Chemotherapy: Stretches for Health

Chemotherapy: Stretches for Health

Before beginning any exercise program, please check with your physician or physical therapist! Not all exercises or stretches are appropriate for everyone – please read my full medical disclaimer here before trying any of the exercises listed below.

It’s no secret that it can be difficult to stay active during chemotherapy. While exercise has been proven to have many physical and emotional benefits during cancer treatment, some days it’s just difficult to get moving. I’ve designed this short stretching compilation to stretch the spine and major joints of the body to promote mobility and circulation on even the most difficult chemo days. Make these stretches part of your daily routine or use them to loosen up after a nap or before bed!

Watch the video for a full demonstration:

*Note: Video plays at 2x speed! Take your time when you’re stretching!

Child’s Pose

From a kneeling, or seated position, slide the hands forward until you feel a stretch in the shoulders and lower back. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: For greater stretch of the side body, walk the hands to the left or right.


Begin on hands and knees in a neutral spine position with hips stacked over knees and shoulders stacked over the wrists. Inhale and slowly drop the belly to arch the back, lifting the breast bone. The, exhale and round the back from the tailbone to the neck, broadening the space between the shoulder blades. Alternate moving into each position for 5-10 repetitions.

Modifications: Perform in a seated position, reaching forward as you round the back, and allowing the arms to reach behind you as you lift the chest.

Hip Flexor Stretch

In a kneeling position, square your hips and tuck your tailbone until a gentle stretch is felt across the front of the hip. Perform deep breaths. Hold 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Perform in a standing partial lunge position, hold onto something for balance. To increase the depth of the stretch, sidebend the body away from the bottom/back leg.

Hamstring Stretch

In a kneeling or seated position, stretch one leg out in front of you. Square the hips and straighten the knee as you hinge from your hips to deepen the stretch along the back of the leg. Try not to round the lower back to allow for the best stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Lie on your back and use a strap/towel to pull a straight leg up toward the ceiling. Flex your foot to deepen the stretch.

Butterfly Stretch

Sit with the soles of your feet touching and knees dropping down toward the floor. Perform deep breaths. Hold for 30-60 seconds as tolerated.

Modifications: Place pillows or yoga blocks under the knees to reduce strain on the hips, lean forward to deepen the stretch.

All stretches are designed to be gentle, but can be progressed if they become too easy. Stretches can be performed 1-3 times per day as needed.

Happy stretching!

Aloha ❤

Intermittent Fasting for Health

Intermittent Fasting for Health

Hello! I hope everyone had an excellent Labor Day weekend!

I wanted to make good on my promise to write about intermittent fasting as I hope it’s something that will benefit at least a few of you out there! For the past 5-6 years, I’ve included some type of intermittent fasting (IF) in my routine. I can honestly say that I notice a huge difference in my energy levels and metabolism compared to periods when I don’t intentionally include IF in my regimen.

In the past few years, fasting has become rather trendy. However, IF has quite a bit of research behind it, which pulls it out of that “fad diet” category (not to mention many religious groups have practiced fasting over long periods for centuries and it’s working for them). IF changes the body’s metabolic processes on a cellular level and therefore has important effects for both the body and brain – cool!

Here’s how IF works:

Normally, when the body needs energy, it uses glucose first as a rapid energy source. Once the available glucose has been used up, the body begins to break down fat to fuel our metabolism. Protein is the last to be broken down and is usually not utilized unless the body is under extreme conditions (i.e. starvation).

During a period of fasting/caloric restriction, the body is able to use up it’s glucose stores and begins to break down fat for energy. We can use fat from any part of the body that has excess fat stores like subcutaneous fat (a.k.a. “that stubborn belly fat”), visceral fat (fat that builds up around your abdominal organs), and intramuscular fat.

By significantly reducing calorie intake during IF, our body is able to use the spare energy to boost its processes of detoxification in the liver and kidneys. Waste removal from our cells also increases, and our body as a whole is able to operate more efficiently.

Some of the many benefits of IF include1:

  • Optimized cell functioning and cellular repair (this is called “autophagy” which literally means “self-eating” – eating the bad stuff, anyway)
  • Decreased insulin resistance = lower risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation in the body
  • Increased fat loss while maintaining lean body mass
  • Improved brain function and neuroprotective effects

Types of intermittent fasting include:

  • Weekly fasting (5:2)
    • Limit calorie intake to 500-600 calories for 2 days out of the week.
  • Daily fasting (16:8)
    • Eat all of your normal daily calories within an 8-10 hour window and fast (0 calories) for the other 14-16 hours. 16:8 is the most common, but for females and those with difficulty regulating blood sugar, a 14-hour fast can be more ideal.
  • 24-hour fast
    • Only 0-calorie liquids allowed for a 24-hour period. Can be done several days per week, but best to alternate fasting days with healthy eating days.

With all of that being said, IF is appropriate for most people. Be sure to consult your doctor, registered dietitian, or physical therapist before trying intermittent fasting. It is important to eat an adequate amount of calories in a balanced diet for all of your meals. It’s also extremely important to maintain proper hydration (water & electrolytes), especially with longer fasts.

I have continued to do 14:10 fasting during my chemotherapy, most days of the week. There is some research that IF can reduce chemo side effects2 and I continue to feel very strongly about making sure my insulin/blood sugar regulation is under control to prevent this tumor from taking advantage of any opportunity to grow! I am very aware of my overall calorie intake as my body needs plenty of nutrients to stay strong during treatment. This is NOT a time for me (or any cancer thriver) to be in a calorie deficit!

Please feel free to leave questions about IF in the comments section below! Stay tuned for more updates on my personal journey later this week as I complete taxol/carbo #6!


Food for Thought

Food for Thought

This blog post is going to open up a whole can of worms for me. I feel so passionately about nutrition and I have soooo much to say so I’ve delayed writing this post because I wanted to do more research before I put just any old information out there.

Before I dive in, I want to give you a little history about my diet and health pre-cancer. I’ve been vegetarian (…well, “flexitarian”) since 2010. I chose this out of personal preference but also because there’s some decent history of heart disease in my family and I (always) like to be proactive.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

Last February, I also went off my birth control pill which I had been on for 12 years (OMG, I know!). I have always suspected that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS (symptoms can include irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, acne, excessive hair growth on the face/chest/back, and weight gain), since high school and the pill helped me to manage most of those symptoms for a long time. PCOS also goes hand in hand with insulin resistance as it is primarily a condition of hormonal imbalance.

This is where it gets juicy, guys. Insulin is a hormone that lowers our blood sugar and helps us to use those delicious carbs that we eat as fuel.
If a person has insulin resistance, their body has difficulty using blood glucose for energy/metabolism and blood glucose levels stay elevated or we begin to store it as fat. When blood sugar keeps increasing, the body produces more insulin, and on and on we go….

It sort of works like this:
If I eat a donut, or a bowl of pasta, my blood sugar increases. Then, my insulin levels go up to try to reduce my blood glucose. If my body has a limited number of insulin receptors in certain cells, the blood insulin level stays high and, in the long term, can increase my risk for developing diabetes (if I don’t already have it) or obesity.

Borrowed from:

There have been many studies about the link between insulin resistance, especially in people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome (yes, we’re talking about the same insulin), and cancer. As it turns out, those with high blood insulin levels are at an increased risk for tumor development and for more rapid tumor growth.

Here’s the funny thing, though – this doesn’t only happen when we eat carbohydrates (FYI all “sugars” are carbohydrates). It can also occur when we eat animal products like meat, dairy, or eggs because those foods have something called insulin-like growth factors which are similar to insulin in that they have some ability to lower blood glucose, but they primarily promote cell growth.

Now, for someone with cancer, their tumor/s, just like every other normal cell in their body, also have insulin receptors (IR) and insulin-like growth factor receptors (IGFR). It seems that for those with insulin resistance, the IR and IGFR are more sensitive, and the tumor can grow more quickly dependent on what we eat!

If I haven’t bored you to death already, then you may be starting to understand why Justin and I have chosen to be very strict about diet during my cancer treatments. We are eating primarily vegan (no dairy, no eggs, no meat, no poultry), limiting the “bad fats,” and eliminating alcohol and processed sugars. We are far from perfect at this, and I do occasionally sneak a dark chocolate peanut butter cup from Trader Joe’s, but if I am going to kick cancer’s butt, then I need to make my body the most inhospitable place for it to live!

I’ve also been doing intermittent fasting (I fast for 16 hours, then eat all my usual daily calories in the remaining 8 hours) to help regulate my blood sugar and metabolism. I’ll save you and write about the benefits of intermittent fasting in another post!

We’ve been working with a local MD who specializes in nutrition and has recently moved his practice toward working mostly with patients with cancer.
Check him (& his delicious cookbooks) out here:

I’ll let you digest this totally fascinating information, but before I do, I just want to mention one more time how important it is to know your own body! Be curious, ask your doctors questions, and if something doesn’t seem right check with your doctor – your life could depend on it!

Thanks for coming to my TED talk!


Your Monday Motivation

Your Monday Motivation

One of the things I hear the most from people when I tell them that I have cancer is “I’m sorry.” I’ve been reflecting on that statement a lot, and I had a really great conversation about this with my priest, Fr. Russell, a few weeks ago.

I get that cancer isn’t exactly the type of diagnosis that anyone wants in their whole lifetime, let alone just after they turned 30. While it is very scary news, and while many things about my diagnosis are uncertain, I’ve decided to take Fr. Russell’s (always excellent) advice and “struggle well.”

He told me that in Russia, instead of saying I’m sorry, people will tell someone with a new cancer diagnosis “thank you.” Thank you for struggling well. Thank you for fighting so that we can have more days with you. More experiences. More life.

Now, I’m not Russian, and I’ve never been to Russia, so I can’t verify that this is true, but I am certain that I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Up to this point, I’ve had a really excellent life and still do! I can only see one way through this, and that’s to be alive & well at the end of it!

I plan to wake up each day and choose to be optimistic and proactive. I plan to learn as much as I can so that in the end, I’ll be a better wife, daughter, friend, and practitioner. I plan to let myself feel crappy when I feel crappy, but to go out and enjoy the sun or good food when I feel good. I plan to nurture my relationships with others and my relationship with myself.

My goal is to motivate anyone reading this post to take a moment to look at your life in perspective. To nourish those things that are truly important to you whether that be your relationships, your career, your spirituality, whatever.

I hope that you’ll prioritize your health above many things. If we don’t have our health, then all the rest suffers too. Be proactive, not reactive! Eat delicious, whole foods. Move your body daily – go for a walk, lift weights, dance! De-stress with journaling, meditating, going out in nature, getting a massage. Get some sun. Practice gratitude. There’s always, always something to be grateful for.

If you have concerns about your health, don’t be afraid to speak up! Talk to your doctors, nurses, physical therapists (we are great listeners!) and ask them about anything that may seem off or that makes you worry. You know your body best and shouldn’t wait around for answers to come to you!

I wanted to thank everyone for such kind words, cards, gifts, and love sent my way! I am truly honored to walk this Earth with all of you ❤