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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at

Friday, October 21, 2016

Learning From 2016

Welcome to 2017 and another year of being cancer free with determination to remain so.

Looking back, I'd say 2016 was a year of learning. With the chemotherapy I had in 2011 came an issue with my left ventricle. Seems it's "ejection fraction" is going down, from normal pre-chemo to 48% in 2014 to 40% in 2016. I've learned not to grab the pack loaded with yams and frozen meat and instead take the one with the toilet paper and bread  as I attempt to scurry uphill to our cabin on the mountain. Is that a train coming behind me? Why am I so winded? Maybe I should lessen the scurry to a gang-plank walk. More learning...

I am still in monthly massage therapy to deal with whiplash issues and about twice a year Robin or Caitlin (Willow Massage Therapy in Smithers BC) help stretch out the scar tissue that re-binds every so often in my second armpit (from lymph node removal/mining in 2011). It's never a fun hour with these ladies as they dig deep and work hard to loosen up the hard lumps that refuse to go away quietly. Is that a screaming meme behind me? Why am I so sore? Anything to do with carrying packs up a mountain in the first place? Hmm...more learning.

Because I am still numb on the right side of the repaired breast area as well as beneath my right arm, I have learned that constant stretching helps everything work better. The hope is I can regain more mobility faster. When on skis I don't use my right hand to push with my poles on the flats, saving it for when I really need it (in the lounge later) for skiing downhill, shoveling snow off our deck or refilling the melted-snow pots for the wood stove. No lessening these jobs- you have to keep active so I've learned to accommodate, compensate and prioritize. It's working.

In 2016 I took a WHYMS course to learn about hazardous materials. I then ran around my house and properly labelled mysterious substances I had in unmarked bottles. Inspired, I next took on the Level 1 Food Course so I wouldn't kill anyone with my canning or cross-contamination habits anymore. New plastic color co-ordinated cutting boards. Learning and shopping- love it!

 Then it was hours job shadowing at the Hudson Bay Mountain ski school for my Level 1 ski instructor certificate which I obtained by going to Shames Mountain in December of 2016! That's right folks, not only an author but now I'm making $12 something an hour introducing people to what I consider to be the most fun sport of all time. Sliding on the snow with boards on your feet. What a joy to watch the lights go on for people struggling. To watch them when they catch on. To help them up when they fall  on top of me. Lesson learned? Wear rental skis when teaching beginners.

Now if I could get people to learn from what I've been through with cancer.

Authoring Running From Cancer was a labour of love to help people learn ways to lessen their cancer lottery tickets. Are you doing what you can? Are you on daily vitamin D supplements, taking any anti-oxidents like green tea capsules or fish oils, ground flax seeds and beefing -up the broccoli consumption?

Life is about learning, everyone. Never stop. And may you learn enough soon enough to make it through a long happy life! Happy 2017 to everyone.

Five Year Mark

In the world of breast cancer it is said if you don’t have a recurrence with-in five years , chances are the cancer has been “beaten” and there’s renewed hope to live as long as one can after surviving treatment. So I’m ecstatic to shout out to the world that I made that mark in May 2016, not believing that it’s been that long already! Life has returned to relative normalcy with the wondrous addition of my dream-come-true of not one but two healthy and beautiful grandchildren. Life is so worth fighting for.

For those of you who don’t know me but have read my book Running From Cancer: a tilted memoir, here’s the epilogue:

Once the surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation were completed, it was recommended to go on a hormone blocking therapy for five years. This is usual practice. My oncologist put me on the standard called Tamoxifin , a drug used for non-menopausal women . After one year on Tamoxifen, it was proven that the chemo had brought on early menopause and so I was now qualified to switch to a drug called Letrozole*. (Tamoxifin can be carcinogenic and I was afraid of being one of the few who experienced endometrial cancer from taking it)

Both drugs gave me the side effects of hot flashes and aching joints. I felt like I was over 100 when getting out of bed most days and driving with the window down at -30C was something my husband endured every road trip, but we continued with the drug treatment feeling a little more hopeful that the cancer would not return.

There are others drugs out there to try but I decided to stick it out with Letrozole. The severity of both symptoms either waned over time or I became more oblivious to them. I’m not sure which is
the right answer, but take heart that they do seem to lessen over time.

The breast reconstruction done the year after chemo and radiation was very successful. Dr. Kurz of Prince George placed an expander inside the deflated right breast which was injected to capacity with saline by my GP at regular intervals over the next few months. I compared it to having braces on your teeth. Once filled, the skin would gradually stretch to accommodate the new size. Then it would be filled again. Once the deflated breast was inflated back to normal, Kurz was able to choose a correlating silicone implant to surgically replace the expander with. While operating, Kurz thankfully put a tuck into the left breast raising it up to match the repaired right breast. The result was a firmer, higher riding pair of breasts which if one didn’t see the scars around the nipple and a bit of loose ridges along the outer bottom right, you would think I was thirty (not fifty plus) and hadn’t had two children or a wrangle with breast cancer. I highly recommend this surgery as something to check into even though not everyone is satisfied with their results.I have friends who raved about their procedure but have a friend who was not happy at all. Her expectations were not met and I realized not everyone has the same situation to be dealt with. Still, with the BC Medical covering costs, it couldn’t harm having that first consult.

So, with perky boobs healed and my self image repaired, I turned to what I could do to improve my lifestyle to help insure I made that five year goal. I tweaked my diet to include as many vegetables as I could into every day. I snack twice a day making healthier choices of whole grains, proteins and oils like coconut, avocado or extra virgin olive oil when possible. I only have a few drinks a week in stead of 20 to 35 and I take an antioxidant supplement as well as 2000 mg of vitamin D daily. I try to get exercise , even if its a walk around the block, six days a week and I make sure to drink plenty of fluids to help my body properly work.

And the day came that I went to refill my Letrozole prescription and realized, “I don’t have to take that anymore!” So I don’t. I’m happy to say that all tests are clear and I’ve officially “survived cancer.” Now I will wear the special yellow t-shirt saved for the Canadian Cancer Society’s survivor participants with pride because I made it out the other side and feel stronger for it. At the gym this week, I tweaked the treadmill up to a number I hadn’t ran at since 2011, when cancer first came knocking. My fist shot into the air as my legs flew like the wind and I thought to myself, “I’m back. Smarter, wiser and more determined to keep myself healthy!” Then I turned the number back down slightly. It’s time to start going at an easier pace because this body is all I have and I need it to last another 18 years. The new me is going to keep that in mind at all times. Less stress, less having to reach to the top of everything, less trying so hard all the time. It’s time to slow down and enjoy what’s left of my life (which doesn’t mean I’ve quit trying to fit 400 things into one day. I now think about the 400 and get 300 done). And it’s all good, you know?

What ever was my hurry in the first place? Here’s to “Staying Alive Until ‘75!” Now to remember to look both ways before crossing the street!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Saying Yes Again to Soy

Soy and Breast Cancer       

Something I’ve been avoiding for the past five years of my breast cancer remission are soy products. Specifically soy sauce, tempeh, soy milk, edamame beans and tofu ; basically anything with high levels of what I was told would be an estrogen elevator. Okay, I’ll admit I was never a big fan of any of it unless it seasoned my Chinese food, but still...there was an edamame bean craze I had to curb and I did worry about the dark brown liquid I used in salad dressings and stir frys quite often.

Having had a hormone driven cancer, (both progesterone and estrogen meaning my tumor had been fed specifically by these culprits), I had been advised to curb these products.  Now new evidence is saying using these products may actually suppress the chance of developing cancer. 

I recently discovered an article at donated by Diana Dyer MS, registered dietician and a three time cancer survivor that discusses this “Soy Fear” and all that it means.

Seems that soy products do contain “phytoestrogens” , which led many to believe soy contains estrogen.But the term phytoestrogen simply means the chemical structures in soy products resemble natural female estrogen, thus the “phyto.”

There is no estrogen in natural soy foods. And ...

Tests of thousands of women over many years showed those who ate soy regularly had a lower chance of contracting breast cancer. Or experiencing a recurrence. The study did admit it was possible that women who ate things like Tofu or soy milk might already be prone to healthier than normal lifestyle practices.

I can see where they’re going with that. We used to call the vegan and tofu enthusiasts“Granolas.” Nothing wrong with it, it just seemed to be a certain hippy-thing which went hand-in-hand with floor length skirts, smoking pot and free love. Granolas were often fond of a diet rich in tofu, nuts and seeds, fruits and home grown vegetables while the rest of us ate everything we could get our hands on: the unhealthier the better. 

But the study further admits that while it might not be able to prove soy protects against breast cancer, it can say that it didn’t contribute to a higher rate of breast cancer. And amen to that! The article also cautions that soy “supplements,” and isoflavone enriched products were not part of the study. Maybe best to avoid them until further testing.

So my never-ending quest for a dietary regime that will help me to reach my goal of “staying alive til ‘75” has brought me back to considering the meat alternative Tofu. No more excuses. The next question is how to get this past my hunter husband. My next research will be on How to DisguiseTofu as a moose steak or deer burger. 

Monday, January 11, 2016


At the tick of the New Year 2016 I was standing in an elegantly decorated hall in Balzac Alberta with close to a hundred of our friends , family and people close to my son to celebrate his marriage. To count blessings, the room also held our other children, their spouses and our first two grandchildren born within the past 4 months. My father, having recovered fully from a hip replacement in April, was dancing with my ex husbands older sister and all around me people were smiling and cheering the new year and I remember thinking how fast everything was going. The carousel was hitting mach one.The night was ending and I didn't have enough time to say what I wanted to my family, to get to know the new faces, to cherish each breath of the newborns.

Funny that 2015's blog started with talk about procrastination and sluggishness. It felt that way at the time. There was no energy. No insight or willingness to dream about what might be coming. Things stayed that pace until August when the first grandchild arrived a week early followed two months later by another grandchild born three weeks early. This wedding was the cherry on the top but it still threw everything into high gear and after the months of prepping and sorting and planning then doing and being and repacking and leaving, we were careening the same way we'd come only this time westward down the highway at breakneck speed on our way home to the place where things do get sluggish and where we can procrastinate again, if we want.
Already imagining soaking in our hot tub with cold drinks and memories to rehash, we were violently slammed into a reality check with the twist of a steering wheel, the holler of "we're going to hit that truck..." the airborne stop sign , the hood of our vehicle slamming up against the windshield while feeling the suburban fly downwards, our heads whipping forward then back, and the landing in a field. A man standing outside his home on the ground before us stood mouth agape, a saw in his hand. His look reflected the shock I was feeling. Did that just happen?

I clawed off my seat belt, throwing my arms around my husband's neck, thanking him for saving our lives before hustling out of our vehicle terrified of what I might see back on the highway. A white PNG gas truck, the one we came so close to smashing into the passenger side of, sat facing the middle of the highway with the tailgate on the ground, the back side smashed in and the box contents  of screwdrivers, gas meters and battery packs strewn for yards. A long highway truck with a full load of lumber that had first hit and pushed the  left-turning eastbound PNG truck in front of us lie in the east bound ditch, load askew and front grill of the truck smashed in.

It turned out that once we opted to bail into a field instead of  t-boning the PNG truck, the west bound flat deck highway hauler cruising at 90 kmh behind us had a clean path to smash the PNG truck on it's hind end spinning it around before the tailgate fell off. We came so close to being the roadkill filler between the two vehicle sandwich!

Within three minutes all four drivers were standing cell phones to ear in a semi-circle, all shaking their heads in disbelief that no one had been hurt beyond whiplash or bruising.

And here I sit six days later still in awe of the fact that all of that forward momentum could end so abruptly. Months of fast forward was slowed to a panel by panel sequence at the first pump of adrenaline.

You're driving down a highway thinking about the week that lies ahead. You're flying through the air. You're still.

I'm breathing.
Tick tick.
 He's breathing.
Tick tick.
What's next?
Tick tick.
Seat belt.

Two seconds that slowed to seem like five minutes. I could tell you every detail within that tiny stretch of space and time.

 And for what purpose does our body do that to us; to slow down time like that? Or is it possible that's the way things really are? Maybe life really does move in slow motion? Maybe all time can be freeze-framed second by second if we choose to stop and look at it that way. Does there have to be a major catastrophe for us to slow things down and really see every second?

I'm thinking the problem is we don't want to slow things down to that speed. Or more precisely, we don't HAVE time to. Not until time makes us take it. And thankfully my husband and I didn't run out of time. We were merely given a chance to appreciate the fact that we had any time at all.

This greater appreciation of my time and what's left of it, is just the catalyst I need to get back on track to make the most of it. Procrastination and sluggishness were a part of 2015.

I have a feeling with a start like this, they won't be a problem in 2016.

Happy New Year everyone. Please "drive to survive."