Saturday, July 19, 2014

Three Ingredient Strawberry Bruschetta and A Small C Part IV - The Certainty of Uncertainty

A Small C - Part IV The Certainty of Uncertainty -Dealing With The Aftermath of Radiation Therapy

After undergoing the radiation treatment which ended in February, my taste buds which was deadened by exposure to X-rays gradually came back and I could taste food as they should taste.   I also noticed my energy was back.

I still had to deal with dry mouth (which I still have up to now) which was remedied by using Biotene toothpaste.  I also had an open gash on my right shoulder due to the burning effects from the radiation.  The use of Aquaphor cream immediately closed the wound in a couple of days or so. 

I noted however that my neck had a lopsided accumulation of fluids which I found out was due to the lymph nodes around the area of my ear down my neck being zapped during the therapeutic sessions.   I found gentle massage partly helped redistribute the liquid equally around my neck.  But this swelling gradually disappeared.

I had an attack of what I call "radiation remorse". Should I have gone through it or should I have just not done anything or even just resorted to natural healing I asked myself. 

This worry was compounded by the fact that I felt some pain on my lower arm which I mistakenly attributed to lymphedema which I knew can be utterly inconvenient if full blown in its condition.  I found out later that this latter concern is unfounded since for one thing the  pain gradually disappeared. My oncologist silenced my worry by explaining that lymphedema in the arm was only brought about when lymph nodes in the armpit had been hit by radiation.  He pointed out the only the area that was exposed to radiation in my case was around my ear down my neck on the right side. 

This feeling of "radiation remorse"  was brought about by a TV show wherein the visiting doctor indicated that too many CAT scans (for example four a year) which also uses radiation should be avoided since this might cause cancer. This alarming message triggered my radiation remorse.  I was angry since there was no turning back, I just had the treatments.  By being realistic and weighing the risk and benefits of radiation however I was able to get over the "remorse". 

I had a very rare form of cancer but luckily at its earliest stage.  Being so rare it is considered an orphan cancer type and really nothing for certain is established in terms on how to deal with it at its severe late stages.  Chemotherapeutic agents which are usually used in conjunction with other types of late stage cancer are not as well researched yet with sweat gland cancer.  For me to gamble with not doing anything with mine at its earliest stage would be more dangerous than undergoing radiation even though it has its possible own risk.  By shunning radiation therapy I am taking chances of not avoiding the escalation of the small cancer to the late stage one.  Once I rationalize my decision, my complicated mind was at peace.

But I still had to contend with a common concern and question among cancer survivors, "Will it come back?" When I visited Dr. Jonas Johnson for a follow up visit, he gave me the best insight into dealing with this question.  Of course the answer I wanted was a 100 % guaranteed assurance that it would not.  He did not mislead me and I am grateful for that. He said, "Let us be philosophical about this".  For me that was enough to pacify me.  I dug deep inside of me to deal with the uncertainty of the future.   

The very down-to-earth, honest and wonderful Dr. Jonas Johnson.  He is actually the head of the UPMC EENT Institute.  I am grateful to my friend Eileen for recommending him to me.
Nothing in life is certain except uncertainty.  I just have to take life one day at a time and to live fully while I am alive and to die only when I am dead as one matra I read says. Worry will not help me to accomplish this.

It has been two years now since I discovered I had cancer and I have been cancer free according to my last visit with Dr. Johnson indicated.  Having to share this episode in my blog was very difficult for me but as I said previously I am hoping it will help someone in the same situation.   Thank you for your patience in reading the series of essays on this emotional subject.

I do have a souvenir of my radiation treatment which I decided to keep, weird as it seems.  It is the "mask" I had to use to allow my face to be stationary as the technician handling the computer system accurately "targets" the area around my ear down my neck during the radiation treatments.  It freaked out my husband when he saw it since it does remind one of the costume worn by Anthony Hopkins in the movie, Silence of the Lamb. 

I brought it to IUP where I had a good use for it.  Every time I start my lecture on radiation on the last days of my CHEM 101 lecture these past two years, I always show this mask to my class. As I did that first time I shared my cancer in the same class,   I use this now as a "show and tell" teaching tool to emphasize the relevance of chemistry. 

This mask was custom fitted for me in December before the start of the treatments in January.  It was very comfortable.  As I lay down on the bed during the treatment, I usually prayed  the rosary to pass the time.  I knew the radiation was done when I reached the end of the fifth decade.  The treatment was really short since I do pray the rosary really fast.

I never would have thought that the discipline I have embraced as a young girl in college will save my life along with the help of competent doctors, radiation technicians, nurses, family, friends and of course, God "who always takes care of all of us". 

Important Message:  Please have a physical exam every year. 

The parotid mass on the right side of my face was detected at its earliest stage by my very competent and alert primary physician Dr. Jennifer Stasko during my physical exam in October, 2011.  She felt the mass as she examined and pushed underneath my neck towards my ears. 

I did not feel anything out of the ordinary before and even after this was detected.  I could swallow, open my mouth wide and you could hardly see any difference between the right and left side of my face.  The mass could not be visibly detected.  In fact the anaesthesiologist on the day of the operation kept on asking me to open and stretch my mouth since he could not believe there was anything wrong with me.

This is my primary physician, Dr. Jennifer Stasko, who I owe my life to since she was the one who detected the parotid mass at its earliest stage during my yearly physical exam.

Easy, Delicious and Versatile Recipe with a Secret Ingredient

I am really not very good with keeping a secret.  So here it is- the secret ingredient is none other than coconut butter.  I recently bought a bottle of Artisana brand Organic Raw Coconut Butter from Marshall's, yes Marshall's.  I would admit it is pricey at $9.99 for a 16 oz bottle but it is worth it in quality and taste.  If you want to make your own coconut butter, the blog, Chocolate Covered Katie, has a recipe for Homemade Coconut Butter using only one ingredient, shredded unsweetened coconut.

Since the coconut butter is naturally sweet and very tasty, one does not have to add sugar or vanilla to it in this recipe.  This bruschetta is not only easy to prepare and delicious but it is also highly versatile.  It can be served as an appetizer or as a dessert.  I am warning you it is sinfully delicious and addictive.  Other fruit like kiwi, plums, pears etc or their combination with strawberries can be used.

Three Ingredient Strawberry Bruschetta


  • About 1/2 loaf French baguette cut into 8 slices around 1/3 inch thick
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries (or other kinds of fruit like kiwi, pears, plums etc or combination of fruit can be used)
  • 1/4 cup coconut butter


Toast the French bread slices.  Immediately spread about 1/2 tbsp coconut butter to the still hot slice so it is easier to spread the coconut butter and top with the sliced strawberries.  Enjoy!

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