Strength Beyond Chemo

Chemo therapy was harsh on my sister’s body, bringing on hourly episodes of pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, appetite loss and difficulty breathing. First series, she handled it like a champ. Laughed through it. Smiled with her nurses. Lashed out about the needles she hated but had to endure. Shared stories of our times in Poland together. Road trips with our uncles. Times spent with babcia (grandma in Polish) eating tea biscuits. We went out for coffee. Starbucks. Grilled salmon seasoned with curry, paprika and freshly chopped garlic. Drank green tea with lemon, ginger and raw honey. Those days were filled with joy and laughter. Timeless. Memorable. Fun!

Then the second series of chemo had to come along. Ugh. Then radiation to stop these creepy cancer cells from brittling her bones. She had mixed emotions about it but hoped to defeat this cancer cruelty. Ibrance. It led to intense neuropathy, arthritis, appetite and weight loss, hair thinning, mouth sores and more fatigue. Then painful ascites. Intense edema. Extreme bloating. Anemia. Vision loss in one eye. Hard time breathing. Talking. So much pain. And yet not once has she complained about it. Not one time. Not for a minute. Just mentioned how much she missed regular food. And sparkling Linden berry tea with ice. And TAZO green tea in a glass bottle.

Sunday brunch at IKEA, our favorite spot for Swedish food.

“Iza, how are you feeling?” I’d ask often.

“I’m fine. Just a little weak. I just want to go home and eat something normal. Not jell-o or pudding. Maybe a steak?” And we both laughed.

Her responses remained so impossible to fathom. To process from our end. To imagine, walk down her path. A healthy person’s perspective. How can we have ever known the truth? We had no idea the suffering she’s been feeling. The ongoing pain. The pain God didn’t intend. The pain He later took away and replaced with overflowing love in heaven.

We stood next to her. Looked into her eyes. Listened to her. Put on her favorite 80s songs. CC Catch and Depeche Mode. Heard her voice. Held her hand. Kissed her forehead. Massaged her back. Brushed her hair. Shared her jell-o, applesauce and Dole diced peaches. Her favorite. But we were transparent on her pain scale. Only she knew the pain and her true story with God. That untold story we so desperately wanted to know. Where was all this leading? When will this suffering end? Not 41. Please not so young.

A few weeks later, ICU was much needed. Needles again. Oxygen again. She had a hard time breathing. Talking. Sleeping. Nothing by mouth. Then eased into liquid diets. Pureed foods. No potassium. Then some potassium. Then no citrus foods. Plenty of jell-o. More tea and then no tea. Just ice chips. Then nothing by mouth again. More fatigue. Fatigue. Fatigue. The procedure, surgeries, recoveries were so draining. So hard on her body.

Then the ridiculous amounts of drugs made way into her life. More medications. Less medications. Maybe not enough drugs. Cannabis oils. Morphine and Tramadol for pain. Marinol for appetite. Xanax to relieve anxiety. Xgeva for bone metastases. Valium to aid with sleepless nights. And the drug list continued. Weekly. Monthly. Then daily. The list got shorter. Then longer. Then there was a break. She felt great. Remission took place. Then back to not so great. The sickening cancer roller coaster. Slowly depleting her inside out. Why now? Why her? Why not just vanish and leave her alone.

I got lost with these drugs’ destructive purpose for Iza. Were they even helping? Perhaps feeding her breast cancer further? Destroying the good cells? Encouraging the spread of these evil cells to nearby organs? So much to process and really dig into. Why wasn’t anything helping? Curiosity was at its peak. Eventually we steered our conversations towards natural remedies. Holistic trials. And she was ready. Again.

After being discharged, we stocked up on cancer-fighting foods…

  • Turmeric
  • Garlic (raw, cooked, grilled, baked, roasted, yum!)
  • Ginger
  • Kefir
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Green Peppers
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Avocados
  • Black Beans
  • Green Matcha Powder
  • Soursop leaves

We said goodbye to red meat, sugar, anything fried or white and packed her fridge with greenery. Her pantry was filled with international spices and colorful herbs. Her kitchen soon resembled a vibrant holistic green house, awaiting its powerful nutritional contents to wipe away those cancer cells devouring her strength. We were ready to beat those odds and prove her oncologists wrong. They told her she had a few months to live. Yet here we were a year later, grocery shopping with excitement, ready to undertake this horrid cancer enemy.

Move over stage 4 breast cancer! We are now in charge, stepping over your unwanted welcome. And God is by our side, blocking your entrance into my sister’s heart.

So what are some lessons about chemo that my sister left behind?

  1. Chemo is extremely uncomfortable and takes over your life. Don’t complain. Keep fighting! Keep living. Loving. Enjoying the little moments.
  2. The long drug lists cancer patients are experts of do help with pain. Temporarily. With time, they will do more harm than good. The side effects are a different story. Natural remedies are key in preventing most illnesses of today.
  3. Raw honey is best. Your body breaks it down differently from sugar and its loaded with anti-inflammatory properties which strengthen your immunity.
  4. Limit salt, season foods with herbs and spices and avoid red meat and sugar.
  5. Indulge in ANTIOXIDANT-RICH foods such as colorful veggies, fruits, nuts, salmon, healthy oils, avocados, papaya, kefir and dark chocolate (70% or higher).
  6. Do NOT drink your calories. WATER. WATER. WATER. Unless they’re 100% freshly squeezed juices or smoothies made from veggies, fruit and nuts/seeds, your immune system doesn’t want or need them in any way.

Lucky #7. Fresh is best! Stay clear from canned, processed or packaged foods. Our ancestors didn’t eat them so why should we? Why not enjoy the simple, earthly foods meant for consumption? Do you really want to feed your body a list of weird ingredients that are impossible to pronounce? If we can’t read it, why eat it? Surely your body will be confused about what to do with it. So skip it. Your body will thank you. Simple. An apple is an apple. Avocado. Papaya. Almonds. 1-ingredient foods will extend your life.

Simple is not so bad. It’s actually pretty awesome. Fun. Child-friendly. Easy. And affordable.

The kitchen awaits you. Grab those spices! And start cooking!

The healthy new you will keep you happy, lively and motivated to live each day smiling. Encourage others. Feed your body well. And thank God for all those foods available to you. The angels are there to help you. I’m so grateful to have my guardian angel near me. Guiding me. Encouraging me to indulge in cancer-fighting, immunity-boosting, delicious foods whenever. Wherever. For life. Always.

Thank you for magnifying such amazing strength throughout your cancer journey. I learned hundreds of lessons being with you. Built countless memories. Enriched our sisterly bond. Put faith in God. Trusted Him all the way. Made beautiful spiritual connections. One day at a time.

Heaven is so lucky to have you up there, my big sis! Love you “too” much! – As my kids would say, when you got messy with their creative art skills at your condo.

Priceless. Forever in our hearts.

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