World Cancer Day – Previvorship

Previvor is one of those words I had never heard of until I was suddenly thrust into the world as a previvor myself. I suppose I have technically been a previvor since the moment of my conception, but I did not know I was a previvor until a genetic test, fueled by anxiety over my family history of cancer, revealed the truth.

Previvor: A portmanteau of the prefix “pre-” and “survivor”

Previvor: Someone with a genetic risk factor for cancer who has not yet been diagnosed with cancer.

Previvors include a wide swath of people. Like me, you may be one and not even know it yet. Among the first to really claim the “previvor” title are the many women (and men) who have been diagnosed with a BRCA mutation. A DNA error that, thanks to celebrity advocates like Angelina Jolie, is well-known to cause an increased risk for both breast and ovarian cancer, but also prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer, among others. Though most who get tested for BRCA (both 1 and 2) are women, due to the risk of female-associated cancers, men can have the BRCA gene too, and it also increases their risk for breast cancer as well as the cancers mentioned above.

But BRCA is far from the only high risk cancer gene. In fact there are a wide variety of Hereditary Cancer Syndromes (HCS).

Read the rest of the story over on Medium.

What It’s Like to Live with RA

I should say up front, that my RA is mild to moderate. I am seropositive, which means my disease course is likely to be more severe, but I feel pretty good most days right now. And I have every reason to hope that diet changes (like trying AIP) and lifestyle changes (like hitting the gym and practicing relaxing self-care) along with medications will slow my progression and possibly even put me into remission completely!

Most days I wake up a little stiff, morning stiffness is one of the hallmarks of RA. For me it’s usually in my back and hips, which makes it hard to stand up straight when I first get out of bed. My joints also tend to pop and crack like crazy those first few steps in the morning. I’m like a bowl of rice crispies walking to the bathroom to start my morning routine.

Some mornings I skip breakfast and choose to fast, but when I eat breakfast I usually grab something quick like yogurt with berries or leftovers I can quickly reheat. I like to sleep in as much as possible. Sleep is super important and I am a person who needs a lot of it, even before my diagnosis. So if that means I don’t have time to cook my own breakfast every morning, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

I head to work around 8:45 am, and when the weather is nice, I’m fortunate to live close enough that I can walk to work! It’s just under a mile, so it’s a great way to get in some good movement and vitamin D sunshine at the beginning and end of the day. (I was so tired this past summer that I rarely did this, I have been feeling well enough to do this 2-3 times a week so far this year!)

I’m a librarian and I’m fortunate that my position keeps me moving throughout the day. I’m not on my feet all day, nor do a sit all day, I’ve got a good mix of resting and moving which is good, it keeps my joints from gelling up from being in one position for too long. One of my early symptoms was hip pain after sitting for an extended time. A couple times I even got up after sitting for a long time and thought I had sprained my ankle! But the pain went away by walking around for a little while.

Sometimes at lunch I walk home to let my dog out for a little midday break. (Just because she can be in her kennel all day doesn’t mean she likes to, so I try to give her breaks as often as possible). When I plan to stay at work for lunch I try to pack something healthy. Often leftovers or a salad with some protein (chicken, shrimp, hard boiled egg, etc.). Sometimes I also continue a fast through lunch. I actually try to fast a full 24 hours once per week, from dinner one night, to dinner the following night.

Afternoon is when my fatigue tends to set in, so I really try to “Eat the Frog” and try to get the highest priority or most difficult stuff done early in the day when I have the most energy.

After work I usually head straight home. Often my energy stores are zapped for the day, which is why meal kits have come in so handy for me. Not having to think about what to make for dinner, or spend much time prepping ingredients is so helpful when I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Still, I also try to use evenings as time to build community and challenge myself intellectually by going to Bible study, book club or taking classes at the local community college.

Before bed I’ve started an oil pulling routine (more on this in a later blog post), which is also a great time to pop in some ear buds and do a guided meditation. I wash my face and use organic witch hazel toner and then aloe as my moisturizer. If I am having any joint pain I use topical CBD ointment and/or Max Freeze to help alleviate symptoms without needing to take an NSAID. (Though I do take aspirin or ibuprofen when needed, and per my doctor’s instructions, I always try to take the minimum effective dose – so if I can spare my kidneys and gut lining by not taking an NSAID for pain, then I will. NSAIDs help with symptoms of RA, but they don’t halt disease progression).

Then it’s off to bed by 10:00 pm so I can hopefully have a full 8-10 hours of sleep to be ready for the next day!

If you have RA, or another autoimmune disease, what is your day like?

Now that was my usual weekday, but Saturdays are my me days – check out the new vlog to see what a Saturday is like for me!

How To Make a Health Log

This is a video of how I created a DIY health log. It’s a little bit bullet journal with a dash of traditional planner, but focused on tracking my health. If you are trying to make a lifestyle change or are dealing with a chronic condition I highly recommend making a health log of your own.

The resources I used to make mine are listed below.

Avery Heavy Duty 3-ring Binder

Plum Paper 18 month planner (monthly)

Symptom Tracker –  (as I mentioned in the video, mine is a personalized version of this tracker)

Avery Pocket Dividers 

This is not a sponsored post. I pay for everything I try out of pocket so that you know my reviews are unbiased. Though some links are affiliate links for products I would recommend.

The Crunchy Checklist

As I mentioned in my introduction post, I have definitely got some latent crunchy/granola/hippie genes. I value real food, even if I don’t always make food choices in line with those values. I value self-sufficiency, even if I can also be a pretty darn good consumer of things I could just as easily make myself. I value the great outdoors and conservation, but I do not always recycle or use the greenest products available to me. I value health, but I definitely have some chronic health issues common among populations in the developed world.

So how can I start living out these values I hold more consistently? How can I embrace my inner “crunchy earth goddess”? That is why I started this blog in the first place! To find out. To experiment. To try new things and see how living more in line with my values might help my overall health and well-being, but also my family, community and world too.

To that end, I have compiled a “Crunchy To Do List” of sorts. Based on information from other natural and holistic health blogs, books I’ve read, etc. I have created a list of things to do to fully embrace my inner crunchiness. They fall into a few main categories: Food, Hygiene and Health, Household, and Lifestyle; though some could easily fit in more than one, and others don’t quite fit where I’ve put them – that’s where they are listed all the same. So here goes …..

Food – Just Eat Real Food

  • Eat fermented foods
  • Eat real fats
  • Try offal (organ meats)
  • Make and eat bone broth and stock
  • Try raw milk
  • Try supplemental foods like cod liver oil and gelatin
  • Drink water without fluoride in it
  • Try a cleanse
  • Do a Whole 30
  • Cut out white sugar
  • Cut out all added sugars

Hygiene & Health

  • Try oil cleansing
  • Try oil pulling
  • Try dry brushing
  • Make and use my own deodorant
  • Visit a naturopath
  • Visit a holistic dentist
  • Visit a chiropractor
  • Try the “no-poo” method
  • Get rid of synthetic lotions and potions
  • Try essential oils
  • Try herbs and tinctures
  • Try a cleanse
  • Try CBD oil for pain and anxiety
  • Try cranio-sacral massage
  • Try accupunture

Household

  • Get rid of harsh chemical based cleaners
  • Make my own cleaners using natural ingredients
  • Try soap nuts
  • Try organic cotton bed sheets
  • Get a Berkey filter for tap water
  • Try a salt lamp
  • Acquire air purifying house plants
  • Acquire better quality pots and pans

Lifestyle

  • Read “crunchy” books
  • Try grounding
  • Try yoga
  • Try pilates
  • Go for hikes
  • Go camping
  • Try amber glasses to block blue light at night

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list but should definitely keep me busy for a while. There are some other crunchy things I would love to try but cannot yet. More may be added to the list over time.

Is there anything crunchy that you think is missing from my list? What would you add? What is the “crunchiest” thing you do?

Intro to Paleo

When it comes to overall health I have not yet found a diet that yields the same results as real food, and especially a paleo diet. I admit I’m not the most faithful paleo lifestyle liver, but I can say from past experience that the more faithful I am to paleo the better my health. My digestion is better, my skin is clearer, my allergies are less severe, my joint pain is practically non-existant and I am closer to my ideal weight range the stricter my paleo lifestyle. I’ve seen a lot of misinformation out there on the interwebs about paleo, so this is my attempt to cover the basics of what to eat, the most frequently asked questions, and to point you towards some excellent resources that have more and better information than I.

paleo-diet

What Do You Eat on Paleo?

Lots of real good food! Meats (preferably pastured, organic, humanely raised sources – it’s better for the animal and for you, I promise), fish, eggs, lots of vegetables, fruit (especially berries – yum!), nuts, seeds and healthy fats (like olive oil, pastured ghee and coconut oil).

What Do You Not Eat on Paleo?

No grains. (That means no wheat, oats, corn, yes corn counts as a grain, etc. No quinoa either). No legumes (No beans, no peanuts, technically no green beans or peas – but those are in a grey area). No dairy, unless you tolerate it well – and then you should aim for pastured, organic sources.

Is all that fat bad for you?

Heck no! It’s all that sugar, not the fat, not even the saturated kind, that is killing you. Some fat is bad for you – trans fats are good for no one. I repeat – No One. Omega-6 fats (the kind you get from seed oils like corn and canola) are bad for you if not in balance with your omega-3 fats. Saturated fat is also good for you when it is in balance. (No it won’t raise your cholesterol and give you heart disease – but sugar probably will).

Is all the red meat bad for you?

No. But if you’re concerned about it you can always stick with poultry, fowl and plenty of fish! Not to mention lots of fruits and vegetables.

Where do you get your carbs?

From all those lovely vegetables and fruits! Paleo is not necessarily low-carb. Yes, you can make it low carb. (And if you have metabolic syndrome that’s probably wise). But no, it doesn’t have to be. Sweet potatoes, bananas, mangos and papaya are just some of the higher-carb fare that you are free to eat on a paleo diet.

Where do you get your fiber?

From all those lovely vegetables and fruits! Really – and they come packed with many more nutrients and far fewer anti-nutrients than those whole grains that the food pyramid wants you to get your fiber from.

Okay, I’m interested, where can I find more information?

There have been so many paleo books published in the 7 years since I first tried paleo. Still, the two best books I’ve read on the paleo diet are Practical Paleo and The Primal Blueprint. Some other good ones include The Paleo Solution, Paleo PrinciplesEat The Yolks and Primal Body, Primal Mind. For more info check out these resources.

 

It should go without saying that I am not a doctor and while I am a strong proponent of the paleo diet because I’ve seen it work first hand, but I do not know your unique situation or medical history. Always consult a trusted physician before undertaking a new diet or exercise program.

Health Affirmations

On my crunchy journey I have discovered that a big issue I have is mindset. While I was anxiously going to doctors seeking a diagnosis I was convinced every pain was cancer and that I was going to die before 35. Once I got a diagnosis a lot of that anxiety went away, but there are still scary moments and anxieties, like when a new pain crops up, or lingers longer than it has before. Yet, while I want to track my symptoms, when I focus too much on my pain it feels much worse. On the other hand, when I decide that I am going to be healthy and happy I feel better, even if the baseline pain is essentially the same. Changing your frame of mind can make such a difference in your health! I am now working on making a habit of positive visualization.

Sometimes I repeat one image or mantra over and over again using mala beads or a rosary to help me keep track. Other times I read through a list or affirmations written out on index cards. Still other times I will listen to a guided imagery or meditation. Whatever method(s) you choose, I hope you will make time to for focused healing thoughts. Here are some general healthy affirmations to get you started.

  • My body is able to heal itself
  • My body knows how to work properly
  • I eat foods that nourish my body
  • I am able to move my body in ways that strengthen it
  • My body can do whatever I ask of it given the right tools
  • My body knows when to rest and digest
  • My immune system knows how to attack infections
  • My immune system knows not to attack myself
  • My body is whole and nourished
  • I sleep well and my body is restored each night
  • My muscles are strong and supple
  • My joints are able to move freely but safely
  • My liver and kidneys are able to cleanse my body
  • My digestive system can absorb all the nutrients my body needs
  • My lungs are clear and I can breathe easily
  • My heart is strong and efficient
  • My nervous system is clear and functions smoothly
  • I know my body is able to heal whatever illness I struggle with
  • My biome is healthy and in balance with friendly microbes who support my well-being
  • My emotions are balanced and healthy
  • I am not afraid of my emotions, nor am I controlled by them
  • My whole body, mind, emotions, environment and soul are healthy and work together for my well-being

For more information on how mindset can help heal and maintain wellness, check out these books.

Mind Over Medicine by Dr. Lissa Rankin

Self-Healing with Guided Imagery by Dr. Andrew Weil

Notes From the Crunchy Journey

So I went to see my first rheumatologist this past week. Overall I felt the appointment was good. The doctor let me just list all my many symptoms (mostly pain related) that have come on over the last couple year. Then we ran more blood work, took x-rays and did a physical exam. I was not sure what to expect, but I really liked that she let me just spew symptoms at her and at the end of our appointment she asked if I had any questions. Which I did (because I went prepared), only one of which was pressing.

All the tests came back a couple days ago and she called me to follow up. Not her nurse or a medical assistant, she phoned me directly. That was nice, and almost a first in my experience with allopathic doctors. She is pretty sure I have early stage rheumatoid arthritis and wants me to start taking heavy dose NSAIDs and a mild first line DMARD.

Even though I really liked this doctor, I am still planning on seeking a second opinion. With something like a chronic autoimmune disease I feel I have to do my due diligence and get at least two opinions. Once I get a second opinion I think I can move forward; decide which specialist to see long term as my rheumatologist and also really start chipping away at the lifestyle stuff.

For me the first step will be to move towards an AIP elimination diet. I have already cut out alcohol (not hard since I never drank much anyway) and coffee as well as diligently adding vegetables to every meal and eating fish 2-3 times per week. Next I will cut out gluten and dairy while adding bone broth and more veggies. I would like to get up to 2-3 servings of veggies per meal. Eventually I would like to do full AIP for a month or two, including weaning off my NSAIDs, followed by reintroduction.

I would also like to get back into restorative yoga once per week to help with keeping my joints mobile and help with mindfulness and stress management.

As part of this journey I would also like try acupuncture, visit a naturopath (and maybe even make a naturopath part of my care team), experiment with essential oils for pain, go on a spa retreat, work to reduce my toxic load with things like all-natural cleaning products, organic cotton sheets and even more all-natural body care and makeup. What things would you add to this list?

If you have an autoimmune disease, what things were most helpful for you to bring symptoms under control?

 

Favorite Crunchy Health and Diet Books

The number of books on real food, paleo, keto and AIP diets have proliferated over recent years. When I first tried paleo six years ago there were only a handful of titles and a few blogs to guide my journey. Now there are hundreds! While all of these new resources are wonderful, and can be a struggle to separate the wheat from the chaff…. or whatever the grain free version of that metaphor is. So I am here to help! Some of these titles have been out for years and still hold up as some of my favorites, others are more recent publications. All of the below I have personally read and can recommend.

boockstack3

The Best of the Best 

These are my absolute favorite real food books, the information is presented so clearly and pursuasively. I highly recommend them to every reader seeking more information on adopting a holistic health, real food focused lifestyle.

Practical Paleo – This is my go-to book whenever anyone wants more information on paleo. With a great guide to the diet and the science behind it, recipes, meal plans and tear out shopping lists. If you are going to get only one book about the paleo diet, this should be the book.

The Paleo Approach – This book is a great guide to the autoimmune protocal (AIP) paleo diet. Written by Sarah Ballyntine, scientist and autoimmune disease sufferer who uses her science background to explain all the nitty gritty detail of how autoimmunity works and how our food choices can help manage symptoms. (Also available, the Paleo Approach Cookbook)

The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook – This is a practical guide for those diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. With guidance for building your healthcare team as well as real food diet recommendations to reduce inflammation and symptoms.

The Keto Diet – This title does a great job of explaining the Keto Diet and appropriate variations, especially for women (though all audiences can benefit). Similar to The Paleo Approach, the early chapters cover the theory and practice and the latter half of the book includes recipes and meal plans.

The Holistic RX – When they say holistic in the title they mean it. This book covers not only the need for nutriet dense foods but also sleep, movement and social-emotional support necessary for a healthy life.

The Wahl’s Protocol – Based on paleo principals, Dr. Wahl’s explains how she used a nutrient dense diet based on large daily servings of vegetables to put her MS into remission. Others have used this diet along with AIP to bring great relief to neurodegenerative and autoimmune conditions. (Also available The Wahl’s Protocol Cooking for Life)

The Primal Connection – A follow up The Primal Blueprint (see below), this book takes a holistic view of health, including not just antiinflammatory real food, but also movement, sleep and other lifestyle habits that encourage overall health.

Deep Nutrition – As the title would suggest, this book is all about we need whole, nutrient dense real food for our bodies to work at their best. Not just our own bodies either, but the bodies even of our children and their children.

Whole 30 – If you haven’t heard of the Whole 30 yet you might be living under a rock. Though the program is available for free online, this book is a great way to compile all the core information in one handy reference guide. It includes the principals of the plan (basically a strict paleo diet) along with recipes. (Other titles by Melissa Hartwig are available as well, see below)

Real Food: What to Eat and Why – This book (recently re-released) was the book that first started me down the whole food path. It is the reason I use real salt and butter to this day and always try to choose the best quality meats, fruits and vegetables that I can afford. Even if you are not interested in going paleo or keto or AIP – this book has great advice on following a real food diet that is well within reach of anyone.

Some Other Great Titles

These books don’t make my Top 10, but are still great resources for recipes and further guidance, inspiration or information on particular topics.

What “crunchy” books have you enjoyed lately? Any books you love that I missed on the list? Share in the comments!

Updates on the Crunchy Journey

Six years ago when I first started paleo I did great! I easily lost 40 pounds (of which I have kept 20 off), had great energy levels, good sleep most nights. Then I moved and started a new full time job and after a few months fell off the wagon – I’ve yet to get back on for a sustained amount of time.

In the meantime I’ve struggled with GI issues, fatigue, anxiety and in the last year numbness in my extremities, muscle fasiculations, back pain, muscle and joint pain, and abdominal pain above and beyond my usual IBS symptoms. This started me down the path of blood tests and imaging studies, visits with neurologists and GI specialists, even a liver biopsy. Somewhat scary lab results (like a high ESR and CRP) and most recently to autoimmune markers that point to a strong likelihood of RA (though I have not yet had an official diagnosis of anything).

As somewhat scary as it is to have a probable autoimmune disease, I’m also happy that after four years of progressively feeling worse we are finally nearing some answers… When I told my mom that they found autoantibodies that pointed towards RA she commented, “I’ve never seen someone so happy to find out that they might have rheumatoid arthritis!” But when you have been feeling bad for years and are convinced something more than just poor sleep or being overweight is the cause of your issue, finally getting some evidence that you were right all along feels like a win!

Sadly, I know my story is the norm when it comes to autoimmune disease, because at first the symptoms are so vague and general that it really could be just poor sleep, life stress and/or lifestyle factors… (even with autoimmunity those things are super important)… Symptoms are also often systemic, and there are not really any autoimmune specialists, rather patients must see specialists for all their varying symptoms. A GI doc for their digestive issues, an endocrinologist for their thyroid, a rheumatologist for their joint pain and of course their GP for general wellness check ups and to get referals for all the specialists. According to the AARDA it takes an average of 5 years (and five doctors) before a patient receives a diagnosis. By that metric I am right on time to be (hopefully) nearing a diagnosis.

Now again, I don’t know for sure that I have RA, there are still other tests to do and the autoantibodies they found in my bloodwork can also be present in other autoimmune conditions and even non-autoimmune conditions (like lung infections and cancer). Once we have pinned down a more firm diagnosis I will definitely follow up. Nevertheless…

I’m thankful that my healthcare providers believed me when I said my troubleshooting wasn’t helping and I still wasn’t feeling well. I’m thankful they were willing to order tests even if the likelihood was low that anything would turn up. I’m thankful we are working to find answers and not just fix symptoms. I’m thankful that I have insurance and even though the bills have been pricey, they have so far been manageable. I’m thankful that I have a job that has allowed me to take the time off of work that I have needed for doctors’ appointments, testing and PT. I’m thankful to have a job I enjoy which makes it much easier to come in and find meaning and pleasure in your work even on days when you aren’t feeling great.