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A Day in the Life

I decided that it might be worth while to do a Day-in-the-Life post about how I maintain my life/health/joy while battling Melanoma, Adrenal Insufficiency, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Don't worry, I'm not under the delusion that I live better than anyone else, but I have noticed that friends in my medical community tend to have a lot more to complain about, and do. Now, I'm an enormous supporter of the idea that you get back what you give. If you lay down and medicate, you get a broken body. If you push forward with a care and a positive attitude, you get the healthiest and happiest life available to you.

That said, I wanted to take a moment to share my daily tips and tricks with anyone who is looking to supplement their medical course of treatment with a generally healthy lifestyle. If I can help it, I don't treat symptoms, I fix causes. Quick backstory: I felt the need to reinvent the way I am taking care of myself when I started on my original 80mg of Prednisone daily. I almost immediately got "moon face," weight gain, irritability, and my heart just wasn't acting quite right. I realized that I could either ask my doctor for anti-anxiety medications, fluid pills, heart medication, and something to balance out the hormones, OR I could learn to eat better than I had ever eaten before in my life, and exercise. I chose the latter, which is infinitely cheaper, more fun, satisfying, and safer for me in the long term.

This will not be your standard checklist of what to do. It was supremely important to me to show you how these dietary and lifestyle modifications fit into the schedule of a typical working wife and mother. It takes a boatload of planning, but each day it becomes more automatic, and as much of a routine as breathing.

If you are interested, below, you will see an example of a printable checklist I made using Microsoft Word, 4 columns, printed back and front so I could cut out the lists and carry it around with me to stay on track. This shows my daily personal care from a more clinical standpoint, if you're interested.

What you about to see is a typical Monday...

My Daily Regiment
(I check off everything
as it is completed)

A few things that I do all day long are:

  • Sip on roughly a gallon of water. It's a lot, but it's not as difficult as it sounds when you start early and end late.
  • Stretch my body--every muscle, every chance I get

5:30am - Up and At 'Em

Yes, I did just say that I get up at 5:30 every morning. It took months to make this a habit, but now that I've nailed down my nighttime schedule, sleep comes easily and so does waking up.

The first thing I do after I get up is grab my FitBit Flex and put it on so I can log all my activity for the day.

5:45am - Morning Holistic Care

This involves a few different things:

  • Drink 8oz. of water with lemon juice and tsp. of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Take my vitamins (Fish Oil, Magnesium, Multivitamin, B-12, B-Complex, and Probiotic) and medications (Prednisone 40mg, Protonix, and 400mg. of Ibuprofen)
  • Run into the bathroom to complete my first saline rinse of the day
  • Grab some coconut oil and have a session of oil-pulling, followed by brushing my teeth

Oil-pulling usually takes 15-20 minutes, which is just enough time for me to take a mental health moment. I'll read or journal. Oil-pulling is something I only recently got into because I actually read numerous articles by women who were excited about it's effects on dry mouth and overall gum health. These are of particular concern to me since the Prednisone has a tendency to make me feel like I'm building a dry, fungal playground in my mouth

Money-Saving Tip: Don't waste your money on the Potassium supplements. Generally, they only have 1-3% of your recommended daily dosage, and you really don't need them if you commit to getting your Potassium from healthy foods throughout your day. 

6:10am - Eat a Banana

I cannot over-stress the importance of beginning my day this way. Potassium and magnesium are two of the most important minerals in your diet for countering the water-retaining effects of the Prednisone. 

6:15am - Do Some Morning Blogilates

Thanks Cassey Ho, for making such engaging and accessible, free YouTube videos on her Blogilates Channel (linked). Generally speaking, I am in pain most of the day (most of the time, thanks to my routine, it's a dull throb), and these videos are a wonderful way to work some flexibility and some strength-building into my day. I recently started with the Beginner Calendar and I'm totally digging it. And it doesn't take a ton of time, roughly 30 minutes for 1-2 videos. 

6:45am - Grab My Planner and a Cup of Coffee

I'm a lucky Mommy. My Sweet One will wake up around 6:30-6:45am every morning; however, he doesn't actually want to get up until he's had a minute to himself to--I'm not kidding--talk to himself about his room, his toys, and his plans for the day. So while he's getting ready for his day, I get ready for mine.

Stress management is CRUCIAL if you have an autoimmune disorder. In the case of my Adrenal Insufficiency, if I allow myself to "stress out" then I will have a massive crash almost immediately after the situation is resolved, and that lasts for hours.

Prevention is always the best medicine, so going through my planner to compile my important "To Do" list items in one place, is a pleasure. Right now, I like to use this "To Do List" by Every Tuesday (linked). I highly recommend it. I print 20-30 copies back-to-back, cut them out, and use a binder clip to keep it together like a memo pad. Then I date every page. This allows for me to organize when I will do something if I have a "Oh, I have to remember that tomorrow/next week/etc" kind of moment.

After I have the completed list in front of me, I sit back, sip some coffee, and visualize what my day will look like. I make a note if my mental dress rehearsal got a little hectic at parts and make a plan for how to prevent this from causing a Mommy-meltdown.

7:00am - Breakfast

By this time my Man Piece is waking up and so is my gorgeous Little Man. So it's Family Time. Usually this involves making/eating breakfast, and watching a YouTube video of Elmo's World (gag!).

But back to Breakfast...

This is nothing new. We all know that a proper, nourishing breakfast will include a combination of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean protein, and fruits. Right now, my favorite is a Clif Bar, a cup of Yoplait Light, and a serving of whatever fresh fruit I've purchased.

Money-Saving Tip: Buy your Clif Bars through Amazon's Subscribe and Save program. I tend to get 6 boxes of 12 for around $55 every month. I also wait until Harris Teeter or Aldi have a sale on their yogurt cups ($0.30/cup or less) and grab 20-30 cups. This way, I've got a super healthy Breakfast for roughly $1.25. 

7:30am - It's Go Time!

I'm a Preschool teacher, so to get to work on time, Wee One and I need to leave the house around 8:30am, and this hour is the peak time for me to stress myself out if I haven't adequately prepared for the day. 

I have a set order in which I get everything ready in the morning, routine is key:
  • Get Mommy's body ready (quick shower, dress, hair, make-up, accessorize)
  • Get Erik's body ready (dress, wash face, brush teeth)
  • Get Mommy's things ready to go (pack work supplies, pack my personal supplies, food)
  • Get Erik's things ready to go (pack school supplies, food)
  • Take everything to the car 
  • Take a minute to relax 
This way, I don't have to think about the enormity of everything that needs to happen, but rather the specific items within a much smaller category. If I start to struggle or fall behind, DH knows exactly where I am in the routine and can jump in to assist me if he isn't already on site for work.

8:30am Work Time

Our Preschool is a half-day program--runs 9:00am to 2:00pm, so fortunately I don't have a chance to get too worn out during the day. Usually by this point, the Prednisone transforms me into Our Lady of Perpetual Roid-Rage and I'm super-excited to be a teacher :). Still, number 1 tip here is going to be: Take Your Breaks!! I get two 5-minute breaks during the day, and I take them to meditate with relaxing music. They are spaced at 10:15am and 12:15pm, during the times of day when I tend to need a moment to gather myself.

10:00am - Snack Time

This is always a Naked Green Machine or Kale Blazer. Why? Potassium and servings of produce. Each one of the bottles has roughly 20-30% of my daily needs for potassium and 3+ of my daily fruits and veggie servings. I try to get 15 or so servings in my diet every day.

Money-Saving Tip: I do not buy the 15oz. individual servings, which typically run $3.60 or more per bottle. There's no way I could afford that long term. Instead, my local BJ's Warehouse carries Green Machine for $6.50 for a 64oz. container. Then, I portion out my own 15oz. serving for $1.63 per bottle. 

12:30pm - Lunch Time

I eat with the kids at school, which is a terrific motivator to eat healthy. I love setting a good example for them and explaining how each item in my lunch benefits my body.

A typical lunch is going to consist of lots of vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and I like to throw in something fun that keeps cravings at bay. I will often pack: a salad (arugula, tomatoes, walnuts, berries, and tofu or cheese), a fruit leather (ONLY if it is 100% fruit with zero added sugar), and a serving of carrot sticks and hummus.

Autoimmune Tip: Sugar will make you hungrier, more tired, and make you crash. Be smart and kind to yourself when a craving strikes.

2:30pm - Mandatory Rest Time

Lil One does not nap on the regular anymore, but it's never occurred to him not to use a rest time in the afternoons, so I do too. We usually crawl into my bed, pull up the covers and talk, read a book, listen to music, or have some tablet/TV time. I set a timer on my iPhone and do some deep breathing with my eyes closed for 15-20 minutes to recharge. I always do this, every day, whether I think I need it or not, because I'm actively trying to avoid a crash

It also serves to give me a chance for a second visualization session to check my progress thus far, and plan out the second half of my day.

3:00pm - Back to Work

I do have a second part-time job as a Program Coordinator/Field Manager for a local baseball league that serves players with special needs. Fortunately, this is a flexible job that does not always require me to go into the office, so if I can squeeze in 2 hours in the afternoon to complete my tasks, I can usually get away with pulling a longer day on Saturdays and be completely on top of my work. 

Obviously Wee One doesn't make it super-easy to do work at home, so I've come up with a few strategies for making my work sessions as productive as possible:

  • I follow the Pomodoro Method, which means that I do all my work in increments of 25 minutes with a 5 minute break immediately after. This forces me to break down my large tasks into much smaller, more manageable components.
  • I do not allow myself to do any work unless I am sitting at my dining room table or my office desk. 
  • I only bring out the items, papers, etc, that I need for my individual tasks. I can't stress enough how important it is to control your stress level when you have an autoimmune disorder of any kind.
  • Play something soothing and non-distracting in the background. Some current favorites are a series of ASMR videos featuring gentle sounds and white noise. This one is my current go-to video,
Personal Attention Extravaganza ASMR, ASMRequests

3:30pm - Snack Time

Right about the time I'm taking my first Work-At-Home Pomodoro break, I start to get hungry. Since potassium is the name of the game, you guessed it--a banana! Usually, I'll add something like a palm-sized serving of pecans or almonds, or a serving of string cheese.

5:30pm - Finish My Workday and Start Cooking Dinner

No matter where I am in my work "To Do List," I stop at 5:30pm. I agonized over this for months, especially because my diagnosis left me with this drive to apologize to colleagues and bosses who I felt had gotten a bad return on their investment. But ultimately, I decided that I would have an opportunity to do more good in my life if I just learned to work smarter. DH has noticed that my energy level and mood are more level throughout the day now that I am not exhausting myself on any one area of life.

To signal to myself that I am finished with work for the day, I:

  • Completely shut down my computer
  • Put my phone on the charger
  • Pack up my computer bag and put away other work supplies so they are out of sight
  • Immediately transition to the next activity

In this case, it's cooking dinner. I'm an alright cook and DH is amazing, so typically, I'll assist with the dinner prep, give ideas, work through the logistics of "what's gonna go bad if we don't use it," and so forth while I play with Lil Bit. We have some book/cuddle time, arts and crafts if he's in the mood, or some rough-and-tumble play if that suits better. Occasionally, he's just inconsolably two years old and a walk around the neighborhood in the jog stroller is the only cure. We will also do any housework that needs tending to during this time. 

For dinner, I don't get hung up with the individual components of the meal, I just try to keep 1/2 of the plate vegetable, 1/4 starch, and 1/4 protein. For example, I like 4oz. of pan-seared tilapia, with 1/2 cup of brown rice, and unlimited vegetable medley.

After we eat, it's just chill Family Time. Erik's favorite movie is Bee Movie right now so we might get a half-hour of that in before time for his bubble bath, book, and bed.

8:00pm - Hit the Gym

I completely understand that this sounds insane. Yes, I'm exhausted, but I go anyways every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On my "off" days, I do a yoga DVD or YouTube video at home. The rationale here is that, if I don't, I'm much much much more likely to have to contend with restless legs at night and--if you've ever experienced restless legs--you know how disruptive it can be.

So, I head it off at the pass with some light cardio and lots of full body weight exercises with low weight and high repetition. The goal is to leave with the feeling that I could comfortably melt in whatever position I get into next. 

By the by, here is the link to my post detailing six of my favorite free YouTube Channels for yoga:

9:15pm - Decompression, Personal Care, and Bedtime

And now I'm done for the day. All that's left is to completely shut down by completing:

  • My second saline rinse of the day
  • My second oil-pulling session of the day
  • A sponge bath (to get rid of the post-workout glow)
  • Relax with DH and watch a little TV...or whatever... before bed

That's it. I'm usually out by 10:30pm at the latest, and it is a peaceful, coma-like sleep, so those solid 7 hours suit me perfectly.

I hope this helps you or someone you love. It doesn't matter what you're going through, life can still hold tremendous joy and purpose. Work for it, it's worth it.


Your Devoted Friend

90-Day Life Challenge: My Medical Port - What Happened And Why I Should Have Done This Sooner

Getting "real" for a minute, when I was diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma, I was a stubborn woman. It wasn't possible for cancer to take me before my son turned 18, I refused to acknowledge pain, and there was nothing about this cancer-treatment process that was going to scare me. So, on December 1, 2015, I made up my mind that the doctors could just stick me over an over again. I didn't care, and I WAS NOT going to get a port. That changed.

Why Did I Decide To Get A Port?

Around the end of July, I was in the Infusion Pod, and as per usual, the nurses couldn't find a vein. For clarification, I have extremely small veins anyway, but the Opdivo is contributing to the rigidity of the "casing" around them. As a side note, this in no way impairs their function at all. So I got stuck in a bit of a Catch-22: My tiny veins require the use of a pediatric needle, but the pediatric needle is so hard it just bounces off of the hardened vein casings. Two hours and one ultrasound machine later, they were able to hook me up with an IV line in my wrist. Ouch.

For months I had been telling the nurses, "It's fine. It only hurts for a second and then it's done." It was still true, but I was starting to feel like an idiot. A voice in my head kept telling me, You know why you're here. It's not your fault. So, why are you adding insult to injury? I decided to just go for it and get a port.

How Is The Port Installed And How Does It Work?

Let me begin by saying, I have a Bard Power Port. It looks like this:

Very simple design. See the three little bumps? Those help guide the nurses when they insert the PowerLoc needle. All they have to do is feel for the three bumps and insert the needle into the puffy space in between. 

Day of Surgery, August 10th 12:00 pm

Installing the port was a tremendously easy task too. The entire surgery took maybe 30 minutes, and they just got me a little "high," but didn't knock me out. The reasoning being that I had to be an active participant in the surgery, hold my neck in a specific position, check-in that I didn't have any chest tightness, etc... The surgeon injected me with a few shots of Lidocane (after superficially numbing the area, so it only stung a little). After the numbing, he made the bottom incision to insert the Power Port, and the top incision to help thread the catheter into my jugular. Sounds scary, but the elasticity of the veins creates an air-tight seal around the catheter. And that's it.

Two Days Later, Putting GLaDOS To Work

That was a Wednesday, and Friday (pictured above) I got to use my port for infusion. It was amazing. Inserting the locking needle barely hurt since there's only a relatively-nerveless 1mm of skin lying on top of the access point of the port. I named her GLaDOS after the hilarious "villain" in Portal 2. No particular reason, just for fun. I was brought to a sterile room to "access the port," then sent right over to my infusion, and GLaDOS worked like a charm. 

What Is The Verdict On The Port?

Even though it was the right thing to do, I still felt like I was letting someone down or wasn't trying as hard as I was before. But there are so many positives that I didn't anticipate.

  1. Preparation for infusion dropped from 90 minutes to 20 minutes. I regained more than an hour each time!
  2. Since the medicine is administered into the port, it doesn't have to travel from my hand, to my heart, to the rest of my body. It is disseminated straight from the source.
  3. When I go in for my next CT, MRI, or PET Scans, the contrast can be directly injected--all at once--into my port. This makes the scans more accurate since the contrast is distributed evenly and immediately to my bloodstream.
  4. My arms don't hurt the day after infusion. I can pick up my boy.

Today, August 23rd

Can't even see it, can you? Barely a scar, which will fade with time, and no visible bump underneath my shirt. I go again this Friday the 26th for my next infusion, and I'll update you on how use of the port continues.

To all my fellow cancer patients. Don't be scared, keep an open mind and eat that elephant one bite at a time.

Happy reading,

Your Devoted Friend

90-Day Life Challenge: "Just One More Thing" Changed My Life

Let me begin by saying, I absolutely adore FlyLady's mantra that you can do anything for 15 minutes--and I thoroughly believe that anyone can. I myself have tried setting a kitchen timer while I tackle a specific task from a list of important tasks that I needed to complete. I just couldn't stick with it...I have put too much pressure on myself and now I'm back where I started from, just feeling like a failure. And after much self-flagellation and thought, I have come to a new conclusion: I can do just one more thing, no expectation of how long it might take or what I need to do next.

The rule is simple: No matter what I am doing, I will be finished once I do one more thing.

Here are some examples of how I'm implementing "one more thing" in my daily life:

  • I went to the bathroom and noticed that a few of Wee-One's bath toys were hanging out on the floor next to their container, so I put them back. 
  • I wiped down the kitchen counter after dinner and noticed a few spots on the pantry door. I wiped these too.
  • On my way out of the car, I grab a handful of trash I can throw away inside.
  • On my way to the car, I spray a rag with a homemade all-purpose spray and wipe down a few grimy areas on the dashboard. As a side note, I'm now keeping a Ziploc bag with a damp cleansing rag in my bag so I never have to spend hours cleaning my car interior again!
  • I'm answering an email from work, but before I log out, I make a few notes, answer one more, or file a few emails.

These are just a few examples of how I'm slowing down for a second and allowing myself to enact change without pressure. I'm just happy with what progress I've made.

Happy reading,
Your Devoted Friend

90-Day Life Challenge: 6 Vacation Habits I Intend To Keep

We just got home from a 5-day whirlwind vacation. It really was nice to get away a little bit, but there was just too much going on at home and work to truly relax. Nevertheless, I fell into a few vacation habits that can be easily carried home with me.

Do Not Check My Phone Right Away

In fact, I didn't check my phone for nearly an hour after I woke up. It wasn't even strange after the first day. This doesn't mean that my first hour of the day wasn't productive--quite the opposite. My mornings generally began by making my coffee and sitting down to enjoy a book chapter or a random Wikipedia article, something to stimulate my mind and tune out the world. Then, I spent some time exercising (walking, stretching, light calisthenics, and yoga). And finally, I ended the "me" time with a brief pamper session in which I washed my face (including a face massage), brushed my teeth, fixed my hair/make-up, and dressed for the day. It wasn't on purpose, but I stumbled on a beginning to my morning routine.

Tidy As You Go

This is pretty self-explanatory, but basically, no one wants to clean up on vacation. To avoid needing to do much cleaning, I just picked up after Wee-One any time we switched activities. I also broadened the general tidying to include straightening the pillows when I got up from the couch, replace decorative table items if I moved them during meals, and sweeping up minor messes immediately. There was so much less cleaning to do at the end of the day so I never really felt like I stopped my day to clean up.

Shower Your Family With Attention And Praise

Since I was eager to "chunk" all of my work tasks into small blocks of time during our trip, it freed up a significant amount of time for focusing on my family. For Wee-One, it meant that I savored the time, encouraging him to play, and taking him on fun outings. For DH, it meant that I willingly put down my phone to ask him how his day was or listen to his thoughts on our life and the direction it is taking. I wasn't constantly multi-tasking so I found it easier to see and compliment the qualities about DH that I fell in love with four years ago.

Feed "The Crazy" At Least Once Each Day

Now don't confuse "the crazy" with cocaine or something elicit. In my case, "the crazy" is my own neurotic love of organizing planners and list-making. When Wee-One went down for his afternoon nap, I did do a little bit of work for an hour, but after that, I gave myself permission to grab the printables I had taken with me and start planning. It doesn't always come to fruition, but just the act of writing down my thoughts/feelings/needs/anxieties cleanses my mind in a way that nothing else can.

Shower At Night

It was the strangest, most nonsensical habit I fell into while at the beach but it makes perfect sense. I spent most of the day swimming, walking at the beach, sweating, or whatever, and come the end of the day, the last thing I wanted was to go to bed smelly. A light bulb went off. I wanted to shower at night, then roll around with DH in the clean sheets, free from the filth of my day. It was perfect.

Turn Off The TV When I Go To Bed

For years, I got used to sleeping with the TV on or needing extraneous noise to go to sleep; however, a simple white-noise machine that I borrowed from my sister broke this cycle. I used her HomeMedics machine--the "summer rainstorm" setting, and fell asleep within 10 minutes of laying in bed. As a side note, the simpler the better with the bedroom design. The less furniture and greater the organization, the more quickly I relaxed.

Not every day can be a vacation, but there's nothing wrong with bringing a little bit of that mentality home with you. I hope you can use some of the tips I've outlined here, and please let me know if you have some of your own.

Happy reading,

Your Devoted Friend

90-Day Life Challenge: 6 Things I Will Only Ever Buy At The Dollar Store

I love my local Dollar Tree. In fact, there are 3 locations within close proximity to my house. I love saving money, but sometimes, it just isn't realistic to spend the time, energy, and upfront cash to stockpile certain items (even through couponing), and that is where the Dollar Tree comes in. So, here is a list of 6 things that I will only purchase at the Dollar Tree for the rest of my life.

1. Bread - Regular 20 oz. loaves of Nature's Own wheat and whole grain breads are all $1. Contrary to popular belief, these loaves have not expired yet. I tend to buy 5 or 6 loaves at a time and stick them in the freezer.

This is now a part of my monthly routine. At the beginning of the month, 
I run out to the Dollar Tree and grab the needed bread rations.

2. Rough Scrubbing Pads - The Dollar Stores sell these in packs of 10, which I cut in half and use for about a week before throwing them away. This means that I really only have to spend about $3 per year on scrubbing pads. Not too shabby at all.

3. Snack Foods (specifically, crackers, peanuts, and jerky) - The savings depends entirely on how much you eat snack food. I'm constantly on the run so...yeah...

The best snack items I pick up at the Dollar Tree are:
Planters 6-packs of peanuts
Lance peanut butter crackers
"Squeezy fruit" (as I son calls them) 4-packs

4. Toothbrushes and Toothpaste - This is one of my favorites. Since it is a non-perishable item, you can stock up with several years worth at a time. But the main reason this is one of my favorites is that the Dollar Tree near me takes coupons (yay!), and often I find $0.50 to $1 off coupons for Colgate products. In theory, you can purchase 6 months worth of dental supplies for your family for less than $5.

True story, I got some great $2 off 3 coupons for some Crest toothpaste, went to the Dollar Tree and got 12-4.6oz tubes of toothpaste for $4. It was a wonderful moment, I was so proud.

5. Flip Flops - For $1, you can't do better, and though they are not the most durable things in the entire world, they are perfect for keeping an extra pair or two in your car--or "to go" bag--in case you need them.

6. Plastic Organization Bins - There are so many different sizes, materials (plastic, canvas, and flexible rubbery plastic), and colors that it is so much better than going to Target and spending $5 or more on each bin. I use them for everything--from storing produce in the refrigerator, to K-cups in the pantry, to cleaning supplies under the sink.

I'm going to have to go back for more now that we're organizing our new home.

I am always on the look-out for other supplies to buy at the Dollar Store, but these are the best investments I have found to date. Let me know if you find this list helpful or have other items you like to buy.

Happy reading,

Your Devoted Friend