I am ready to break up, we will just do a biopsy to make sure.

I had my fingers stuck in my ears, la la la laaaaa, no I don’t want to hear what you do in a biopsy to ascertain whether or not you got all the cancer in my throat and tonsils. You have prefaced this description by saying it is barbaric. Enough said.

May 2019 and I was 3 months post all my treatment. My bloods had held out for chemotherapy, I handled the “mask” ok during radiotherapy, in fact I use to fall asleep at times. I religiously slathered cream on my fried skin. By May 2nd all eating had stopped. I couldn’t manage anything. Nerve endings were raw, mucous wasn’t moving up or down, dewlap was tight and puffy and I was feeling really, really sick and flat. The pain at ground zero was excrutiating. I couldn’t swallow my own saliva. A dental visit discovered a pocket and what appeared to be exposed bone on my lower jaw. A PET scan was scheduled and I limped through on a cocktail of pain relief.

It turned out that the radiation was so intense it had torn away the flesh from my jaw bone. I was in the hurt locker – this was a time where I was meant to be improving.

Day 250 something of complete sh*t

To say it hurt was a massive understatement. The PET scan was clear and the CT scan revealed some inflammation. I had had, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy on a relatively very small space and inflammation was the least of my problems. During this time I was also undertaking cold laser treatment on my lymphodema. It was helping the healing of my scar tissue internally. Mid June and I was still in a very bad way, icecream hurt if that’s possible. I was using my PEG constantly for nutrition and nothing orally at all. No soup, smoothies or icecream. At this point, my medical team (oncologist) introduced Methadone. Slowly at first, increasing dosage to see how I would react. Well, it turns out, me and opioids who would have guessed. So I am now on methadone, amitriptyline, gabapentin, paracetamol and all through the PEG. Still I was in pain and I had to keep on top of it.

PEG replacement in Emergency at the RAH

In the middle of all of this I had to have a breast screen. I questioned whether or not with all the MRI’s and CT’s being undertaken was it necessary? Yes, it was and that came back clear. So I struggled through until July 2019, where the methadone basically made my life liveable. I slept really deeply, my coughing got a lot worst before it got better. I started to “eat” tiny amounts. Mainly cream and iceceam. My dentist didn’t want to give me Trental (a drug that increases blood flow to wound site) in case I had residual or more cancer. We did not know what we were dealing with so I had to wait until we had results back from yet another PET scan. Whilst I was waiting for my results my stomach PEG fell out of my stomach. It was early morning and I had felt faint and sick, not taking alot of notice because that was normal to feel that way. I was making the bed when I felt what was my cat’s tail between my legs. It wasn’t Rockets tail but the PEG and the end of the disintegrated balloon. So in I went via ambulance to Emergency to get my PEG put back in. You have a fifteen minute window until the track starts to heal over. We didn’t make it, so I was admitted over night and had the whole rig replaced again. There is a whole other story about this process involving syringes and feeds. To say it wasn’t straight forward is putting it mildly, suffice to say I was becoming an expert on PEGS.

I am a visual person so this helped me understand what was happening when I was trying to swallow. I marked where food and drink should go and where it shouldn’t.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I received the results of the second PET scan – the journey at this point had been 10 very long months and I was going in for a biopsy to make 100% sure we were not dealing with anymore cancer. It was about this time I decided to take matters into my own hands and start seeing a Naturopath. Detail of which may be read here along with the results of the PET scan.

We are now in October of 2019. My healing is taking so long and I can’t swallow the Trental meds well and the side affects are making me feel sick. My oncologist visit resulted in me asking if I could be considered for Hyperbaric treatment. This treatment turned out to be the best thing for me. Six days a week for 6 weeks or 33 sessions in a hyperbaric chamber.

Hyperbaric essentially meant I was healing at a faster rate than under normal conditions. The oxygen levels are many times greater and it’s done in a diving chamber. I could feel the difference in a couple of days. It turned out to be my saviour. I finished Hypobaric mid November of 2019, in the end completing 29 sessions. I then had to have a colonoscopy as a test had showed some positive results. Yes doesn’t rain it pours. This day surgery just about tipped me over the edge. I was so sick of hospitals and not eating. Fasting and prepping for this was pretty easy. You can work that out yourself.

I rang the Royal Adelaide Hospital and asked for a swallow test. I wanted to know why I couldn’t swallow, was there something more going on. They booked me in and it is a straight forward process where you stand in front of an Xray whilst attempting to swallow different textures. Apart from the loss of 1/3rd of my tongue, there appeared to be no real swallow issues. The dark blobs below represent fluid and food and where they stick. Gravity was doing most of the work.

Still, I am not eating well and I am getting really sick of “eating” artificial food or more commonly known as “commercially prepared liquid enteral nutrition formulas”. I managed to eat a very small amount over Christmas and knew that something had to change, my second Christmas was slightly better than the one before, but I wanted this PEG gone permanently and was told 6 months at least. Another 6 months was really bad news. I had been in a relationship with this PEG for 12 months, it was time to break up.

Help me Rhonda kick start the Honda!

Kickstart or “activate” your turmeric. Who knew?

Activated Turmeric is better than just slugging back Turmeric powder and hoping for the best & here is why.

If it is not activated it’s not activated, meaning it is not doing the intended job. I started taking turmeric about 12 months ago to help with inflammation after surgery and radiotherapy. Turmeric contains Curcumin, which is the strong anti -inflammatory ingredient we are after. The end goal is to get the Turmeric from your mouth to your small intestine where it can be absorbed and be its most beneficial. To activate you need to follow this equation: –

Turmeric + Black Pepper + Fat = Kickstart Rhonda, that is activated Turmeric

Black pepper contains Piperine a compound that increases the bioavailability of Curcumin. Piperine slows the absorption of Curcumin in the stomach allowing the fat time to carry the Turmeric to the small intestine and that’s as techy as I am going to get for you and all you really need to know.

So to make this as easy as possible make up a small jar of activated turmeric paste and keep it in the fridge to use in smoothies and Golden Milk drink (recipe below).

Here’s the recipe to kicks start your Turmeric journey and get it out of the yard.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup filtered water (not tap)

1/4 cup organic turmeric powder

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and heat on medium-high, stirring constantly until the mixture forms a thick paste (about 5 minutes). Carefully transfer to a resealable glass container and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

L🧡VE

Golden Milk is a gorgeous way to have turmeric.

Combined with your preferred milk turmeric boosts calcium absorption, while the added fat from the coconut oil aids in your bodies ability to absorb and reap the rewards of turmeric. This soothing drink is the perfect thing to incorporate into your night time routine or on a cooler autumn afternoon to help promote a restful night’s sleep and boost immunity.

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Ingredients:

1/2 – 1 tsp turmeric paste

1 cup milk (almond, soy, coconut, or dairy) try my home made oat milk recipe you can find it on The Food Manifesto facebook site.

1 tsp coconut oil

Honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar to taste

Cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

Combine turmeric paste, milk, and coconut oil in a small saucepan and heat on medium high, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from coming to a boil. Once heated, transfer to a mug and add the honey and cinnamon if you like. Perfect for the pending cooler weather.

Chicken Thighs and Kitchen Knives – organising your kitchen pantry

My pandemic chores being ticked off the list.

When you want to eat and prepare healthy and nutritionally balanced foods you have to be set up to do it. Much like if you want to build a boat in your shed or a go-kart you need the right equipment to do the job. You need a plan and I am here to help you devise your plan.

The title for this blog came from a hilarious conversation I was having with my mum, and I have dragged this title around with me knowing it would find its home eventually.

Like any workspace it needs to be neat and tidy with your tools of trade placed in an easy to access location. When you are cooking you need to be organised. Even before mis en place your knives on a magnetic strip (I dislike knife blocks because they tend to take up valuable bench space) but most importantly, and the reason for this blog is your pantry. You need to have food basics labelled, in airtight and in some case lightproof containers. Items you use a lot up front and other items at the rear of the cupboard. I own a two door kitchen wardrobe and I am very handy with finding space for all sorts of food items. The same principles apply if you are lucky enough to have a butler or walk in pantry. Things you use daily need to be within reach and in a logical place grouped with other like minded items. See Michael McIntyres’ My Name is Five Spice! as a treat after you have finished the pantry, especially if you actually own Five Spice!

A super organised pantry is the Holy Grail of successful cooking.

Step 1 Take everything out of your pantry or if you are blessed to have a walk in pantry do it in sections. We need to categorise food sections within the pantry.

Step 2 Throw out any thing past its used by date – seems obvious but I have found Keens Mustard going back to the mid 1990’s and it does lose its taste after a while. So throw it out. Get a big garbage bag and throw everything in that is past its useable date, also with this are any biscuits (sweet) and chocolate and sugary drinks (Yes that includes Milo) and soft drink, cordials, cakes and cake mixes.

Step 3 Once you have done all the throwing out, donate it to a charity or empty the contents and recycle. Whatever you do, you don’t eat that stuff anymore so get it out of your kitchen.

Step 4 Wipe all the surfaces down in your pantry with bicarb-soda and vinegar and then sort through everything you have left. Here is where you will need some (preferably glass) containers with air tight lids. I like to use consistent storage containers particularly if you have a small pantry it helps with space and creates a tidy view of your food products. I tend to use glass containers they don’t hold smell and are easy to clean.

Step 5 You can purchase containers, labels some very useful blackboard stickers and chalk to write on your labels. I suggest you purchase these things before you start. If you have a lot of herbs and spices put them in containers that are airtight. I personally love the tins below which have a magnetic bottom to attach straight on to the fridge. Great for smaller units and apartments with limited pantry storage.

Great storage ideas and the stainless steel magnetic herb containers tick every box...
These herb and spice containers are great – I attach mine to the side of my fridge near my stove for easy access when cooking.

I always start with large oil cans at the bottom of the pantry, I buy the 4 litre tins of olive oil and fill a smaller glass bottle for use every day. The oils, cat/dog biscuits (also in big plastic tubs for easy handling and to keep mice out) I purchase in bulk where I can if its a good brand. Larger purchased items take up the floor or lower shelves of the pantry.

Next level is the flours, beans, nuts, pasta and every day items I use.

Dry Goods stay together including rice ( I have a variety including brown, long grain and aborio) Although I tend to eat brown rice more than the others. Next level up is tea, coffee herbs & spices stored in airtight tins. The remainder I keep on the side of my fridge in metal magnetic containers . Again these can be purchased from the shop online.

If you are like most people you end up with open bags of the same food product, so try to minimalise open packets that encourage moths or weevils. Rolled oats is a great one for attracting weevil, so airtight is the way to go.

My baking products all go together, baking powder, icing sugar, caster sugar, vanilla essence and custard powders. I also group my Asian food products in a very large click lock and air tight container. This normally includes: Dried fish, Kelp, chilli (dried) Miso items with a strong pungent smell, so it does not end up tainting other products.

So that is a very quick guide to starting to get your pantry sorted. Once you have your basics sorted and easily at hand, it makes cooking and recipe protocol that much simpler. You will have a productive day and a proud moment when it’s done. You can thank me later.

Do I have to eat ? When the dreaded stomach peg becomes the easier option, and you realise you are never eating pizza again.

Before I left Australia I had been suffering a constant sore throat, I put it down to stress and the fact that I was upheaving my life to go and do something else. I had assured myself that it would disappear and after five days on Phu Quoc island I realised I wasn’t getting better.

A heavy chest cold had settled in too and my ears hurt, I was swallowing razor blades and well, I felt like hell. My other blogs posts explain fully as to exactly where I was health wise

So fast forward 9 months and I am back home in Australia and trying to make myself eat and not rely on the stomach peg that was inserted back in December 2018. The life giving food peg and administer of all things water, medicine and food. Using the peg is relatively easy but you have to learn how to fill syringes, get them on to the end of the peg, keep them kinked, don’t push too fast or it all comes out every other orifice. Wash the syringes, have towels and wipes for mess and know that it will get all over your clothes if you are not careful.

The peg dangles (literally) from your stomach and gets in the way of everything. I tuck mine into my undies and apparently when they inserted mine they made it very short compared to others. My biggest issue was breaking the ‘seal’ that plugged the feed tube. I have had to go to Gastroenterology Department two times to get them to replace it. Apparently they had never seen this happen before, and suggested I was being too rough with it. Given I can’t turn the peg every day as I should, much like an ear ring … I doubt I am too rough on it. I threatened to go to Bunnings and get my own if they didn’t fix it. They fixed the problem by cutting the seal of a new peg and giving it to me. I am now month five with my peg. The last week or so it has become the only way I can take it anything either water, food or meds. I am also about to go into week 12 post treatment, 3 months since the chemotherapy, radiotherapy finished and 6 months since my surgery.

The past couple of weeks I have noted rapid changes in my skin texture, jaw numbness and the width to which I can (or cannot) open my mouth, also known as Trismus. The pain if I consume anything is excruciating. I have spent days in tears and I can honestly say I have never known pain like it. This is the after affects of radiotherapy. It’s not swallowing that hurts but the sensitivity my gums experience when anything other than ice cold milk is in contact with them. I am not eating anything now, I do try, but it ends with me doubled over in pain and in tears. It’s so debilitating and the small amount of social contact I had with the outside world is now nil. I can’t manage coffee or smoothies out side of my own home.

You should be able to get three fingers in between your teeth … I am a long way from home!

So I sit here on a rather dreary Sunday wondering whether this is ever going to get better, the solitude I am some times grateful for, but mostly I spend my time trying to heal, all my energy and focus is on me and getting better. It would appear that there is no end to this awful disease.

Hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos! Since we started the treatment I have lost 10 kilos.

With this being my third month post treatment I also get to have another PET scan ($$) and it’s my first to see whether they “got it” … there are no guarantees with the scanning, you could still have cancer and it’s not picked up. So I decided that they have got it all and that I am cancer free. What else can you do ? Next week too I am going to give cold laser a go to assist with the dewlap forming under my chin as a result of having 30 lymph nodes cut out. Accupuncture seems to alleviate some serious saliva issues through stimulating my saliva glands, and thrice daily face and neck stretches. Early days they keep telling me, early days.

Regional Travel, Food and other substances …

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No plastic here

I love the regional flights in Vietnam, it is a normal daily occurrence for many I have discovered in this wonderful city. “Carry on” luggage helps and makes it pretty much pain free. They are cheap and so far reliable. My last domestic trip to Hanoi booked at the last minute. The thing I do notice on these internal trips whether train or plane, is the kindness afforded by the locals. As a solo traveller, I must at times look totally bewildered and out of place. On more than one occasion I have been offered food on these transit journeys. Food, the universal language and the reason for The Food Manifesto.

blur close up delicious focus
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A train ride from Sapa last year was taken over the Khmer New Year and seats on the train were at a premium. My seat although facing backwards was one of the last available and for many hours we rocked along the tracks with an assortment of children, families and luggage. The only westerner on the train I was eventually taken pity on by a lovely family who offered green mango and salt. At least I think that was what is was, I gratefully took her offering and munched through it until my destination. There was a food cart on the train but my stomach was not up to the menu and if I was being honest my knowedge of Dong ( Vietnamese currency).

Similarly the trip to Hanoi last weekend -my return flight a young lady 3 seats across offered me a bunch of Longan fruit ( not pictured here ) she passed the fruit and rubbish bag and serviette across 3 people to me. I must look like I need fruit, it was very gracious of her and she never spoke to me or made any attempt to communicate.

Kindness comes from the most unusual places. I was grateful to her,  I was leaving my friend (again) and was feeling fragile. I am to learn this might be common place until I establish a routine.

Food here in Vietnam seems to turn the economic wheels. I had Vietnamese pizza for the first time the other night which arrived on thin rice paper and topped with all sorts of goodies. It was delicious, light and very inexpensive.  I sometimes feel very overwhelmed with the street food, there is so much I do not know nor understand and without a “local” to help, it’s very much trial and error. I am pretty adventurous but I must admit I am careful, having been sick a few times in Asia it is a horror if you get it wrong.

Airport food is also very good here and since being here one of the best Beef Pho’s I have had was at the Hanoi airport. For an Australian that’s un heard of.

Experience tells me to stay away from peeled fruit, and salad ..anything washed in water and distinguished Vietnamese gentleman smoking perfumed cigarettes in your local cafe. I have survived another day.

When your heart sings and other karaoke lessons.

Six years it took me to take the plunge. Six long years of dreaming, scheming and planning. There was romance involved, there always is, but somehow my heart sang stronger and longer in 2017 and it was decided.

At age 52 – I realised that life was indeed marching on and that if I didn’t start to tick those list items off I would have successfully spent a greater portion of my life paying a mortgage with a career that I was pretty much non plussed about. Everything became an indicator of all the reasons I should make that move, and so having successfully completed a 2000km motor bike journey through Vietnam and Laos in December 2017 (and a typhoon) Up your leg, up your leg! 2000 kms the plan to relocate emerged. Read more