A Healthier Life

I think sometimes people who have not experienced cancer first hand do not realize that it changes the way you live your life forever. My husband has developed several conditions from the treatments associated with cancer.  He now has a heart condition, so he can’t exercise the same way he used to.  Walking on the treadmill for ten minutes leaves him winded.  The chemotherapy has caused his bones to not heal after an unrelated surgery. Life is never the same after cancer – even in remission.

Healthy eating is one of the things that makes everyone feel better, post-cancer or not. If your spouse is anything like my spouse, one of the most significant changes that we needed to make in our lives was the adoption of a healthier eating plan.  I’ve always eaten fairly healthy – by balancing my fried food weakness with an equal portion of veggies.  My husband, however, is strictly a meat and potatoes kind of guy.  He could eat carbs, in the form of pasta, every night.  At first, I really struggled to incorporate healthier options into our not-so-healthy- diets. Then I learned how to use healthy food to my advantage.

My current fall vegetable obsession is butternut squash. I have found ways to hide it in just about anything. Here is one of my favorites:

Not so ordinary red sauce (serves 6)

1 – 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes

2 T tomato paste (I use a tube that can be stored in the refrigerator. Less waste)

½ cup low sodium chicken broth, divided (substitute vegetable broth to make this dish vegetarian)

½ yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 lb butternut squash, cut into 1” cubes*

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small pot, steam the butternut squash by bringing 2” of water to a boil. Add squash, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Squash should be soft enough to mash or puree

In a large pot, sweat onion and garlic in 1 T of olive oil until onion is translucent – about 5 minutes. Add Crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 1/3 cup of the chicken broth and stir well to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste (Easy on the salt.  It’s usually in the crushed tomatoes).Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

When squash is done, mash well with a fork or puree in a food processor/blender. If you use an appliance, you may need to add the remaining chicken broth.

Add mashed/pureed squash to red sauce mixture. Depending on the brand of tomatoes you use, you may need to thin the sauce out with a little extra chicken stock. Serve over your favorite shaped whole wheat pasta (another healthy substitute)

*Shortcut alert: Precooked butternut squash is available in the freezer section of most supermarkets. Follow the package directions to thaw and skip right to the mashing/pureeing step.

This sauce only has 92 calories per serving and only 1 single calorie is from fat! (According to my calorie counter app). You’re also getting 2 servings of vegetables in every portion. That’s a win-win!

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A Survivor’s Loss

One of the first experiences I had after my husband became a survivor was of loss. In the traditional sense, we very rarely associate surviving with loss.  As a survivor’s wife I did not experience the same loss as I would have had my husband lost his life, but I did lose something nonetheless.

In 2012, when remission was confirmed and life started to go back to “normal”, I realized that what we both had lost was our optimism. Gone were the days of long-term future planning.  I saw us living our lives from PET scan to PET scan.  It was as if we were afraid to believe that he was healthy. Our lives had become so consumed by cancer; we didn’t remember how to live without it.  His initial diagnosis was so unexpected and so sudden that we were sure that the next time he went for testing, it would be back.

We have come to realize that our children not only deserve, but thrive off of our optimism. We owe it to them to give them a positive childhood.  Although our son is only 2 ½, he is visibly responding to the change in our behavior.  Our daughter, who was 9 when her dad was diagnosed, is becoming a much less serious young lady.  We hate that she had to grow up so fast at such a young age.  This is the time for her to have fun.  We need to lead by optimistic example.

It has been 2 ½ years since my husband went into remission and we are finally starting to come out of the fog. We have already made plans for our summer vacation next year.  We talk about the future.  We are still very aware that life is full of uncertainty, but understand that it cannot control our lives.  Now, we take the time to appreciate the things in life that too often go unappreciated – the colors of the fall leaves, a spontaneous hug or a chance encounter.  Whatever those little things are to you, enjoy them in the moment.

Welcome to my life

I am a survivor’s wife.  In 2011, we were leading the storybook life.  We had just purchased our first home and I was pregnant with our second child.  We had finally achieved the American Dream.  Then, coincidentally, on October 14th, our lives changed in an instant.  The love of my life was diagnosed with stage 4A Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  My first thought was “I’m going to be a single mom”.  Then I realized that this was my time to be the strong one…the caregiver…the rock.  My family needed me more than ever and I would not let them down. Seven Chemotherapy and thirteen radiation treatments later and my husband was in remission – and not a moment too soon.  Our son was born 4 days later.

I honestly believed that our life would go back to the way it was BC – before cancer.  I could not have been more wrong.  The husband I have now is not the husband I had three years ago.  He is the survivor I love and I am a survivor’s wife.  Welcome to my journey.