Wonderful Turkish cookbook
“Happiness equals reality minus expectations.” –
“The fundamental question” of wellbeing according to economists Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells, in their book Engineering Happiness
I should be dead by now.
Talk about low expectations!
That was what an “expert” said in August 2020, and my oncologist’s prognosis in October 2021. These are surreal moments, certainly as I experienced them, and even in my memory. I wasn’t alone. John absorbed those blows too. We had no choice but to consider the real possibility of my death and even plan for it by engaging in hospice and learning about the drugs that might help me be comfortable (and so graceful in front of our children) on the way out. Yeah, we went there. We did that. But we were also spurred into action. In August of 2020, I was still running, doing yoga, cooking, eating, working/giving speeches/doing podcasts and workshops, parenting…I had a plan for recovering from chemo, settling the mast cell activation traditional treatments caused, clearing mold which took hold when my immune system was under attack, pursuing hyperthermia/hyperbaric oxygen/mistletoe, and other naturopathic remedies. I did all that and felt well for quite a while. The expert seemed pretty stupid. But ovarian cancer is wily and tough. Not finishing chemo in range leaves you vulnerable, and I’m not luckier than anyone else. By September of 2021, it had the better of me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t outrun the cancer stem cells left behind by ineffective front-line treatment and was going downhill fast. In October of 2021, I was given 3 months to live. I wasn’t supposed to make it to our son’s 18th birthday.
But I’m still here.
And getting better every day.
Thanks to effective treatment here in Istanbul.
Should I have to leave my home and family to pursue these well-known combinatorial therapies? No, but I’ve written a lot about that already. Today I’m not lamenting what I’ve lost or what I’m missing. I’m taking pleasure in simple things I took for granted for most of my life. Here are some of the things I’ve enjoyed, I look forward to, and that get me out of bed in the morning these days:
- Eating a hearty breakfast (with pleasure and without pain); same for lunch and dinner
- Cooking anything and everything I desire and can dream up. This is not just a means to an end for me, but a creative outlet that has been central to my being for as long as I can remember. Going for months in the fall without being able to stand at the counter and stove cut off a piece of me.
- Surfing Instagram and following fabulous chefs to learn (yet another new way – plant-strong keto) to heal my body through food. As much as I’d love to live without constraints, somehow painting on a canvas drives a certain amount of creativity…and feeds my cookbook obsession!
- Talking/WhatsApping with our kids about…anything. Mostly their lives. Some updates on ours. Watching their stories unfold, even as they rise to the challenge of having me and John so far away. So far so good, and I don’t take for granted for a second the time we were able to spend with them growing up, so our connection can be strong even as it is more virtual than we would like. it’s been wonderful to hear about the kids through John as he’s been home this past week.
- Date nights with my husband here in Istanbul
- Dinner out with my friend Jeanne (and more to come!) here in Istanbul
- Discovering new restaurants, new cuisines, new dishes. The best Ottoman food we had so far was at Zennup 1844. Their cookbook is now in English; yes, I bought it (pictured above) and you can too. Jeanne and I made zucchini fritters inspired by those pages! I’ll be cooking from it for a long time. Not sure if you would like Turkish food? It’s a mixture of Arabic, middle eastern, Asian, European, and Ottoman. Imagine homemade yogurt, braised lamb and/or beans, lentils, salads with pomegranate seeds and sour syrup. You can be keto, vegan, and everything else. The food is flexible. Here are the top Turkish chefs on Instagram to give you a taste.
- Exploring the city in which I live with family and friends. Istanbul is a magical city where the ancient and the modern live side by side. Noting the progress my body is making here by realizing I didn’t need to use a wheelchair to get to/from/through the Hagia Sophia recently. It felt good. Cleveland has its own magic, as do Chicago, Boston, Bilbao, Marbella, Detroit, Ann Arbor, wherever you live…all in their own way.
- Grocery shopping – especially in the produce market, where I have a new friend in the purveyor there. I’m a grocer’s daughter and a former produce girl. These are my people.
- Seeing friends in the restaurant downstairs and sharing our lives, food, and news. Suleyman’s son now is 2nd in ALL OF TURKEY for 18 and under in chess!
- Learning and practicing Turkish (slow going, but appreciated and fun) and other languages with the international community in the clinic. Halva, Ahmet, the nurses, people in the restaurant downstairs…all teach me something new every day. I can also recommend Pimsleur audio courses, which I’ve used for many other languages as well. I can’t sing, but trying out new languages feels like that to me.
- Moving my body. I used to run and plan to do so again. For now, walking to the “far away” grocery store is a triumph and gentle yoga and light weights are possible.
- Reading. I had stopped for a while, needing more active distraction, but can be quiet again within myself. I suppose the theme is immersion, as I’m currently loving Istanbul: Memories and the City by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Orhan Pamuk (thank you, Karel Paukert!)
- Games! John and I, understandably, weren’t in the mood or habit of playing games when we arrived in November. Jeanne brought that fun back and made treatment time fly with Quiddler and Words with Chums. And yes, I wait for the new Wordle every day just like many of you!
- The upside of social media – I have a whole new appreciation for these connections now. Being far from home, having the virtual “conversation” with people who take the time to read these blogs, comment on posts, and message or video chat with me about their lives is not only encouraging but helps me stay connected to home. My feed is loaded with positive and supportive people, recipes, pictures, and messages. I’m constantly surprised to hear from people who have been following my writing for some time, then take a moment to reach out. Thank you.
- Writing is another creative outlet that makes me feel like myself, whether it’s a blog post, an article on leadership and empathy for a journal, or emails with friends and family. I’m grateful for this channel and the inspiration that flows through it.
- Sleeping and dreaming. Pain is very interruptive of everything. For a while, I stopped dreaming at night. I missed it. Dreams are back, in full color with new meanings and messages. I’m listening.
- Meditating, praying, daydreaming. For a while, with the dark outlook and pain, I needed more constant distraction. I am okay being quiet now.
- Movies and shows. Mostly feel-good stuff I missed in all of those workaholic years. Love, Actually was fun. From Russia with Love is mostly set in Istanbul! So is The Club/Klup, telling the story of the rise of nationalism in 1950’s Turkey. Queer Eye is so much more than makeovers. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week with those adorable guys?! When my curiosity gets the best of me, I’ll check out an episode from the new season of Ozark. How much worse can it get for Marty and his family? Don’t tell me.
- Dreaming about vacations. Starting to plan some. “Hell, I almost died” is my mantra. Why wait?
- Did I mention dry wine can be keto? Oh, I know, I know. But, “hell, I almost died.” There must be pleasure and wine on a night out to dinner is one of mine.
Am I free of all discomfort? No? Do I have to be poked many days for infusions? Yes. Am I done with chemo? Not quite halfway. Am I assured of remission at the end of all of this? No. Do I still worry sometimes about the long-term? Yes.
So I have to come back to the simple things, both to mark progress and to live while I’m here. After all, I shouldn’t be. I have to take things one day at a time. Literally.
People have talked about focusing on simplicity forever. The more modern and complex our lives, the more we need reminding. It’s always in fashion, whether you like schmaltzy movies like The Sound of Music (how many times have we watched that one?!) or classic songs like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man (always one of my husband’s favorites).
I listened to these messages but can’t claim to have lived them until recently… when my expectations became so low, that I’m grateful just to be here. And without constant pain. Maybe you can appreciate such simple things in a new way without the portal of a death sentence. I bet you can do most of what I listed above.
Grant – our youngest – turned 18 on February 1, 2022.
I. Am. Still. Alive.
I wasn’t able to be home, but wonderful friends and John made sure he had a memorable time and shared as much as they could with me by text, video, and email. It was Grant who shook off the latest prognosis and said his mom dying young did not “feel like part of his story.”
So far, the expert doctors are wrong and our son is right. His empathy helps him see clearly.
It’s that simple.