Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Don't always believe the headline or the bottom line

I was thrust into the world of "the media" when the Detroit Free Press wrote an article about my cancer recovery way back in 1997, an article that was well written overall but contained a deliberately constructed "headline" within the article that was a "hook" to create interest and controversy (i.e. readership) about the content and path of my recovery. (The internal headline was "No time for chemotherapy". Yes, I probably said that, as an off-hand comment, like who does???, but yes, I underwent both chemo and surgery. I did not 'cure' myself only with diet, etc.) 

Sigh……..welcome to the real world……...

Recently an article has been published in the New York Times (link below) that essentially says "diet doesn't matter" for cancer prevention. This article is now making the rounds within other newspapers and all over the internet. 

Sigh………don't believe everything you read, anywhere, not just the New York Times, not just "the internet". 

I have asked a colleague for permission to add her comments to my blog, for my readers to see a well-reasoned response to this article and the reactions you may be seeing or reading (thank you, Karen). Please also read the links she has included, both the original article and the response from The American Institute for Cancer Research, where I donate proceeds from my book.)

*************


Colleagues,


I want to give you a head's-up about a column appearing today in the New York Times Science section.

In giving a commentary on the recent Amer. Assoc. for Cancer Research conference, the article, "An Apple a Day, and Other Myths" provides a limited quote from a presentation there by Walter Willett (distinguished researcher from Harvard involved in the Nurses' Health Study and many others; and one of the panel of scientists on the panel responsible for the AICR Expert Report that is the source of the AICR Recommendations to Reduce Cancer Risk).

Headlines, as this article is shooting all over the media, are referring to diet and cancer as a "mess". You may be getting questions about it (or hearing from patients or colleagues repeating this article's findings as fact without asking you a question).

So you may want to read the NY Times column yourself:



I also strongly encourage you to read a post from AICR that attempts to put the article in perspective:


We all know the research on diet and cancer is becoming more and more complex -- but it's unfortunate if that gets misinterpreted as meaning that the two are unrelated, rather than what is actually happening, as we are finding that the complexity means that cancer is not all the same, people are not all the same (genetic differences may make some more vulnerable to certain aspects of diet than others), and foods are not all the same (different forms of fiber have different effects, carotenoids differ from each other, grains differ from each other, etc., etc.). The emphasis in recent years on eating pattern rather than specific foods or nutrients, and diet's interaction with physical activity and body composition, indeed make this complex. But that's very different than the message portrayed in the NY Times article.

I hope this is of help to you all in being ready to respond to your patients and colleagues.

-- 
Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN

Taking nutrition from daunting to doable SM 
Speaker, Writer, Consultant
Nutrition Advisor, American Institute for Cancer Research
Co-Director, Wellness and Cardiovascular Nutrition subunit, SCAN dietetic practice group



********************

In addition, I would also add that most diet and cancer studies have many major short-comings, not the least of which but maybe one of the most important, is that most people are likely not eating enough fruits and vegetables to see potential benefits (i.e., even the "high" intakes in these studies are still low, which is why I have set my personal goal of eating 9+ servings/day, every day, every week, rain or shine, winter or summer, traveling or home, etc, etc).

Please don't fall for the conclusion in this article that diet does not matter, for either cancer prevention (or cancer survival). This article appears to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I can only guess for the sake of "readership" (i.e. advertising dollars). 

I once had an oncologist (not my own) ask me if I really thought all the work involved with my cancer recovery journey (as I describe in my book) was really worth it if I only increased my odds for survival by 2% (a number he pulled out of the air). I was standing in front of 600+ people as the invited keynote speaker at a huge cancer survivor day event when he asked me that question. 

I let the question sink in, for both me and the audience. I am serious when I say I could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium during that moment.

Here is how I responded. "Let's see. Let's play with those hypothetical numbers a bit. Only 2%……….let's say I increased my odds from 1% survival to 3% survival. Those are not great odds, either way, but one way to look at that change is it being a 200% increase. Another example, let's say I increased my odds of survival from 49% to 51%. Again, on the surface, the increase does not look like much, but now I have taken myself out of the minority and put myself into the majority odds for long-term survival, which is where I much prefer to be."

There was another full moment of silence in the room. I suppose people were digesting what I had just said or maybe they were waiting for either that oncologist to say something else or maybe for me to follow-up with additional thoughts. When neither of us spoke, the audience jumped to their feet and roared with applause. I was stunned and embarrassed by all the hooting and hollering and foot stamping. I guess what I said (totally unplanned) sank in and resonated with this group of survivors. 

Afterward, both cancer survivors and other health care professional came up to me to thank me for "standing up for patients". 

I guess what I am reacting to in this New York Times article is the negativity that is being projected on to people (both those concerned enough about their health to make changes and the health care professionals trying to guide them).

Believe me, I am not tossing my diet changes out the window, but I may stop reading the New York Times, let alone counting on it for "news". 

Ok - enough disgruntlement from me. Now let's all go out and enjoy spring! It's that time of year when we should all smell like soil at the end of a day, :) :) and oh yes, enjoy eating your vegetables knowing you are nourishing health in your body and soul, and hopefully also nourishing your local farmers. :) :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - the formatting may look weird, at least it does for me with a preview version. I don't know why (something to do with cut and paste I suppose) but I don't have time to sort this out. Apologies for the vagaries of blogging. :)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Backing up finds loss and happiness

I have wondered if I am blogging less because I have less to say, at least less to say that is 'new'. I think that might be true. 

I am finally backing up my years of blog posts, working backwards by starting in 2014, one by one, re-reading them and enjoying the photos I posted. I just spent an hour backing up and re-reading all my posts from March 2012. Oh my, oh my. I think it would hard to top the range of feelings I had that month and clearly felt were beneficial (at least to me) to put into words. Only one post that month was a great recipe. The rest were either deep epic emotional outpourings or short posts about happiness, gratitude, and joy. 

I have not read the April 2012 posts yet, but seriously, after reading the March 2012 posts, I cannot imagine what I could add that would be new. However, it is informative to re-read a bit of one's life to both remember and reflect on how yesterday has shaped where you are today. Moving forward feels good. :)

I have a young friend struggling within a very difficult phase of her own cancer survivorship journey, finished with therapy but still trying to find a peaceful path forward with her young, vitally important life. I have always disliked the term "new normal" that is commonly used by oncology professionals. I have also been uncomfortable with the term "survivor", as each conveys to me a reminder of significant loss and struggle and a sense of unfairness. 

I don't have a better substitute, however maybe some of my readers do. I would like to hear what words you choose. Some use the term "cancer thriver" which perhaps shows more optimism, more determination than the more commonly-used term "survivor". 

I do know that I flat-out reject the term "remission" because of the near-expectation of "reappearance" that is associated with that word remission. So if someone asks if my cancer is "in remission", I politely tell them that instead, I prefer to consider myself "cancer-free" until I'm told otherwise. :)

I know one thing I have learned, truly viscerally learned, from my last cancer experience and its recovery journey is that words are powerful, i.e., "the pen is mightier than the sword" type of powerful. I also learned that I find it helpful to me to find words that may be helpful to others in their own life's journey for recovery and growth. The phrase "your new normal" can only be meaningful if somehow your new life after cancer (or after ___________ - fill in the blank) is even better than before. 

Somehow, somewhere, I realized first that helping others with their cancer recovery would help me be better than before cancer and secondly, helping others never have cancer in the first place led to starting our organic farm. Thus re-reading a phrase I found in a Feb 2012 post was a lovely 'find'. 

"Your calling is found where your deepest joy(s) and
the world's desperate need(s)
meet."

~ Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD at the 2012 MOSES Organic Farming Conference 
(paraphrasing theologian Frederich Buechner)

All of us struggle with something. No one escapes life's unfairnesses and losses. However, I hope that each of us finds a calling, something that keeps us going forward in spite of cancer (or even because of our cancer), in spite of sadness, in spite of loss. To do that, I also hope that each of us finds something that consistently gives us joy and happiness each day, sometimes in unexpected places, at unexpected times, like re-reading old blog posts, knowing that we have moved forward within our lives, "tasting the sweetness where we each had the chance" (~Diana, paraphrasing author Louise Erdrich from another of my March 2012 posts). :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

National Dietitian Day - 2014 - the future is now


Another year has rolled by, and as hard as it is to believe, I have now been a Registered Dietitian (RD) for 36 years. 

If you are new to my blog (especially if you are a new or aspiring RD), you may be interested in reading the blog posts that I have written for the past National Dietitian Days (links included below). Some are quite reflective, so set aside some dedicated time and make yourself a cup of tea to enjoy while reading. They might be interesting to read from 2008 - forward. I re-read them that way last year myself!  


I confess that I think a lot about the future, the future of my profession, the future of our communities, the future of our planet, and how these all intersect. This blog post is just a very short attempt to tie these concepts together for the students who are now taking up the torch for my profession. 

I am proud of everything I have done during my career, which has spanned the spectrum of health care, from being one of the first dietitians to work in the intensive care units to now educating and feeding my community the healthy, delicious food grown on the organic farm that my husband and I established in 2009. In other words, I started my professional career at one far extreme end of health care where we worked to "salvage" our patients after some type of catastrophic event (or slow deterioration) to their health. However, after working in the ICU's for several decades, for a wide variety of reasons that I do discuss in previous blog posts, I slowly and intentionally began transitioning to the far other end of the health care spectrum to focus on wellness and health creation with organic farming, foods, and cooking. 

So, when people ask me if I have now retired from being a registered dietitian (RD) because I became a farmer, I tell them that nothing could be further from the truth! Not only do I see all organic farmers who grow food to sell locally as the true front-line health care providers in their own communities (and I am very proud to be among them in this role), as an organic farmer growing food for my community who is also a registered dietitian, I see an additional role for myself as (and ENJOY the opportunity to be) a food, cooking, and health educator, for which I have the additional education, credentials, and skill sets to do. 

Thus, I just had to smile when reading (and want to share) the following article published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics entitled "Bringing Cooking Back: Food and Culinary Expertise as a Key to Dietitians' Future Success", the Lenna Frances Cooper Memorial Award Lecture delivered by Ellie Krieger, MS, RD, host of the Food Network's show Healthy Appetite and one of my profession's 'super-stars'. (Regrettably, it is likely that this article is not accessible by the public, but only available to AND members who have access to the on-line version of our professional journal.)

"Bringing cooking back"………..what a shame that an emphasis on cooking ever left our profession, but yes it did. It is still rare that student dietitians get extensive experience, training, and confidence for doing cooking demonstrations (I got none of this and still have a lack of confidence here).  Yes, it is past time to bring back the pleasures of cooking, to bring back the practice and pleasures of eating together again (versus the grab-n-go and/or eating solo in the car or your desk habit), to bring back the pleasure and skills for growing some of our own food (in fact, I tell my students that "we are what we grow!" is a more appropriate starting point for health than the more traditional phrase "we are what we eat").  

One line from the article stood out for me: 

"We work in nutrition and our currency is food. We have to have a passion for food if we want to be successful," Chef Todd Seyfarth, MS, RD, CSSD, the department Chair and Program Director at Johnson and Wales University

And what better way to express a love and passion for food than with an apron (versus emphasizing nutrients with a lab coat)? Ellie shows her favorite apron during this presentation and talks about how meaningful and enjoyable wearing that apron is for her. As she so eloquently states in this article (and Michael Pollan has also written about), cooking should not be just a spectator sport, and as I have written about in several previous blog posts, cooking certainly should not be viewed as drudgery. 

It's time to dedicate time to cooking, it's time to get dusted up a bit, to knead the dough, to find a little spray of fresh beet or lemon juice on your glasses, to get some dirt under your fingernails, in fact, it's time to get your apron dirty! It's also time to eat together, to express gratitude for our food and those people who grow, raise, or catch our food, and to enjoy the flavors of a delicious meal that you have prepared! 

So my wish for all RDs (and RDs2B, i.e., students and interns) on this 2014 National Registered Dietitian Day? Share your passion for food with your patients, your clients, your customers, your friends, neighbors, and relatives, indeed the world. Look around, find an opportunity to put on your apron (or your gardening gloves) in order to share that passion, your vision, and your tools for creating and nourishing a healthy community. The opportunities are endless - due warning here, you may need to create them yourself - but, I repeat, the opportunities are endless, and the need is urgent.

In addition, and maybe most important, all RDs are now needed to help educate the public to become food and health literate, to think beyond and behind our plates (quoting another super-star RD, my friend Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, aka Food Sleuth) so together we all can connect the dots between the food we eat (and recommend), how that food was grown or processed, plus our collective soil, water, and air qualities to our personal, community, and planetary health. 

This is no small charge for our profession's future. 

Indeed, our profession's knowledge and skills are needed more than ever, and the time is now to make sure we get in the game and then step up to the plate to create healthy communities that are based on sustainable food and agriculture systems. We cannot wait for someone else to hit a grand slam home-run in the bottom of the 9th inning to win this game. Society urgently needs each member of our profession to hit a single, catch the pop-up, stop a passed ball, tag the runner, etc. etc. You get the idea. Jump in! 

Here is where I want to reassure you. I know you are excited about becoming/being an RD or you would not have read this far. However, if you look around and are beginning to see  the overwhelming number of ways that our current agriculture and food systems are creating unhealthy people and unhealthy communities, know that you have both good eyes and a good heart. If you look around and feel like the odds are long against winning, i.e., creating healthy, sustainable communities, please don't give up now. Instead, know that you can join up with the growing team of registered dietitians within the Hunger & Environmental Dietetic Practice Group who are committed to going the distance within our professional organization and will be very willing to help you along your professional path of helping to create healthy and sustainable food systems. 

Nothing that you have done to become an RD has been easy. I know that. Nothing you ever do as an RD will be easy. I know that, too. In fact, anything meaningful is almost always both difficult and time-consuming to accomplish. However, and this is important, I want you to know that your career can also be fun in addition to being meaningful. I'm certainly having fun and find enjoyment being a dietitian who is also an organic farmer and food educator. Find the fun (no matter what specialty area of practice you choose), find your enjoyment, and share it within the various sectors of your community. 

And here are my words of wisdom, after 36 years as an RD, I have finally learned that fun comes from real food, not nutrients.  :)

Thank you for choosing to become an RD. The world needs you, and the world needs you now. I send you all my best wishes for a long, meaningful, and yes, fun career. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Crows or Eagles: Which Will You Choose?


While (finally) starting the process of backing up my blog entries for the past 7 years (my bad,  I know, but I am getting it done), I found an essay on my computer that I had submitted to the book Chicken Soup for the Survivor's Soul. It was not chosen for inclusion (I never heard back), but as I re-read what I wrote, I could still see everything about that moment, along with remembering my subsequent thoughts and feelings. I also remember the enjoyment of writing the article. I enjoyed reading it again last night, and I think it deserves 'flight', so to speak. 

So I hope my blog readers also enjoy reading it, if you are a cancer survivor or not. The experience can be had anywhere by anyone, and the insight is applicable to each and every one of us. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Crows or Eagles: Which Will You Choose?

Sitting in a Utah canyon during January 2003, I saw a magnificent and memorable sight, a mixed flock of approximately 50 crows and three Bald eagles flying in a thermal updraft from the warm canyon rocks. As i viewed the swirling acrobatic birds through my binoculars, I could see individual crows pestering the eagles, who put up with this annoyance for a while. Eventually, however, each eagle turned as if to say to the crows, "You are only a crow. I am an eagle!" Each eagle then flew on its own separate way. 

I was struck by how this real-life observation in nature resembles not only our own real-life patterns, but also our opportunities. How often do we find ourselves staying within the comfort of the group or the ease of the updraft without moving on to new experiences or opportunities? How often do we find ourselves slowed down, bothered by, or worse, resigned to the myriad of life's distractions, or our own poor choices, when we really do have the desire, strength, or ability within us to follow the better path? Healing our own cancer-weary spirit or helping someone else are just two examples of the better path; a path with more happiness, more joy, or a more meaningful purpose. 

This recent experience also has given me a new perspective about my own cancer recovery journey. I have always called myself an "accidental" author since writing the first edition of my book, A Dietitian's Cancer Story, in 1997. Writing and oral presentations were very difficult for me during my high school and college years, and I truly doubt that any of my past teachers would have selected me as a potential future author or public speaker. However, after viewing these eagles purposely fly away from the crows, I no longer see this aspect of my cancer recovery journey as accidental. Instead, I realize I made a choice to fly with the eagles; a choice to share my professional knowledge about nutrition and cancer along with my personal experiences through a book.

I did much more soul-searching after my most recent cancer diagnosis than I had done previously. I finally understood that my heart was being pulled to help others have an easier cancer recovery journey than I have had. I took a deep breath and chose to say "yes" to that pull in my heart' "yes" to leaving the comfort of a job I loved; "yes" to sharing my personal experience and professional knowledge with the hope that I could provide "information and inspiration" for other cancer survivors. 

It was a risky choice, indeed I was terrified to know I would need to fly into new territory. I could have let the fact that I knew nothing about using a computer or nothing about the internet keep my flying inside my comfort circle with the crows. In addition to knowing nothing doubt writing a book, I knew nothing about book publishing or methods of book promotion, let alone how to run a home-based business. It certainly would have been easier to hang back with the crows, even with their occasional annoying pestering! 

However, the Chinese proverb "When the student is ready, the teacher appears" immediately became true for me. As soon as I said, "Yes, I will write a book", people appeared to help me with every aspect of this daunting project. I now envision their teaching and helping to be just like the updraft that kept those eagles afloat until they were ready to fly alone. Writing, self-publishing, and marketing my book, creating my web site www.CancerRD.com, and public speaking are all examples of ways that I broke away from my group of crows to soar with the eagles. 

Is flying with the eagles always smooth or easy? In a word, no. Do I have days when I am back with the crows, days when I do not feel like I can reach out to help other cancer survivors by soaring on my own? Yes, of course. However, I have two favorite verses that I keep close to me at all times for both comfort and inspiration. For those days when I just don't feel like I can keep soaring with the eagles, I take comfort in this verse:

"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." (Psalm 91:4)

For days when I am ready to try soaring again:

"They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

Over time, many details from my recent trip certainly will fade. However, I know I will hold the gift and power of this sign forever. Anytime I ever see a crow or Bald eagle in the future, I will remember that I have choices in life; a choice to either hang out with the crowd of crows or a choice to soar with the eagles. In addition, I frequently find myself visualizing the crows and eagles swirling together in that updraft; seeing the eagles in my mind as I choose how to spend my precious time and energy on a daily basis. 

My wish is that you will also find the courage to choose a risk; the courage to say "yes" to some meaningful aspect of your life where you can help make a difference. It does not need to be cancer-related or even something "big" like writing a book or running a marathon. It just should be something uniquely important to you; something that will bring meaning, happiness, or joy into your life. 

If you are not yet ready to soar by yourself, look for teachers to help you first stay aloft and then move outside your current comfort zone. You also can rise above the "I can't….." and the "If only………." type of statements so common when we surround ourselves with the crows in life to "I did it!" when we risk flying with the eagles. 

I hope you experience the joy of soaring with the eagles during your life's journey!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My computer file says my final draft was 2.28.2003, nearly 11 years ago, and I don't think I have re-read that article since then, as life moves along quickly. 

However, I can still clearly see those crows and 3 eagles in the blue sky, the rock outcroppings where I was sitting plus the general terrain of winter in the southwest desert canyons, along with feeling both the wind and sun on my face that day. 

I can also clearly remember the shaky feeling of risk as I took flight on a journey in which I became an advocate, a spokesperson, for cancer survivors on many fronts. 

Life is not easy, and it certainly is not fair (whatever that might be), but we do have choices, and we will have support. The Universe is abundant, and yes, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear". Teachers have come to me over and over and over again since my cancer experience in 1995. 

So I will dedicate this blog post to all my teachers during the past 19 years, some of whom are now dear friends, others flew with me for a short time within my flight path and then kept going. I would not be here, and I would not be who I am today, without all of you. Very simply, I thank you all. 

And to all of my blog readers, I'll end this post exactly where I ended that article. 

I hope you also experience the joy of soaring with the eagles during your life's journey!


Cultivate your life - You are what you grow (and who you choose to fly with) - Inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


PS - Please don't think I don't like crows. I do! In fact, I love them, look for them, and even count them twice each day as they fly over our farm in their flock (called a murder). Besides actually counting their numbers, I count them as friends and was as tickled as could be to actually see one close-up, really close-up for the first time, while it was scooping up scattered sunflower seeds under our bird feeders one day last week. 

PPS - Guess what I am going to do right now.  Back up this post? Yes……… :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Yes! It's Official!


Life begins the day one plants a garden.

~~ Chinese Proverb

I have waited almost six months to be able to share this exciting news with my blog readers. Good things often take time to work, to emerge, or to fully develop, rather like rising bread, planting seeds, etc., and are well worth the wait.  

The brief backstory. A friend visited our farm last summer, telling me of her recent research focused on gardening therapy for cancer survivors. As I listened, I had one of those proverbial "light bulb" moments with racing thoughts that translated to: 

1. Wow - What a great project! 
2. Why didn't I think of that? 
3. How can I help her get as much data as possible from this study?

We talked a bit, I made some inquiries, and long story short, the 2014 distribution from my endowment at The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) will be able to provide the additional funds this researcher needs to do the critical biochemical analyses that were included with the original grant proposal but left unfunded. (Note: My endowment at AICR is funded by individual donations - thank you! - plus the amount I annually contribute from the sale of my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story.

For this study (called "Harvest for Health")University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) cancer researchers plan to introduce 100 breast cancer survivors in a 5-county area in Alabama (see below) to a new kind of therapy — gardening, while pairing the breast cancer survivors with a Master Gardener from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“Studies have shown a link between diet and cancer, and between physical activity and cancer. We want to see how cancer survivors respond to this gardening intervention, how it affects their diet and exercise behaviors, and their health-related quality of life and physical health status,” said Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences and associate director for Cancer Prevention and Control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center

“Harvest for Health” builds on a successful pilot study conducted by Dr. Demark-Wahnefried at UAB where Master Gardeners worked with a smaller group of cancer survivors over the course of a year to establish a vegetable garden.  At the end of that study, the published results showed that many survivors not only improved their diet and exercise behaviors, but 90% of the participants also demonstrated significant improvement in objective measures of their strength, agility, and endurance

This larger study had hoped to expand those findings by not only having a larger study group, but also by measuring several biochemical parameters that are frequently used as biomarkers of successful aging, i.e., telomerase, sVCAM, and d-dimer, at baseline, the 1-year mark, and the 2-year mark after the start of the study. While The Women’s Breast Health Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham has generously provided the bulk of the Harvest for Health research grant, my endowment at AICR will fund the last piece to complete the study with as much data collection and analysis as possible. 

Dr. Demark-Wahnefried (who has led several previous pioneering research studies on cancer survivorship) has noted, "With advances in early detection and treatment, many cancers are now being cured; however, it is the side effects of cancer and its treatment that are often more of a problem than the cancer itself. Thus these biomarkers are important to measure because they tie into longevity and improved physical functioning much more so than cancer itself."

UAB provides tools and seedlings and will either prepare a raised bed in the yard of a survivor’s home or provide EarthBoxes® — large gardening containers on wheels — that can be kept on a porch or patio. Master Gardeners visit with the survivors twice a month for one year, offering advice, expertise and suggestions, while answering the questions new gardeners have. 

The Master Gardeners, who have completed a rigorous certification process from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, are all volunteers. “They are very excited to be making a difference in the lives of cancer survivors and their families,” Demark-Wahnefried said.

If the larger study shows the same improvements in healthy eating, increased exercise, and physical functioning, plus the biochemical signs of successful aging, it is hoped that the program can be offered to cancer survivors throughout Alabama. 

Special Note: The Harvest for Health study is still actively recruiting participants. If any of my readers are breast cancer survivors from (or know someone from) the following five Alabama counties (Cullman, Mobile, Blount, St. Clair or Walker) and are interested in participating in this study, you may call the following telephone # 205.996.7367 for more information. 

Dr. Demark-Wahnefried is a gardener herself. I asked when she had her original inspiration for this innovative research approach for cancer survivors. She told me it happened a while ago during her previous years as a researcher at Duke University's Cancer Center while she was conducting research - the Black Churches United for Better Health Project - in which Master Gardeners helped the churches establish Victory Gardens as a way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among their members. 

That project was successful, so fast forward to 2014, hoping the same will be true for cancer survivors.  I'm not sure if my friend's great idea happened in a "flash" like mine did during our talk this past summer, but in any case, here is another example of a great idea that needed time to develop, to be nurtured, to grow, before finally blossoming. 

Thank you, Wendy, for your decades of high quality, pioneering nutrition and cancer research, for your dedication to the needs of cancer survivors, looking for nutritional and lifestyle strategies that will optimize their odds for both the extension and quality of life after cancer. 

I have been honored to contribute to each research project that my endowment at AICR has funded since 2001. However, I must confess that funding Harvest for Health in 2014 also gives me deep happiness, I suppose because this study brings together so many of my long-standing professional interests, friendships, and deeply-held personal values. 

As a long-time gardener myself, I have always loved the following quotation:

A garden is the best alternative therapy. 

~~ Germaine Greer

Now here's another great idea - let's change the quote above to simply say that a garden is the best therapy period, without being "alternative", providing multiple, far-reaching benefits for all cancer survivors, no matter the individual diagnosis, no matter where one lives, in fact for everyone, cancer diagnosis or not. :) 

And another great idea, i.e., words of advice, which my long-time blog readers have heard me say many times before - don't wait, don't wait, don't wait for this study to be done  to _________________ (fill in the blank); in this case, don't wait to get your garden started. Why? I'll repeat the quote I used to open up this blog post:

Life begins the day one plants a garden.

~~ Chinese Proverb


Ready to start? It's not too early to start dreaming, planning, or even planting some seeds indoors. Need help? Find a gardening friend, find a Master Gardener in your county (yes, they are everywhere, not just in Alabama), find, cultivate, and begin a new life. Yes, you are what you grow. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book News

In yesterday's post I promised another update. Long-time followers of my blog, which I began in 2007 (along with my website www.CancerRD.com beginning in 1998), know that my frequency of posting has been gradually decreasing, and this year I found myself more behind than ever in everything. My hope is that I am learning to handle this reality of being chronically so behind in ways that are helpful.

Being behind means that I am always looking at various aspects of my life in order to prioritize, reduce, and also eliminate some things, even those things that are meaningful to me.

The biggest (and difficult) change that I am going to make in 2014 is to phase out the print copy of my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story, which I first published in 1997 and has been in print continuously since then. Nearly 100,000 copies have been sold (no small feat for a self-published book), with all copies having been managed by me, hauled in my mini-van, stored in my garage, shipped out by me to individuals, book warehouses, and bookstores around the country and world with the help of my friendly and supportive UPS, FedEx, and USPS drivers over the past 17 years. I have also done all the book-keeping on this book (there was a time when I had three employees to help me manage everything I was doing, too!), all the updates (I did a major update and re-write in 2010), and marketing (including speaking all over the country since 1997), arrange for and approve the editing, printing, cover art, etc, etc, etc.

Everything I have done has been an amazing adventure that I could not have predicted nor have given any credence to if someone had been able to see into the future back in 1995 and told me that this book would become my life while I was undergoing chemo the second time and so weak and ill that I could not feed myself. Nope, I would not even have had the energy to laugh at such a preposterous thought! :)

I am my own best case example when I have told people over the years that "cancer can take you places that are both unimaginable and wonderful". I also have told people to "never, never, never define your future by only looking at your past". Again, I am a perfect example of that picture. No one from my past, and I mean no one, would have ever picked me as 'future author'. My book found me (somehow I found the courage to say 'yes') and helped me grow immensely as a person.

I hope I have met some of my blog readers over the years and that I have been able to inspire you and others (cancer survivor or not) to take the leap of faith and both dig in and spread your wings as you move forward in life facing challenges known and unknown with a wildly beating heart. I have used the phrase "Active Hope" for years to describe what I have done by taking my poor odds into my own two hands to add maybe only a few percentage points to the outcome.

I am so completely busy with my farming now that I do not know if I'll get around to ultimately putting my book into an "e-book" format. I have not ruled that idea out, but it is not on the front burner at the moment.

In the meantime, A Dietitian's Cancer Story is still available from:

  • The American Institute for Cancer (AICR) where I have donated proceeds from the sale of my book (English and Spanish editions) since 1999. You may order on-line or by calling 1-800-843-8114. There are discounts available for orders of 10 books or more.   
  • Amazon.com (of course, both English and Spanish editions are available there, search by the book title or my name)
  • All bookstores may special order it for you, although I have stopped filling orders to their 'middle-man', so hurry if you want to order from your local independent bookstore
  • Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor, MI has personally autographed copies that she will mail out to you or to anyone you specify as a gift. Just call the bookstore and Nicola's friendly staff will take your order over the phone. (734-662-0600)

If you have enjoyed reading my book in the past, please consider ordering a copy to donate to your local library or even your own cancer center's patient resource library. Proceeds will continue to be donated to AICR to fund research focused on identifying nutritional strategies to increase the odds for long-term survival and/or improve quality of life after cancer. I already know which project I am  funding in 2014, and I can't wait to tell you about it when I can officially spill the beans. It is my favorite project of all the great research I have funded since 2000. 

Although I will not stop blogging, I want to end this post with the same short quotation I used on my blog's first post back in June 2007. It is still one of my favorite quotes, precisely because it conjures up a blended sense of responsibility, caring, and wonder in my heart.

"No one could make a greater mistake than he who
did nothing because he could only do a little."

~ Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

If our paths cross in the future, please introduce yourself. I am inspired by my readers, the challenges you've gone through, your accomplishments, and what you are doing today to cultivate your life, to grow. While I am a full-time (plus) farmer now, I arrived there while traveling a cancer survivorship journey along with you. We have so much in common as fellow Earth travelers, and I enjoy feeling and thinking about that. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Happy Holidays 2013!

Winter has finally come to our south-eastern corner of Michigan, with a full snow cover today, covering up our garlic field with its white, fluffy, and warm winter blanket. The roots of our nearly 25,000 garlic cloves planted during October and November will keep growing, deep into our healthy soil, even during the winter giving us the best possible start to a great harvest during July of 2014.

Phoebe LOVES the snow and could stay outside forever. Here she is in our main garlic field where ~20,000 cloves are planted for this coming season (the overflow of ~5,000 unexpected cloves is planted back in the 2009 field). Her ears are blowing in the wind, and the snow is flying into her face and eyes as I captured this photo. What is far more fun for her is simply racing, racing, racing back and forth, up and down the paths, through the underbrush coming back with masses of burrs of all sizes and shapes, chasing a frisbee, following tracks and smells, dashing at the birds at the bird feeders, and on and on and on. Although not obvious in this 'still life' photo, her zest for life is a joy to watch and feel. :)

"Dog in winter garlic field" at The Dyer Family Organic Farm
I have just written and sent the final Garlic Friends Newsletter for 2013, which gives you more of an update on our farm plus our warmest wishes for the holidays and 2014. Feel free to sign up for our farm's newsletter at our farm's website (www.dyerfamilyorganicfarm.com). It's easy, free, and of course your email address is never shared with anyone for any reason.

Tomorrow I will make another post here with some additional updates. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the holiday season, choosing your gifts carefully, and spending as much as possible as locally as possible. :)

I want to end with a lovely quote that is new to me, seen in a newsletter from some friends' local company in the Ann Arbor area called Nature and Nurture Seeds:


As you hold loving thoughts toward every person and animal and even towards plants, stars, oceans, rivers, and hills (along with soil - I added this), 
and as you are helpful and of service to the world, so you will find yourself growing more happy each day.   

~~   Luther Burbank


I'm smiling as I type this, and I hope you are too after reading those wise and thoughtful words. :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD