So, I haven’t blogged here for a long time. I am very happy to tell you the reason is a very good one — I’ve been feeling a LOT better, so I’ve been getting out there in the world again!
Last November, I had a little scare with my MRI — a “minimal change” that reminded me all too clearly that my cancer is “supposed” to come back at some point. Frankly, it was a huge wake up call to me that life is short that time moves fast.
As a result of this not-so-gentle reminder, I started thinking about my bucket list – what do I want to do with my life? More on this in a future post.
I also started thinking about going on a ketogenic diet.
What’s a ketogenic diet, you ask? It’s a diet that’s extremely high in fat and extremely low in carbohydrates. Like, 80% fat and only 5% carbohydrates (about 20 grams per day, which is insanely low — try it for a day, it’s not for the feint of heart). Ketogenic diets can be really hard to stay on because the carbs are so low that most vegetables and almost all fruits are off the table completely.
Why, you might ask, would I go on such a crazy diet? Good question — so good in fact, that I have two answers for you. First, ketogenic diets have been shown, anecdotally, to reverse the growth of some brain tumors. Is that exciting, or what?! The diet is now being studied to better understand how this might happen and in what circumstances. So, after getting the green light from the nutritionist I’ve been working with as well as my oncologist and neurologist and their nutritionists, I decided to jump on the fat wagon. Everyone agreed it couldn’t hurt me, and it might just help. So why not?
The second reason I chose this diet is that ketogenic diets have been used for a long time to treat epilepsy patients who don’t respond well to anti-seizure medications. Since I’m technically epileptic now that I’ve had a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor, and since I really, really, really (really) don’t like being on anti-seizure medication, I thought I might be able to reduce my meds if I started on a ketogenic diet. It looked like keto might be a win-win situation for me.
I was wrong — keto turned out to be a win-win-WIN situation. Let me explain.
Beyond any potential benefit in preventing my tumor growing back (and my MRI this past March was excellent, by the way, so put a big check in that box), and beyond potentially helping me reduce my anti-seizure medication (my neurologist lowered it by 25% last month), I’ve received another gigantic, but completely unexpected benefit – the ketogenic diet has given me about 50% more energy each day than I had before!
It has been nothing short of a miracle. Seriously. I feel like I have my life back.
Last November, before I started the diet, I had a few good hours of energy per day. Most afternoons, I would go and lay down on the couch to rest. Sometimes I would nap. It was fine and I was happy to do it, but it was also limiting in terms of what I could accomplish.
Within a few days of starting the ketogenic diet, I began noticing a real uptick in my energy levels. I was able to go out to dinner when we were on vacation and not feel utterly exhausted by it. I went to a shopping center in the evening and shopped and walked around – and had enough energy to not only do it, but to enjoy it as well.
My family noticed what was happening, too. Soon, I was doing more things outside the house. I began making plans to meet people in the afternoon for tea or coffee. I had enough energy to get up and take Hannah to school many mornings. Within a short period of time I was exercising a bit – doing some walking and stretching. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t seem to be getting sick as often as I had been – no colds, flus, or battles royale with sinus infections like I used to always have.
The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities offered me office space to write my novel-in-progress from January to May, so I took a chance and accepted. I figured getting out of the house and into an office would help me find out if all this new energy was really real. What was real for sure was that writing was easier for me to do because I had more mental energy to spare. So at the beginning of the year, I started making the (nearly) daily trek to my office. I still had weekly massages and regularly scheduled acupuncture and physical therapy appointments to help unwind my muscles, so I couldn’t be in the office all of the time, but I could be in it a good amount — good enough to now have about 50 pages of my new novel written! I am well on my way to having a new book! Talk about a sense of accomplishment!
I’ve also begun to explore doing some volunteering with newly diagnosed cancer patients at UVA Hospital, in particular how we might be able to involve churches and other organizations in supporting their members as well as others who lack a support system, as they go through a chronic illness. I am always, always aware of the love and support that I was, and am, given in my cancer journey – I feel like I carry it around with me in every cell of my body. Everyone should have such love when they are faced with a serious illness like cancer.
I’m even thinking about applying to be in the chaplain internship program at UVA Hospital this fall, where I’d learn more about supporting people with chronic diseases.
There’s a lot I want to do – I want to be a great mom and a great wife; I want to spend time with my parents and to learn to be a better friend; I want to be able to pull my own weight; I want to give back just a little of what I’ve received. It’s great to have additional energy to do some of it.
What I’ve found lately, though, is that the more energy I think I have, the more I start to push it. This weekend, for example, Hannah wanted to stay up late a couple of nights in a row to watch two Marvel movies. So we did, and it was fun! But it was after midnight before I went to bed — not smart for me. Today, I’m on the couch blogging. I’m too tired to think my way through writing my book, exercising, or do much of anything.
As I sit here on the couch once again — my old stomping grounds after my surgery — I think the bottom line I am driving at is this unspoken, silent, buried understanding that although I am doing more and more — and happily and gratefully so — I just can’t do it all. There is so much I want to do, but I don’t have all the energy in the world to do it anymore, even on my best days. Balancing and keeping track is harder now, too – being organized with a pretty unorganized mind, being efficient with my limited energy, remembering where I’m supposed to be or even what task I’m doing at times, not losing the emails I intend to respond to, simply because they scroll off the part of my screen that I can see.
I know, I know, some people will say that these are just symptoms of getting older. And that’s true. But it’s not my truth, or at least not my whole truth. There’s always going to be that extra cancer component added on to the aging thing for me. I’m tired today, and it’s probably just a result of me staying up too late two nights in a row. But there’s always going to be that little question, that slight shadow on my thought process – how much does my cancer play into this feeling of being tired? Am I pushing myself too hard? Should I cut back?
It is so clear to me that I can’t do it all. When I try, something always gets neglected — sleep, my blog, my family, my friends, my writing, my dog.
I know there’s no mathematical equation to figure out what percentage of my fatigue is cancer and what percentages is just plain being old and busted. I try not to worry about it too much. But the fact remains, cancer — and the potential extra energy loss that comes with it – complicates how I think about my schedule and what I do (or decide not to do). Balance is so important — doing what I want to do, but not pushing so hard as to become tired in an unhealthy way.
As I re-read this last line, I realize: I’ve always had problems with balance in my schedule and activities, cancer or no. There has always been so much I’ve wanted to do. And there has always been so little time, such limited energy (and ability).
This is what life does: it has you circle around and around, back to the same issues that you had when you were 14. The circumstances may be different on each pass, and the people, and the level of intensity — and your own experience, for that matter — but life requires to you to revisit your same old issues, over and over again. This is where growth happens, I suppose.
So here I am, circling around balance in my life again. And you know what? Looking at it this way, I see that cancer has actually helped me with balance. With cancer, at least I now know that I really do need to pay attention to what my body says, because my life — or at least the quality of my life — pretty much depends on it.
And it probably always has.