September is PCOS Awareness Month, and I am 1 in 10

September is PCOS awareness month! You all have seen me write about PCOS before: Long story short, a dear bloggy friend of mine told me I needed to be checked for it after she heard about some of my ailments, I finally got checked, and I was a classic case. PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, it affects 1 in 10 women worldwide, and is the most common endocrine disorder in women. Although PCOS has ovaries in its namesake, PCOS is largely a hormonal issue, and as all you all know, hormones are microscopic things that make a huge deal in how your body runs and functions.

I had heard about PCOS in passing, but never heard enough about it to consider it would be a large reason for the many health challenges I was encountering. Since high school, I’ve lost handfuls of hair every time I shower, and sure enough, visited a doctor about it twice. It was chalked up to stress and I was on my way. (I still lose a lot of hair, but have now just accepted it as I still have plenty, thankfully.) I also visited the doctor at least twice a year with complaints of impossible weight loss, and several times, I was told to just work harder, no doubt the doctor assuming that my tales of healthy eating and exercise were just lies (and twice, I was prescribed prescription weight loss pills, which I did not choose to take). I also had telltale signs of insulin resistance; feeling panicky and shaky if I didn’t regularly eat, having severe headaches when I didn’t eat enough carby stuff, and sometimes got panic attacks that felt like surges of electricity running through my body. The menstrual side effects were mostly masked for me as I had been on birth control for many years to control difficult cycles (also a large indicator of PCOS). What makes me angry about all of these signs is that they had all been presented to doctors over the years who never thought to piece them together, because as my endocrinologist finally pointed out, I’m a classic case and likely have been for years.  Click here to go read more of the symptoms. I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced all of these, but there are also some weird PCOS symptoms that are not included on this list that I’ve experienced like mental fogginess, “carb coma”, chin acne only (a hormonal spot), and super sensitive skin. (What makes this syndrome even trickier to diagnose? Many people have completely different symptoms — for example, while 50% of women with PCOS are obese, some are not overweight at all. Some women with PCOS also don’t even have cystic ovaries, yet their hormones match the profile of being PCOS-consistent. Confusing, right?!)

How did my PCOS get discovered, then? In 2012, I had had enough with the BS of trying to lose weight. I’d been blogging on the DCD for three years, and had started a 3x weekly morning boot camp. I was busting my ass in hopes of dropping some weight for one of my bucket list trips to Thailand. Instead, I gained weight. About six months prior, I had stopped taking my birth control and allergy medication in hopes that maybe some of my earlier weight gain was from medication. Without the assistance of hormones (birth control is a common treatment for PCOS), my symptoms intensified, and I demanded my general care doctor do an ultrasound of my ovaries. Sure enough, the scan and blood work revealed several small cysts, in addition to high androgen levels, both tell tale signs of PCOS. Since my diagnosis about a year and a half ago, I’ve lost 22 pounds, largely thanks to the great care I’m receiving from my endocrinologist, who placed me on 1,000 mg of Metformin, a Diabetes drug that can help control insulin and imbalanced hormones. He also does regular blood work, and we did some adjusting to my thyroid, which likes to go back and forth between normal and too low. In the past two months, all of my liver and thyroid levels have become balanced, which means my skin has cleared up, I have more energy, and I’m slowly but surely losing weight when I make very dedicated efforts. This was impossible before my diagnosis and treatment, and while I will have to have my blood work monitored every 3-5 months to adjust medications, for the first time in awhile, I have hope when it comes to losing weight. There is no cure for PCOS, but with weight loss and medication, many of the symptoms can be reduced.

So why am I writing about all of these very personal things on a very public blog? Because we all have a right to know what’s going on with our body. If this is the most common endocrine disorder in women, and I had all the symptoms for over TEN YEARS and was never told about it until a fellow ‘cyster’ suggested I get checked, I want more people to know about it. Sure, PCOS is a “tame” problem to have, in comparison to other medical concerns. But PCOS can be the launching pad for many other debilitating illnesses: ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and severe anxiety and depression. If just one woman goes to the doctor because she has any of the following symptoms, this blog has done its job. When you have an invisible illness, which means one that can’t usually be physically seen, like PCOS, Crohn’s disease (which my best friend suffers from, or Lupus (another dear friend of mine suffers from this), uneducated people sometimes minimize its effects. I’ve even had people remark that I should stop using PCOS as an excuse for not losing weight. This is not only inaccurate, it’s insensitive and hurtful when you’re experiencing the very real complications of said “fake illness”. I can lose weight with PCOS, just as I can live a healthy and happy life. However, the key to this is treatment, and that treatment couldn’t have been discovered had it not been for one friend courageously telling me to go get checked. Like any other medical symptom, if you genuinely feel that something isn’t right, you need to look into it, and if nobody listens, keep going until you find someone willing to fully investigate what’s going on. You are worth the hassle. You are worth the time. You are worth the knowledge — because you might be 1 in 10.

I wear teal for me.

I wear teal for me.

Alyssa’s 3-Day Fundraising: THANK YOU!!!

Hello you guys! I am back from my awesome tour of the U.S. for work, and the past two months I’ve been lucky enough to see the Michigan 3-Day, the Twin Cities 3-Day, the Philadelphia 3-Day, and lastly, the Seattle 3-Day. I had a great time meeting all kinds of participants and being able to tell their stories, and also, learning some training tips for myself. After Philadelphia, Matt and I went to NYC (my first time!), and while I was there, I was shocked to learn I had gotten more donations and was only $71 away from my goal of $2,300. I posted on Facebook, and the next morning, I had surpassed $2,400. Now, a week later, thanks to the generosity of family and friends, I have now reached $2,721! THANK YOU SO MUCH. I am humbled and so grateful for all of your help and support. Your donations make a huge impact, and I know that money will be helping to save somebody’s life.

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One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to eat like the locals do. Above, I’m at Pat’s Steaks, which is a famous Philly Cheese Steak eatery right across the street from Geno’s. The two restaurants have a friendly competition going, and it was fun to compare the line lengths every few minutes. I’m the weirdo that always loves to go in local grocery stores and compare the goods. I can’t wait to share more details about my NY trip with you, because it included a New York Food Tour! I definitely indulged more than I probably should have the last few weeks, but I was also walking mass amounts and pulling some long hours, so I’m hoping it all “weighs out” in the end.

Walkers

If you’re interested in making a donation to help fight breast cancer, please support April or Monique, who are both a little over their halfway marks. You can donate to both of them by clicking here. Now that I’ve seen the 3-Day, I can honestly say that it has given me a new appreciation for every minute I have to live on this Earth. The stories of loss are heartbreaking, and having recently just experienced the passing of my mother-in-law, I know the hurt that comes from losing a loved one too soon. However, these painful stories are parallelled by an unwavering sense of HOPE, of dedication, of commitment, of endurance, and above all, of positivity — in knowing that together, we can all work to find a cure. This is why this November I will walk. I walk for my mother-in-law, the stranger in the grocery store with a scarf tied around her head, my neighbor, and for YOU. I walk because we don’t have the luxury of knowing who cancer will choose next. I walk because I believe in the power of positivity. I walk because my health is a gift I can’t take for granted.

I walk because everyone deserves a lifetime.

Every3Minutes

 

 

Burning Man: Helping April get over her fears yet again.

Hello again, readers!

I apologize for my silence over the past two weeks but I have been busy preparing, attending, and recovering from Burning Man. I ended up staying just a few days at the monumental event of around 70,000 people, however, I came home with a bunch of stories and an even more magical embrace of my body image than I had shown up with. Last time I wrote here on the blog, I told my story about my first experience at Burning Man and how dropping my top helped me get over a lot of my self-shame about my body size.

This time at Burning Man, I tested myself even further. I had longed to separate the sexuality aspect away from the ability to just be comfortable in my own skin with no constrictions. My brother Tommy was going to be joining me for this adventure and, you may remember me saying, I was hesitant about getting fully topless in front of him. It just didn’t seem like something I could do. The general American view of women being bare-chested around other people in a non-sexual situation is just not accepted.  Women can barely whip out a boob in a private corner to breast feed her baby without someone gawking at her or making a rude comment about how she needs to “cover up.” As my time progressed on and the desert heat continued to beat down on me like Animal on a set of drums, I started to make small steps in finding my true level of comfort around a sea of strangers. I suggested to Tommy on the second night, “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you just walk about thirty feet in front of me? That way, you won’t see my boobs.” My brother would laugh and walk on as I fell behind to embrace nothingness upon my skin.

On Day 3, our final day there, I decided to just go for it. I had left to go to port-o-potty land and while walking, I decided to take off my uncomfortably itchy bikini top. Instantly, my body temperature dropped and I felt much better. Once back at our truck, my neighbors offered me some coffee and as I went over to talk to them, I covered up my chest and commented how I didn’t want my brother to see as he was a couple hundred feet away taking down our tent set-up. My neighbors, two lovely people from Montana named John and Sherri,  laughed at me and began what became a few hours of amazing conversation and insight on how to live life. They broke down for me so simply how silly I was being and that if I wanted to do something, I should just do it, and surely my brother would get over it. I also remarked how eventually my brother will probably see a kid attached to one of my boobs so I might as well get it over with now.

After talking to these Burning Man angels of wisdom, I decided to approach Tommy. I went up to him all confident and stated my claim, that I wasn’t going to be afraid today to just let it all hang out. As the amazing brother he is, he said something that gives me happy tears as I write this. He said, “April, I’m pretty sure the only one who cares about me seeing your boobs is you.” I instantly felt a million times more confident and for the rest of the afternoon, I paraded around not only topless but just in a bikini bottom and my hand-sewn white hooded cape. I even got noticeably checked-out so that made me feel great too until they would notice Tommy and IMMEDIATELY turn away.

Words of advice: If you don’t want any attention from the opposite sex at a large social event:  make sure you go with your sibling – everyone will think you’re married. This concept also works with friends as well.

Once I got home my ability to just be comfortable with my body didn’t leave. That night, as I laid in bed with Alyssa (who was in town hosting our honorary sister Katelyn’s bridal/bachelorette parties), I didn’t even pay attention to the fact that I was sans-shirt and totally talking to both girls with no shame at all. I didn’t even give it a thought until Alyssa  commented on the noticeable difference I was showing as she knows first hand my insecurity about my chest. Now that it’s been a week since I got home, I haven’t exactly been running around topless in the house, but I don’t seem to be as self-conscious about bits of skin showing. If my shirt accidentally comes up a bit and my love-handles show, I’m not so aggressive when it comes to getting my shirt pulled back down immediately. I went to the doctor the other day and as I sat there in my luxury giant drape of medical paper-towel, my bare ass totally exposed for the doctor to see, I quickly shushed my inner thoughts of body shame and had an epiphany. I realized, if anything, getting to see my lower parts was probably like visiting a princess’s palace in comparison to the hundred’s of different bodies she sees in a year. I may be overweight but I bet she would rather see my bare ass than that of a 85 year old man. So I got over it and left the doctor feeling proud of myself for putting myself in check so quickly.

How are all of you when it comes to nudity in a non-sexualized way? If you’ve breast fed, have you ever had feelings of insecurity about doing it in a public place? Have you been one of the women that has been ridiculed by an unpleasant human uncomfortable with the milk of life? Would you be able to be topless around your siblings?

Let me know, I would love to hear about the way other people view this topic!

Have a wonderful Thursday everyone and thanks for reading!

Love and bare chests for all,

AprilSignatur

 

 

 

 

PS – Here are a bunch of photos from Burning Man for your viewing pleasure <3

 

Two men – both impressive in their own ways – Random stranger, I’m sorry I didn’t get your permission to take this photo but you definitely add to the artistic integrity of this photo.

 

The Temple – A place where people can honor those who have passed on as well as a place to leave behind anything you are ready to release from

 

Our tent battling the wind. This is a wonderful place called “walk-in” camping… a chance to camp with a bit of peace – NOT quiet – sound travels way too far in the desert.

 

Tommy during one of the many quick dust storms.

Art shark.

Art shark.

This is me being VERY brave posting this online. The internet has never seen my stomach before but oh well, this will be a great picture to use as a "before" shot for my future weight loss success!

This is me being VERY brave posting this online. The internet has never seen my stomach before but oh well, this will be a great picture to use as a “before” shot for my future weight loss success!

My favorite art car – CHARLIE THE UNICORN! Click the picture to see the internet video this was inspired from.

 

My brother Tommy and I about fifty feet up on a giant climbing structure!

My brother Tommy and I about fifty feet up on a giant climbing structure!

A sweet art car in the desert.

A sweet art car in the desert.

Bone tree.

Bone tree.

 

And finally, that gorgeous Nevada sky.

 

10 Miles Training for the 3-Day — This is where it hurts!

Hello!

I’m currently lying in my bed, aching and sunburnt with all sorts of crazy stripes thanks to my roll-on sunscreen, but this is a good thing because today I accomplished a major goal in my 3-Day training — I walked 10 miles! My husband and I had planned on taking a weekend constitutional, but I was thinking maybe an easy five or six miles. We decided to walk from the Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach, which the interwebz said was about 4.4 miles round trip. Perfect! Our friend Jason came along, and we ended up parking about a mile north of the pier. Somehow, with all of our weaving in and out of little trinket shops and stopping at Muscle Beach, we ended up closing in on about 8.2 miles. Jason and Matt encouraged me to seal the deal.. so we kept going to mile 10, even though my legs were screaming at me to stop.

Now that I have a few long distance walks under my belt, I’m learning a few important things.

1) Thou shalt wear thy compression socks at all times. Today I didn’t, and my dogs are BARKING. In fact, I even took this photo for you at about mile 6 to show you that compression sockless walks are not the business. I have one pair of compression socks, but it’s time to expand my compression sock wardrobe and get another pair, because the difference in foot pain is staggering. Any recommendations on brand?

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2) Thou shalt stretch more and more often. When we were ‘fake done’ at mile 8.2, I took a few minutes to really stretch, and it felt soooo good. It might even be time to get into foam rolling. I need to make time to stretch more often, maybe every three miles or so, if not more frequently. Do my runners/walkers have any thoughts on stretching? I know you do.

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3) Thou shalt continue hydrating. We have a phrase on the 3-Day that is “Drink, Pee, No I.V.” meaning, if you hydrate, you have a good chance of staying away from the medics. This is important for many reasons, and a lesson I learned again today while doing my 10 miles in the 85 degree heat. I stopped at one point to get a Gatorade and was so glad I did. Your body really does need those electrolytes and salts.

4) Thou shalt reapply sunscreen. I use an SPF 70 roll-on sunscreen from Neutrogena. I didn’t do a very nice job applying it today, because I have some pretty wild tiger stripe burns (See above). Also, if you sweat like you’re in a sauna, you probably need to reapply. Lesson learned.

5) Thou shalt push thyself a little bit harder. I was done, like really done, at mile 7. My foot was cramping, there was a stabbing pain all around the edge of the arch of my foot, and I was hot, ornery, and getting grouchy. I kept going because being hot, ornery, and grouchy is better than having cancer. (Obviously, I’m no doctor — if you’re in pain and you don’t think you can keep going, don’t! I just powered through because I knew I could.) My word for 2014 was perspective. If there’s one thing I can thank 2014 for, it’s a huge dose of perspective. My “hard” at that moment was nowhere near the “hard” someone who is sick has to deal with on a daily basis. I can power through it. And I did, with the encouraging praise from my husband and Jason.

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I’m so excited to be getting this far in my journey; and now the hard part is thinking “Um, I have to do that TWICE in one day? Three days in a ROW?!” However — I know that a huge part of my success with the 3-Day is one I’m so close to finishing — getting $2,300 in funds donated to help fund cancer-fighting research. Today I crossed the $2,000 mark, which means I have only $300 to go. If you’d like to support me on my journey, or April or Monique on hers, please click the links in this sentence. Every step of the way, every sunburn, every foot ache, we’re making a difference. <3

How do I love Avocados? Let me count the ways.

So even though it’s September, I still haven’t come down off of the epic high that was winning the California Avocado Commission Cutting Edge Culinary Contest! I wanted to share with you guys what I’ve been up to with all of my awesome prizes. For three months, I get a monthly shipment of ripe California avocados. The first month I didn’t plan well, and ended up giving away many avocados, which made for many happy neighbors and friends. However, I did have this recipe set aside from Yoga magazine that has just five ingredients: avocado, cocoa, honey, coconut milk, and vanilla. I was amazed at how delicious these little fudgsicles were — you’d never guess that avocado was a primary ingredient, and they were so rich and clean tasting.

Coconut Avocado Honey Fudgsicle Recipe Yoga Magazine

Alyssa’s take on Avocado Fudgsicles

I’ve also fulfilled my life’s quota of avocado toast, but that’s not really true because I could probably eat avocado toast every day for the next year and still want more. There’s nothing like some toasted sourdough with mashed avocado, sea salt, and pepper, and if you’re feeling really fancy, you’ll top it with a fried egg. Isn’t this droolworthy?(Newsflash: I’ve only just now gotten into “Dippy eggs”. I used to be one of those people that thought you’d get sick if you ate a runny egg yolk. It’s not true…at least not so far, anyways!)

Avocadowitheggyolk

Now that I’ve either made you hungry or grossed you out, let’s talk about prizes! My beautiful new white Kitchenaid is enjoying its new home in my kitchen and has been used several times already, to make a gluten-free cake, brownies, and a marinara sauce. I also scored a Williams Sonoma giftcard, and with that, I made several purchases, including:

StuffAlyssaLikes_DoubleChinDiary

Nordic Ware Honeycomb Pull-Apart Dessert Pan – There’s no reason I got this other than the fact that I love bees, and I wanted it (it was on sale, too!). I’ve also kinda always wanted a NordicWare pan because I’ve heard you could try and blast them to smithareens and barely make a dent… and it’s true. This thing fell on my kitchen floor the other day and it looks great… the tile it fell on, however? Not so great. Goodbye, rental deposit. Hello cute novelty cakes.

KitchenAid 5-Quart Glass Bowl with Lid – My fellow avocado queen Kelly suggested this to me and I’m so glad she did. I’ll often times bake something and have leftovers that I don’t really want to swap out into a different container. The lid is great and it’s way prettier for photographing!

Top Shelf Living – Slate Cheese Board – 10″ X 14″- I’ve been having a wild love affair with cheese the last year, and having a slate cheese board makes me feel all “Oooh, you fancy.” This one came with chalk so I can write the name of said cheeses, which will usually be, “Brie, Gouda, Cotswold, Cheddar.” The end. (And there’s something about how slate keeps cheese at their natural temperatures yadda yadda but I just think it looks cool.)

The Spice Lab Cyprus Citron Lemon Flake Sea Salt, Island of Cyprus 2 oz. – Impulse buy! I’d never seen lemon sea salt, so in the basket it went. I just had this on top of a tomato slice fresh from the garden, and holy heck, was it yummy.

Chef’n Stem Gem Strawberry Huller - Totally worth $7 and adorable. I hate cutting strawberry tops, and on the occasion that I want a strawberry without the flat top, I have this handy tool. Also can be used for tomatoes.

Chef’n Buttercup Butter Maker – Another impulse buy. Everything is better with butter, and I fantasized about making my own butter with honey or herbs. Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to use this yet but I’ll give you the full report when I do.

So there you have it! That’s how I spent some of my giftcard from the lovely people at California Avocado Commission. I still have some funds left that I may put towards another Le Creuset item, but we shall see. I’m not being compensated to talk about any of these products, I just wanted to update you on a day in the life of an Alyssa spending spree. These links are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on them I might make 4 cents, but that’s all. What would you buy with $150 for kitchen stuff? Also, am I missing out on any amazing avocado recipes? Do tell!

 

Alyssa Got Her Groove Back

Heeeey! *Dusts off a few spider webs, then sits down next to you*

How’s it going? I know I’ve been gone for awhile, but I’m back! I’ve been super busy the past few weeks traveling around the country for work, helping kick cancer’s butt with the 3-Day. I’m lucky that I find the work I do immensely fulfilling, and I spent many long weekends hearing and telling people’s stories. Love, love, love it!

Being on the road when you’re in a perpetual state of trying to lose weight can be challenging. In addition to working long hours, there’s the fact that you have a per diem, and sometimes, the only food around you in the area in which you’re traveling is fast food like Popeyes. (And I’m not going to lie – I do find a buttery Popeyes biscuit quite delicious.) While I was in Michigan and Minnesota for work, I tried to just tell myself that I could make an unhealthy decision if there didn’t seem to be any other options, but that I needed to make up for it with exercise. And exercise, I did! My job while out on the road is very active: as I’m documenting people doing the 60-mile walk, I also get a fair amount of walking in. At one point, I walked 11.25 miles in one day! I tried to stay away from too many of the delicious snacky items like potato chips, and tried to nom on fruit whenever possible.

Happily, my efforts weren’t in vain, because when I got back from my last trip, I had an endocrinology appointment to see how everything was going. I hadn’t weighed since a month prior, and I’m happy to report I’m down another six pounds! This is roughly 22 – 25 pounds since the beginning of this year, and while it’s slow progress (sometimes only two pounds lost per month), this is PROGRESS. As I’ve written about before, weight loss is challenging as is, and then add a double dose of PCOS and thryoid crap, and you’ve got a perfect storm for frustration after lots of good effort. However, I’ll take it. I feel like I’m finally in a groove again with weight loss, realizing that if something doesn’t taste worth it, I don’t need to eat it, AND, that if I stick to my PCOS medication regularly, that will help keep me on track. I sometimes avoid it because it makes me nauseous, but I’m starting to see that it’s an important ally for me in the weight loss war.

I’ll be taking some new progress pictures hopefully sometime this week, but when the nurse at the doc’s office told me my weight, I had a sudden burst of victorious glee. I know that I still have a long, long, long way to go, but every day and every choice that I make can help put me just one tiny step closer to the person and place I want to be :)