20 Years Later: What cancer took from me, and what it gave me

©Billy Howard Photography
(1994) from the art show & book
Angels & Monsters: A Child’s Eye View of Cancer
(find it HERE on Amazon)

Twenty years ago today, my oncologist confirmed that all of my scans were clear. Thirteen months of chemotherapy behind me, and loads of possibility and unknowns ahead. I was officially in remission, off-therapy, and a cancer survivor*.

Twenty years. I don’t remember a lot of details. Partly because it has been a long time, and partly because that’s what chemo does to your brain. But I do remember what it feels like to be so sick that you start to wonder how cancer could be worse than what the chemo is doing to you. I remember the feeling of receiving Benadryl through an IV (amazing what that can do for nausea – and how quickly it makes you sleep!). I recall how good it felt each time the scans would come back clear after  an MRI or spinal tap. And I remember how excited – and scared – I was when they said I was finished with chemo.

Cancer took a lot from me. It took my hair – quite devastating for an 18 year old girl. It took my energy. I felt tired all the time. It took the majority of my senior year. I completed most of the final semester from home. It took me away from friends and activities. It took what should have been my first semester of college. While most of my friends were off to school, I was spending my days in the hospital or sick at home.

Yes, cancer took a lot. But cancer gave me a lot as well.

There were little things: an amazing hat collection, more flower deliveries than I could count, gifts and visits from family & friends, a standing ovation at my high school graduation, and lots of other fun little things. But the big things are much more memorable and important.

Cancer gave me the chance to really examine who I am and what I believe. And even though I was sick and my body was weak, my faith grew stronger. I felt God’s presence, and I knew He could make something beautiful out of my circumstances.

Cancer gave me more time with my family. It gave me a chance to evaluate relationships and priorities. It opened doors to my participation in/with newspaper, television, and an art exhibition. It provided me with the opportunity to set goals. It gave me (and continues to give me) so many opportunities to share my faith with others. And cancer gave me the chance to start college a semester late, at the right time so that I could meet the man I would one day marry.

I am a cancer survivor, but that is only a part of who I am. It is a journey that I would not have chosen. But it is a journey that made me stronger in many ways, and one that ultimately led me to, among other things, my husband, my children, and a life overseas. I am grateful that God has given me this testimony, and twenty years of life and opportunities. God is good!

You can read more about my cancer experience HERE.

*And FYI – once you’ve lived a moment beyond your diagnosis, you are a survivor in my book!

Norwegian food: Gulrot (healthy food #1)

The Five Healthiest Foods in Norway (original post here) – carrots came in at number one.Carrots are fairly inexpensive here. And very common, as are most root vegetables. I often have a big bag of carrots in the fridge. I use them in soups and stir fry, and last week I made carrot apple bread (it was really good! – I found the recipe HERE via Pinterest).

I’ve had a lot of Pinterest success stories lately – I really should start sharing them more often! In the meantime, feel free to visit and follow my Pinterest board “Pinterest Success.”

The NRK article stated that everyone likes carrots, both raw and cooked. I am afraid I must disagree. I can handle them cooked in things, but I have a difficult time eating raw carrots (unless they’re covered in dip or humus!).  I really want to find more ways to prepare them since they are so good for you. So if you have any favorite recipes involving carrots, I would love to hear about them!

(noun) Carrot.

Used in a sentence
Jeg trenger to gulrøtter for suppe.
(I need two carrots for the soup.)

Related Words
grønnsaker – vegetables
fiber – fiber
vitaminer – vitamins
rot grønnsaker – root vegetables

Norwegian food: Makrell i Tomat (healthy food #2)

The Five Healthiest Foods in Norway (original post here) – at number two was mackerel in tomato sauce. (And hooray – Zack is writing today!…)

Would you eat a food if the nickname for it was “plane crash”?  Yeah, me neither.  I grew up seeing my dad eat sardines from time to time when we were fishing or hunting, but I think mostly his reason for doing it was to try and gross me out.  Probably the same reason why he would eat raw chicken liver when we were fishing for catfish.

Anyway.  Plane Crash or mackerel in tomato sauce.  Sounds delightful.  And with a shelf life of just over a decade, why not??

I was not much of a fish eater when we lived in the US.  I ate some fresh water fish that dad caught and then salmon and tuna from time to time.  I had to make some adjustments to my diet when we moved here because people (most people) eat a lot of fish.  Beef and chicken are crazy expensive, and  we found cod and salmon to be quite reasonable.

The day after our first Norwegian constitution day here, we went on a weekend cabin trip with some friends.  We stopped on the way and bought some food to share over the long weekend.  My friend K bought some mackerel in tomato sauce and brought it along.

Let me set the stage.  It was hot by Norwegian standards, probably low 80’s and we had been hiking most of the day.  We are in an awesome cabin that was very rustic in many ways.  It did have a toilet, but the toilet (poop, bæsj, crap- whatever you want to call it) basically went through the floor and into the woods outside.  To help cover the odor, you put bark and soil over the top of it to “flush”.  It worked great and we had no problems at all, IF the rules were followed.

The first – and possibly most important – rule was to keep the door closed.  Well, D and W apparently did not really remember that rule too well and we had just sat down to lunch.  My friend K opened the can of “plane crash” and smeared some on a piece of whole wheat bread.  He offered some to the boys and to Jenn and me as well.  The boys loved it and asked for more.  Jenn declined politely refused, and I took a piece.

Just before I put the piece of bread with the fishy tomato sauce smeared on top, a gentle breeze blew outside, coming up through the toilet and through the door that one of my little guys had left open. It went right up my nose and felt like it punched me in the face.

I went ahead and put the bread in my mouth and took a bite.  My first thought was, I’m gonna hurl!  I silently asked Jesus to help me swallow this food and he did.  I am not very good at hiding what I am feeling or thinking, so they knew I didn’t like it.  After some good natured teasing and ripping, it died down and I was able to finish eating.  K did however send D to shut the bathroom door, for which we were all thankful.

Fast forward about 1.5 years later with some small intervals of teasing from my friends about mackerel in tomato sauce and I am now eating it.  I eat it once or twice a week.  How did this happen?  I will explain.

I was at a leadership conference in Kristiansand (south of Norway) last year and I saw a guy whom I consider to be in really good health and in good shape eating “plane crash” for breakfast.  Mental note number one.

I heard a commercial on the radio where the mom was talking about healthy food and she was talking about mackerel in tomato sauce, but she had to speak English because she didn’t want the daughter to understand and know that she was eating something so delicious and was so good for her.  She then switches to German when the older son comes in (because he’s school age so he would of course already be learning English!). Mental note number two.

My family has a history of heart problems and strokes.  I know taking care of myself is very important.  Fatty fish is good for your heart, memory, skin and also helps with seasonal affective disorder.  I decided to give it another try.  I bought a can of mackerel in tomato sauce and brought it home.  I opened it up and put it on a slice of bread and it wasn’t bad at all.  I continued to eat it, but just out of the can with no bread and I REALLY liked it.

So now, at least 2-3 times a week I eat a can of makrell i tomat (Norwegian).  I like it a lot and it is great to take with you on a hike, in the car, to a meeting, when your wife has surgery and you are at the hospital all day and just for a snack before going skiing or something when you need some quick energy.

(Here are a few TV commercials about mackerel in tomato sauce, based on a song ‘tre små fisk‘)


Makrell i tomat
(noun) Mackerel in tomato sauce.Related Words
fettsyrer – fatty acids
fisk – fish
sunn/sunt – healthy
tre små fisk – three small fish

Norwegian food: Havregryn (healthy food #3)

The Five Healthiest Foods in Norway (original post here) – at number three was oatmeal.

The nutritionists that participated in the study encouraged the importance of whole grains. Oatmeal is a good source of fiber, vitamin B, iron and other important minerals. (I also like the way it leaves you feeling full for quite a while.)We eat quite a bit of oatmeal. I probably cook it an average of three times every week for breakfast. I use it when making multigrain bread. And it is a major component of the granola I make as well. The boys love it, especially with a bit of jam mixed in.

It seems the majority of people eat oatmeal with something sweet added, whether it be fruit, jam, or cinnamon and sugar. I am a bit odd in that I prefer mine with butter, a splash of milk, and a little salt. I blame it on my mom; that’s how she gave it to me when I was growing up. So sweet oatmeal is really weird to me!

(noun) Oatmeal.

Used in a sentence
Vi spiser havregryn omtrent tre ganger hver uke.
(We eat oatmeal about three times each week.)

Related Words
havre – oats
fullkorn – wholegrain
grøt – porridge
jern – iron

Norwegian Food: Blåbær (healthy food #4)

The Five Healthiest Foods in Norway (original post here) – at number four was blueberries.

Homemade blueberry muffins, made
from the berries the boys picked in
the mountains on a hiking trip

Berries are quite popular here. And berry-picking trips are popular in the summertime. Last summer, the boys enjoyed picking lots of blueberries while we were hiking in the mountains.

We all like blueberries. Sometime alone, other times in a fruit salad or smoothie, and occasionally in a treat like muffins.

The NRK article’s nutritionists appreciated the antioxidants in blueberries. They were concerned that people do not eat enough berries, and also focused on the importance of ‘five a day.’ Furthermore, they liked that picking the berries yourself means additional physical activity!

(noun) Blueberry.

Used in a sentence
Guttene plukket blåbær og vi laget muffins.
(The boys picked blueberries and we made muffins.)

Related Words
bær – berry/berries
antioksidanter – antioxidants

Norwegian Food: Melk (healthy food #5)

The Five Healthiest Foods in Norway (original post here) – at number five was milk.The article explained that is the best source of calcium in Norway, and also a good source of iodine. We typically buy Ekstra Lett Melk because it has added Vitamin D – especially important in the dark winter months! (Eskstra Lett also has less saturated fat.)

We really like the milk in Norway. It is refrigerated! Sounds strange to some of you maybe, but in  Ukraine we learned that this is not always the case. Yeah, unrefrigerated milk was kind of strange to me!Price
There are two brands we can choose from: Tine Melk or Q-Melk. Most of the time we buy Tine, mainly because I have better luck finding the kind I prefer in the 1.75 liter carton instead of the 1 liter that seems to vanish as soon as it is opened.

The 1.75 liter costs a minimum of 21.90 Norwegian kroner. Our current conversion rate is quite favorable for us (not for Norwegians traveling to America!), so that is currently around $2.90 for 1.75 liters. That is the equivalent of about $6.24 per gallon (about double the price of a gallon in Georgia!)

We are occasionally able to find it marked down for as much as 50% off due to only a couple of days left on the expiration date. But the boys love milk, and we use it in a lot of recipes, so a short date is no problem!


Tine Easter Milk

Tine changes their packaging at Christmas and Easter. For the majority of the year, the photos on the cartons show scenes from the dairies located in your region. But at Christmas the nisser (the little trolls/elves) show up. And at Easter, Tine pays homage to the Norwegian tradition of Påskekrim – Easter crime novels* – by including mystery-based comic strips on the boxes.

Tine Christmas Milk

Like in the states, there are plenty of varieties: whole milk, low fat, lower fat (with the added Vitamin D), skim milk, as well as chocolate milk, culture milks, and kefir.

[Okay, I just have to say that this may be the most boring post I’ve ever written!]

(noun) Milk.Used in a sentence
Kan du kjøpe inn en melk for meg?
(Will you buy a carton of milk for me?)

Related Words
hel melk – whole milk

lett melk – low fat milkekstra lett melk – lower fat milk
skummet melk – skim milk
sjokolademelk – chocolate milk
geit melk – goat milk
økologisk melk – organic milk
laktosefri melk – lactose free milk
kulturmelk – culture milk/soured milk (similar to buttermilk)


*You read that correctly – Easter crime novels – I should probably revisit this in a couple of months!

[Not] Norwegian food: Pop Tarts

Our boys love Pop Tarts. And I have to admit, they are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me as well.

Growing up, you could almost always find them in our pantry. Okay, not really. What we typically had were generic ‘Toaster Pastries’. You know, the store brand knock-off that came without frosting, and often with at least one major fracture, if not totally crumbled. Yeah yeah, I gripe, but we certainly ate them!

I know the boys enjoy them, but a couple of things keep us from having many on hand. First is the artificial stuff. I am really trying to reduce the amount of artificial stuff we eat. I won’t totally eliminate it, but less is better, right?

But the bigger reason is the price. I’ve only found one store in Norway that carries them. And since they are an import item, they come with the hefty price tag of around $10-11 per 8-count box. So I won’t be picking them up anytime soon. Yeah, there are some things you will pay a high price for to have a taste of home. [Like white cheese jalapeño dip – which I have yet to find anywhere.] But Pop Tarts are not on that list!

We are grateful to friends and family who’ve brought Pop Tarts to the boys when they’ve visited us. The boys always ration them out, saving them for weekends and special days. But I now have a solution that keeps my boys happy, saves me money, and keeps the artificial stuff and preservatives out of their tummies!

I attempted homemade strawberry Pop Tarts yesterday. And while I still need to perfect the process, I am quite pleased with how the first batch turned out. Like the generic wannabes, they lack frosting. But unlike any of the boxed treats, they have nothing fake and I can feel a little better about them!

The boys each had one with their breakfast this morning. No mention of no frosting, only “wow, these taste like Pop Tarts!”

Thanks to the Smitten Kitchen – fantastic recipe that does not call for any ingredients that are unavailable in Norway!! You can find the recipe HERE.

Norwegian Food (norsk mat): Det sunneste man kan spise

I recently read an article on NRK.no about the five healthiest foods you can get in Norway. (here – Google Chrome should give you a translation option if you want to read it in English)Fifth place went to milk.

Fourth was blueberries.

In third, oatmeal.

Second place was mackerel in tomato sauce.

And first place? Carrots.

There were other foods on the list, but these were the five that the nutritionists seemed to agree on the most. All seem to be quite popular here. And you can typically find all five in our kitchen, as you can see from this picture taken today. I’ll write a bit about each of these in the coming weeks, including availability, how they are used and what we think of them.

Norwegian Food: The series

I’ve recently had people ask for more posts about food here. So over the next weeks I will be introducing you to some of the food. You’ll see that some things are quite different from American food, but others are very much the same.Mat
(noun) Food.

Used in a sentence
Jeg lager mat til middag.
(I’m making dinner.)

Related Words
måltid – meal
tilberede – to prepare (food)
oppskrift – recipe
smak – taste
frokost – breakfast
lunsj – lunch
middag – dinner
kveldsmat – a light evening meal

I dag feirer vi to år i Norge!

Two years ago today, we landed in Oslo. In some ways it is hard to believe it has already been two years. And in some ways it feels much longer.Norway is very much home to us, probably as much home as any place has felt like home. As I’ve mentioned before, the idea of home changes once you make a big move. But we feel settled here. When we travel and talk about being ready to get back home, it is Sandefjord we are speaking of.

We’ve had a really good day. Like last year, this year’s anniversary included langrenn/cross country skiing (minus me – I’ll have to wait until next year to get back on skis!). We also met with a couple of different groups that we are a part of here in Sandefjord. So it was lots of time with friends, and a good bit of time out in the winter weather. That was especially good for me, to be outside and getting a little fresh air.

We continue to be grateful for the opportunity to live and work here. It is not always easy, but that is true regardless of what your address is! So we continue to look for opportunities to learn and opportunities to grow, whether that be in language skills, cultural knowledge, relationships, and the work we are doing. We look forward to what this next year has in store here!