The Healing of Rose Cuttings

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Beacon Hill Park

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Beacon Hill Park

Since my surgery 2 weeks ago, I am feeling much better—now that some of the sticky layers of the wound dressing have come off, and now that my nausea has passed. I am up and around since day 1, getting some light exercise through walking and looking after myself—as well as through returning all kinds of caring hugs that I have been receiving (in person and virtually)! During this time, I treat my back to a massage to make up for no Pilates exercises for a couple of weeks, and I do some osteopathic treatments to help increase the range of motion in my left shoulder and to reduce the pain in my upper left chest area that occurs every time I move my left arm and when I lay down to sleep. Skin, fascia and muscle have been cut, after all. Generally, though, I feel even more tired these days, if that is even possible. I am most happy to get back on my bike for some slow and gentle riding, as the 5 days of walking everywhere was wearing me out!

In preparation for dealing with my broken tooth, I also pile onto my plate a bunch of research and decisions. Having been rewarded with a crown, I knew that its installation would inevitably disturb, and release into my body, some mercury vapours and dust from my old amalgam filling in that tooth. And having lived most-probably with the neurological consequences of systemic heavy metal exposure throughout my life, I decide to take heavy metal chelating precautions to prevent further exacerbation. One could very well do a PhD thesis on the subject, of which I only scratch the surface once more, but my cursory research and discussions with naturopathic doctors lead me to conclude that food-based chelating will likely be my best option at this time. Stocking up on garlic, cilantro and chlorella (green algae), I load onto my iTouch some more of my favourite tunes, pop a muscle relaxant to help me keep my jaw open, and head over on my bike for the 2-hour round 1 of the tooth crowning. It even proves to be a relatively relaxing experience!

I have been feeling quite fortunate and supported by my family, friends and colleagues nearby and from a distance since I decided to share my most recent health challenges more widely.

Visiting Family Join the Writer for Eggplant, Tomato and Cashew Curry

Visiting Family Join the Writer for Eggplant, Tomato and Cashew Curry

The Writer with Her Visiting Aunt in Victoria

The Writer with Her Visiting Aunt in Victoria

The Writer with Her Visiting Family in Lynn Canyon Park

The Writer with Her Visiting Family in Lynn Canyon Park

I have the good fortune of sharing my Special Dish for the Week of Eggplant, Tomato and Cashew Curry with my relatives from Poland, who visited Vancouver for a week just days after my surgery. Given all that is going on with me cancer, surgery, tooth and energy-wise, I am still able to play mostly virtual tour guide for their adventures, joining them towards the end of their visit for some light site-seeing on a day-trip to Victoria. I am also glad for the chance to accompany them on a nature walk in Lynn Canyon Park. The walk over the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge makes me feel that I am definitely still holding on to life’s rope of steel.

The Writer Holding On to Life's Rope of Steel

The Writer Holding On to Life’s Rope of Steel

Quinoa Salad and Chocolate Bunny Gifts

Quinoa Salad and Chocolate Bunny Gifts

My other supports over the past few weeks have come in a multitude of forms, shapes and sizes. Along with good thoughts, prayers and well-wishes, I receive a number of lovely and life-supporting affirmations—posted on my website and shared with me by phone, email and snail-mail. I also receive a number of financial and culinary treats—including several lovingly prepared servings of tasty veggie lasagne, healthful quinoa salad, juicy local strawberries, and a chocolate bunny.

Roses, Strawberries and Chocolate Gifts

Roses, Strawberries and Chocolate Gifts

I am showered with friendly accompaniments to my pre-surgical La Brasserie dinner ritual, and to my post-surgical walks through Vancouver’s West End to the bank to make my deposits and via my secret garden to the downtown farmers market to help me carry my groceries home. A good friend wakes super early to accompany me by bike to my 8:30 am surgery, and later picks me up from surgery by car. Another brings me a bouquet of red roses and more organic fair trade chocolate. My supportive Developmental Editor conscientiously picks up for me a used copy of the “Finding Your Own North Star” book for my upcoming journey. One could get used to all the loving and caring attention!

A Guide Book Gift

A Guide Book Gift

I think what helps keep me going the most at this moment—energy-wise and low-stress-wise, too—is the knowledge that I have initiated a break for myself: while I undergo these harsher treatments of surgery and soon-to-start radiation; to make time for the multitude of immune system supporting and strengthening strategies; and in order to make space in my life for some revelation of how to better channel my life force so that it doesn’t continue expressing through my overzealous cancerous cells.

In the short-term, too, what gives me some reprieve is an upcoming event—inspired by an insightful conversation with my Developmental Editor a few weeks ago about child-birthing—that I created for myself, which I call “Maggie’s Week in Pursuit of Boredom”. The basic idea is to limit the amount and variety of activities one does for a specified period of time in order to have the time and the space to better connect with one’s baby—or with oneself. I would like to use this time to continue discovering “what brings me peace”.

This week is just a trial run, though, because how can one really attempt to get bored when something is already booked-in for 5 out of the 7 days! Some of these are my last chance to take advantage of extended health coverage—to fix my broken tooth and to stretch my surgically disrupted fascia and muscle—before it expires when my employment ends at the end of the month.

Putting on the brakes on one’s activity level is rather hard and labourious work! I have been strategising—as much as I actually had time to strategise and prepare for this “Week in Pursuit of Boredom”—for how to actually pull it off, knowing myself well enough to know that if I don’t give myself some boundaries, rules and ideas for things to do, the event will be a failure. I will either revert quickly to my ever-present and ever-growing to-do list, or it will be an unsatisfying experience. I want to set this up as a win-win goal, where I cannot fail, because if I get bored at some point during the week, then I will have achieved my goal—and if I don’t reach the point of boredom, then I will have given myself evidence that I am still living a fulfilling life even at just a fraction of the activity level that I typically operate at.

So far the rules include:

  • 1 week: June 25 – July 1, 2014
  • Other than the 5 things already scheduled, no more scheduling.
    • If people want to call me, email me, or drop by on a whim—and if I’m around, and feel like answering, that will be great—but no more scheduled stuff into that week!
  • Maximum of 2 daily goals (other than getting up, washing, eating, and boosting my immune system).
  • Of course I have a list, which I am considering calling: the “un-do list”, or the “like-to-do list”, or the “just being list”—and perhaps the next time I try this, I will have advanced to the “no list” week.
    • Item #1 on my daily “just being list” is: to give myself permission to do what I feel like doing that day regardless of the even minimal goals I set for myself.
    • And my “un-do list” naturally includes my rather lengthy and well-overdue bedside table “book list”.
The Writer's Bedside Table Book List

The Writer’s Bedside Table Book List

This “Maggie’s Week in Pursuit of Boredom” is also potentially a cancer treatment strategy. As one friend suggested, this could be the “bore your cancer cells to death” technique. After all, since cancer cells are more likely to be the fast dividing cells, with type A personalities, maybe boredom is the key?

Another Rose Thorn Set Free

In my somewhat mad rush to get as much prepared and crossed off my to-do list before my surgery (to help deal with A Few More Thorns on My Roses), so that I could just relax and recoup afterwards, I end up adding a broken tooth to that list while eating a shrimp and veggie wrap for lunch on Sunday. Go figure! Luckily, my dentist is able to assess my tooth on Tuesday morning, and recommends a crown to save the rest of the already heavily patched-up tooth, the timing of which will depend on how I am feeling after the surgery. It’s almost as though my body is trying to ensure – just a little more – that I focus on *it* for a while. It is a little ridiculous, really.

La Brasserie Onion Tart, Steak Tartare & Rose Ritual

La Brasserie Onion Tart, Steak Tartare & Rose Ritual

Later on Tuesday, I do my onion tart, steak tartare and rosé pre-surgery ritual at La Brasserie with my good friend Diana after our Pilates class. We are seated at my regular room-corner table after being met by 4 grinning faces of waiters and cooks. “Just how often *do you* come here?” asks my friend. Apparently often enough! – but for all kinds of celebratory events!

Try and Don't Worry Mantra

Try and Don’t Worry Mantra

Not being even close to finishing all the pre-surgery tasks on my to-do list, I do manage to let the rest go and to get an early night in. I keep repeating to myself a new mantra from my new tanktop: “Do the best you can, and don’t worry”.

The next morning, I am greeted by several additional well-wishing email greetings when I rise at 5:30 am. Although it’s tough to get going so early, I am very grateful not to be made to suffer too long with an empty stomach – there would be plenty of time for that later! With surgery at 8:30 am, I am met by bright-eyed and stylish Diana at 6:10 am, with her bike on her car’s bike rack, so that we can bike-in the 30-min ride on this lovely sunny and crisp Vancouver morning, to be at the Mount Saint Joseph Hospital for 7:00 am. Rolo, Diana’s dachshund dog, is left at my apartment to greet us later on.

I awaken from surgery at 9:30 am, feeling fantastic at first, like from a really good deep sleep. Then my body and brain begin to catch up to the mild trauma they’ve just been through – and I don’t just mean being stripped into funny blue clothing, having my piercings taped up, and answering the same set of questions about four times! Apparently pronouncing my own full Polish name correctly is impressive, but not sufficient enough to assure the hospital staff that I am who I say I am, and that they will indeed perform the correct surgical procedure on my body. Deep down, I am grateful for the precautions.

I am taken to an intensive care recovery room for an hour, where I begin to feel increasingly more nauseous – and ask the nurse to call Diana so she can bring me my anti-nausea ginger root supplements when she returns for me with her car later on. After being offered a few medications, each subsequent one to deal with the side effects of the preceding one, I share with my nurses some of my natural remedies – such as the ginger root for my nausea, and magnesium for possible constipation – and they indicate gratefulness for being enlightened thus. At the end of the day, though, I do take a few regular ibuprofens when the freezing begins to dethaw, so that I can nap and sleep relieved from pain. Though my pain tolerance is rather high, I find it does tire me out after a while.

The Writer, Nauseous but Smiling

The Writer, Nauseous but Smiling

For the final hour at the hospital, I am rolled out to a courtained cubicle space to sit up and slowly begin dressing and standing up. The first bout of puke-reflex hits when I shift from horizontal to vertical – a pattern that seems to repeat in either direction throughout the day – but I manage to get whatever little I have in my stomach to stay down, at least until waking up from my post-lunch nap later on. Shortly after being brought in to this final staging area, Diana arrives – with my ginger root and her cell phone, so I can attend to my nausea while she gives word to my caringly and eagerly awaiting sister and mother, that I am indeed still ALIVE!

Before being discharged, I get my written instructions about the staged timing of the wound dressing coming off: the pressure padding comes off in a day (so I can shower!); the clear film dressing gets to be peeled off in 7 days (ensuring that the wound stays dry till then); and the steri-strips (that help to keep the scar thin) can be changed a week after that; while the stitches dissolve on their own after several weeks. At home, I am prepared with neem leaf and aloe gel (to help the cut heal better by keeping it moist); an onion extract gel (to help break down the scars and encourage healthy skin and to help the scars become less visible); and Arnica Montana (granules for dissolution under the tongue) and Traumeel (topical cream) homeopathics (to keep the bleeding and bruising down). And I am to see my surgeon for a check-up in 3 weeks, to ensure that the scar and the cut muscles are healing nicely. All this fuss for one little lump on the upper left side of my left breast!

The Writer, On the Way Home

The Writer, On the Way Home

On our way to the car, I am greeted outside by the ever-cheerful Rolo, the dachshund. We snap some photos along the way. Diana heroically straps my bike to her car’s bike rack. And we’re off home, stopping just once so I can get a breath of fresh air and *not* (accidentally) mess up her car. Once at home, I don my magical plush turtle slippers and we have some of the Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce that I pre-prepared for our lunch – my portion being but a tiny fraction of my unsatiated appetite, but I don’t want to risk it *all* going down the toilet right away. I lie down for a 3-hour nap, going through the puke-reflexes on the way down and up, but manage to recover without kissing the toilet bowl, yet.

Feet Up in Plush Turtle Slippers

Feet Up in Plush Turtle Slippers

Still feeling nauseous some minutes after being up again, Diana bravely and patiently undergoes the taking of my detailed instructions for how to make me some carrot-apple-cucumber-ginger juice, and produces a delicious nectar, which I sip in hopes of settling my hunger headache and queasy stomach. But alas, half a glass later, what’s left of my tiny lunch will not stay down, taking the juice up with it. It is nearly 5:00 pm at this point, so I think I’ve managed quite well. Where food fails me in quenching my post-anaesthetic sickness, my decision to go with my exercise strategy seems to do the trick. Still feeling pretty horrible, we set out for a walk to the end of my block. Feeling increasingly revived, we continue the procession of eager Rolo, quick-step Diana, and turtle-paced me, from block to block to block, turning to do a loop on the other side of the street a whole three-and-a-half blocks later.

Back at home, after resting a little, I crave the veggie lasagne Diana brought us for dinner. Again not wanting to risk losing her efforts, I slowly chew a tiny portion, and remarkably the colour and vitality begins to return to my face, Diana observes. Once again, I am impressed that my body knows that some exercise is good for it, and that despite not really feeling up to it, I listen and am duly rewarded.
We chat for a bit, mostly about food and recipes on my website as well as on Inspire Health’s, and about my possible options of moving for a bit to France after the summer’s intense treatments (including this surgery, and shortly, radiation) are completed, and I have recovered my energies a bit. I am making no decisions about anything post-radiation at the moment, and am keeping myself open to a variety of possibilities.

Different Creatures in Paris

Different Creatures in Paris

When Diana retires to her own abode and awaiting teenagers, I scan appreciatively through a few more well-wishing email greetings and open a well-wishing card that arrives from a good out-of-town friend. I smile at the content, and grin at the front picture – an image of different creatures hopping around and riding a basketed bicycle along the river Seine in the heart of Paris, with a bird confidently trusting her own wings and soaring through the wide-open skies. Umm-hmmm, thank you, universe, for sending me another little message. How did my friend in Kamloops, in the interior of BC, happen across such a fitting card, I wonder, as I fall asleep once more in my beloved Vancouver – feeling grateful for all the love and being happy wanting what I have – knowing that, if I don’t like it, I can always leave.

P.S. Writing down all this feels great, as I have not been writing my stories in a while.

Special Dish for the Week: Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce

In preparation for a slightly uncomfortable week ahead, where I need to deal with A Few More Thorns on My Roses, I prepare and stock up on a comforting Special Dish for the Week, which I have prepared on several other memorable occasions:

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce

For this variation of the richly flavourful and deeply comforting dish, I add orange peppers and serve red quinoa. I really do like my colour in my food!

As in previous iterations, chopped onion, grated garlic and gingerred Thai hot pepperturmeric & black pepperhoneygaram masala, cardamom powder, and chopped cilantro roots, sautéed in olive oil, form the base of this recipe.

Once I add the tomatoes, juice of half a lime, more cilantro, and coconut milk, I briefly warm the coarsely chopped orange peppers to add a little more raw food enzymes to the dish.

My first taste of this dish is, for a change, accompanied by Rooibos tea in my memorable Blue Heron from Tillamook mug.

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce Dish

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce Dish

My yellowy-orangey-red dish palette spills onto the placemat and napkin — lovingly sourced in Nice in the South of France by a good friend; onto the friendly gerberas — handpicked with the aid of a friendly grocer lady; reaching even the bright beeswax candle — savoured from last year’s stock of honey and candles obtained from my farmers market honey lady. Much love, care and personal attention has gone into my enjoyment of this life-enriching supper.

I dish out and freeze in pyrex glass containers, additional 4 portions for my week ahead. Having stocked up on several bottles of BC and French red wine as well, I am ready for it!

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce Care Packages

Tomato, Cardamom, Chickpea, Orange Pepper and Coconut Sauce Care Packages

Meal ideas & recipes from Maria Elia’s “The Modern Vegetarian” book from a good friend.

Special Dish for the Week: Pan-fried Eggplant, Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy with Grapes

This rather sporadic combination of fresh downtown farmers market veggies, pan-fried for lunch, makes a delicious and cheerful Special Dish for the Week:

Pan-fried Eggplant, Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy with Grapes

Pan-fried Eggplant, Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy with Grapes

Pan-fried Eggplant, Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy with Grapes

Slightly labour-intensive for clean-up, as I use 3 separate pans to prepare the various components, this delightful dish is quite delicious – and most exciting, as many of the ingredients are sourced at the first of the 2014 season downtown farmers market!

The stars of the dish are the delicate yet meaty and flavourful oyster mushrooms (from the market), which I coarsely chop and sautée in a little olive oil with chopped onions, minced garlic, sea salt and black pepper.

In another pan, to soften and release their flavour, I lightly heat some pealed and sliced eggplant (from the grocer) in tiny amounts of virgin coconut oil with a little turmeric, black pepper and sea salt.

Pan-fried Eggplant, Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy with Grapes Dish

Pan-fried Eggplant, Oyster Mushrooms and Bok Choy with Grapes Dish

In the third, I sautée in some olive oil the more meaty stems of bok choy cabbages (from the market) with some chopped cilantro stems and a little bit of chopped onion. Before adding coarsely chopped leaves of bok choy, I season this part of the dish with a dash of fish sauce.

Feeling giddy from the excitement of dining on my first market treasures, I enjoy carefully layering the eggplant, boy choy and oyster mushroom ingredients, garnishing them with cilantro leaves, black sesame seeds, and completing the plate with organic* red grapes (from the grocer).

*I wonder how “organic” my *seedless* grapes really are — thinking that if the fruit has no seeds, well, firstly, is it really still fruit? and wouldn’t organic fruit naturally have seeds, so did I just get sold some “empty boxes”? It turns out that through selective breeding — which is not the same as genetical modification (GMO) — and subsequent grafting, it is possible to propagate grapes that have small seeds but which do not grow the hard outer shell — effectively producing organic seedless grapes!