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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

10 Questions (& answers!) from the author of the blog "Lights, Cancer, Action!"

I've known Michele Orrson for many, many years.  We both started at the same employer at about the same time (although I think I have a year or two on her), and quite frankly she was always one of those really smart, really competent types that we all recognize at work.  She also writes a very interesting blog, "Lights, Cancer, Action!" that is one of my daily reads.  The blog is a fascinating collection of Michele's health-related thoughts, mainly centering on the benefits of eating a plant based diet, although she also opines on other topics as well.

Knowing Michele, I thought it might be interesting to pose a few questions to her about her blog, her causes and her life.  Needless to say, she was kind enough to actually respond to my request to play "10 Questions", the results of which are noted below*.


1) So you really don't eat bacon?  Really?  Come on, I mean bacon is almost a separate food group for many Americans.  
LOL. Really. I don’t eat bacon. While I enjoyed bacon when I was an omnivore, I really don’t get all the hype. Bacon is everywhere! (And I’ll never understand the whole bacon and chocolate combo…) I guess I’ve read too many articles about it to be remotely tempted by bacon. When you consider it is a) red meat, and b) processed with nitrates and other carcinogens, it’s an easy choice. Luckily, I found a recipe for shiitake mushroom bacon. I know you are probably thinking “ew”, but it’s really good and fills that bacon void.

2) As someone who advocates a plant-based diet, are there plants that you know are good for you but which you just can't stand the taste?  If so, what are they?  Note that the sole intent in asking this specific question is to make me feel just a little bit better about my own horrendous dietary habits.
I can’t do Brussel sprouts. I have bad childhood memories of Brussel sprouts and can’t even bring myself to buy them. My husband loves them and keeps asking me to make them, but I haven’t been able to do it. Maybe someday. I also don’t make asparagus (although I will eat it if served out) and am totally not on the whole kale band wagon. I’ll take spinach over kale any day.

3) Do you consume any dairy products?
I try really hard not to eat any dairy, but I am not 100%. If I’m out somewhere and want a coffee, I will use milk, and I do occasionally sprinkle a little cheese on my pasta or black bean tacos. But, in general, I try to avoid it as much as possible. That said, I wouldn’t deny myself an occasional ice cream over the summer, and of course, there’s pizza…

4) You often times write about the direct link between diet and cancer, which makes me wonder the following:  why is it that some folks can eat lots of meat, processed foods, etc. and never end up getting cancer?
It’s not any different than a smoker who never gets lung cancer. We know cigarettes cause lung cancer, but there are those who manage to get through without getting cancer. I am certainly no expert on this, but my understanding is that it has to do with genetics. My first husband’s oncologist, a brilliant mind, told us to think about it like “switches” in the body. If there are, for purposes of illustration, six switches that need to be set for a specific cancer, you might be born with five of them set already. Somewhere in your lifetime, something flips the last switch and “boom”, you have cancer. Someone else may be born with only one switch set, genetically speaking, and even if their behaviors flip on a few more switches, they never get all six set, and so never get cancer. It was an interesting analogy that always stuck with me.

5) You've seen quite a bit of personal hardship in your life, and yet I know you to be a very positive individual.  How do you maintain such a healthy outlook on life?
Thank you for saying so. I try. But hmm, that’s a tough question.

I think it is the very hardships I have had in my life that allow me to be positive. Like a lot of other people, I have known adversity in many forms, and so I find am grateful for the little things. Cancer and the death of loved ones can give you great perspective. I try not to get bogged down by stupid things, because I know in the grand scheme, they don’t matter. I pray frequently, I try to trust and forgive people, and I try to live each day as my last, because we all just never know. I’ve had a lot of strong people in my life, particularly my parents, who have showed me by example how to gracefully manage through adversity. I’m not always perfect (sort of like the dairy), and I have my bad days, but I try to reflect on all my many blessings and that usually pulls me out of it. I think that’s a long winded way of saying grace and gratitude are the keys.

6) Do you ever make meat-based meals for the other members of your family?  How does that make you feel?
In the beginning of my whole-food, plant-based journey, I did make two meals. My main course would be their side dish, and I learned what they liked that way. Gradually, I eliminated all meats (beef, pork, poultry) but still made fish about once a week. I recently even stopped making the fish as often and everyone seems to be adjusting just fine. However, when we go out to eat, there’s no controlling them! It’s all about burgers and ribs and fish… it feels a little hypocritical to allow it, especially for my son, but I don’t want to make them crazy either.

7)  You occasionally refer to the impact that religious faith has in your life.  Can you tell me a little about your spiritual journey?
I was raised in a fairly strict Catholic family. Church was always a big part of my life. I was even part of my church’s music ministry for about 35 years. (That always makes me feel old to say that!) Several years after my first husband died, I fell in love with David, who was divorced. As I was a widow, I was free to re-marry in the Catholic Church, but David was not. We did not agree with getting an annulment since he had been married for many years and had three children. I was told that I could continue to attend church, but I would no longer be allowed to participate in the sacraments. I felt somewhat kicked to the curb by a church I loved, but I made my decision and thought I could live with the consequences. David and I married in a Methodist church, and I continued to raise my son Catholic until he had received First Communion. During his preparation, there were some parent classes and I remember being at one that focused on forgiveness. I had a really difficult time reconciling that message, as I would never be “forgiven” for marrying a divorced man. And yet, priests and others were being forgiven daily for much more unforgivable acts (at least in my opinion). I was finding that church was no longer a place of solace for me, but rather elicited some rather negative feelings. I had a deep spiritual need that was unfulfilled, and so, along with a dear friend, I began looking for a new church. We found the most amazing church very shortly thereafter, a non-denominational church, and have been attending there for the last 5 years. I have learned so much about the Bible, about my faith. The weekly teachings are so applicable to my daily life--I often think they are talking just to me! And it is not unusual for me to be moved to tears by the music or the message. I think I have always been a faithful person, but I have found a much deeper spiritual connection to God. I guess everything does happen for a reason. Sorry for the long-winded answer!

8) Do you occasionally cheat on your plant-based diet?  If so, what's your favorite food to cheat with?
I guess it depends on if you’re measuring it against vegetarianism or veganism, the latter being much more stringent. So let’s go with vegetarianism, since I already confessed to not being 100% vegan yet. (And note: I do eat fish/seafood occasionally; particularly if I am eating out…I’m not counting that as cheating for purpose of this question.) So with all the disclaimers out of the way, I can honestly say, since I started my whole-food plant based journey, I have “cheated” exactly twice. The first time was last Easter, when I had one piece of kielbasa. The second time was when my husband and I went to Ruth Chris’ Steak House for dinner. Friends had given us a gift card and my husband, of course, ordered a steak. I have heard so many great things about their steaks that I had to try one bite. Yes, just one bite. And you know what? It didn’t do anything for me.

So with Easter fast approaching, I guess there’s a chance that I will have another piece of kielbasa, which may not seem like a food worth cheating for, but, hey, it’s tradition!

9) You're also a musician.  What your favorite "guilty pleasure" music?  This would be something you listen to that other musicians would be shocked and appalled by, if they only knew.
I think they would actually be appalled at how little music I listen to. I know you have written a lot about your introversion, and I’m much the same. I can fake it really well, but deep down, I am an introvert and I like to spend a lot of time in my head… in silence. There is so little time in my day that has room for silence, so when I find it, I take it. On the odd chance I am listening to music, it is usually some combination of: the Wicked Soundtrack, Sirius 70’s on 7, classical when I can find something I know well enough to air conduct, Christian rock, and everything Dan Fogelberg. (Dan is the only artist whose entire collection I own.)

10) What's worse, having to call the HELP desk or having to go down to HR?
Help Desk, hands down! I try every avenue of assistance before I have to call them. I love my friends in HR!

(*)  The responses provided are exactly has Michele provided, without any editing on my part.

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