Anita is probably my oldest friend. We used to go to primary school together and despite our lives taking very different directions since we were 13, we stayed in touch and our friendship deepened throughout the years.
Anita is one of those people who when you spend time with just leaves you feeling much better about yourself, and everything in general, regardless of how long you have known her for. Her playful energy and friendly smile are infectious, and there is no doubt you are in for a generous shot of positive vibes when you talk to her. By profession, Anita is an Architect but her real passion these days lies in writing her healthy food blog and training to be a Yoga teacher.
Anita and I always seem to be on the same wavelength especially when it comes to quirkiest of adventures. At the end of the day, it was her I got up for at 5am on the first morning of my honeymoon to do a pre-breakfast run in Kuala Lumpur whilst my Hubby was still asleep in our five star hotel room (Anita just happened to be working at her firm’s Malaysian office at the time – yep, just like that!):-
…and it was me who tempted Anita into running her first Marathon with me in Budapest the same year:-
Unfortunately, two years later, in 2014, Anita had to face some difficult news which no one really wants to hear, especially when you are not even 30 and consider yourself to be healthy and fit. Anita was diagnosed with angiosarcoma in her breast, which is a cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels. What she went through after the initial diagnosis were undoubtedly one of the darkest times in her life, however, she did not only manage to find the light at the other end of the tunnel, but she also came out feeling much stronger and happier than ever before. Therefore I asked Anita to tell her story on my blog – which can teach us a lot about the importance of recognising that inner scars need healing as much as outer ones; self-acceptance; being brave to let go of certain things and people in life to find true freedom; finding balance in the everydays; how she re-discovered herself and started to feel whole again through re-igniting her passion for the things she loves – all of which ultimately led her to find the love of her life.
So here we go:
Anita, could you tell us what happened in 2014/15 which was a catalyst for you to take an interest in healthy eating and living?
In 2014 I found a lump in my right breast which started to grow very quickly. I was worried so went to see my gynaecologist. I was sent for a mammography and an ultrasound check up and also had a biopsy. At that point, they said it was nothing major to worry about, however, when I went back half a year later for another biopsy and check up, I was told it could be angiosarcoma or fibrosis. This came as a shock to me as I had never had any serious health problems, just flu and cold, I was in hospital only once for some examination, but nothing serious.
I got referred into the National Oncological Institute where I met Dr Ákos Sávolt – his professionalism and compassionate attitude helped me a lot during those times of uncertainty. They eventually removed the lump in January 2015 and sent it for further analysis. I will never forget the day when the doctor called me in urgently after the op and told me the analysis had confirmed I had angiosarcoma. Therefore he suggested that my whole right breast should be removed to prevent the cancer from spreading further. At that point, perhaps my parents were more shocked than I was, as I agreed straight away to have the mastectomy, without much hesitation. The hardest part was seeing my family and friends feeling sorry for me, whilst I was the one who was trying to cheer them up. Sometimes it can be much harder for the family to stay strong, but it is necessary to do so in situations like this.
After the op, I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted to, however, I decided to do some research on the Internet about the best diet for people who have had cancer. Even though angiosarcoma is not a typical cancer and doctors still don’t know much about it, I decided that giving up sugar was the best way forward. I was able to keep it for a couple of months, but I found it quite hard because I do love to bake. In June I had a negative scan result, so all of us could finally relax and put it behind us like a bad dream.
So I got back to my old habits and started eating everything again, even though I knew it might not be necessarily good for my body. I also got back to work. The cycle of feeling stressed, living on not so great food and having extra workouts in the gym started again.
In January this year I had my next medical check up, only to find that the angiosarcoma had come back again. However, this time it was lurking not in my breast, but in my lungs. I felt completely crushed by this news, even though I had somehow felt something was not right. I remember telling my boyfriend that I felt I had too much to lose. So I had my third surgery, an endoscopic op in January by another doctor Dr Akos Kocsis who is also a brilliant specialist in his field.
After the surgery, I gave up white sugar again, together with plain flour, yeast, and meat, in order to detox my body. My recovery was long, and my wound got infected. The hardest part was to get my feelings onto the right path – being a friendly and open person, I feel I can talk to people about anything, except my feelings. I had to learn in the last couple of years how to open up more.
It was a very difficult period for you but also a time of personal growth – you have gone through a massive shift since the original diagnosis. How has your life changed since then?
I have realized that I am responsible for my health and my happiness, so I have to be selfish in some ways.
For example, I used to be driven by accomplishments. Getting recognition for these accomplishments meant everything for me. Unfortunately, my efforts did not always get recognised, or I did not get what I wanted. I felt I was giving much much more than I got appreciation for – at work, in the small business I was running outside work, in my personal life, and also in some of my relationships. I felt I was burning out. I felt lost and hopeless, I felt I was being used.
However, since the first diagnosis, I started a journey to discover the real woman in me. This was quite hard to start with, so I just started doing the things that I love, such as cooking, baking, knitting and crocheting, dancing and so on. My boyfriend helped me see the beauty in myself – after the mastectomy, I did not feel I was a complete woman. However, there were things that definitely did help me. For example, looking at the scar project photos which portray young women surviving breast cancer made me realise I was not the only one who went through this. All the women in these pictures are beautiful and strong, and you can see that they want to live. My boyfriend helped me see myself through his loving eyes, and I feel complete again as a result. I am so grateful to have him in my life.
This year I decided to face my feelings of being used, so I started to get over some people in my life who I feel do not respect me, or my decisions. I am no longer in touch with these people and actively avoid them.
I was really lucky to have had two excellent medical specialists supporting me on this journey. Last year I went to see a psychiatrist, and this year I am seeing a holistic therapist. They have also helped me a lot. They have not only acted as ‘life coaches’, but also helped me face my own feelings.
What have you found to be most helpful in handling the darker days?
I have recently started doing yoga. For example, I do the sun salutations sequence every day. This clears my mind as I offer these movements to something greater than me every day; for example I make these offerings for my health, for nature, for sunshine and so on.
I also love cooking. It calms my mind. All of us have something we enjoy doing for fun and which cleanses us internally.
What is the biggest thing you have you learnt through this illness?
I have learnt that it is me who is responsible for my own happiness, nobody else. Everyone is their own person which means I don’t have the power to change them or make them do things, unless they want it themselves. I have learnt not to overreact or get nervous about things as this won’t get me closer to the end result or won’t solve the problem. Being nervous is like sitting in a rocking chair – it keeps you occupied but it won’t get you anywhere.
I have realized that eating ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ helps my body to run smoother, and I have more energy in general. I also started to learn a bit about ayurvedic philosophy, which helps me better understand how my body works. I view myself and my relationship with food like a car/fuel relationship. You can fill up your car with a lesser quality fuel rather than the best and more expensive one – sure, your car will still run, but it will certainly run better with the higher octane fuel and the risk of breaking down is much lower. It is the same thing with your body – if you fuel yourself with cr*p, your body might just turn against you at some point.
You mentioned about your passion about baking and cooking, and you have recently given a fresh look to your healthy cooking blog, Ana y la Passion. How would you describe your philosophy about food and living well which your blog represents?
My philosophy is to use fresh ingredients, eat homemade food, combine traditional flavours with some new and modern ones. I love to eat seasonal ingredients, because they are always fresh and ready to serve. I started to write this blog to collect traditional recipes. My aim is to show my readers how they can cook delicious meals using fresh seasonal ingredients, teach them ways to preserve the taste of summer in a jar, and show how they can cook tasty Hungarian dishes, but in a healthier way! A lot of people are very fond of French cuisine but the Hungarian cuisine is as diverse as theirs, however most people have not realised that yet!
Living well means to me aiming for harmony inside-out. I like to have order in my surroundings as well as on the inside. I love to practice yoga as I am quite lively and it helps me be calmer.
What has been your favourite part of developing your food blog?
When I first started this blog, my aim was to collect family recipes, so that when I move away from home I could remember how to make those delicious dishes my Mom and Dad make for the family. Since I started the blog, I have moved out and have tried some of these recipes on my own, and even started to develop some of my own recipes, trying to cook on a small budget.
As time went by, I started to think about how I can create something unique with my blog, as there are so many different gastronomy blogs already. So I decided to consult with a few online marketing experts who advised me to narrow the whole thing down to one main thing and ask myself what I wanted to achieve with my blog. I have met some new people along the way, so I started to collaborate with them, for example by writing guest posts or learning about food photography techniques.
Once I came across some hidden treasure in the form of ancient recipes at my aunt’s house – they were going back as far as the 1920’s!
So I started to plan my blog around the previously mentioned theme. I now write not only in Hungarian but also in English, so that anyone can enjoy my blog, not only Hungarians.
If you could pick one recipe on your blog to make and over again, what would it be?
It would be the Hungarian Turos Csusza recipe – homemade pasta topped with cottage cheese, sour cream and crispy bacon. I am actually planning to do a gastro shoot about homemade pasta in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!
What ‘bad food’ do you crave the most and how strictly do you adhere to healthy eating?
I sometimes snack on tortilla chips (I like the plain version which only contains corn flour, palm oil and salt). I love desserts and sweets, so these are my main weaknesses, I was literally dying to get some during the weeks I went off sugar. Every now and then I still go to the local café and cake shop, however I try to choose desserts which at least do not contain sugar (however I don’t mind natural sweeteneres such as honey, xylithol, erythritol, stevia), and they feel like a real treat!
I have recently gone back to my old university to meet one of my friends there, and it was really strange seeing those students gorging on pastries from the local bakery, drinking juice and coke. I know it can be hard to set our minds on choosing healthy food, but believe me, on the long run it will be worth it.
For example, 4-6 weeks after quitting white sugar, you will start to taste food normally as your taste buds recover. Most of the processed food you buy is overdosed with sugar, salt and other chemicals which give your food an artificial taste. I am not saying that from now on everybody should strictly eat fresh and unprocessed food all the time, but if you want to try giving up sugar for about 4-6 weeks, you won’t want to look back afterwards.
What are your store cupboard and fridge staples you always keep to hand?
I always have some dark chocolate, dried fruits, plain tortilla chips and nuts as snacks. I also store some whole grain flour, rice-, coconut-, or almond milk (which I usually make for myself at home, if I can), and natural sweeteners such as xylitol and erithritol. I also have plenty of fresh veggies and fruits. I get my meat from the local farmers mainly, when possible.
What new ‘superfoods’ are you into and why?
My health issues prompted me to started using natural supplements first – initially I was using Nuskin products, however, I found these a bit tricky to afford when I was on sick pay, although I still think these are great. For these reasons, I started to replace Nuskin supplements with Seabuckthorn Raw Juice, spirulina (a rich source of different vitamin Bs and many others); wheat grass (contains all minerals, lots of vitamins) just to mention a few. I have also recently started using different cooking books and experiment with other superfood ingredients, such as chia seeds (high in Omega-3 fatty acids), goji berries (these contain vitamin C, vitamin B2, vitamin A, iron, selenium and other antioxidants), curcumin (a very strong antioxidant), and ganoderma lucidum (immune system regulator, promising anti-cancer agent, and stress reducer).
If you could host a dinner party with any five people living or dead, who would be there? What would you cook?
This is a tough one. I would say I would cook for my family, including my grandmother and grandfather who are unfortunately dead already. It would also be nice to meet Ghandi, or Steve Jobs, but I would rather spend my time with the ones I love.
I would cook Hungarian Stew and Vargabéles (Hungarian Noodle Cake) These are not so healthy, but everyone loves these dishes in the family.
In my opinion, healthy cooking should be about trying to show people how they can make turn an original, traditional recipe into a healthier version. This is a better way to promote healthy eating as you cannot and should not force anyone to become a vegetarian or vegan, or to give up sugar and so on.
Is there anywhere healthy you like to eat out in Budapest?
There are more and more places like that. The main one is close to the office I work in, it is called Vegacity (they serve fine vegan and vegetarian dishes on Muzeum Korut), but I also like Fruccola (they only serve freshly made food at Kristof Ter) and Cafe Panini (a cute little cafe by Budapest Ujrakpart).
Do you have a personal mantra? What is it?
I am the only – extraordinary – healthy -miracle in this world.
What or who inspires you most and why?
Everyone I have met on my journey so far. Each and every one of them has a story to tell, which I can learn a LOT from.
Do you have a favourite quote?
It tends to change from time to time, depending on the tasks or issues I am dealing with at the time. One of my ever-favourite quotes is from Yves Saint Laurent:
“In order to look beautiful, a woman needs a black sweater, a straight black skirt and a man to love her.”
When people think about a healing path, they probably think of food as being the primary focus. What else is in your self-care tool?
My primary aim would be to eat healthy, (fresh, seasonal, locally grown veggies and fruits, less sugar, less plain flour and less dairy products), to practice yoga every day (I recommend at least a 20 minute meditation), to avoid toxins and artificial ingredients in everything, as much as possible – for example, I started to make my own deodorant.
We all go through challenges at some points in our lives, can you tell us how you deal with them, what’s your best way to decompress?
Before the surgeries I used to run. We even ran a marathon together! However, unfortunately, after the final operation I was not able to run, so I started go to the gym where I do exercises with my personal trainer.
After the operation this year, I found breathing quite hard, so I started to do some Vinyasa Flow Yoga, and I’m now training to be a yoga teacher!
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start over in terms of health and overall outlook in life?
We make choices every day. For example, what we eat is one of these choices. I’m not going to say to you to completely overhaul your life and turn it upside down from tomorrow onwards. Well, if you are that strong mentally, you could probably do so, however, most of us tend to be weak when it comes to changing our habits. In order to break bad habits, try to break one bad choice each day. For example, if you are always craving for chocolate, try dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate as a healthier alternative; or drink your coffee with one less sugar cube, and so on.
Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years?
I see myself as someone who takes full responsibility for her actions. I see myself doing the things that I love doing, and even making some money out of these things. At the same time, I also see myself having more time for my family. Hopefully, by that time I will have consistently good scan results at my regular check-ups, and perhaps my boyfriend and I can start thinking about planning a family.
Thank you, Anita, for sharing your story with my readers, it has been a privilege to learn about your journey and how it has made you a healthier, happier and stronger person. I am sure many of my readers would like to find out how they can connect with you and check out those tastebud tantalising recipes you have been writing about on your blog. So how can they keep up with you to learn more?
On my blog: https://anaylapassion.com/
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On Twitter: @anaylapassion