may make. What’s right for me may not be right for you. It’s always possible I have misread a fact even though I’ve made every effort to double and triple check.
Beans confuse me. Mark Hyman is the author of Food – What the Heck Should I Eat. He believes beans have benefits, mainly as resistant starches. He says the fiber, minerals, proteins, and other nutrients found in beans can be gotten from other food sources. He also writes that beans are to be avoided if you have cancer. I’m left confused here. There are always conflicting statistics, studies, and recommendations about foods. As stated above, beans can help contribute to a healthy gut. There are times I feel that I’m doomed whatever I eat. I still don’t know what the heck I should eat. Then I slip and have a delicious bowl of ice cream.
Broccoli probably wins the prize for the most beneficial food ever grown. I can’t stand it, but I’ve eaten it diligently. Now, I’m on a bit of a broccoli break. It’s easy enough and you can’t beat all its benefits. It’s just one of the mighty cruciferous vegetables that decrease the risk of several types of cancers (breast, colon, melanoma, pancreatic, and liver) and improves bone health. Cauliflower, kale, turnips, and Brussels sprouts are other cruciferous winners.
I have a lot to learn about whole grains. For those in the gluten-free camp, grains aren’t for you. The great thing about whole grains is they are packed with fiber and carbs. When these make their way to the large intestine, they are broken down there and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Plants rich in polyphenols are also helpful to the gut biome because they decrease inflammation in your gut. Polyphenols actually aren’t absorbed efficiently on their way to the colon, which in this case is a good thing, because it means there are more to be digested by bacteria in your gut. Good sources of polyphenols include blueberries, grape skins, broccoli, and onions. Almonds also are a good source, as well as cocoa and dark chocolate. Finally, no guilt for all the dark chocolate I eat! Red wine and green tea are liquid sources for polyphenols.
There are lots of diets out there claiming to achieve wellness for your body – low carb, no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, no meat, vegan, high protein, high fat, etc. The list goes on and on. Some have merit. I am waiting for the high chocolate diet since dark chocolate has already been established as a very good thing.
Bottom line: Eating a diverse diet that is mostly plants, limited in processed meats, and low in sugar is one that will keep your gut happy and that keeps YOU healthy.
I worked with a naturopath in the fall of 2016. It turns out my gut ecology wasn’t helping my body absorb nutrients even though I had made many diet changes and added supplements to my daily intake. This was less than thrilling news to hear that I’d been getting little if any positive effect from years of faithfully ingesting numerous pharmaceutical grade supplements, not to mention the financial investment involved with that commitment. Apparently, chemotherapy and some medications can drain your body of certain nutrients. The solution was better gut ecology, attained through a plant protein based drink that was dark yellow, thick, and awful tasting. I called it sludge. Strangely enough, I came to count on it as a support. It gave me needed nutrition and repaired my gut. I continue to drink it from time to time since my gut will likely be in need of extra support for a long time.
Gut ecology and health is a burgeoning field of science. No matter what the ailment, it seems improving your gut biome is a place to start recovering better health. Thousands of species of microorganisms make the gut home sweet home. These microbes help maximize nutrient absorption and support digestion. They even can contribute to a better immune system. Both these functions are vital to a stronger, healthier me, so if I need to drink sludge every day, I’ll do it happily, because a body that is functioning creates an environment where cancer cells are not welcome. Healthy bacteria in your gut actually form disease fighting armies. Foods like bananas, broccoli, blueberries, beans, and fermented plant-based foods are natural ways to create this bacteria. I give my gut a boost however I can and also take probiotics.
Michael Pollan is an author and food connoisseur who has taught me a lot about healthier eating. He has three simple rules: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. For further reading, I recommend In Defense of Food (or any book by him).
Trust keeps coming up over and over again as an underlying thread in many posts. It affects how you relate to yourself, to others, and how you function in the world. Trust affects what you eat and how much you eat. Establishing healthy boundaries has a lot to do with trust. I believe there is a direct cause and effect link between happiness, health, and trust. Examining each of these is a huge topic. For now, I’ll keep it simple with a basic guideline to listen to what your gut has to say. Trust yourself. Trust your gut.
I love cards. I love making cards, sending cards, and getting cards. In the age of texts, emails, and communication through social media, receiving a bona fide card in the mail is rare. A few friends and I send cards to each other regularly. Mind you this officially makes us old school (but not old). Maybe a special occasion is being marked. Quite often sending the card is what makes the occasion special. We just do it. It’s one way we celebrate our friendship and show we are there for one another.
Emily sends me cards often. We met through fate as roommates our freshman year in college. We bonded over many things, but I can’t imagine having the relationship I have with her with any of the other young women who were randomly thrown together to share a room the size of an oversized closet. I am so grateful she is still one of my closest friends today. The last card she sent me was on my survivorversary to mark seven years since my diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Somehow she always finds the perfect card. She writes words heavy in meaning and hope.
The most recent card she sent me had a photo of a robin featured on the front that splashed about in a birdbath even though it was caught in the rain. The caption on the front even referenced the bird always managed to “find a way.” The words jumped out at me since that is a personal mantra of mine as well as words of inspiration for the title of my blog. The message on the inside of the card concluded with the thought that the robin kept singing through the rain.
Emily’s personal words were supportive and encouraging. She connected the theme in the card by writing she was proud of my “strength and song through the past seven years of rain.” I’ve tried. I’ve been the robin. I’ve walked through a lot of rain. I’ve been the rain, too. I’ve also warmed myself in long periods of sunshine.
I received the card on my actual survivorversary. It coincided with the day I saw my first robins returning from winter. Symbolism is rarely lost on me. I look for signs. There is a lengthy list of positive qualities that robins possess in the world of symbolism, too many to elaborate on here. For the sake of brevity, robins symbolize renewal and rebirth since they are a spring bird. I’ve read that their beautiful song will bring joy and happiness to a person’s life. I am ready for it. I love that more robins than I could count settled all over my yard on a day that already held significance for me. More strength and song.
Strength and song as a combined force brings beauty and softness to strength. It mixes power and muscle to song. I close my eyes and feel hope when I repeat the words over and over in my mind. Strength and song, strength and song, strength and song. Strength as hope. Song as hope. Both lift me up. They make a good team.
Kristin is another dear friend and sender of some of my favorite cards. She is not just a source of hope for me but also a source of strength and song. I can always be myself and share what’s on my mind whether I am a robin singing or drenched and cold from the rain. We value the same things like gratitude, kindness, helping others, good health, equality, and the environment. We’ve shown up for one another over years of friendship.
The support she offers me through a few sentences in cards is immeasurable. She writes of joy and comfort, support and positivity, tears and fears, gratitude, friendship, and humor. Surrounding myself with like-minded individuals is important not just from a perspective of maintaining a healthy and hopeful mindset, but in achieving and sustaining happiness. I am so fortunate to have made a lifelong friend from adolescence and still have such a strong friendship almost forty years later.
I recently received a letter from the University of Wisconsin Foundation that both Emily and Kristin made tribute gifts in my name to the Stage IV Needs More Fund. Both of these friends know of one another through me, but they are not close geographically and do not communicate to my knowledge. Yet, they made a charitable donation at the same time to honor my personal milestone as a survivor. Kristin told me I made good points through my blog that more research is needed for later stage cancers. Their gifts are more than tribute gifts for a cause I often promote. It is a gift that shows two incredibly strong friendships of strength and song. Powerful forces work in mysterious ways.
Emily informed me that Rob and Mary Gooze, who established and oversee the Stage IV Needs More Fund through their work and advocacy, included a hand written thank you as part of their acknowledgement for her gift. A hand written note fits well into the theme for this post. Rob and Mary are incredibly warm people. They took the time to show they were truly grateful for a donation. Cards and hand written notes make a difference.
No one goes out to make a friend with the reasoning that it’s a healthy choice, however, there is a connection between friendships and health. Time spent with the right friends raises levels of happiness and lowers stress. We have a stronger sense of purpose and belonging with friends. Friends are there to provide support through tough times. Friends stand by one another. Studies show that having many friends as you age may even help you live longer. Friendships are pretty powerful forces themselves.
My life is wonderful in part because I have amazing friends.
I almost titled this post Strength and Song instead of Support and Friendship. In the end, I decided to keep it simple and to the point. A synonymous relationship definitely exists in equating the words strength and support. Song and friendship may be a bit more of a stretch, but they have similarities, too. The best friendships keep the beat, develop variations of the same melody, and harmonize with perfect tones. I will always think the words strength and song carry new meanings from this point forward.
Friendship is a priceless gift. My friends are family. Unfortunately, there have been friends who drifted away when I received my cancer diagnosis. They don’t have the strength or song that I need. They don’t know how to show up for me or they don’t want to show up for me. Other people (note the avoidance of the word friends) have shown up in toxic ways and I have chosen to distance myself from them. I have changed, too. I’ve made mistakes, but hope I’m a better friend today than I’ve been in the past. Positivity, support, and hope are qualities I’ve always valued in my friends. I choose to surround myself with friends who have these. My closest friends sing through the rain just like I do. We share one another’s victories and tough times.
Strong friendships that last though the years are built through support, trust, and empathy. Laughing is a must. Tears are not shunned. Having fun and common interests helps. Interests that change and evolve over time may contribute to some friendships that lose their intensity. My good friends and I have always found a way to support one another and stay connected even as our lives changed over the years. We all need friends to celebrate with, cry with, and confide in, no matter what is happening in our lives. I want to stay close to friends who feel like warm sunshine on those rainy days. My friendships that continue to grow are nurtured through connection. Connection makes room for trust, empathy, and hope through strength and song.
Thank you, all my friends, for being my strength and song.
- How are friendships important in your life?
- Do you still send cards in the mail? What is behind your decision?
- What does strength and song mean to you?
This type of question fascinates me. It’s a wonderful opportunity for self-reflection and discovery. The answer can change over time as different significant events are experienced, and even as major interests come and go. When I first started thinking about storytelling objects, the number three popped into my mind. Three objects was a good number. Three objects soon became extremely limiting. Then I tried to compartmentalize my life into three sections: past, present, and future. I could have several objects within each section. The future section posed the biggest problem. A crystal ball is not one of my objects. Time as some sort of construct to organize my story helps, but something is still missing here, too. Finally, I fell back on simple self-reflection to identify objects to represent stories that collectively tell a little bit of the story of my life.
Object: Lisa and the Grompet (book)
There have been countless times where I’ve unearthed a memory and thought, “Ah-ha, so this is where it started.” I have found letters I wrote to my mom while I lived in Scotland declaring how I might as well go places on my own so I could see as much as I could and do what I wanted. I went all over on my own and thought perhaps this was where my independent streak was born. Being in Scotland for a year, however, was already a story of independence.
But it goes back further. Both my parents always valued education as a way to be independent and for me to stand on my own. Good call, parents. I place a high value on education for many reasons. It continues to give me a lot of happiness. It gave me wonderful years in a career I loved. Being independent enough to support yourself and get to do what you love can’t be matched.
But this story still goes back even further, quite a bit further. I remember my dad dropping me off for Sunday school for the first time. We were early and no one else was there. A little boy showed up. My dad wanted to stick around to make sure I was okay, but I shooed him off, telling him I was just fine and had a new friend. He reluctantly left.
For a long time, I thought this was the first memory of me asserting an independent spirit, but no, I can trace it back further still. As a young child, there was this book I loved to check out repeatedly at the public library – Lisa and the Grompet. It was about a little girl Lisa who was bossed around by everyone in her family.
She knew what she needed to do. No one had to keep reminding her. One afternoon she discovered a little grompet creature outside who needed someone to take care of it and tell it what was what. Hmmm . . . I felt a lot like Lisa and never liked being told what I should do. Yes, this I think is where my story of independence subconsciously took root. Maybe I was born knowing I was okay on my own. That would backtrack the story even further. Who knows? I need people like we all do. What I am saying is this book had an effect on me and there has been an identifiable pattern that turns up at other times in my life.
Photos are an easy choice. I love going through albums and remembering favorite moments with my family. They are a collective timeline of my life, so it’s really not possible to choose just one. Together they tell my story. There are photos of birthdays, holidays, vacations, achievements, picnics, days up at my grandma’s farm, pets, and many special occasions. Every year there was a classic photo of the first day of school. Family experiences and values shape so much of who we become. Looking back at those photos helps me remember those times. Photos of family (and friends who are family) are good storytellers. Perhaps my enjoyment of past photos even points to some of my present interests in photography. Important ideas keep showing up.
Story: Teaching and Writing
I’ve written over twenty years of lesson plans with pencils. Hundreds of kids have used thousands of pencils to demonstrate many levels of learning and understanding. They have borrowed and kept many. Too many. I should have taken out stock in a pencil company. I still prefer a yellow Ticonderoga and get a bit of a rush when I begin to use a newly sharpened pencil with a fresh eraser. I’ve filled diaries and journals as a child and adult. These are great time capsules of years, trips, and things I thought terribly important at the time that are now preserved. Feelings that I never wanted to share anywhere else I could capture with words just for me so I’d remember. Many writing endeavors have been written on my laptop, yet that image of a pencil is a perfect representation for the plans, creativity, and story involved in each of them. Pencils create powerful stories. Pencils don’t have the story, but they are the way the story oozes out, word by word, until something complete and amazing is created.
I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I’ve heard a single pencil can produce 45,000 words. I don’t doubt that one pencil can create thousands of words. Knowing an intangible quantity awaits inside makes pencils one of the truly powerful and magical objects in the world.
This story sucks.
I remember calling my mom after I had gotten my phone call with the news. She was upset. Then I headed over to her house to show her I really was okay.
I remember the day I told my students I wouldn’t be finishing the rest of the year. I explained I had been seeing a lot of doctors and they had found something wrong with some of my cells that weren’t working the right way. The name for it was cancer. My doctors had a really good plan for me but it meant I had to be away from them. That isn’t exactly where this story started, but it’s where it became common knowledge to a big part of my world beyond my immediate family and a few close friends.
Now, it continues. I marked my 100th treatment at the end of February. I don’t really have the words to express how that number makes me feel. A lot of conflicting emotions overlap in a messy jumble. It’s a juxtaposition of toxicity and life. I’ll keep on keeping on.
I really hate including this as part of my life’s story.
I’ve argued with myself trying to decide whether to include this part or not.
Me: Maybe I shouldn’t.
Also Me: How could I not?
Me: Don’t give in to it as a factor in your life.
Also Me: Too bad, I really don’t have a lot of moments where I feel truly away from it.
Both of Us: Cancer sucks.
I have worked so hard not to let it define me or become part of my identity. Appointments, treatments, side effects, and other related choices have changed the way I live. I needed to retire. Teaching defined me perhaps more than it should have, but I feel that is something almost innate in my being.
When I decided to blog, I knew sharing about how I’m trying to live well while living with cancer would connect cancer to my life more than I wanted. It’s not a story I wanted to have, but it’s part of my story nonetheless. The image of the pencil also blurs into this story. The teaching story also overlaps. Once again, important ideas keep showing up. I can choose how I tell it by the way I live which is why I’ve chosen to focus on wellness. I have a lot of wellness in me. I want people to see that and see me as me.
Story: Rejuvenation and Future
Paths surrounded by trees are some of my favorite places. Trees re-energize me.
I am relaxed spending time in nature. From out of nowhere, solutions show up for problems. Something creative happens. Inspiring ideas come to me, whispered by the breeze. The fresh air makes me feel fantastic. Depending where I am, I see turkeys, deer, or cranes. I can’t always see where my path leads and that’s okay. Sometimes I know where I’m going; sometimes I don’t. I’m going somewhere and I choose to believe it’s good.
Many objects make up the story of our lives. Books, photographs, pencils, cells, and paths make up part of my story. These may not be the best objects to choose, but they are what I’ve chosen here. For now, there are many other books to read and photos to take. I have much to write whether with pencils, pens, markers, or keyboards. My story is still being written. Creating an environment where healthy cells thrive and abnormal ones don’t is an important focus. I love being in nature walking familiar paths or exploring new ones.
Ultimately, my story is one where I find a way. Always.
- What objects come to mind that could tell part of the story of your life?
- What special objects hold important memories for you?