Friday, 5 June 2015

Kicking Butt and Changing Lifestyles

My wonderful mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in February of this year (2015). I've not spoken about it online, or indeed much in real life, I think because it made it seem more real. But I feel like in the wake of my trip to Baltimore last week, along with our lifestyle changes since then, that I want to document this part of our lives, to an extent.

Mum went straight into chemotherapy in February, doing what we were told is one of the most aggressive treatments, every other week for 3 months. Dad and I are the optimists in the family, but even we couldn't have predicted how well and in-her-stride she handled the sessions. She'd go in for a 6-8 hour day, have side effects for 2-3 days after, then in the off weeks she and Dad would go on little trips, long walks, and spend lots of quality time together. She since has met patients her age or younger who had to get off the chemo cycle she was doing because it was too intense, so I still can hardly believe she was doing so much with her weeks! 

We were very fortunate that Mum was able to be admitted to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, where they did tests and Xrays and got great news - the tumour had shrunk enough that she could have it removed surgically!! The downside to this is that even with it removed, pancreatic cancer is very aggressive, and frequently returns - so she has been given 2+ years. But the plus is a very big plus, potentially another 5, or even 10, years! We can only hope.

After this news, I was beside myself. It is a big surgery - 6 to 8 hours - and I hadn't been able to see Mum since her diagnosis. I'm really lucky that with the help of my parents, my wife, and my workplace, I was able to go to Baltimore for the surgery - and to spend a few days of quality time with my parents beforehand. 

We had an amazing time, made so many memories - and I can't wait to share the photos with you in subsequent posts.

The surgery was thankfully a huge success, and Mum is currently recovering in the fantastic JHH facilities. Dad is by her side every step of the way, and our whole family is so relieved. Sarah and I can't wait to see them in San Francisco this October, and that Mum's recovery means they can spend more time in Europe, with us and enjoying their lives the way they deserve to.

Surgery success!
My Mum is an incredible woman and I am so proud of her. My Dad is also so strong and caring - so devoted to Mum and her recovery. This whole ordeal really reminded me of how amazing my parents are, and how lucky I am to have them to look up to.

The diagnosis, and everything that goes along with it, has made lasting changes to our family. My Dad recently read the book The China Study, and has given my brother and me each a copy to read. It really is fascinating. 

Simplified, the book gives readers studies of how a diet low in 'animal protein' and high in 'plant protein' can prevent cancer, and can even reverse illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure in some cases. 

One of the many studies in the book is in the 1980s, when the author began coordinating technical assistance for a nationwide project in the Philippines working with malnourished children. Part of the project became an investigation of the unusually high prevalence of liver cancer, usually an adult disease, in Filipino children. In this project, however, he uncovered a dark secret. Children who ate the highest-protein diets were the ones most likely to get liver cancer. They were the children of the wealthiest families. 

Studies like this within the book make sense when you think that diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc, are significantly more common in Western countries, like the USA and UK, than in countries like China, where there is a large number of vegans and vegetarians.

I suggest you take a read for yourself and draw your own conclusions, but I went from poking (light) fun at my meat and cheese loving Dad for eating vegan at the beginning of the week, to learning all I could about veganism and the ins and outs of The China Study, and by the time I boarded my plane home, I was hooked.

We have always said we loved meat (Sarah) and cheese (Laura) too much to become vegans. Not to mention how awkward it can be for vegans to go to restaurants, dinner parties, weddings, etc. But hey, when you may have the pancreatic cancer gene, as I very well may, you'll try anything -including veganism- that will help you live a long and healthy life with your wife.

We have put a rule in place that when we are out to eat, or at a friend's, we can eat regularly though and indulge. Pretty good compromise I think!

So expect some vegan recipes over the next few months on the blog, from two girls who don't 'love' vegetables, as we experiment with a whole new lifestyle!

Any vegans/veggies/vegetable enthusiasts have any tips or recipes for us newbies?

Thanks for everyone's well wishes, my mum is very loved!