14 January 2013

The way of a vegan warrior

What happens when a young, healthy, vegan, animal activist, and Capoeira instructor living in New York City is suddenly diagnosed with Leukemia? Well, for starters, the hospital's shower rod becomes a pull-up bar. And then you learn, and you heal, and you grow. And one thing you do NOT do is give up. As my friend Bud Burdick, who was kind enough to share his story below, will show you, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

1. First off, you are vegan and you rock. How long have you been vegan, and what initially set you on the path of cruelty-free living?
I have been vegan now for almost six years. I began my journey toward veganism almost eight and a half years ago when I was at a hardcore show at which the Syracuse Animal Rights Organization was tabling. They had a ton of great literature and a video playing that portrayed animals caught in traps for the fur industry. This piqued my interest and upon viewing the film Meet Your Meat, created by PETA, I decided to make a change. I immediately began exploring new food options including milk alternatives and limited myself to shrimp and "cage free" organic eggs as far as animal products go. After eating shrimp that smelled like bleach at a restaurant and learning about the cruelty involved in the "cage free" organic egg industry, I decided to become vegan.

2. What do you think are the main misconceptions of veganism?
Veganism seems to be a crazy thing. Anybody who is not vegan does not understand it, and is either incredibly interested in it or very closed to it. There are two responses that I usually get when I tell people that I am vegan. They are:
1) Oh, that's healthy
2) Where do you get your protein?
Those two responses show how differently a vegan lifestyle can be viewed by others. The first response is a more correct response based on the idea that eating more fruits, veggies, and plant based products are good for you. The second is a response based on the idea that vegans are weak and sickly and that they do not get enough nutrients to sustain health. I find that this is the biggest misconception. Protein is in abundance in all foods consumed in a plant based diet. One merely has to consume enough calories to meet their needs.
There are many examples of vegans who are amazing at what they do who are destroying this misconception. Visit http://vgirlsvguys.net/ to see just a handful of amazing vegan athletes.

3. Can you describe a typical day of eating and exercise in the life of Bud Burdick? (when not in the hospital)
A typical day of eating begins with a nutritious smoothie that usually has bananas, spinach, and peanut butter in it as well as whatever fruits and veggies were on sale that week at the store. Lunch and dinner and snacks in between vary depending on where I am. If at home I may make whole wheat pasta with some delicious sauce that could be pesto or nutritional yeast cheese. I have been making huge salads lately as well that have a hefty amount of greens, a touch of spice, some nuts/seeds, avocado, and a variety of other items; also depending on what is on sale that week.

When out and about I will eat at Meskerem, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, a delicious Indian restaurant, or one of the many fantastic vegan restaurants that NYC offers.

4. As your awe-inspiring FB album of photos states, this summer you 'went and got leukemia'. Tell me a little about that. When were you diagnosed?
I created an album called "So I Went and got Leukemia..." that documents my journey at the Roosevelt Hospital. I was able to sneak my camera phone into various procedures and took photos of all of the fantastic times I have had thus far. I was diagnosed in late July after a two week stretch of not feeling too great, but still trying to continue life as normal.

I experienced a multitude of symptoms from muscle aches, to fatigue, to swollen lymph nodes that left me feeling as if my throat was dried shut one night. That was the last straw. I knew I needed to be looked at by a physician. The doctor originally thought it was Mononucleosis, or Mono, but after reviewing the blood tests, knew it was much more than that. I was sent to Roosevelt Hospital and was told that I need to be admitted right away for chemotherapy treatment and could expect to be there for about a month.

What? A month? I thought it was absurd but knew it was necessary and went home that night to take care of some things. It was pretty surreal walking out into the streets of NYC knowing that my immune system was severely compromised and that it would be the last time I was going to do so for quite some time. I headed back that same night after making preparations for work and my three lovely cats.

5. What has your treatment consisted of so far? What are the next steps as you kick the sh#t out of this cancer?
So far I have been in the hospital two times, each for a 28 day stay, two months apart. Each time I was treated with chemotherapy to lower my white blood cell count, thus killing the leukemia cells, and placing me in a highly susceptible state with a diminished immune system. A few days into each treatment I was put on a special diet in which I could not eat any raw foods to help decrease the likelihood of germs entering my system. Visitors had to wear gloves, masks, and gowns when they came.

I am currently in my third stay at the Roosevelt, at the cusp of being put on the aforementioned restrictions. One more night of chemotherapy and then I wait for my immune system to recharge itself and for the leukemia to be put into remission. The next, and hopefully final step, will be a stem cell transplant. This will be another month long stay but will be at the prestigious Mt. Sinai. At the end of that stay I will embody the immune system of somebody else who is currently unknown to me. I have been told that they found a perfect donor.

6. What is your current fitness routine at the 'Roosevelt Gym'?
Haha, now it is a gym as well. I often reference the Roosevelt as if it is a hotel and my room is a suite. Currently I am attempting to do 50 pullups or chinups a day as well as a variety of leg exercises, dips, and pushups. I have been able to walk the stairs a few times, and I do a daily yoga practice. Each yoga practice is different and I post a photo of the 'pose of the day' in my Facebook album mentioned above.

7. How has your experience been as a health conscious, plant-based athlete at the mercy of hospital food? How have doctors reacted to your dietary requests? Has anyone ever challenged you about your food choices since your diagnosis?
I do not feel as if I am at the mercy of any of this, especially the food. The food is definitely not the best at the Roosevelt, but they do have a few vegan options on their separate vegetarian menu. Doctors pay my diet no attention, but some of the nurses have asked me about it, and even get upset when the cafeteria makes a mistake. One of the nurses had a discussion with me and a few vegan visitors about the importance of protein and proved to be largely misinformed about the subject, despite all of the Chemistry classes she claimed to have taken.

8. What have you learned about yourself through the process of fighting leukemia? What have you learned about others?
The whole year of 2012 proved to be a learning experience for me. Above all I learned that I am not invincible. I began the year with a broken nose, got a hernia that same month, and leukemia in July. Life is a process and the hand that you are dealt may not be the one you desired or predicted, but it is yours. I take it all in stride and when I look back I can truly say it was an amazing year. Most of my memories from my multiple stays at the Roosevelt lay in the interactions I had with friends and the visitors I had. I learned that I can handle anything that comes my way and that I have the support of amazing and wonderful friends who will go out of their way to keep me company and deliver delicious food. From foot rubs to reading books to me, they truly proved themselves and will forever be in my gratitude.

10. You are most certainly an inspiration...but who inspires you? 
Who do you admire and why?I admire all of the amazing people in this world who are doing what they can to make it a better place. I admire all vegans for choosing to take a step toward a cruelty free lifestyle. I admire my friends for being there for me through this adventure.

11. Are there any hidden blessings that came with this disease?
Deeper friendships and a greater appreciation for those in my life.

12. What advice would you give to someone dealing with cancer now?
Stay positive. Find inspiration.

13. What motivates you in life?
I am motivated by the good I see in others.

14. Anything else we should know about Bud Burdick?
 I have a blog chronicling many of my recent adventures and thoughts I have had. I feel I have something good to say and this is my outlet.

If you would like to help Bud offset the hardship of being unable to work during his lengthy stays at the 'Roosevelt Hotel' please go to: http://fundly.com/budburdickisvegstrong.

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

Photo credit: Lori Zito