August 26, 2007

with even mind

I reached a new state last week - one I've never known, it's colourful, it's peaceful - it's aware of fear but is more aware of joy - mostly it's a place of certainty, although I'm not sure of what.

I've reached the state of equanimity.

Getting hit with a diagnosis of breast cancer was like being thrust through a portal to a place I didn't want to know, never wanted to visit, let alone live.

As those first few days passed, I found myself begging and pleading to know how to get through the fear and anxiety. If I could conquer it, control it, I would be helping myself, no, in fact I'd be leading myself beyond this frontier of diagnosis. I couldn't go back. Life wasn't that way anymore. There was no way back. I had to move forward - but I didn't know where.

So bearing the dent of the two-by-four that the diagnosis slammed into my forehead - like a passport - I felt my way forward. No path, no directions, no map.

Strangely, bits and pieces of the path dropped in front of me. Just when I thought I was stepping off into mid-air, there would be another piece.

This is my path.

First piece - my Steve.

Then there's my friends and family.


So in the beginning, I felt what I felt when I felt it.

People layered me in survival stories - the grandmother who had advanced breast cancer in her 40s and lived to 93, the mother of three who had stage III, lymph-node-positive cancer who is thriving now.

Of course others just told me stories of whole families felled by death. I learned to look at them dumb with wonder. And then found myself bursting with laughter when I re-told the stories later. There's a whole blog to come about the stupidest things people said to me.

One colleague told me her aunt had it and lost six years of her life. She didn't remember anything - not even her niece's wedding. And yet she has beaten it (she made it through the crucial five year mark). My jaw dropped.

I went home, grabbed Steve by the arms, looked into his eyes like my life depended on it and told him, "There is no way this is going to own me. This isn't all of me. It's a small part. I can't live with the feeling of being hunted for the next five years. I am not going to give up feeling what's going on right now. I am not going to lose the present. Don't let me lose sight of that."

"I promise," Steve said.

The next day I bought a charm bracelet in support of the Run for the Cure.


Over the years I've dabbled in meditation. I have never taken a course. I only ever taught myself about quietness of mind - and like everyone I'd sit, close my eyes and my mind would start up a full discussion about how great it was to be in a quiet mind...and how not quiet my mind was...and then I'd sigh, forgive myself, and start over.

I did it now.

I even bought books - Meditation for Beginners - and found Meditation for Dummies, I'm not kidding, at the library.

It's working.


I have been seeing a psychotherapist for a few months, by chance, dealing with anxiety stuff, trying to understand where it comes from, trying to gain some balance between my heart and mind and soul about what I want in life and how I got here. Jan helped me look through childhood wounds (as first my Dad left, then my brother ran away, then died in a car accident) to see how I've coped since and how I haven't.

She asked one day what I saw inside - what the pain looked like. And I described a slit, ragged, stony, and through it I could see blindingly bright flowing lava. It moved so fast it took my breath away. I told her the lava wasn't the problem...that lava was the core of me, the essence of me, the truest part of me. But the slit...she's a wound I said.

And to the edge of the wound, on her knees looking in was a little girl. Me...of course, the girl of those years. When Jan asked me what I would say to that little girl if I could - I blurted out without hesitation, "Oh little one. You're fine. You're wonderful. And I love you so much. Unconditionally." And I cried.

Jan buys big, big tissue boxes.

That was a few months back.

I still, not exactly talk to the little girl, but am "present" with her - reassuring her, helping her feel safer. There is such love in that and forgiveness.

During that first week of coming to grips, I went to bed one night. I rolled on my side and said to her through the air, "Hey little one." She looked up at me. "You were so resilient through all that stuff. I need you now. I need your strength. I need you to help me."

She held out her hand - without hesitation. I grabbed it. She smiled and came to me. She just walked into my arms for a hug - and has been near me ever since. She plays, she dances, she reads, she sleeps, she sits in my lap and lets me hold my arms around her.

We, she and I, seem to have come full circle.


My Mum has been wondrous. She's been here. She survived colon cancer at 46. She's 80. So she gets my irritation at people's fear. My irritation at their bone-headed observations. She gets my need to laugh. As always her core of iron inspires me.


Two weeks after my diagnosis to the day - a friend went for her own biopsy. It came back positive. We're now cancer patients together. I was unnerved. I felt icky. Her cancer is larger and more aggressive. I couldn't put my finger on it - but I felt guilty for being luckier. It was hard to take. They have whipped her into the system. She will be through her surgery this week, while I'm about to go in and talk about my surgical plan.

I brought it up with Steve. He said, "You have been given the gift of perspective. And you have someone who truly understands what you're going through."

I felt a great weight lift.


The same day I heard about my friend I had results back from my MRI and ultrasound tests - my other breast is behaving itself. And the MRI didn't show up any surprises. The twinges of aches, the thought that with every passing minute the cancer is getting a tougher and tougher grip on the rest of my body - my doctor told me is totally normal to feel - but I'm fine. There is no sign of it outside the breast.

I felt another great weight lift.


Everywhere I turn, people tell me how lucky I am to have the surgeon I have. Even my co-diagnosed friend, who ironically works in the breast cancer field, told me during her diagnosis process she called her favourite contacts to find out who she should see here - and one name came back at her, my surgeon. Another colleague of mine had her. A nurse who didn't work for her, but respects her enormously, told me how lucky I was...and the surgeon's senior fellow told me how she's been through thousands of operations with her, and she's unbelievable.

I'm in good hands. Another weight...gone.


Now...the knowledge. I couldn't face the research. And yet, I'm a researcher/producer by trade. My day job is to find and research stories - and I've spent years digging passionately into science and medicine. But my body and brain went on strike when I went near the books my surgeon gave me. My stomach tightened. I turned the books over so I couldn't see them, then buried them under home decorating and food magazines.

Out of sight...out of mind...Not so much.

Steve was going to read up on it for me - a need-to-know basis only.

Then last week I dug into Wellspring's website - a cancer care support centre. Then I went to the Dragons Abreast team website. Then to the Canadian Cancer Society's website. Then the National Cancer Institute's website - both the patient's info and then the health professionals' info. Then onward to the primary research articles and by midnight I was perusing the journals on PubMed to see what they're finding out about various chemo treatments.

I was on the couch, laptopped and square eyed, and I laughed as I said to Steve, "I'm back."

He asked me what I meant. I told him I was researching. He smiled at me, with his whole face, eyes twinkling. "I'm glad. That's what I've been waiting to hear."

It was instinctive not to research until I was ready. And something just told me I was ready.

I tore through another book this weekend - The Breast Cancer Survivor Manual.


Then I found out last week - my friends are harnessing their energy and creating a team for the Run for the Cure on September 30th. How can I repay their love?


My place of joy has rooted itself. I have love, inside and out. I'm happy. By the end of the third week I gripped Steve's arm again and said, "Is it right that I feel normal again? Am I denying something? Do I have my head in the sand? I feel normal."

And he reassured me that all this emotional work is paying off in huge dividends, bigger than I knew possible.

Any news, good or bad will be what it is.

And I know I'm feeling normal, my black humour is in full swing.


These are the disparate pieces that led me here. As I said, I wanted to reach a state of equanimity. And after a few days I thought I'd better look it up to be sure it means what I think it means.

Main Entry: equa·nim·i·ty Pronunciation: "E-kw&-'ni-m&-tE, "e-kw&- Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
Etymology: Latin
aequanimitas, from aequo animo with even mind
: evenness of mind especially under stress

Hahm Sah - I am That.

And I'm here.

Now if I could only trust that that's what this is.

August 22, 2007

happy 1st birthday foodnut

Thanks to everyone who has ever spent part of their day reading Foodnut. Here's to the future.

August 21, 2007

the spoon in my champagne

So...tomorrow my little blog, my little foodnut turns 1!

One year ago I wrote about life stuff in my kitchen - and in one year, I gotta tell you, life hasn't pulled any punches.

I've evolved the philosophy over the last 10 years that whenever you can create a ritual that marks life - you just do it.

You know what that means? Champagne.

I was thinking about champagne this morning on the subway, on my way to work. I wasn't meaning to, and I don't usually, but I'm reading What Einstein Told His Cook 2 and he brought it up.

Not Einstein actually, Robert L. Wolke - who is a professor emeritus of chemistry and a columnist emeritus with the Washington Post, where he wrote Food 101. He wrote What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained a few years ago, and then realized there were more questions from his readers and there was just more to say - and he got to say it with his wife, food writer and cook Marlene Parrish who contributed the recipes in the book.

I found the book in the remainder pile in our local independent book store and had to buy it when I read the dedication: I dedicate this book, as I have my life, to my wife, companion, motivator, and most loving critic, Marlene Parrish, who characterizes herself as Einstein's Cook.

I am such a suck. Now that kind of love calls for champagne.

Not long ago my friend Carol asked me to get an open bottle of champagne out of her fridge. And sticking out the top was a spoon. "Um, Carol? Middle age setting in? Or is this a new spiritual ritual?"

She has known me long enough to ignore me, for the most part - you know like sisters do, I hear.

"Isn't that neat?," she said. A friend had told her that putting a spoon, handle first into an open bottle of bubbly will keep it bubbly a lot longer. "Huh," I said - a little skeptically as I looked at the open space around the spoon. I'd lived 44 years without hearing that one. A sheltered life.

So I was delighted to squeeze myself into a seat on the train this morning, open my daily indulgence with Professor Wolke and dig into the "Something to Drink?" chapter.

I've been entertained and then fascinated by the answers to his readers' queries: how to clear up cloudy iced tea, when it's best to put the cream in your coffee, how hot the water should be for tea (something you know I have almost religious feelings about) - not perhaps as important as the questions of saving the people of Darfur, or the subprime mortgage financial disaster, or the disappearing icebergs - but hell, I'm fascinated.

And sure enough, I turned the page, and there was the wacky question of whether to stick a spoon in your champagne bottle.

The reader asked if a fork would work as well. Prof. Wolke wrote: "Yes, a fork would work just as well. So would a railroad spike. Or a magic wand, for that matter, because the spoon did absolutely nothing. The spoon dodge is pure bunk."

Now how can you not love a man like that?

It turns out champagne just doesn't go stale as fast as other bubbly drinks. The key, he wrote, is to make sure you put it back in the fridge. Carbon dioxide, dissolves and stays that way better in cold liquids.

So his recommendation is to throw the unfinished bottle (okay that's the first challenge in testing this: not finishing the bottle) in the fridge and then, he says, to put a stopper in it (not apparently cutlery).

The other reason I love him is because he's adamant that you don't buy one of those fancy-assed bottle stoppers that look like NASA was involved early on in the project, just use a regular stopper - the bottle has already released its pressure that required the fancy cork and metal wire cage.

Of course the shame of not finishing the bottle can be rectified with mimosas in the morning - because let's face it, as Wolke wrote, "you never know when you'll have even more to celebrate in the morning."

Morning can be a metaphor of course. It reminds me of a beautiful line from the great, but dark, Sarah McLachlan: Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind...

I have two bottles of Moet & Chandon I picked up at Heathrow last month (on sale). I was going to open them through the summer - but as life hasn't pulled any punches this year - they're safely stored in the cupboard near the fridge until Steve and I get through the next six months - and maybe come spring, they'll be just right to celebrate then I'll be just waiting to burst like a cork - with life, with victory, with new, deeper, even more valued rituals of love.

I love this blog - I love who this blog represents. And I love all the people who have taken it into their hearts. Here's to more of it - Happy Anniversary foodnut...

August 19, 2007

reaching the roof of the world

My cousin Joff built this penny farthing, got on it on May 1st of last year, and headed east. He hasn't stopped. And he's 18,000 kilometres along now.

This is his third try - his knees have betrayed him a couple of times before this. But not this time. He's on the roof of the world now.

We hadn't heard from him in a month - and his mother - my aunt who loves to indulge in mussels - was a bit frantic. I, in fact, was getting concerned and checked out the phone number for the UK consulate closest to Tibet - just in case.

I sent Joff one last email on Thursday, with an urgent mark, asking him to make contact if he's not lying at the bottom of a gorge. And by chance on Friday, he finally rolled into Lhasa.

I asked him for this shot...a dream of his, and a dream of mine to see for myself.

He's rolling for charity, if anyone cares to help, check out his website. He's posted some beautiful photos of the Litang Horse Festival...where he met some of the beautiful Tibetan kids...

August 18, 2007

in consideration of my assets

My boobs are bigger than I thought.

Actually, than anyone thought.

I'm tall, thin - well thinnish. I'm sure my bum isn't as big as my mind has perversely convinced me it is. I was a girl who kept waiting for those bumps of pre-puberty to come to fruition, who never needed a "training" bra. And I was the last girl in my grade 8 class to get one. When puberty launched me into womanhood, and it was all done, I said, "whatever."

My boobs never entered my psyche as one of my "features" - never made it to the mythical billboard advertising "Me".

Me did not equal Boobs.

I remember being off on a research trip in Cleveland a long time ago - I was forced to spend the weekend in the racing pit of Jacques Villeneuve's IndyCar team - it was pretty fucking cool. (That was when Paul Newman said hello to, totally, that kind of cool). They had all these chicks delivering car parts along pit row - I say chicks because they wore short shorts, high heels, teeny tiny t-shirts that showed that these girls knew their billboards were real, not mythical, except for any lowly grease monkey who dreamed of finding out.

Anyway, after inhaling four days of ethanol fuel, testosterone and words like torque, shaft, and cockpit, with a few hours to kill before my flight, I needed a strong antidote - an extreme version of femininity - so I tracked down a Victoria's Secret.

Now being of the non busty-variety I tended to feel somewhat alien in there. Whenever I found myself in a lingerie dressing room, being handed something lacy, padded, underwired, and squished together - I bent over double laughing - which always worried the salesgirls. But really. I mean come on. Once I was strapped into it, I looked like I was trying too hard.

I've never, ever been able to pull off sexy if I was aware that I was trying to pull off sexy. Sexy, like goodness, is innate, and if you put it on, it goes rancid in its falseness.

So off I went to Victoria's Secret. Which is a treat because we don't have them here in Toronto.

We have Sophia, of Sophia's Lingerie on the Danforth. She's an institution. She carries all those little thingies that you hold like vapour that cost $350 - but they're from Europe. And Sophia, the institution herself, flies into your dressing room to feel you up and see how the whole thing is coming together. It's kind of like being sexed up and lingeried by your mother. That said, she knows of what she speaks. And I dis a cultural lingerie icon at my peril. But again, I didn't feel quite like I had enough to offer poor Sophia. And I didn't really care.

Back in Cleveland, the V.S. salesgirl offered to measure me. I'd heard the stat - 80 billion women in North America alone are suffering life in the wrong bra size. I chuckled and stepped into the change room. "I'm a 34B. Have always been a 34B. Will always be a 34B," I swaggered a little I think as I said it (probably some lingering gas fumes from race day).

She got the tape. She pulled it round. I looked off to the distance, kind of aware I was drawing my posture skyward, filling my lungs - kind of like those Soviet memorials to the brave women who harvest the wheat with a scythe, looking off to the future, confident that Stalin wouldn't let them starve. Kinda like that...

"Well I've got good news and bad news," I seem to remember her saying. "You're a 36, not a 34. But you're an A cup, not B cup."

So I was wider in the back and smaller in the boobs than I thought. Huh.

I could get a job harvesting wheat.

I bought a pullover bra and panty set from the girl anyway - for lighting my life with humility. I became a convert to matching underwear - that, I thought, was sexy.

So, I stopped thinking about my boobs - only went to Sophia's with my girlfriends who had assets Sophia could appreciate.

Now, I think my boobs are beautiful, and a lovely part of me. Now that I have to consider losing one, and maybe two - they have asserted their place in my mind, heart and soul. Breasts are fraught with meaning - they're sexual, they feed and nourish, they make halter tops look good.

I have to, as in, I must, consider them existentially. I'm in this unusual, totally unexpected place of trying to place what my breasts mean to me, so I can handle their potential loss and the grief that will come with that.

They are not my identity, any more than the breast cancer has turned me into only a cancer patient. I am more.

My doctor wasn't kidding when she said this challenge will make me stronger - it's like vinegar on grease - you can see so much better, the measure of things.

And Steve has to figure out what life will be like to have bigger boobs and better cleavage, than I.

We laugh about it now. I'll keep you posted for how long.

*The photo is from my wedding - Auntie Joan is my second Mum.

August 15, 2007

fries don't have calories if you eat them with mussels and family in Paris

July in Paris.
It meant rain and sun, moules et frites, baguettes et croissants, cafe creme et wine in small jugs.

I was with my aunt, uncle and my Mum. And you know the expression - an army travels on its stomach? I come by it honestly. Here my aunt muscles a mussel.

This was moments before the clouds rolled in and trapped us under the awnings in Place du Tetre, near Sacre Coeur

And this is how much my Mum hates thunderstorms, especially outside, under a tent, on the highest point in Paris.

Look at how they display their local produce - they're just so French. This was at a supermarket in Normandy, on our way back to England.

August 14, 2007

look out for thwacks

I have felt mortal twice in my life.
And both times I've had to be convinced.

Once was a couple of weeks ago as you may be tired of reading - but it did put me in mind of the other. Five years and a bus ride ago.

I know that for those who freeclimb (without ropes), BASE jump, skydive, eat organ meat, or raw milk cheese, to feel mortality only twice in four decades is frankly disappointing.

But I am risk averse. Yes I've dived on shipwrecks, yes I've been near a Zairean soldier as he fired his automatic rifle, yes I've flown with an aerobatic team, yes I've eaten canned potato chips - but no, I've never been on a grown-up roller coaster, no I have never seen a horror film (okay Alien, but it took two weeks of convincing), and no I have never made a souffle.

I think what risk junkies crave is the thwack of mortality. They like that knife edge that feeds their senses. It doesn't envelope you like a philosophical blanket with a snifter of warmed brandy, easing you into mortal epiphany - no. Both times for me it's just been a thwack to the head with a big stick - after which the heart and soul argue about who will have to pick up the pieces.

I was in Pokhara, Nepal. And I wanted to be in India. Not fond of flying, I bought a bus ticket - one way to the Indian border. This was a tourist bus - meant for touring - hence the name. This was not a local bus, many of which littered the bottom of gorges, many of which you got to see as you careened around switchbacks.

Which probably accounts for the typo in the billboard I came across for local whisky - it probably wasn't a typo.

I had been in Nepal for over a month and it was time to move. That morning I was happy to throw my pack on the roof, climb aboard, and settle in by the door. It was cramped and the driver and conductor kept trying to get people to sit more to the back. The bus was over two hours late, the dawn bus had never showed, so we climbed on this one.

Off we went heading out into the valleys, twisting our way to India. I made friends on the bus, one guy on his way home to England pulled out his collection of gurkha knives to show us, John, a Kiwi, and I were heading in the same direction and made plans to meet up in Rajasthan, and I had just organized a group of us to hire a jeep taxi to take us to the birthplace of Buddha.

The bus driver pulled out to pass a car.

And the world went into slow motion. He couldn't pull the bus back into our lane and suddenly there was no road in front of us, just a palm tree through the front windshield. I said out loud, but very quietly, "oh no".

We were falling. We were rolling. My eyes closed (which my mind later confused with being nighttime). My fingers were pinched above my head in something (it was the conductor's folding seat in front of me as we rolled). My eyes opened only briefly enough to see shattered glass fly past me on the left. And then there was a splash. The world stopped turning. And all I could hear was the bus engine, still in gear, grinding away.

By this point I had been tossed to the other side of the bus. The bus was on its side and it was half full of water. I was on my back looking up at the sky through the open side door. I bent my arms. Yup working. My legs. Ditto. And then my head screamed at me on the inside, "Get out!" And I started scrambling, clawing toward the sky above me.

Tony, the Spaniard who is the first man I have ever come across who oozed sexuality from every pore, yelled, "DO NOT PANIC. Everyone calm down."

And we did.

We got a human chain going - those who weren't hurt helped those who were. Others climbed down into the river and pulled all the backpacks off the now vertical roof. Another guy dove under the water to pull the keys out of the ignition so the back wheel would stop spinning as we guided people along the now top, formerly side, of the bus. I pulled my first aid kit out of my day pack and started cleaning bloody, river-soaked wounds. Locals came to help pull us all up the steep embankment to the road. And the ambulances started arriving.

Nine people went to hospital. A few with broken bones, the most serious with a ruptured spleen. We got everyone bundled into the ambulances including Tony and John who both had bruised ribs, and yet had stood on the riverbank as I handed them more passengers. I stayed behind - I had an unreasonable, unfathomable sense of responsibility for making sure everyone was okay. I couldn't stomach the thought that any of those people who were now in the hands of the Australian medical team at the clinic in Pokhara would die. I couldn't take it.

My head had a couple of goose eggs, a couple of scrapes, but that was it. I was hugging people, almost euphorically, telling them we had just survived the stereotypical Asian story - a bus accident. We were alive.

Someone said it was incredible - his life had actually flashed before his eyes. He said, "I thought we were dead."

I was appalled at him. How could he let that thought in? I couldn't die that way. I just couldn't. My brother was killed in a car accident 30 years before. There was NO WAY my Mum was going to lose both her children in a road accident. NO WAY.

And then I felt mortal.

I grabbed a ride with a couple who stopped to see what the commotion was about. They were headed for Kathmandu. I had lost my taste for buses and had regained some courage for flying to India instead - so I bargained that if he drove carefully and slowly I would take the ride back to the capital. On the way they shared their packed lunch with me on the side of the road, near a waterfall. I'd love to say I remember what it was - but I was still a bit stunned.

And that's how I met the General and his wife, Sita. On the way they invited me to their country house to stay for a few days. They knew I held a British passport and they had lived in England while he studied at Sandhurst - she argued in favour of tea, he argued in favour of I got both. I don't like brandy - I drank it.

And the sense of mortality passed. I stayed with these kind, generous people for a couple of days and then headed back into Kathmandu. And there on my first evening I ran into Tony in a bookstore. We hugged like old friends and he caught me up with all the injured - they were all going to be fine. He was having dinner with John that night, so I joined them. And John and I confirmed our plan to meet in Jaipur, Rajasthan a few weeks later.

Thwack. I headed on with my journey, feeling blessed - because as I think Carrie Fisher wrote (and I've said before) - bad reality...great anecdote. I'll hang on to that idea over the next few months.

August 09, 2007

I.D. Please

My brain came back online late last week.

I felt various pieces of software click back on. I noticed the weather. I noticed problems in the house. I noticed the unmade bed, the dust, the cat hair.

I can cope. And then I can't. And then I can. And when I can't, Steve is there. And my Mum. And my beautiful, beautiful friends.

I noticed I can float.

I'm starting to believe that books come into your life at certain times. I finished reading Eat, Pray, Love about a week before my diagnosis of breast cancer.

I got to the end. I started over again. I salivated over Gilbert's description of pizza in Naples, yoga in her Indian ashram, and fulfillment of her search in Indonesia. The hair rose on my arms as she talked about the voice deep inside her that protects her. I cried (on the subway) when I read what the voice said to her. I jumped at her description of yoga. And my soul rested when I read what a friend told her about our soulmates...

I spent last week thinking a lot. And talking with Steve. And letting him hold me, and holding him. I thought about how I grieve the sudden loss of the part of my life where nothing more was wrong than traffic, rain, and what to have for dinner - life without a sense of mortality. Without the sad lesson that I must love this minute now, this day.

I ate a peach. A locally grown peach at its height of beauty and taste rested in my palm. My first bite dripped, the peach melted in my mouth. It grabbed my senses. I was completely present in the moment. I'm me.

And yet...

I went to the hospital for another ultrasound. I was laying on the bed, arm above my head, as they spread the goo and the wand and magically looked through the tissues on my healthy breast...I was thinking there are more pictures of my breasts floating around the medical world in the last few weeks than of Paris Hilton from her whole adventurous, young adult life.

A young resident did the test. He complained about the discomfort in his shoulder. I said, "yeah, I can't imagine. Care to trade places?" Oh he said...oh your shoulder hurts too? Oh, yeah...oblivious.

Later, when we were chatting he called me a cancer patient.

I jolted inside.

He's the first person to put the cancer first in my identity. Yeah, I guess I am. But NO I am not. I most certainly am not a cancer patient first . He couldn't see me. I'm me.

Through the last week - my brain, stomach and heart found their equlibrium again - no, more than that, they found their truth in me. It became clear that my love, inside and out, is the engine. That's me.

I finished Eat, Pray, Love again. And I stared at the cover and couldn't help but smile. For the last week that's all I've been directing myself to do: eat, pray, love.

And as Gilbert said of the favourite mantra she discovered on her journey, Hahm Sah....
I am That.