Skip to Main Content

Holly's Cancer Story

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

I was  recently asked to share my cancer story with my new office space community Orion Center for Integrative Health. I thought I would share it here as well:

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in April of 2015. I was 44 years old and it was a shock. Turns out I have a rare gene mutation that increased my risk. It also increases the risk of colon cancer. But not all that much is known about this gene mutation yet. So I had my first colonoscopy at 45 and I have to have them every three years. Oh joy. I had big beautiful triple D breasts that matched my curvy figure.

My cancer was several small tumors in about half of my right breast. I had five biopsies, including two via MRI. Fun! I found a surgeon willing to try an oncoplastic reduction, but she told me that she thought it was likely I would need a full mastectomy. So we did a bilateral reduction because there was no way you could reconstruct my cancer breast to be anywhere near the size of my healthy natural breast. We did not get clean margins so I had to have a full mastectomy on the cancer side. I attempted reconstruction so an expander was put in and pumped up at the time of mastectomy. Everyone told me it would be "uncomfortable." It was incredibly painful, I wanted to rip the thing out of my chest and knew it would not work within days after the surgery. But my plastic surgeon and my naturopathic oncologist insisted I keep it in for three months before deciding to abandon it.

At exactly three months post op, I scheduled an appointment with the plastic surgeon to schedule having the thing out. My lovely mother took wonderful care of me through my first two surgeries. She stayed with me in my 500 sq ft studio apt; that place had never been so clean as when she was there.:) A couple of months after my second surgery, she had a massive stroke in Florida where she lived with my father. I flew down to Florida the next day and spent a month there helping both of my parents, with the expander still in my chest, further delaying its removal. In the meantime it was recommended that if I wanted to avoid taking tamoxifen, which I very much did, I should have what remained of the healthy breast removed. So surgery number three was to remove the expander on the cancer reconstruction side and remove the remainder of the tissue on the healthy side.

If you can call any of us cancer survivors lucky, I was able to avoid chemotherapy, radiation and drugs. We did have a scare of metastasis when a mammogram revealed something suspicious on the healthy side after the initial reduction. The week between this mammogram and the follow up ultrasound was a nightmare. It turned out to be just scar tissue from the initial reduction. So like many anxious breast cancer survivors, I wound up having all of my breast tissue removed on both sides . I was only 45 at the time and had a gene mutation increasing my risk, so the likelihood of it returning was pretty high. My fourth and final chest surgery was a cosmetic cleanup, so recovery was not nearly as long. Only one week compared to the month I had to take off work for each of the previous three surgeries. I had to have arthroscopic knee surgery in the middle of all this, so five surgeries in 1.5 years.

I started a relationship soon after my second surgery and we got engaged. Eventually he left me for a lot of reasons and I haven't gotten into another relationship since. Losing my beautiful breasts was a huge hit to my confidence. Another acupuncturist friend who was very kind and helpful throughout the surgeries said she thought I was more beautiful because she could see my heart more easily.

Four surgeries on my chest has left me with chronic tension in the area and vulnerability to other local health issues like a hiatal hernia that pops up on a fairly regular basis. I have had many scar treatments with acupuncture and laser treatment from a wonderful colleague. I have to regularly stretch my chest and put castor oil on the scars, still 7 years later. Like most cancer survivors, every new symptom that crops up leads to fear of cancer recurrence. Between my breast cancer and my mother's stroke, I feel like a completely different person than the one I was before I was diagnosed. I am a much more mature, compassionate and patient person. But I am also sad when I remember the light hearted, carefree, playful woman I once was.

I have been practicing acupuncture now for almost 25 years. I had treated a number of cancer patients before I was diagnosed with cancer myself. I was helpful to them and they certainly seemed appreciative. Since my cancer diagnosis, however, I can relate on a personal level to the hell they are going through. I am thankful that I did not have to go through chemo or radiation or take any sort of drugs. I have seen many patients who have had to experience one to or all of these treatments. It's pretty awful. Recently I have helped a couple patients with foot neuropathy from chemo therapy be able to walk much more comfortably and longer distances again. I have helped patients going through chemo with fatigue, pain and neuropathy, nausea and other digestive issues; through radiation with fatigue and burns; and post operative complications like pain. I have seen acupuncture help many patients cope with anxiety, depression and insomnia after initial diagnosis, during treatment to help with side effects and stress and after treatment for the long term effects of their cancer treatments.

Limerick

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

There once was a gal named Holly                                                                                      Who thought it was not at all folly                                                                                        To stick people with pins                                                                                                        To turn frowns into grins                                                                                                      And everyone walks away jolly!

recently written by a friend/patient

Roasted Pepper and Fennel Soup

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

This tasty soup is paleo, gluten and dairy free, low histamine, (no tomatoes, which are commonly used in roasted pepper soup). The recipe can easily be modified to be vegan or low FODMAP as well. Many of us with chronic autoimmune disorders have digestive weakness and/or food sensitivities and fennel is a delicious digestive aid culinary herb. This recipe makes 10 servings and can be halved. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS
8 red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers
2 bulbs fennel
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled (skip for low FODMAP)
4 TBSP + 1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium yellow onion and/or celery, roughly chopped (skip for low FODMAP)   
6 TBSP fresh chopped fennel fronds
6 TBSP fresh chopped parsley
1 TBSP fresh chopped rosemary
1 TBSP fresh thyme
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar (vinegar is high histamine and you can try skipping,                        though I haven't tried this recipe without it)
1 TBSP coconut sugar
3-4 cups water, chicken or bone broth, as needed (bone broth is high histamine)
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste* (skip for low histamine)

INSTRUCTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F., and greases two baking sheets with olive oil..
Cut the bell peppers in half, remove the stems and seeds, and press each half flat onto the baking sheets, skin-side up. Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters (set the fronds aside for later), remove the core, and cut away any gnarly looking spots on the outer leaves. Place on the baking sheets along with the peppers.
Peel the garlic, and place in the center of a small sheet of aluminum foil. Pull the foil up around the garlic to create a bowl, and add 1 TBSP olive oil. Scrunch the foil tightly shut around the garlic to create a sealed pouch, and place on one of the baking sheets along with the peppers and fennel.
Place both baking sheets into the oven on the middle and lower rack, and roast for 40-50 minutes, or until the fennel is tender and the skin of the bell peppers is wrinkled, rotating the trays once halfway through baking.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven, and let rest for a couple of minutes, until the peppers are just cool enough to handle. Using your fingers, remove the papery skin from the bell peppers (the skin should separate fairly easily while the peppers are still hot. This is the hardest part of making this soup, but I promise you it is worth it.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the remaining 4 TBSP olive oil. Add the onion and/or celery, and a big pinch of salt, and sautee for 6-8 minutes, or until tender. Add the roasted fennel, bell peppers, garlic (and all of the oil from the foil pouch), and stir to combine. Then add the fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and 2-3 cups of water or broth. Either transfer the mixture to a blender, or puree using an immersion blender, until completely smooth. Add more water or broth as needed to reach desired consistency. Discard strings of fennel in the bottom of the blender.
Season well with salt and fresh cracked black pepper, and add a dash of cayenne, to taste. Enjoy!

adapted from https://www.willcookforfriends.com/2014/12/roasted-red-pepper-fennel-soup.html

Roasted Roots+

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

Yeah!  It's Fall, the season of one of my all time favorite side dishes...roasted root vegetables!  You can use any combination, this one includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips.  Daikon or other radishes are also tasty root vegetables.  I chop the roots small, so they cook faster, and add chopped apples, broccoli, savoy cabbage and celery, which don't need to cook as long.  Toss them all with olive oil and season with fresh chopped garlic, sea salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.  Roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy! 

Single person/serving hack:

Chop 1 potato, 1 sweet potato, 1 carrot, 1 parsnip, 1 turnip, 1 beet, 1 celery stalk, 1 garlic clove, 1 small head broccoli and 1 large cabbage leaf. Store in an air tight container in the fridge, taking enough for 1 portion as needed. To that portion add 2 slices apple, chopped, and toss with the other seasonings. Roast in a small pyrex or mini loaf pan.  Enjoy! 

Pesto Pizza

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

One of my doctors recently suggested I try a low histamine diet. I have to admit I feel much better on it and probably should have been on it years ago, but it's very limited! So I've been getting creative in the kitchen and came up with gluten and dairy free pesto pizza. Macadamia nuts and almonds are the only low histamine nuts, according to some sources, other sources say no nuts at all.

Manini's makes a delicious gluten and dairy free pizza crust. If you are OK with almonds, I like Capello's almond pizza crust. You can also try making your own from scratch. Remove the crust from the freezer and allow to defrost for approximately 15 minutes. Heat oven to 425 degrees, with empty pizza pan in the oven while heating. To make the pesto:

1- 3ou package of fresh basil, use the leaves only, discard the stems

1 1/2 Cups macadamia nuts

1/2 Cup olive oil

Blend until smooth in a blender, food processor etc.

This will make enough pesto for several pizzas, so you might want to freeze some in small containers. Spread a thin layer of pesto mixed with vegan cheese on the pizza crust, (I like Kite Hill almond ricotta). Top as you like, I use salami or leftover cooked chicken from the freezer. Bake according to the package instructions, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and pan, allow to cool briefly, slice up and enjoy!

Holly's Kale Salad

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

I have enjoyed PCC's Emerald City Salad for years, (raw kale, fennel, red pepper and cooked wild rice). While visiting my parents in Florida recently, I found an even better summer kale salad at Whole Foods in Boca Raton: raw kale and chard, fresh peaches and candied pecans! I made my own creation this weekend, combining the two recipes. I lightly steamed the kale instead of raw, as it's easier to digest and there is conflicting information whether raw brassica vegetables like kale are bad for the thyroid. I served this with leftover chicken. I think chopped red pepper would be a nice addition as well.

HOLLY'S KALE SALAD

Candy the pecans, (see below).

1 bunch kale, (Lacinto is my favorite), lightly steamed. Place in a large bowl and allow to cool while you prep the other ingredients.

3 fresh, ripe peaches, peeled and cut up in chunks

1-1 1/2 Cups candied pecans (see recipe below)

1/2 Cup fennel root cut into 1/4" pieces

1 Cup wild rice (I usually cook rice with my homemade chicken bone broth)

Drizzle 2-3 Tablespoons each olive oil and vinegar, (I used red wine, but balsamic might be even better), over kale and massage into all of the leaves. Add remaining ingredients, stir and enjoy!

CANDIED PECANS

Roast 3 Cups raw pecan halves in frying pan for 5-10 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Turn heat to low and add 3 tablespoons coconut oil, coating all of the nuts. Add 1/3 Cup maple syrup and coat all of the nuts. Stir in 2 teaspoons each salt and ground cayenne pepper. Enjoy!

Nourishment

by Holly C. Berman, EAMP, MSOM

So I realize that my blog is mostly about food and recipes. Why? Proper nutrition is essential to everyone's good health, especially those with a chronic or autoimmune condition. If you are not eating properly, any medicine, whether it's Eastern, Western, natural, pharmaceutical, etc... can only help so much. I realize more each day the negative effects of some of the staples in the standard American diet, (SAD), like dairy and sugar. And vegan alternatives to dairy can also have negative effects. From an Eastern perspective for example, ice cream is cold and sweet, no matter what kind of milk it is made from, (cow, coconut, almond, soy, etc..). Our digestive tracts work best with warm, cooked, easy to digest foods and beverages. This is why you don't see salads, raw vegetables or dairy in traditional Chinese cooking and why they drink a lot of hot tea. Obesity is much less common in Asia than in the West, so obviously Asians eat healthier. And Western science is starting to "discover" that many diseases are rooted in the gut, whether or not the patient has digestive symptoms.

Food is just one way we nourish ourselves. Other important ways are proper rest and sleep, exercise, drinking quality water and fluids, breathing clean air, positive self talk, "forest bathing" and the people we choose to be around.