Hello friends, it’s been a while! A long while, to the tune of about 9 months or so? No, I did not have a child in that timeframe- I’m fixed and almost 51 for crying out loud! I wish I could blame it on covid but in reality, that was only a very tiny part of it.
This blog won’t be about that. I feel it’s important to mention it, yes, but it’s not in any way the focal point of anything in my life. Other than wearing a mask, it’s not impacted my life drastically, as of yet. I had already been living life cautiously since my cancer diagnosis 3 years ago, washing hands, disinfecting, keeping a safe distance from the general public. I’m also an introvert, so although I do go out for social situations, most of my outings were yoga or shopping related. So for me, all that changed was that I no had yoga class to go to. To be honest, though, I’d already turned my back on yoga at that point, to a certain degree.
What changed me and left me grappling for a sense of “self” was my near death in December 2019 when I went into keto-acidosis. As a result of my immunotherapy, my pancreas stopped working and my blood sugars went sky high. I know I’m lucky to be alive and I try to remind myself of that whenever I get bitter about now being an insulin dependant diabetic. Suffice it to say, between that and immunotherapy, I’ve gotten over my fear of needles.
I felt betrayed. I did so much to stay healthy and I was in excellent physical and mental condition. I also payed it forward by donating my time and teaching chair yoga to people aged 50+ in my community. But bad things happen to good people every day, right? Yes, that’s oversimplified and it took me many months to just summarize it in that sense, but it’s true. Shit happens, deal with it, move on, otherwise…well, really, I’d be wasting the very life that I struggle to hang on to.
But I did turn my back on yoga for a while. I was supposed to attract good karma, not bad. It took a while, but eventually I turned my views around. Had I not been doing yoga and in excellent physical and mental health, it’s my feeling that I would have died in December. Hence, it is because of yoga that I am still here. Because I was strong, my body was able to endure what it went through and because of my mental health, I was able to claw through the darkness that would often creep over me, and find the light to emerge.
My mission? My “dharma”, duty, my calling? To spread that light, in some fashion.
A couple of years ago, when I came across the term “empath” and had that “AHA” moment, “This is what I am!”, I accepted and embraced my duty to be a healer. But how? How does someone with cancer, a thyroid issue and now a diabetic (not to mention asthmatic) do this safely during these covid times? It took a while to figure out but now I’m excited as I embark on my new journey, my metamorphosis, my duty, my re-invention of Self.
Anyone who follows me on my twitter feed @judyvolhart had a teeny hint the other day regarding the project I’ve been working on, when energy permits. As I work on putting all the pieces together and staying motivated and pushing aside the tiredness that comes from learning new things, new systems, I scribble furiously in my notebook to keep track of all the ideas racing through my head. I am encouraged that something in life still motivates me to be a better person.
I still struggle with bitterness and darkness, as I know so many people around the world currently do. This is hard for me as I’m usually a very positive and cheerful person. Who is this new me? Was she always there?
Returning briefly to the topic of this pandemic, I think we can all agree that it’s given us all a chance to have time for important things like family, to slow down, and to examine and feel comfortable with our own thoughts, question the legitimacy of some of the friendships/relationships that we have and, perhaps most importantly, re-examine our own selves and if we are happy with this Self.
I’ve seen friends turn on friends, hypocrisy, selfishness, sadness, blatant idiocy, rudeness and out-right assholes. On the flip side, I’ve also seen kindness, generosity and positive impacts on our planet.
As an author, being in the public eye- and being a yogi on top of that- there’s an expectation to comment on events that shape the world. As an empath, this is something I actually usually avoid. For my own well being, I seldom follow the news or get embroiled in political or inflammatory debates. It’s not my thing. It doesn’t have to be my thing; it’s not my journey.
And so I resume my dharmic path. I embrace it, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone. I hope to have it all in place by my 51st birthday, which is September 15th. In reality, even as I say that, I feel the self-imposed pressure and question, “Why am I doing this?”
My answer? Because I must. I had to find a way of helping others while still keeping myself safe. I have to fulfil my duty as an empath, yogi and healer, even if it scares me to death and the mere thought of re-inventing myself, yet again, makes me tired and I just want to lie down and sleep. I’m also a bit stubborn and I never expected to be the type of person to sit around and do nothing. I’ve done nothing now for a number of months- and that’s okay. Sometimes, we need to do nothing to become whole again. Once we are, it’s time to help others.
Peace, cheers, and to good health for now my friends and readers. Stay tuned for more as everything slowly falls into place. Most importantly, simply stay safe, happy and positive.
This little beauty is my baby girl, Sadie. She’s roughly 5 months old and purrs like a motorboat but sounds like an elephant!
Her favourite pass time is watching the birds and chipmunks- when she’s not rough-housing with her brother from another mother, Ripley. I sometimes can’t tell if they love or hate each other, but then catch them snuggling when they think no one is watching.
Sadie loves sniffing things, then has little sneezing fits. She also gets gassy sometimes, so it’s a good thing she’s cute. She’s extremely snuggly and will ram right into your face to get your attention before lying down next to, behind, or on you.
From my family and I, and of course, Sadie (and Ripley!), have a furtastic Friday!
If you have a special pet that you’d like featured on a future Furtastic Friday post, please contact me.
I teased and taunted my readers with this through the whole quadrilogy before finally divulging the recipe in book 4. And now, here it is for free (but you should still buy the book, cuz, you know, it’s funny).
Mom’s Famous Schnitzels
1 package of boneless, thin sliced pork cutlets (about 8 pieces of meat, although more is definitely better)
2 eggs, beaten, in a bowl big enough to dip the meat in
1 cup of flour, in a bowl big enough to dip the meat in
1 1/2 to 2 cups of breadcrumbs of your choice, in a bowl big enough to dip the meat in
1/3 teaspoon of: garlic powder, paprika, dill weed, dried parsley (optional spices- the only necessity is salt and pepper)
1/2 cup or more olive oil or oil of your choice for frying-you might need more
Salt and pepper both sides of each piece of meat then set aside. To the breadcrumbs, add about 1/3 teaspoon of each spice and mix around to incorporate.
Arrange the bowls in this order: flour, egg, breadcrumbs.
Coat each piece of meat in the order above. Flour both sides, then shake off any excess. Next dip in the egg mixture, coating completely and allowing excess to drip off before putting into the breadcrumb bowl and coating completely. Pat firmly so that the breadcrumbs adhere well. When done, set aside on a plate until all of the meat has been prepared. I use a fork in one hand to lift the meat from each bowl and my other hand to coat in the flour and breadcrumbs. Your coating hand will be gross by the time you’re done.
In a frying pan, add enough oil so that it covers the bottom and has enough in it to almost cover a piece of meat. Heat on medium or just very slightly higher for a few minutes before adding any meat. Once a breadcrumb added to the oil begins to sizzle, the temperature is right.
Fit as many pieces of meat that the pan can accommodate without crowding. Mine fits 4-5 pieces comfortably. Each side will take a few minutes to fry. Once you have a nice, golden or light brown colour, you can flip the meat to the other side and do the same. When ready, transfer to an oven safe dish lined with paper towel to absorb any oils. Keep the meat in a warmed but not hot oven until all of the meat is cooked.
Delicious served with rice or any type of potato that you like (mashed, baked, fried, potato salad, etc) and a side of Hungarian cucumber salad.
Despite the fact that I’m almost 50 years old, I’ve had very little experience with death. I’ve been to exactly three funerals in my life, none of which were people that I was close to.
I’ve experienced the death of one pet, several years ago, and although I cried my fair share of tears, I’ve never been through the grief as my recent loss.
Perhaps it’s because there’s no closure. The not knowing is maddening. My Bart escaped a month ago via a partially open patio door. Under the dark of night, he snuck out, his black fur blending into the darkness surrounding him, never to be seen again.
It had been a particularly beautiful night, until the heavy rains began a few hours later. My family and I spent hours screaming his name, shaking the treat box, jingling his toys, roaming the property, walking along the fairly busy highway we live on, getting eaten by mosquitos and brushed by moths. We were oblivious to those things at the time, all of us distraught.
Bart was rescued from an animal shelter in June 2017 during a particularly rough point in my life. Following a sudden diagnosis of stage 4 kidney cancer, an operation to remove the right kidney two weeks later, the death of my father during this time (a funeral that I was too sick to attend), and then severe bouts of debilitating anxiety, we had gotten Bart to keep me grounded and put a smile back on my usually cheerful face.
We did everything together. We were together basically day and night, since I was no longer in a position to work. He’d help me with laundry, sweeping, dishes, yoga- oh, his favourite, of course, was helping with the groceries! He’d get so excited, inspect every bag.
Bart was a very smart and gentle cat. He was an American Bombay and one quality they have is that they usually select one main person as “their human”. I was his Human. He would sleep on my toes while I watched t.v. or read. Naturally, I’d keep my feet under him until I could no longer bear the cramping in my legs, or until my bladder could take no more.
I’m no stranger to emotional pain, but this? The not knowing. The “why”. The regret, heartache, cold feet even when it’s been especially hot. The mind games, picturing him starving and dying of thirst. Wondering if he hears us calling his name. Maybe even watching us from afar, as we put his litter box outside for three weeks in a row, hung our dirty laundry out, hoping he’d catch our scent. Playing the djembe, in hopes that the sound of drum filters it’s way to him and he finds it familiar, finds his way home.
I’ve cried every day since. After much debate, we got another rescue kitten from the same shelter Bart had come from. While the little guy is adorable, I give him snuggles filled with guilt. I cannot fully love him, as my heart is broken and it’s not fair to him
I’d like to think that every day, I heal a little. But I don’t know if I have, or if I will. I’ve lost a part of me. My mind plays evil tricks on me, making me think I hear his cry or see a flash of black fur.
I have few regrets in life, but that day? I would give anything to relive that day, I still have hope, but that hope rips me apart a bit more with each passing day. Always, I am so sure that “Today is the day!”
At the very core of my core, I knew. Once, I even started writing it but I wasn’t sure where I was heading with it. Would it be a book? Part of my biography, perhaps, or fictionalize it and make it a real tearjerker that would become a blockbuster movie, and then it would win all sorts of awards?
Ha! Yeah, I am pretty good, but I’m not that good!
Yet, my story still begs to be told. Its voice demands to be heard. I feel that in order to fully move forward, I have to write it, but also know that in doing so, there will be many tears involved. Not just mine, but friends and family who might read this.
You see, I usually have my shit together. I pretty much always have. Even before I got my official diagnosis of kidney cancer, I already suspected and had warned my boyfriend. When the doctor confirmed it, he cried, I comforted him. “It’ll be okay. They’ll get the cancer out and life goes on.”
Well, it wasn’t really that simple. What I didn’t anticipate was that my diagnosis would be stage IV. How does one go from being completely fine one day- in fact, feeling better than ever- to being constipated, then a couple of months later feeling a lump in your stomach and having some discomfort?
I googled, of course. I was the manager of a health and dental insurance claims department; I was used to investigating things. I researched my symptoms and came up with being impacted, or possibly ulcers. Perhaps even both.
I went to a walk-in doctor clinic, discussed my symptoms, was prescribed a laxative, but then also sent for a precautionary ultrasound. She wasn’t completely sure it was an impaction. She could feel my lumps. I could see the confusion on her face. I’m an empath, therefore I am very good at reading people.
Days later, I could tell by the ultrasound technician’s face and the tightness in his voice that something wasn’t right. He asked me how long I had been in pain and looked confused when I replied that it had only been about a month.
A few more days passed before my general practitioner discussed the results with me, advising me of a mass in my stomach and the general size of it. I was then referred to other specialists and underwent a CT scan.
By then, my research took a different path. It must have already been mentioned to me that the mass was attached to my kidney and I find it strange that I can’t remember this detail today. There’s so many weird little things that I do remember, but then important chunks of information that I don’t.
In any case, I knew going into the appointment with the specialist that it was likely cancer, and if so, based on the size, that it was likely stage III. So the diagnosis was no surprise to me. The only surprise was that it was stage IV and that, due to the size of the mass attached to my kidney, it had shifted into my stomach. For those of you that might not know this, our kidneys are more towards our back body and not in the stomach.
None the less, I took the news in stride. I might even have smiled bravely, feeling bad for the doctor, having to deliver this kind of shitty news to his patients. I listened to the next steps, nodding professionally, as if discussing someone else. My surgery date was set for slightly over two weeks later, then I was sent to another section of the Ottawa Hospital for blood work.
An hour later, I was back home in Brockville. I recall having an errand to run and we were at our local mall here in town. I checked my phone and noticed a frantic message, asking me to contact some person I’d never heard of from the hospital, who left me his personal cell phone number to call back. Well, that couldn’t be good.
With shaking hands, I returned the call and listened to the news that my blood calcium was dangerously high and that I needed to check in to the hospital right away. I was annoyed, actually. It would be a one hour drive back to Ottawa, it was already late, I hadn’t yet had dinner and I was hangry. I asked if it could wait until the morning and it all became very real when I was told no. I did, however, get permission to check in to my local hospital instead, only a 4 or 5 minute drive.
Everything from that point on was hell. The countless needles, transfusions, collapsed veins, the horror each time a nurse approached me with yet another needle, more bloodwork. My arms were butchered and I was traumatized by the time I was discharged, almost a week later.
To make matters worse, my dad had passed away the day before my diagnosis.
He was buried the day after I was discharged from the hospital, but I was too weak to travel two hours away to my hometown and I was too pre-occupied with my own horror story to even grieve. To this day, over two years later, I’ve not felt that I’ve properly grieved his death.
A week later, my surgery. I don’t recall being especially nervous. Yes, I was anxious, but more so in the sense that I wanted this invasion of my body removed so that I can then return to being superwoman and get on with my life. I was only 47 years old. I had stuff to do!
Things went well, I was told. They removed my right kidney and the mass attached to it, which was the size of a small roast or cantaloupe. They scraped out everywhere that it had spread to and there was good news that it hadn’t affected my vena cava. I had no clue what that meant at the time, but was assured that it was a good thing.
No doubt they scraped out some lymph nodes, though I cannot recall. I do have a copy of my records, yet find myself unwilling to read them again. I should, and I know one day I will, but there’s stuff in there I don’t want to revisit.
The only thing that remained were some tiny tumours that had made their way into my lungs. These could not be taken out during the surgery. There were four of them, all spread out, two in each lung. For that, I would be on some form of treatment, if they didn’t go away on their own. There was hope; apparently, there was a chance that they’d shrink away now that the mamma host was removed.
I was a good patient, asking for very little, walking as much as I could in order to regain my strength and be discharged as quickly as possible. I must admit, the morphine was lovely, but by the end of my stay, I was imagining smells that did not exist and couldn’t understand why no one could smell the strong antiseptic odour that I could.
My attitude, at that point, was still “Let’s get this done and over with. Let’s fix this.”
I did not yet know of the poor survival rates for stage IV kidney cancer. Reality slapped me in the face a couple of months later when I had to get copies of my medical records in order to submit them to my insurance carrier to be approved for long-term disability coverage. In my heart, I already knew that I could never return to the stress of work.
My general practitioner received the documents from the specialists and called me in to discuss the paperwork. She knew me very well, knew I’d be scrutinizing every word, and there were a couple in particular she knew would shatter me. She did not want to simply put it in the mail for me to read on my own and I am thankful for that.
That was my initial prognosis. That had not been verbalized to me at any point, but yet, there it was, in the report. Black and white. At that point, three or four months had already passed. Up until then, I still pretty much had my shit together. That is when my world crumbled.
I had foolishly gone to that visit alone and was due to pick my son up from his part-time job and bring him back to Brockville with me for a few days visit. Before picking him up, I pulled over into the parking lot of a grocery store and had a good cry.
He was just 17; he didn’t need to hear this shit or deal with it at his age. He had asked me from the outset to tell him everything, but apparently I hadn’t mentioned the 22 months to him, so obviously I got a handle on myself and managed the hour long drive back to Brockville with composure. Again, funny, the details I do and don’t remember.
At about the same time, I found out that the “spots”, as I called them, in my lungs hadn’t disappeared on their own. I would be monitored for another three months to see if they would grow, and if so, I would then start some sort of treatment for them.
So, my “Let’s do this, let’s fix it” attitude took a nose dive from there. Luckily the cancer centre has great access to free social workers for counselling. The record playing in my head was that I was only 47, how could all this be happening to me?
“The record playing in my head was that I was only 47, how could all this be happening to me?”
My boyfriend is a strong believer in cannabis. After educating myself about it, I have to agree that it has many medicinal benefits and has been used for centuries for medical reasons, well before it became illegal (and now legal again here in Canada and increasingly around the world).
I illegally, at that time, obtained cannabis in an attempt to treat the cancer holistically. Some of you may have heard of Rick Simpson oil or Tears of Phoenix.
If you, or someone you know, have cancer and are contemplating trying cannabis, I invite you to research this further. There are now many CBD and THC varieties on the market.
I had the 70% THC.
My cannabis use was very limited before I tried this treatment, so it took very little to get me high. The initial dose was the size of half a grain of rice, and the goal was to get up to 1 gram of this dark, tar-like cannabis oil per day and maintain that until I had ingested a total of 60 grams over a 90 day period. I tried, I truly did.
I do not remember much of June of 2017, other than the fact that we got a rescue kitten named Bart to help me with my sudden bouts of debilitating separation anxiety. I think after a month, I could no longer continue because of the paranoia and anxiety it induced in me. Scans shortly after showed growth in my lung tumours, so the little I did ingest did not help.
So, here’s the thing; although it is in my lungs, it is still considered kidney cancer- even though my remaining kidney is healthy and cancer free. So treatment is based on what works for kidney cancer and all cancers are treated differently. This is often confusing for family and friends to understand.
In the case of kidney cancer, traditional chemotherapy and radiation are not proven to work, so that wasn’t even an option for me.
We decided on a drug called Sutent, which I started about 6 months after my surgery. It is the first line of treatment and can work wonders, but it’s hell on the system. Despite several months on it, significant hair loss that resulted in having to cut what was left of my hair (see before & after pictures above), nerve damage to my feet, back and neck, sensitive teeth, tongue and dry mouth, and one emergency hospital visit due to a headache so powerful that I thought my head would explode, the tumours grew.
And had spread to my bones.
This, too, was a doctor’s appointment that I made the mistake of attending alone. Because, you know, I was still trying to be superwoman.
The grief overwhelmed me on the one hour drive home. That’s the thing about these long drives, you have time to think and magnify it in your head.
My drive consists mainly of two major highways and I could not safely pull over. I scrambled for Kleenex in the car, tears and snot running down my face, co- mingling, sobs wracking my frail body.
Yes, frail. All my life, I’d prided myself on being strong. Sturdy. Fit. Active.
Damnit. I was doing fine writing this story until I got to this part.
I’m not quite sure how I made it home. I suppose I didn’t really even care if I did or didn’t, but thoughts of my son pulled me through. I could not leave him motherless so young. He does not know this, but perhaps he’ll read these words now. If so, I’m so sorry for any emotional pain he’s had to experience because of me.
Luckily by this point, I had started my yoga and meditation journey. It helped me through many dark days and to regain my strength and sanity. I had watched as my oncologist scribbled treatment options out onto the paper sheet covering the hospital bed in his office and my brain scrambled to make sense of it. I took that sheet home and kept it for reference. I still have it somewhere, but also took a picture in case it got misplaced.
There was this wonderful thing on the market that was gaining popularity and much press. Oddly enough, it had been around a while, but only more recently have we hearing about it. It was my next treatment option; we decided on immunotherapy.
How my oncologist explained it was that cancer cells have this protective shield around them. Immunotherapy helps “open up” the shield, allowing your own system to do what it’s supposed to do; penetrate it and fight the evil shit that invades us.
Yes, I’ve had dark days in the year that’s passed, but luckily very little side effects from the Immuno. I’ve continued to remain positive and I’ve continued my yoga and meditation journey. There’s increasing research that links how the effects of these three things combined can help destroy disease.
Further combine that with Immunotherapy, and great things have happened. At my last scans, the tumours in my lungs were “minimal” and the cancer in the bones have not grown further.
Today, I continue working on being physically and mentally strong. I have become a certified yoga teacher in order to enhance my own knowledge and to be able to do yoga safely due to the nerve damage and cancer that remains in the bones, leaving the bones at risk of injury.
I hope to learn more about safe yoga for various cancer patients and to maybe one day be able to give back to this community.
For now, I practice daily and watch webcasts or listen to podcasts on topics relating to yoga, meditation, eating right, herbs, essential oils- anything that might help me beat this son of a bitch.
My reality is that stage IV kidney cancer seldom goes into remission and survival rates still aren’t the best. But I’ve surpassed 22 months by 7 months already. I’m going strong and I know that every year that passes, new treatments are being discovered.
Yes, I have my bad days, when I’m sad, bitter, or angry. This is at odds with my yoga training, which teaches us non-attachment. We are a spirit within a body that we should not get attached to. But I’m new to this, and I still get angry. I still cry. I allow myself to “feel”, then I let it go, the moment passes. Life goes on.
After my monthly bloodwork and my bi-weekly immunotherapy infusions, I usually wear a superhero band-aid to cover the puncture marks to remind myself: I am superwoman. And anyone fighting this madness is super too, regardless of what stage they’re at in their fight. Yes, it sucks. Life gave us shit to deal with. But we are warriors.
By sharing my story, I hope that I’m able to touch even just one person’s life. To resonate, inspire and motivate.
Namaste. Peace, my friends.
For anyone suffering from cancer, I invite you to read “Yoga for Cancer” by Tari Prinster. Whether or not yoga and meditation interests you, there’s some great information in there about what actually happens inside our bodies.