Friday, July 12, 2013

The wellness journey

Several people have been asking me about what I have been doing in addition to chemo to help support my wellness. And one friend suggested that I post blogs about the information and share what I am doing in case others might be interested for themselves. I got nervous about it because I don’t want people to judge my choices or think I am crazy because I have made some big changes. I also don’t want people to look at me funny if they see me on an off day or social event where I am not following my own protocol. But she convinced me that more good than harm can come from sharing my information, so that sealed the deal. She knows the way to get me to share. ;-)

So here’s the deal. First off, I wanted to state that I am no expert. I am just a girl living in a scary set of circumstances looking to do whatever I can to support my wellness so that I am better able to withstand chemo and whatever else they throw at me.  I have done a lot of research, but what impacted me the most is the cancer survivors I have met who have added something like this to their medical regimen and had great success. Several of these people have been told there is nothing that can be done to help them (which I cannot imagine how awful they must feel. Fortunately, I have not been faced with such a grim outlook from my doctors). The kick is, several of these very same people are not only still here, but even better yet, living without cancer detected in their bodies now. Can I get an AMEN?? Who knows whether or not that is in my future… That’s in God’s hands. But I do believe that these people who crossed my path have been put there for a reason, even if it is just to teach me to treat my body better so that I can tolerate treatment better.  

The reason I have made the changes I have is that I do not necessarily think any one thing is a cure. In fact, there is no known cure for what I have. However, I believe based on my research that a comprehensive approach to wellness is the way to go. Chemo has its merits and clearly helps fight cancer, but it can be toxic to the body and can affect the immune system, your overall chemical balance in your body, and healthy tissues. Given that, it makes sense to me that conventional treatment coupled with excellent nutrition and a focus on stress management to help offset potential damage from treatment seems to be a recipe for success. I have done what I have done in the name of giving the chemo the best environment to work in, and to give myself the best shot of fighting. There is a lot of information to cover, so I will start with the highlights in this post and add recipes for anyone interested in other posts.  

Ok, let’s start with the basics. Here are the highlights:

·         The goals are to lose weight (and yes I have spoken to my medical team about this because it can impact treatment. They know my general plan and are good with it as long as I keep them in the loop if anything weird happens. i.e. like if I try to gain weight or eat foods that should contribute to weight gain and am unable to add the pounds. That’s not a good sign in cancer land) being overweight isn't good for anyone's health but coupled with breast cancer does not tie to good outcomes.
·         I have cut out the processed sugar, big time. There are days when I would cut off my arm for a kit kat or a twix, but sugar definitely isn’t good for cancer, if for no other reason than because it adds empty calories, and a few other reasons as well.
·         I have cut out processed snacks mostly. Admittedly, if I am at a party on the weekend and there are chips, I will eat them, but during the week or in the course of normal life, I try to keep them out. Similar reason to the sugar.
·         I have cut out dairy products. This honestly is probably my biggest challenge! I never was a huge milk fan, but sweet Jesus, my kingdom for some pecorino romano or cheddar! Or even just some yogurt. Here’s why I cut it out. There have been several scary studies of late linking dairy consumption to survival rates in breast cancer, especially metastatic like mine… That data was enough to scare me sober! What was difficult for me though was that I was taking in extra dairy after my first bone spot was detected thinking I needed the extra calcium support. I was nervous to let that go. But I have supplemented with calcium and vitamin d in a pill form in decent sized doses and have sought out plant-based sources of calcium. I just had my first bloodwork done that checks calcium levels since I gave up dairy. The range for normal is 8.8 through 10.4. Mine was 9.4! Just about perfect. So the proof is in the pudding, or the broccoli so to speak) Here are some excellent plant-based sources of calcium: chick peas, butternut squash, brussel sprouts, many types of beans (pinto, navy, kidney, etc), spinach, calcium fortified orange juice, celery, kale.
·         I have seriously limited red meat. I am slightly anemic, so I do sometimes add a little in (like once every few weeks). Although I am anemic, my levels are consistent from before I started treatment, so that’s a good sign.
·         I have seriously restricted other meats, choose organic when I do cook it for myself (or rather when Steve cooks it for me), and have boosted my intake of plant-based protein. Included in this are beans, nuts, seeds, and quinoa (which is so good!). I do not include soy products because of the hormonal basis of my cancer, but for others who don’t have hormonal issues, this is also a good option.
·         I start my week day mornings out with fruit and veggie smoothies. I usually have two or more veggies for snacks and lunch. I typically pack nuts and a piece of fruit or a carton of berries for an  additional snack during the day. I try to drink water throughout the day, sometimes plain, sometimes flavored with lemon, lime or other pieces of fruit.
·         I have given up coffee for the most part, and if I need a caffeine fix (which hey, I work full-time, chase after a 4 year old, and am on chemo, I get tired…) I opt for green tea.

The wonderful news is that I have lost about 10 lbs since starting treatment which I needed to do… And yes, I can gain weight when I eat like I should be gaining weight (trust me, I have tried, and it’s not an issue! Never was, and I guess for once I am glad it hasn’t changed). The even better news is that my blood work is holding up great. My immune system is responding quite well and not getting totally wrecked by chemo. AND the rest of my organ functions measured by blood work are showing to be completely normal. And the recent set of scans showed the cancer was retreating. Let’s hope that trend keeps up!!

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