About being Thankful

Today I am not going to write about me. Today I am going to share an inspiring story about hope and the reasons for being thankful during this season.  Thank you Cameron for sharing your story and the story of your wife Heather.

This is their story….

My Reason for Giving Thanks this Holiday Season
By Cameron Von St. James

My favorite time of the year has always been the holiday season. It is a great time to spend with family members and friends, creating memories that will last a lifetime. It was seven years ago, August of 2005, when my wife and I were celebrating the birth of Lily, our first and only daughter. My wife, Heather, and I were so excited to be able to spend the holidays with our new baby girl. We were already discussing different traditions that we would pass on to her, when all of the happiness of the holidays came to an immediate halt. Heather received news from her doctor that she had mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly form of cancer.

We learned of Heather’s diagnosis when our daughter was just 3 months old and just three days before Thanksgiving. During a holiday where people are supposed to give thanks, I could not help but to feel very unthankful and miserable. My emotions were all over the place and I felt angry and afraid most of the time. I understood that a diagnosis of mesothelioma meant a struggle ahead, and that most people did not make it through. I tried to stay hopeful, but I was afraid that I would lose my wife as things were spiraling out of control.

Although I had no celebration in me, we still managed to gather with Heather’s family for Thanksgiving and for Christmas too. We sat together as a family to discuss our finances because shortly after Christmas, Heather was supposed to receive her treatment. The conversation was difficult for me to handle and I felt overwhelmed. I knew that we were struggling financially, and I also knew that the expenses would continue to grow. Our money was decreasing as expenses increased. We talked about what we could liquidate for cash, and which bills my in-laws could afford to pay. I never imagined I would be spending the holidays in this manner, and I was embarrassed and ashamed.

It was not for another few years that I started to realize that even though I did not feel thankful that holiday season, I did have plenty to be thankful for. We had such an amazing support system, and our family was always by our sides throughout the entire ordeal. Our family constantly did what they could to help us through a time where we needed them the most, and they made incredible sacrifices for us without a moment’s hesitation. My pride and my fear blinded me at the time, but I can see clearly now how very lucky and blessed I am to have these wonderful and generous people in my life.

With the holiday season here again, I wanted to sit down and think of all the good things that I have in my life, and all of the reasons I have to give thanks. I am so thankful for the family and friends that Heather and I have. I am even more thankful for our beautiful and healthy little girl. Lastly, I am thankful to have received support and guidance from so many people who wanted to help us. I have a legitimate reason to want to celebrate this year. Thanks to the love and support of our family, my wife was able to make it through her mesothelioma surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments over the following months, and overcome cancer. I am thankful for the many holiday seasons we have been able to spend with one another since her diagnosis, and we look forward to many more. We hope that our story can be a source of hope and inspiration to all those currently battling cancer this holiday season.

🙂 🙂 🙂

To support and learn more about the Von St. James’ family go to:
Cameron’s blog
Heather’s blog

Happy Holidays!!!!

With Love, Bea

It is not “Enchiladas”

Many of you are familiar with the saying “No son Enchiladas” (It is not Enchiladas) a common phrase used in Mexico when talking about something not easy to do. The similar phrase in English is “It’s no piece of cake!

Dealing and living with cancer is not easy. I know now that very tough times are ahead and quite frankly I am a bit scared this time. Last year when I was dealing with the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, I felt very confident. The prognosis of the disease itself was quite encouraging and the fact that young patients were going through the same thing and succeeding made me feel I was not the only ugly duck, and that I had a chance.

This time is different…

I was declared in remission in July this year, but honestly I didn’t feel “cured”. I tried to believe that I was in remission and “cured” but I had an inexplicable feeling that something was not right. At the beginning, I tried to focus my mind in positive things and get my negative thoughts out of my head, but that didn’t work.

When I was told the Hodgkin’s was back and not only back but his friend Non-Hodgkins accompanied him, I was not surprised. I was just sad, very sad. The feeling was different, I felt different.

Since my lymphoma is rare and special, I am going to NIH for a second opinion and consultation. There are few cases of Grey Zone Lymphoma in the US and NIH has successfully treated several of those. I am looking forward to the appointment tomorrow.

By the way, if you were thinking about Enchiladas for Breakfast or Brunch, try Paula Dean’s “Crustless Spinach Quiche” instead. I tried this easy-to-make recipe last Saturday and I love it!!! . This is the link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/crustless-spinach-cheese-quiche-recipe/index.html

Even though cancer is not an Enchilada, I will stick to the belief that I can and will beat this thing successfully.

Thank you for keeping me in your prayers. I am grateful for the love of friends and family. John Lennon once wrote: “All we need is love”…. I agree.

Battle Mode – Round 2

I took a break from writing on the blog because I wanted to take some time off after the treatment and the intense but fun projects I have been involved at work. But I am back to share with you our favorite recipes and the adventures and feelings of the new battle I have to fight. This is round 2.

For Thanksgiving we traveled to Bloomington, IL. We spent a day in Chicago – what a great city, – it was almost 18 years ago since last time I visited the windy city. We had such a fabulous.

A great day n Chicago
A great day in Chicago

I had a CT scan which showed an increase in the size of a lymph node on my neck. The fear of having the Lymphoma back was quite evident.

And yes, unfortunately the Lymphoma is back and not only back but it seems that I have a combination of two types of Lymphoma (Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkins). This combination is known as the “Grey Zone Lymphoma” a rare type of the disease discovered in 1998 that affects a very small percentage of patients. Definitely, I am going to buy several lottery tickets, perhaps I will have the same luck.

I had a partial biopsy of the lymph node, but yesterday I had a full surgery to remove three big nodes on my neck. I am doing well just tired and sore but feeling better.

On mid-December I will start chemotherapy again, it seems that the treatment is intense and concludes with a “stem or bone marrow” transplant, but let’s see….. I am quite disappointed and angry this time (but I will get over it). My hair was growing back and I was starting to recover my strength.

I have no choice, I am in round 2 of a battle that I know I am going to win. This time I am thinking about cutting my hair to be ready for this crazy battle. I  like Charlize Theron’s haircut for the role she performed in the soon-to-be-released movie Mad Max.

Thank you to my family and friends that have been praying and thinking about Dave and I.

I am strong believer that love, a positive attitude, and a warrior spirit can get you through the most adverse and difficult circumstances.

I am ready….

Cancer in Reimission – Running for the Cure

Dear friends and family,

Many weeks have passed since I published an update on my blog. This summer has been quite busy: I completed 12 rounds of chemoteraphy and I had a CT scan that revealed that the cancer is in remission!! (This mean that the cancer cells are no longer growing = great thing). One of the side effect from the chemo is that my lungs need to recover and I am under treatment, but this is nothing compared with what I went through the last six months.

Immediately after receiving this great news, I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico to spend almost 4 weeks implementing the program I created: ArtFest12 – a summer program sponsored by Laureate for students in the art, design and architecture fields. The first edition of the program was very successful and gathered 230 students from around the world. You can imagine it was a lot of work; but fulfilling and creative work.  

Also, Dave and I celebrated our first anniversary. Certainly this was a challenging year for us, but we are blessed, we love each other and we have the support of great friends and our loving families.

To celebrate that my cancer is in remission and to run for the cure, I have signed up with Team in Training for a post-cancer half marathon that will take place in San Antonio, TX on January 27, 2013. The name of the race is Hero-Thon. My commitment means also to fundraise to support the mission of the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society (LLS). To donate go to:Team in Training.

I am really blessed and thank you for your encouragement during this crazy journey. Cancer took some of my energy and changed my life forever; yet cancer couldn’t take away my desire to live and the love of people around me. Love beats cancer!!!

Cheesecake: a Remedy for Anxiety

Today on July 2 I will have the first CT scan after completing my treatment. I am confident that I will receive good news, but also I am a bit scared. Under these circumstances I guess that feeling a bit anxious is something “natural.”

In this sense, I decided to bake bake a tasty classic Cheesecake. I came across the recipe on the Real and Simple magazine. This recipe is easy-to-make and a  fantastic dessert that worth sharing with all of you.

Thank you for reading and specially for your prayers. Love Bea

Classic Cheesecake
Real & Simple
Easy | Servings 10

For the Pie Crust:

  • 18  graham crackers (2 sleeves)
  • 1/2  cup  (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4  teaspoon  kosher salt

For the Cake:

  • 1  cup  plus 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3  8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2  cups  sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  pure vanilla extract
  • 3  large eggs, at room temperature

Cherry sauce:

  • 1  10-ounce bag frozen cherries
  • 1/2  cup  sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1  tablespoons  cornstarch
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
  1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 325° F (160 C). In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until fine crumbs form. Add the butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and pulse to combine. Using a straight-sided dry measuring cup, press the mixture into the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the remaining sugar on medium speed until smooth. Add 1 cup of the sour cream and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and beat to combine. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake until just set (the center will be slightly wobbly), 50 to 60 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup of sour cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Spread over the hot cheesecake, then bake until set, 3 to 5 minutes more. Let cool to room temperature in the pan, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake before unmolding.
  4. Make the cherry sauce: In a large skillet, combine the cherries, sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the mixture begins to thicken, 4 to 6 minutes.
  5. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water. Add to the cherries in the skillet and cook, stirring, until the mixture is thick and syrupy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Let cool completely. Serve with the cheesecake.

Cooking tip: The key on this recipe are the ingredients kept at room temperature. Also since I am not the best at making the pie crust from scratch, I prefer to buy the pie crust at the grocery store. My favorite brand is Keebler. Finally, I didn’t have all the ingredients for the cherry sauce, so I skipped the step and used marmalade instead.

The Last Chemo – the Hope

On June 11 I had my last round of ABVD chemotherapy. I was very lucky since Dave and his parents accompanied me during chemo (number twelve to be precise). And as usual I took all the medicines I need to have before, during and after the treatment to make sure I don’t have the common side effects (nausea, tiredness, insomnia). This time I didn’t wait too long in the hospital to get the treatment and I was happy since Lynne –who has taken amazing care of me during the treatment at Johns Hopkins – was in charge of my last treatment.

By the way, I was in the same room where I had the first treatment in January; it was a nice closure.

Back in January when I started the treatment, six months looked like forever, like a high, rocky and scary mountain that I had to climb. I am glad this is over.

Right now I have to be patient and wait until I have the PET scan on July 2, 2012. There are many questions I want to ask to my doctors. I feel anxious to learn the results once the scan is done; there is fear about the unknown, there are nights that I have trouble sleeping, but most importantly there is hope that the cancer is gone, that the bad cells on my body are gone and not coming back.

Thank you for the prayers, the support, the love, and the good energy which have kept and (continuously) keep me strong!!.

One More Left!

Dave and I spent a fantastic Memorial Day weekend with my dad. We drove to West Virginia, we enjoyed the drive, the weather was beautiful and we had a great time with my dad. It was refreshing to have a nice break from the routine to clear our minds.

Yesterday I had chemo no. 11, only 1 left yay!!!!!!. Since it was the day after Memorial Day we spent 6 hours at the hospital, the hospital was packed. I got upset since there were not enough chairs to receive the chemo and we had to wait for a long time, it was frustrating but oh well.  .  The good thing is that I saw Lynne, my incredible nurse. Several weeks ago, Lynne share a delicious recipe for salmon that I have posted below, thank you Lynne.

I am tired and extremely sensitive but I am doing well most of the time and I am excited that only one treatment is left. Three weeks after the last chemo on June 11 I will have a pet-scan to see the results of the treatment. I will have regular checkups each 3 months for a year and then each year or as requested by my doctor.

Thank you for your prayers, good vibes and positive thoughts. 🙂

Salmon with Pecan Crust
Recipe courtesy of Lynne Trench
Easy | Servings 4

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 4 salmon fillets (4 to 5 oz each)
  • salt and black pepper
  • lemon wedges

Mix together mustard, butter and honey in a small bowl: set aside. mix together read crumbs, pecans and parsley in a small bowl; set aside. Season each salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet or broiling pan. Brush each filet with mustard-honey mixture. Pat top of each fillet with bread crumb mixture. Bake at 450 F (232 C) for 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measured at thickets part, or until salmon flakes when tested with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.

My Favorite Dessert

I potentially have two more chemo treatments left. I can’t wait to mid June where I will have completed a total of 12.
Two Saturdays ago before chemo no. 9, I went with Team-in-Training to run, and my friends Jen and Kelli had a lovely surprise waiting for me. They prepared an incredible basket with magazines, cooking books, candies, and goodies to enjoy while I have my treatment. I also got a little Sudoku book (I love Sudoku).Thank you Kelli and Jen for being so thoughtful, you made my day and the treatment enjoyable.

This coming Monday I have my treatment number 11. It is funny how things change, because now I cannot stand the smell of saline or alcohol at the hospital. In fact, I have to tell the nurses to let me know in advance when they are using saline or alcohol so I can cover my nose with a scarf that has my favorite perfume Viva la Juicy. Two more chemos to go… Thank God.

Speaking about great things, I have to say that my favorite dessert is my mother-in-law’s White Texas Tea Cake recipe. I always look forward to visiting Dave’s parents house to enjoy this cake!. Thank you Kathy for sharing this recipe.
I have to say that the recipe looks simple to make, yet, it can be tricky. The first time I made it I thought I could use a normal cookie pan but the cake didn’t turn out as I expected. The second time I made it, I used a jelly roll pan (deeper than a cookie pan) and the cake finally had the height I expected. I have so much fun baking!!! Since I don’t have a great picture of my version of the cake, I have included a beautiful picture of the National Cathedral in DC. I took this picture when my mom and aunt Lupita visited in April.

White Texas Cake

For the mixture

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring butter and the water to boil. Remove from heat, add the baking soda, sugar, salt and flour. Then add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat well. Pour into 15x10x1 jelly roll  pan (make sure you have one jelly roll or pan that is deep enough). Bake at 350 F (176C) for about 20 minutes (add more minutes if you are above sea level). Set aside, let it cool.

For the frosting

  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 lb powdered sugar (450 grams)

Bring butter and milk to boil. Remove from heat, add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat well. Pour warm over cooled cake.

Cooking tip: For the mixture, before you add the eggs make sure the mixture is not too hot, otherwise you will cook the eggs and the cake won’t taste delicious :)`

Singing a New Song

Only three more treatments and cannot wait to win this battle!!!. Physically I am strong and still have my short hair; yet I am mentally exhausted.

The last appointment with the doctor went very well and it was music to my ears and a relief to hear that my body is responding to the treatment. The scans have shown improvement!!. However, I have to say that it is hard to know and remember that cancer cells are still there in my body battling the healthy cells.

Lately, I am more emotional, I cry more often, and I am pensive most of the time.

In one of those not-so-good days I received a message from a good friend of mine that happens to be in California studying Theology. The words on his message spoke to me; those were the right words on the right time. His message served as a reminder to believe, to believe and trust God’s plan, to be certain that I am not alone, that I must maintain my faith strong in times of despair. Faith is a powerful tool not only for the soul but the minds. His message ended with the link to the great song “40” from U2 inspired on Psalm 40 (I encourage you to read it)

I will sing a new song….. Life is good!

33 years old & a haircut

On April 15 I turned 33 years old, I ran 10 miles, I cut my hair short and I went shopping. The day after my birthday I had chemo No. 8 and even though I feel more tired, I am doing well most days. I have 4 treatments left.  

Now my birthdays has a different meaning, it is not about getting older anymore, it is not about having dinner on a fancy restaurant or having a party;it is about celebrating life and being grateful for the today and the tomorrow.

Tomorrow I have a PET-scan and I am looking forward to see how my body is responding positively to the chemo.