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Stephanie Martinez: More Than a Village

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Sometimes life can throw a curve ball, and it’s usually when we least expect it. A self-described “healthy and active young woman,” Stephanie Martinez was a mother, daughter, friend and sister; never would she have guessed her life would take an unexpected turn that ultimately would add “breast cancer survivor” to her list of life roles.

Meet Stephanie Martinez
Born and raised in Hayward, California, Stephanie moved to the Lodi area in 2010 after being laid off from her job in Livermore. Her father had recently bought a house on some land in Lodi, so he invited his youngest daughter and her son to move onto the property. Stephanie soon landed a job as an administrative assistant for a family-owned general contractor business, Wright Process Systems, and things seemed to be sailing smoothly along. Her life was filled with love and laughter, and, like most 30-year-olds, she took her health for granted.

A Pivotal Moment
Everything changed one fateful morning in 2012 when Stephanie encountered a lump in her breast during a self-exam. Unsure what to do, she waited a day before confiding in her sister, Rainbow Lamunyon. “My sister and I are very close, so when I told her that I had found a lump in my breast, she immediately went into action mode,” Stephanie remembered. “Within days I was at the doctor’s office and I was told by my doctor that there was an 85-percent chance that there was no cause for concern. But within a week they were doing an ultrasound on my breast and on December 12 I also had a biopsy done. Six days later I was given the diagnosis of breast cancer. I was in shock. My sister was persistent, and she was able to get me into UCSF the day after Christmas. Within days we were going over my plan of treatment that included 16 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy and 25 rounds of radiation. I say ‘we’ because my family was by my side and supporting me every step of the way.”

It Takes a Village
As Stephanie’s breast cancer treatments and healing began, family, friends, coworkers and her employer rallied to help her stay positive, strong and focused on healing. “My sister, my dad, Rich, and mom, Tammy, would drive me to my appointments or go with me to them, and Grandma Judy would pick up my eight-year-old son from school and handle everything in between. My boss, Kristi, at Wright Process Systems, was very understanding when I needed time off for treatments. My co-worker, Barbara Allen, was not only an amazing friend, but she definitely picked up my slack at work and was always there to lend a listening ear. All of these people are still near and dear to my heart and a big part of my life years after my diagnosis. They say it takes a village sometimes, and I couldn’t agree more.”

During this challenging time, Stephanie’s sister, Rainbow, was her biggest cheerleader and the catalyst in her new path of healthy eating and living. They emptied Stephanie’s refrigerator, threw out everything that wasn’t natural or organic and started experimenting with juicing. “I was always an active person, but I made a point to walk every day during my treatment and recovery, even if it was just around the block at my workplace,” she recalled. “I knew I needed my body to be as strong and healthy as possible during this fight. The course of my treatment lasted over six months, but I am happy to say that, thanks to amazing doctors, my own will to live, the support of my loved ones and my newly defined way of wellness, I am still here today.”

A New Positive Chapter
The following years marked many positive milestones. Stephanie met the love of her life, Jason, and the couple was married in April 2016. December 18, 2017, will mark her five-year cancer-free milestone. The clean eating shift that she made in 2012 remains her chosen lifestyle to this day. “I still juice celery every day, use essential oils, am active, and as of this year, I am completely dairy and grain free,” Stephanie shared. “I have made a long-term, conscious decision on how I live my life so I can be as healthy as I can while remaining as strong as possible. This consists of a mindful shift to getting plenty of sleep, limiting alcohol, keeping stress at a minimum and even being aware of what I put on my skin. I’ve chosen to use only all-natural options when it comes to makeup and skincare, and I use natural remedies like apple cider vinegar as my skin toner. Another thing I believe in strongly is not putting my cellphone down my bra. There’s no scientific proof indicating that this habit will cause breast cancer, but my thought process is, why take a chance?”

What advice does Stephanie offer to those who want to live and experience a healthier lifestyle or who are navigating a cancer diagnosis themselves? “I want to encourage others to just take care of the body they are in. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth and what you put on your skin. Read labels and never stop learning about nutritional health. And always surround yourself with those who care the most about you. Support and love can get anyone through the toughest of times.”

Emphasizing her passion for nutrition and healing, Stephanie believes strongly in sharing her post-chemo wisdom with others and learning from health and nutrition-minded people such as Dr. Amy Bader, who practices naturopathic medicine in Lodi, California, and Vancouver, Washington. Dr. Bader is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon.

Thriving After Cancer
Dr. Bader shared advice from her practice and experience as a professor at the National University of Natural Medicine. “Oncology treatments are definitely not for wimps. If you have been through it, you know,” she emphasized. “Enduring the myriad therapies and symptoms that accompany cancer protocols takes boundless courage and strength. However, when treatment’s done, it’s not really over. Mental and physical fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, “chemobrain,” hair and nail loss, lymphedema and peripheral neuropathy can linger. What can you do to speed healing, boost your immune system, soothe your soul, and restore vitality? Here is my perspective as a naturopathic doctor on what is most important.”

Eat Real Food
When it comes to repairing your body after chemotherapy and radiation, food is the best medicine. With that said, figuring out what to eat can be very confusing. One visit to Dr. Google can leave you swirling with a multitude of options. Vegan. Vegetarian. Paleo. Mediterranean. How do you choose? It boils down to this: eat organic, fiber-filled, nutrient-rich whole foods that you mostly cook at home.

Start Your Day Off Right  
The first thing you eat will set the tone for the rest of the day. Try a smoothie made with 12 ounces of filtered water, a handful of organic parsley, another handful of organic blueberries or raspberries, and a little chunk of fresh ginger. Grind it all up in a blender and chug-a-lug. Follow it with a healthy breakfast.

Divide (Your Plate) and Conquer
Two-thirds of your plate should be covered with vegetables and a little bit of fruit. That’s right. Two-thirds. Over the course of a day, make an effort to eat organic fruits and vegetables of every color: green, yellow, orange, red and purple. Not only does this make for Instagrammable pictures of your meal (very pretty, indeed), but it will also supply an array of restorative and protective antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. The last third of your plate should also pack a punch of nutrition. Protein from fish, grass-fed, pasture-raised meats, poultry and eggs can help you gain muscle mass. Gluten-free whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds provide minerals. Don’t forget healthy fats to reduce inflammation. Olive oil and avocados are your best bets. Spice things up with turmeric, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, all of which have health benefits. For dessert, enjoy some dark chocolate. It’s loaded with antioxidants and it’s low in sugar.

Please Don’t Shoot the Messenger
Here is a list of common foods and ingredients that tend to wreak havoc and cause inflammation. Avoid them whenever possible: White or whole-grain refined flours; sugar of any kind, including cane sugar, maple syrup and coconut sugar; artificial sweeteners; fried foods; cured meats; processed foods, such as “foodstuffs” with labels that read like shampoo bottles; alcohol. And, while you’re at it, it’s probably a good idea to minimize caffeine.

What’s Best to Drink?
That’s an easy answer. Water and tea. The guideline for the amount of water you should consume daily is half your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you would drink 100 ounces a day. In addition to water, teas have medicinal properties and can nourish your body with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals. One of the most important teas to include in your daily routine is green tea. Research has shown its many health benefits, including reduced risk of cancer. Other favorite teas include white tea, ginger, chamomile and hibiscus. Hibiscus tea can be especially beneficial for growing hair after chemotherapy. Choose organic teas whenever possible.

Stick to the Basics
People who have been through a cancer diagnosis and treatment protocol often want to do everything they can to prevent a recurrence. It is tempting to consult Dr. Google in this situation, but the information you gather online can be both overwhelming and inaccurate. Remember the old saying, less is more? This is often the case with nutritional supplements. The focus should be on eating nutritious food and supplementing with a few fundamental products that primarily, are safe and, secondarily, support the different systems of your body as you heal.

The building blocks of our bodies are made from a protein called collagen. As a supplement, collagen peptides, touted as the newest superfood, can help your body rebuild itself after a barrage of oncology treatments. It is especially beneficial if you had surgery or experienced hair and nail loss. Look for a brand of collagen peptides, also known as collagen hydolysate, that is independently tested for pesticides, herbicides and hormones. The recommended dose according to research is 2,500mg to 5,000mg daily. Collagen peptides are flavorless and dissolve in tea, water or soup.

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help restore gut and immune health. This is especially true after chemotherapy or radiation. Do not skimp on quality and follow the recommended dose on the packaging.

Vitamin D3 is extremely important for your immune system. Most of us do not get enough, even in sunny places. Have your doctor test your blood levels to make sure you have enough, and if not, talk to him or her about supplementing it.

Find Peace
Anxiety and depression are common in the aftermath of cancer. Any little pain, twinge, or ache can make your mind spin with worry. Addressing the fear is certainly easier said than done, but there are some techniques that may help. Meditate. Write in a gratitude journal. Get counseling. Choose something that resonates and brings you peace. Make it part of your daily routine.

Combat anxiety and depression with exercise. Not only does movement stimulate the chemicals in your brain that emotionally soothe you, it also boosts your immune system, enhances sleep, balances hormones, and aids in detoxification and elimination. The best benefit of all? Research has shown walking two miles a day is associated with reduced risk for all types of cancer.

Lastly, have fun! Live life to the fullest. Do things you enjoy. Honor yourself by saying “No” to things that don’t serve you. Pride yourself on resilience. Finally, one of the most important things you can do is to connect in a meaningful way with the people you love–every day. ■

Written by: Rebecca Flansburg and Dr. Amy Bader