I’m freaking out about chemo

26 days A.S. (after surgery)

I’m usually pretty stoic about my health problems and treatment. When I had a tube put down my throat at 11pm in the hospital because I wasn’t moving anything through my sleepy intestines (ileus), the nurse was astounded with how I handled it. She said most people cough or gag and I just sat there silently even though it felt horrible. One benefit of being a patient for so many years is knowing how to suck it up. Please, any designers out there, please create a new nasogastric tube for hospital patients. You’ll make a zillion dollars while helping patients not suffer. Win-win.

Anyway, I found out this week that I must start chemo next week. So soon! I thought I had a couple more weeks. Apparently, I have a better chance at survival (eeks) if I start chemo earlier than later.

I burst out crying when the doctor informed me yesterday. Once I process news, I handle it well. But I hadn’t processed this and it feels too soon!  Or, maybe I just need to start since anticipation is always worse for me than the reality. But still, I don’t have time to boost my immune system! I CAN’T HAVE RAW VEGETABLES & FRUIT (arrgh, first summer in California)! I don’t have time to get any work done! I don’t have time to write thank you notes to everyone! I won’t be able to fly for 5 months! For many people that doesn’t sound like a big deal but I feel physically uncomfortable if I don’t have a purchased plane ticket (my gypsy blood). Plus, that means I won’t be able to see my precious nieces and nephews in Seattle that are too small to fly to California. That’s the toughest one.

Thankfully, I have a car now and can ROAD TRIP on my good days. So many cool places that I can get to in Southern California. The doctor said to continue my life as I would normally. I hope I can still work on my computer. I have given up on teaching cooking classes or trainings this summer because I can’t book them ahead without knowing which days will be good or bad.  Urgh. I love working. That’s another big bummer. I’m trying to believe I’ll have minimal side effects but I am so sensitive to so many medications, who knows what will happen. This is what scares me the most. My sister was so sick during her six months of chemo…

I’m also tripping out about losing my hair! My eyelashes! My eyebrows! How strange it will be. To be a bald woman. What a perspective on things it’s already giving me. Taking my hair for granted! Such a seemingly small thing. But so huge to our identity.  I’m getting a wig made out of my own hair (bob or long? I can’t decide) next week. Weird. Any advice on how to handle this experience is welcome.

I don’t want to do this. I really don’t. I mean nobody wants to have chemo. But that’s the overwhelming feeling I have. Very scared. I know I’ll make it through and it’ll be okay. But still. Every three weeks for five months – a total of six treatments. I have to get my head on straight. Let go of the fear. It’s hard to do but I know it’s a must. Everyone tells me chemo is a mental game. Positive outlook is a must. I can do this. I have to believe that. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

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Every day I have a choice

I’ve been talking to other people who have gone through chemo. And they are teaching me about how important it is to keep my mind in the right place. It makes sense: it’s the only thing I have control over right now. My body is not my own right now. My body currently belongs to the UCSD system which scans, pokes, injects, and removes organs from it. This is my current reality.

The only thing I have complete sovereignty over right now is my mind. Man, it would be so easy to slip into the “poor me” mentality. Slide right down that rabbit hole into bitterness, frustration, anger, resentment. That slide is just there, tempting me with it’s negativity bubbling up from all sides. But I did that when I had the melanoma and it didn’t serve me. Didn’t do shit except make me feel shittier.

This time, I’m making a different choice. For one, I’m telling people what the hell is going on. What a difference it makes! To ask for support and THEN RECEIVE IT. Not so easy to receive help when I much prefer giving it. It’s an art, receiving help. One that I’m getting better at but still fumble with from time to time. Not being able to wipe ones own ass for over a week is certainly one of the most humbling experiences one can suffer at a young age. I don’t recommend having to go to that extreme in order to learn the lesson on receiving help! Although it certainly was effective….

The second thing I’m doing is making a conscious effort to change my mental game. I choose what’s going up on the big screen in my mind. I hold the remote, I can change the channel any time. Every morning, I realize, I have a choice. I can stay on the negativity channel – start thinking about how incredibly messed up this situation is and how frustrating it is that I have to go through it. Or, I can go to the sunset and beaches channel and think about how this is just a blip on the radar of life. How lucky I am that I have such an amazing support system. How fortunate I am to have REALLY good doctors. I watched a commercial last night about paralyzed veterans and it hit me that I’m going to GET BETTER. It’s likely they will get all the cancer out of me. Not everyone else gets better. This is short-term pain for long-term gain. I don’t want to go through chemo. Not. At. All. But if I’m going to do it, I’m listening to my friend, Jackie Stolber’s advice and staying in the positive realm. It’s not easy to stay on this channel. But it’s all I got right now and I’m sticking to it.

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Don’t get cancer to learn this lesson

It’s such a simple lesson but one I’ve had trouble absorbing on a deep and fundamental level until recently. I hope you can learn this lesson without having to go through the hell of multiple cancers – or any cancer or sickness. Please take this lesson, fold it up and insert it into your heart, so that it’s there on the days you need it most.

You are loved. You are absolutely, one hundred and twenty percent loved more than you can comprehend. You are a precious person with people who care deeply about you. It’s so easy to focus on the boss who treats you poorly or the friend that never calls you back. Turn the other direction and forget about them.  The minute that you do, lovely people will enter your life and will support and love you more than you can imagine. We spend so much time focusing on what’s not going right in our lives or what we feel is missing that we completely overlook all of the wonderful things and people that are standing right there in front of us, loving us when we feel unlovable, supporting us when we’re down, seeing the good and strength in us even when we feel incredibly weak, sad, and at our lowest.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Don’t be afraid to be loved. Don’t be afraid to have the courage to say “I need you.” Don’t be afraid of being rejected. Don’t be afraid of loss. Because I can tell you right now, 26 days after losing three organs, that loss is a subjective experience. Do we ever really lose? Or, is it just perception that we have lost? Aren’t there so many things that we can gain, when it seems like we have lost?

I lost a colon, ovaries, and a uterus but what I have gained is the knowledge of how loved I am. I would have rather learned this lesson without going through major surgery, obviously. But I do hope that I can continue to see how insignificant and small so many of my worries were before the surgery. I do hope that I can continue to realize that I can feel a sense of loss or I can focus on the love coming my way. There is so much of it. I want you to feel it too. You are loved. Remember that.

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Cute Kids Cooking Class Video

As a cooking teacher, I have had the pleasure of watching hundreds of my students transform into adventurous eaters and talented little chefs. Even the ones as young as two years old will gobble up all kinds of “grown up” foods including brown rice, sautéed mushrooms, tofu, kidney beans, and caramelized onions. The key is getting them into the kitchen. Much of kids reluctance to taste new dishes is fear of the unknown. But if they help create the mysterious meal, they feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to try it. There is nothing more fun than eating your own art project!

In this video of my kids cooking class, you can see, hear and feel their excitement about ingredients such as black beans, mint, and cherry tomatoes. You’ll also see how easy it is for them to pick up sophisticated cooking skills like mincing garlic, dicing vegetables and emulsifying their own vinaigrette. They are so incredibly capable – we just have to give them the tools and education. How can they have healthy bodies if they don’t know how to cook healthy meals?

Cooking with kids is a fun and effective way to instill healthy habits for life. Exposure to scratch cooking helps kids develop a mature palate and a taste for fresh, wholesome ingredients. The earlier kids become accustomed to nutritious foods, the less likely they will acquire a taste for processed products. Teaching young people how to cook is also a powerful way to start a ripple effect beyond the classroom. Once children are empowered to feed themselves, they have the opportunity to show their families, classmates, teachers, communities, and future generations, that the key to good health starts in the kitchen.

For more information about cooking with kids, visit the new site, The Kids Cook Monday for recipes, resources and a community of people who love to cook with kids.

Rainbow Couscous Salad

A couscous medley is the perfect dinner for chaotic weeknights since it takes only minutes to prepare and you can add in leftover vegetables or meat from the night before. It’s also convenient for lunch boxes since it can be served at room temperature.

One 10- or 12-ounce box of plain couscous
2 cups any combination of vegetables, diced
3-4 scallions, sliced
¼ cup currants or dried cranberries
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup fresh mint, chopped

Optional: beans, nuts, feta cheese, cooked chicken or shrimp

Dressing

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice(about ½ lemon)
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
2 teaspoons white miso
1 teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons of honey
½ cup olive oil

ADULTS: Cook the couscous according to package directions.

KIDS 4 and up: Add the diced vegetables, scallions, and dried fruit to the couscous and stir. Gently fold in the parsley and mint (and the optional ingredients, if using).

KIDS 6 and up: In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, miso, celery seed, oregano, black pepper, and honey together and slowly add in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the couscous and vegetables and stir. Serve this dish cold or warm. Store the couscous in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

KID TIP:

-Since this dish can be easily changed according to taste, encourage kids to come up with their own dressing and combination of vegetables.

COOKING TIPS:

-Suggested vegetables and other dried fruit options: carrots, celery, radishes, mushrooms, spring onions, leeks, artichokes, raisins, or chopped apricots.

-Try adding seasonal vegetables, such as sautéed leafy greens in the winter, roasted beets in the spring, or peas in the summer.

-Miso is a fermented product like vinegar so it can be stored in your fridge indefinitely. It should not be heated.

-I recommend white miso because of its mild, kid-friendly flavor, but you can use any kind of miso. (Or, omit it if you don’t have it on hand.) Most health food stores carry several different flavors so feel free to experiment.

Prep time: 30 minutes   Total time: 40 minutes   Serves: 4-6

Recipe from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids © 2010 by Julie Negrin

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The Magic of Spaghetti Squash (Gluten-free & Good for Passover)

We are finally easing out of winter and heading into spring (even though it doesn’t feel like it yet!) but I wanted to share a squash recipe that’s perfect for Passover and gluten-free folks.

The reason why I love teaching people how to prepare squash is because the most difficult part of the recipe is slicing it open – the oven does the rest. And, because no matter how old my students are, if it’s their first time experiencing spaghetti squash, they are delighted to discover it’s resemblance to pasta! Kids are so intrigued by it that they often forget that it’s a new food (that happens to be a vegetable) and eat it like they would noodles. That also may have to do with my marketing strategy which includes introducing it as “just like spaghetti” and omitting the word, “squash.” When it comes to kids, it’s all about marketing….

Give it a try while the weather is still cool! Both the sauce recipe (from my cookbook, Easy Meals to Cook with Kids) and the squash yield plenty of leftovers for lunches or after-school snacks.

spaghetti_squash_prepared360pxBaked Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash

Water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Using a sharp knife, cut spaghetti squash in half. Scoop seeds out and either throw away or save them to lightly toast in the oven later.  Then cut each half into even quarters.

On a half-sheet tray or a 9 x 13 inch pan, add enough water to barely cover bottom of pan.  Place squash pieces in the pan with the shell facing up.  Bake 30-40 minutes or until squash is soft and pulls apart easily.

Basic Basil Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot or 10 baby carrots, diced
One 14-ounce can of tomato sauce
One 28-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
4 tablespoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1-2 teaspoons dried Italian Seasoning
1-2 cups water
Kosher salt or sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Optional: bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, or additional fresh herbs, chopped

In an 8-quart stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium heat. Cook the onions on low heat until translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Stir in the garlic, celery, carrots and any other vegetables, and cook for 15 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato sauce, crushed or diced tomatoes, bay leaf, half the fresh herbs, the spices, and water and bring it to a boil.

Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. You may need to add water since the sauce thickens while it cooks. Stir frequently, especially if you don’t have a heavy-bottomed pan. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the sauce from the heat and take out the bay leaf. Add the rest of the fresh herbs and stir well.

To create a smooth texture, purée the sauce with a hand-held immersion blender (or in a regular blender once it’s cooled down). This sauce can be used for pizza, calzones, pasta, lasagna, manicotti, or eggplant Parmesan. You can store it for up to 5 days in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Cooking Tips:

-You don’t need every single vegetable or herb in order to prepare this recipe – but the onions are a must. Try making Caramelized Onions to create a richer tasting sauce.

-This recipe yields more than you’ll need for one meal so that you can freeze the leftovers in dinner-sized portions. Don’t forget to date them!

-Use up your wilting vegetables and bruised tomatoes for this recipe instead of letting them go to waste.

-Italian Seasoning is a mixture of basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram and other herbs.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1½ – 2½ hours
Yields: 7-8 cups
Recipe from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids 2010 © by Julie Negrin

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Quick & Easy Family Dinner Ideas

When I was a kid, my mom used to cook dinner for around ten people almost every night. There was my family of six plus a couple of friends from school or family members like my cousins or grandparents. As teenagers, we didn’t have a lot of rules but there was one that, if broken, was a serious infraction: If we weren’t coming home for dinner, we had to call. Otherwise, we’d better be in the house by 6:30pm every night. It sounds so quaint now, right? It doesn’t have to be.

thefamilydinnerbookcoverWe’ve all heard about the studies showing that kids who share a family meal do better in school, have a larger vocabulary, etc. etc. Laurie David just published an entire book, The Family Dinner, dedicated to resurrecting the family dinner. I know that for many modern parents, this can be a huge challenge.  One or both parents may get home too late to eat with the little ones. When the kids are older, they often have after-school activities that keep them out of the house until just before bed time.

I trust that the data from these studies is accurate. For me, however, the topic of family dinners is so much more personal than statistics. There a lot of things I can now imagine living without as a child – Hebrew school (no problem there), piano lessons (again, easy), sports (much more difficult, I loved them), and countless other things that I can’t even remember now. And that’s the point. In the last couple of decades, it seems as though we’ve prioritized everything but the family dinner – for experiences that will probably end up as hazy memories as adults.

Our family dinners are some of my most vivid childhood memories. It’s where we learned how to converse, debate, learn diplomacy, cope with teasing, navigate controversial topics, tell jokes, serve other people food, share our food, learn manners, and, more than anything, it’s the one place where my siblings and I all had equal footing and access to our parents. What we said during dinner mattered. We mattered, even as just kids. Our family dinners are the reason I now have a career in food. Cooking together with my students and sitting down to eat with them replicates this extraordinary experience every time I teach a class. No matter how technological we get, we are still humans that crave sitting around the fire and sharing our day.

It’s not easy. I get that. This post isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad if they just can’t get the family together throughout the week. Rather, it’s meant to help people re-think how they feed their family beyond nutrients and cooking techniques. Borrow the Jewish tradition of holding a family dinner on Friday nights, connect on the weekends for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s challenging, but it’s possible.

negrin_cover100pxIt doesn’t need to be some gourmet meal! My mom spent maybe 30 minutes preparing dinner. Here are some quick-n-easy dinner ideas that my lovely Facebook pals shared with me. A few of them are professionals but many of them are home cooks just like you! For other recipe and family dinner ideas, visit a wonderful new website, The Kids Cook Monday or purchase my cookbook, Easy Meals to Cook with kids.

1. Definitely pasta…basically noodles and whatever else I have lying around – usually some kind of vegetable (kale, squash, tomatoes), some kind of protein (usually tofu or white beans), some combination of herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and some cheese. it’s good every time! – Leah Koenig is a write and author of The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen

2. I’m a big fan of cook once eat twice (or thrice?). Roast chicken one night becomes the base of a soup or tacos the next. We also like Brinner (breakfast for dinner) – egg white omelets filled with veggies and a quick grating of a good quality hard cheese, low fat quiche, pancakes or french toast made with whole grains and a big fruit salad. I also have a recipe on my blog for a Mediterranean Pasta which is very versatile and can be done in 30 mins or less. -Melissa Marks-Shih, chef and blogger, EveryoneIntoTheKitchen.com

3. Cubed chicken sauteed with honey/garlic/spices and broccoli, mixed with quinoa. All in one meal, in under 30 minutes. – Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein

4. Quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas and veggie/bean fillings – healthy, crowd pleaser, QUICK and great use of many leftovers. -Naomi Friedman Rabkin

5. We love homemade pizza, I make a big batch of crusts and freeze them. I top them with whatever toppings the kids are into (mostly cheese and olives). Also tacos/enchiladas with soy meat and cheddar cheese. -Cynthia Kravette Gamel

6. Vegetarian chili with quinoa. Kids love “wrap tortillas” (cheese melted on tortilla, rolled up) with it. -Micol Rubin Bayer

7. Chicken breasts or tofu “grilled” on a stove top grill pan, couscous and veggies sauteed in tamari! Kathlyne Jones

8. Tacos- black beans mashed with sauteed onions and bell peppers, topped with a little sharp melted cheddar, sliced avocado, tomatillo salsa wrapped in soft corn tortillas. -Joey Lee, TheKidsCookMonday.com

9. Gluten free pasta, Edens organic pizza and pasta sauce, a little cheese and a heaping helping of broccoli. Easy and yummy! -Sandi Kaplan, www.zingbars.com

10. Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? Tonight was french toast, eggs and a smoothie! -Megan Rose Stolber

11. Grilled Chicken Breast with a spinach salad (that has strawberries) and green beans. – Sandra Sarfati Levin

12. Pasta, or tacos and quesadillas. We also like burgers. Our new favorite is the maple glazed chicken from the Easy Meals to Cook with Kids cookbook (we can marinate it the night before and just cook it the night of). -Ilyse Reiter Wagner

Looking for conversation starters for your family dinners? Check out The Family Dinner Downloads via Huffington Post.

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