First, before I delve into a subject about which I receive many questions, I want to say that a cancer diagnosis can make one feel like one’s life is spinning out of control. I’m a problem solver by nature. Spinning out of control is not appealing to me in any way.
I know that for some people, putting all of the eggs into the doctors’ baskets is comfortable and feels right. For myself, I felt that I had some work to do as well. There are measures that one can take to improve one’s health. Duh. We all know we are supposed to be exercising, eating healthfully, not allowing ourselves to get too stressed and of course not smoking and drinking ourselves to death. Well, pre diagnosis I wasn’t eating well, I went through periods of time where I worked out regularly and then I would stop, I was extraordinarily stressed, and about all that I had going for me health-wise was that I have never smoked, did not drink heavily, and was not technically overweight (though I was at the top of my healthy BMI range and had sort of gone past what is appropriate for my narrow frame).
So, you get the diagnosis, you consult with the doctors regarding what they want to do to you, you pick the docs you like best, then what? For me, I had to make the life changes. Not one doctor advised me to do so (and I saw four oncologists and four surgeons). One doctor noticed between visits that I had lost a few pounds and said she thought it was a good idea, but not to go too far. One doctor, who met me after I had lost about 20 pounds, said that people in good shape, like my then self (this was about four months into my lifestyle changes) always have better outcomes, but that she had no real advice for me regarding lifestyle changes or habits to create. I did my own research. I consulted a naturopath MD Oncologist, finally, though I had made all of my changes by the time he was on board. He agreed with all that I had done for myself, and encouraged me to stay on the path.
What had I done? I quit drinking entirely. I started exercising daily. Some days I did yoga and some days the dog got a nice long walk. I was dealing with my faltering thyroid and some energy issues, but these were things I could manage. I began to try to implement some meditation into my life (with this I am still inconsistent at best). I removed myself from some stressful situations. I removed some stressful people. I stopped giving some fucks about some things, maybe kind of a lot of things. I cut out all refined sugar. And at the very start of all the changes, I went back to being a vegetarian.
I was a vegetarian throughout much of my twenties and into my early thirties. I was the kind that still ate cheese and some fish, or the occasional egg. I was also the kind that ate turkey on thanksgiving, even making one myself, once. Turkey is not a favorite of mine. I didn’t crave it for the rest of the year or anything, but in a situation (at a catered work function, for instance) where there weren’t any options, I might have a turkey sandwich. Funnily, most people thought of the sandwich as a vegetarian option. I never understand people who think poultry isn’t meat. (Just as I’m sure there are vegans who don’t understand why I still ate fish and cheese. I knew these things to be “animal products” but, I loved fish and cheese, that’s why!)
During my vegetarian years I essentially had no health issues at all and was thin without ever really dieting. At my height, (5’8″) I’m supposed to fall between 120-169 pounds. In high school I weighed 120, college I was 125ish (I was very active in school as well, dance classes, jogging etc.), and then until about 33 I was anywhere from 125-135. I was the kind of girl who would realize her pants were getting snug and cut back on fries for a couple of weeks. For most of those years I dated vegetarians (not on purpose). I wasn’t exactly eating fruits and veg 24/7, but I ate a lot of dinner salads and a good bit of fruit for snacks. Also, to be fair, I didn’t eat a ton of sugar either, I wasn’t much of a sweets person at the time.
I slowly started to eat more meat products. I discovered frozen margaritas. I started a mean tortilla chip habit. I was stressed at work, and I switched to a job where I was sitting at a desk instead of being on my feet all day. I put on some weight, for sure, and then at 35 I got pregnant. Cue snowball rolling down hill and creating my health avalanche. I never got back on track. If you knew me as a thin person between the ages of 35-45 it was because I was either too stressed to eat or too sick to eat. I had shingles SIX TIMES.
After my second baby at 40, losing weight seemed to become impossible. Somehow, I didn’t think to go back to how I had eaten before. I tried a myriad of diets. I tried different work outs. I didn’t feel well, my stress level was at my lifetime high, and I was tired all the time. A year before my diagnosis I read The Blue Zones Solution, and thought “this is what I need to get back to!” I did not follow through.
Send in the December 2016 kick in the pants.
First, I read about one hundred articles about sugar. If you like, you can read this one, or that one, or this other one. There are plenty more if you want to go into a google coma. These articles and several of the books that I read also seemed to recommend cutting out refined sugar, so that is why I did that. Then I got back on the vegetarian bandwagon. I remembered from ages back that a vegetarian diet could lower your risk of cancer in the first place, and studies have since come out regarding cancer and meat. Again, google away. I did. I found this, that, this other one, that other one, and more. If you saw all of those links and went crossed eyed, then click this instead. You’re welcome.
In the end, I just felt like the veg thing was right for me. It worked for me in the past. I know there are plenty of contradictory articles out there. I know that there is some serious research coming out about ketogenic diets and brain cancers (at least that one is a TedTalk). I did all that stuff that I mentioned above, I went vegan for 90 days. I began to consume very little food that comes from a box. Before I started chemo, people ran into me and were in disbelief that I had cancer. I just looked so healthy. I felt fantastic, other than my thyroid issue (which I think I’ve mentioned turned out to be another cancer), and even that situation improved. I wasn’t as tired anymore.
I lost 30 pounds, and I wasn’t even trying to do that. I did not give up all white carbs. I still eat potatoes, rice, and bread, though I don’t eat gobs of those things (I will confess to upping my potato and rice intake during chemo, sometimes it’s just what I feel like I can keep down). More importantly maybe, I added in a ton more fruits and vegetables. Until I got used to eating them I actually counted my servings over the course of the day, with my goal being ten. A quality juicer has helped with that.
When my 90 days of vegan was up I added back in the fish, but left out the dairy. Could I link a bunch of articles about cancer and dairy? Sure, but the cheese just upset my tummy and wasn’t worth the bother. So, I guess I’m officially a pescatarian. When this is all done, no more chemo, final surgeries completed, I’ll still be eating this way. Will I eat turkey on Thanksgiving? Probably. Will I have cake on my birthday? Fuck, yeah. Probably a glass of wine, too. But, I’ll never go back to what I was doing to my body before. If this is all the control I can take over it (besides showing up for chemo and surgery) then this is what I’ll do. I hope that about explains it, because that’s the longest damn blog, ever.