Food and nutrition play an important role in the life of a cancer patient, but they have also been a source of conflict for me since my diagnosis. I know that adjusting my diet can help with certain side effects and overall health.
When I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I knew that nutritionally I should be doing things to make my body healthier and ready to literally ingest life-saving toxins. The only advice I was given was to eat a balanced diet, but also that there is nothing that can prevent the disease from progressing.
So much advice
I lived in a small town in Wyoming during that time, so I didn’t have access to a nutritionist – especially one who had experience working with cancer patients. Ironically, the doctors I saw in Salt Lake City thought I wouldn’t live long enough to play a role, but here I am almost 24 years later.
So many people along the way told me they had the cure. All I had to do was juice or drink that liquid from a specific mushroom and I would be cured! There were many people who tried to convince me that the supplement they were selling would cure my cancer as well and that I should stop all traditional medical treatments.
I had two friends who cut off communication with me because they said I made a huge mistake not to buy their product. I asked one of them if it was their own child and there was a known traditional medical treatment, if they would choose to only use this product. They said they would. I didn’t believe them. A man with myeloma told me he was on phytoplankton and if I didn’t start I would die. He died 6 months later.
Everyone is different and everyone has expectations of the course of treatment, be it in traditional medicine or naturopathy. Scientific research doesn’t support these therapies slowing down or reversing myeloma, so it was interesting to me that the people who recommend these alternative therapies treat me like I don’t know and that I haven’t done any research on mine own.
Make my own decisions
I have actually tried many of these treatments and nothing has affected my cancer indicators or any other important blood test. One diet supplement that has scientific evidence that it can slow the progression of the disease is curcumin. I took it for many years during my remission after my stem cell transplant. The cancer came back, but it may have helped to extend my remission period. I just do not know.
I’ve made some doctor recommended changes over the years due to adverse drug interactions. You should not drink green tea or take excessive amounts of vitamin C with any medication. Eating asparagus can actually stimulate your body to increase the production of myeloma cells. I also had to increase my intake of foods high in potassium and magnesium and limit the sodium in my diet. Doctors and their assistants continue to promote a balanced, healthy diet.
Eating what I wanted didn’t work
The other side of the struggle I have with food and nutrition is feeling, “I have cancer, I should be able to eat what I want. I’ll just die anyway. I should enjoy my life. A little ice cream here or pizza there won’t play a role on the whole. “
The root of this thought could come from my first diagnosis. I felt like the doctors were encouraging me to eat what I wanted while I was eating. The first line of treatment I took made most of the foods taste terrible. I love chocolate, but it tasted terrible!
When I was in the hospital for my bone marrow transplant, they fed me whatever sounded good to me. Ice cream and tangerines, which I basically lived on in the hospital, tasted best. When I was leaving the hospital, one of the doctors working on my case told me to go home and have cake. They wanted me to eat high calorie foods so I wouldn’t lose weight.
time for a change
I’ve gotten very used to eating like this. If I felt like eating cookies or cake, I would eat it. If I wanted a salad, I would eat it. I honestly feel my doctors didn’t expect me to survive this cancer – my 1997 forecast was only 2-3 years – so I could just as easily eat what tasted good.
With that setting and the steroids I was treated with during and after my stem cell transplant, I gained nearly 30 pounds. The transplant put me in a 12 year remission. During this time I tried to control my eating habits and was able to exercise regularly. I was strong and felt fine until I relapsed.
Every treatment since the relapse has included steroids, and I’ve gained weight with each new treatment. One of my radiation oncologists, when I expressed my weight gain concern, said not to focus on them. He said to realize that my body has chemically changed and that a moderate and balanced diet is the best way to keep me on track.
I know so many people who swear by their keto diets or health trainers and believe that they will work wonders for them. I know the value of a good healthy diet. I know I need to have healthy eating habits. Diet and nutrition are very personal choices that can also have very emotional reactions for people. I think we have to give each other grace, share what works for us individually, but also don’t expect others to follow suit.
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