Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Baby Steps

Lately, I find myself wondering, How, seriously, how, did I get cancer? I know it's a useless question, because if anyone would know the answer it would be Dr. Bunnell and he admitted, Nobody knows (and, like I've already mentioned, Bad luck). So I'm not quite sure why I think I'm going to figure it out. But then again, I think that I hold up airplanes by keeping my eyes focused on the ground below, so we're not starting from normal here. 

While most patients probably just let the "why" question go, I recently find myself overanalyzing every single thing that I eat, drink, smell, and touch. When I walked by a newly paved parking lot the other day, I covered my face as I wondered if perhaps the fumes could ignite another tiny tumor. Last week when I burned the bottom of a pan to a crisp after completely forgetting about the vegetables that I put on to steam (not my proudest moment), I wondered if I had unleashed a dangerous chemical from the blackened pan that could excite some remaining cancer cells (meanwhile, Brian just wondered why I even bothered to try to cook something -- an even better question). Yesterday I got to thinking back to all the Campbells Double Noodle soups I ate after college and before Brian started to cook me all my meals, and I wondered if it was something on the inside of those cans that did this to me. Or was it food I've re-heated in plastic containers, or birth control pills, or too much Cool Whip on my ice cream? These are rhetorical questions, and really just my own admission that I'm completely nuts. But I've never been good at just settling with "No one knows" for an answer. Especially now when I have to wonder if I could do something to make sure that my cancer never comes back. 

I have decided I should at the very least focus my craziness into something productive, and I chose to put that energy into deciding the food that I will eat. I have heard truly remarkable stories about people who fight cancer with great nutrition, and even before my surgery I had made some changes based on a one-page chart that came in a book a co-worker kindly mailed to me. The book is called "Beating Cancer with Nutrition," and although most of the book is still just a bit outside of my cancer cocoon, the one-page chart I found in the middle has been invaluable to me. In fact, prior to my surgery, that chart gave me my first feeling of control since after my diagnosis. For weeks while that tumor sat in my boob, I refused to feed it sugar. I've always loved dessert and even typically plan my meals around saving room for a piece of chocolate cake or apple pie. But for the first time in my life, I ordered berries for dessert at a restaurant just to say, "F-U" to my cancer. It felt good to do something to fight the disease, even if it was only in my head.

After my surgery, I eased up on the "diet" because, like a newborn baby, simply gaining weight became the priority. Plus, the tumor was gone. So in the last few weeks, as my appetite returned, I ate peanut butter like it was going out of style, and indulged in every form of cheese that I could find. We have been blessed with delicious meals from so many wonderful friends and family members and I devoured everything that came in the door. It felt so good to be hungry again, as it was terrifying to have lost my appetite for so long.

Hopefully, chemo starts tomorrow (I will find out officially from Dr. Chun today), so yesterday I decided to get focused again on what I eat. I pulled out the informational sheets that the fabulous dietician at Dana Farber, Stephanie, had given me weeks ago. She had walked me through the importance of what I eat and drink during chemo. She told me to try eat a variety of different colored foods (something about my body making lots of different enzymes) and to be sure to eat about 70 grams of protein a day along with 10 glasses of water. I didn't even know what a gram of protein meant, and colorful foods to me meant the multi-colored Goldfish, so I appreciated the chart she gave me with examples. For instance, three ounces of cooked chicken is 27 grams of protein and three ounces is about the size of a deck of cards. OK, so if I eat a piece of chicken, I'm close to half way to my goal for the day -- I can do that, I thought.

For practice, yesterday, I tried to drink 10 glasses of water (also because I was told that lots of water will make my veins especially easy to find tomorrow when they insert the chemo IV). I only got through 8, and had to pee all day long.

Yesterday, fueled by the spirit of fighting off cancer, I did what I thought all of the most healthiest people do -- I went to Whole Foods (for the second time in my life; the first time had been a five minute pit stop for milk). With nothing else to do, I left myself as much time as I needed to explore this new land with the world's fittest people. 

Just so we're clear on my starting place, if you haven't already gathered it, Brian does all of the cooking and food shopping in our house. I usually get home from work after the kids have eaten dinner and after, by some miracle I will never understand, Brian has prepared us a delicious meal. We usually scarf it down after the kids' baths and during five minutes of relative quiet that comes right after we hit play on a recorded episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Cat in the Hat, or Peep.

In the limited number of times I have done the food shopping in the last few years, I ended up with a cart full of Goldfish, Ragu sauce, Cool Whip, and other random snacks. Then Brian just had to make several stops at Lamberts during the week to buy ingredients that could create an actual meal. Yeh, I'm a Peapod sort of girl, and after years of trying to convince Brian to try it, he caved last hockey season when we were both really busy. When the Peapod delivery guy gave him all sorts of compliments about his landscaping, I knew I'd won the battle for good. But going to Whole Foods yesterday after months of online Peapod orders felt a bit like shopping at the outlets on Black Friday after never having visited a mall -- I was totally overwhelmed. 

Nonetheless, I took my mini-cart and started to explore. Everything seemed to be "gluten-free" and I had no idea what that meant. I Googled it on my phone and was still a bit confused. I powered on. Everything was also "organic." I pulled out my sheet that Stephanie had given me about organic food. If you're curious, she listed the following foods as ones that are best to buy organic because they have the "highest levels of pesticide residue":
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Red bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Kale / collard greens 
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
OK, but did I really need my pasta to be organic? I wasn't convinced. Then I just started to get anxious. I searched for brands I knew and couldn't find them. When I couldn't find the Capri Suns, I started to wonder if we were doing something wrong by letting our kids drink two or three of them a day. And the non-organic non-cage free chicken nuggets I cooked for the kids every time Brian was out -- were those going to cause cancer? Oh dear. My Effexor wasn't working. 

As a I roamed around aimlessly, I remembered back to the day that Brian and I registered for wedding gifts at Crate & Barrel. We thought it would be so fun to have that little scan gun and choose all sorts of new items for our place. But it wasn't really fun in the end, more just totally overwhelming, and we ended up thinking everything we already owned was crap. We scanned 13 items that day and when the woman at the desk asked us if we were done, we said no even though we were. 

After an hour and a half of confusion and anxiety, I ended up leaving Whole Foods yesterday with my lunch, a packet of organic cashews, and a seasoned rice snack mix that we always used to get at my Grandparents' house in the summers. And I realized, I'm just not really good at the Whole Foods thing, and even cancer can't change that. 

After I ate my lunch and watched a bit of last week's Dancing with the Stars, I headed to Shaw's. There, I found some peace. I bought vegetables, individually wrapped chicken, and lots of hand sanitizer (I've also never been germophobic, but all of the sudden, I think I should start to be). It wasn't all organic, but it was a step. 

I miss the ice cream sundaes that I used to enjoy with Brian every night after the kids fell asleep. I miss the obscene amount of Hershey's chocolate sauce that I used to pour all over my scoops of Moose Tracks, S'mores, or Oreo. And I miss the Cool Whip that I used to add in a one-to-one ratio to the ice cream. Stephanie didn't say I couldn't have these things. She just said that I should limit my sugary treats to small portions and only three times a week. But I'm still enjoying the feeling of saying "F-U" to my cancer, so I haven't had one in weeks.

I know I'll enjoy ice cream sundaes again one day. And maybe I'll even give Whole Foods another shot when I'm feeling more confident. But for now, I'll just pace myself, and let my kids enjoy their Capri Suns and regular chicken nuggets. Because there's only so much I can handle at one time, and today, I'm just going to focus on drinking 10 glasses of water so they can find the perfect vein to feed me my Allies tomorrow. I know it's only a baby step, but it's still moving forward.  


  1. Best of luck tomorrow on your first day of treatment :)

    If your Dr. OK's it, and you're having trouble getting your protein in, you could try drinking protein shakes. I use one called BSN Syntha-6 in chocolate shake.... it SERIOUSLY tastes like melty chocolate ice cream. That way you could get your protein AND a bit of "dessert" in!

    Thinking of you!!

  2. Whole Foods is overwhelming to me too, and I'm married to someone who does research in nutrition for a living! Go Peapod and Shaws! ; )

  3. Good luck with your first treatment, I hope you get the okay today!