Sunday, September 25, 2011

Please support the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Charity Challenge

Please support the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Charity Challenge

On October 16, 2011, I will be participating in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5k Run / Walk while raising funds for Wellspring Cancer Support Centre by pledging me.

Let me tell you about Wellspring. After a few months of living with my diagnosis and sharing with few people, I started to feel anxious and isolated. I reached out to Wellspring and became inspired as I met caring staff, dedicated and cheerful volunteers, and other people (survivors and their supporters) experiencing cancer. Thanks to Wellspring programs, I felt less isolated and more informed, healthier, and empowered about my cancer journey. Wellspring has even begun programs for young adults living with cancer. The kind of psychosocial support that Wellspring provides is a critical component of the cancer healing journey along with the other forms of conventional treatment (e.g., surgery, radiation, medical). Thanks to Wellspring's Cancer Exercise program, I have gained enough strength and confidence to begin running again. I will be running a 5k, my first event post-cancer diagnosis! Funky Sexy Manifesto #25 Run to Raise Money for Cancer

My goal is to presently raise $ 300 for Wellspring. Please help me to reach this goal.

All pledges will receive an official tax receipt (either electronic or in the mail.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Art for Cancer Warrior Prints and Gala Dinner


I'm amused to be a muse and so honoured to have inspired a Warriors... art print by Cid Palacio, artist and founder of Art for Cancer. (The Nadia print looks like me especially in the lips and I've always wanted blue hair.) Support the Art for Cancer Foundation by purchasing a Warriors... print or a ticket for the Art for Cancer Gala Dinner on October 22, 2011 where I will speak about the use of the arts in my healing journey. This will be another installment of My Funky Sexy Manifesto #57 Do A Speaking Gig.

I have taken Art for Cancer Foundation art workshops twice and appreciated the opportunity to get creative and use abstract painting as therapy. You can read about my first workshop here.

For more info about the Gala Dinner, click here or read the details below.

Gala Dinner Oct 22, 2011
Feel good, Do good!
Support the Main Fundraising Event of 2011
What, Where, When
Escape to a magical evening, and support a worthwhile cause.

Your magical evening starts at 6:30pm on Saturday Oct 22, 2011 and includes:

¨ A four course meal, including wine and open bar
¨ Entertainment by young rising stars
¨ Inspiring stories of strength and hope
¨ Dancing the night away; raffles, silent auctions
… and many more surprises

Event will be held at Europa Convention Centre– 1407 Dundas St West, Toronto, ON Map

Secure your spot today!

Tickets on sale – 1 ticket for $100

Table of 10 for $900

All net proceeds from this event, supports our Programs for Cancer Patients and their families.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Funky Sexy Manifesto #83 Get My Voice Back

One of the possible complications of a thyroidectomy (thyroid removal surgery) is damage to the laryngeal nerve which hence impacts the movement of the vocal chords. Unfortunately, I had met one young woman who experienced this complication (representing less than 1% of thyroidectomy patients) with her partial-thyroidectomy. As a result, one of her vocal chords was paralyzed meaning that only one side moved. The downside was that she required a second surgery since the results from the first one revealed that her nodules were malignant.

Paralyzed Vocal Chord

Another extreme case of voice loss after thyroid cancer is in the experience film critic Roger Ebert. I met Ebert years ago when I worked for a well-known film festival but at the time I did not know that it was him. Ebert represents a small percentage of men who get papillary thyroid cancer, the same type that I had. However, for some reason, more men get the serious kind. Although Ebert had the routine treatment of removal of cancer tissue from the thyroid (not clear if he had a total thyroidectomy) and radioactive iodine ablation (RAI) and his thyroid cancer was in remission, he was diagnosed with salivary cancer a year later. Again, a diagnosis of a second cancer after RAI is very uncommon but possible. Over the years, cancer had spread to his jaw and after a series of operations, he had a trachaeotomy which resulted in a total loss of his voice. He now speaks with a computerized voice-system called "Alex".

Roger Ebert: Remaking my voice
A really inspirational talk about how Roger Ebert remade his voice after a lifetime of making his living from his voice.

My case was quite different. My fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy revealed that I had thyroid cancer so they were pretty sure about getting it all with a total thyroidectomy. However, one thing has changed for me quite dramatically in fact is... my voice. Now don't get me wrong, I can still speak and most people will tell me that they cannot hear any difference in my voice. However, I can hear the difference.

Before my thyroidectomy, I had a mid-range feminine voice which tended to get hoarse (a possible early symptom that I had some thyroid nodules a-developing.) I loved to sing and sang and hummed constantly. I could sing both soprano and alto ranges. I'd sing in my car, I'd sing in the shower, in the supermarket when I hear my song playing on the speakers, to my kindergarten students, in choirs, and even back-up in reggae bands. I didn't have a gifted voice (a la Mariah or Jill Scott) but I knew how to carry a tune, keep a note, and sing harmony for days.

Mariah Carey (when I liked her songs best)

Jill Scott

So imagine my shock, when the first time I busted open a church hymnal at service time, and out came a squawk. An unrecognizable, ugly sound. I was embarassed. I began to hum the melodies of the hymns and sing out only to the notes I know I could reach.

I began to search online and in my thyroid support group to find out if other singers and music teachers who had thyroidectomies noticed the same thing. I got several replies and recommendations. Many had said that they too experienced what I had: a deepening of their voice, decreased projection, still some hoarseness. However, they said many of these would improve after the surgery. My experience, and that of others, is that the voice could be permanently changed.

I could hear it in my singing voice.

I felt sad about this difference but have accepted that my voice may be permanently different.

I went to my surgeon and asked him about this. He said that after the surgery, scar tissue can form on the laryngeal muscle/nerve (?) causing limitations in the stretching. He sounded pretty nonchalant about it. I was not impressed.

I heard the change on my very first day of teaching a few weeks ago.

I heard the limitations in my vocal projection. My voice would get to a certain volume and then it was inaudible, it wanted to stop. When I sang with my students, my voice would crack and arch in unpredictable ways. It was a bit humbling. Although, I taught for only half the day, my vocal chords felt sore at the end of three hours.

I knew I needed to get some help so I went to google to search me some voice therapy (Funky Sexy Manifesto #83 Get My Voice Back). Twice daily, I have been completing vocal exercises. I have also been recommended for use of voice amplification at work.

So the day before I had my voice therapy session scheduled, ironically, I attended an event in which I got to hear my voice and speak about my experience of going through cancer. I was invited to speak at an event called Satisfying Her Soul. This was fulfilling the first of my Funky Sexy Manifest #57 Do A Speaking Gig.

I was blown away by the sincerity, trust, and openness in the room. The audience, mostly Black women and a few men and other women, was affirming, attentive, and supportive.

I have never experienced anything like that.

I exhaled...

My soul just opened up...

I was loosed...

And every other cliche book title that us Black women love to read.
(Now just throw a Tyler Perry movie in there and we're set!)

I arrived late at Satisfying Her Soul since I needed to nap (I still need my naps!) but I was greeted with beautiful artwork and an attentive audience. Women were sharing their experiences, challenges, and struggles through some pretty tough shit. They explored their concerns and shared their wisdom. What a powerful space!

After hearing stories of how women overcame abuse, teen pregnancies, and relationship break-ups, I wondered what I could contribute. But then as I sat down with my laptop and my journal, I realized that there was a lot to share. Where do I begin? As this was my first official speaking engagement, I wanted to do a great job but not overwhelm the audience.

I found myself wondering about how I did get through some of the tough times. How did I deal with my diagnosis of cancer? How did I last through four days in isolation without going mad? How did I walk into court and challenge a board of three government officials? How dare I be bold enough to challenge my Endo's recommendation? How did I deal with knowing the thyroid cancer spread to my surrounding lymph nodes? How did I deal with the fact that Thyrogen was worth $ 2000 and not only unavailable but my insurance company refused to cover it? How did I decide to go from 100% salary to less than 40% from sick benefits and long-term disability with the cost of increased medical bills, care, and medication? How did these experiences change me?

That's some crazy shit!

Well, I didn't go through it alone. I have my faith, healthcare team, my partner, friends, family, community, therapy, and everything. But after this event, I also realize the importance of inner strength, perseverance, and tenacity (a word that some use to describe me).

And I told my story to an audience-- familiar faces and new ones-- by using my voice as breathy, hoarse, and unpredictable as it may be.

So instead of grossing you out with more thyroidectomy photos, I will show you more highlights from that night.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

God, Faith, and Health

God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection by Jeff Levin, Ph.D.
Prayer helps healing... blah blah blah... people who go to church more are healthier... blah blah... religious people have more life satisfaction... blah blah blah... This is a basic summary of God, Faith, and Health by Jeff Levin, Ph.D. Don't get me wrong, I find the epidemiology of religion, "the scientific study of how characteristics and expressions of religious faith and practice serve to prevent morbidity and mortality and to promote health and well-being" (Levin), topic quite fascinating. When I saw this book, I was quite excited but then as I read it I became disappointed. The presentation of the information and all of the data and research was quite overwhelming and often redundant. Over and over again, through several studies quoted, Levin indicates that yes, it is quite clear that religion, faith, prayer, and meditative practices do inspire optimism, ease anxiety, promote healthy behaviours, as well as other findings as evident through scientific research. So I decided to stop reading this book by page 128 (I think I gave it the "good old college try") and fast-forwarded to the stories that started the remaining chapters. (But maybe another reason why I grew impatient with this book and stopped reading it was due to the fact that I am presently ill, dealing with a mysterious flu-ish type sickness. I have been home sick for two days. My appetite is absent. On the first day, all I did was feel extremely weak and achy and sleep constantly. Today, I woke up with cold sweats and it's stomach pains and a 'zombie like' feeling.) God, Faith, and Health reads more like a doctoral dissertation than an inspirational book to lift your spirits when you're feeling like crap. Each chapter started off with stories, testimonies if you will, of how people, including the author a reformed Jew, transformed their lives and health through joining faith-based communities, prayer, and religious observance. I get that part and it has been important for me as well. I appreciate the fact that various faiths (Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Muslims, etc.) and ethnicities (African Americans, Mexican Americans, etc.) were researched for rates of cancer, healing, recovery, happiness, and other factors. Also, I liked that the book is organized around easy-to-follow seven principles on which he discovers:
1. Religious affiliation and membership benefit health by promoting healthy behaviour and lifestyles.
2. Regular religious fellowship benefits health by offering support that buffers the effects of stress and isolation.
3. Participation in worship and prayer benefits health through the physiological effects of positive emotions.
4. Religious beliefs benefit health by their similarity to health-promoting beliefs and personality styles.
5. Simple faith benefits health by leading to thoughts of hope, optimism, and positive expectation.
6. Mystical experiences benefit health by activating a healing bioenergy or life force or altered state of consciousness.
7. Absent prayer for others is capable of healing by paranormal means or by divine intervention.

However, I felt that this book was a little too "research-y" for my taste and needed more real life stories to keep me hooked. It seemed like Levin was writing this book mostly to refute all the skeptics, his doubting professors, and a harsh scientific community by saying "kiss my tukas, I've got proof". (Tukas is a Yiddish-slang word for butt or rear-end.) I hope Dr. Levin will come back with part 2 to this book with all of the personal stories of healing that he came across during his research. Now that's a fascinating book! (Apparently, he does have other books which I'm hoping to check out.)

Coming up next: "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" by Lance Armstrong

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vex in the City: Part 12 Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival

I attended the 27th Annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival last weekend on the Friday evening and much of Saturday. (See my promo for the event by clicking here.) I felt like I was in my element. As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, I have a wealth of vegan resources "right in my backyard". So I don't need to go too far. The Food Festival took place from Friday, September 9th to Sunday, September 11th, 2011 at the Harbourfront Centre one of my favourite hangout spots in the city. The Harbourfront is really an exciting place to be in the summertime due to its free, vibrant, and diverse summer festivals. I have seen such amazing acts as Queen Ifrika, Femi Kuti, Tony Rebel, The Scientist Lee "Scratch" Perry, Roy Ayers Band, Ernest Ranglin, the Abyssinians, Los Lobos, and Frankie Paul at the Harbourfront... for free. (Plus, my fiance has performed there a few times.) I even won a singing contest at the Harbourfront in 2004 called Miss Hot and Spicy. The contest was based on the announcer giving you a word and you had to think of a song with that word.

Not short of excitement or buzz, the festival had an amazing turnout especially considering that there are so many things were going on in Toronto that weekend including the Canada's Bridal Show, The National Bridal Show, Ethiopian New Year (attended it last year and loved it), Toronto Independent Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) which I also had the pleasure of working for in years past. There I got to meet a lot of Canadian actors as well as actor Mario Van Peebles and Taye Diggs, film critic and Thy'Ca survivor Roger Ebert, late father of African cinema Ousmane Sembene,and blockbuster actor and activist Danny Glover. (If you read about this blog, you know I'm all about the name dropping and networking.) It's an amazing event to be a part of both as an audience and a co-ordinator but it's H-U-G-E and a little overwhelming. Huge line-ups! Lots of buzz! So I really appreciated the low-key vibe of the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival.

The Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival is known for the following:
- lots of food samples
- vegetarian and vegan food vendors
- expert panels
- cooking demonstrations
- speakers and book talks
- lots of baked goods
- book sales
- music
and more.

My Vegetarian food festival highlights: carrot cake (my favourite type of cake), sticky buns, hemp butter, soy cream cheese, and Pastel de Choclo, FREE food samples, nice Hare Krishna chanting, I enjoyed this weekend immensely and enjoyed being around a lot of like-minded folks who love plant-based foods. I loved the diversity of food vendors-- Jamaican/Ital (One Love), Mexican (El Cilantro), Indian (Govindas and Udupi's), Chinese (King's Cafe), and lots and lots of vegan baked goods. I was not able to attend the meditation on Sunday but I loved the chanting on Saturday. Although, I watched and participated for a little bit, when the chanting was finished, I felt very tranquil. The amount of vendors was dizzying in number as I tried to go back to my favourite vendors but could not remember. I also got to meet Terry Hope Romero, see her speak about vegan blogging (same talk she did at the Vida Vegan Blog Conference I tried to win a ticket for through my Burrito Bonanza contest) and do a cooking demonstration, and got an autograph. I also loved the speakers and panels. They were informed, well-researched, and published. Also there were a lot of friendly and enthusiastic volunteers to help.

The festival downfalls: lack of cultural diversity in speakers, cooking demonstrations and musical acts (Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world but you wouldn't know it by this, the Hare Krishna group did chanting in an Indian tradition but this was not a performance); the music kind of sucked and needed some more "liveliness" (I say, at least one reggae band in next years' festival. Chances will be pretty good that the members are vegetarian especially if they are observant Rastafarians); accurate and up-to-date program books were not available until the second day because they were still at the printer; I was sick with a cold :-( and had to leave earlier than planned.

It was wonderful and I would have stayed the entire weekend, mind you, but I felt a cold coming on and it symptoms became a bit too much to handle. (By Saturday afternoon, both of my sinuses were blocked and persistently running. I was sneezing a lot and starting to feel woozy. My bed was calling me. I stayed home and slept for the rest of the weekend.)

So here is my re-cap of the weekend... in photos. Please note that although this post may seem like an advertisement for several businesses, I have not received any royalties. Not one penny.

Now enjoy!!!

Friday, September 9, 2011
Cute slide from Terry Hope Romero's vegan blog talk. She's really funny and gave me some great advice when I asked her how to reach out to you guys, my readers.

The Secrets of Nutrition Revealed! panel

Did not get to try out these vegan churros because the line was too long.

By the end of the evening Govindas, in true Hare Krishna-style, started giving away their food for FREE. I got there by this time but it was so funny to see two guys yelling, "Free Indian food!" across the field at the Harbourfront Centre. These are three extremely potent words in Toronto. If you yell them out, you might get a stampede which is exactly what happened. Luckily, I got this amazing meal on a bamboo plate in time.

Toronto city skyline... you can see part of the CN Tower in the back.

Saturday, September 10, 2011
King's Cafe serve up some great Chinese-vegan food. They also have a grocery store and tea shop.

I got a soy drumstick, spring roll, veggie dumplings, and TVP satay skewer.

So this is the soy drumstick... gonna' make me some curried un-chicken one of these days.

Hare Krishna chanting

Yummy vegan jujubes and gumdrops. Science at its best.

This entrepreneur was so happy to show off her wares and was very friendly unlike one other vendor who will remain nameless.

This vegan sticky bun was a highlight of my TVFF experience.

I love pretty desserts.

This is Shannon... and she seems to be everywhere. The night before she was giving me a hand massage and telling me about Arbonne, a vegan cosmetic company for which she sells (kind of like Avon). Here she is promoting a vegan bake sale which will raise funds to get these ads on to the TTC (Toronto's public transit system). Last year they were successful and raised enough money.

There is an actual sanctuary for primates in Ontario called Story Book Farm. I asked them where the primates come from and they said the exotic pet trade and research facilities in laboratories and universities.

Terry Hope Romero's cooking demonstration where she is making a famous Chilean dish called Pastel de Choclo. I had this dish years ago when I used to date this Chilean fellow. The relationship didn't work out since it was long distance (he didn't live in Chile, but Montreal instead. I know it's a lot closer than South America but still an 8 hour drive and I didn't have a car). So although I ditched the boyfriend, I didn't ditch my appreciation of great Latin food. (Can someone say empanadas?) Thankfully, Terry Hope has made a cookbook to satisfy that... Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers. I bought a copy and got it autographed.

Pastel de choclo... mmmm.

Terry Hope, you so crazy!

The Rooster's Inn is a rooster sanctuary. I wonder how all these roosters establish a pecking order. Did you know that there are like hundreds of species of chickens? But the chickens we tend to see in North America are bred from very few select species and outnumber the others. I read it in a book about chickens.

Free Larabar samples

I love a good carrot cake and this one is vegan.

Yellow or green kiwi... they taste quite different.

Another happy entrepreneur who runs an online store. Her husband is the artist who comes up with these catchy images.

Love this one. It's so cute. I wonder if they have my size in a baby t?

I bought these three buttons. The one on the left is for me and the one on the right is for my fiance. The one in the middle says "eat like you give a @#%!" I'll take that one too.

This is hummus... HUMMUS. (A Middle-Eastern spread/dip made from chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini. It's great with pita bread and/or vegetables. There are other variations to this recipe as well but that is the basic formula.) I wonder if the guy in the Manhattan healthy sandwich shop who didn't know what hummus was or the owners who did not stock the shop with this food staple are reading this blog right now?

The people at Gardein preparing some barbeque.

This was amazing BBQ glazed un-chicken. The guy at this table is a total fan of Crazy Sexy Diet.

Camino makes cheap, great-tasting, fair trade juice.

You can make so many things from Hemp like rope, clothes, oil (they had free samples of oil, I drank this green oil and it can also power engines too), milk (as pictured here for free sampling), and...

butter (so good). Very nutty.

A vegetarian foodbank is amazing especially because fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive. It is hard for poor people to access affordable fruits and veggies and at foodbanks, there are no fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything is canned. (I should know. I volunteered at a foodbank and worked at a soup kitchen.) The soup kitchen was a little better. They got fruit that nearly went bad that was donated by supermarkets. One of my jobs was to sort through the fruit and separate the moldy fruit from the ones that were still good. I also like that this foodbank is located not downtown but in the diverse, poorer "outer city" of Toronto: one is at Jane-and-Finch (I used to live there) and the other is in Scarborough (I used to work there). Poorer people do not need to go so far to access high quality, affordable food.

Kindfood is expanding its reach to Toronto and beyond

A new coconut flavoured cupcake

Can't find organic produce? What out Front Door Organics, there's a new organic delivery service in town. Mama Earth.

Forks Over Knives... first came the movie and now the book. Check out this movie if you can. It is based on research of Dr. Carl Esselstyn and Dr. Colin Campbell (The China Study).