Let’s WhatsApp: Chatting About Nutrition

On March 4th, we held our first “Let’s WhatsApp” group chat for Breast Cancer patients and survivors. This was the first of an on-going support program we’ll be offering to help connect patients from across Lebanon and provide them an opportunity to benefit from specialists’ advice from the comfort of their own home. S1Nutrition_Feb2015_AR

For our first “Let’s WhatsApp”, clinical nutritionist Diane Nicolas, who has extensive experience working with cancer patients, was the featured specialist who volunteered her time and expertise for the session on Nutrition.

The group chat setting was intimate with five women (the majority of which had never met in person) taking part and asking their questions on topics of interest to each of them while also sharing their own tips amongst each other. Their enthusiasm and curiosity about the subject was evident from the onset!

Trigging the first discussion was the link between nutrition and cancer – and the majority agreed, that yes, it does play a role. One of the patients held a different perspective as despite having a very healthy lifestyle and diet, she still got diagnosed with cancer. So is there or isn’t there a link? Diane shed insight by explaining that although improper nutrition doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer, following the right diet and maintaining your health increases your chances of preventing it. Genetics and the environment are very important factors that also play a role, so it isn’t just nutrition that may affect your diagnosis.

Coffee was another hot topic among the women: How much was too much? What were the benefits and was there harm in adding coffee creamers, like Coffeemate, to ones cup? Another topic of much interest was meats, chickens and fish. Questions ranged from how best to cook it (Well-done? Over-cooked? Tip: Avoid burning it!) to whether eating local mezza specialties like raw meat (kebbe and kasbe naye) were harmful. Even sushi came up! LetsWhatsApp_ChatQuestion1 Topics that always often raise question marks, like the rumored link of soy to cancer, how much chocolate is good for you and even the role of ashta in helping one lost weight came up too and were discussed further. (PS: The answers to all the above are below) LetsWhatsApp_ChatQuestion2 Diane was very helpful and quickly answered all the questions brought up during the chat. She additionally helped break the ice at the start so that no one felt uncomfortable. Jokes, questions and even personal tips were being shared among the participants by the end of the chat – a very positive sign!

For those who missed the chat or were curious about the topics covered, we’ve compiled a short summary for you below of the top nutrition tips shared by Diane Nicolas:

  • Coffeemate is not bad, but it should preferably be replaced with a more nutritious food such as milk (liquid or powdered are both good). Skimmed milk? Even better!
  • Chocolate in moderation is not harmful for the health, but we must be careful not to gain weight because weight gain is closely linked to cancer.
  • Chicken is not harmful if you trust the source as some chicken is injected with hormones so be careful where you get or eat it from (the size of the chicken is a helpful indication)
  • A myth that was challenged? Kachta and avocado don’t help you lose weight. It’s all about reducing calories. One avocado is actually equivalent to 8 spoons of oil so avoid eating too much of it.

 The Dos:

  • Eat Fresh
  • Eat fruits, vegetables and legumes more often.
  • Eat only fresh Frish…
  • Consume meat 2 times per week, try to avoid raw meats
  • Eat preferably chicken breast.
  • Consume more whole grain Lebanese bread (“2am7a kemle”)
  • Limit your coffee intake to 2 cups per day.

The Donts:

  • Don’t eat caned or smoked tuna and salmon.
  • Don’t eat over-cooked meat (ma7rou2).
  • Avoid raw meat (kassbeh and kebbe Nayye)
  • Avoid soybeans as they are genetically modified.
  • If your treatment includes cortisone, do not abuse sugar and deserts.
  • Our Mediterranean diet is very healthy and complete, so don’t search for exotic foods in order to be healthier or to prevent diseases.

“Don’t eat less, but EAT RIGHT; this is the response to all illness and diseases linked to nutrition. Flash news: We are lucky to be Lebanese since our diet is known to be the best among hundred of diets all over the world. We have the healthiest mix and match: 3adas b7amod, taboule, fatouch, ma7aché, sbenikh, mloukhieh, bemye, makhlouta, labne, jebne bayda, kebbe… ” – Diane Nicolas

LetsWhatsApp_Feedback

“I’d like to thank every person that took part in the group chat and encourage One Wig Stand for this amazing project. We are lucky to have such a support that offers knowledge and care at the same time. Thank you!” – Diane Nicolas

All the feedback we received from those who took part was very encouraging and we’re looking forward to hosting more of these group chats on different topics to benefit patients and survivors in the future. Thank you to all the ladies who took part and to the lovely Diane Nicolas for lending her time and expertise for these sessions!

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Do you have a subject in mind that you’d like us to discuss in the next WhatsApp session? Is there a certain specialist you’d like to recommend who’d be interested in sharing their knowledge with others? Please feel free to suggest a topic or specialist you’d like to chat with us in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to make it happen!

If you’re a breast cancer patient, survivor or caregiver that would be interested in signing up for the next session, please send us an email to: info@onewigstand.org or call us at +961 79 158 471 so we keep you posted.

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Interview: “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Alyscia Cunningham is a US-based portrait and editorial photographer who recently launched a crowd-funding campaign for “I Am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”.

“I Am More than My Hair” is an awareness/social-change photography project that focuses on the beauty of being bald and follows Alyscia’s first book “Feminine Transitions” featuring a series of portraits that reveal the natural beauty of women of diverse ages and backgrounds without make-up on. Alyscia’s work celebrates natural beauty while also inviting us to challenge what beauty – real beauty – means to us, even when hair is lost.

Amy

Amy – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

We reached out to Alyscia to find out more about her project and share her insight throughout this experience below:

1. In October 2013, you decided to make the cut and donate your hair to a cancer organization. This move, as well as the reactions of those around you, raised many questions for you about beauty standards. What were some of the notable reactions you received after cutting your hair so short and how did this inspire your latest project “I am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”?

I’ve often heard, “A woman’s hair is her beauty” and “Your hair is your strength” from two different communities. I completely disagree with both statements.

It got to a point where I would tell myself “I am not my hair”. That single thought gave birth the the idea of my project I Am More Than My Hair, which is a response to that fact that I wasn’t my hair.

On that day, 16” [approx. 41 cm] of my locks were cut by Johnny Wright, Michelle Obama’s hair stylist, and donated for cancer patients. I’ve always had long hair and this was the first time I had ever cut my hair into a short style. I’ve wanted to cut it off once I realized my consistent head colds after swimming were related to the heavy weight of my locks not drying in time. Two years later, I was informed about the “Big Chop” and I gladly volunteered my hair to be donated.

2. You’ve been interested in beauty and addressing our relationship with it for a while now. Your previously published “Feminine Transitions” book features women without make-up and highlights the struggle of being vulnerable behind a lens. How are your two projects linked and how are they different in your perspective?

Both “Feminine Transitions” and “I Am More Than My Hair” relate to each other because they deal mostly with vulnerability. The participants were required to shed a layer to be photographed, whether it was make-up or a wig. The immediate difference that comes to mind is the subject matter.

However, there are more similarities than there are differences.

3. Tell us about your journey driving throughout Washington D.C. photographing girls and women for “Bald and Beautiful Me”. What stories came out of this experience and did you face any obstacles taking the photographs?

It has been a wonderful experience visiting new places within the DC metro area and meeting women I may not have bumped into otherwise. All the photos were taken outdoors or in a natural lighting environment: a favorite park, the backyard, by their bedroom window..

I wanted everyone to choose a location they connected with most.

I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me

Tamela – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Most women opened up, telling me their personal stories about their experience with hair loss. Some shed tears. Others simply accepted it for what it was. Either way, it is a blessing to connect with women from all walks of life.

4. You have photographed more than 35 women of different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities for your project so far. What were common themes you encountered and how did your definition of beauty change as a result of those interactions?

My first reaction was noticing so much more than the hair of bald women and girls. I really got a chance to see the beauty in their features, their smile.

Hair not being there was less of a distraction. They had a natural radiance. It was raw beauty in all colors, shapes and forms.

Sala

Sala – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

5. What message would you like to get across to women struggling with insecurities about their beauty? What would you tell your younger self today?

I always tell women that we are all uniquely beautiful. Don’t look to the media for an answer to beauty. The media bombards us with Photoshopped images and Photoshop is a lie.

I would tell my younger self to look for my worth within myself, and not from what others say to or about me.

6. In Lebanon (and much of the Middle East), beauty standards are quite high and this add lots of pressure on women to constantly keep up appearances. As such, when a woman loses her hair as a result of cancer treatment, it is even more difficult for her to cope and the majority will avoid being seen or opt to wear wigs during this period. This is also related to the taboo linked to cancer still being witnessed in our society, but the issue of beauty and social perception remains. What insight can you shed for women living in our part of the world on this issue and what kind of awareness do you think is needed to help overcome it?

In no way do I tell a woman going through cancer treatment how to feel. What I can offer is encouragement. I will do my best to let her know that she is beautiful despite her temporary (or permanent) hair loss. I can also offer a connection with another women on this side of the world going through the same experience, who can also encourage her.

I also make it a point to speak about the media’s view of beauty as compared to reality. Showing non-Photoshopped and Photoshopped has a huge impact on our self-perception.

From my experience, real pictures of well-known people in the media make the idea of beauty less threatening. The media sells insecurity. I use that outlet as a tool to sell positive self-imagery, showing individuals as everyday ordinary people.

Erika - Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham's photography book "I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me"

Erika – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

7. You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary you’d like to develop based on “Bald and Beautiful Me” How was the experience for you and do you plan to relaunch the campaign in the future?

Unfortunately, there were complications with Kickstarter so I decided to launch my crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring.com. My goal is to raise $25,228 in order to be able to produce 1,000 copies of the book and 500 copies of the DVD documentary. Many people don’t understand that this small number of production still takes a great deal of work and dedication, which in turn takes money.

The money raised will also go towards the marking cost of producing both the book and DVD. At first, I was recording the stories of the participants for my crowd-funding campaign but decided to actually compile them into a documentary.

There stories are so personal and heartfelt that I had to share them along with the book.

8. In closing, please continue the statement in your own words: “I am more than my hair and/because …”

… my hair does not determine my strength or ability.

Jameelah

Jameelah – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Keep posted for more on “I Am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me” here.

We’d like to turn to you now: How would you continue the statement “I am more than my hair and/because …”Please share in the comments section below.