The Diet Dance
"Out on the streets, that's where we'll meet. You make the night, I always cross the line. Tightened our belts, abused ourselves, get in our way, we'll put you on your shelf. Another day, some other way. We're gonna go, but then we'll see you again I've had enough, we've had enough."
- Ratt "Round And Round"
Sugar Causes Cancer! Diets High In Fruits And Vegetables Can Prevent Cancer! Alcohol Causes Cancer! Alcohol In Moderation Can Prevent Cancer! Exercising Regularly Can Prevent Cancer! Exercising Excessively Can Cause Cancer! Stress Causes Cancer! Learning How To Adapt To A Stressful Life Can Prevent Cancer!
Welcome to Cancertown
Each one of the above statements is a sampling of what I see on any given day scrolling across my newsfeed and filling up my inbox. Most articles I'll read today are contradictory to what may be the cause or the prevention next week. There are some days that I believe that my job coupled with everything I eat, drink, breathe and wear caused my cancer. I've said it once and I'll continue to say it; cancer is a crapshoot. I can't do too much about my stressful career other than limiting my interaction with toxic people but I've begun to really question the hidden poisons in our food supply.
Is what we are ingesting creating toxicity and altering our DNA allowing cells to go rogue and over-multiply causing cancer?
When I had first been diagnosed I had a diet typical to the average American. More processed food than I should be eating and fewer fruits and veggies too; but certainly not a Pop Tart and Tastykake diet. My breakfast was definitely the meal that needed the biggest revamp. A bowl of cereal, a toasted bagel, or a quick and easy fiber bar was how I'd start my day (and then I'd wonder why I was starving and sleepy well before lunchtime). Lunches were take-out and would fall into any one of three categories; soup, sandwich, or salad. Not as nutrient deficient as breakfast but I could certainly do better. Dinners were where I redeemed myself, typically cooking a wholesome balanced meal every night and through the weekend as well. It wasn't until after my treatment ended that I really began paying attention to exactly what I was eating and what I was feeding my family.
I started looking at the food I was purchasing and the rolls of flab that the massive amounts of steroids had lumped on my body. After my treatment ended I went from feeling very empowered to very unhappy. I hated the way I looked in pictures. I hated the way my clothes clung and bunched on my new body. Not only was my little gimpy radiated boob deformed, scarred and painful so was my body image. The fashionista was in dire straights.
Because I wound up with so much time on my hands in 2007 and 2008 (thanks to my cancer diagnosis being immediately followed by a corporate lay-off) I began really focusing on me.
What made me feel good?
Yoga, short walks that eventually became long runs, less sugar (because I'm sweet enough dammit), fresh veggies, and no more processed junk food. I made changes. I lost weight. I got myself whipped up into great shape. I ran a 5K. Then cancer barged back into my life, that ingratiating little fuck, and landed my nicely toned ass back to square one. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. This time though, I went in for the complete overhaul. My body didn't know what hit it.
Double mastectomy. DIEP flap reconstruction. Weeks of bed rest, months of hobbling around hunched over and a short fierce chemo regimen that absolutely kicked my ass.
While I ate well and often in 2007; 2012 was a different story. Everything bothered me. I couldn't eat anything that wasn't bland and starchy. I subsisted on little more than protein shakes, roasted turkey, bananas, crackers, and peanut butter. I squeezed in the veggies when I could but they typically caused me horrendous stomach pains. Of course, normal people would lose weight during chemo but thanks to my doctor, his affinity for steroids, and my inability to move around after surgery I didn't lose an ounce.
About six weeks after my last hard-core chemo I was finally able to eat with minimal consequences but I was so damn achy. I still had a few more surgeries to get through so my exercise regime was put on hold. I would go for a walk when I felt up to it, but I often had to save my energy for work. My adjuvant chemo treatments of Herceptin continued, as did the supplemental steroids.
When the Herceptin finally ended in December 2013 I was waiting patiently for spring. The brutal winter here in the northeast had magnified my fatigue ten-fold. I was hopeful that the change in weather would motivate me to get in shape again...oh if only it were that easy. Spring sprung, surgeries and treatment were wrapped up but remember, I am still a Tamoxi-babe and will be for at least another three to seven years; therefore I still hobble around like the one hundred year old woman. Mornings are the worst, every single joint announcing its presence screaming like a colicky infant when I get out of bed. The hot flashes sapping the energy out of me multiple times throughout the day - and if they hit during a walk or a run I feel like I am going to suffocate. When you've been thru chemo and you are then told you have to take a pill everyday for the next five to ten years to prevent it from coming back you really don't think too much about it. It's better than chemo, better than infusions, no big deal right?
It is a big deal. Since becoming a Tamoxi-babe and meeting so many other fabulous Tamoxi-babes I've come to understand the wide scope of the side effects and how crappy Tamoxifen can make you feel. Now I understand why the majority of women that begin the regimen do not finish. They stop taking it because they feel so awful.
Last month as I sat in my doctor's office bemoaning the Tamoxifen, the crippling (and occasionally embarrassing) hot flashes, joint pain, the fuzzy headedness and constant fatigue he mentioned going to a 80% plant based diet significantly limiting my intake of milk, cheese, eggs and animal protein. What the whaaaat? Seriously, no cheese? Does he know nothing about me after treating me for seven years? But, when you consistently feel like shit you'll try anything. So I did it. Where's the beef? Not in my house. I walked out of his office and drove to Whole Paycheck - I mean, Whole Foods where I immediately stocked up on organic veggies, grains, beans, and almond milk.
An uncompassionate vegan?
Perhaps that's how I should identify myself now. I'm not vegan because I believe in the politics of PETA nor do I believe animals have the same rights as humans. I love my dog to the ends of the earth but if I find a mouse in my home or office Mickey's ass is grass. For years I've belonged to and advocated for multiple 'save the sharks/whales/dolphins/polar bears' conservatory groups but I'll still happily chow down on that Maine lobster dipped in butter thank you very much. Technically I guess I'm more of a pescetarian, because I still eat fish occasionally (as long as I know exactly where it came from) no more farm-raised shrimp from Thailand for me.
We have so little control over the antibiotics and hormones that are being pumped into our beef, chicken, or pork and there is no way to gauge what the long term effects our food supply will have on our health.
Here’s the most amazing thing … when I switched my diet away from animal proteins and dairy I felt good. And I felt good almost immediately; it was as if a switch was turned off. The hot flashes still come but I barely notice them, I now call them warm waves. The joint pain it still present but diminished. My mental clarity is once again sharp. My energy level has significantly increased and I dropped the steroid weight effortlessly.
Overall I have to say, I was a little intimidated and thought it would be really hard to stick to but when you see and feel the difference each day gets easier to make the better choice. For a notorious foodie like myself, stepping into these uncharted waters has been a little weird but also freeing. I'm enjoying trying to plan new plant-based meals. It's a challenge and I don't walk away from a challenge easily.
I believe that going through chemo twice completely changed my body chemistry. I do not think I metabolize food the way I used to and I continue to question, as we all should, unnecessary additives such as carrageenan, natural flavors, and high fructose corn syrup that seem to be in everything. And don't even get me started on Monsanto, that's another rant for another time. I am a proud member of the steadily growing #FoodBabeArmy and the wealth of information I get from her keeps me on track.
This October I'll be checking off another item on my bucket list as I tour Italy celebrating life, my second cancerversary, and my affinity for food and wine. I will not shy away from the cheeses and meats. I've long believed European food is far superior to ours, more wholesome, less processed. Each time I've travelled I've ate with reckless abandon and always came home a good five to eight pounds lighter. So while in Rome I will do as the Romans do … I will indulge but will do so sensibly and with a clear understanding of the repercussions. It's all about balance. You are what you eat after all.