After taking some (okay a lot) of time off from my blog, I’m back! I find it difficult to believe that it has been nearly a year since I last published a post on here, and yet, it has been. My, how time flies! I am going to attempt to give a quick recap of what I’ve been up to since I last connected with you on here, as so much has happened and changed!
Last fall, 2016, I finished my Master of Science degree in Psychology at Western University. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, and after poking around in different areas of interest I stumbled onto the field of psychosocial oncology (PSO). Essentially, PSO addresses the psychological, social, and emotional aspects of cancer throughout the continuum from diagnosis, to treatment, and so on. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this field before!
I quickly dove in and immersed myself in the literature, getting involved with key organizations such as the Canadian Association for Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO). After learning of an upcoming CAPO conference in Vancouver in May 2017, I decided to register and go! This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It was at the CAPO conference that I met Dr. Fiona Schulte, a brilliant researcher and clinical psychologist at the University of Calgary who specializes in pediatric and adolescent and young adult (AYA) PSO. After chatting more we found that our research interests aligned closely and that we would make an extraordinary team with her as my supervisor. In June 2017 I applied to the doctoral (PhD.) program in Medical Science at the University of Calgary. By July 2017 I was driving half-way across Canada with my Calvin (my kitty) and my life packed into my car, headed for Calgary and ready to start a new and exciting adventure in Calgary!
And so, in an almost surreal way, it seems I have come full circle. First a cancer patient, then a survivor navigating my own cancer journey, and now a psychosocial oncology researcher. It has been over a decade since my diagnosis, treatment, and the challenges that followed. I feel a sense of pride for overcoming many obstacles, and gratitude for having had the opportunity to do so. But, I am acutely aware of the need to continue to grow and to achieve my goals!
For many years I wondered why I had survived cancer and what my purpose in life was; now I understand. I firmly believe that the reason I survived and endured such challenges was to prepare me for the opportunity to help others through the cancer journey. So here I am, living in Calgary, Canada, and completing my PhD. in psychosocial oncology at the Cumming School of Medicine. The focus of my research is on AYA cancer patients and survivors, as this group is often under-represented within research and also one with whom I am intimately familiar, being an AYA cancer survivor myself.
Aside from my new and exciting academic adventures, I have also taken up pole fitness. Last fall, 2016, I was looking for a fun and challenging form of fitness, as I am not particularly fond of the gym. One of my dearest friends had been doing pole fitness (or “pole” as we say) for the past two years and encouraged me to try. I almost quit twice!
Pole fitness requires strength, flexibility, endurance, and grace, and when it came to strength, my struggle was real! But I stuck with it, attending several classes a week, and within a few months I started to notice some serious improvements in my strength. Not only that, I found that pole fitness was helping me to address and overcome some longstanding issues I have had with body-image and self-esteem, related to late-effects of my cancer treatments (e.g. my permanent tracheotomy).
I quickly became passionate about the sport, and I feel that it has had such a tremendously positive impact on my life! I am so passionate about it, in fact, that I am hoping to develop a pole fitness based program specifically for AYA cancer survivors, and to share this amazing sport and experience with others.
Finally, this past summer I visited Whistler, B.C. with my mom, sister, and aunt. It was a wonderful trip and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend more time with them before starting school in September. I have never lived far from home until now, and moving to Calgary really pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and to embrace chance. Was it intimidating? Heck ya! But it has also been so worth it and I am so incredibly grateful for this new journey I’ve embarked on, the amazing people I have met over the past year, and the exciting opportunities to come!
I am going to stop here, as I’ve already written far longer a post than I had intended to. But I hope that you have enjoyed this update and I truly appreciate you joining me through my blog on this adventure of mine!
Stay tuned for a Thanksgiving themed recipe post, coming soon!
Wow, summer certainly did go by fast! It was a whirlwind for me, with big adventures and tons of exciting changes and amazing new opportunities. These last few weeks have been consumed with finishing up writing my Masters thesis so that I can soon complete my degree. I’ve been itching to write this blog post because I’ll be discussing something that I feel is so important to talk about. However, I think that perhaps a part of me also wasn’t quite ready to write this yet, as I was still reflecting on the events of this summer. So, what have I been up to and what’s prompted me to write a post about expanding one’s comfort zones?
I look back to three years ago and I would have been afraid to drive a mere two hours on my own to go to Toronto. It’s not a difficult drive, nor am I a new or inexperience driver. However, taking such a journey on my own was outside of my comfort zone. The thought of making that drive alone seemed quite intimidating. It wasn’t until I did it that I realized, it really wasn’t so scary after all. Voila! In making the drive alone I had unknowingly expanded my comfort zone just a bit.
Fast forward to last September, 2015, and I find myself boarding a plane all alone to go out to British Columbia to visit friends. This was the trip that really pushed the limits of my comfort zone. It was spontaneous and exciting! I’d never really traveled alone and the though of doing so was intimidating. So many “what if’s” ran through my mind; a dozen reasons not to go. But I felt it was something I had to do and even though I was afraid to, I was determined that despite feeling the fear, I’d do this anyways. And in those moments, my comfort zone was again expanded as I set off to travel in BC.
Fast forward again to this summer, July 2016. I’m once again getting on a plane alone, this time from Toronto Pearson International Airport, heading off for Europe. My biggest solo adventure yet! As this would be my first solo trip to another continent, I opted to go with a tour group so that I could get a feel for solo travel. It was a whirlwind of a trip! In fifteen days we visited several countries, big cities, and cute little towns. I saw and experienced incredible sights and moments, and met some of the most wonderful, beautiful people.
We started in London, England, and from there went to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Amsterdam was beautiful and charming, with it’s pretty canals and plenty of fun night life. The next day before we left I wandered around the city, stopping in several cheese shops along the way, taking it all in.
From there we went to Germany, and what a beautiful country it is! Stunning scenery and friendly people. Our first stop was the little town of St. Goar on the Rhine River, where I saw the worlds largest free hanging cuckoo clock. The town was was so quaint, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d traveled back in time as I walked along it’s old streets and colourful buildings.
The next day we visited Munich, which is a wonderful city with beautiful old streets and buildings. That evening we visited a traditional beer hall, taking in the sights, sounds, and lively atmosphere. I am not a beer drinker, however on this occasion I did enjoy a ‘rattler’ at Hofbrauhaus. I will certainly be returning to Munich in the coming years, next time for Oktoberfest!
Austria was our next stop. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much from Austria as I didn’t know all that much about it. However, this turned out to be one of my most favourite stops along our way. The countryside was incredibly gorgeous, with mountains and rivers and green fields. As a nature lover, these are the sorts of features of a place that I am often drawn to. We made a few stops along the way, one of which was in the Austrian Tyrol mountain range. Most of the group was going for a white water rafting excursion, however given my health limitation with respect to water, I sat that particular event out. Instead, I decided to go for a hike on my own and found a path leading up to the base of a mountain. I found a quiet, private spot and decided to do a bit of yoga, as I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice yoga in days and being a daily yogi, I was starting to miss it. The experience was such a memorable and beautiful one for me. Alone with nature and at the base of a mountain in Austria, doing yoga. It felt surreal really, that I was here in this place and on my own, feeling perfectly comfortable and content alone with myself.
I had started to learn from my trip to BC that by traveling alone and challenging my fears and hesitations, I was subtly expanding my comfort zone with each experience and moment. And so, as I practiced yoga in the Austrian mountain range surrounded by beautiful scenery and nature, I felt the most tremendous gratitude for this opportunity to travel alone, for this perfect moment, and for the personal growth I was experiencing on my journey.
From Austria we made our way into Italy. The landscape was different but equally beautiful in its uniqueness, as the places before had been. Our first stop was Venice. With its narrow streets, tall buildings, bridges, and waterways, there was no shortage of beautiful things to see. While wandering through the streets I again felt as though I’d been transported back in time.
The weather was hot and I enjoyed delicious pistachio gelato in St. Mark’s square. Sometimes I felt as though I was in a dream, that I couldn’t really be here in such a remarkable place. And yet, here I was. So many times during my trip I had little “pinch me” moments like this, where I had to remind myself that my experiences were genuine and that through them I was evolving into another person, expanding my comfort zone little by little.
The next stop was Rome, and boy was it hot! Walking around the city center and seeing the ancient buildings and ruins was such a surreal experience. I’m a bit of a history fan and have always had a deep interest in ancient civilizations. There’s something fascinating and authentic about the way people once lived and interacted with their surrounding that draws me in. Perhaps it’s because I feel there’s so much one can learn from examining history, both the good and the bad aspects of it.
We spent two days in Rome, touring the city, eating more gelato, and visited the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and the Colosseum, among others. It was an incredible experience to walk through structures that had been constructed centuries ago, and to learn more about the city and culture.
From Rome we traveled to Florence, my favourite of our three Italian destinations. It really is a beautiful city full of history, beautiful architecture, and lovely people. Ahh, and let us not forget… more gelato! We did a walking tour in the city that day and visited well known historical sites. The atmosphere of Florence was what really completed the experience for me though, between the laid back vibe, fantastic food, and the stunning buildings, it’s definitely on my list of places to return to.
Given my love of nature (and cheese and chocolate!), I was quite excited to leave the hot city scene behind as we headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The views as we drove through the mountains were absolutely breath taking. Beautiful lakes below, mountains engulfed in fluffy clouds, and crisp, fresh mountain air. So much natural beauty in one place. In Lucerne we were fortunate enough to go on a guided boat tour around the lake, which afforded us incredible views of the charming city and picturesque mountains.
That evening a few of us decided to try traditional Swiss cheese fondue. Now I’ve eaten fondue a decent number of times, but never before had I tasted such delicious cheese fondue! Unfortunately, our time in Lucerne was short, however the experience was no less memorable and I certainly plan to return there one day to spend some time exploring the mountains and all that Switzerland has to offer.
Our last and final stop was in Paris, France; such an old and historically rich city. When I arrived I was amazed by how lovely the city was, with incredible monuments and beautiful big buildings. That evening we went to see the Eiffel Tower. In truth, I hadn’t really expected much but when we got to the tower and as we traveled higher and higher up, I was in awe. The views from atop the tower were spectacular and you could see the entire city sprawled out for miles around.
Back on the ground, the view of the tower at night – all lit up and standing huge against the black night sky – was truly incredible. I felt so grateful to be there in Paris, in that moment, with the beautiful new friends that I had made on this journey. I remember thinking to myself: this is living. I’m not the same as I was when I started this adventure, and I won’t be the same after.
The next day was spent wandering around Champs-Elysees, a famous street in Paris, and basically eating all things delicious and pastry-like, such as custard tarts and pistachio macaroons. That evening, and our groups final evening together, we went to a Cabaret show. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was so thankful that I had decided to attend the show because it was a truly magical experience. Not only was the dinner delicious, but the show was so much fun with tons of dancing and singing! Should you ever find yourself in Paris I highly recommend checking out a Cabaret show.
After the show we made our way to one of the local pubs for a few cocktails and to say our goodbyes. After spending almost two weeks with such incredible people, and making so many new friends, it was really difficult to say goodbye knowing that I may never see some of them again. However, they and the experiences we shared together will always hold a special place in my heart.
Once back home, I finally had time to stop and reflect on my adventure and experiences, and about how I’ve changed and grown. A few years ago I never would have expected that I’d hop on a flight to Europe alone, to go on an adventure with strangers. However, looking back over the past two years or so, this now made sense to me as it was a logical progression in the continuous expansion of my comfort zone. Once afraid to travel anywhere alone for various reasons, I now really enjoy the experience and embrace it wholeheartedly!
Often when I tell others about my travels and upcoming travel plans they say “aren’t you afraid to go alone?” And it’s true, at one time I absolutely would have been afraid to travel alone, but as I’ve challenged my own perception of my comfort zone I’ve unintentionally expanded it. Now, I intentionally seek out experiences and opportunities to expand my comfort zone, as I believe this is integral to personal growth. This is not to say that I am not afraid (because sometimes I am!), or that I am devoid of feeling doubtful in my success. However, I choose not to focus on this fear as I feel it serves little purpose. Instead, I choose to challenge these fears and doubts because from my perspective, there are only two outcomes: I will either succeed, or I will fail and learn from the experience. Either way, the end result is personal growth and an expansion of my comfort zone which, as far as I’m concerned, is a wonderful opportunity that I am continuously grateful for.
So, now that I’ve tackled some of Europe and expanded my comfort zone in the process, what’s my next move? After spending a few quiet weeks back home, I already began to feel restless knowing that soon I would be finishing my Masters degree, and felt I needed a new and bigger challenge. I’ve wanted to go to Australia for years now, and after meeting so many awesome Aussie’s during my trip, I decided that once I completed my degree, now would be the perfect time to go on a big adventure! I applied for an Australian working visa on a whim and was approved within a few days. Following this, I have started planning my trip down under and applying to jobs there. My hope is to have something set up before I go, and I will of course be blogging about my travel experiences while I’m there as well!
I’m sure some people may think I’m a bit mad, taking off to Australia to potentially start a new life there. It may not seem like a very ‘safe’ or stable thing to do, but I firmly believe it is the right choice for me. Am I nervous to travel to the other side of the Earth alone to go on an adventure and start a new chapter in my life? Heck ya I am! But that’s another reason I am determined to do this.
I am confident that this is the next step for me on my journey of personal growth by continuing to challenge and expand my comfort zone, and cultivate true happiness…
So, after this rather lengthy blog post which I hope you’ve made it to the end of (hehe), I want to leave you with a challenge to expand your personal comfort zone. This doesn’t mean that you must take off and travel the world if that’s not something that interests you. Expanding your comfort zone can start with something as simple as trying to cook a new dish or meal that interests you, or taking a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been, but have wanted to go.
It’s okay to start small, but it’s simply getting started that’s the key
In the words of Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – So, wonderful people, I challenge you to keep moving, keep challenging yourself, and to keep expanding into new spaces, ideas, and places; to continue to cultivate personal growth and happiness by expanding your own comfort zone.
Until next time, wishing you infinite health and happiness!
I’m back! 🙂 In the midst of travelling, a move, planning a trip to Europe for the summer, and finishing my masters degree, things have been a bit hectic to say the least. Things are coming along well though and just about finished up.
A month ago I visited beautiful British Columbia again – this time I was mainly in the Vancouver area and it was lovely. We took the Ferry over to Vancouver Island and checked out Victoria for a few days before returning to Vancouver. The Ferry ride was fun and the view from the observation deck on the ship was stunning.
My final day in Vancouver was spent hiking at Deep Cove in the rain – what a wonderful experience!
Back in Ontario now, the weather here has been quite variable. Warm during some weeks and rather rainy and cool during others. Lately temperatures have been more on the cool side, however it looks as though beginning next week the warmer weather will be coming and hopefully sticking around – come on summer!
With my busy schedule it’s be ever more challenging to eat well consistently and to choose healthy, nutritious options that taste great as well. Fortunately, from the literature as well as my own experiences I understand the importance of maintaining a healthy diet for optimal physical and mental health.
One of my favourite recipes to prepare for breakfast or lunch is overnight oats. There are tons of variations one can explore and these can be prepared quickly and easily. Oats can be purchased gluten-free, and I prefer to use almond, cashew or coconut milk to avoid dairy. Oats are high in fiber, low in sugar, and filling. When combined with protein powder (as I have done here using Vega Vanilla Chai Protein Powder), overnight oats will help you maintain energy levels and fullness throughout the day and to avoid the sugar crash that accompanies many processed cereals.
For 1 serving of Mango Chai Overnight Oats you will need a 250 mL mason jar (or other glass container); it takes 5 minutes to prepare.
I hope you’ve been having a marvelous week thus far. As some of you might know, earlier this week I celebrated my pup Oscar’s 9th Birthday! We celebrate every year and it’s so much fun. I think I get more excited about the dog birthday parties than I do about my own birthday haha. It was a wonderful occasion and this year I made a healthy veggie stirfry for my mom and I, while the dogs enjoyed some all natural “duck stew” for Oscy’s birthday dinner, followed by Timbits for dessert.
Oscy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and one of the sweetest pups out there. His interests include sleeping (and snoring excessively loudly haha), eating, and walking around the back yard sniffing stuff. Oh, he also likes to eat dead birds that he comes across which mighty hunter Calvy has left behind (gross, I know), watching TV (not even kidding he actually watches it especially if it’s an animal show) and enjoys playing with plush toys.
All in all he’s a wonderful dog and one of the kindest souls out there! It’s tough to believe he’s already 9 years old! Where has the time gone? We came into each others lives when he was just a pup and I can’t imagine my life without that big fluff ball.
From visiting Santa at Christmas…
To dressing up at Halloween…
And of course celebrating Birthdays…
Oscy loves to join in on the fun and have a great time. I think it’s safe to say that he thoroughly enjoyed his birthday celebration, as did we!
As I mentioned, I’d prepared a healthy veggie stirfry for my mom and I to enjoy for Oscy’s “Birthday Dinner”. It was loaded with fresh veggies, ginger, and I prepared a simple and slightly sweet soy based sauce to accompany it.
This recipe is a quick and easy one that only takes about 30 to 35 minutes to make (including veggie prep, which takes the most time), so it’s perfect for a busy week night dinner. To make things easier try cutting up the veggies in advance so they’re ready to go and you’ll have a healthy and nutritious dinner ready in 15 minutes!
Here’s what I did (makes about 4 serving) for my Ginger Veggie Stirfry:
2 bell pepper, cut into 1″ chunks
1 medium onion, cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
3 – 4 garlic cloves, diced
2″ pieced ginger, peeled and diced
1/4 cup cashews or peanuts, unsalted
2 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
3 cups cooked rice noodles (I use vermicelli), whole wheat spaghettini, or brown rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup green onion, diced (to garnish, optional)
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
6 Tbsp warm water
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp turbinado (raw) sugar or honey
1/2 tsp fresh grated (or dry powdered) ginger
For sauce: in a glass bowl, melt coconut oil. Then add in soy sauce, water, sugar or honey, and ginger. Whisk gently to combine. Set aside.
For stirfry: Heat oil over medium-high heat; add in peppers, onion, mushrooms, and broccoli. Saute for about 5 to 8 minutes or until beginning to soften.
Meanwhile, cook noodles or rice according to package directions, then set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add in garlic and ginger. Saute about 5 minutes more, then add in nuts. Stir to combine, saute about more minutes.
Reduce heat to low, add in sauce stirring to coat and combine, then add noodles or rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
Garnish with fresh green onion (if desired), serve hot and enjoy!
And here you have it folks: a tasty, nutritious veggie packed stirfry dinner ready to go. It tastes great as “left-overs” as well, though I do recommend reheating in a pan if possible rather than a microwave to maintain the delicious flavours. This meal can easily be made gluten-free by using a GF soy sauce and rice noodles. As always, when possible do try to use local, fresh, organic ingredients.
If you give this a try I’d love to know your thoughts and see photos! (#genuinelyjulie) Please like and share if you’re a fan of this recipe 🙂
ps. I will soon have the Pinterest “Pin It” function available on here for sharing my recipes too!
I hope that this week has been treating you well! This post will be about something a little different from the usual recipes and health focused posts, yet in some ways is entirely relevant with respect to emotional well-being. This post will be about my three-legged “wonder kitty”, Calvy!
I adopted Calvin in June 2015 after he was brought into Imperial Road Animal Hospital. He had been found on the side of the road in a ditch and appeared to have a paralyzed front right leg. It was unclear as to what had caused the injury, but evidently he had suffered some sort of trauma that resulted in the loss of sensation and function in his limb. After a few days and no improvement the decision was made to amputate his leg.
I brought Calvy home on June 20th and quickly discovered what a treasure he is! I can say with absolute certainty that adopting him was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. He brings me so much joy and happiness. As those who have met him can confirm, he has quite the personality!
From playing guard cat on duty…
To celebrating my birthday…
Helping me in the kitchen…
Participating in Halloween festivities…
And visiting Santa at Christmas…
Calvin has been a wonderful influence in my life while positively impacting my emotional well-being. Indeed studies have found evidence supporting the claim that companion animals can and do contribute positively to the emotional well-being of people. Moreover, there is also evidence that these interactions can similarly have positive benefits for the animals themselves. However, this appears to differ from one species to another and can depend on the context. A great article published in Psychology Today which summarizes some of these interesting findings can be found here.
Anyhow, back to Calvy. I’ll be honest, mostly I just wanted to write this post so that I could talk about my amazing cat that I love and adore. And because he’s so ridiculously awesome I think that he’s earned his very own blog post. Don’t worry… I’m sure this will not be the only Calvy post I write and that there will be many more stories about him to tell. There’s never a dull moment with that little fur ball around!
Calvin has an incredible spirit and resilience that is in itself an inspiration. Many people ask me if he “gets around okay”, well let me tell you he gets around perfectly well! In fact he can often be found out in the back yard chasing the dogs around, stalking the squirrels, leaves, and anything else that moves. And most recently (and hilariously) dashing, quite literally, through the snow! He has not let his “disability” negatively impact his capacity to enjoy life. As I’m sure you can tell from the many photos here, Calvy doesn’t let anything slow him down or stop him from having fun!
On a final note I want to emphasize the importance of being a responsible pet owner. This is an issue that is important to me having grown up around the vet clinic, as my mom has worked there for many years, I’ve seen a lot of abandoned and neglected animals come through. It is completely heart breaking and frustratingly also avoidable. Too often people seem to forget that puppies, kittens, and other pets grow up into adults and that owning a pet is a commitment. Ensuring one has adequate resources (ie. time, finances, environment, etc.) to provide a loving and safe home for a pet is critical. Finally, to help control over population which is a huge issue in many places, spaying and neutering ones pets can have tremendous positive impacts. Please, be mindful of the fact that others, including non-human animals such as pets (that’s right, humans are also technically animals), deserve kindness, compassion, and empathy.
I will end with this inspiring quote on the value of compassion, which states: “Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness)
Hey there! I’m Julie – a researcher, educator, cancer survivor, and holistic health and wellness advocate from Canada. In short, I love LIFE! But to be a bit more specific: I love to eat good food, stay fit both physically and mentally, learn, read, cook, dance, travel, nature, and spending time with my family, friends, my pup Oscar, and three-legged kitty, Calvin.
I had originally intended for Genuinely, Julie! to focus on sharing my knowledge about a variety of health topics from a holistic, yet evidence-based perspective. However, as many of my creative ventures often do this blog began to take on a life of its own, evolving into a unique entity representative of me. Here you’ll find an eclectic mix of topics which I am passionate about. I’ll share with you matters pertaining to my life, adventures I go on, healthy recipes I’ve created and those of others which I enjoy, as well as information on a variety of health topics.
Through my experiences and education I have become very interested in and passionate about holistic approaches to health and wellness. Thus much of what I discuss here will be taking this approach. Being a researcher and scientist, I also hope to bridge the gap between what we’re learning from science and what everyone else out there gets to learn about. Some great discoveries are being made through science, but all of this fantastic knowledge isn’t much use if few people get to learn about it! So, many of my posts will incorporate findings from scientific studies and my aim is to make this information approachable, relevant, and understandable so that everyone can benefit from it! Finally, having lost my voice years ago due to laryngeal cancer at the age of 18, this blog is also an opportunity for me to share my knowledge and experiences with others, which is very important to me. In a way this blog is providing me a chance to regain my “voice” and I am so excited to have the opportunity to connect and share my experiences and knowledge with you! To learn a bit more about my story please visit the “about” page on my blog.
With this blog I hope to inspire, educate, motivate, and connect with others around the world; to share my knowledge, learn, and help others on the path to living healthy, happy lives!